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Your Tell Tale Heart

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“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” 
― Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art

..And when things go wrong, what you should do is make good art. I love this concept. I KNOW this concept. I know this whole speech almost by heart. I basically preach this. It is always the making of the good art that saves you. Or at least it is always the making of good art that saves me.

And yet, sometimes I have to be reminded. And strangely, last August, when I was going through some personal hard times, I was continually hearing the chorus of “paint your feelings.” Which, I’ll be honest, is not usually my go to. I make art because I am inspired. And working on good art pieces that I’ve been inspired to create always takes me out of time and makes me feel better. So it’s always a good panacea for emotional pain. But rarely do I actually paint my literal feelings. But, I kept hearing it. So finally one day, slightly exasperated because “what does that even mean- paint your feelings!?” I sat down at my desk with a blank sheet of paper and my watercolors, and before I knew it, this anatomical heart emerged, along with the Pirates of the Caribbean line that I love so much.

I drew the veins in gold as a reference to the Japanese method of Kintsugi-

Translated to “golden joinery,” Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi, which means “golden repair”) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece.

This repair method celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.

-My Modern Met Article

For me , I think, this artistic representation, with a subtle nod to the beauty of the brokenness, turned out to be the perfect way to process my broken hearted feelings, and also to find the beauty again, literally through the artistic rendering process. (For many more extensive thoughts on love and choice and whether or not you should lock your heart away, read my February blog post here: Always Choose Love.)

For Kay, who loves anatomical hearts of all kinds, this painting became immediately tied to her character of Cupid from Tell City. It would seem that once again, and even more unintentionally this time, I had created relevant fan art. Even when I try to make art about my own personal stories, it ties back into archetypal stories somehow or another. Ha! I guess no one can escape their destiny.

So yet again, when we sat down to determine what we should use to create Tell City merchandise for fans to rep, we quickly and easily landed on this piece too. Kay wanted the anatomical Cupid heart. So we hunted down a relevant quote from Tell City, I digitized and edited the image to change the text, and for the back I pulled in the Tell City “skyline” from the book cover and decorated it with the same fill pattern as the heart.

Et voila! Grab this heart for your own- as a reminder not to lock your heart away, or as a reminder of everyone’s favorite diapered cherub, or as a reminder of whatever else you might bring to the piece. Check it out here! And, if you don’t have one yet, grab your copy of Tell City here!

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This blog and my artwork runs entirely with the help of people like you. If you’ve enjoyed this behind the scenes look at my artwork, if you enjoy the artwork, enjoy Tell City, or if you just believe in supporting independent artists and authors, please consider sharing this post, buying a book or some swag, or for an even more in depth look behind the scenes, consider supporting Lusicovi Creative on Patreon. Learn more about that here.

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One Sacrifice Away

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As a freelance photographer, I frequently do contract work for Amazon. As of January 1, 2018, cell phones were banned in the Amazon warehouse and studio, blanket statement. Deal with it or leave. Which….some days, is really annoying. Especially at first, it was terrible. Everyone hated it. And everyone I’ve told about this rule, to this day, is baffled. “What? You cannot have your cell phone? What madness!” It seems like a huge sacrifice. But sometimes, with great sacrifice, comes great reward…

See, on the Amazon studio days, we have scheduled 15 minute breaks. And I am not one for whom idleness is tolerable….almost at all. I’m seemingly incapable of just sitting for 15 minutes. Occasionally you chat with coworkers, but even while chatting, my hands usually itch for something to do. So I started bringing in crossword puzzle books, and then my sketchbook. Specifically, at some point in my early art school days, I had obtained a small simple black 5x7 or so sized sketchbook. It was half filled. And then at some point in school I started using bigger ones and so this half empty book just was there on my shelf. Until one day last January, I grabbed it on my way out the door.

When I had downtime that day, I flipped through to see what was in the book from the years and years before. Browsing partly out of curiosity and partly out of a search for something else to do, I came across a series of pages that contained only stark outlines of varying shapes- a wine bottle, a leaf, an apple, etc. I came to the page with the apple and decided, for fun, to shade the apple and fill it in. So I grabbed my pencil and did that.

By the time I had added the dimension to the apple, it reminded me of the Tell City cover apple. As an added touch, I inscribed the classic Tell City phrase, “One Sacrifice Away.” But I still had time to kill. So I continued with my Tell City theme, and added an arrow piercing the apple, in classic William Tell fashion.

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These lines (also featured on the back cover of the hardcover dust jacket) have always been some of my VERY FAVORITE lines, not just of Tell City, but possibly of all fantasy writing. They manage to evocatively echo and reverberate both backwards and forwards in time, calling up many ancient myths, and also pushing forward into the unknown misty landscape.

The part that evokes Snow White in particular, combined with the imagery of a reflection in a well (which would naturally ripple) has always appeared in my imagination as a rippling mirror, that blurs the lines of surrealism. Is it a mirror? Is it water? Is the apple floating? Or reflected? Or all of the above?

So, with my favorite “One Sacrifice Away” quote swirling around in my mind, I added a rippling ornate mirror to the background of the now definitely Tell City fan art piece I had stumbled my way into drawing. I actually had originally envisioned adding a light shadowy panther’s face into the mirror as well, but I ran out of time.

When I left work and got back to my phone, I took a quick photo of the drawing and sent it to Kay, who I imagine squealed with delight to see it. With the distance, time, and extra perspective, I ultimately decided that to try and add the panther into the image would be overdoing it, so I left it as it was. Sometimes good art is knowing where to draw the line. (ha!)

