Monday, August 15, 2011

Inspired Project: The Little Mermaid Cover Art

I am an artist.

I still can't say (or write) that phrase without cringing inside, waiting for someone to laugh at me and call me a delusional poser. I suppose it's because I think in terms of title capped, mythical gods of creativity: Artist, Writer, Actor, Musician. However (and I think I read this in The Artist's Way, but I can't find it now), I am a writer because I write. Whether or not anyone ever reads--or judges--what I write is not the point. The point is that the act of writing makes a writer, just as the act of creating art makes an artist. Basically, practicing the craft makes me a doer of said craft by pure default.

So I've created some bad art and some very cerebral, stilted writing. But I've also produced a few pieces that made me pause and think, "Hey, I'm not that bad. Some parts of this actually look (or sound) kinda cool." I am no Da Vinci or Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination, but I am comforted by the thought that the most brilliant artists create a lot of stuff they discard before getting to the pieces that really connect with people. And it is this logic that gives me the courage to put pencil to paper and attempt to express what I see. I know that I'll make tons of what I consider to be terrible art and trite writing, but I have to start somewhere. If it's what makes me come alive, then I simply must do it. I must exercise my verbal and visual muscles until it becomes second nature to shape sentences and direct brush strokes, until it feels natural to say, "I am a writer and an artist."

Recently, my dear friend (and a constant source of inspiration) launched Uncovered Cover Art, a site to connect children's book illustrators with art directors, agents, and children's book lovers. She put out a call for submissions of re-imagined children's book cover art. People can vote for their favorite covers and the top three artists win a copy of Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration. This was the perfect push for me to take on an illustration project that has a real deadline (voting closes August 30th, 2011 for the contest, but artists may continue submitting illustrations afterwards to show off their work). I realized that if I committed to doing this, then I couldn't cop out when I thought it was too difficult or convinced myself it was outside the realm of my experience and ability.

So here is the process I went through for this Inspired Project:

Step 1: I decided to submit an illustration. Then I set deadlines for myself, which I shared with my friend and accountability coach Pam during our weekly Artist's Way meetings.

Step 2: I went to the library and bookstore to recall children's books I might want to re-imagine. In the end, I chose The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Sure, I loved the Disney version and enthusiastically sang "Under the Sea" for months after seeing the film, even though I only remembered the chorus. However, I recalled reading a much more poignant version of the tale, in which the poor mermaid, unable to let the prince know that it was she who had saved his life, watched him marry another woman. Then she turned into sea foam. First of all, didn't people read and write in the story? Seriously! Just because she couldn't speak, doesn't mean she couldn't communicate with the guy. And how could she sacrifice everything for a guy? Had she no sense of self-worth? Anyhow, I was both traumatized and enchanted as a kid when I read this story.

Step 3: The initial sketch.

Step 4: A refined sketch.

Step 5: Tracing and transferring the drawing.

Step 6: Final illustration using a black pen and watercolor pencils.

Looking back, I actually prefer the looseness of the earlier steps in the mermaid's face. Also, I didn't quite express the sense of yearning I'd intended to capture. However, I'm quite please with how the lettering turned out. I believe that whatever style of art I choose to explore, it will involve words. If you want to comment or vote on my illustration, click here. Be sure check out all of the other re-imagined book covers as well. There are so many talented artists represented there! I am so honored that my work is posted with the other amazing artists' pieces, and I will strive to work at my craft to develop my skills and own my experience as an artist.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tuesday Night Cafe, August 2, 2011

From the bottom of my heart, I'd like to thank all of my dear friends for coming out to support me last night at Tuesday Night Cafe!

I'd begun attending (and occasionally performing at) this community-organized event series back in 2000 after I graduated from UCLA. I was so grateful to the Tuesday Night Project for offering this safe space for musicians, poets, comedians, spoken word artists, actors, visual artists, and other creative people to come share their visions, causes, and art. On the first and third Tuesdays of the month in the spring and summer, I would come out to Little Tokyo to soak up the amazing creativity, activism, and heart-felt support of the Tuesday Night community. I always left feeling newly inspired to write or draw or craft something. Unfortunately, after I moved to Orange County, it became more and more difficult to make the trek up to LA on a weeknight when I had to wake up at 6 am for work the next morning. I really missed these events, but recently, I have been able to get my monthly dose of inspiration from Common Ground on the first Thursday of the month down here in the OC.

