working out an idea

I’m working on an idea.  I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ve worked through a couple of iterations, since.  The idea has evolved significantly, as I’ve worked, and thought, considering the meaning and the purpose of such a project.  And the meaning of my life, and of my work, in general.  I like the direction it’s taking.  Don’t know how capable I’ll be of either selling it, or of marketing it -each of which holds unique challenges- but I’m going to keep working on it anyway.

I’ve been vaguely considering designing a custom deck of cards, akin to tarot cards, for many years.  I’ve never really wanted to simply design a tarot deck, as so many others have done before me, simply putting my own artwork on the traditional 72 cards.  This has something to do with my understanding about about divination works, and what part cards tend to play in it (not to mention the other roles such cards tend to end up playing on the side).  I’ve wanted to not just create artwork for an existing system of divination, but to create a new system from scratch.  A wholly original deck.

Of course, I’m aware that Leviticus 19:26 makes it clear that God would prefer if I didn’t practice divination at all.  The context that Isaiah 2:6 gives divination is as a “superstition from the East.”  I’d effectively given up the practice a few years ago, after a brief, intense period of giving in to the temptation, but it’s been on my mind again, lately.  Not in the context of wanting to do readings or divine knowledge/wisdom/future, but in wanting to design the cards, and to publish a book explaining them.  So I started designing.  I want through a couple of interesting ideas, did dozens of sketches, and decided to go a different direction.

I’ve been working on steering my creativity in a direction toward more Christian writing.  Not entirely effectively, yet, but I’ve been trying to at the very least avoid going further in the direction of the sex, violence, and apparent lack of morality that the Untrue Tales From Beyond Fiction was pointing me in (though that changes character in the final books).  I have a partially completed book that literally explores the concept of the unforgivable sin mentioned by Jesus – with violence, sex, action, and all sorts of other apparent sins (and exploration of the meaning of ‘sin’) along the way.  I would like to write several explorations of the complex, interesting, and challenging things I have found in scripture and in my own Christian walk.  But first, I think I’ll start with something unconventional:

I’m designing a deck of Christian cards, and writing a book to explain them.  As I conceive it now, I expect the book to have three pain parts: One part, the expected breakdown, card by card, of how to read the cards for divination – what this one means, what it means ‘reversed’, how to lay the cards out and to interpret them.  One part, a theological and biblical exploration of divination, ‘Eastern superstition’, and related new age beliefs as a temptation for modern Christians, especially as for new Christians who prior to being born again practiced such things.  One part, an alternative breakdown, card by card, that uses the deck of cards as a sort of flash cards for learning about Jesus, Christianity, and the early church.

Part of the idea (which will certainly be included in the book) is that most things of this world are neither inherently good or evil, but it is our individual choices, day by day and moment by moment, that we do right or wrong.  That we imbue the things of this world with the good or the evil that we do with them.  A deck of cards -the ones I am designing, or any deck of tarot cards- is not evil.  It is not a tool of the devil, in and of itself.  It can be used to do evil, but the cards themselves are not evil.  If I do a good job designing them, if I write a clear and well-organized book, both of which I believe can only happen through him who gives me strength, then my cards will be able to do good by those who choose to use them for good, and to likewise allow those who choose to do so to use them for divination.  A tool.  A choice.

The production, distribution, and sale of the book is easy for me, right now.  I’ve got 10 books in print already, and adding one only takes a couple of weeks, once it’s written.  The production, distribution, and sale of the cards -especially as part of a bundled item with the book- looks challenging.  There are several options for getting the cards printed.  I could pay for a huge offset run, warehouse them somehow…  There are a couple of companies that will do short-run decks of cards (hundreds instead of thousands or tens of thousands of decks).  I found one place that will do “print on demand” of custom cards, but not like POD book printers do -they aren’t doing wholesaling, retailing, distribution, and won’t do one-offs-  but they’ll print as few as 10 decks at a time, and they’ll print (but not assemble) deck boxes, too.  And I found a place that sells microperforated playing card paper, so I can print a test deck or two on my own printer.  So I’ll probably go with that last one at first, get the cards how I want them.  Then go to the POD printer and get a small order (they have a price break at 50 decks) & have a matching print run at Lightning Source (who also has a price break at 50 copies of a book).  Then try to get them carried by Christian and new age stores, I guess.  

