In With the New Year and a Look at the Old Ones

Two of my resolutions for 2022 are to stay strong with my book projects (writing, designing, publishing) and to blog more often (hopefully, once a week or more).

It’s interesting that I make those two resolutions often to myself and fall short. But I tread on … and peek at the past to make sure I’m advancing.

So, in a similar form that I used in my last post, here’s a look at my old January blogs and some of the items I featured.

  • January 2011, I began designing this website and blog, published my ABOUT page on the 17th, and made my first post a month later. I made no public resolutions.
  • January 2012’s blogs came with lots of humor, which included several Louie & Bruce comic strips. Again, I made no resolutions.
  • January 2013, I made my first Kindle publications and blogged about each one. The only promise I made was to keep writing stories.
  • January 2014 brought more of my free stories and poems. Still no resolutions for the new year.
  • I featured artwork and stories in my January 2015 blogs and made no resolutions.
  • I made no resolutions in January 2016 when my blog turned 5 years old. Since then, WordPress considers February as my blog’s anniversary month. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t post anything until February 20, 2011.
  • January 9, 2017 was the first time I made public my resolutions for the new year. I spent a lot of time planning the books that I finally began publishing in 2021.
  • I lamented to you, my dear readers, about my 9-to-5 job taking away from my writing schedule during January 2018. I also made tentative changes to my Ridgewood characters’ names and ages and presented more artwork and free stories.
  • I presented another free short story and a poem in January 2019.
  • In January 2020, I toyed with the idea of renaming the town Ridgewood in my books to the earlier Ravenwood from my high school days. It wasn’t a well thought out idea. Another idea that month was to make my teen character Vree into an adult and put her into a series of books for grownups. I ended up putting that idea on a back burner and letting it simmer. It’s still there and I stir it occasionally.
  • Last year, January 2021, I was days into retirement from the work force and making big plans for my future, which kept me away from my blog that month.

And now, 11 years and 483 posts after I began this project, I reiterate my promise to keep writing, posting my art and stories, and keeping you abreast of when I publish my books.

Have a Happy New Year, my friends, stay safe and healthy, and may life bring you joy beyond your dreams.

Another Year

Another December 31st, another year is ending. Here, in my cozy corner of our big planet, I’m ready with the new calendar going up on the wall to replace the old one now marked with appointments met (and some not met).

As I write this, my mind reflects on the past. It seems as if every year goes past us in such a hurry, which suggests a poem I wrote when I was a youngster at college. It’s more of a lyric than a poem because I structured it around a tune playing in my head at the time. I often wrote poetry that way and could have been a musician if I’d have pursued it. But making art was more important at the time, so…

The poem is called A Day Song.

Our eyes are fixing on the time
On moving hands and sacred signs
And chimes that ring the end of day.

Our minds are wanting time to slow
To have it stop and never go
To celebrate the day that stays.

Our time comes ’round in furrowed lines
In yellowed books and cellar wines
And bells that ring the end of day.

Our hearts are wanting time to slow
To have it stop and never go
To celebrate an endless day.

Old lips are thirsting springtime rain
To feel alive and young again
To taste the times we loved so well.

Our eyes are sad to see time go
To watch it run and always flow
To watch it pass and never dwell.

The end of every year stirs memories of accomplishments and failures. It’s what we do, then make resolutions to do better, accomplish more. While I write this, my mind reflects on my accomplishments and failures of 2021. My biggest failure was not blogging regularly.

I continued writing and stayed serious with my writing goals this year, though I did not post anything here during January. Thus, the month is a big goose egg in my blogging score.

In February, I posted two old Louie & Bruce comic strips from 1982 and received an achievement award from WordPress for blogging with them for ten years. I posted the news and earned a 3 for my score of posts for the year.

I scored a 2 in March for posting two more old Louie & Bruce strip from 1982, and a 1 in April for posting an apple orchard painting and the poem it inspired from 2006.

A Brief Pause in an Apple Orchard
A Brief Pause in an Apple Orchard, Oil Painting

I had nothing in May, which was a busy month of writing my books, designing book covers, replacing my old laptop with a new one, and learning some new writing and art apps that I put on it.