If you have a copy of Tell City (and if you don’t, get thee hence to Amazon and grab a copy! Or click here.), you know that this drawing wound up in the intro pages to the novel- a thing of which I am immensely proud. I might actually even be more honored to have my artwork featured inside the book than to have my designs on the cover. “Cover designer” is a thing I am certain I am good at. I love doing it, and I’m confident in my ability to craft magical and enchanting book cover designs. “Graphite realistic surreal fan art drawer,” on the other hand, is something that surprised me. I hadn’t hand drawn anything in graphite in a long long while, and even in the heyday of my art school days, I was never particularly quick or skilled with realistic graphite drawings. I could manage it, usually, but it was always a struggle. This piece, however, just seemed to flow from my brain to the pencil to the page with unprecedented ease. Perhaps it was the reward for my sacrifice of not having my phone that day to waste time scrolling on….

Aside from being featured in the book (or perhaps, because it is featured in the book), when it came time to design Tell City merch, including this drawing was a bit of a no brainer. By that point, we had already paired the apple drawing in the front of the book with the poem that was a message from the oracle, and so as a bonus, all of the merchandise that has a back, features that poem on the back as well. And so, aside from having it in your copy of the book (Again, grab that here if you don’t have it already!) , you can also get this enchanting drawing on virtually any home good product or accessory you can image, or in a print. (If you want a signed archival fine art print, send me a message here- otherwise grab one printed on demand at the shop!) My personal favorite are the leggings!

Hopefully it resonates with you the same way it does with me.

You can support this blog (plus a local independent author) by purchasing and repping any of the products in the shop here. Or by buying the novel here (and share your reviews with us on social media!) You can also support this blog and my general creative endeavors and musings by becoming a Patreon supporter. Learn more about that here. Thanks for stopping by!

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Tell City Cover Evolution

If you didn’t catch the long version of the story of Tell City, hop over here and read it now! I thought it might be cool to share the simple visual progression of the Tell City cover, from August 2013 to November 2018. Enjoy! And feel free to ask any questions in the comments if you have them!

The first ever cover sketch from August 2013.

The first ever cover sketch from August 2013.

And a few pages later in my notebook, from a few months later, during a night of art making and listening to Kay read from the book.

And a few pages later in my notebook, from a few months later, during a night of art making and listening to Kay read from the book.

The first ever  Tell City  cover design.

The first ever Tell City cover design.

And the event poster that went with it.

And the event poster that went with it.

The most recent sketch of the full  Tell City  cover spread.

The most recent sketch of the full Tell City cover spread.

The first version of the newest cover, obviously it still had a bit more evolving to do.

The first version of the newest cover, obviously it still had a bit more evolving to do.

The final front cover design.

The final front cover design.

The final entire hardcover dust jacket spread.

The final entire hardcover dust jacket spread.

And finally, the best part. The cover design is available to order printed on virtually any home good or accessory you can imagine! They even have leggings and socks! Check it out and rep your favorite newest fantasy novel here! (All proceeds go to benefit an independent author and independent artist!)

The back of all the shirts.

The back of all the shirts.

You can also support this blog by contributing on Patreon. Learn more about that here! And support Kay by buying the book, below!

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The Sign Said "Welcome to Tell City...."

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The Craigslist post said “Artist Wanted for Book Poster Design.”

It was 2013. I had just moved to Indianapolis by myself. I had just signed a lease on a new apartment. I had just lost my job. I had just put together that my love of books and my love of making art could be combined in book design. I had just read a fantasy book (The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. 10/10 would definitely recommend!) that had reawakened my creative spirit in the midst of all the massive chaos and fearful uncertainty that had been my life for over a year. And the ad for the book poster design had likened the book currently being written and in need of advertising to Neil Gaiman, whose books I adore.

I responded to the ad. I believe I mentioned my love of Gaiman. The author and I went back and forth for a bit and decided to meet up at the local Noble Coffee & Tea. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea that I was about to meet my best friend.

The first ever sketch from 2013 of a  Tell City  cover.

The first ever sketch from 2013 of a Tell City cover.

We met up in August. I remember we had chai tea lattes (Noble Coffee & Tea has the best chai tea lattes!), and we sat outside and talked about our mutual love for Neil Gaiman, among other things. Kay told me about her book, which still only had 4 chapters written, and she didn’t know yet where the story was even going for sure, and I told her about my art. She told me about how she was trying to be smart about it, trying to get ahead of the marketing and build an audience for her first novel as she wrote, so that when it was finished there would already be people eagerly awaiting its release. So she was planning a book reading at Indy Reads Books, and needed posters designed to advertise the reading. I had my sketchbook with me, and by the time our meeting was through, I had sketched out a rough design for both a book cover and for posters. I think we were good friends from that instant on.

To complete the circle and start another one, in March of 2018, Kay and I took a road trip to Cleveland, Ohio, to see Neil Gaiman speak live. (!!!!!!) By then she was already writing her next book, and the Cleveland trip was actually a strange but brand new return to our normal method of writing and making art. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Some of the best moments from the Cleveland trip-including a horrendous quality but amazing photo of Neil himself, and two of my favorite ever photos of Kay.

Some of the best moments from the Cleveland trip-including a horrendous quality but amazing photo of Neil himself, and two of my favorite ever photos of Kay.

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So back in 2013, we designed the posters. The design included an apple that had written on it “One Sacrifice Away;” a line from the book that we both loved. We did a photoshoot at her house to get an image of that apple. It also featured her leather journal that she sometimes wrote in. And while we were making the fake apple, Kay had the brilliant idea to make everyone who was coming to the reading their own fake apple with the prophetic words. So we made a whole bushel of apples. And we made bookmarks. And we stayed up until stupid late hours at my apartment and at Kinkos getting everything prepped for the book reading. And then when she sat on stage and read from her book, I and all of the other attendees fell in love with the story of Charles D Garrett and his prophetic dreams….

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Over the next three years, Kay and I would get together whenever our schedules allowed for “Art Retreat Days,” which basically just meant her writing Tell City, and me working on whatever painting or photo editing or other creative project that I was currently working on. Often while I worked on my project, Kay would read aloud to me the latest in the adventures of Charles and his quest to Tell City. It was simply magical.