I’m considering some options like:  Putting the book out with a high cover price & one page being a coupon you mail in for a free deck of cards.  Doing all the distribution myself, so I can bundle them manually, and don’t have to worry about people who buy the book through other channels & don’t get the cards.  Writing the book in such a way that it stands alone, without the cards, but tells you how you can order the cards, and using the same distribution setup I have for my other books.  And… uhh… do you have any other ideas?  I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

The current plan is to do the research (ie: read the bible, concordances, and other bible resources) so I can write 2-4 pages (minimum) for each of the cards (at least 1 page for each of the two parts that break down each card), and to paint an individual painting for each card’s art.  I’m hoping to do each painting 8×10″ or less, so I can do a high resolution scan with equipment I already own, do additional work in Photoshop as necessary, but then to have an original painting for sale that corresponds to every card.  To make packaging & distribution easier (and because it fell together in the designing of the deck), I’m doing a 52-card deck, currently as follows:

  • 5 ‘Major’ cards: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Death, & Devil
  • 14 Apostles cards: 1 per apostle, including both Judas & Matthias and Paul
  • 11 Miracles cards, each featuring one of Jesus’ miracles
  • 11 Ministry cards, each featuring one group of people to whom Jesus ministered
  • 11 Message cards, each featuring one basic, foundational, repeated part of Jesus’ message

I think the hard cards will be the Apostle cards.  I need to do the research, but I’m pretty sure there are a few of the apostles there isn’t two pages’ worth of information about in the bible.  Hopefully I’m mistaken.  Either way, I’ll have to figure out how to represent each of them visually – I plan to research how they’ve each been traditionally and historically depicted in the last two millennia.  Still, they effectively represent 14 paintings of “a man,” which, if you’ve seen my art, you know hasn’t exactly been something I’ve been perfecting.  So probably 14 abstracted expressions of what each man represented or something they did or … inspired by whatever was used to depict them historically.  Your suggestions are, again, welcome.

I have a list, a flexible, mutable list, of what I expect the 52 cards to be.  I’m thinking of creating 52 blog posts -perhaps in a separate instance of WP, or perhaps merely in their own category- one for each card, where I can write out my explorations of the concepts.  I’ll have to think about that, too.  What do you think would work best?  Are you interested?  What would hold your interest?  What would annoy you about blogging it?  

Up late again.  Didn’t do any audio work today (now I’m not actually “ahead” of the podcast, anymore – a lot of recording done, but no finished episodes ready to go from here on out), but absolutely have to do some tomorrow.  Who wants to try to get me up in the morning?  Say, around 8?  sigh.

Not about Tools of Change

Last week I was in New York, NY for the first time in my life.  I won a free conference pass to O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference from Booksquare, managed to afford the airfare and hotel (Would you believe I flew to NYC, stayed for 3 nights within 1.0mi of the conference at Times Square, was fed the entire time, and flew home for under $550?), and had a great time.  I have tweeted a bit about it, from the conference, and I have many, many pages of hand-written notes I took over the two days of the conference I attended, but this post is not about Tools of Change.  I may (or may not – but probably will) blog extensively about it later.  There’s a good chance I’ll write a thousand words or more per page of notes, not to mention anecdotes about everything that happened between sessions and at night.  This is not one of those posts.

This post is about everything else.  This post is about how, in between the last two First Friday Art Walks (ie: basically in January), I painted 6 new paintings, recorded the audio for the podcast version of FWYCR (inlcuding 6 chapters ahead of where I needed to be), wrote 5 (mostly long) blog posts, did my taxes, et cetera, et cetera.  This post is about how, since the February First Friday Art Walk I haven’t painted anything new, have only written this blog post, and have only finished the single chapter of MEPod that was due today.  This post is about how I don’t know when my next book will be ready for publication, or what book it will be.  This post is about how I occasionally notice that I don’t have a “marketing strategy.” This post is about feeling insignificant, helpless.

After this month’s First Friday Art Walk in downtown Phoenix (I show among the vendors known as “Roosevelt Row” – the booths in the blocked off streets of Garfield between 4th & 6th, on 5th between Garfield & McKinley, and starting next month on 6th as well – I’m there every month, I pre-paid for all of 2009, and you can see/buy my art and/or books in person there for cash), I sold two paintings.  Did not sell them at the Art Walk, one because I don’t take credit cards on site, the other because there wasn’t a convenient ATM, but sold them after being seen there.  Gladly drove across town on Saturday to deliver one (after processing the payment through Google Checkout) and to a different part of town on Sunday to deliver the other.  I’m always glad to put my creations into the hands of people who appreciate them.  People who love them.  People who are excited to be able to see them again and again.  These kind of sales are awesome.