July was a busy blogging month, which I scored a 5 for posting more writing news, as well as reposting a poem about U.S. government’s calamities and a reflection of my stomach surgery in 2020.

I scored deuces in August and again in September. The four posts were about my writing and publishing endeavors. You can see several samples of my book cover art in the September posts.

If you’re still with me, October brought 1 post on Halloween (I love Halloween and frankly, the whole month of October) and another art post in November that features both wildlife and book cover art.

Day of the Fairies e-book cover

And now—ta dah! Today’s post scores me a 4 for the month. Three of them were shameless promotions of my e-book “A Night of Hellhounds” at Amazon. During those posts, I got in a serious quandary here at home over why my spellcheckers hyphenate e-book but not email. No one I’ve talked to knows why. If you do, please leave me a comment telling me why.

So, here we are at the end of this post—number 20 and the last one of 2021. Obviously, my goal for 2022 is to post more than twenty times before December 31st comes again. Another goal is to finish more books and to stay healthy. And it’s good health I wish upon you.

Have a wonderful day and (drumroll—the old end-of-year joke is coming) I’ll see you next year.

Old Dog, New Tricks In May

I’m back in the saddle with my KDP book projects, getting ready to publish my books again at Amazon. I spent the past month learning new publishing techniques that will help ease the burden of being an indie author who self-publishes their books.

First among the list was learning the latest Microsoft Word program after I replaced 2010 with 365. The learning curve was small on that, which carried me onto Amazon’s latest version of Kindle Create. Again, the curve wasn’t too difficult since I last used the program five years ago.

Next on my list was learning to use Inkscape so I can create my book covers for paperback books. I usually use MS Word and an old PhotoDeluxe program for that, but I wanted to learn something new. The curve on that is big, so I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials to ease the process. I have a college BA degree in graphic design that I received in 1990, so I’m a relic when it comes to all the gadgets and their bells and whistles in the digital age. Don’t let me get started on all my failures while using Photoshop twenty years ago. The program was Grand Canyon huge and clunkier than my grandfather’s Model A Ford back then, so I got rid of it and settled on its streamlined and swifter little brother, PhotoDeluxe. Inkscape doesn’t seem as difficult as Photoshop but has plenty of bells and whistles.

During all this excitement, I replaced my Win7 laptop with a Win10 one. I spent a weekend moving files and learning 10’s shortcuts. It was funny when the computer connected to my old 2007 Hotmail account and wanted to use it as my primary email. I’ve been using Gmail for a decade and I forgot all about my Hotmail account after I transferred all my contacts to Gmail ten years ago. It was funny and a little bewildering to see my face from 2007 on my computer’s sign-in screen. Ah, the old gray hair isn’t what it used to be.

In between writing, prepping my books for publication, and getting comfortable with Win10, MS Word 365, and Inkscape, I decided to dive into the deep end of the author pool by downloading Scrivener version 3. More tutorials at YouTube helped me with its steep learning curve and I enjoyed how easy it was to create ebooks and paperbacks ready to send to Amazon’s KDP.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, I created a new author logo.

I plan to use this on my book covers to give them a unique look. I’m tired of seeing plain fonts on covers, so the artist in me took over during one of my book cover design sessions. Although the one pictured is red, I can use any color.

As an experiment, I threw this cover together for the first ebook at my KDP website.

I made it with MS Word and PhotoDeluxe—my old standby method—but I’ll probably use a cover built on Inkscape when I actually publish the book.

So, there you have it, my busy month of May in less than 1000 words.

Have a great June and stay safe.

Peace and love!

Coming Attractions [plans]

August is ending. Summer is almost over, which means it is time for me to return to my writing and art. And with that, it is time to break those long periods of silence here.

Before I took large portions of the summer off to collect my wits and to catch up on the parts of my life not connected to the Internet, I was reworking my books about Verawenda. This has been an ongoing project for several years, and one I would like to see come to fruition by the end of the year.

Other projects involve photography, which I plan to reveal during the autumn and winter months.

