Tag: art

The Art of Happily Ever After

Once upon a time, a group of knights received a distress call. “It’s another princess in trouble,” the leader of the knights said. “Who wants to deal with this one?”

“I helped with the last one,” Sir Cadmium said. “The one who turned herself into a goldfish somehow. It took me forever to find the right fish in that fountain. It had fourteen basins, and every single one was filled with goldfish. I had to hold them up one at a time for the prince to kiss, and it made him really grumpy.”

“I helped with the princess stuck in a tree. Why on earth she wished for wings, I don’t know,” Sir Ultramarine said. “The wings were all tangled in the branches and they didn’t want me to snap a single twig of the tree because it was some rare ancient important tree. I was there for twenty hours, and she complained every minute.”

“Don’t look at me,” Sir Ochre said. “I just got back from rescuing those twin princesses last week. The ones lost in the cave looking for some sort of fairyland ball, you remember? They didn’t want to be rescued, not matter what their parents said. They kept ordering me to leave, and the king would order me right back in. In the end, they gave up, but by then my feet hurt from running back and forth and fetching them things so they wouldn’t starve to death out of stubbornness. I still have blisters on my blisters.”

The leader looked around the circle. “Sir Umber is still tracking down the princess who ran away with the unicorns, and Sir Viridian is rescuing the princess who wished to be a mermaid. That leaves you, Sir Sap.”

“Why do I have to be Sir Sap. Can’t I be Sir Thalo or Sir Payne?”

The leader shrugged. “It’s the King who knights us. He picks the names.”


“You’ll take the assignment? Great. Here’s the folder.”

Sir Sap jumped out of his seat. “That’s not what I meant. I helped the princess who got turned into a baby and crawled into a cupboard and fell asleep and no one could find her and…”

It was too late. Everyone had already left. Sir Sap sighed and picked up the folder. As always, the king had written the details in an awful scrawl that was nearly impossible to read. The hand painted map was lovely, but impractical. Sir Sap sighed. Was it too late to go back to dental school?

Hours later, he was following the map, hoping to rescue a princess who was maybe stuck in a well or writing a will. It was a little confusing. The woods he was passing through were dark and scary, and there wasn’t really much of a path.

But, Sir Sap was a brave knight who wasn’t scared of the dark at all. And if he was, he wouldn’t tell anyone. He pulled out his lunch and decided to eat while he walked. He always felt braver when he was eating. It was a good thing being a knight had so many opportunities for exercise, or he’d probably weigh a thousand pounds.

Just then, he heard growling off to his left. He looked down. Perhaps eating a roast beef sandwich in a forest filled with who-knows-what was a bad idea. Something started crashing though the bushes, and it sounded like it was getting closer.

A bear crashed onto the path. Sir Sap threw his sandwich as hard as he could to the right. After the bear ran past, chasing the sandwich, Sir Sap ran to the left. He stopped to catch his breath under a tree. “Is the bear gone?” a voice asked from above.

Sir Sap looked up. A lady dressed in black was sitting up in the branches of the tree. A witch? “It’s gone,” he said. “Couldn’t you have magicked it away?”

“I’m an herbalist,” she said. She began to climb down. “I make potions. It’s a different kind of magic. It doesn’t work right away. You have to be patient. But it works better because I tailor the potions to the individual, so it’s just what you need and works just right for you.” She jumped from the lowest branches.

“It is good to meet you, Madam Herbalist. I have great respecct for your craft. Could you tell me the way out of the forest? My map isn’t very clear.”

She pointed the way, and soon Sir Sap was able to rescue the princess stuck inside a rosebush on a hill. It was a massive, enchanted rosebush, and he ended up needing to find a prince to cut the whole thing down with tiny enchanted silver scissors. Organizing the witches and wizards and silversmiths and the very confused prince to find the solution took days.

Luckily, the princess and prince fell in love over the whole ordeal, and looked like they’d probably live happily ever after. This was always the best possible scenario, because it meant one less princess getting into trouble. Sir Sap went home, happy with the knowledge that all went well, and he wouldn’t have to rescue the next princess in trouble. It was probably Sir Ultramarine’s turn.

When he reached the forest, the herbalist was out picking leaves off of some harmless looking weeds. Suddenly, Sir Sap was struck by how normal it was. Here was someone who climbed a tree when she was chased by a bear, and didn’t ask her fairy godmother to change her into a bird or a dragon or a snowman in the middle of the summer.

Sir Sap realized he was tired of being a knight. He was tired of trying to help people who kept misusing powerful magic and never learning their lesson. He was tired of princesses. “Is it hard to learn to be an herbalist?” he asked.

“Well, it takes patience. You don’t learn everything all at once. But, if you like helping people and are good at figuring things out, it might be just right for you.” She smiled and picked up her basket. “I wouldn’t mind having an apprentice to help out at the shop. I have more business than I can deal with right now.”