Very early Monday morning I left for NY. Thursday evening I returned to Phoenix.  Friday I did laundry and tried to recover from the conference & the trip.

Saturday I had another Art Walk / Art Fair, this time at Angel’s Serenity in North Phoenix/Scottsdale.  The Angel’s Serenity Art Fair is a Saturday, daytime event.  It had better turnout when the economy was in better shape (and when there was an open coffee shop involved – since gone out of business), but I still feel it’s worthwhile to show there.  It certainly doesn’t cost anything but my time and effort.  Sold a few books (You’ve seen the new books, right?), about half to returning customers.  That’s my favorite and most reassuring sort of customer, the ones who have bought my books before, read them, and want to buy the new books, too.  That’s the basis for my publishing model; to build an audience of people who will continue buying my books as I continue to write them.  Didn’t move any art at the Art Fair, but a past customer and I spent a lot of time discussing the 5 or 6 pieces he wants to buy – if only I catch him at the right time of the month.  I’ll follow up with him after the first of the month.

Writing it out, I know it hasn’t been a lot of time – especially since the conference was actually work.  Yet I feel unaccomplished, so far.  Dilligent, yes.  I recorded three more chapters of FWYCR yesterday, and worked on trying to figure out what to do about the final main character’s voice – it needs to be distinct, striking, but not distracting or confusing.  I edited, mixed, compressed & posted chapter 15 today, went to two banks and a book store, and am writing this blog post.  I’ve been working on some other ideas (more below) as well.  Still, I feel I haven’t done enough.  On the other hand, a big part of why I chose not to buy the big TV was so that I would be able to work longer without stress and worry – so that I would be able to go at my own pace without having to freak out about whether my art & writing were bringing in enough money on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.  So I’m trying not to freak out.

I’m also looking at some new projects.  I’m considering designing a deck of cards – you can think of them like tarot cards or fortune telling cards, though I’m developing them largely from scratch.  I’m working out some planning and manufacturing ideas already, starting work on basic artwork & meanings.  Probably a set of 50 cards – thinking of maybe putting it out as a “deck” of moo business cards, actually, though I haven’t fully considered all the different custom card-deck printing options out there yet.  Feel free to suggest someone in the comments.  Then, in parallel with developing the deck, write a book explaining the cards, their meanings, and how to do a “reading” from them.  Publish the book & make the cards available – because I can, and it interests me to do so.  Not sure how to market such a thing, and certainly can’t bundle the cards with the book via Lightning Source, but it’s an idea.  If I decide to paint the images for the cards, that could mean up to 50 new Mini-Paintings – I’d want to do them at a size I could scan with the equipment I have, so probably 8×10″ or smaller canvas or canvas boards.  Or perhaps illustrations on paper, but then I’d have to mount/mat/frame them.  bleh.  But either way, that could be a gallery show I could shop around.  Hang the originals on the walls, sell the cards & books (& originals), and have me (someone) do readings for guests all night/nights.

I’m also increasingly thinking of trying to put together a music “album.”  Probably a “Christian music album,” at that.  I keep having to compose my own music for the podcasts (because I’m quite stubborn and independent) and thus to think about music, to design music, and to practice with its creation.  I’ve been vaguely thinking about creating music since middle or high school, but have rarely stuck with any physical instrument for more than a few weeks at a time & have never studied musical composition.  Having Garageband in front of me several hours a week, listening to music I’ve composed play behind my audiobooks, it’s been pushing me more and more toward writing songs & putting together an album.  That, I don’t have outlines or plans or marketing plans for (yet), unlike the cards/book thing above, but it’s rolling around in my head, closer and closer to the front all the time.

Which brings me around to what may be a lack of focus.  If I’m writing/composing/recording/producing an album of Christian music, am I focused on art?  On writing?  On publishing?  I’ve squeezed the designing of a deck of fortune cards (did you know the Old Testament  condemns divination?) into the art/publishing worlds with the hand-painting of the art & the writing/publishing of a companion book, but has my focus slipped?  What happened to the anthology of short stories I was working on last year?  When is UTFBF-RoaAP: Book Four going to be written?  Will I paint anything other than these cards any time soon?  What about my next podcast novel (due in April)?  What about marketing?

Marketing?  Fuck.  I knew I was forgetting something.  I still haven’t figured out how to do marketing.  Sigh.