Winters are long where I live, and January, February and March are often brutal enough to keep me at my computers instead of going outdoors. You can expect to read and see a lot from me during those months. I also expect to return to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing during that time. I do my best writing in the winter, so I’m 99.9 percent positive I’ll have something to publish.

More about that later.

I’m excited about seeing another October come along. If I could perform one magic feat, I would make it October for at least six months of the year. And not because of Halloween. There has always been something romantic and magical about October, from the smells in the air to the lighting of the sky each day. And, of course, the colors of nature before the leaves fall.

No other month has such a pull on me. April and May come close with spring and the start of baseball, but October will always be my favorite month of the year, which makes November a melancholy one for me.

But enough of that.

It’s time to focus on good things for this blog.

So, as another summer winds down and my creativity begins percolating again, I guess the only thing I can say in closing this blog post is, “Stay tuned.”

Walking the Lonely Road [writing]

My blog is often a neglected child crying for attention. I have a tiny window of time to write, proofread, and post new blog posts. My daily life is a rush that keeps the heart pumping and puts a limp in my walk at the end of the day.

Smile. There is always a moment when I can write a few sentences or thumbnail a new drawing or painting. It’s a yin and yang thing that keeps me balanced.

I have pages of incomplete sentences too, in notebooks, on index cards, and even in fancy leather journals. I am a sketcher. I see a light at the end of a tunnel and work my way to it. Sometimes, it takes years to get there. Sometimes, which is often the case, I find another tunnel and branch into a new direction.

Sometimes the tunnel is not a tunnel at all, but a lone highway that starts with no people, houses, or traffic. I take those lonely walks along such highways when I begin writing my stories. But I soon meet an interesting character—sometimes two or more. They join me on the journey, taking me to places and other people, showing me which way to go and telling me how to get there. That’s the fun of writing stories.

But that is internal. Externally, I am by myself, thinking, planning, writing—or thinking, planning, making art. I suppose, that’s the true walk on the lonely road. It’s what writers and artists do.

An artist friend calls her time spent sketching, her social time. It’s time spent with family and friends while she gathers and plays with ideas. But the time she spends while painting is a time for solitary confinement. And she’s right: I cannot write a book, or draw or paint artwork without shutting myself away from the rest of the world.

It’s lonely, yes, but necessary. Because that is where the lightning is—the juice that brings your creation alive. Without it, you’re just walking alone in the dark, going nowhere in particular.

To all my creative friends, I encourage you to walk the lonely road and create something great.

Back To the Drawing Board [drawing]

If I were able to go back in time and relive my childhood while keeping the knowledge I have now, I would choose again to be an artist first and a writer second.

I was an early and avid reader when I was a child. But I was also and moreover an art lover. Art, especially picture art, is what I first saw when I stepped inside someone’s home … beyond the mudroom, of course. Drawings and paintings on people’s walls captivated me and made me want to be an artist. So I worked long and hard to be one.

When I’m introduced to people, I’m announced with the title “artist.” I earned that distinction long ago.

“You’re an artist,” friends remind me when I struggle to write my stories. “Draw something. Paint a picture.” And I do, just to get away from whatever writing problem I’m dealing with.

And it comes so easily, drawing and painting. If only writing were so easygoing for me.

So, for a change of pace after a long bout wrestling with my next novel, I took up my drawing pencils and drew a portrait for a friend and co-worker. Below are displayed the fun I had creating the art.

First came the photo to work from.

It was the only photo she had of the couple together. Photos are limiting. And this one had many lost values in the edges, especially around the woman’s hair because of the busy and cluttered background.

I didn’t like the arrangement of her and the man she’s with—they are too far away from each other—so I rearranged them and brought them closer. They are married, after all.

I began with black marker and sketched a black and white composition that I call a cartoon. It gave me a reference of white space and something very important to composition, a something artists call “eye flow.”

I found the upper right and bottom left white space threw the composition off balance, so I trimmed it out and brought the couple closer together. When I was satisfied, I took new drawing paper and began sketching in what became the final drawing.

After it was done and I framed it behind glass, a friend photographed it and gave me a copy. It’s the only photo I have of the finished art.

My co-worker was pleased with the drawing and so was I.

