Saturday, March 9, 2019

Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, Part 2: The Finished Sketchbook

Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse Cover
Hey all. Last week I finished a book for The Sketchbook Project!

The Sketchbook Project is a collection of mini sketchbooks housed in the Brooklyn Art Library. Artists from all over the world can order a sketchbook, fill it with art, and mail it back to join the permanent collection.

I was just notified that my sketchbook has been delivered safe and sound in Brooklyn! Thank you, USPS, for taking care of my baby. Pretty soon it will go on a short tour around the country with the other 2019 sketchbooks before returning to its new home on the shelves of the art library.

In my previous post, I walked you all through some of the decisions and artistic process for my sketchbook.

What started as a plan for 16 pages of black and white ink drawings turned into a book of 8 full-color watercolor and ink illustrations. Each page also has includes a stanza of a poem telling the story.

Today I'll finally show you the finished product! The large-text portions below are each stanza of the full-text poem found in Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, so you don't have to strain to read my tiny handwriting on each page. The regular text is my notes and commentary, not included in the actual book. Enjoy!

Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse by Cailey Blair

On a night long ago, I flew to the moon
taking off from the highest hillside
in a steam-powered shuttle, 
—all clockwork and gears and dream-stuff
with a clank and a buzz and a cloud of smoke
I left the earth’s atmosphere.
Page 1 - Flight to the Moon
watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry paper 
on paper cloth

One of my favorite parts of the brainstorming process was crowd-sourcing ideas for the girl's transportation. I hopped on Twitter and Facebook to ask for ideas, and the responses were amazing. It's been a while since I crowd-sourced like that, but I love doing it. People can be so creative!

Several friends said the girl should travel by unicorn, one said a space segway, another said a dragon covered in feathers. My brothers suggested an iPod, traveling by the magic of music, or an imperial star destroyer from Star Wars. One friend suggested a book, because that's how she travels the universe.

With so many great ideas, I actually picked two modes of transportation. The second one in particular quickly became an integral part of the story.

The girl would fly to the moon on a "steampunk" space shuttle, but on the moon she would meet a magical moon-horse with whom she'd travel across the moon and all the way to Mars.

As a kid and teenager, I was obsessed with horses. That's right, I was a "horse girl." I still love them, though I haven't ridden since high school. I felt that having the girl travel by horseback through space would make this sketchbook more personal, a nod back to my own childhood and my longing to travel the world on horseback. In recent years my fascination with space-travel has grown a lot, so combining the two felt very natural to me.

Spread 2 - Meeting
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
I landed on the shore of the Mare Desiderii, 
silver dust in my eyes, on my ragged old hat
I found myself face to face with a blue Moonhorse, 
leader of the Lunar herds.
We bowed in greeting—manners are important 
even on the Moon
in his bold eyes I saw a distant dance I 
longed to join.
He invited me to go with him
with a flick of his flowing tail.

From here, the girl and the horse travel beyond that unique balancing rock formation in the distance to take off at the highest point on the moon—the Selenian summit.

Spread 3 - Balancing Rock, Earth and Mars
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
We rode far across the moon, far and farther still,
to reach that Selenian summit where surface and 
crater kiss
higher than Everest or K2 could dream,
where space meets breccia. I thought we'd arrived,
but to my—shock—terror—delight—
the Moonhorse gathered his great legs under him,
galloped to the point of the summit,
and took off into the night—a capriole 
unlike any other,
his airs above the moon—we flew.

This is where it began to change a lot between the original intent and the finished product.

In my original 16-page sketches, I had a close-up illustration of the distant lunar rover, and an image of the girl and the moon horse taking off at the selenian summit.

I had to cut these and some other illustrations to lower the page count and compensate for the thick, stiff paper cloth.

I miss some of these illustrations, and I may still draw them one day, but the scenes I did include are much more intentional. Like a carefully edited book, the remaining content is made stronger by cutting out all unnecessary information.

Spread 4 - Flight to Mars
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
We soared through space, and his coarse
mane whipped my bare arms and stung my eyes,
and his tail streamed behind 
—I now know the secret of the comets!—
we flew
      past Phobos and Deimos,
      past distant stars pulsing,
      past long-lost mysteries;
I marveled at blue dots and ancient suns
and the red planet drew near.

Flight to Mars was heavily inspired by the famous Lipizzaner horses of Austria and their gravity-defying classical dressage. I've always wanted to see Lipizzaners in action, but have had to content myself with pictures and videos of those remarkable airs above the ground.

For this scene, I researched and sketched the capriole move for our moon-horse's long flight.

Spread 5 (center fold) - Landing on Mars
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth, bound with purple thread
At last, with straining legs and quivering muscles, 
his hooves touched solid ground 
—racing—slowing—stopping—panting—
I slipped from his back - see my footprints on
sienna stepping stones?

Noses touching in kunik—eskimo kisses—we breathed 
great gasping breaths of the thin, icy Martian air
—air made for dancing— 
      I sensed it, 
      I knew it, 
      my bare toes felt it,
but the Moonhorse’s eyes told me this was 
not the place. We rode on, on, on until 
we reached the deepest crater, 
strung across with a tightrope. My hopes fell
—he still shook with exhaustion from his flight—
a tightrope? Could it be, could a horse— 
even a Moonhorse—walk a tightrope?

Originally, Silhouette Girl and Moon-horse's landing on Mars would only be implied—the first Mars scene was to be a close-up of the girl and the horse examining the red Martian dust. From there, they'd travel toward a Mars rover before arriving at Hellas Planitia, the deepest crater on Mars.

