Why I’m Opening Another Online Business (Or, the Lunacy of Hope)

Two months ago, I was on the way home from the thrift store. I had just picked up a long maroon corduroy coat because I couldn’t be parted with it. On the way home, I began imagining the cuffs trimmed with velvet, black lace on the back. And in between thoughts of, “I didn’t need this coat to begin with!” and “Another project?” the little thought slipped into my mind… “Hey! I could sell that!”

Thus GaslightEmporium was born.

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The maroon coat that started it all. (Model: Rachel Hammons)

Two months later, I’ve just launched a second Etsy shop. With uncalled-for optimism, I’ve laid out money for over fifty items at local thrift stores, spent countless hours hand-stitching embellishments onto them while watching my favorite shows, paid $150 for a professional photography session, and launched a second Etsy shop.

This, on my busiest school year yet, the same year that my school opened to 6-8th grade as well as 9-12th. I’m so busy with my classes that at the beginning of the school year, in favor of preserving sanity, I canceled almost all of my fixed evening activities to free up that time for lesson prep.

Oh, yeah, and I’m still running that art business and going to conventions and selling it and all that.

I needed another Etsy shop like I needed a hole in my head. Why and wherefore? And shouldn’t I be investing that time in, you know, things for the kingdom of God, like, say, my local Awana club or something at church?

Why, in the name of common sense?

It’s not because I love embellishing clothing items (although I do). Or because I’ve turned my back on serving God (quite the contrary!). Or even because I couldn’t make ends meet.

It’s because I have books I want to write. Stories, that ooze out of me whether I want them to or not, that have been begging to be written for more than ten years. Stories that, if I want to let myself be as grand and pompous about it as I was in college, I feel “called” to write.

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I call this item the “Writer’s Coat.” Maybe it’s a bit symbolic.

I know, opening another business seems somewhat counterproductive in that department. Now I’m sewing in those snatches of time that I could be writing.

But, you see, I had an epiphany several months back. I realized that the quantity of writing, the pacing I needed at this point, required larger blocks of time. There comes a moment when you step back after having written “in your spare time” for the last ten years, and you realize that you have frighteningly little to show for your efforts. In short, you realize that things have to change if you want to arrive at your longed-for destination.

And I decided what I wanted. I wanted my summers. And in that embellished maroon jacket, I saw a possible ticket to a summer off.

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Why not turn a jacket into a steampunk-y vest?

I’m a teacher, but that doesn’t automatically mean that I get summers off. My Christian school is in a small town and is itself very small. I get paid enough to live off during the school year, but not enough to cover my summers. For the last three summers, I’ve worked 40 plus hours a week at a local camp and conference center. I’ve been scrubbing toilets and hauling garbage to support my teaching habit.

When put that way, it sounds shockingly unfair. Either that, or I sound like I’m complaining. Really, neither is true. I work with fantastic folks at both school and camp, and I honestly don’t mind the work at all. Somebody’s got to do it, after all! Why not me?

I wouldn’t mind at all, if there weren’t other things I wanted– even needed– to do. If there weren’t stories shut up in my bones like fire, burning to get out. And, for the first two summers, I actually got some writing done after work. But I’m not getting any younger, and this summer most evenings I’d be too tired. Or just as soon as I hit a good writing rhythm, I’d realize that I really needed to go to bed if I wanted to survive to the weekend. I didn’t get much done. And it felt awful.

I don’t want to do it again. I want my summer this year. I want it to write.

I did the math. I know I’ve got to save at least $6000 if I want to have my summer free, which is an astronomical sum. I don’t think I ever saved that much at once even when I was paying graduate school bills. It’s utterly ridiculous. Ludicrous.

But dreams ARE ludicrous. And the people who achieve their dreams are ludicrous people who refuse to let the odds dictate their efforts.

So I dove in feet-first. I even have business cards.

Here’s to ludicrous dreams and my even more ludicrous self. Here’s to the chance at a summer to write.

Particularly, here’s to GaslightEmporium.

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Here’s me modeling one of my favorite tops in the shop. It’s actually made up of parts from three different tops.





Note: You can visit my new shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/GaslightEmporium or like my page on Facebook  (https://www.facebook.com/GaslightEmporium) to see works in progress.









All It Needs Is a Dragon

Several weeks ago, I had an “art night” with Amy, a young friend who has Down’s Syndrome. Amy loves art, so I figured we could do some watercolor. I got out two 11×14 pieces of rough-press watercolor paper, taped them to foamcoare, got out the brushes and paints, and went and picked Amy up.

