By Melissa Whitaker

Archive for the ‘artist problems’ Category

Under the Influence

Last week’s post I wrote about inspiration and where it comes from. This week is all about influence.

The words inspire and influence are often thought to be interchangeable, but they are really 2 different things.

Inspiration is something that creates an emotional response and often sparks a self-confidence that we can do what we set out to do. It does not have intent, it just is. Inspiration makes the brain start thinking creatively.

Influence affects change. It can change behavior and opinions in others. It can be a person, the weather, an event, or a culture that produces a change in a person. People often ask, “Who inspires you?” Perhaps what they should be asking is, “What are your influences?”

Inspiration is great, it’s what keeps the soul alive, but it’s the influences that encourage action to be taken. For me, it has been the influences that have had the biggest impact on my work and it has usually been events and not people who effect a change. 

I majored in Art and Psychology in college in the hopes of becoming an art therapist, but life had another plan for me. People and events came into my life that I let lead me away from my artistic endeavors. I emphasize let because when I look back on it, it was a choice that I made based on the influences that were occurring at the time. I dedicated my love and time to my family and did a few creative things, but I did not indulge in creating ART for a long time. It took 17 years and several encounters with people and events for me to find my way back. As the years went by several artists were introduced into my life and with each encounter, I felt a persistent urge in my subconscious saying, “Remember me? I’m still here.” Then the strongest influences happened.

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor that was terminal, then 3 months later my husband had a tragic accident that would cause him chronic pain for the rest of his life. 6 weeks later his mother passed away from the brain tumor. One month after that, my father was in an accident and broke his back and passed away 2 weeks later. All of this caused me to re-examine my life and search for who I was; because I didn’t know anymore. I went to the store and bought a canvas, brushes and acrylic paint. I was terrified of that white canvas and I held my breath and put a slash of red through the middle of it. That slash opened up a part of me that had been buried for 17 years. The painting wasn’t very good, but it felt WONDERFUL and I had found myself.

I started painting my emotions and experiences and I was drawing from the influences in my life and putting it all on canvas. The next several years became an emotional roller coaster and painting let me express what I could not express in words but needed to put somewhere.

The events of that time were influenced by people and events from the past. A roller coaster ride that continued in what seemed like a never-ending circle and it all came crashing down in 2012 like a psychological nightmare. I lost hope and started questioning everything that was going on around me. It was putting a puzzle together with way too many missing pieces. These events eventually led me to be on the governing board of the regional counseling center, where I now give art lessons to people who are trying to find out who they are and where they want to go. It has become one of the most inspirational positions in my life and it came from a horrible influence.

After feeling like everything was lost, the pieces started falling back together again in the spring of 2013. Influence appeared and it moved me away from the easel and back to an earlier love of ink. This time hope started showing up in my work and people began to notice. They started asking what or who was inspiring me. It wasn’t an inspiration. It was an influence and a journey back to my roots. Back to my love of India ink and fashion illustration to a place where I felt safe.

I stayed with the ink for a few years until the next big influencer showed up in 2016. Politics. Not just the Presidential election of 2016 but politics in general. According to the Oxford dictionary definition;

Politics:  1. the activities involved in getting and using power in public life, and being able to influence decisions that affect a country or a society   2. matters concerned with getting or using power within a particular group or organization

I had entered the life of the Board of Directors for two non-profits. Everywhere I turned politics were influencing my life and I needed to find a balance. To take control of the anxiety and chaos. I pulled out the canvas again and began expressing politics in abstract form.

  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together .
  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together .
  • Brightly colored swirled abstract with red, oranges, yellows and blues and a figure that resembles a man being washed down a drain.
  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together on a horizontal field of white.

The experience of applying and manipulating the paint had a calming, therapeutic aspect to it. The thought, preparation, and application was my attempt at controlling chaos. You can’t fully control chaos, but you can work on it not controlling you.

Inspiration and influence will come from many places. Some good and some not so good. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference. If you let the influences break you or stop you from doing what you love then you risk losing a bit of yourself.

