Art can be twee.

I was going to open this entry with the statement; ‘I don’t usually go for things that are twee,’ and then realised that yes, yes I do. I go for things that are ridiculously twee all the time. Puppies, kittens, Lilo & Stitch, My Neighbour Totoro. The opening theme song of Winnie the Pooh makes me cry. The Russian Winnie the Pooh makes me giggle like a five year old. I say ‘awwwwww’ when I see dogs on the street and if my cats roll and expose their bellies I’m reduced to a jellified mush that wibbles in delight.

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So I suppose it’s not surprise that I ended up drawing this:

Mini Dragon Valentine by Ravenari

The original, as well as two other miniature dragons, are available for sale at Etsy.

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The thing is, while I do like occasionally drawing ‘Very Serious Things’ (i.e. exploited animals, dark fairytales, clearly unhappy alters and so on), I also like to draw ‘Very Twee Things.’ Angelbears. Startail. That time I drew two cartoon octopi trying to make out and one is holding a condom packet. Snellosaurus the Last Living Dinosaur and Velociraptor Girl. Art doesn’t just have to be about serious things, it can be about fun things and twee things. It can exist purely for the sake of evoking an ‘awww’ or a warm fuzzy feeling.

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I suppose miniature dragons aren’t usually ‘twee,’ but I suppose one named Valentine, with hearts on its face and little hearts on its body and a clear theme of ‘awww, a dragon about love or at least the commercialism of Valentine’s Day’ is probably in the category of too cute to be borne.

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That’s the way I like it.

My cluttered art desk.

I’m working on about four different things right now. A new Steampunk piece for the Future Imperfect exhibition (giant elephants, logging trees? Yes!) I’m also working on colouring three mini-dragons. And then not on the desk, is a further three mini-dragons that need inking.

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Oh, and I have a frilled neck lizard to colour. Insanity.

my scrappy art desk - by Ravenari

In the top right you can see my Totoros, which after all this time smell like vanilla (no one knows why, but it’s very nice.) I love them. I’m currently using watercolour pencils and I have a fair amount.

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Today, actually, I finished transcribing the last 100 hard-copy pages of edits of Every Day Awake (my work-in-progress novel). So I’ve complete a third draft and need to get it reprinted. After a read-through, I’ll decide if it’s worth giving to others yet to see what they think. I culled 13,500 words, which was necessary. It may need more culling, but I think it’s a much tighter piece in general now.

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It’s been an odd day, but humid, hot days do that to me. On days like today I dream of cool spaces, forests, gentle rains, gusty breezes. I am incompatible with this landscape, yet I love it so much. But cooler climes beckon.

On dogs, PTSD, and being an artist with issues.

This is not a ‘new art’ entry. Though… okay, alright then, here’s something I’m working on:

Zentas the Mini-Dragon- by Ravenari

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Now for the actual entry.

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In one camp (CAMP 1), you have many mental health officials and organisations release studies that say things like: Cats and dogs markedly reduce the stress of those with mental illness, and provide a sense of responsibility that can sometimes save a person’s life. Sometimes, the only thing that helps a suicidal person get out of bed in the morning, is feeding their dog.

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And then in the other camp (CAMP 2), you have many dog training officials and organisations release information that say things like: Cats and dogs benefit best when they’re raised in a stable and consistent environment. Remember that dogs need socialising, and to try and minimise tension, stress and fear around them, because dogs can pick up on this and it can create behavioural problems.

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And then in my camp, you have a conscientious, but mentally ill person who wants very dearly to have a dog in her life, but knows very much that my mental illness would on occasion create atmospheres that may stress a dog out.

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Now what there doesn’t seem to be is another camp of specialist dog trainers (or professionals in general) that have read both the scientific studies on ‘rescue people’ (i.e. humans with mental illness who would benefit from the presence of dogs), and dog happiness (i.e. dogs who would benefit from the presence of a more calm environment), and create dog/human positive-reinforcement training techniques designed for the mentally ill.

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I know some trainers out there exist like this, but in Western Australia, you can’t even find trainers to specialise in helping you train a professional therapy dog, let alone step in and offer as much understanding reassurance to the human as to the dog. Now I hope I’m wrong in this, but the divide between the initial camp 1 and camp 2 is quite large.

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What to do? I don’t know. Unfortunately, my illness has gotten in the way of me having a dog once before, and with no trainers to help me through my very specific issues, I’ve had to put getting a dog on the backburner. But my heart is open for a dog, I love dogs, I love being around them, I love spending time with them, I research training techniques (I’ve clicker trained my cats, particularly Maybe, who thinks it’s the best thing ever), I research dog breeds, I research dog genetics, I watch Youtube videos of dogs that I enjoy, and more than that, I contact breeders to ask them questions about their breeds.