“I’ll return within the week. I just need to hand paint a letter of resignation,” Sir Sap said. He was already mentally composing the letter. He was thinking of using one-point perspective to draw attention to the words “I quit” in the center of the page. He would sign it John, and be Sir Sap no more. And maybe, if things worked out just right, he’d find his own happily ever after.

Art Prompts

Last week it was story ideas, so this week I decided to share some drawing prompts that sound fun. Many of them would work for any medium. (I shared some more general art prompts in my post “Art Is Zero-Calorie Stress Relief.” )

  1. Ask someone to hold a 15 second pose and do a quick sketch.
  2. Go to a public place to draw people. Don’t be afraid to draw people in motion. Your picture may not look great. That’s okay.
  3. Set up a still life and put a bright light behind it. Move the light until the shadows look interesting. Draw the shadows.
  4. Draw something that makes you happy. Draw something that makes you sad.
  5. Draw something from a dream. Daydreams count.
  6. Draw something with an interesting texture. Focus on capturing the essence of the texture. Can you make your drawing look furry or smooth or scaly?
  7. Draw a cartoon.
  8. Illustrate a knock-knock joke or your favorite dad joke.
  9. Make a paper doll or a maze or a crossword puzzle or a word search and incorporate it into a larger picture.
  10. Draw a scene from your favorite story with characters from a different story.
  11. Pause a movie or tv show and draw what’s on the screen.
  12. Illustrate a question that you have.
  13. Draw your problems as a monster and then make the monster look silly.
  14. Draw your menu for the day. Post it on the fridge.
  15. Illustrate a family recipe.
  16. Illustrate a letter and send it to a friend or family member.
  17. Listen to music and draw your impressions.
  18. Close your eyes and draw a self portrait. Open your eyes and draw a portrait with your other hand. Now draw one with your feet.
  19. Draw pictures of what you see in the clouds.
  20. Draw something that you hope will happen someday.

Do you have any ideas to add? Have you tried any of these prompts? Did you have fun?

Try, Try Again

When trying to learn something on your own, it is important to spend some time on figuring out how you learn best. I think that most people have a combination of strategies that they use when learning something new. It can be helpful to analyze why and how those strategies work for you so that you can use them more effectively.

Since I was young, I felt like I learned best from reading. This was especially true if there were pictures to look at. One memorable example was learning to knit from books. Books are still one of the first resources I turn to when learning something new.

One of the least effective ways for me to learn is from lectures. To compensate, I learned to take very thorough notes in school. It’s a habit that has continued, and I find that I remember and learn more by taking notes, even if I never go back to reread them.

Superficially, this would tell me to always learn new things from books and avoid classrooms altogether. However, this is not really the most effective way for me to learn. To figure out how I best learn, I had to analyze why books work so much better for me than lectures.

One of my cartoons. Find more of my humor on my Cartoons Page.

When I read, I pause often to think about what I read. I visualize the process. I think about how it connects to what I already know. I turn back several pages to check on something I remember reading to see if it relates to what I just read.

In a lecture, my mind is making all the same leaps. Unfortunately, the information keeps coming, even when my brain is on pause. When I take notes, it forces me to focus on writing down the information and staying on task. My mind still sometimes wanders, but it isn’t for as long, and I can usually pick up what I missed to fill in the holes in my notes. I have to think about the information later, often while checking back over my notes to make connections.

My way of taking notes.

When I am learning to do something new, my first attempt usually doesn’t go well. Failure, while not fun, is part of the process. I then go back to check what I learned to see where I went wrong. Books, especially books with diagrams, usually have lots of information that I can go through to compare to my attempt. I make a hypothesis on what I need to fix, and try again.

Lectures, because of time constraints, have less information to go through. An hour of lecture could fill less than a chapter of a good book. Books are more helpful when things go wrong.

A couple of my daily practice sketches from January 2019.

However, actually seeing something done really helps with visualizing what I need to do. Instead of trying to piece it all together through descriptions and diagrams, I can see exactly how it works. The problem is that demonstrations usually make things look easier than they are. It’s hard to reproduce that on my own.

Seeing something done, thinking it through and visualizing it, attempting it on my own, then getting feedback on what I did wrong, and trying again? That is really how I learn best. Books and lectures are just the vehicles for the information that I need.

Looking at that process, how I really learn, I can see many other ways I can best accomplish it. Finding a mentor might be the most effective way for me to learn. YouTube videos and google searches could be valuable if done right.

Knowing how I really learn best can help me be creative in how I learn. I can be more effective with the time I have. This is one of the great advantages of self study.

Practicing is a necessary step in the learning process. Samuel Johnson once said that, “By writing, you learn to write.” Putting what I’ve learned into practice is the ultimate test to see how well I’m really learning. If I can’t use the information I have, the information isn’t very helpful after all.

But studying is an important partner to that practice. Without new information, you are attempting to slowly reinvent what others have already learned and shared. Learning from the people who have gone before you can save you so much time.