Finding Inspiration

The herringbone brick walkway that is lined with cypress trees at Rowan Oak.  The home of William Faulkner.
The front walkway of Rowan Oak Photo by Melissa Whitaker

“Wonder. Go on and wonder.”

The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner

According to Oxford Dictionary: inspiration(to do something)inspiration(for something) the process that takes place when someone sees or hears something that causes them to have exciting new ideas or makes them want to create something, especially in art, music, or literature

Most artists at one time or another are asked; where do you get your inspiration? Where does this piece of artwork come from? How do you get inspired?


Life. Life is where inspiration comes from. It is not something that can be grabbed off the shelf at the local convenience store. Inspiration often happens spontaneously when we least expect it and it is the recognizing and applying that inspiration that makes it come to life. Sometimes it’s standing in the shower and watching a water drop slide down the wall, a phrase in a book being read, a song being played on Spotify, or a painting hanging in a museum. Too often we are so preoccupied with our lives that we fail to see what truly inspires us, but it is in the small things that help innovate and create something new.

Personally, I find inspiration in almost everything from interactions with other people to taking a hike in the woods. Observing my environment or the events occurring in my life is what helps the creative process. Every now and then, I get caught up in the stress of things that I have no control over and I fail to see what is happening around me and this is when I must go look for inspiration. I find it is the inspiration that calms my soul.

The past few months have been highly stressful with many life-altering changes happening, so this past weekend I took a road trip. Road trips have a way of wiping off the stress of everyday life. I turn the music up and head on down the highway singing at the top of my lungs. It is a 4+ hour concert that would have most music critics cringing for their earplugs. This trip I went to New Orleans, Louisiana. I filled up on Louisiana cooking and people watching in the French Quarter. It was adventurous and fun, but still lacking in inspiration, so on the way home I took a detour to Oxford, Mississippi. I was on a quest to find my inspiration and what better place than Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner, one of America’s greatest authors.

The front of the house at Rowan Oak.
Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi. Photo by Melissa Whitaker
Magnolia branch reaching to the ground.
Magnolia Tree. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

I could feel the excitement stirring inside of me as I walked up to the home. The uneven paths of bricks, covered in the moss from ages ago, were laid out in concentric circles around the magnolia trees. Whose branches swept the ground and created its own treehouse that invoked my childhood memories of chasing fairies. I sat down in the crevice of the roots in the tree and watched the sun’s rays piercing through the leaves and I thought, “This is it. I found it.” I was anxious to explore more and to soak up all the inspiration that I could. I ventured into the house to discover a bit of the life of Faulkner. What inspired him? What made this creative soul tick?

One of the first things I noticed was the number of books that he had. Not just the books that he wrote, but the books by authors he admired. Inspiration often comes from studying the work of others.

William Faulkners' bookshelf with Charles Dickens's Works in the center.
William Faulkners’ library shelf. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

The house was filled with things to inspire. The litany of phone numbers written on the wall tells a story of friends, family, and acquaintances in the Faulkners’ home. The outline of A Fable written on William Faulkners’ office wall shows an impulse to make that moment of inspiration permanent so that he does not lose sight of it.

Then I took a walk around the property and noticed the shadows making paintings on the walls and ground.

This is just a part of where inspiration comes from. It is all around us even when you may lose sight of it. Road trips are nice, but they are not for everyone. Take the time to get lost in a book. Take a stroll down to the local art gallery and see what the local artists are doing. Go to the grocery store and pick up that unusual looking fruit that you were afraid to try because it’s different. Sit down at a coffee shop and watch the other people or simply take a look at the swirling cream in your latte. Take a bubble bath and observe the swirling colors in the bubbles.

Inspiration is a lot like the elusive fairies that I hunted for when I was a child. It hides in the crevices of the mind and it is when the mind is quiet that it can be recognized.

I Did WHAT?!!