One year (I think it would have been 2014), Kay had just happened to have been planning a “Tell City Reading get together” by coincidence on the evening of my birthday. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than that, so Veronica, Harrison, and I grabbed wine and cupcakes from the grocery store and headed to Kay’s house in Speedway. A small group of us gathered around her living room and fire pit, and took turns reading from the half completed manuscript. I’ve never experienced a party like it before. Everyone was in rapt, attentive silence. This book is just that mesmerizing. That memory is quite possibly my very favorite birthday evening ever.

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In the fall of 2016, the first draft of the novel was, unbelievably, done. Meanwhile several people had been telling me that they had just gone to Savannah, Georgia, and that I needed to go because I would love it. My birthday was coming up. I wanted to go on a road trip. Kay and I had been on a couple of short midwestern road trips at that point. And Kay had an entire novel to read through and edit, a task in which I was eager to participate. So we wrapped it all up into one jam packed extended weekend trip. We left from her house at 3 in the morning, drove to the middle of nowhere Indiana and paused to take photos of the stars, and then continued on our 18 hour drive to Savannah. Whoever was not driving was reading aloud and making notes in the printed manuscript. One day I’ll write a post about that trip alone, because we did SO much that it would be egregious to detail it all right now. But suffice it to say that it was a lovely, adventurous, magical trip. The city of Savannah definitely has my heart. And I learned that the combination of reading/editing and traveling/exploring new places is perhaps my very favorite thing. The second night we were there it rained, so instead of shooting more astrophotography in the purple area of the map that we had passed through on our way into Savannah the night before, we stayed in the Airbnb camper, and we spent hours meticulously crafting beautiful scenes in Tell City about poison and a falling coffee cup.

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About 6 months later we did another weekend Airbnb retreat, this time with Kay’s sister as well, and this time in Indianapolis instead of an actual road trip. Basically, we holed ourselves up in a nice place for a weekend and just went through the novel again from start to (almost) finish. And while we did that, I painted.

Sufficiently edited, Kay began querying agents and publishers, hoping that someone would pick up Tell City, and I turned my attention to other creative pursuits, one of which eventually became The Starlight Journal. By March of last year, Kay had decided to self publish, a tough decision which I ultimately loved because I saw it put the spring back in her step. Where she had been worn down and discouraged after months of rejections, suddenly she was reinvigorated.

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So we set about turning a google doc novel into a physical book. Now, I had had a sketch in my sketchbook from almost immediately after we did the first cover/poster design project, of a much more elaborate cover for Tell City involving the same cover apple floating in a flooded main street, one that I always envisioned as the actual Tell City, Indiana. We had tried a time or two over the years to at least take the underwater photograph needed of the apple, but for one roadblock or another we had never made it happen. And since publishing houses almost always insist on using in house or their own designers, there was never much need to create a true cover. Until now. So I dusted off my years old sketch book and found that original sketch, and then we went on a trip that ultimately improved upon the concept in ways we hadn’t even imagined.

The most recent sketch of the  Tell City  cover spread.

The most recent sketch of the Tell City cover spread.

For this cover design we needed: An underwater photograph of the apple, and images of the “skyline” such as it was of the actual Tell City. We had also been talking about taking a trip to Tell City just in general anyways, because I had never seen the real town, and because somehow along the way, Kay and I became adventure partners; and clearly this was an adventure we needed to have. And, well, boy did we.

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After a trying round of dueling schedules, we finally settled on the last weekend of June as our available time to make the trip to Tell City. We planned to set off late at night on the Friday, and arrive in the wee hours of the morning and check in at the same hotel that Charles does when he first drifts into Tell City in the book. This we did, driving through the winding back country roads of Indiana in the foggy dead of night. We saw/almost hit I think at least 4 different animals on the road, which Kay took to be a good omen, since the animal spirits in the novel also frequent Charles’s path.

You know what they say about the best laid plans, though… when we arrived at 3am at the Day’s Inn, we discovered two things. One, it was no longer the Day’s Inn, now it was called the Knight’s Inn (oh, irony), and two, the front office was most definitely closed. We could not check in. So we scrambled on our phones to find another open hotel, and wound up in one high on a hilltop overlooking a good part of the highway and some neighborhoods. Southern Indiana is gloriously hilly. As an added bonus, this hotel had a pool, which was just what we needed for our second part of the photoshoot. Finally settled we collapsed into bed and slept a few hours.

The next morning, we formed our game plan over complimentary hotel breakfast and coffee: first we would go into the town proper and just explore to get the lay of the land, and have lunch at a local place. Then we would come back to the hotel in the afternoon and do the pool photoshoot to get the underwater photo of the apple. Then we would have dinner and at dusk head around to all the spots in the city we wanted to photograph for the cover “skyline” shots. We had a lot of fun exploring the main street shops local eclectic houses, the water tower that is infamous in the book, and the flood wall and river park. It was especially fun assigning different locations as “Amanda’s house” or “Desiree’s shop,” places that are featured in the book. The book’s geography is based on the real Tell City, but necessarily takes some liberties and plays with the topography a bit. But even so, it was exciting to see the previously fictional place come to life, as it were. As we went we photographed “Steve the apple” (the original cover apple) on a tour of Tell City.