Last week, I received an invitation to perform at Tuesday Night again! I only had one poem prepared, but my work with Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way taught me not to slam the door in fear when opportunity comes knocking. So I said "yes!" ... and then I panicked. What would I write? And more importantly, what could I write that could possibly have any performance value? I brainstormed, made lists, sorted through old poems, started to write ... and then deleted what I'd just written. I was a mess. I'd been to enough Tuesday Nights to know that feature artists who perform there are super talented and can own the stage. Who was I to think that I could just go up there and read a few measly poems, when I'd let my poetry skills get rusty over the years? But then I remembered what Tuesday Nights is all about: It is a warm, welcoming, womb-like space where you can bare your soul and take HUGE creative risks (read: make a total fool out of yourself), and everyone will accept you for who you are and cheer you on.

So I stopped over-thinking the matter, and just began to write from the heart about things I've been thinking about. Here's a video of my performance if you missed it:

These are the pieces I performed:

The Inspiration Habit

Bad habits, and addicts
through revolutions of RESISTANCE.
A blocked brush. A paralyzed pen.
is a pretty little package of practical predictability.

Happy habits, and addicts
of inspiration and creation.
Flirting with children's illustration,
making time with poetic rhymes,
feeling up the freelance flavor,
getting down with fiction's friction...

The Inspiration Habit
beats back resistance,
blows up blocks,
bats away excuses,
breaks down fear,
and brings the fight here—
to the stage
and on the page,
at the canvas
and true art's kiss.

Verbalness, an Affair with Words

“Sandy, you are in the top one percentile of verbalness.” 
Words of wisdom by Jenny Yang, dear friend, performance artist, writer, and creative lifer extraordinaire

When did I first fall
in love with words?
Perhaps I heard
the verbal siren’s call
in my mother’s songs of longing,
lingering notes
of loss like twinkling dust motes
in my mind’s eye,
murmuring of homeland memories.

I recall meeting the alphabet,
letting the letters roll
across my lips, and teeth, and tongue,
the vowels stroll
along the dips, and leaps, and rungs
of language—lovely, lilting, languid language
that granted me the key,
to stories—strange and stunning,
tales of change, and courage, and cunning.
To poems of passion and pain,
stained with stirrings of the soul.

Yes, words are my most loyal lover.
For even when I stray,
words do not betray.
They always speak true
Of what I know I must do.

Conversations with Tiki

Tiki, just quit my job

Gave up my benefits,
I resigned, now it’s all gone,
Tiki, life had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and
Thrown you in the mix—
Tiki, ooooh
Didn’t mean to make you cry—
If I’m not back again
In just two hours,
Carry on, carry on, as if
Momma’s there beside you…
(Inspired by Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody," 1975)

And Tiki begged:

Please don’t leave me
Please don’t leave me
I always wait by the door for you
But you always put me outside on my own
Please, don’t leave me
(Inspired by Pink's "Please Don't Leave Me," 2009)

But I just couldn’t take it. I was tearing out my hair. I didn’t know what to do with him. I cried:

I go crazy, crazy, Tiki, I go crazy
You poop and pee,
And hump on me
Yeah you drive me
Crazy, crazy, crazy, Tiki baby

What can I do, Tiki
I feel like strangling you…
(Inspired by Aerosmith's "Crazy," 1993)

But Tiki, he looked up at me with his sad puppy eyes, his precious little brown eyebrow dots, and his one floppy ear. He said:

So I cry, and I pray and I beg…
Love me love me
Say that you love me
Pet me pet me
Go on and pet me

Love me love me
Pretend that you love me
Walk me walk me
Just say that you’ll feed me

I can’t care about anything but food.
(Inspired by The Cardigan's "Love Fool," 1996)

And I replied:

And we’re getting closer than I ever thought we might.
And I can’t fight this feeling anymore.
I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for.
It’s time to curl up cozy in my lap
And take a little nap, together.
‘Cause I can’t fight this feeling anymore.
I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for.
And if you have to pee upon the floor,
Come crashing through that door,
Tiki, I can’t fight this feeling anymore.
(Inspired by REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling," 1984)

Overall, I felt comfortable on the stage. I took a huge risk singing in public (outside of a karaoke joint), but I really had fun with it. As Jenny put it, I went "balls out." As I was the first performer of the night, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the show.

Next up, was Scott Okamoto, who performed excerpts from his non-fiction writing. He shared his musings on certain forms of American entertainment that aren't exactly created for an Asian-American audience and very funny stories about his students. Open mic performers included a beautiful musical performance and some great comedy. Then Damnyo shared her powerful poetry and Room to Improv did a HILARIOUS musical called "The Never-ending Keg" (title supplied by a very clever audience member). Jenny Yang shared her poetry and had us all chuckling with her stand-up comedy. The night ended with sweet, quirky, and empowering songs by the Sam Kang Band. Our wonderful host Johneric even convinced them to perform one more song for an extra musical treat!