For the new version, however, I cut out the Mars rover entirely, and replaced the close-up with a wide-angle landing scene. I felt this would better tie the narrative together. I took the background from a scene in which our two characters are riding across the Martian plains, and replaced their simple ride with the more dynamic landing action that you see above.

Spread 6 - Hellas Planitia
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
Indeed—brave eyes sparkling—he nudged 
me on, and the dancing Martian atmosphere 
lifted my chin,
—and we stepped—onto—the rope—
to cross Hellas Planitia,
deeper yet than any Himalaya could fill.
The rope trembled under the Moonhorse's hooves,
and I clutched a long lock of his mane;
arms stretched wide for balance.

Like I said, I cut out a lot of planetary travel, but I couldn't bring myself to cut out the scene above! For a long time I've had a mental image of crossing the deepest Martian crater, Hellas Planitia, by tight-rope.

In reality the downward slope of the crater is much too subtle for a tight-rope, but the entire book is lodged firmly in the surreal—there's nothing realistic about it! Being fanciful to begin with, I indulged myself and stretched a rope across the crater.

Finally, after that long tight-rope crossing, our interplanetary travelers have reached their destination...

Spread 7 - Final Destination
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
At last on the far side of the crater we stopped, 
labored breaths clouding
like wisps of smoke in the frozen air
the Moonhorse and I looked up.
We arrived—we arrived!—The Moonhorse
tossed his great mane, stamped his giant hooves,
and with a leap, abandoned gravity.
I, too, could ground myself no longer—
I gave in to the thin air of Mars;
gave in to the growing dance in my heart.

This scene was inspired by Bryce Canyon in Utah, where orange towers and columns ("hoodoos") rise from the ground, creating natural arches and spires like a princess's castle. This was one of the first sketches I made, and it changed the least over the whole process.

I read somewhere that since gravity is lower on Mars, there are rock formations there that would be impossible on Earth. I don't know if that's actually the case (it makes sense to me), but I definitely had that concept in mind when brainstorming Martian geography. While this particular scene is very reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, I still tried to imbue it with that mystical, low-gravity feeling!

However, this final scene is where weightlessness truly comes into play. The gravity on Mars is about 1/3 of what it is on earth, so in reality our beloved travelers would still be bound to the ground. Even the moon's gravity, 1/6 of our own, doesn't allow floating like this! But this is anything but realistic. They traveled all this way to dance, how could they not dance in mid-air?
Spread 8 - The Dance
watercolor, ink, gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth
The Moonhorse and I, 
we rose above the rock formations,
      dancing
      spinning
      floating
on cold beams from the distant sun.
We're all of star-stuff, dancing above the dark
slope streaks!
In the magic of Mars we danced forever...


Final page - Morning
watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry paper 
on paper cloth
...Or so I dreamed. 

This last page came about weeks after the rest of the images were complete. I kept this final page blank, unsure if I'd write the full-text poem on it, leave it blank, or add one last illustration. As you can see, I chose the latter! I only knew what I wanted to do with it when I started writing the poem and that last line, "or so I dreamed," came to mind.  

I hadn't intended for this adventure to be a dream, exactly, though it has all the characteristics of a dream. But when I had that line, that's what the story officially became. I envisioned the girl waking on a hillside, as if she fell asleep stargazing and woke with the sun. 

This project was both challenge and game for me. I indulged a lot of fancies in this book, and the result is everything I never knew I wanted. Magic and fantasy set in space... a simple but highly unlikely journey, to say the least!

For most of the creation process, I held off on painting the girl - I seriously considered whether she would be Silhouette Girl or someone else, someone with features and visible details. But I think in my gut I knew this would be Silhouette Girl. Who else could manage an adventure like this? It was truly made for the girl who holds the tail of a tornado, conducts wildebeests like an orchestra, and releases a cloud of butterflies from her hands!

I kept telling myself it could be anyone doing this - any little girl could dream this up. Why lock it down for only Silhouette Girl?

My two babies, Stars & Seas and Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, with a
delicious mocha from my favorite coffeeshop. This is the very mocha that
powered me through writing my previous blog post.
That's where my thinking has been skewed. For a long time, I've thought of Silhouette Girl as an individual. Where is she going next, what fanciful thing is she doing this time? 

However, she's not an individual. She's a concept. Any little girl can be "silhouette girl," because it isn't about the things she actually does. It's about the metaphors. The Silhouette Girl series started as a reaction to tragedy - innocence and weakness against one of the greatest forces on earth, a little girl holding the tail of a tornado. 

The series has grown and taken on new metaphors with each drawing and painting, but the core must remain the same - innocence overcoming the impossible. Weakness overpowering the greatest powers. Childhood and imagination conquering reality. If Silhouette Girl remains as she should be, a concept instead of an individual, then she really can be anyone.

Anyone who values innocence and imagination can be Silhouette Girl.

With that realization, I inked in the silhouettes, covering all the loosely-sketched details like facial expressions and folds in her clothing. Our favorite girl has a ragged top hat and her new friend from the moon... she has everything she needs.

With this blog post, I put a close to this brief project. I had a lot of fun with it, and I was a little sad to tape the mailer shut and send my baby off to New York... but I look forward to seeing it again someday! If you find yourself in NYC, be sure to stop at the Brooklyn Art Library and see my sketchbook for yourself. Silhouette Girl would love to have visitors!

