Featured Image: “Sweetheart Ronin” Illustration

Happy Halloween! Originally, I was intending to post my thoughts on literary voice this week, but given that it’s a holiday (and the fact the conference I was supposed to speak at was cancelled), I’ve decided to showcase something a little more spooktacular (yes, horrible pun intended) instead. Some of you may be familiar with the Project REUTSway competition Reuts Publications hosted last year, challenging writers everywhere to pen new and twisted versions of your favorite fairy tales. No? You don’t remember that? Well, you’re in luck then, because it just so happens to have released today. That’s right, FAIRLY TWISTED TALES FOR A HORRIBLY EVER AFTER is available in eBook now! And will be available in a special hardcover edition in a couple weeks. I highly suggest you all check it out; it’s amazing!

But that’s not the point of today’s post (okay, not the whole point). I’m actually going to do a rare art feature. See, I was lucky enough not only to be involved with the selection of the gruesomely fantastic tales in the anthology, but also to create one of the many illustrations included within its pages. And trust me, there are some truly beautiful works of art in this thing. Want a taste? Well then, let me present my illustration for a story called “Sweetheart Ronin” by the talented Suzanne Morgen:

"Sweetheart Ronin" Illustration by Kisa Whipkey


Created to evoke the style of the setting (Japan, in case you’re wondering), this piece is a combination of traditional drawing with pencil and Sharpie (yes, Sharpie. Who knew, right?) and digital vector graphic created in Adobe Illustrator. In order to understand the significance of the elements, you’ll have to read the story, which can be located here. Buy it. Seriously.

And for those of you curious about Project REUTSway, click here. The 2014 competition, featuring challenges rooted in world mythology, kicks off tomorrow and runs all November long. So if you’re looking to flex those writing muscles, but NaNoWriMo is too daunting/impossible, head on over and check it out. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up drawing an illustration for you in next year’s anthology. 😉


Featured From the Archives: Why do you . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)?

As the 2nd year anniversary of my blogging experiment draws near, I realize I’ve reached the point where many of my followers probably haven’t read the older posts. So periodically, I’m going to feature one of those archived gems (which pretty much means I ran out of time and/or motivation that week) and give you a chance to discover them again. (Or, for the first time, as the case may be.)

Today’s feature is one that hopefully doesn’t offend too many people. But with all the various blog hops going around (like the ones I, myself, have participated in recently), and posts about what it means to be a (insert whatever creative term you were reading about), it seemed like the perfect time to showcase this again. (Plus, I’m feeling a tad under the weather, and my pesky muse decided to high-tail herself out of the plague zone. ) So, to kick off my new/old series, I present: Why Do You . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)? A snarky, honest post about what we’re all really thinking when you ask us this. (Warning, contains tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and blunt reality. Read with your serious-meter on half.)

Oh! And don’t forget, I still have that fantabulous (yes, that’s a word. Shut it before I hurl this NyQuil bottle at your head) giveaway I’m running in honor of my upcoming blogiversary. I’ve already received over 300 entries, so three lucky people will be receiving the book they chose from the list. And if you’d like to make it four (and to see whether or not what I’m saying is a cold-med induced hallucination) click here!

Back to the post!

Why Do You . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)?

By Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted on 5/11/12)

This is probably the most-asked question of creative people -– sometimes even by other creative people. And it’s one of the more irritating ones, because it’s such a hard thing to quantify. It’s like asking someone why their eyes are blue, or why they were born in the morning. How do you answer that? So, understandably, the answers to why someone’s creative vary wildly depending on the person. You’ll hear things like:

“I’m not sure, I just do.”

“Because it makes me happy.”

“Because it’s therapy for me; it helps me express myself.”

And my personal favorite, “I do it for me.”

Now, the truth is, all of these answers are sugar-coated, watered-down replies meant to make the artist look more artsy; to make the listener think, “ooo, aren’t they cool? They’re so mysterious and vague.” Personal satisfaction is great, but you go to the gym for personal satisfaction, you don’t pour weeks, months, years, heart and soul into a project just for personal satisfaction. I mean, don’t answers like that just seem so full of themselves? Why narcissism is encouraged within the arts is beyond me, but the more self-involved the answer, the more prestige points an artist receives. And the more frequently you’ll hear responses like the above.