As always, I had so much fun and fueled up on inspiration. I can't wait for the J-Town Summer Sessions event this Saturday!

And don't miss this Thursday's Common Ground event August 6, 7-9 pm at the 
VAALA Cultural Center, 
1600 North Broadway (cross-streets 17th & Broadway)
Santa Ana, CA

Art, music, and community rock!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Art in the Streets

A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law Key told us about the Art in the Streets exhibit at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (April 17-August 8, 2011). Frank and I LOVE graffiti art, and Frank is especially intrigued by Bansky. Key said that courtesy of Bansky, admission to the exhibit on Mondays is FREE. We were planning on checking it out on a weekend, as Frank has to work weekdays. However, this past Monday July 25, Frank came home early! So I texted my dear friend Jenny and she met us there for an afternoon of art, ice cream, and inspiration in Little Tokyo.

It was incredible to see art that literally developed in the streets of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Sao Paulo. Graffiti art proves that creative people will find a way to express their vision and their message. These artists create canvasses out of any and every surface available, and their images are accessible to everyone. So defacing public property isn't necessarily a good thing. However, when it's done with skill and passion, I can certainly appreciate the results. Some of my favorite installations were by Lee Quinones, Retna, Saber, Risk, and Mode 2.

Frank & Jenny checking out the anti-graffiti installation.

Lee Quinones

Frank in front of a Lee Quinones piece.

Invader and Retna piece.

Los Angeles Wall


Freight Train exhibit

Henry Chalfant

Mode 2

Frank & I next to Banksy's Yogi Bear

Risk's Bus

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Working Blacklava Booth at Comic Con 2011

Monday July 18, 2011

Jenny emails me to see if she can spend the night here in the OC on Wednesday for her early drive down to the San Diego Convention Center on Thursday for Comic-Con International 2011. Say what?

Please note that I have always wanted to attend Comic-Con! Okay, so maybe I am much more obsessed with manga and anime than traditional comics, but I watch practically every comic-based movie released, I'm a sci-fi fantasy junkie, and I wish I lived in a graphic, animated world. I am sooooooo jealous!

So what happens? Jenny tells me to come with her. She'll be helping out at the Blacklava booth and Ryan is still looking for volunteers. Yes! Yes! YES! Here is synchronicity at its finest. Comic-Con, here we come!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

6:00 am: Wake up and get ready. Make sure Tiki, my min pin mix puppy, doesn't get into trouble.

7:00-9:15 am: Find an unexpected squatter on Jenny's windshield. Jenny gently shoos him away. On the road and buckled in for the two-hour drive.

Does anyone know what type of bug this is?

9:15-9:30 am: We park and take the shuttle to the convention center. Jenny comments on the disproportionate male-to-female ratio of attendees and a few of the buxom young girls' costumes that leave very little to the imagination. Ryan meets us outside with badges and wristbands.

9:30-10:30 am: We settle into the booth, meet our fellow volunteers, and complete Mission #1 Coffee and Pastry Run.

10:30-11:30 am: From Fan to Creator: Goal-Setting for Creative Types panel by Douglas Neff (Toucan Learning Systems)

Takeaways from Workshop

Awesome quote: Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
- Dr. Howard Thurman

Great advice on goal-setting:

  • Make my goals specific
  • Get some help
  • Take it one step at a time
  • Do my HOMEWORK!
So I decide to start small and begin with some comic characters representing my Inner Artist Child (from my work with The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron) and my Nemesis (Neff describes this as "what might get in the way of [my] success"). Drawings and character profiles to come soon.

11:30 am-2:15 pm: Work the Blacklava booth. Jenny puts on a puppet show with the panda hats, and loudly proclaims "We've got Adobo shirts! We've got Tofu shirts! We've got Secret Asian Man shirts! We've got Virgins Do It Better shirts! We've got I Speak English shirts!" I'm afraid she's intimidating the customers, but they're intrigued and come closer to check out our wares. The awesome T-shirts, hats, pins, stickers, and magnets sell like crazy!

Jenny and I at the blacklava booth. Check out the irresistible panda hats!
2:15-4 pm: Mission #2 Subway Sandwich Run. Pedestrian traffic is atrocious, compounded by costumed people passing out flyers every 10 feet. The Subway line is ridiculous, but may be bypassed if we purchase pre-made sandwiches. A customer just bought 40 sandwiches, so only four spicy Italian foot-long subs remain. Sold! Ryan lets us take our lunch first. Jenny and I find a clear spot on the floor and wolf down our sandwiches before returning to relieve the others.