-Cailey

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, Part 1: Creative Process

Wow guys, I've been so excited to share this with you...

For Christmas I received a sketchbook to send to the Sketchbook Project in Brooklyn!

What is that? Great question. At the time I was only vaguely familiar with it, myself, so I spent a few minutes on the google machine and checked out the details.

The Sketchbook Project is housed at the Brooklyn Art Library, an amazing library of sketchbooks from artists all over the world. You can purchase one of their blank sketchbooks (a little 5x7 blank book) and fill it however you like. When you send your sketchbook back to them, they add it to the permanent collection, and they'll alert you every time someone looks at it!

I heard about it a few years ago but never pursued information on how to join the project, and forgot about it pretty quickly, so it was a great surprise to open up the package and discover this awesome opportunity.
Coffee and sketching with my little brother!

Every year they have different themes/inspiration cues, but it's pretty open to interpretation. The few rules pertain only to size and a couple of paints (gesso and acrylic) that aren't allowed because they make the pages stick together.

I got started on January 3rd, brainstorming what I wanted to pour into the sketchbook.

As you know from this blog, I work with a lot of different materials and media. Charcoal, pen and ink, paint, collage. My first hazy visions of this book involved collages of texture, color, and folded paper.

Pretty soon I decided to make it a narrative. I took my cue from everything that's been inspiring me lately... Astronaut memoirs, sci-fi novels and short stories, and astrophysics-for-dummies books.

I recently read "Physics of the Impossible" by Michio Kaku, and I was fascinated by his explanations of the science behind some of the "impossible" technology in sci-fi books. Things like teleportation, hyperspeed, and time travel.

Another great book I read was "Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut" by Mike Mullane. It's a funny, brutally-honest peek into the NASA's space shuttle program. Mullane doesn't shy away from criticizing NASA management, but he also conveys his love for space-travel and gratitude for NASA and the chance he had to fulfill his lifelong dream. He's also very open about astronaut culture in the '80s, and his personal struggle with accepting feminism (working with the first American women astronauts was a big adjustment for a man who attended an all-boys school and went straight into the military after graduation!).

With the help of these and other inspiration-boosters, my little story grew as a series of images in my mind. I had a plan for the narrative. As I started the rough sketches, I scaled back my intense collage-pages and chose to make simple line drawings in ink. I wanted the images to shine, not the materials I made them with.

Whenever I begin a particular art project, I start with an exciting mental image of it, and work eagerly until I hit a roadblock or two and set it aside (for a week, a month, three years, it varies!). After some time stewing in my mind, the solution suddenly hits and then begins the feverish race to create.

The same process held true for this one.

Once the idea for this journey from Earth to Moon to Mars came to mind, I started sketching away, determining each scene and each step of the way.

The sketchbook had 16 pages, so I had 16 scenes to create. I was able to sketch most of these over the course of a few hours spent with my brother at my favorite coffee shop.

Later, I got out my transfer paper and transferred each image to the pages of the sketchbook, and started drawing with ink... and that's where the big roadblock appeared...

The paper was too thin. 

My ink lines showed right through the paper, and even bled through in a few spots! This was not going to work.

I considered my options. Glue pages together to make them thicker? Prime each page with thin layers of gesso for a more opaque surface?

Gesso was out, since it's frowned upon in the Sketchbook Project rules. Normally, gesso is an awesome primer for art surfaces, but in a booklet format, gesso could cause the pages to stick together. I wasn't going to risk that.

I knew rebinding the book with different paper was allowed, but I wasn't feeling it... I didn't know what paper I wanted, and I didn't know how to deal with the stiffness that comes with thicker, ink-friendlier paper. Inspiration fell away and quickly as it struck.

My Sketchbook drawings stopped in their tracks, I set the book aside and stewed over the paper problem for about a week... until one day I was at work and the solution hit me.

Paper cloth!

I first made this a few years ago, at the suggestion of my art teacher. I fell in love with the unique effects of drawing on tissue paper, stabilized by a layer of cotton fabric. It's awesome for wet media like watercolor, acrylic paint, and pen and ink, and you can glue or sew on other materials to create a collage! I immediately knew that's what I wanted.

So what is paper cloth?

It's regular ol' tissue paper glued onto cotton fabric. I use about equal parts water and mod podge, but you can play with that ratio for stiffer or more flexible results - more glue for stiffness, more water for flexibility.

You can also layer in other paper, threads, lace, sequins, paint, or anything else you want between the tissue paper and the cloth. Here's a link to a blog post explaining how to make paper cloth and the world of possibilities for customizing it.

The sketches are transferred onto the paper cloth, ready to be painted!
I don't quite know why, but I hadn't used paper-cloth since that one project in high school. I was pretty excited to try it out again, so the minute I got home from work I dug some tissue paper out of the gift-wrapping supplies, got a large scrap of cream-colored cotton fabric from my meager sewing stash, and got to work. Yes, I have a sewing stash - I mostly do clothing alterations, with the occasional pillow or baby quilt.

With my paper cloth dried and ready, it was finally time to cut it all to size and get drawing... and time for a serious overhaul in my vision.

For one thing, paper cloth is one-sided. I suppose you could glue tissue paper to both sides of the fabric, but at this point I lacked that kind of foresight. For a brief time I was all action and no thought.

I had several large sheets of paper cloth, thick but flexible. Being one-sided, I'd have to use twice as much if I wanted to keep all 16 pages, and that was going to be one fat little book. I needed to pare things down to the most important images.

