You Did… What… to Your Keyboard?

I wore it out.

Yesterday was a marathon. I wrote for at least eight hours straight. Revised and added new material spanning 23 pages. I closed the computer, watched Gladiator and sewed spats, and then went to bed.

This morning, I woke up, turned on my computer, and my password wouldn’t work. I was locked out.

It took many tries before I realized what the problem was. My “n” key wasn’t working.

Finally I got in, and realized that it wasn’t just “n.” It was “a,” “b,” “n,” both “shifts,” and “enter.” You could make them work a little bit if you rolled your finger back and forth on the key for several seconds at a time, but even that wasn’t predictable.

Clearly this was not an acceptable state of affairs. So I packed my computer and headed to Best Buy, its point of origin, hoping that there was just something stuck under the keys (You know, those things that creep around getting stuck under keys at 2 am when the computer is shut.)

The Geek Squad, unfortunately, couldn’t do a thing for me, but did point me down the road to the best computer repair shop in town, the Bad Apple.

I pulled up in front of the Bad Apple and got out… but there was a sign on the door. Today, it said, the good people of the Bad Apple were taking a special lunch break and would be back at 3 pm. It was 2:30.

So I got back in my car and sat in the heat, sweating in my black Blind Guardian t-shirt, intermittently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and texting my best friend morosely.

There was a line when the employees returned. One extremely talkative woman dropped her computer off and, while they ran diagnostics, sat there cheerfully, greeting everyone who came in, asking them, out of curiosity, what was wrong with THEIR computer?

It made me wonder if folks ever do that in the hospital–you know, cheerfully discuss and compare maladies just because, after all, everyone who’s there has got one. Common ground, you know.

Eventually it was my turn. I gave them my computer, wrote down all my passwords, and explained what was going on.

“We’ve got a two week wait list on PCs right now,” said the repair man. (I have gained a new respect for computer repairmen. Handling people stressed out about their damaged electronics has got to go on the list of most-unpleasant-jobs-ever.)

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can’t just leave it here for two weeks.”

“You could leave it here for a day for a free diagnostic.”

I liked the sound of “free,” but I’d driven over an hour to get there and said so.

By now, our conversation had reached the ears of someone in the back, someone who had the authority to open up my computer then and there. “We get a lot of people coming from Oak Harbor and Anacortes,” he explained. “We like to get their stuff back to them the same day, if possible. I’ll open it up right now and see if there’s anything we can do.”

For the next two hours, I introverted quietly in the corner of the repair shop, listening to the loud lady cheerfully inquire about strangers’ computers and strike up conversations with them. I avoided eye contact and eventually went back to my car to get my book. I was developing a massive headache and was in no mood to discuss my computer’s health.

“Oh!” her voice cut across the waiting room a few minutes later. “You’re reading Harry Potter! Those are my favorites; I’ve read them like twelve times. I keep telling people they need to read them, and they say, ‘Oh, those are kids stories.’ My mom, she said, ‘Oh, I don’t like books about magic.’ But they’re about SO much more than magic, aren’t they? Which one are you on?”

She would be a Harry Potter fan.

I was saved by the repairmen–her computer was ready now.

The crowd dwindled, and finally I was the only one left in the corner.


I got up, somewhat reluctantly, to hear the verdict.

“So, your keyboard needs to be replaced. We can order a new one and replace it ourselves, or send you the link and you can just order it and bring it in. It’ll cost about $60 to replace.”

“All right…”

At this point, the mysterious guy in the back who’d been performing surgery on my laptop came up to the desk. He had a beard and was wearing a Goonies shirt. I decided I liked him. “You know, I wouldn’t take this apart more than you need to.” He listed off a long litany of the things he’d found, including missing or broken screws and the like.

“What exactly does that mean?”

He shrugged matter-of-factly. “It’s wearing out. It’s going to die eventually.”

I laughed. “So… I really should just get an external keyboard and save up for a new computer.”

“That’d probably be best.”

“Well… I appreciate your honesty.”

Sorry I couldn’t give them more business, I left and headed back to Best Buy, where I acquired the cheap USB keyboard I’m typing this post on. It’s ungainly but, hey, I can write on it. And even having to replace the computer soon is not such a big deal. If I do well at my next couple of craft fairs, I should be able to replace it before the end of the year, no problem. Provided the car doesn’t die again, but that’s always a variable.

I should be more upset about my computer’s demise than I am. I think at this point I’m just a little astounded and proud of myself, though.

Because, according to the good fellows at the Bad Apple, my keyboard died from sheer use.

I wrote so much I wore out my computer. 

It actually feels kind of badass.




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.

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.