The plan was to have her over for two hours. She tends to enjoy just working on projects quietly at her own pace, so I showed her how to use the different tools and how to mix and apply the paint, and then I turned to my own blank board.

I was just messing around. I never do a painting without first drawing, but this time I decided to give it a whirl. For some reason, I felt like painting a foggy, rainy landscape with lots of evergreens, kind of like the ones I see around me constantly here on Whidbey Island. I used primarily two colors, oddly enough–green and grey.

With no pressure to get a painting done perfectly, but with the goal of finishing whatever I was going to make within two hours, I threw down a generous wash of grays, deliberately making the lower parts of the rainclouds darker. At some point, I decided to have the rain receding, only falling on half of the picture. I think I must have had an image of Thomas Cole’s “Oxbow” painting in the back of my mind, because my painting developed in a similar composition.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

"View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm," Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I'm pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as "The Oxbow," was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon.  Because... why not?

“View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm,” Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I’m pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as “The Oxbow,” was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon. Because… why not?

At some point, it turned into a coastline with a seascape, with the rain primarily over the sea. I don’t usually paint this much wet-into-wet, but I had two hours and nothing to lose. I let myself throw down more paint before letting it dry for a few minutes while I got out cookies to serve to my friend.

As the paint dried, I added details: some crisp lines in the clouds, strokes for the rain, trees. I added the first layers for a large tree in the lower left, then put in lines of distant trees on either coastline. To capture the effect of fog, I painted in the trees using a round brush, then blotted the lower edges. Then I used a wet brush to blur it even more. I’ve never painted fog like this before, but I think I will need to remember the technique, because I was certainly happy with how it turned out:


As I added details on the trees and more lines for the rain, I noticed that I’d accidentally splashed a few drops of green into the sky. At this point, the painting took a turn for the whimsical, because, honestly, although it was beautiful, it was still missing something. Why not try some whimsy? So I splashed more green, and a little bit of pale, bright blue into the lines of the rain and in the upper right corner. Lovely.


But something was still missing. Something in the upper third on the right hand side. Something flying blissfully through the sky, like the bald eagles do over Penn Cove here on the Island. One little problem, though. I can’t draw birds to save my life.

I looked at Amy. “I think I’m going to put a dragon in it.”

Amy grinned. “A dragon?”


So I got out my pencil for the first time in the evening, sketched a quick shape with wide wings and a long neck flung back in happiness– after all, I imagined this dragon must be about as happy as the eagles to be flying up there in the fresh air after the rain– and painted him quickly in with more grey.

I looked down at my painting and couldn’t stop grinning. Two hours. I’ll have to try that again sometime. There’s nothing like no lines, no restrictions, and no critics to make you try something new.

I’ll also have to remember that adding dragons improves landscapes. I think I’ll call it Water Dragon #1. Because, who knows? I might decide to paint another.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

Of Introverts and Cons

Cons (that’s “conventions” to the uninitiated) are not for introverts. This I discovered in January at RustyCon (Seattle). As I discovered this weekend at Norwescon (also Seattle), the key—for me, at least—to having fun at a con is coming out of my shell and making myself interact with people.

I’d done conventions before RustyCon, but I’d spent them sitting behind my table selling my prints and notecards. Not that I have a problem with that. It’s actually where I’d rather be—it gives me something to do all day and puts me in a position where I still get human interaction, but the humans come to me. I don’t have to make any moves besides saying, “Hello,” and talking about my art—which I do anyway.

You see, I’m an introvert who loves people. Call it a contradiction in terms; it’s not. People are easily the most important thing in the world to me—be they my best friends or a stranger walking down the street. Part of it is simply my value system. If you believe that God Himself came down from Heaven and offered His life out of love for people, it’s hard not to place people at the top of the priority list.

But another part of it is that I really do enjoy interacting meaningfully with them. By meaningfully, I don’t mean that every conversation has to delve deeply into truths that knit the universe together. I mean that people are talking about what matters to them and listening to each other; that the conversation is more than just the throwaway questions we feel the need to ask each other at the beginning of a dialogue, and that everyone is enjoying themselves.

A tall order. But a geeky convention is so very much the perfect place to have such conversation. Let’s face it, we’re all there because we have passionate interests. And most of us are wearing those passionate interests on our sleeves—or printed on our fronts—or around our necks—or from head to toe.

But there the Introvert chimes in. The part of me that won’t speak up, that somehow deems myself both above and beneath everyone in the room. That sits, when possible, NOT next to anyone, and that hates initiating conversation with people she doesn’t know. For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong, per se, with her. But she does not have fun at cons.