Chop, chop, chop - out went half of my carefully-crafted scenes! This was a tough process, but necessary if I wanted to use paper cloth and keep the book thin enough to be accepted by the Sketchbook Project.

It took some mental gymnastics to make this
work! Each sheet of papercloth had half of one
scene, except the centerfold sheet.
After transferring the remaining scenes, it was finally time to get painting.

All painted, ready for ink details
Wait... Painting? Wasn't this going to be simple, black-and-white line drawings?

That's where the second element of my overhaul came into play! When paper cloth came to mind, the project changed entirely.

My illustrations would no longer be simple pen and ink. These would be full watercolor paintings, with line details inked in at the end.

That's the thing with art - sometimes you've got to be fiercely loyal to the original concept. But sometimes, you fall in love with one element and the while thing morphs to fit. That's what happened here, and I love it!

Work-in-progress, stitching together the pages
It's nothing like what I envisioned at the beginning, but this process of adjusting the vision along the way was a lot of fun and resulted in a more creative, organic book.

The end result? An eight-page full-color book, bound with purple thread and with the edges of each page hand-stitched (cloth sides together, painted tissue paper facing out).

Don't worry, I kept the original cover with its all-important Sketchbook Project bar-code!

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I'll share shots of each finished page. I've taken copious amounts of pictures - full-page, detail, and process shots. I've also kept all the original pencil sketches, including the ones that didn't survive the big chop.

Since I'm mailing the finished book to Brooklyn in a few days, these pictures and sketches are very important to me. I have to capture it all before it leaves me!

I hope to see it in its new home at the Brooklyn Art Library one day, of course, and I'm excited to be a part of the Sketchbook Project, but I'm going to miss this little book. We've spent a lovely two months together.

-Cailey

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Western Adventure: National Parks, Monuments, and Sketches

At the end of October, my family went on our long-awaited Western Adventure - a two-week vacation in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. We visited three national monuments and seven national parks, put about 3,000 miles on our rental SUV, and took O-H-I-O pictures at every stop, as Ohioans are bound to do.

The irony of writing all this about national parks and monuments in the midst of a government shutdown is not lost on me. If you're preparing for a visit to any national sites, please try to wait until the shutdown is over! Many national parks are operating on a skeleton crew, or are semi-closed. You may be able to get in, but facilities are not being maintained. Not only will the parks be extremely unpleasant (garbage is overflowing, and many visitors have deemed that the great outdoors is their toilet, since bathrooms aren't being maintained). Already, damage has been done that may never be remedied. Besides that, accidents happen and you or your loved ones could be at needless risk without the usual park staff and rangers available! A few of the parks I'll mention here are open and staffed, currently operating at the state's expense, which is astronomical. If possible, postpone your trip until congress has worked things out and the parks are back at full-staff and proper maintenance, on federal dollars!

El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico
I saw this trip not only as a family vacation but as an opportunity to kick-start my languishing art-making, and it definitely worked. I took along my DSLR camera, watercolor pencils, a paintbrush, and a large, unlined blank book to use as combination journal and sketchbook.

My family and I flew from Cincinnati to Denver, and drove about 6 hours from there to El Paso, Texas, arriving in the wee hours of the morning at my sister and brother-in-law's home.

We relaxed in El Paso for the next few days, enjoying the gorgeous mountain sunsets, Texas barbecue, and Lay's Chile Limon potato chips (my new favorite!) from the Mexican grocery store.

El Paso is a fascinating city, particularly for someone who has spent her entire life in the rolling green hills, forests, and corn and soybean fields of Ohio. I'm pretty sure over the course of this vacation I saw more shades of brown than I ever had before, many of which were in El Paso. Yet I also saw color in some of the most unexpected and beautiful of places. Turquoise trim on the highway overpasses, pale green cacti, and the bright red, white, and green flag marking the US/Mexico border.

Pretty soon, however, it was time to get on with the adventure...

We started with a day-trip to Carlsbad Caverns, spending my brother's 16th birthday trekking into the cavern and through the Big Room.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I didn't expect my fear of heights to bother me inside a mountain, but the birthday boy ended up holding my hand and helping me inch back and forth down the narrow switchbacks as we made our way into the heart of the cavern. Once inside the Big Room, the trail was mostly flat, with only occasional drop-offs on one side or the other. Much more Cailey-friendly terrain!

However, I still found myself clutching the handrails, even on those flat areas. I don't know if my feeling of unsteadiness was the low-level anxiety I have constantly running in the background, or if it's a normal reaction to walking through these dark, stunning, massive, alien-like vaults inside the mountains. I've never experienced much claustrophobia, but maybe it was related to that. I don't know.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a fairly large portion of the Big Room is wheelchair accessible, with an elevator bypassing the steep trail that we took to reach it. If you're an adventurer with mobility challenges, Carlsbad Caverns may be a good stop for you.

The next day saw us off on the big road trip. The nine of us packed into our two rental SUVS and made our way across the gorgeous state of New Mexico.

Taking turns sledding at White Sands National Monument
We stopped briefly at White Sands National Monument for sledding, pictures, and a very messy lunch of barbecue ribs.

View of White Sands from Tularosa, NM
The white sand was enchanting - even in the warm sun, the soft gypsum grains felt cool on our bare feet!

Then we were off again, driving diagonally across New Mexico, our ultimate destination: The Grand Canyon. 