Written Down April 7, 2018

I did it. I am out of Real Estate and kind of freaking out because now it’s more of a “What did I just do?” kind of moment. Art has been who I am all my life. It may not have always been front and center, but it was always there beckoning me to “Come to the Creative Side. We have FUN.”

In April 2018 I attended a seminar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was conducted by The Art Business Institute and The Clark-Hulings Fund. I have attended multiple seminars in my life. They were all pretty much the same enthusiastic marketing gurus playing the same Space Jam music and the only solution they typically had for you was to buy their product. Cha-Ching, “that will be $25,000 for our marketing plan and the rest is up to you. No guarantees.” This seminar was different. I actually learned something and they weren’t selling anything. They were genuinely there to help and to guide you are some of the important steps of being a working artist.

There were 2 BIG take-aways from this seminar that have impacted my life. The first was something that the instructor, Daniel DeGriz, said regarding Goals. It is not a straight line from point A to point B, adjustments will need to be made along the way, so just START. If you don’t start you’ll never get there. The second was learning how to set a goal. Out of all the seminars that I have attended for Real Estate and the importance of setting goals, no one taught HOW to set goals. I was at the point that I needed to make a goal to learn how to set a goal and then actually carry through with it. Daniel DeGriz, Elizabeth Hulings, and Carolyn Edlund took the group step by step on goal setting. It was right there Goal #1 Be done with real estate and become a full time artist by January 1, 2020.

It’s January 1, 2020.

On December 23, 2019 I changed the status of my real estate license to INACTIVE. Goal #1 accomplished. Time to FREAK OUT!! 😳

The truth is, in the past several years I have had too many jobs. How can a person be successful at any particular career when their focus is scattered all over the place? Art is my life.

“Your life is not the anchor for your art. Your art is the anchor for your life.”

Stephen King, Author of many terrifying suspense novels about life.

I by no means have everything figured out for this adventure of mine. I’ll make adjustments a long the way, but I’m starting. While it may be terrifying to change careers half way through life, it is also very liberating. I will miss the people I worked with in the real estate business, but I am still available for lunch any time.

My new office. It’s not much, but it’s mine. At least until we have guests arrive. If you like the bedspread you can get it at my shop on Society6

Reflections from an Inktober Survivor

Inktober Day 20 “Tread” by Melissa Whitaker
“Tread softly because you treat on my dreams.” ~ W.B. Yeats

There is no challenge more challenging than the challenge to improve yourself.

Inktober is an artistic challenge that I have been observing for the past several years and always thought that it looked FUN. If a challenge was FUN then it must not be much of a challenge. That was naive me on September 30, 2019. Inktober is as big of a challenge as doing an Ironman marathon.

October 1st I worked most of the day and came home about 4:00 in the afternoon excited to do a quick drawing for the prompt word “Ring”. All through the day, my mind was brainstorming on visual ideas. I try to stay away from the obvious or at least attempt to twist the obvious in some way that visually tells a story. A simple drawing of a ring just wasn’t going to do it for me. I had spent several days in September with my sister, who lost her husband last year who was the love of her life. (She used to say he was her prince with Froggy tendencies). This inspired me to start off Inktober with an ink illustration of a frog.

Ink illustration of a Frog with a diamond ring on his tongue that is tied in a knot.  The frog is trying to catch a fly while he sits in the middle of a crown
“The Tongue-Tied Proposal” by Melissa Whitaker

I called it “The Tongue-Tied Proposal”

This illustration took a few hours to complete. Nothing too strenuous but dinner was a frozen pizza night that night. I enjoyed playing with my inks again, it had been a while since I had done any ink work. I posted the image on Instagram and on Facebook and started thinking of the prompt word for Day 2, “Mindless.”