I love to learn new things. There is such a feeling of accomplishment when I do something I couldn’t do before. That moment when I understand something that didn’t make sense to me, that feeling of the last puzzle piece clicking into place, is so rewarding. Learning how I learn best makes the entire process easier and less frustrating so that I can get to the good part of learning that much faster.

How do you learn best? Has that changed over time? Does it change depending on what you’re learning? Do you like to learn new things?

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The Cup Theory of Stress and Me

The cup theory says that your ability to handle stress is like a cup. As things occur during the day, good and bad, stress fills your cup. When your cup fills and you keep adding things, your cup overflows. That’s when you melt down.

When you start the day already overwhelmed and worried, or in pain, or depressed, or otherwise stressed, then your cup starts out partly filled. You can handle less. Even if it’s good things, or things that you normally can handle without too much difficulty, if your cup is full, you can’t handle it today.

That’s why there are some days where you can’t make yourself do one more thing, even if it’s something that would only take five minutes. That’s why there are days where you have to hide away so that you don’t snap at people for laughing too loud. Have you ever felt out of control and it scared you? This might be why.

Adding new things to your schedule can be difficult on stressful days. On those days, you may be struggling to complete your normal schedule. That’s okay. Worrying about what you can’t do will just add to your stress.

So, what does this have to do with me and my art? Well, as an introvert, days and weeks where I’ve had to socialize a lot are stressful. I have to recover from them. Even when it’s people I like and I’ve enjoyed the social event, it’s stressful. Good stress is still stress.

While I’m recovering, something has to give. I can fit less into my schedule. The easy thing to give up is my art. Learning something new is more stressful than a familiar activity, and so dropping it temporarily is such a relief.

Yet, just because it’s the easy thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. If I find that I’ve been dropping my art or procrastinating it and running out of time for more than two weeks, I need to take a close look at my schedule.

It’s not good to be regularly stressed and overwhelmed. If that’s happening, I may need to give some things up, even if they are good, positive things. Or I may need to ask for help. Either way, I need to find a way to lower my stress levels and bring my life back in balance.

In this way, my art practice can act as an early warning system. If I’m too stressed to do something that I want to do and enjoy doing, and it keeps happening, something is wrong. It’s good to have that warning before I get sick or start snapping at people.

I once went to a talk by Nancy Young. (Her family runs this remarkable website:
https://www.alyoung.com/ and publishes the Storybook Home Journal.) She said that she knew she’d been away from home too much if her little laundry room started overflowing and her youngest child became clingy. They were areas in her life that could not absorb neglect. She said it was like a barometer, measuring the pressure on her home and family. When she saw the signs, she knew it meant that she had to cancel some outside commitments and spend more time at home.

What are the signs that you’re under too much pressure? What areas in your life cannot absorb neglect? Have you ever felt like your cup of stress is too full? What do you do to bring things back in balance?

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Life Seasons

The weather is changing. It is warmer outside, and the flowers are blooming. I’ve seen crocuses and daffodils and plum blossoms. Where I live, winter is changing into spring.

Pages from my nature sketch book.

I think that life has seasons too. When I was younger, there always seemed to be plenty of time. I had extra energy and time to study whatever I want.

As I grew older, I added more responsibilities and had less time and energy leftover. Seasons changed. Fortunately, seasons can change again. I am currently in a season where I have more time to devote to my interests.

A couple of people sketches from the November 2017 Ensign Magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Why is this important? Recently I have spoken to friends who are mothers of small children. Some of them are also working as well. They admire the work I’m getting done, and sound depressed when they say that they don’t have time to do something similar.

I completely understand. When my children were younger, I didn’t have extra time, either. Now that my children are a little older and more independent, I have more time.

There were times back then, when I was not getting enough sleep and my to-do list was always longer than my done list, that I felt like that’s how things would always be. I couldn’t imagine anything changing. My life stretched before me, and it seemed rather bleak.

It didn’t help to talk to moms of older children who told me that things only got busier. They told me that the children would have so many events and activities that I wouldn’t have time to breathe. It was not reassuring.

Daily sketches of my kids. They only hold still for me to sketch them when they are reading or watching videos.

It was also not completely true. There are more activities that an older child can participate in. Babies don’t usually play sports or sing in a choir. But, older children can sleep through the night. Older children can make themselves a sandwich. Older children can entertain themselves for two hours straight reading a good book.

Seasons do change. Difficult times, even very difficult times, do not last forever. Just because you cannot see a point in the future where things change doesn’t mean it’s not there.

There was a time when I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do anything more than I was doing. That was okay. Sometimes you have to just hold on and get through the tough times as best as you can. Being upset at yourself for not being able to add something small to your routine will not help your stress levels.

If you want to add something creative to your routine but it’s not working, give it time. Try again later when things are less crazy. Maybe it’s not the right season yet. Fortunately, seasons change. One day, time and energy may bloom in the corners of your schedule, and you’ll realize that spring has finally come.

Do you feel like life has seasons? Have you felt the seasons shift? What season are you in now?