By Melissa Whitaker

Archive for the ‘control’ 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.

#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.

The Creation of a Concept Character

An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision. ~ James McNeill Whistler

A final glimpse at the Cast of Characters.
Cast of Characters for Free Agent Source by Melissa Whitaker

I want to take you on a journey of conceptual character art. It is a complex journey full of alterations and complete U-turns. It all began with a consultation with Steve Pruneau, CEO of Free Agent Source. He was interested in getting away from the Stock photo look on his website and wanted something that could be continued through with promotional and presentation material. Free Agent Sources’ business is comprised of people and the creative, knowledgeable, leadership skills that they supply. Their product is solutions to problems that are often encountered in the business world. They are the Heroes that sweep in and save the day. Through the consultation it was decided that the personality of the people and the company needed to be front and center.

Rough draft for Free Agent Source for their cast of characters.
Rough Draft for the “Orchestra” by Melissa Whitaker

We began with a list of characters and their skills. A Software Developer, Solutions Architect, Agile Coach, Database Administrator, Marketing Director, Trainer, System Engineer, and a Robotics Programmer. The concept of an orchestra being led by a conductor (aka. Visual Storyteller) became the foundation for this team of professionals. The process began.

A truly rough draft of the software developer.
Rough Draft of the Software Developer by Melissa Whitaker

In order to keep this post relatively short, we will stick with one character for now. The Software Developer. He’s the fourth guy from the left in the above photo. It is important to create a personality to a character. It is personality that gives a character life and makes them interesting. Each character must have a unique quality in order to support the future narrative. In the first draft he was a sloppy dresser in gym clothes eating a bag of chips. This guy I could have fun with. Free Agent Source said, “Let’s see where you go with this.” He’s interesting.

Now it was time to start having FUN. Time to color and make him come alive so the client could get a better visualization of him.

Digital color version of rough draft of the software developer.
2nd step in concept character design of Software Developer for Free Agent Source.
3rd draft of software developer
3rd revision of the Software Developer for Free Agent Source.

At this point Free Agent Source liked the character, but felt that he may be too casual. “What if we nixed the bag of chips and gave him a business jacket?” they replied.

I had to admit that they were right. We were moving in the right direction. Yes, the software may have been ‘all that and a bag of chips,’ but he was not ready for the business world. He was more ready for MLP gaming than developing software.

After much discussion we decided that this character needed to be a bit more Saavy with a little bit of swagger.

4th revision of software developer
4th revision of the Software Developer

A little more detailing and shedding of clothes he began to look a little more business like, but he still wasn’t right.

While working on the characters for the “Orchestra” I also created some more vignette type of characters for their website. These solo characters were done in a Noir style with a slight pop of color and we thought the rest of the characters should be cohesive with the entire look. The feel was a bit more edgy. It was also decided that it would be best if there was no design on the t-shirt.

5th revision of the software developer.
5th Revision of Software Developer

I can be a bit persistent at times when it comes to my vision. If I had to do away with the t-shirt design then I had to put some FUN somewhere else on the character, so I changed the footwear to Converse style shoes. Still he was considered a bit too casual and there was one final change to the software developer.

Final digital illustration of the Software Developer.
The Final Software Developer

In the final revision the pants were turned into trousers, shoes became dress shoes, (but I still had to add my little bit of fun and quirkiness), a striped scarf with a nod to Dr. Who.

Most of the cast members did not take this many revisions, but it is imperative that the characters work for the client and the company. With thorough collaboration with Free Agent Source, characters were created that can be used for multiple uses and a continuing story line to explain about their company. This could not have been achieved with the typical stock photos that are often used for company websites. The characters and artwork create a brand, a connection, and a reason for customers to keep checking back with Free Agent Source to see what may be coming up next. What is the rest of their story?

The evolution of a conceptual character for Free Agent Source.
The evolution of the Software Developer

Take a look at www.freeagentsource.com

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.

Inspire Your Heart

Today is Inspire Your Heart with Art day. It happens every year on January 31st. It has become my new favorite HOLIDAY.

“Tangled” Digital Drawing by Melissa Whitaker

Take a moment today and feel some art. What kind of emotions does it evoke? Art surrounds us even when we do not realize it. It is the music we listen to, the packaging on the products we buy, the painting hanging in the museum, the car driving too slow in front of you, the book or the article you just read, the icicle hanging from the gutter. Today is the day to examine that artwork and think about what it makes you feel.