“Mindless” by Melissa Whitaker

A friend of mine tried to emphasize to me to keep the drawings simple. Streamline the detail. That is what I attempted the next day. Again I spent the day pondering what to do and how to keep it simple. Then I thought of a question mark and realized that Donald Trumps’ hair from the profile kind of dips down like the top of a question mark. When I started drawing I came to the red tie and it started to appear to me that it resembled an exclamation point. It seemed to me to be an appropriate answer to the word “Mindless.” After completion, I posted it to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Immediately I received a comment that “Art should not be Political.” Thus a debate started and what I thought was a creative interpretation of a word ended up in a brouhaha over art and politics. That’s what I get for keeping it simple 🙄

I’m not going to go into much detail about what artwork I did everyday if you want to see the whole months’ work visit my Instagram or Facebook page. For the first several days I spent quite a bit of time just thinking about ideas for each day’s word, but also dreading Day 12. That day was creeping up and the word was “Dragon.” I had never even attempted to draw a dragon before and the thought of having to do it scared me. The best dragons had a LOT of detail. Lots of scales and sharp teeth with magnificent wings. To accomplish that in a day I felt was going to be the day I failed the challenge. When Day 12 dawned I still had no idea what to do. The 12 days leading up to that day were spent on dreading the day, not how to conquer the day. Then I said to myself, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” This Dragon that I feared needed to be made friendly and not so fearful. I remembered a stuffed Dragon that I had when I was a child. The dragon’s name was “Figment” and sat on my bed as a protector. There’s nothing to fear about Dragons the fear is in your head and minds are made to change. I started drawing circles and came up with a new figment.

The day I dreaded ended up being the day I LOVED. I fell in love with this dragon and her possible story. Other people seemed to love her just as much as I did and I started looking forward to each day’s challenge. That is until the half waypoint. Day 16.

“Wild”. I was exhausted and to the point of saying, “Really? I have to draw another one?” Maybe no one will notice if I skipped a day. I started off wanting to do the dragon again. A boy setting a cupcake on the ground to entice the dragon to be friends. I struggled with it and the more I struggled the more the hours ticked away. I had had a long day at work and I was exhausted. Inktober had taken a lot. I was not eating right and sometimes forgetting to eat or drink because I was in the creative zone in my head for 16 days. By 9:00 pm on Day 16, I was still struggling with “Wild” I had the boy and the cupcake, but I could not get the dragon positioned the way I wanted in a square Instagram sized picture. It wasn’t working. By 9:15 I was ready to give up. People would just have to accept the fact that I missed a day. Then I thought, “Keep it simple, Stupid.”

A boy drawing a magical circle with a stick to protect him from the wild beasts with glowing eyes watching him in the dark.
“Wild” Digital Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

I quickly changed the background to night time. (There are trees there and a forest path which may be hard to see depending on your current screen resolution). The boy needed to protect himself from the wild things lurking in the forest but all he had available was a stick because kids don’t keep salt in their back pockets to ward off evil spirits. A child, however, has a deep faith in magic and the power that it can create, so I had him draw a protective circle with a stick. There. It was simple and it was done and posted at 9:30 pm. I had made it past the halfway point of Inktober and realized that I could finish this just as long as I ate right I got some sleep. Time for a bowl of ice cream to celebrate.

I created a few more dragon pieces that week on Days 18, 19 and 25. I was truly enjoying her, but I still was having trouble sleeping. My mind was constantly running non-stop with ideas for Inktober so when Saturday, Day 26, came around I decided to do a serious piece and it was going to be the traditional way. Ink on paper. The word was “Dark.” I had made it this far and I several ideas in my head for the word Dark. I just could not decide on which one would be best. What is it about the dark that unnerves people? A person often feels alone in the dark and the people who have lost a loved one I believe feel that loss mostly at night when they are laying in bed and the other side is empty. That is what I wanted to portray in ink.