Personally, I view every one of those answers as a cop-out. Because ultimately, statements like that are rarely true. And before you get up on your high horse and scream “controversy!” while flooding my comment box with all the reasons I’m wrong, hear me out. If creativity is such a personal thing (which I’m actually not arguing, because it is), why would anyone share its products? All those artists, authors, and musicians that claim they only create for themselves are lying. The proof is in the sheer fact that they made said creation available for public consumption. If it was truly just for them, it would be stashed in a vault somewhere, guarded by large, vicious dogs, and fiercely protected until its location was lost in the afterlife. Not put on public display for all to judge. But that’s not the case, is it? Because they shared their work with the world.

(The only exception may be personal diaries and journals, which are never truly intended to be shared, but in reality, are almost always found and read anyway.)

When I’m asked this question of why I (insert creative verb here), I have a generalized, self-important, prosaic answer that I’ll give. (Who doesn’t want to earn some prestige points?) I simply say that the reason I (chosen creative verb of the moment) is that I never realized not (doing said creative verb) was an option. And this is partly true. Creativity just came naturally. Like breathing. But just like the answers I listed above, that lovely little sound-bite, while somewhat accurate, is not the real motivator behind my masterpieces. (See? Don’t I just automatically sound more brilliant because I called them that?)

The brutal, honest truth is something none of us “Artistes” like to admit, because it makes us seem desperate and needy, and those two adjectives are a far cry from cool and mysterious. We don’t want to be put in the same category as your psycho ex that Facebook stalks you. But the reason all those artists, authors, and musicians refuse to admit, is that we create because we want validation. Public approval. Fame, glory, and all that jazz. Just like when we were little kids and we ran to Mommy looking for approval on our latest blob of mismatched crayon wax we were certain looked like the cat, we offer up the fruits of our labor to the public eye. With the sole intent of being lavished in praise for our awesomeness.

When you think about it, it’s not really that hard to see why this is the real motivator behind creativity. It’s the same reason we post status updates several times a day and then check back obsessively, waiting for those little thumbs-up signs to appear that means someone likes us, someone agreed. We’re cool. It’s human nature to seek praise from those around us; it makes us feel good, worthwhile, valued. Does that mean all artists are shallow, attention-seeking ho-bags? No. Do we all secretly want to preen while you sing our praises and tell us how awesome we are, so we can humbly pretend we didn’t already know that? You betcha.

Ultimately, though, it’s receiving feedback of any kind (although preferably of the worship-my-brilliance variety) that motivates us to hit that upload button, to submit that manuscript, or to step out on that stage. It’s often said that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And I 100% agree. Without that input from others, your creative side will shrivel and die like a thirsty plant locked in a closet. Which is why, whenever someone answers with the angelically selfish response of , “I (whatever) for me,” I find myself annoyed. Why is it OK to feed your narcissistic ego by pretending that success means nothing to you and you don’t care what anyone else thinks, but not OK to admit the truth? You did it for the same reason I do –- to feel good when others tell you your creation is something wonderful.

And for those out there that feel this question, this “Why do you . . . (insert creative verb here)?” is a perfectly legitimate conversation starter, it’s really not. You’re just going to be lied to. Few of us will man up and admit, “I did it to be rich and famous. Duh.” You’re much better off asking questions that actually have quantifiable answers. Ask why we do things a certain way, or what did we mean with X, instead of something as innocuous as why do you create?

Hey, nobody said honesty always had to be pretty. And I did warn you that snarky rants were a definite possibility. But let the barrage of offended comments commence anyway. 😉

Elitism in the Arts

This is a post I’ve dreaded writing, because in order to do so, I have to relive some painful memories. But I feel like this is a message that needs to be said. And so, though it comes from a negative part of my life, I’ll try my best to keep it positive. First, some raw honesty:

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve tried many different branches. And I’ve felt like an outsider every time. The writing community has been welcoming, but recently, I realized that the literary one is a completely different beast, and that I will once again be facing down the enemy of being different. This isn’t a battle that’s new to me, though. In art, I was ostracized for being too commercial. In the Martial Arts, I wasn’t traditional enough. And in writing, I’m not literary, coming from a film background rather than one in English. But, you see, the problem isn’t me. Those are all things I’ve been told, things that have created scars I’ll never fully erase. They’re not the product of a lack of ability, or talent. No, they’re the product of a phenomenon that should never exist — elitism.

People hold the arts up as this ideal place for individuality, where you’ll be free to express yourself without fear of judgement and prejudice. But those people are wrong. Rooted in subjectivity, the arts are actually worse than other industries. Instead of embracing the different, the weird, the innovative, they shun it, viciously tearing down anyone who dares to try something new, or becomes too popular. And who can blame them? People who do things differently risk the status quo. And we can’t have that. (Even though that’s the motto flying on our brilliantly-colored flag of creativity.)