However, we made a couple of side trips...

Horseshoe Bend and the Colorado River
First, Four Corners National Monument, where we got in trouble for playing 4-square in four different states at once... At least Dad got to cross that off his bucket list!

The second side trip was to Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, the world-famous curve in the Colorado River as it meanders its way to the Grand Canyon and beyond. Reaching Horseshoe Bend involves a short hike. The path is well-established and easy to follow, but steep at times, and the elevation (4,200 feet) isn't helpful for those accustomed to about 500 feet.

Following a quick picnic lunch at Glen Canyon Dam, we got back on the road. Grand Canyon or Bust!


Grand Canyon National Park from Lippon Point, shortly before sunset
We got a quick first look at the Grand Canyon that evening, but the next day was to be our Grand Canyon adventure. We walked a few miles along the South Rim, marveling at the vast canyon. When people say the Grand Canyon is big, what they really mean is that it is unfathomable. It's aptly named, because the only proper word for it is grand.

We all agreed that, impressive at the view was as we walked along the South Rim, it was not all that exciting. I think, to truly appreciate the Grand Canyon, we would have had to do one of the hikes down into it. Unfortunately that would have been well beyond the skill set of most of our group.

One of the highlights of our day at the Grand Canyon was simply sitting on the rocks at Lippon point and enjoying the sunset. It was really nice to just sit, talk, laugh, and enjoy the view. We arrived early enough that we had our pick of spots on the point, and the view was incredible as the sun set beyond the canyon walls.

Bryce Canyon National Park
View from Zion Lodge, Zion National Park,
watercolor pencil
As night fell in Arizona, we got back on the road, bound for a rental house in a small Utah town tucked away between Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. We stayed there several days, zig-zagging between the parks, hiking, relaxing, even worshiping under the stars at over 10,000 feet elevation.

Bryce Canyon was beautiful and otherworldly, like it had been nestled in the Utah wilderness by a pack of aliens or elves (depending on whether you prefer sci-fi or fantasy!).

The vivid orange and white sandstone walls and hoodoos were spectacular. We compared them to rows of stone gnomes, nature's answer to the Chinese terra cotta warriors, or the ruins of some massive ancient castle.

We spent the next two days roaming Zion National Park, adventure shoes tied tight.

Zion quickly became my favorite park.

Unlike Bryce, where you can look down on the bowl of the canyon as if from the top of an amphitheater, Zion is entered from the canyon floor. Peaks and cliffs soar above, and if you look closely you may see climbers inching their way up the sheer pink, orange, white, and grey rock. Our visit fell in late October, which meant another layer of color - bright yellow foliage on the trees lining the Virgin River winding its way through the canyon.

The first day at Zion, we hiked a portion of The Narrows, a narrow stretch of the Virgin River with towering cliffs on either side. It was grueling, exhausting, wet, cold, and beautiful.

The second day there, half our group went on some tough hikes while the rest of us (the tired and the acrophobic) took it easy. We finished out Zion with a Mexican fusion restaurant just outside the park.

At the Lower Emerald Pool, Zion National Park. Watercolor pencil and
water from the fall
After leaving Zion, we packed up again and headed toward the city of Moab, Utah, lodged between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

But first, we had to stop at Capitol Reef National Park for pies and petroglyphs!
 
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef contains quite a few historic buildings from an early Mormon settlement.

This settlement includes a fruit orchard and a small shop where you can get fresh pies, ice cream, honey, fruit preserves, and souvenirs. It felt as if we were visiting a historic village in some park at home in Ohio, but with great orange mesas in the background instead of more trees.

The home-like feeling vanished as soon as we left the ghost town-turned-tourist-center.

Petroglyph at Capitol Reef National Park
Entering the canyon was like entering a prehistoric movie! I imagined that at any moment, pterodactyls might pass overhead in v-formation or a squad of velociraptors might race past our SUVs on their razor-sharp tip toes. 

Indeed, there was some prehistoric action in Capitol Reef. Ancient petroglyphs mark the orange stone walls, answered by a multitude of carved names and messages dating from two to two hundred years old. The graphitied walls of Capitol Reef look like America's illegal guest book. 

After the breathtaking golden hour passed into a quiet sunset, we got back on the road to Moab. 

Buckeyes will be Buckeyes... even at Arches National Park!
In Moab, we did a doubleheader - two national parks in one day. In the morning we visited the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, the largest and least-visited of the Big Five national parks in Utah.

After a quick lunch at Wendy's, we went to Archest National Park.

Like Bryce, Arches was otherworldly. It looked as if some massive baby had left their building blocks sitting about, some in towers and arches, some left tumbled about on the ground.

These cliffs, gargoyles, spires, hoodoos, and of course, arches seem to obey physics only out of a spirit of generosity rather than the obligation of nature.

Arches was a beautiful way to wrap up our tour of national gems. But that last evening in our Moab rental house, spent relaxing, playing goofy games, and enjoy takeout barbecue and Chinese food, was another trip highlight in its own right. The next day, we'd part company - my sister and her husband bound for Texas, the rest of us bound for Ohio.

Two weeks after first departing from CVG, we arrived back home. It was an amazing trip. We saw breathtaking mesas and mountains, played on perfect white sand dunes, saw horses, deer, cattle, and ravens, explored underground caverns, and stargazed about 20x above the elevation of our hometown.

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, I have four words for you:

You stole my heart.