Ink illustration of  a man sleeping with a blanket of the night sky pulled over him.
ItInktober Day 26 “Dark” by Melissa Whitaker

It didn’t work. I sat on my bed working on it. Absorbed in watching the ink flow on the paper. I had a night sky appearing on a white background. I love working with a negative space of white, it makes the colors POP in my opinion. I was so absorbed that I did not notice someone come in and sit down on the bed while I was working. That is, not until the black ink dropped in the white space under the man’s left arm. Ugggghhhhhh. The utter catastrophe to an artist, but I said, “it’s ok, I can make this work.” I forced it. I kept working at it trying to make it work instead of accepting the fact that it didn’t work. What I should have done is left the black spot in the white space and let it speak for itself. It might have been a powerful image then, instead of a complete muddy mess. Artists don’t always get it right, we just normally don’t see the messed up pieces. It was Inktober though, so I had to post it to social media in order for it to count towards the challenge and I posted it grudgingly, then had a glass of wine. (OK, maybe 2 glasses).

Digital illustration of a fashion model wearing a flowing coat swirling with colors.
Inktober Day 27 “Coat” by Melissa Whitaker

Only 5 more to go. The next day I was still trying to get over Day 26 and the word was “Coat.” I went back to my foundation of fashion illustration and went to an obvious choice, a coat. It was simple and fun and enough to get my confidence back to finish out the next several days of the Inktober challenge. There is nothing like a bit of flair and color to put confidence in my stride. We all have moments where we feel we don’t measure up to other people’s expectations and when you don’t measure up to your own expectations it can be a bit disheartening. The important thing is to move forward and not stay in one spot because you are afraid you’re going to mess things up if you continue.

I final prompt word on October 31st was “Ripe.” I finished the challenge with a return to the Dragon that I had come to love. The thing I most feared came to be the one thing from the month that I hold most dear.

Digital Illustration of a dragon in a princess dress sitting on the ground and holding a bouquet of broccoli.  A large pile of dragon fruit is beside her
Inktober Day 31 “Ripe” Digital Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

This illustration sums up the whole month for me. Sometimes I feel like a misfit who doesn’t quite fit in with the other kind of Dragons, so I dress up as a princess and go trick or treating through life. Life can be beautiful and give a person a pile of beautiful, tasty dragonfruit, but then there is always that one ornery one who puts a bunch of broccoli in your trick or treat bag. The thing to remember is broccoli is good. It’s full of vitamin C and a strong antioxidant that protects the body from the wild things that may attack your health, so eat your broccoli and embrace the fears. They only make a person stronger in the end.

#Inktober2019

Doodle by Melissa Whitaker

“Don’t try to recreate something you’ve done before. Challenge yourself constantly.” (Suzanne Partridge)

Inktober starts tomorrow. I have been trying to psych myself up for it for the past 10 days. I have never done any kind of challenge like this before so I can already feel the anxiety building up.

Inktober was started in 2009 by artist Jake Parker. He initially started it to help improve his drawing skills and to develop positive drawing habits. It has since become a movement for artists and non-artists to draw a picture in ink once a day for the 31 days of October. This will be challenging for me, but I’m game. The rules are pretty simple:

1) Draw a picture in ink (an under drawing in pencil is accepted. As well as digital drawing)

2) Post it* on social media

3) Hashtag it with #inktober and #inktober2019

4) Rinse brush and Repeat

Jake Parker provides a word prompt list (as seen above) to help artists get inspired. My head is already spinning with thoughts and I’ll be thrilled if I get through the first week.

Ink illustration of a Victorian Manor house in Eureka, California.
Ink Drawing by Melissa Whitaker in 1984

I choose to look at this as a challenge to discipline myself to draw everyday and to stretch my imagination. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind once stretched never returns to its original dimensions.” Stretching always feels good……….in a painful sort of way.

Between Two Elephants

“Heebie Jeebies” Digital art by Melissa Whitaker

The above artwork is strange and bizarre, but an anxiety attack can be just as strange and bizarre. For as long as I can remember this particular vision would pop up out of nowhere. I say vision because it would happen while fully awake. I would be quietly sitting in math class and then, without any warning, I would be stuck between two elephants boxing. My heart would race and my head would throb with every punch that was thrown. As a child, I had no idea what was happening but I knew the elephants were not real, so I kept quiet about it. It was not real, so I did not have to address it.