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In my sketch and in my head, I had always envisioned capturing the main street from a bit of a hill, but of course, when we got there, the actual main street was as flat as a corn field. So our skyline task for the day mostly involved traipsing the hills around the main street to find a sufficient vantage point that would look main street enough. We took lots of photos at many different vantage points and at a few different times. As dusk was falling and the deep purple blue of true night was settling in, we happened to be at the top of one of the hills, taking a long exposure shot down that hill towards the river, and for whatever reason I happened to look up. I was immediately astonished. I have always lived in proper cities, and Indiana especially has very bad light pollution in most of the state, so other than our brief drive to Savannah in 2016 (during which we regrettably did not stop for pictures!), I had never seen so many stars. But what was more, it was a perfectly clear night. So I pointed up to show Kay, and also pulled out my phone to check my Dark Skies app and see if we were currently actually in the purple. (Quick side note- I have an app that maps the whole world based on light pollution. Almost all of Indiana and the east coast is level green or higher, which means you barely see any stars. Purple is the next step down, and is the only place you can even hope to get to without going truly out west. So “take star photos in the purple” has been on my literal bucket/goals list for several years, and every time I tried up until this point, it had rained.) We were not in the purple, but I quickly noticed that just on the other side of the Ohio River, right across the border in Kentucky, was a small splotch of purple map. I imagine that the look on my face said it all, as I turned to Kay to ask if we could go. She laughed at my giddy childlike enthusiasm and agreed of course, even though it was already almost 11pm and we were both exhausted.

So we packed up the car, stopped at a gas station for snacks and caffeine, and just before midnight, headed across the Ohio into Kentucky….right into a thunderous rainstorm.

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Now, I have had a few treacherous drives in my life. And driving through unknown narrow roads in the rolling hills of Kentucky after midnight in a torrential downpour is not THE most terrifying drive I’ve ever done….but it’s in the top 5. It got so bad at one point that we had to pull of the road into a farmhouse driveway just because it was raining so hard we couldn’t even see the road. At this point we also pulled up radar and maps and tried to determine if it was even worth it to keep going or if once again, my efforts to photograph the stars in purple were to be thwarted by unceasing rain.

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We eventually and optimistically decided that, well, we’d already come this far. And it looked like the storm was actually not going to be over our final destination. And the torrent was easing so that we could see again. So we got back on the road. Luckily we had passed through the worst of the storm and the rain and clouds got lighter and lighter as we drove to our destination- a random strip of road in the Kentucky almost mountains. We finally pulled over and stepped out of the car and looked up…to see mostly clouds still obscuring the bulk of the stars, and a very very bright moon that we hadn’t considered. It was disheartening, but we had come this far. And it was still pretty enough, and I had some fun light props with me, so we figured what the hell, we could still get some interesting shots, even if they weren’t milky way photos.

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So we did that, Kay manning the camera button and I dancing with silk fans and flashlights and glow sticks in front of the long shutter and under the bright light of the moon. Those photos are definitely magical, but the true magic was yet to come. After a relatively short time, we noticed that the clouds were starting to dissipate, and we could definitely see more of the stars. Trying to determine the best viewing spot, Kay laid down in the middle of the road at one point and pointed up. “The milky way!” She exclaimed. Sure enough, there it was, beautiful and bright. A bit too bright, with the moon shining directly at us, but we took what photos we could anyways. Eventually the animals in the nearby forest started making enough noise to spook us, so we nervously packed the car back up and headed back out to the main road.

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At the main road we pulled off onto a gravel side…spot? Parking lot? Shoulder? Honestly I don’t know. It was the perfect spot to pull of the road though, and I wanted to try one other thing while we were there. This part of the road and this spot of gravel was in the shadow of the mountain and thus hidden from the moon. So I wanted to see if that changed the pictures any. Plus it was not so close to the forest. So we brought out the setup one more time and got some truly stunning milky way photos. (To me at least!)

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Then, as we were shooting the milky way, we noticed that to the north in the distance were more storm clouds. Far enough away to not be a concern. But close enough to see the lightning flashing among the mountains. So we turned the camera towards the storm, and waited for another flash of lightning… And waited, and waited...

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At one point one of us jokingly said a prayer to Thor, god of Thunder. Then Kay implored Loki and strangely enough, just as she did, there was one quick flash in the distance. Almost like they were laughing at us. I missed it on the camera (mostly because I hadn’t expected it to work!), but it gave me an idea. I pulled out my phone, and through the glorious wonder of the internet, played AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” on Youtube. To our utter delight and amazement, the first time the band says “Thunder,” the lightning flashed, and this time I was waiting for it. We danced and laughed and sang the whole song, taking photos of the lightning in the distance all the while. At the end of the song, figuring that it really didn’t get any better than that, and noticing both the hour and the mist starting to roll into the valley we were in, we finally called it a night and headed back towards Tell City and our hotel. We slept in late the next morning and, having gotten everything we came for and much much more, we finally headed for home.

I created the cover for Tell City from the photos we got that day, including the milky way shots and the storm, then we turned to the interior and all of the other marketing and planning efforts to launch a brand new book.

Seven months later and the physical books are out in the world, generating posts on social media from old friends and new fans alike. It’s strange but wonderful seeing the cover artwork, and the book, which is not only a truly wonderful and magical story itself, but which has so much magic wrapped up in the creation of it, and which is so dear to my heart, going out and making its own way in the world.

Wandering, if you will. As must we all.

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To read the enchanting novel, Tell City, by Kaylin R Boyd, and thus support both an independent artist and an independent author, click here. To learn more about Kaylin R Boyd, click here.

To support this blog, share this post with other book loving friends, and consider becoming a supporter on Patreon. Learn more about that here.

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P.S. Some behind the scenes shots from the underwater shoot that just didn’t fit anywhere else in this narrative….<3

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I am the Captain of My Soul

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INVICTUS

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY

Out of the night that covers me,

       Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 

      For my unconquerable soul. 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 

      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 

      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 

      Looms but the Horror of the shade, 

And yet the menace of the years 

      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 

It matters not how strait the gate, 

      How charged with punishments the scroll, 

I am the master of my fate, 

      I am the captain of my soul. 