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I think a lot of people don’t overthink things as much as I do. People want to do the best for their dogs, sort of, but many don’t buy books, or research training, or figure out a lot of things regarding their dog before they get it. Many people learn ‘the hard way.’ And many people still get it mostly right by happy accident. But I’m not ‘many people,’ I am a person with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a dissociative disorder. I have nightmares at night, and can shriek and flail and be very frightened – which rules out very protective breeds. I have to be responsible and do a lot of research.

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And I have to try not to scare the crap out of myself, which is very easy because you know… all the stuff I just mentioned above.

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There’s no easy answers for me. I am, in a word, a stresshead. Being in the presence of animals does significantly relax me, and my cats are – according to our vet – happy, friendly, well-socialised cats that are sweet-natured. In their presence I can go from ‘ZOMG LIFE IS HARD’ too ‘aw, pretty furry animal, do you want to do some training? Let’s play!’

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But enough about that, I want to know where the meet is between camp 1 and camp 2. Where are the trainers and psychologists meeting together to make pets work for people with mental illnesses in ways that are both humane for the pets, AND humane for the people? If we can spend so much time rescuing dogs and cats (I am a big believer in rescue dogs and cats), surely we can spend as much time rescuing the people that need so much help to make it through the day. And surely, considering that both people in camp 1 and camp 2 tend to care about living beings, there is room for a niche to develop? A niche of ‘people who help people with mental illness have pets.’

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We have a growing number of ‘people who help people with physical disabilities have pets,’ but – at least where I am – there doesn’t seem to be much of the ‘helping people with mental illness have pets.’

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That’s a sad thing, because clearly there are benefits to be had all round if the situation was managed safely and ethically. And on a very personal (and probably selfish) level, I find it is yet another of the things I am impacted by, in terms of having these illnesses. Something as straightforward as expanding our family – that millions of people do – is not straightforward here. It is not straightforward, but in a more supportive and nurturing environment; it could be easier.

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It could even be healing.

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I see many futures for myself. Too many. In a world where one of my debilitating symptoms was being certain I wouldn’t live out the year (every year), starting to overcome that has presented a world of overwhelming possibilities. But in one of those futures, I take the time to get a dog. It is a journey of trial and error, but with research, there is love and happiness too. And maybe one day, I can help there to be more professionals who can help people with mental illness have successful relationships with their canines; especially those people with mental illness who are conditioned by their disorders to lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. It is often those people who most need the animals who aren’t prone to overthinking. Who do just often enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

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Of course, in yet another future I see myself as a professional space-travelling chocolatier. So…you know. O.O

Cabbage Butterfly Balloon

I did a series of two illustrations, a while ago, and I never did anymore. I can’t say why. It tapped into something inside of me that went against everything else I was doing. Bold colour, striking line, saturation, saturation. And then I drew this.

01. cabbage butterfly balloon by Ravenari

And yet I look at it and know I have to go back to that space one day. That space of fragmented line and downgraded colour. I need to know what it means for my soul to do this; and why this feels so much more like it will shatter me, than using brilliant pigments and bold line.

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I am sometimes told by other artists that they feel intimidated by using bold colour. I don’t know why, but I have never felt this way. Perhaps it is that I hero-worshipped Franz Marc and his own striking colour symbolism as a young teenager. Or perhaps it’s just that I didn’t care when I was doing artwork, because I don’t recall ever concerning myself about colour, overmuch. And maybe that’s because I was raised first and foremost in the medium of pastels which – unlike their *name* – are known for producing the most spectacular brilliance of pigmentation of any traditional medium outside of just purchasing pure high quality pigment and doing it yourself.

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I cut my eyeteeth on colour and saturation, rather than the specifity of line, which was hard for me to get at the age of 14 with only soft pastels to play with. I discovered the love I have for the line, particularly the black line, not that much later. I would have only been about 16. While I was working lineless for TEE Art (TER Art now, I believe), I was beginning to appreciate the boundaries of limning subjects with line at home in my private works. I myself am so fragmented, so much about boundary and borders and fixed spaces and brokenness, that I became addicted to the line.

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One day, I guess, I’ll drift back to the low saturation illustrations that I can sometimes do, like cabbage butterfly balloon; but when? I don’t know. Originally, it was a whimsy, a flight of fancy. I didn’t know what I was doing, I only knew I wanted there to be a butterfly balloon and a snail shell in there somewhere.