Humans are pack animals, no matter what we’re led to believe. And nowhere do you see that penchant for cliques more prominent than in the arts.

I came face to face with it for the first time in college. (Now, you should know that I went to college at the ripe age of 16, so I was still highly impressionable.) There I was, testing my wings for the first time in what I thought was a safe environment to do so. College is all about experimenting, right? Finding one’s self, and blah blah blah. Well, I had the good fortune to find a college professor whose close-minded bullying nearly had me hanging up my pencils for good.

I don’t know the story behind what was happening in that woman’s life, but that also shouldn’t matter. She was an educator, someone entrusted to help mold the minds of our youth. And she abused that power. I was stuck with her for three classes that semester — color theory, figure drawing, and beginning painting. Things started off great. I’d never been exposed to formal art classes, so I was a sponge, putting my best into every assignment. (I’m also a perfectionist with a compulsive need to get A’s, so you can connect the dots on my level of participation.) She seemed to like me, and I did well in all three classes. Until one day, about halfway through the semester, when she asked me the fated question I would learn never to answer honestly — what kind of artist do you want to be? Stupid me, I told her the truth:

“I want to be an animator,” I said, not realizing that word was akin to the most vulgar thing in the dictionary.

She looked like I’d spat in her drink. She backed away from me, a completely disgusted look on her face, mumbled something snide and walked away. After that, my grades plummeted, she wouldn’t call on me during class, and it was like I didn’t exist. But the kicker was the final project for the painting class. The assignment was to create an abstract painting that had no clear top or bottom. I’d never done abstract before, but I did my best, following the assignment to the letter.

Like all teenagers, I was battling some emotional instability, so I tried to capture that turmoil in paint. Doesn’t get more “tortured artist” than that, right? Well, when it came time for the final critique, this woman took my painting to the front of the class, turned it on its side and said, “Oh my God, where’s Bambi?” (Yes, that’s a direct quote.) I’ve never seen a room full of young people so silent. I swear, they all stopped breathing, staring at me with wide eyes as this teacher continued to ridicule me in front of them all, informing me I had failed because clearly, I had portrayed a forest fire.

I left that class in tears, dropped out of school and gave up on art for the next five years. All because I’d made the mistake of uttering the “A” word.

That’s not the only time I’ve run into that kind of elitist attitude either. Over the years, I’ve been accused of plagiarism (because I happened to write a sci-fi story that featured a weapon mildly resembling a light saber), told I wasn’t good enough to amount to anything, and been patronized because I don’t do things by the majority norm. And I know I’m not alone. These kinds of experiences are par for the course in the arts.

You want to be a singer? Too bad, you suck.

You want to paint? Well, you’re not Van Gogh, so you may as well give up.

You want to be published? Every door will be slammed in your face.

Overcoming adversity is the very definition of being an artist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So what if someone wants to play the violin with their toes. Or paints murals on street signs. Or writes something a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t make them any less of an artist. The different creative communities claim to be so welcoming and open-minded, but instead, offer only elitism and rejection. If you’re not the alpha of the pack, then you’re the scapegoat. Or worse, lost somewhere in the middle, amongst a sea of sheep.

What’s the point to all this? Simple — don’t let yourself fall prey to elitism. Words have power, whether they be said in jest or seriousness. And that power lasts. To those of us in a position of authority (agents, editors, publishers, teachers, etc.) I implore you to think about what your rejections do to the people who receive them. So it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine, but be nice about it. There must be something good you can give them, some piece of encouragement and/or advice. There’s no reason to get up on a high horse and strip them of their dignity. It’s our job to be the mentors, to help people achieve their creative dreams. Falling into the pack mentality is easy to do, but if we all try a little harder to remember our humanity, and not our need to feel important, we can eliminate experiences like those I went through.

And for those of you who have suffered, or are suffering, under the sword of elitism, keep your head up. Just because one person says you can’t, does not mean you can’t. It took me a long time to get over what that painting teacher said, and I would have destroyed the piece if my mom hadn’t saved it. But I’m glad she did, because I no longer see the emotional turmoil it represented. I see a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and that it’s okay to fight for your dreams. So remember, as the great Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all have a choice. We can become victims, or we can become dragons. I chose to be a dragon, to fight back against elitism and approach my creativity with strength and resolution. Which will you be?