William Ernest Henley was a Scottish poet who faced no shortage of hardship in his life. He contracted tuberculosis of the bone at the age of twelve. Then when he was seventeen, his lower leg and foot had to be amputated because of the progression of the disease. In his early twenties he spent twenty months in the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary due to further complications, in which he almost lost his other leg, and during which he wrote Invictus and many other poems. He was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, and when Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, years later, he based the complex jovial character of Long John Silver on Henley. So, interestingly enough, many people know at least the last line in Henley’s poem, and almost everyone has at least heard of Long John Silver. I would argue that few people know that they both came from the same man and his incidental hardships in a Scottish hospital.

“Invictus” means “unconquerable” in Latin, and Henley certainly did have an unconquerable spirit in the face of his arbitrarily dealt life blows. Even in the face of death, his spirit seems unbowed. That indomitable spirit certainly made an impression on Lous Stevenson at least. And the thing that stands out most clearly to me is that this spirit is a clear choice he has made. And it’s a choice we can all make.

In the face of the terrible stormy seas of life and whatever turbulent and absurd waves fate throws our way, we can either choose to cower in fear, or we can choose to be the captains of our own souls.

For me this is a clear connection to the stars and the compass, which are featured in my art piece. When I make art, I don’t usually know where I’m going with it when I set out (ironically). In this case, I was hugely inspired by a chandelier I had seen on Pinterest from a celestial photoshoot, and, with time to kill and my sketchbook and pencil at the bar of my favorite coffee shop, I simply started sketching, first with the moon and stars garland, and then the compass emerged as well. Later I blended the line work with the watercolor and starry sky photograph as the background, and added the gold foil letters from Henley’s poem at the last minute on rather a whim. It simply felt like the two went together, just as well as the compass goes with the stars.

The stars and navigation are a truly remarkable thing, when you think about it. Because the stars, being fixed points in the sky, are what sailors and sea captains have used for most of human history to literally orient themselves and navigate to their destinations. But it’s not just literal. Our myths and stories have a long history of the idea of wishing on stars; essentially, metaphorically using the stars to orient ourselves and navigate to our metaphorical (or perhaps metaphysical) destinations.

Maybe the metaphorical use derives from the literal use in the first place. It’s a bit hard to say. Because the idea of light and stars as guides is so deeply embedded in human mythology that it’s hard to say which came first. Lucifer was the morning star, after all, God’s highest angel, and that tale is as old as time itself.

So, we mere mortals aim for the stars. We shoot for them, you might even say. Because the stars are the highest possible good we can conceive of. And perhaps because we have been using the stars to orient ourselves physically since the dawn of time too, so why not this too?

But there’s something else implied in this sort of navigation; this captaining of our own souls, and it is this: we get to choose the direction in which we sail. Metaphorically we are all captains of our souls, whether we take up that mantle with courage and forthrightness or not, it remains true. And that means that we choose the bearings. Or else we drift, aimless and lost, because the waters are constantly shifting beneath us either way.

So, in order not to drift aimlessly, in order to not run aground and destroy the ship, we choose our goals, and we use the stars and compass to navigate our way there. More than that though, we choose the spirit with which we follow those goals, in the face of inevitable dangers and even that horrific shade of certain death. In fact, it is the certainty of our own mortality that helps us to determine what we want to do with the precious few moments we have on this planet in the first place. So in a way, choosing a goal at all means metaphorically staring death in the face and proceeding anyways.

It’s a good reminder for us all, especially at the end of another January, when New Years resolutions made with bright eyed hope begin to look more like the arduous tasks of change they almost always are (at least the ones worth doing), that no matter how narrow the road in front of us, no matter how difficult the winds and the waters, no matter how strait the gate, we still get to choose our own destinations, and we get to choose the spirit with which we set sail.

May we all remember to be the masters of our own fates and the captains of our own souls.

Behind the scenes shot- Chai Tea Latte, Pinterest, and a sketchbook. Bliss.

Behind the scenes shot- Chai Tea Latte, Pinterest, and a sketchbook. Bliss.

The final pen and ink drawing that became the line work in this piece.

The final pen and ink drawing that became the line work in this piece.

Part of the watercolor piece that later integrated with an astrophotography photo to become the background for this piece.

Part of the watercolor piece that later integrated with an astrophotography photo to become the background for this piece.

Close up of the final piece.

Close up of the final piece.

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To support this blog, and to adorn your everyday life with this reminder to captain your own soul, visit my shop and get it on a pillow, travel mug, notebook, etc, here.

To support this blog and my artistic work in general, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon, here.

Love and light, creatives.

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5 Things That Inspire Me

This blog was originally written and published by me on the blog of The Hatch, on December 28th, 2016. View the original post here.

Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes, it hits you out of nowhere; in the shower, while you’re driving, or while you’re trying to fall asleep. And it’s all you can do to get the new amazing idea down on paper because your heart and mind are racing with the overwhelming excitement of it all.

Other times you sit for hours and stare at a bank piece of paper…. just waiting for all the ideas you had three days ago to come back and present themselves articulately so you can write, paint, draw, or whatever your chosen medium is. As a lifelong artist just starting out on a more full time and serious creative entrepreneurial journey, never has this been more of a problem for me.

Luckily, other creatives have gone before me, and from reading their works and listening to their talks (shoutout to Liz Gilbert, Neil Gaiman, and JK Rowling especially), I have learned that there are a few things I can always fall back on when I need a little help chasing down that fleeting wonderful moment that is inspiration.

#1- Find a story. There is nothing more inspiring to me than a story. Books, poems, songs, short stories, long novels, folk tales, fairy tales. Stories of all kinds are the most inspiring things to me.

I have been a bookworm all my life and have always been interested in “nerdy” things and stories like Alice in Wonderland and Doctor Who.  I am particularly interested in what are usually considered “children’s” fantasy stories: Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid. I believe that these types of stories are relevant for everyone not only because they tell truths of the human condition which resonate with us all, but also because they tell them in beautiful ways that really capture our imaginations and can be understood by everyone. To paraphrase what GK Chesterton once said, fairytales are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. And there is something immensely powerful and magical in that.