In other news, since my books are increasingly apparent as some sort of idealized-communist propaganda, I’ve begun slogging my way through Atlas Shrugged.  The Fountainhead is next.  Then probably the Communist Manifesto, Wealth of Nations and Mein Kampf.  I’ve never read any of these, but time for reading is part of what I bought myself when I didn’t buy a 73″ HDTV.  Speaking of which, I’m going to go work on Atlas Shrugged right now.

Unhappy with my art, lately

Not that I’m especially unhappy with the art I’ve been creating lately, as compared with how much I’m unhappy with the art I used to make (with an exception I may not get into, but let’s just say Winter ’00 / ’01 was a unique period of creation for me), but that lately I’ve been feeling unhappy with all the art I make.  Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been nagging me about it all.

I think I figured it out.  I think Mandy helped me figure it out.  ((ie: I blame her.  I blame her for making me hate myself in a new way.  For making me see just what’s wrong with me.)) How we got there:

Among other things, primarily I am an artist and I am an author.  Every year in November, for the last seven Novembers, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month.  NaNoWriMo is pretty all-consuming, most years, so psychologically there’s an entire month where I’m not doing anything but writing and thinking about writing from day one to day thirty.  Then in December, suddenly I’m not writing and all the pent-up everything else gets a chance to gush because (especially after such intense writing every day, all the time) I don’t even really want to be writing.  In several years I’ve done more new paintings in the last two weeks of December and/or the first two weeks of January than the entire remainders of the years.  I’d hoped to be able to continue that tradition this year, because I’d also been working on a novel from about July through October and hadn’t done much painting after September.  I really wanted to get some new painting done.  And then for the first 2-3 weeks of December I was editing and otherwise preparing for print two new books (the novel and the NaNoWriMo project, More Lost Memories), so I didn’t really have time for painting (or for the mental space to allow for it).

Over Christmas break (my wife is a high school English teacher, for those of you who don’t know her), I’d intended to try painting something with Mandy.  This was part of my hope to be able to get some painting done.  I’d be able to finally get back to painting (I have a couple of unfinished pieces from last Autumn staring at me all the time, right now), I’d be churning out new work on some of the dozens of new canvases I’d bought on Black Friday, and maybe Mandy and I could work together on one or two of them.  Except that didn’t happen.  I didn’t much paint over Christmas break.  A couple of mini-paintings at the beginning of the month that didn’t sell at First Friday (well, not that month, which was what I’d made them for – they both sold at this month’s First Friday), and some godawful yellow thing.  Then, in January, after she’d already started back at school again, I started painting something new.  Mandy came home from school one day, saw me painting this, and reminded me I’d said we would paint together.

So that night I set aside my painting, set up the table and got out some materials and asked her to paint a background with the extra blue and green paint I had still-wet from the piece I was working on, while I cooked dinner.  After dinner, when the background was dry, I asked her to pick a color and a shape (this is a method I’d used several times in the past to get paintings started when I didn’t have ideas, I’d call people up out of the blue and ask them for a color and a shape and just start from there.  For this project to be collaborative, I’d fully intended, when I asked, to go back and forth with her, for me to paint whatever she suggested and then let her paint and then me and so on) and she picked orange and oval/egg-shaped.  And I went and got orange paint and promptly remembered I was supposed to be heading out the door for a vendor meeting with the Roosevelt Row people, so I gave her a couple of brushes, the paint, and told her to paint her orange egg.  I came home and immediately felt terrible.

My wife, who has no prior painting experience and no formal training, who insists she can’t draw and isn’t and artist and is terrible, had surpassed me on her first attempt.  There were things about how she had painted it that I have been looking at in other people’s art for decades and wishing I knew how they did that.  She’d actually gone through my paints and … well, her grasp of color and of how to use and mix paints to create the desired colors surpass most first-year art students I’ve met.  Except she did it unconsciously.  It wasn’t a master work, it probably wouldn’t have won any awards, but the moment I saw it, my heart dropped.  Almost as much as it did when I saw his first 2 paintings.  (Come to think of it, that’s around when I’d stopped painting much, last year…)  I’ve been painting off and on my whole life, and increasingly over the last 12 years, and my wife’s first nothing of a painting crushed me.