4-5:30 pm: We walk the show! At the EMOTES! booth, Jenny and I enter a raffle and I win a toy! We visit the Legos, DC, and Marvel booths to take photos with our favorite characters and stop by Viz Media, IDW, and Image. We make our way to the small press section and stroll through artist's alley for some visual inspiration. Check out my Pinterest board for illustrators who inspire me.

Posing with a storm trooper.

She-Ra rules!

My new boyfriends, Batman and Wolverine.

5:30-7:30 pm: We sell some more Blacklava gear, then close up shop and begin the long drive home.

Post-show Analysis

Okay, so the crush of humanity in costume and consumer mode was rather exhausting. It probably takes several days, rather than just a few hours to really soak up all of the events and exhibits. However, I feel very grateful to have been given a taste of the Comic-Con experience. I would love to come back next year, and maybe I'll have my own comic or graphic novel to share at the con in the future!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Inspired Lessons 1: Drawing Lab - Get a Stack of Books

Happy 4th of July! On this Independence Day, I celebrate my decision to carve out an independent, creative career path for myself. I am still struggling with determining how I will allocate my time and energy to my new set of priorities. This process involves negotiating my immediate financial needs, my commitment to inspired living, and my long-term career goals. I come into this new freelance existence with: (1) a set of skills I've already developed and may apply to projects and jobs now, (2) identified areas for growth in my current skills, and (3) a wish list of new skills I will need in order to realize my dream of being a creative entrepreneur.

As true independence and inspiration cannot be achieved alone, I will need to draw upon the wisdom of others. And because I am a total nerd and need the structure and expectations that come with taking classes, I am putting together a curriculum for myself. (A post with all the details regarding my DIY continuing education program to come soon.) I will look to a variety of sources and instructors, but as I am a serious book lover, you can expect books to play a prominent role in my course of study. I am very excited to begin delving into many wonderful titles that I will use to spark my creativity, and I'd like to share the results of my first assignment, which I found in the following book:

Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun! (Lab Series)
by Carla Sonheim
Paperback, 144 pages
Published July 1st 2010 by Quarry Books
Lab 46: Get a Stack of Books

Newly rebellious and untraditional student that I am, I have decided not to read the book from cover to cover. My strategy was to skim through the entire book and flag exercises that appeal to me. I do intend to complete all or most of the exercises eventually, but I began with an irresistible activity that combines my two great passions: drawing and a visit to the library!

Instructions in a Nutshell: Bring a sketchbook or 5-10 index cards and a pen to your local library. Gather a stack of books that appeal to you visually, and then sit down and flip through each book, sketching anything you like. Pay no attention to composition or accuracy. Items may overlap and mistakes should be overlooked. This is basically a practice drawing session.

Armed with this fun and non-threatening exercise at which I simply could not fail, I happily headed out to the Westminster Library and grabbed a pile of books on birds, orchids, toys, and other subjects I can't recall anymore. I tried to find an isolated seat far from other library patrons, but it's a rather small library, so I had to share a large table with several guys on their laptops and a girl deeply focused on her studies. Here are my drawings from June 26, 2011:

I hadn't drawn anything in so long that I began rather self-consciously with very light and hesitant pen strokes. However, I soon began to enjoy myself and no longer cared whether anyone around me noticed what I was doing. With the birds, I felt such a refreshing sense of freedom to overlap different species and not try to perfect anything. I set myself the goal of simply capturing a very quick likeness of each bird that caught my eye, and moving on when I lost interest. My drawing of the Asian girl didn't come out quite as I would have liked, because I was so worried about being discreet, that the perspective was all off. I was so afraid she'd turn around and see me drawing her that I over-thought that sketch. But it was great practice drawing people again, which is something I used to love doing, so I'm happy.