#2- Get myself to the sea or to the stars. Nature in general is always a great revival and refresher for the soul, especially in our fast paced, glorification-of-busy lives. I think to some degree we are all suffering from perpetual burnout, and nothing has ever been a better cure for that than to just put down our phones and get outside and present with the physical world and our bodies. For me though, the water and the stars are always especially inspiring. There is something so truly awe-inspiring, so universal, so amazing, about standing and just watching the awesome power of the ocean, or watching the endless glittering dance of the stars. It always makes me feel both immensely alive and great, and immensely humbled and tiny all at the same time. These two great natural wonders always put everything in perspective and help me to remember what is truly important.

#3- Ordinary people living extraordinary lives in a hundred little ways are a huge inspiration to me as well. Maybe this is just “stories” in a different way, but people who are passionate, from an amazing biopic about Walt Disney, to the woman who lives down the street and lives for her beautiful garden, never cease to amaze me. The human spirit is just so inspiring. The best example of this is my own Grandfather, who was the single most inspiring person I have ever personally known. An Armenian born in Jerusalem, and raised in abject poverty, he made his way out of that life, came to America, and built a remarkable life for himself, creating a family legacy of grace, determination, curiosity, love, and laughter. By his own example, he taught his family that it matters not where or what someone is born, but who they grow to be. I would truly not be the person I am today without my Grandpa’s fine example, and for that I will always be grateful and inspired.

#4- Speaking of being indebted to others, I truly believe that creative collaboration/brainstorming is one of the most inspiring things anyone can do. And you don’t actually have to be in the same room to creatively collaborate. Books allow us to collaborate, in a sense, with storytellers and inspiring people who lived halfway around the world a hundred years ago, but I still consider that a collaboration of sorts, because it is a meeting of equal minds, and results in a new blending of ideas that can produce new exciting things. Which is truly a little magical, when you think about it. But it doesn’t even have to be as esoteric as that. The digital age allows us to connect to amazing artists all around the world with the click of a button. Pinterest, for example, is flooded with truly astoundingly beautiful art. And if I am ever in a particular creative pickle, it is the first place I look to for instant inspiration. Just being surrounded by other creative ideas and beautiful artwork, whether in a museum, a bookstore, a gallery, or on Pinterest, I find myself instantly refreshed, inspired, and in awe.

#5- My final inspiration (and this is a new lesson that I recently had to learn), comes in the form of meditation and/or yoga, which is also essentially just prayer. Taking time to deliberately switch OFF and recharge, is so important that I could never stress it enough. And it is so much harder and so much more rewarding than it sounds. It is a constant practice and lesson of balance, and I’m certain it is something I will have to consciously work on for the rest of my life. But, when you think about it, unless you slow down sometimes, those moments of inspiration can never truly find you. Sometimes you have to slow down, be still, and give up on chasing the ideas, to let them come to you. This exact principle explains why those most brilliant ideas hit you just as you are drifting off to sleep, or while you are in the shower or driving on a long trip, because in those moments your brain is relaxed; and in that relaxation and stillness, inspiration has the space to come rushing in.

So there you have it: Stories, nature, ordinary people, other art, and being still. I guess when you boil it down, what I am really inspired by is anything that is wondrous, and curious, and beautiful. Those are the stories that I love to hear and discover. And as a visual storyteller, these are the stories that I love to tell.

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Why a Starlight Journal?

So, I have a confession. I’ve never used a bullet journal before. Or rather, I didn’t use a bullet journal until I got the first proof copy of the Starlight Journal. Which rather begs the question, why did I make an illustrated bullet journal for myself? And the answer is a bit convoluted, to be honest. And it starts three years ago.

Three years ago I went through a mindset bootcamp program, of sorts, in an effort to figure out how the hell this thing called “adulting” works. I felt (like most people probably feel even still) that I had absolutely nothing under control, and didn’t know how to do anything. I had a job that I basically loved as a full time product photographer, but it didn’t pay me enough to even keep a budget. Because the math just could not work. There wasn’t enough. I was overdrafting my bank account regularly, trying to keep to a shoestring budget, and paying too much in rent and in debt repayment. I was single and lonely and I knew it was all wrapped up together, because who would want to even be with someone who was so much of a mess? I knew that something had to change but I had no idea what or how or where to start.

Enter something called the Dating Mindset Bootcamp, which was really not very much about dating and was very much about how to be in your best mindset for your best self. Going through the Bootcamp taught me for the first time about masculine and feminine energies and how we need to balance BOTH to have a good relationship with ourselves and therefore with others. If you have absolutely zero structure (masculine), then you are nothing but chaos (feminine), and while we do need some chaos to keep growing and to keep life interesting, too much of it is just as bad as too much structure and order.

The other thing I learned (or learned to see in a different light) was that I was waaaayyyyy chaotic. Like, the thing is that I am a pretty feminine person. I love dresses and frills and flowers. I love art and beauty and love. I’m obsessed with water, which is archetypically associated with the feminine in almost every single instance. I’m clearly very artistic and creative. I love arts, music, dance, and anything that flows. I’m terrible at time (which is very masculine), I’m SUPER emotional. One of my best friends astutely proclaimed one day on the phone that I “just feel almost everything profoundly,” and I think that’s 100% correct. It’s amazing some days and terrible other days, and it makes me very empathetic, loving, patient, and kind. All of these are good things. But being terrible at math (so, finances), and being terrible at knowing how time works, and having emotions so strong that they can take over my afternoon is often not so good.

I needed to build some structure into my life. I recognized that. Because structure is the masculine energy that holds space for and therefore protects the feminine flow and creativity. I had all of the creativity and flow, but it was a raging river with no banks, and I was drowning in it. I needed to build some banks to organize and contain and direct the flow. I needed some structure. So I set out to find some. I set out to find a planner to keep myself more organized... 