I love drawing. I wish I could do it every day instead of working at the job I have now. But making art doesn’t put a roof over one’s head or food on the table for everyone who can do it.

Still, if I were able to go back in time, I would still choose to be an artist first.

Birthdays and Life

My baby picture. Circa, December 1957.

Today is my birthday. Another year older and closer to death.

Death is a common theme the older I get. But that’s life for all of us.

I was born on Sunday, 62 years ago. My mother said she went into labor while laughing at Jerry Lewis. She and my father were watching Hollywood or Bust at the movie theater. She loved watching Jerry Lewis movies. My dad didn’t like Jerry’s style of humor, but he enjoyed Dean Martin’s singing. It was Dean and Jerry’s last movie together.

So I came into this world around 11:30pm that Sunday, during a typical February snowstorm in northwestern Pennsylvania. I was Mom’s second child and the first to survive childbirth.

In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower was the US president and a postage stamp Cost 3 Cents. Some of the news during the year told us…

  • Congress approved the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction to protect blacks’ voting rights,
  • Hurricane “Audrey” destroyed Cameron, Louisiana killing 390 people,
  • National Guardsmen barred nine black students from entering previously all white Central High School in Little Rock,
  • The Russians launched Sputnik I, the first earth orbiting satellite,
  • The FBI arrested Jimmy Hoffa and charged him with bribery,
  • The Milwaukee Brewers Braves won the World Series,
  • The Detroit Lions won the NFL championship,
  • The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup,
  • Jack Kerouac published On the Road,
  • Dr. Seuss published The Cat in the Hat,
  • And Laura Ingalls died in Mansfield, Missouri.

I became an avid reader by the age of 5 and wrote my own stories. My schoolteachers encouraged me to write. Comments in report cards and letters to my parents said

  • Steve loves to daydream;
  • He has an amazing mind;
  • His writing is extremely original.

But I wanted to be an artist more than a writer. I drew every day. Even later in life, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Aptitude tests for the Navy and college said I was creative and artistic. And the Navy said I would make a good leader. I think my Myers-Brigg personality type indicator listed me as an ISTJ. Strengths for an ISTJ are responsible, reliable, and hardworking. ISTJs get the job done. They make great business executives, accountants, and lawyers.

But I wanted to be an artist.

I have always had a very active imagination. I live in a bit of a dream world when I can. I’m a visual person and I appreciate beauty and design. And most of all, I feel extremely anxious in the wrong surroundings. Working a job that shut me in an office would have likely driven me insane.

So, I headed to the outdoors and became a wildlife artist. I didn’t become rich or famous, but I did well enough doing what made me happy. Later in life, around 45, I began writing again. I had too many stories in my head, many leftover from my high school days, that I needed to let out. A writing quiz for authors suggested that I write Young Adult stories. It summarized me as someone who “loves to write about years gone by” and is “flexible enough to write like a teenager, with the wisdom and perspective of an adult.” So I did.

Since then, I don’t write or make art as often as I did. Now, I read and think a lot. It’s only natural. I’m in the Thinking and Judgement part of my ISTJ personality, doing some soul searching. I have always been philosophical and contemplative to seek an understanding of the deeper reasons for life. Now, more than ever, I’m intrigued by the unexplained, the mysteries of life, and the phenomena of nature. My kinship and love for the outdoors sparks a deep appreciation for the wonderment and beauty of nature. When I’m outdoors in nature, I feel fully alive.

It’s that feeling that has me looking forward to full retirement from the 9-to-5 working life that I do to pay the bills. 4-and-a-half more years to go.

Quiet and serious, you are well prepared for whatever life hands you.
—An ISTJ personality strength

Poet [poetry]

The boy who lost his mother gnarled like a bear—
tough bear he.

But away from the bestial,
he had softness in his eyes—
they laughed even when he and his words were sharp
and sometimes ambiguous.

He showed the plumpness of his belly to his closest friends
and grunted like a pig and poet,
laughing behind his scars
with eagerness to taste color from afar.

He took from the sunglow like an artist hunched at his easel
and painted everyone—
even the ones who had no power to imagine.