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The new The Get Up Kids album; ‘There Are Rules’ is awesome. It’s taken about four listens for me to realise this, but now I’m there and I have some new ‘art’ music. Keith Case still swamps me every time I hear it. I don’t know what it is about that song, but it rolls over me like a flood, and leaves me over-drenched and barren all at once. I could dedicate swathes of art to that single song; and no one would know.

The problem with being too driven…

The problem with being too driven in self-work and self-awareness.

Tonight I am pondering the endless work of Sisyphus. The endless pushing of the stone up the hill, the endless rolling of the stone to the bottom of the hill, the eternal suffering for the sake of ‘progress,’ and the slaves that it makes of us.

Sisyphus pushing the rock.

Progress is a myth in the sense that; progress can happen, but it will never be the salvation of humankind while humankind exists. To gain this non-existent progress, we must work endlessly, more than ever, we must slave for something we cannot have, and for something that is also endless. We must be Sisyphus, ever struggling, always tired, never ‘there yet.’

And tonight I’m pondering it specifically in relationship to my own attitudes towards self-work. My struggle for the myth of progress within myself, has created a situation where I have become a slave to that progress, and now I suffer greatly for it. That is its greatest irony. The flaw of my consciousness that pits me against myself.

So once more, in order to understand this, I turn to the innate wit and knowledge of animals. And again, to one of the most unthinking of animals; the snail. I do not wish to be a slave to self-work. It makes me suicidal and at best, it makes me absolutely certain that life is without a point. That is not something they teach you about in therapy, and – I believe – it is not in the curricula of therapists either. That self-work can lead to death if it is not balanced with an unconscious, ‘animal’ care of the self.

It can’t all be conscious thought and maintenance. That is to be a slave to consciousness. And without consciousness, we wouldn’t have mental illness in the first place (no, really; the most unconscious of animals don’t even have ‘mental illness’ in their lexicon for a reason). It is a grand irony then, that the very thing that makes us so dysfunctional by animal standards is the very thing we – sometimes wrongly – depend upon to regain function.

Animism has taught me differently. Consciousness has its place, but so does unconsciousness which makes up the vastness of the bodymind in the first place, and informs our ‘free will’ so that we will nothing that our unconscious doesn’t ask of us first. And I have learnt more from the instinctive and innate world of other species than I have from any book or any other human animal. Consciousness will have its place in my healing, but right now it has made me a slave of the healing process, and it will be my unconscious that frees me.

I am tired of being a Sisyphus to my own mental health and mental illness. I will try to go a Snail’s way. I will let the great stone roll down to the bottom of the hill and leave it there. I will go and innately find food and shelter, rest and play, rain and crispy green things. Not in the name of progress, not even in the name of health, but because that is what animals will sometimes do. And if health or progress comes of it, then I am sure the therapeutic world may be happier, and my friends and family might be happier, and I might even benefit from it in the long-term.

snail as totem - by Ravenari

But if nothing comes of it, at least in the short term I cannot say that my life is pointless any longer. Because there is nothing pointless in the rain and green crispy things, in rest and play, in food and shelter.

And because there is a great deal of pointlessness in being Sisyphus, rolling my stone of ‘self-work’ up the hill only to see it fall to the bottom again representing yet another allotment of heavy work for the tired and overworked; the endless, eternal suffering for the myth of progress.

02. all you need is - by Ravenari

Portable Photovoltaic Systems.

Ravens – originally bringers and stealers of the sun in great mythology – become modified to absorb sun for the people, and then discharge it regularly into power stations.

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Portable Photovoltaic Systems - by Ravenari 2011

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This is for the NATCON 50: FUTURE IMPERFECT art exhibition, from the 21-25 of April, at the Hyatt, in Perth. You should come down and check it out!

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I’m not sure where others are taking their retro-futurism, but my own brief which I proposed to the panel, was to specifically show animals in the future only really being allowed to survive if they can be augmented and used for the gain of humans. That does – sadly – sound like something we’d jump at the chance of doing.

The arrogance and narcissism of the human animal is incredibly far-reaching. I console myself with the knowledge that one day we will be extinct like any other animal, and we won’t be here to see the next evolutions, see the Earth do what the Earth does best; create spectacular new life forms before killing them off in even more spectacular ways.

And now I shall be getting onto a commission, before hopefully drafting the third and final illustration for the exhibition, which I tentatively think may involve augmented giant elephants in the logging industry. I mean; they already do destroy trees in the wild, it wouldn’t be that much of a lateral step… but we’ll see. 🙂

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