By Melissa Whitaker

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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.

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 ūüôĄ

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.

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.

Curiouser and Curiouser

‚ÄúCuriouser and curiouser!‚ÄĚ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).‚ÄĚ

‚Äē Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Inspiration happens every day if you pay attention to it.¬† ¬†It is not something that just magically appears, at least it doesn’t for me.¬† I have to consciously look for it.¬† We are often too busy to take the time to find inspiration, some may even consider it a waste of time.¬† There are things that have to be done, dishes to wash, work to be done and bills to be paid.¬† Who has time for inspiration?¬† Inspiration, to me, is what makes life worth living.¬† To be inspired by something or someone or someplace sets my soul on fire.¬† To pass a spark of that inspiration on to someone else fans the spark and makes it burn brighter.¬† That alone is worth the time to go and find the inspiration

Inspiration is all around us the trick is to know it when you see it.  Take a look around and examine things closely.  Inspiration is fed by curiosity, for without curiosity innovation and inspiration would not occur.  Take washing the dishes for example.  It can be a mundane chore that must be done or it can be a FUN experimentation on the formation of bubbles and color.  If you look at the bubbles only as a white foam then you are missing the wonders that lie underneath.  

Curiosity stopped me the other day while I was doing the dishes.  The bubbles from the soap attracted me all of a sudden so I ran to get my camera. 

The bubbles on the left are what is typically seen. The photo on the right is after Lightroom Adjustments that brought out the magical world of Bubbles.

The curiosity sent me down the path to the inspiration. It all started with the, “I wonder.” The next thing I knew I was examining bubbles even closer.

Macro shot of the surface of a soap bubble

The pictures that were captured inspired me even more, so yesterday when I was home due to snow I played around with the photos to see what I could do.

“Don’t Burst the Bubble”. Digital Media (rough draft)

The illustration still needs quite a bit of tweaking, but I like where the bubbles took me. Little did I know that the simple act of doing the dishes would lead me down a rabbit hole full of color and exploration. What a tumble it was.

Please excuse me now while I go and finish up the dishes.

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