He painted deaf-mutes with love that ran down his breast,
ripping chords from the constellations
and opening creation’s ingenious blindness
to music that volleyed beyond his art that transcended ages
and volleys still
in us all.

Hypnagogia [painting]

I awoke today with an intention to write something profound. Then I got out of bed.

There are moments between sleep and consciousness when our minds are busy creating. For me, whether when I’m falling asleep or awakening, that’s when stories play out and I see artwork happen in my mind. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” a borderland between sleep and wakefulness characterized by surreal visions and strange sensory occurrences.

I learned to use hypnagogia to my advantage when I was a teenager, which sometimes resulted in “trippy” art while I was in high school. I also used it to form story ideas. The best times to do this were those waking moments, which left imprints in my mind that I recorded as best as I could into drawing pads and notebooks I kept by my bed.

Cloud Ruler
Cloud Ruler, Acrylic Painting

A routine sleep schedule helped me to have hypnagogia occurrences during the same time every morning. I was most creative with my art and writing during my school years and later when I worked a routine 9-to-5 day job. But when my sleep schedule was everything but routine, my creativity was at its lowest. This occurred when I worked as a steward, baker, cook, mess hall manager, truck driver, bartender, and housing manager in the Navy, and again when I became employed in retail.

My current retail employer insists but doesn’t demand that I make myself available to work at any time and day … except Christmas (subject to change, I’m sure, by a growing mental illness among CEOs called Wealth Accumulation Disorder). Luckily, my department is a “day department,” so I have been able to stay away from what the company used to call third shift. I’m a “day person,” which means I don’t have to work past midnight, but I should be available to begin working at 6am. Luckily (and I’ll take all the luck I can get), my department doesn’t open until 9am, which means my days begin at eight thirty. Quitting time is 10pm, so each day is fractured into two shifts: 8:30am–5:30pm, and 5:30pm–10pm.

Hypnagogia rarely occurs when I’m scheduled a 5:30pm–10pm shift followed by an 8:30am–5:30pm shift. I’m certain the lack of hypnagogia happens because I’m used to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am. When I go to bed later than 10pm, I struggle to fall asleep and end up reading until midnight or later. My mind is blank at 6am on these nights, and so I spend the hour reserved for recording ideas hitting the snooze button before I have to take my morning dose of Synthroid before I can eat a proper breakfast.

Without hypnagogia occurrences, especially right before I awake, I find myself less alert on the job as well. Perhaps it’s because experiencing hypnagogia is a condition I’ve grown accustomed to. When I miss out, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I need my moment to be creative. And when I’m feeling creative, I do more than make art or write stories, I function better at socializing. My brain’s gears are working best and in full throttle. I’m that smiling guy who greets you with a friendly hello because I got a night of good sleep bookended with hypnagogia.

Maybe someday big pharma will sell it over the counter. For now, I’ll take it when I can get it, and call myself lucky on the days—I mean nights—it happens.

Quick Thought About Life

As both an artist and a writer, I reflect on and analyze my life when I am alone. I accept what I understand and discard the rest. My spirit cannot grow in confusion.

Sharing With Others … My Pleasure

I made some changes to my blog and took down my copyright protection notice. This doesn’t mean my work isn’t copyright protected. You still cannot take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action. But I want readers and followers to know I have no problem if you copy and share my work with others. In fact, I insist you do. It has always been my pleasure sharing my work with others. That’s the reason I started this blog.

When I was a teenager and realized I was talented enough to show my art with artists who called themselves professional because their critics called them that, I knew I’d never be a “true professional” because I gave my art away instead of selling it. I still do. And that’s because I never think about making money when I draw or paint a picture. I only think about making art. So when someone likes my art, I give it to them. It makes us happy. Most people offer me money, but I always tell them payment isn’t necessary.

I enjoy giving away my works, whether art or writing. Forty-five years ago when I received a typewriter and wrote my first book on it, I mimeographed the pages, stapled them together, and gave the copies to anyone interested in reading my book. Its recipients were family and a few friends, but I developed a small fan following who were eager to read more of my stories. I felt like Sally Field receiving her Oscar and saying “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.” We all have a need to belong, and that moment (knowing people liked my book) was a shining one for me.