So there I stood, in line to get my badge at Norwescon last Thursday. The familiar grip-around-the-lungs of the Introvert began clawing at me. There were people behind me I didn’t know and people in front of me I didn’t know. I was about to spend a weekend with people I didn’t know. Why, again, was I doing this? Oh, yeah. Because to hang my art in the art show, I had to buy a membership to the con. And like a good daughter of my mother, I wasn’t going to throw money away. Besides, that hands-on Roman combat workshop on Friday morning sounded awesome.

But I didn’t want another RustyCon. I didn’t want another weekend of self-induced loneliness.

So I made a resolution with myself, then and there. And to solidify that resolution, I turned around, introduced myself to the guy behind me—who turned out to also be a teacher—and we had a lovely, genuine conversation until it was time to sign in.

Turns out, I had a fantastic weekend. I terrified people in the combat workshop. I got some good tips in the art panels. The writing panels encouraged and challenged me. I bought a hat pattern from a steampunk clothing stall. I even sold a little bit of art.

I also sat with strangers at meals, sat with an acquaintance from a previous show during a panel, hung out with yet another teacher on Saturday afternoon, talked with bystanders, and generally forced myself to be sociable. And much to my delight, I enjoyed myself.

I’m also happy to be home by myself right now with my books and my cat and my lesson planning. The Introvert is no enemy of mine. But sometimes, when she threatens to get in the way of a good time, she does need to be shown who’s boss.

Creating “Shadow-Bride,” Part 3

This morning, I put the finishing touches on “Shadow-Bride.” Here’s the finished pieces, ready to go to the print shop this afternoon:
My pen began working again close to noon yesterday, at which point I finished the drawing. I’m happy to say that the faces on the second version made all the hassle of restarting quite worth the effort; they were much closer to what I’d originally envisioned and sketched. In fact, once those faces were there, I knew that the rest of the project would turn out nicely.

The first version of the figures/ faces

The first version of the figures/ faces

The second version of the figures/ faces

The second version of the figures/ faces

Well, as long as the watercolor worked.

Watercolor is an unpredictable medium anyway, and illustration board isn’t designed for it. On watercolor paper, you at least have a chance of managing a wash without getting funny waterspots and hard edges. Make that one chance in twenty using illustration board.

Why in the world do I use it, then? Because it works so well for the calligraphy and ink work. The joys of using mixed media!

Actually, I like a good challenge. So, doing my first all-out watercolor painting (not just decorated borders) on illustration board was a challenge I gladly accepted. I put on some intense music and began focusing very hard. About 9 pm I decided I was done, and realized that I was exhausted and had a headache… but it was worth it. I was deeply satisfied. The lighting was what I had wanted, the shadows were working, and the faces were perfect. This morning, I took some careful looks at it and decided to touch up the shadows to make them a bit more precise. Now it’s really done.

The painting at an early stage, with basic colors down but few shadows

The painting at an early stage, with basic colors down but few shadows



I’m not expecting to sell a lot of these. After all, so far I’ve only met one other person who knew exactly which poem I was talking about. I should probably do something really well-known next. I’m thinking Thorin’s quote from The Hobbit about valuing food and cheer and song above hoarded gold. People have requested it.

But for now, I look at this picture I’ve been wanting to paint for four or more years, and I am deeply happy.

Oliver with the completed border for the poem

Oliver with the completed border for the poem

Creating “Shadow-Bride,” Part 2

Sometimes art is not fun, or creative, or exciting. Sometimes it is extremely frustrating.

Take yesterday, for instance. The night before, I had been industriously working on the illustration for “Shadow-bride” when my pen blotted right in the middle of the trees. It was unfixable. Believe me, I tried to fix it.

Never mind, I told myself. I hadn’t been thrilled with how the man’s face had turned out anyway. He hadn’t ended up looking like the handsome rogue I’d drawn on the tracing paper; he looked a little more like David Hasselhoff’s Dr. Jekyll. Not as bad as Mr. Hyde, I grant you, but still not what I was going for. So, I figured I could re-transfer my drawing and start over again the next morning. First, though, I would have to go to the art store again. I was out of illustration board.

So, the next morning, I finished the calligraphy on the poem while I waited for the art store to open. The calligraphy, by the way, turned out lovely.

The art store was out of medium weight cold press illustration board. Sigh. Thankful that it was spring break and I had a wide-open day, I drove the full hour or so to Mount Vernon to the next nearest art store, picked up more board, then drove back.

About three o’clock in the afternoon, then, I retransferred the drawing, picked up my pen—and my pen refused to work.

It’s a Rapidograph Koh-i-noor—a refillable precision pen that costs at least $25 and is only available online. I know, because I’ve been on the last minute hunt before. It’s also a fairly new one which shouldn’t be giving out on me yet.