This is a long story, my friends, so I'm going to pause here for now. Stay tuned for the next blog post to read on!

(And in the meantime, since this story is such a throwback, enjoy this major throwback photo from when I went to visit my cousins in California. I had those flip flops in high school!)

jimmy buffet california ocean photo

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What to Expect from Lusicovi Creative

Dear Creatives,

If you’ve been following along on my social media at all (or even talked to me in person recently), you probably have gotten a general idea of what I’ve been up to and what’s coming down the line. But, for the sake of clarity, I wanted to write up a quick outline of the things currently going on at Lusicovi Creative, and also what to expect over the next year. We have a lot of awesome projects we are cooking up here, so bear with me on the length of this post. It might be a little longer than usual.

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First off, you really have to have been living under a rock to not have heard of this yet (because I've been annoying everyone about it), but the Starlight Journal, is finished and now in production!! This has been a project that I have been working on for YEARS, and I’m so proud of how it is turning out and I cannot wait to share it with you! There have been a lot of setbacks along the way, and honestly this is not at all the product I thought I was making when I started. But it’s so much better. Pre-Orders launch at an extra special discounted price (for the first 150 copies only) on August 1st (that's this Wednesday!) And the copies and official launch (including a glittering launch party) will be early November! So, for the next couple of months especially, as we go into launch mode, Lusicovi Creative is going to be almost all Starlight all the time! But, it’s going to be wonderful!  I won’t talk much more about that here, because we’re going to talk your ears off about it in the coming weeks, but I will end with this excerpt from the back cover:

The world is made of the dust of ancient stars, and we humans have always looked to the stars to guide us home. Like the stars, the Starlight Journal is both a guiding light and a source of wonder for creatives seeking balance.

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Secondly, I’ve already started working on this project preliminarily, but it has been mostly on the back burner since it’s inception almost a year ago. This project is also a book project, and is a collaborative, unique project that I am also really excited about and anxious to get back to! This book will be called Into the Sea: Fairytales of Atlantis, and it is a curation of artwork and stories that collectively explore the question: what if the story of Atlantis was a princess fairytale story? The submissions that we have gotten already are blowing us away, frankly, and this book is going to be truly beautiful. It is definitely still in the collaboration and art creation stage. So if you are a writer or artist (or you know a writer or artist) and would like to get in on this group creativity action- send me an email at fairytalesofatlantis@gmail.com, and we will be sure to get you included! The current plan is to create a group and be really active in there in September, into next Spring, and then final deadlines for submissions will be next Spring, so that next Summer we can launch a kickstarter to fund the printing of this beautiful book.  

 

Starting in August, I will be re-launching my society6 shop, in an effort to focus more on my artwork. This will be a way to achieve three exciting things! One, to make my artwork available and affordable. Two, to keep me generating new artwork and products continually (we will launch one new design per month from September onward!). And three, to give all you marvelous creatives and supporters a way to adorn your lives with some great boho and literary beauty! So look out for those shop updates every month starting in August, and if there is a particular piece I’ve done or that you want to see done and up in the shop, definitely drop me a line and let me know!

 

Another way that I’m pivoting to focus more on artwork is by focussing my business more on book cover designs than anything else. Because I am such a bookworm, and my artwork has always been pretty literary inspired anyways, this is the perfect way to combine all of the things I love to do. So, as such I will be collaborating with authors, particularly self publishing fantasy authors, not just as their book cover designer, but as general support as well. The reason I design book covers is because I want to tell the story in enchanting visual ways, and my aim will always be to work with storytellers to truly capture the story within, entice readers to pick up and buy the books, and therefore help my authors realize their dreams of publishing successful books. So you can expect to see a lot more talk of upcoming books from me in the future! (Pssst: the first one will be Tell City, by a very dear friend of mine, Kaylin R Boyd. We just finished the cover for Tell City this summer, and the cover reveal is scheduled for mid August, so stay tuned, especially if you like urban fantasy or anything at all by Neil Gaiman!)

As a super sneak peek, here is one of the images we shot for the cover of  Tell City. &nbsp;

As a super sneak peek, here is one of the images we shot for the cover of Tell City. 

 

With all of these big changes and exciting projects coming down the pipeline, you can also expect a lot more consistency from me in updates. I’ve obviously launched a blog, and while the blog posts over the next couple of months will be quite frequent as we really explain everything that the Starlight Journal has to offer, even after November, expect at least one monthly email update with the shop update, recent blog posts, and other fun behind the scenes news!  

Finally, though these are still long off dreams, I do want to mention two really big projects that are in the works for the future of Lusicovi Creative. One is the next book project after Atlantis, which will be an illustrated (with underwater photography + painting and montage) and re-imagined and re-written version of the classic The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. The second is even bigger in scope. But it will be a semi-annual magazine publication entitled The Starlight Emporium: Beautiful and Thoughtful Art and Stories. Combining many of the ideas and values of both the Starlight Journal and the Atlantis project, this will be a regular collection of beautiful and thoughtful art and stories that focus on anything curious, fantastic, and wonder-filled. There will be gorgeous photos and art, written poems, short stories, and articles that inspire, travel adventures, and featured artists, writers, and locations each time. There will also always be a featured “curiosity” article about anything interesting and related to a life of creative adventure (think health and wellness tips, financial talks, psychology, astronomy & other science, and ways to access creativity and divinity).

It will be for the curious, the adventurous, the thinkers, the dreamers, the magic makers, the ones aching for more creative connection. It will be physically printed, because there is just nothing like holding the physical art and words in your hands, or tearing out your favorite most inspiring pages and hanging them on your wall. And because, let’s face it, we all need to be better about getting off our screens and being grounded and in touch with actual wonder. It will be for anyone seeking wonder and connection in these frazzled, busy, exciting times of ours, and I cannot wait to get started on it. If you have any ideas for any art, stories, or creators and adventurers to feature, please email me at lusicovicreative@gmail.com and let me know about them!