Today, I continue giving away my art and books. It makes the recipients and me happy. My critics frown on this and say “If you give away your work, no one will take you seriously and you won’t make money!” But that statement isn’t true. The internet has made it easy for artists and writers to share their talents globally with others, and some artists and writers have made big money off this worldwide pass-along. But that’s because their work—their free work—was transferred from one interested person to another until the interest built so large that an agent said “I can make money from this” and fame and fortune followed.

Becoming rich and famous always seems to be the drumbeat for artists and writers. But I don’t draw and paint and write to those drums. I never have. I’m happy giving away my work. (And as soon as I correct mistakes made from bad advice, my books at Amazon will be free too.) It’s my pleasure … I do what I love doing. Just as it pleases me to come to this little blog and post artwork and stories free on the internet, for everyone to share.

Painting with a Color Triangle

This is part of a lesson plan I used when I taught my young students how to mix colors on their palettes. If this is new to you, give it a try.

I keep the colors on my palette simple: 4 yellows, 4 Reds, and 4 blues. I have listed these 12 colors in the color triangle below.  This simple tool enables me to know which colors to use when I want to darken a color effectively without creating mud.  Some artists refer to the process of darkening colors as “cooling,” “shading,” and “graying.”  This tool is also useful for lightening the darker colors effectively.  “Brightening” and “warming” are other terms artists use for lightening their colors.

Color Triangle
My Color Triangle for mixing clean colors.

My 12 colors consist of 4 yellows, 4 reds, and 4 blues.  My 4 yellows are Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Yellow Ochre, and Burnt Umber.  My 4 reds are Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Indian Red, and Burnt Sienna.  My 4 blues are Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, and Payne’s Gray.  The outer triangle represents my highest intensity colors based on a split-primary color wheel.  Split-primary colors are colors of the highest intensity (brightest) that are warm and cool colors of the same family.  Cadmium Red is a warm red; Alizarin Crimson is a cool red.  If I want to cool my Cadmium Red, I add Alizarin Crimson, and if I need to warm my Alizarin Crimson, I add Cadmium Red.  Ultramarine Blue is a cool blue; Cerulean Blue is warm. Lemon Yellow is warm; Cadmium Yellow is cool.

I mix my own secondary colors: orange, green, and violet (purple).  To make a bright, vivid orange, I mix Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Red.  To make a vivid green, I add Lemon Yellow to Cerulean Blue.  And to make a vivid violet, I add Alizarin Crimson to Ultramarine Blue.  If I need to darken my orange color, I can add a mixture of Lemon Yellow and Alizarin Crimson.  To darken green, I add Cadmium Yellow and Ultramarine Blue.  And to darken violet, I add Cerulean Blue and Cadmium Red.

Of course, there are other ways I can darken both my primary colors and secondary colors without making muddy mixes.

Small Color Triangle

Think of the colors on the outer part of the triangle as colors with lots of light.  The next triangle has colors with less light.  These are my middle intensity colors.  I use these colors to shade or “gray down” my highest intensity colors.  I use Yellow Ochre to lower any of my two highest intensity yellows, Indian Red to lower either of my highest intensity reds, and Prussian Blue to lower my highest intensity blues.

The innermost triangle or third triangle has my lowest intensity colors.  These are colors with the least amount of light.  They further lower the intensity or brightness of my outer colors.

As I mentioned, I can darken my secondary colors this way, too.  To further lower/darken my original orange, I can add either a mixture of Yellow Ochre and Indian Red, or a mixture of Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna, depending on how dark I want my orange.  To lower/darken my original green, I add either a mix of Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue, or a mix of Burnt Umber and Payne’s Gray.  And to lower violet, I add either a mix of Indian Red and Prussian Blue, or a mix of Burnt Sienna and Payne’s Gray.  This way, I keep my colors from becoming dull looking and muddy.  This happens when artists try to lighten their colors with white, and try to darken their colors with black.

Keep this handy color triangle with you when you’re mixing colors and looking for the right lightness and darkness.

Happy painting. 🙂