I enjoyed this exercise and am looking forward to exploring the other exercises in the book. I love that the approach to drawing is fun and playful, which is perfect for someone like me who lacks confidence in her own drawing skills. All too often, I am paralyzed by a blank sheet of paper or canvas. Drawing, painting or writing usually seems like a task too big and too fraught with expectation for me to handle. But if I take it one small step at a time, using books like Drawing Lab that make creative activities seem accessible, then I will eventually gain the confidence and ease to begin projects that I imagine for myself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Myth of Persephone, Darkly Reimagined

Note: This book review was originally posted on on April 2, 2011

Title: Abandon (Book One)
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Hardcover: 320 pages
Source: ARC (Thanks, Scholastic!)
Reviewer: Sandy Phan

She knows what it's like to die. Now Death wants her back. Seventeen-year-old Pierce knows what happens to us when we die. That's how she met John Hayden, the mysterious stranger who's made returning to normal life—or at least life as Pierce knew it before the accident—next to impossible. Though she thought she escaped him—starting a new school in a whole new place—it turns out she was wrong. He finds her. What does John want from her? Pierce thinks she knows... just like she knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven. But she can't stay away from him, either, especially since he's always there when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most. But if she lets herself fall any further, she might find herself back in the place she fears the most. And when Pierce discovers the shocking truth, that’s exactly where John sweeps her: The Underworld.


I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in this book. I was so excited when the ARC showed up on my doorstep, and I ripped open the package to find the sleek, black-and-gold book. As a child, I loved the romance and dark dangers lurking in ancient Greek myths. I was especially intrigued by the myth of Persephone and the lord of the underworld. Needless to say, I had very high hopes for this book.

I felt that the characters could use a bit more development, and they probably will be later in the series. Perhaps I am overly critical, but recently I have found that many female protagonists in YA novels tend to annoy me. Bella particularly irked me in the Twilight series, and I only put up with her because I loved Edward and Jacob. Bella just seemed so helpless, useless, and clueless—especially when it came to reading both Edward's and Jacob's feelings. Pierce Oliviera is a similarly frustrating character. She fully intends to be a strong and independent girl, but somehow often manages to come off as a bit dense and rash. John (a.k.a. Death or the ruler of the underworld) describes her as caring and selfless, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by her desire to help others. She simply had no idea what the people she cared about wanted or needed. I often had the urge to shake her and ask her if she really was that blind. 

John, while only slightly less clueless than Pierce, displayed a bit more depth. I mean, you can’t exactly blame a guy who has so little interaction with live people for not understanding a girl—especially a girl like Pierce. Sometimes I had imagined Hades as a seductive bad boy, and other times, I believed him to be a manipulative and selfish sort who could only get the girl by tricking her into eating the food from his world. Cabot created a somewhat complex and very sympathetic modern-day Hades figure in John. He exuded just the right amount of moody, dark, bad boy sex appeal, and I genuinely felt bad for him. He really didn't deserve a thankless job for eternity. And he certainly didn’t deserve a girlfriend who had no sense of emotional accountability. I am curious to learn more about his history as the series develops.

I would like to point out that one of Cabot's greatest strengths is her ability to make her main character jump off the page. As a writer, I know that it is very difficult to express a unique point of view, rather than simply write in an expository manner. In Abandon, Pierce's attitude and opinions infuse every line of text, and I really felt as though I was experiencing the story through her eyes. It's simply too bad for me that I didn't agree with most of her thoughts and actions.

The story opens about a year and a half after Pierce's near-death experience, and bounces back and forth in time between the present and past, filling in bits and pieces of information. This was a very clever plot device to keep the reader curious about Pierce's encounter with John in the underworld and the violent events afterwards that forced her to change schools and move to her mother's hometown on a tiny island off the coast of Florida. Overall, I found myself wanting to know the back story because it was offered so piecemeal, and this is what kept me turning the pages, despite my frustrations. However, the more I found out about her actions, the less sympathetic I became to Pierce. Eventually, I finished the book because I really wanted a resolution or some sort of reward for sticking it out, but I encountered a total cliffhanger. I prefer series that provide the reader with some payoff at the end of each book, while still keeping you hungry for more. I suppose it’s a very fine balance that is difficult to achieve. 

So I am moderately interested in finding out what will happen next, but I haven’t quite decided whether I will read the next book in the series. Perhaps Pierce will mature and become a less frustrating character in the next installment. If I didn’t have such a strong reaction to Pierce, I believe it would have been a much more enjoyable reading experience for me. The concept is really interesting, and I’d kind of like to see how Cabot develops her version of the myth.

My rating: 2.75

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quick Book Review: The Botticelli Secret

The Botticelli SecretThe Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adventure, political intrigue, art history, romance, intelligent and humorous dialogue, plot twists ... this novel had it all! I enjoyed every bit of it and absolutely ADORED the protagonist. What a unique and entertaining point of view! This was by no means serious and "important" reading, but it was so cleverly concocted with complex characters and an even more complicated puzzle to solve, that I couldn't have asked for a better way to de-stress, and I've been super stressed lately. Thanks for lending it to me, Heidi!

View all my reviews