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So friends, this where we are at. This is what I've been dreaming of lately.

This is what you should expect to see from me and Lusicovi Creative in the coming months and even years. I have to say, it feels really wonderful, grounded, and peaceful to have an actual plan more or less in place. Of course I expect for there to be curveballs and unexpected turns along the way. But overall I feel confident that this is basically the plan and trajectory. This is my mountain, as Neil Gaiman would say, and I’m very happy to be on the way there.

To follow along with this artistic business journey, and to support me and my art, make sure you are subscribed to my email newsletter here. I also humbly invite you to visit my Patreon page, and consider contributing whatever amount you are comfortable with to these projects. It would really mean the world to me. Especially if there is a project or piece that I mentioned in this email that you would like to see worked on and completed sooner rather than later, I urge you to support the project fiscally.

These projects are the things that light me up, the things that make my soul sing, and the things that make the hardships of life worth living through. So they are projects that I am always going to complete regardless. However, the biggest up in the air factor is always the timeline. The more time I have to devote to other jobs that drain my energy and soul, but allow me to pay rent and buy food, the less time and energy I have to devote to these projects, and therefore the longer it will take to see them realized. So if you believe that art is worthwhile, and that these projects are worth doing, please visit my Patreon here.   

All my love and light,

Elise

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Why Fantasy?

Stories, particularly myths, legends, and fantasy,  are how we as humans examine, explore, and ultimately explain the human condition.

The editors of the book Fantasy offer a profound take on the merit of fantasy literature (and by extension, all fantasy art.) They state that fantasy authors create new worlds in order to rid their readers of preconceptions and prejudices that are found in day-to-day life. By removing these biases, moral standards and truths can be examined in new, fresh, ways, and hopefully, lessons can be learned that would otherwise be out of reach.

In his article “Children and Fairy Stories,” JRR Tolkien argues for the validity of fantasy as a genre in literature. Fantasy in this and most cases includes everything from ancient myths and legends, to folklore, to the classic fairy tales, to Tolkien’s own The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.

Tolkien makes the point that “the goal of fantasy is to lead the reader to a keener understanding of himself and his world.” The idea being that in the fictional work can be found deeper truths about the world around us. So by reading the story, we can better understand ourselves and our world.

RG Collingwood demands almost the same exact thing of art in general in his aesthetics. He claims that the artist proper works with the world from beginning to end to help the world see what he (the artist) sees; to help them find out things about themselves through the art.

He says that the artist, instead of being “the great man who imposes upon the world the task of understanding him, will be a humbler person, imposing upon himself the task of understanding his world, and thus enabling it to understand itself.”

My personal hope is always that people viewing my work in the context of the new fresh combination of technique and media will perhaps gain some insight into themselves or their world. (I’ll get into my technique a little more in detail in some later blog posts, so stay tuned!)

So, where does fantasy come from? What is its history? (Other than a long history of British writers defending it.) The short answer to this question is ‘human imagination.’

However, I am a little more concerned with its historical origins and how it has developed across time. For as long as there have been humans, presumably those humans have always strived to explain themselves and their world.

There are records as far back as 2000 B.C. of fantastical stories in Ancient Egypt, including one that is essentially the story of Cinderella. The myths and legends of Ancient Greece are, if not actually common knowledge, certainly not lost to the ages.

What is most fascinating to me is that across all borders of time and geography, humanity continuously comes up with essentially the same mythological and magical stories. If we keep writing this story, the very fact of its repetition begs us to ask why? What value does it hold to us? To ALL of us; all humans everywhere and at every time. There must be something worthwhile in there.

The description of “the story of an uninitiated young hero who must voluntarily battle and outwit forces much greater than himself in order to return home” can be applied to everything from Gilgamesh to Odysseus to Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker.

With only a little bit of a stretch, that description could even apply to everyday people in their everyday lives. Often in everyday life we encounter and must overcome forces greater than ourselves in order to simply survive the day and get back home.  My own entrepreneurial journey certainly fits this bill. Many relationships fit this bill. We are continuously going out there into dangerous unknown territory (either literally or psychologically/metaphysically) and back again to safety.

Fairy tales, the ancestor and cousin of modern fantasy literature (and quite often the inspiration), are often the same story again as the even more ancient myths, though perhaps slightly less fantastical. Often it is not a literal dragon that the Princess must fight, but everyday evil people, and metaphorical dragons. In some cases, she must face the slightly less commonplace evil magical Queen or Jabberwocky. In this way, Fairytales can usually be seen as a step closer to reality.

Magic is always involved in Fairy tales, but with that exception, the tales could take place in our own world, as opposed to in Middle Earth or in galaxies far far away. Even those that end up in Wonderland usually begin and end here in our world.

The best aspect about fantasy stories of all sorts is that they parallel real life. I suspect that this is why they are so popular, and why since the dawn of time, humans have been compelled to tell such stories. This is what makes them so valuable.

Whether the evil in the story takes the form of dragons, evil queens, or simply nasty step-sisters, there is evil present, just as there is in the real world. And by watching the heroes of our stories bravely face and conquer their dragons and evils, we are instilled with the inner strength and courage to conquer our own "dragons."

As G.K. Chesterton famously stated, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

By seeing metaphorical versions of our own challenges successfully overcome, we begin to believe that we too can face our own metaphorical dragons. If Alice can face a Jabberwocky, we can stand up to the bully on the playground, or the coworker taking advantage of us. We too can believe in “impossible” things. And there is magic and value in that, you can be sure.

 

To support my artistic excursions into fantasy, please visit my Patreon. 

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