-Cailey

p.s. the sketches and drawings here ain't nuthin. There's more art from my western adventure and it's headed this way soon, so stick around!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Stars & Seas is 1 Month Old!

Cover image from Stars & Seas
My baby, Stars & Seas, is a month old!

Almost a year ago I started writing a series of poetry that would eventually become my first poetry chapbook, Stars and Seas. It took many hours of writing, revising, editing, arranging, editing, writing, illustrating, researching, editing, and formatting. Many half-panicked texts to my writing buddies. Many google-searches looking for the ultimate self-publishing crash course.

Finally, on November 4th, the book went live in the Blurb bookstore.

To say I'm blown away by all of your support and enthusiasm is a gross understatement. This fall has been an eye-opening experience, and a "well, duh!" experience, for pretty much the same reasons.

Knowing the incredibly loving, generous, and supportive community I am part of, I shouldn't be surprised. And yet, I repeatedly find myself marveling at the number of people who sent me pictures when their copy of my chapbook arrived, asked me to sign their copy, or asked how sales are going.

The "dedication," of sorts...
I suppose this comes down to Impostor Syndrome, the undercurrent of "surely they'll realize I'm not all that" in my inner monologue. Daily I find myself embarrassed by my lack of confidence in the genuineness of my relationships, but anxiety still tells me you all think I'm annoying and you're all waiting for excuses to drop out of my life. Shut up, anxiety! Of course, I have all this doubt, but I also know very well what it's like to be on your side of things, actively trying to encourage and support the artists, writers, and other creatives in my life!  Look, no one ever said anxiety makes sense, okay?

You can imagine my surprise last week when I received an email from Blurb, the print-on-demand company handling my book production and sales.

In one month I made the first $100 of my writing career! 

That's purely from book sales, and doesn't count a few dollars I've made with my Stars & Seas art on Redbubble.

As I look back at the other little milestones in my creative career, I find myself counting blessings I never would have imagined back in 5th grade, when I decided I liked writing...

For instance, my first published poem was in a fun little Christian teen mag when I was 18.

I just dug out that issue of Encounter to peer down memory lane ever so briefly. While I'm not so impressed by my writing, I am glad that I was able to kick of my writing career with 20 lines of worship, and thankful to Standard Publishing for accepting my work. I hope you sense the tone that set in the rest of my written work, because I feel it in every poem I write. Faith is a difficult thing, but no matter how my feet wander, I can't imagine the hopelessness of giving it up and striking out on my own, without God's presence.

Another blessing? Stumbling my way into a job where I receive writing inspiration every single day! I listen to audio books pretty much every day at work, and folks, that (along with a steady paycheck, awesome coworkers, a kind boss, and regular hours) has been a God-send. If you've never read a book, article, or blog post about ways to kick-start creativity and/or become a better writer, let me tell you one tip they all say: read more books. Ladies and gentlemen, Stars & Seas is proof that listening to audio-books also counts!

I was inspired to write Stars & Seas after listening to two different books about space-travel (Scott Kelly's Endurance and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin). Since then I've kept a mini yellow legal pad in my desk to jot down bits of inspiration as they come. That pad was basically the first home of Stars & Seas.

A peek inside Stars & Seas, for those who have yet to purchase. No hard
feelings, I love you anyway!
I'm blessed to have found ways to combine my two great loves, art and writing. I've had a habit of weaving back and forth between the two as I grew up. I planned to get a degree in drawing or illustration, and instead I got a degree in English. I ran an Etsy shop for a few years, and closed it around the time I started putting a lot of effort into trying to get some of my writing published (a constant, on-going process; I just received another rejection email two days ago!). Stars & Seas was the first non-academic project that truly combined writing and art. I look forward to many, many more chances to share these two passions simultaneously.

Most of all, as I said at the beginning of this post, I've come to realize how extravagantly blessed I am by the community I call my family and friends. Your support has been firmer than any rock I could stand on, and every day I thank God for you.

All in all, the past few months have been quite a roller coaster ride, and I look forward to what the coming months have to offer!

Thank you all,
-Cailey

P.s. I'm still obsessed with space-travel and I'll gladly accept book recommendations if you know of any other awesome space books. Fiction and nonfiction are both welcome, just as long as it's interesting! I recently finished The Martian by Andy Weir, and earlier this year I fell in love with Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Maybe my next poetry book with be about Mars? Who knows!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Stars & Seas Details

Hey there, fam. It's been a few weeks since we last talked, and in that time I've been up to a whole lot of good stuff, as far as Stars & Seas goes!

All your amazing responses to the announcement of my little book turned me into an emotional wreck for about a week. I am so blessed to be surrounded by this community of friends and family!

Anyway, let's get down to business. I promised more details to come, and here's a whole big load of details regarding Stars & Seas, purchasing, etc. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and questions; this blog post should answer most of the questions you've asked.

I'll start with the question on everyone's mind...

When is the release date?

Sunday, November 4!

That's right, exactly a month away. I can almost smell it! Can you?

 ...oh wait, that's probably the proof I smell... It's sitting right next to me as I write this.

Can I preorder? 

No. It being my first time through this process, I'm keeping things simple. But you can order the minute it's released, so be sure to reserve a few bucks in your bank account!

Where can I buy?

Link to come, fam!

For now it will be available exclusively at my print company's online bookstore.

How much will Stars & Seas cost?

$7. That's a few dollars to cover publishing costs, a few dollars for me, and a cute little book for you!

Speaking of publishing, who's your publisher? What is self-publishing? How does this all work?