The elephants would enter the arena with their satin robes draped over their massive shoulders. The crowd would start cheering and the first punch would be thrown POW!! The crowd would roar with excitement as I would cringe in fear of being trampled. WHAM!! my head would pound with the resonance of a timpani drum. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My heart would march along to the rhythmic tempo and accelerate as the cheering would get louder. Meanwhile, those sitting around me casually went on with the math lesson not knowing of the battle going inside of me.

These attacks would strike at some of the oddest moments. I could never be sure when the elephants would appear, but the one place they never appeared was when I was drawing, so the art room became my sanctuary and comfort.

Art to me is extremely therapeutic. There is a zen-like quality to immersing oneself into a creative state of mind. Allowing the emotion to ebb through and come out on to the canvas, paper, tablet, or the pixels of digital art, is a release of the anxiety that can get bottled up within. When my life gets chaotic or stressful and I don’t make time for my creativity to flow, that is when the elephants make their appearance and can stampede through my mind. Exercising the inner muse is my way of calming the herd of judgment and self-doubt that can accompany the anxiety.

I have a friend who is always scolding me for putting others before myself. He sees the destruction that happens to my soul and ultimately my art when I neglect myself. The anxiety builds up to the point where I feel trapped between two boxing elephants. That is the time to stop, take a moment, breathe, and realize that I am in control and not the elephants. I have the choice of crouching in fear or standing up and proclaiming myself as the champion in the ring.

I choose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54 have anxiety disorders. 54% woman and 46% of men experience anxiety in some form. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sites that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety.

The Art of Disappointment

“Disappointment”

Digital Media Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Ahhhhhh.  Disappointment, the gum on the shoe of every artist.  Difficult to remove and a constant reminder of a step once taken.  It clings to your soul and gives you a feeling of inadequacy.  A nagging persistence that your art or even you are not good enough.  It is a struggle that everyone must deal with from time to time.  It has become a constant companion that is stuck to my shoe and I have learned to incorporate it into my walk.  Every now and then it gets a little sticky, but most of the time it’s just an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The artistic way of life is really quite masochistic.  The muse inspires one to create, but the creation seldom measures up to what the mind has envisioned.  Leaving an artist feeling disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, and dejected.  Then that artwork is put on display for all the world to judge.   If the piece is accepted the brain is flooded with endorphins that will give the artist a temporary high.  A high that is desperately sought after, to the point that rejection is the price that is willing to be paid in order to achieve a personal validation.

This week I received another email that will be added to the collection of rejection letters in my file cabinet.  (I keep thinking that someday I will make a collage of all of them). It felt like I had just stepped on a tarantula size wad of gum.  No matter how much I tried to shake it off,  it would not let loose.  This was not the same as entering a juried art show where the judging was based on your work and whether or not it would fit in with the rest of the show.  This felt personal.  A judgment of me and who I am.  No matter how many times I told myself, “It’s nothing personal.”  It stuck to my soul as a constant reminder that I was not worthy.  I would be happily preparing Thanksgiving dinner and then BAM!  it would remind me and I would start crying.  (The blessing was, I could blame the crying on cutting onions).  It took a few days and a few bottles of wine to accept the fact that it wasn’t personal.  It’s not that I wasn’t worthy, it’s simply that I wasn’t ready YET.

It is extremely tempting to give up and not submit oneself to rejection over and over again, but then there would never be that ultimate high of validation.  That wondrous ecstasy of achievement that I strive for.  If we let the disappointments fester an accumulate we become stuck and never move forward.  Disappointments can fool you and stretch to make you feel like you are moving forward, but they will inevitably pull you back to where you were.  I will scrape the gum from my shoe and leave a bit of the residue to harden, to remind me that life has its disappointments, it’s what we do with them that makes the difference.  The important thing is to keep moving forward, that is the only way to arrive at where you are going.

Now then, please excuse me while I go to the store to purchase a pack of gum.  I seem to have dropped mine.

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