I’m trying to get the piece done by Wednesday, and, although I have plenty of time, the pressure is still there. So I tried and tried and tried to get my pen to work again, to no avail. Finally I figured it could use a soak overnight. I put away my stuff, took the pen apart and put it in the cleaner, and opened up my laptop. I would work on a story I was writing instead.

Now, the task cannot be put off any longer (especially now that I’ve put it off by blogging about it). I will rise from my computer, reassemble my pen—and pray that it finally works!

Creating “Shadow-Bride,” Part 1

Ever since I read Tolkien’s poem “Shadow-Bride” about six years ago, I’ve been wanting to illustrate it. This month, I decided to accept the challenge.

The poem itself is the perfect little mix of sweet, sad, and just slightly creepy. Creepy in the sense that I like—the Doctor Who sense, in which creepy enhances rather than overrides any inherent sweetness. For it is very, very sweet. Judge for yourself:

There was a man who dwelt alone
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June.

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.

There never more she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.”

(originally published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil)

All thematic elements aside, the poem presents an immediate artistic challenge: drawing two figures, dancing, but casting a believable single shadow that, at the same time, could represent those two figures.

Beautiful little poem with vivid imagery and a sadly sweet story? An artistic puzzle to solve? Bring it on!

I decided to do the piece as two separate 16×20 parts, which would allow me to reproduce the entire poem in calligraphy and, at the same time, have room for a large illustration. If I did it right, I could even make it look like two facing pages of a manuscript. So I planned the two by sketching ideas.


The next step in my process is to draw the pieces, full-size, on tracing paper before transferring to the illustration board. This allows me to make all my messes without damaging my final surface. As you can see, I’m still at this stage. Today I hope to finish the tracing paper work, transfer, do the ink work, and possibly begin painting—after, of course, my lesson plans are done for Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ll see how far I get.

Yesterday I focused on the faces. The faces are, to me, the most important part of this piece—it’s in the faces that I, the artist, choose which mood or theme I want to emphasize, and in this work, I want to emphasize the gentle romance. The colors—by very nature of being moonlit—are going to emphasize the other aspects of this poem. So I drew the faces and drew them again and again. I’ll have to see how well they transfer—sometimes it’s a gamble—but for now, I am pleased:


Hopefully, by next week, I will have some final pictures to share.

Wondering as I Wander

There’s something special to me about the stars. Whether it’s Javert’s magnificent solo in Les Miserables, Sam’s simple little song in The Return of the King (the book, of course), or a little offhand comment courtesy of the Doctor, it seems that most (important) literary figures agree with me: their untouchable beauty has the power to inspire. As to Sam, to me the stars represent the truth that there is light and high beauty beyond the darkness of this world.

My most recent pen-and-ink drawing, reproduced for this year’s Christmas card, attempts to capture some of that wonder that I feel.


There were all sorts of delicious challenges associated with this drawing; for example, how was I to shade a dark night sky using only thin lines of India ink? How was I to distinguish the “texture” of the sky from that of the hills, the rocks, the water, the elven maiden’s dress? What sort of “texture” does sky have, anyway? I had to answer that question if I hoped to work it in ink.

I began by thinking about the shaping of that part of the picture. The very concept of the picture demanded that the sky occupy a large part of the composition. I could use clouds and, of course, the placement of the stars to frame the picture, but it wouldn’t be enough. If I wanted the sky to command wonder, it needed a certain amount of shape. The awe-filled tone of the image handily suggested a round shape, a cathedral-like dome.

But I’m not the first artist to attempt to draw the night sky using lines. As I planned out the sky and began adding the first sets of lines to the dome-shape, I thought about the glorious swirls and patterns Van Gogh used in perhaps the most iconic portrait of the night sky to ever be created. Maybe I could use lines like he did, but with different intent—rather than filling the sky with pulsing, throbbing movement, I could stop it in one moment of cathedral-like, crystalline awe.

I filled in swaths of lines in the shape of a dome, leaving some glow around the stars, letting the sky and clouds be a little more stylized than my work normally is. Figuring that maybe the sun had just set in my little imaginary world, I let the lines get thinner and fewer between toward the horizon, making the shape darker around the edges of the dome and enhancing the illusion of space.

When I finished, I was sitting on the rock beside the elven maiden, my lips slightly parted in awe.

While it isn’t nearly as warm, merry, and overtly “Christmasy” as my hobbit Christmas cards from last year, “Wonder” makes a different statement about Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is not just cause for riotous celebration. Sometimes, like a starry night, it is cause for a quiet moment of awe.