My publisher is me, baby! Well, with the help of a friendly company called Blurb.

Blurb is a print-on-demand self-publishing platform. This means I didn't have to write query letters or pitches, work by anyone else's timeline, or have to publish and sell a bulk order of books upfront. I also don't have to print and bind them myself.

The way it works is that I wrote, edited, and illustrated it all, and formatted a PDF according to Blurb's specifications. A few nerve-wracking clicks later, and the proof was on its way!

I found Blurb's process to be pretty easy, and I'm pleased with their services and costs. I haven't run into any issues requiring customer service, so I can't speak to that end, but I've found their FAQs to be very helpful throughout the process.

There are so many options in today's publishing world, but it comes down to one main choice: traditional or self-publishing. And in the case of little chapbooks like this, there's a third option I like to call "super-self-publishing," which involves a home printer and either a stapler or needle and thread.

I chose self-publishing for a few reasons. I'd love to go the traditional publishing route someday! But for this project, it was important to me that I handle the entire process myself. I enlisted the help of a few good friends for editing, but that's about it. I needed to carry this baby the whole way through.

Will it ship internationally?

Heck yeah! Blurb ships to about 70 countries around the world, and also APO and FPO addresses. But if you can't get it where you're at for whatever reason, let me know and we'll see if we can work something out.

Why wait until November 4, if it's ready now?

Ooh, I was hoping you'd ask that question! Well... one of the poems included, Panic Attack, is being published elsewhere this month!

You can find it in volume 18 of The Healing Muse, a literary and visual art journal centered on the topics of the body, medicine, illness, and health. The Healing Muse is put out by Upstate Medical University, out of State University of New York (SUNY). Copies of the journal will be available for purchase online.

I've signed an agreement with The Healing Muse allowing it to publish Panic Attack first. Rights will go back to me immediately after publication, but until then I have to keep it under wraps. It's the way of the publishing world, guys. If you're impatient, just blame the ol' Panic Attack.

I've had a few poems published in various journals, and it's thrilling to get that email, "Dear Cailey, we are pleased to accept              for publication."

It takes hours to wade through submission calls, identify which poems to submit to which journals, fit all submission requirements, and finally hit the submit button.

It seems like they all have different format requirements... blind (anonymous), single poem or a group of 3-5, single document or multiple, address on each page, nothing longer than 20 lines, nothing shorter than 20 lines, Times New Roman or Courier New, I could go on... and there's tons of competition. But it's so rewarding to discover that gem of an acceptance in the middle of a bunch of rejections! The rejections don't really bother me now; they motivate me. But acceptance is an even better motivator, for sure.

What are some other ways to support you?

Great question! 

  • Share with others! Share the purchase link online, show the book to your friends, and make a big deal about having suddenly become a poetry fan.
  • Check out these Stars & Seas products on Redbubble! This design is a combination of several illustrations from the book, all original ink drawings by yours truly. There's more than 50 different items, including t-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, wall art; even duvet covers. Personally I think it looks super rad on the pillows, the hardcover journal, and the travel mug.
  • Keep in touch! Whether it's through this site, social media, or however we interact, let me know what you think about the book. One of the purposes of art is to engage in conversation between the artist and the viewer.. So let's extend that conversation!
  • Most importantly, pay attention to the people around you. You'll never know if they're afraid, hurt, or feeling hopeless unless you show that you care. Be a listener, be a giver, be an encourager. We're made to be in community, not in a vacuum, but it's so easy for us to isolate ourselves when the world seems so dark and scary. Be a light.

Alright fam, that's all the questions I could think of to answer (with a couple of tangents on publishing). If you ask more, I'll do my best to update this post with answers so we're all on the same page!

But one last thing... I just want to say that I am blown away by your enthusiastic support. Absolutely overwhelmed.

I feel this weird mix of pretentiousness and teenage angst when I tell people I write poetry, so it's amazing to look at the number of page views on my announcement, and the reactions to my social media posts about Stars & Seas. It's really overwhelming to think about how many people love me and are excited to read what I wrote.

It's also scary, since this is by far the most personal work I've ever released to the public. This feels wildly different from all the art I've sold or shared online. It almost feels like baring my private journals to the world. I want to thank everyone who has made my community feel safe enough to do this... You mean the world to me. Thank you!

-Cailey

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A BIG Announcement: See Cailey...Write?

Wow, wow, wow I have some exciting news to share and you all have no idea how long I've been waiting and how badly I've wanted to break the news!

I keep hinting about it on Instagram, posting pictures of fish drawings, and papers covered in editing notes, with captions vaguely referring to some project I'm working on... But I think I've done a good job of keeping it mostly on the down-low.

Do you know how hard it is to be excited about something for almost a whole year and not talk about it?

I did tell a few friends, and they got more than their share of all-caps hype texts along the way... Thanks for the encouragement and the all-caps responses!

Okay, have I built this up enough?

Have I given you a proper taste of what I've felt all year? Yes?

Am I just being mean now? Yeah?

Okay, okay. Drum roll please...

I'm publishing a poetry chapbook!

Stars & Seas will be released in the beginning of November! 

More information, such as where to purchase, will be coming soon as I finalize details.

Over the past year I've written, edited, and illustrated over 40 pages of poetry. Wrestled with Microsoft Word, googled countless questions about formatting and self-publishing, and read books on space travel and deep-sea exploration...