Abstract Painting


by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 2000
All Rights Reserved

Featured Animation: Nightwolf Productions Logo

Many of you know that my first creative aspirations were in the realm of animation. But how many of you have actually seen something I’ve animated? Exactly one–my mom, and she doesn’t count. (Sorry, Mom!) I think it’s high time I fixed that, so I’m going to reveal a small piece I did during college. I had something else planned for this week, but if I don’t post this now, I’ll lose my nerve and you’ll never get to see it. What am I afraid of? I’m not sure. I’ve just never really showcased my animation skills, even though, supposedly, I’m pretty good. But, like all things creative, it’s hard to trust the opinions of others when you’re your own worst critic.

Anyway, I’m stalling. The following video is a line drawing (known as a pencil test) of my non-existent animation company’s logo–Nightwolf Productions. If you’ve followed me for a while, you may remember me talking about how I envisioned a living logo, inserting the Nightwolf into the beginning of each film like a seamless part of the story. This is not that. This would be akin to the standardized logos you see–Dreamworks’s moon, or Disney’s castle. It features a basic walk cycle, a howl, and the company name. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

It’s not. Each frame took roughly an hour to draw, and a four-legged walk cycle is notoriously the most difficult thing to capture. So between the hours I spent watching my dog running around, and the hours spent drawing, you’re probably looking at upwards of 100 hours of work. That doesn’t include the time spent mixing the soundtrack and sound effects (because, yes, I did create that music mash-up you hear in the background) nor the time spent inputting/syncing everything in Flash. My point? Animation is hard.

But when it all comes together and you hit play, seeing your drawings come to life for the first time, it’s oh so worth it. Even now, years later, I can’t watch this without a stupid grin of pride plastered to my face. So here’s hoping you enjoy it!


**This video was created as part of a college assignment. It’s solely for personal use and has never been used for profit or actual business transactions. Nightwolf Productions is a fictitious company name.**

Music Credits: (I mixed the music, but I do not stake any claims to it beyond that. These are the people truly responsible for creating it.)

“Prologue” by Alan Menkin, from the Broadway rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Copyright belongs to Disney Theatrical Productions, LTD.

“Bonus Track” by Guy Whitmore, from the Shivers 2: Harvest of Souls Soundtrack (featuring music from the original Shivers game–i.e. the wolf howl). Copyright belongs to Sierra Entertainment, Inc.

Animation Credits:

Art and animation by Kisa Whipkey. Copyright, 2008. All rights reserved.

Featured Image: The Anchor

One of my non-writing resolutions for 2014 is to showcase more of my art. I call myself an artist, (I even paid a boatload of money for a piece of paper certifying me as such) but all anyone’s ever seen from me is a single image.  So we’re going to change that. I realize this blog is primarily known for its writing/publishing advice. But you’ll bear with me if I slip in a few art-related posts, right? Especially if, like this one, they somehow pertain to my writing? I hope so, anyway, because here goes . . .

The Anchor

Image by Kisa Whipkey

Some of you may already be able to guess what this illustration is referencing, but for those who don’t know, let me explain. This is Nameless, from The Bardach.

The inception of the short story was pretty simple; it was written solely to explain how Amyli became Nameless, the lead Storyteller and anchor for the Nightwolf. What’s an anchor? It’s like a link, an access point. She’s essentially an empty vessel, strategically placed so that he can leave his realms and muck around in the human one. Wiped of her identity, Nameless’s mission is to travel around, imparting the messages the Nightwolf wants her to. Once human, she’s now a shifter, able to transform into the Nightwolf at whim.

There’s much more to their story, but that’s pretty much all you learn by reading the short version. This image was created around the time I was trying to figure out exactly what their relationship was. Originally, the Nightwolf didn’t have a companion, but after I realized that he was more than simply my logo (I’ve explained this in much more detail here), Nameless appeared. And once it became clear what her purpose was, The Bardach was born.

The sketch version doesn’t contain the wolf image. I’m actually more proud of that than this version, which was created in Adobe Illustrator after. But I couldn’t get it to translate well, so this version will have to do. Plus, you get to see one of my original interpretations of the bond between Nameless and the Nightwolf. Is this how it actually happens in the story? No. It isn’t. She fully transforms, because halfling werewolves are one of my pet peeves.  But this is meant to be a visual representation of their spirit bond, illustrating the fact that she has a wolf’s soul in place of her own.

If you’d like to learn more about Nameless or the Nightwolf, I suggest checking out their story. There’s an excerpt featured in my Published Works section, and there will be a new version releasing by the end of the year. Thanks for letting me share one of my images. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief interlude from our normally scheduled program. Next week, I’ll be back with something more standard. What? I’m not sure yet, so if anyone has a request, please let me know! 😉