I stared at it.  I tried to talk her into telling me what else should be in the image.  More insistently, I tried to talk her into painting whatever else should be there.  I didn’t want to touch it.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  (That’s not entirely true – that first night, the only thing that occurred to me is pretty much what I did with it, but I pretty much don’t like it or think it’s a good idea.)  I stared at it for hours.  I stared at it for days.  Day after day it stood there, in the living room, taunting me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Finally, finally, a week later, I set to work on it.  It took me several hours, and I really feel it’s pretty much just derivative of the other painting (which I’d finished after another few days), and I’m not sure if it’s done.  You can take a look at it.  I’ve been looking at it for most of a week, trying to figure out what to do with it, whether it’s done, whether it needs anything, et cetera.

Tonight, staring at it frustratedly, feeling awful and wanting to go to bed and wanting to be painting or otherwise getting something done, I think I figured out the problem.  I think I figured out what, about my art, has been making me so unhappy lately:

All my art is flat.  As I said earlier on Plurk at the moment I figured it out: “It’s all flat. There’s no light. No depth. No space, just the plane. Not just 2D in medium, but in conception as well.”  I thought about my art.  I looked at the art in the room (about a dozen of my finished paintings are in my living room right now).  I walked around the house looking at my art.  I went to and looked at the art I’ve since sold.  All of it.  Flat.

Sure, yes, most of it isn’t “figurative” as such.  You could even go so far as to say that’s my “style” of artwork.  But it doesn’t change the fact that the difference between what Mandy painted and what I painted is that it created the illusion of depth, of light interacting with something.  Yes, something floating strangely in a color field without a shadow, fine, but have you seen what I paint?  Even when I do something semi-figurative (EX: ‘audacity of hope’, ‘eat to fill the void’, ‘low moan, wide hat’, ‘darkness looming’), it’s completely two-dimensional.  No light, no shadow, no depth, no weight.  Just color.  Just line.  Just image; no thing.  I paint nothing.

Lately a lot of my work has been consumed with words.  With painting excessively stylized representations of words.  Taking the lines of the letters, stretching them, distorting them, aligning and mis-aligning them, transforming the lines into borders and the borders into shapes and the shapes into maps of color.  Geometric, sure, fine, and simple, yes.  Not just the old ideas of ‘pussy___’ and ‘puppy___’ or the actually conceptually interesting ‘SEX&LOVE’, but something more pure (more purely simplistic) with pieces like ‘bleh’, ‘begin’, ‘cold’, ‘gaping’, ‘red joy’, and ‘big kiss’.  I’m no Rothko.  Yet somehow I’ve basically just been painting color fields.

I don’t know what I want to do.  I don’t know what I want.  I don’t know.

But I’m unhappy with this, right now.

Art Walk at Intatto Coffee, August 23rd

Saturday, August 23rd during the day, Intatto Coffee (an independent, locally owned coffee shop which roasts their fair trade coffee daily – located at the Southeast corner of Tatum and Greenway in North Phoenix / Scottsdale) is having a small, local “Art Walk” showcasing local artists. I will be there with my art (and my portable wall, which I need to remember to repair before the 23rd. Hmm…) available for view and for sale in person.

I’m told the event officially starts at 11AM, and according to the sign on the door they close at 6PM, so I guess we’ll be done by then, right?

If you live in the area, or if you haven’t had a chance to come see my art in person at the Art Walks downtown this summer, or if you just want to come out and show your support for indie business and indie artists, you should come have a look and a cuppa.

Intatto Coffee Art Walk
August 23rd, 2008, from 11AM to 6PM
4847 E. Greenway Rd., Scottsdale, AZ
(Greenway & Tatum)

little ‘o this, little ‘o that

I’ve been feeling a bit down, lately. Getting things accomplished is somewhat more difficult in these emotional doldrums.  I’ve been feeling disjointed and unfocused, often even conflicted when it comes to how to proceed with my individual stories and pieces of art.  But I’ve got a bit done.

I put Chapter 1 of the Dragons’ Truth audiobook up at

I added a link to over at, and re-arranged the page a little.

I’ve been waffling for the last week or so on exactly what colors to use for a piece I sketched out, but I spent a few hours working on it in Photoshop last night, pre-visualizing various color schemes, and came upon something which should be both in line with my original thoughts and interesting to look at.  I threw the first coat of paint on it tonight:

coat of black paint

I also started and finished another painting this week.  I’m calling it “things i’ve lost“, and I’ll post later with more images and information on making it:

things i've lost

Yes, that’s my hair.

What else?  Hmm…  I’ve uploaded Dragons’ Truth to twice now; I’m told it should go online Monday.

Oh, and I’ve been Plurking a lot lately.