Illustration for "Song of the Ginkgo Tree," page 33
  • Did you know space smells like burning metal? At least, according to NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent almost an entire year living in the International Space Station. He shared his experience in Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, published last year. 
  • Did you know the deepest known point in the ocean is Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench? It's about 36,000 feet deep!
  • Did you know that just this year, PhD candidate David Nadlinger of the University of Oxford won an award for his photograph of an atom? It looks like a tiny blue dot, not unlike the famous Pale Blue Dot in space, also known as our own humble Earth, photographed by Voyager 1 in 1990. 
  • Did you know a group of jellyfish is called a bloom?

These are a few of the things I've learned along the way, and they've all slipped into my poems in one way or another. This book compares space and the ocean, using imagery from those two realms to connect with and illustrate my experiences with anxiety and depression.

"Self Portrait," 2017. The Stars & Seas cover image!
Stars & Seas is about my first panic attack, which I experienced a couple years ago.

It's about my ongoing struggle to figure out how much of who I am is actually me, and how much is the anxiety which I've only recently realized I've probably had my whole life.

It's about the passing of my grandpa in April 2017.

It's about trying to be an artist when the art just isn't coming to me.

It's about coming to terms with faith and fear. 

Creating Stars & Seas has been an extremely therapeutic journey, and finally publishing and sharing it with all of you is a big, exciting, and scary final step. It's been a labor of both love and catharsis.

I hope you enjoy this book, either to take a peek into the life of the mental health-challenged, to hopefully find something you can relate to and find comfort in, or just to read some half-decent poetry about space-jellyfish. 

I love you all and I can't wait to share this with you! Like I said, I'll soon have more information regarding cost, where you can purchase, and other ways to support me...

-Cailey

Monday, July 16, 2018

See Cailey Make Some Changes

Folks, I have an announcement to make.

Last November, I put my Etsy shop in Vacation Mode, essentially closing it temporarily. I’d been an Etsy seller for 4 ½ years at that point, and I was feeling worn out with the lack of sales, and unmotivated to put any more work into it. I didn't want to tackle the Christmas season with that kind of attitude.

After keeping it inactive these past months, I’ve decided to officially close the shop.

Etsy was a big learning experience for me. Going into it, I had no idea how to price my work, how to handle online customers, how to promote a business, even what to charge for tax. I put in hours and hours of research before opening the shop, and many, many more afterward.

Looking back, I know plenty of things I could and should have done to improve traffic and make sales, but for all my research beforehand, I was still jumping in pretty blind.

Some things I learned about business and about myself:
  • I learned that I hate dealing with the post office, determining shipping costs, packaging and labeling items to ship, and dealing with items lost in the shipping void. Unlike certain shipping companies, I do not love logistics.
  • I learned that the key to customer service is treating the customer the way I always want to be treated when I'm the customer. Going above the expectation, beyond what's "fair." I sincerely hope that my efforts to do so were received as such!
  • I learned that all the little promotion materials like business cards are expensive… and I have a tendency to say things like “ooh, there's a sale, let’s get these really great personalized stickers to put on the ends of the mailing tubes! I’m investing in my business! No problem!" But it is a problem when profits are outweighed by the cost of those fun marketing materials.
  • I learned that sometimes you’ve got an awesome custom order in the works, you’ve worked with the buyer to make sure the product is perfect, invested in the best materials, and nearly completed everything……… only to have the order fall through at the last minute. It happens, and you just have to cry about it for a few minutes and then figure out what to do with what you have left.
  • Most importantly, I learned how hard it is to be true to the personal nature of my art when personal art isn’t what sells… and how hard it is not to “commercialize” and just make art that will sell.

That last point was the hardest lesson to handle. There were many times that I started a painting, drawing, or collage, only to feel a sharp twinge of guilt because I knew it would never sell in a forum like Etsy. Conversely, there were many times that I started a piece only to feel a sharp twinge of guilt over "selling out" and making something trendy and kitschy.

All that to say, running an Etsy shop is a lot of work and a lot of money. For some, it’s well worth the investment. Etsy definitely has its perks, and I have to admit that the company does everything it can to make the buying and selling experience a good one. But for me, the costs outweighed the rewards.

When I opened the shop I was a full-time college student, working 20+ hours a week, trying to make new art, keep a handle on my mental health, and still try to socialize once in a while. I didn’t have the time to devote to building the business. By the time I graduated and had a little more time (or rather, the illusion of time!) to put into my shop, I found myself burnt out.

So, that’s where things stand. I’m closing my Etsy shop after five years. I need to get back to my personal art, in my time, on my terms. I need to remove shipping and marketing from the equation.

I need to stop trying to be a “professional artist” for a minute and focus on trying to be an artist in the first place. 

You: “But I love Tornado Girl and I want to buy a print!”

Me: "Well, you can always contact me about buying my art!"

Only this way, I won’t be paying Etsy any listing fees or commissions.

You can also still find my work on t-shirts, phone cases, coffee mugs, and lots of other household objects at Redbubble, where all I have to do is upload the art. They handle production, shipping, and customer service, and in my experience as both buyer and artist, they do a really great job at all of those things.

Finally, this will not affect my blogging - you’ll still hear from me here at See Cailey Color! There will just be fewer sales pitches, so you should thank me.
All kidding aside, thank you all for your support, my friends. I couldn’t have done any of it without you, and I still can’t, moving forward. I depend so much on my family, friends, and internet-friends for encouragement and inspiration.

Thank you.

-Cailey