An owl woven out of cords and ropes using the art of macrame


I’m one of those people who sings to the songs in my car while driving down the road. You may even spot me doing some crazy arm gestures while dancing in the driver’s seat. No worries, I am not having a seizure, I am just feeling the music. I find it relaxing and liberating. It is my time to be “ME.” Too often the stress of everyday life can make me feel like a macrame owl, a little bit wise but entirely made up of knots, and art helps untie those knots. Today on your way home crank up the music and dance. Instead of yelling at the guy in front of you going too slow, look at his car and the design of it. Those brake lights may actually impress you with the engineering of them. For dinner tonight, play with your food, you might create a forest out of that broccoli.

Art is made to inspire and make you feel. It can transport you to other worlds and take you back in time with memories and the playfulness of childhood. It can help you understand other cultures and see other perspectives on life. Art can transform people, places, and things.

Today is Inspire Your Heart With ART Day, it could transform you.

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.

False Truth

“Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” ~ Siri Hustvedt

The last few years has had me examining the question, “What is true?” That question has taken over my life in the last month. Not just in the political atmosphere, but in business and personal as well. When long held beliefs turn out to be false there is a foundational shift that occurs. An earthquake of the conscience that makes one re-examine everything that they have been taught. What we perceive as truth is based on what we have been taught to believe. Our perception of the world is based on our life experiences, what we consume in media, and who we socialize with. Each one of these will bend the truth to fit into what we perceive to be accurate, if it does not fit in to our preconceived notions, then it is often ruled to be false.

I am not a degreed scholar, and I do not sit around and drink coffee with philosophical individuals (although that would be nice). I am an artist who examines everything from different perspectives. I have learned to examine things and life from all angles, because I will always notice something that I did not see before. Recently I discovered that my perception had been a bit skewed by folks who I believe meant well, but ultimately caused a tilt shift in my view.

Let me explain.

When photographing architecture with a wide angle lens a distortion will appear in the photo. Straight lines will look curved and there may even be some vignetting at the corners due to light bending on the lens. With an adjustment in Photoshop or Lightroom this can be corrected, or a person can invest in a tilt shift lens that adjusts enough to obtain the correct perspective when the image is captured. Much like the distortion that happens from a camera lens, what one learns from another person has been distorted by their preconceived notions. On closer examination and independent research I discovered that a serious correction was needed in what I thought was the truth. I had to look at things from all angles. Some may call this overthinking, but I prefer to call it getting the right perspective.

In this crazy, mixed up world we live in where we are told that everything is FAKE news and that, “The truth is not the truth,” it is becoming more and more difficult to correct the distortion.

“Perception” by Melissa Whitaker

The Curse of Being Nice

I am often accused of being too sweet, too pleasant, too accommodating,  too quiet, and too nice.  That last one, too nice, that’s the twisted knife.  It appears that in today’s world in order for a woman to achieve success the label “Too Nice” is the hemlock in her cup of caffeine each morning.  Do you have to go for the jugular in order to succeed in life?  Being nice and accommodating is how I was raised.

Oxford dictionary defines accommodating as: fitting in with one’s wishes or demands in a helpful way.

The question then becomes, is being accommodating a good thing?  Who is it benefiting?  I watched my grandmother spend all day cooking a meal and then serve it at the table for the family.  She never sat down with the family, she just hovered over the shoulder or sat in the kitchen waiting to serve in case anyone needed anything.  I did not think much about this growing up possibly because I watched my mother do it.   My mother would sit at the table with us, but she was always ready to get up to retrieve something.  My mother tried to teach me to do this and some of it took and some of it didn’t.

What I learned was to be accommodating and to put others needs before mine.  This accommodation can be beneficial, but it can be even more detrimental to my own personal well-being.  I no longer look at it as being accommodating or nice and sweet.  It’s enabling.  I am an enabler.  By bending to others wishes or demands I am enabling them to continue controlling MY life and MY wishes.  That control is a powerful thing and breaking free from it is extremely difficult, but in order to achieve success in my life,  I have to be in control of it.  Do I have to go for the jugular?  I don’t think so, because ultimately it is my own neck that I am sticking out and I am kind of attached to it.

It has not been easy taking control of my life and telling people “No.  I’m not doing that anymore.”  They are stunned and even a little angry but they will get over it.  I only have one shot at this life and it’s time to make it my own.

What about you?  Have you broken free?

Hey Jude

Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas

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