Day 11: Coloring books

Remember that time, like 3 years ago, when you bought an adult coloring book and though “Oh, this seems like a fun way to relax sometime in some hypothetical world where I have nothing else going on.”

Now would be that time. This would be that hypothetical world.

Grab your 24-packs of crayons, folks.

(If you somehow have never bought one, don’t worry. The internet has got your back with thousands of downloadable coloring sheets)

Brought to you by my Swear Word Coloring Book

Day 3: Cartooning

14 Skills for 14 Day a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills

Day 3: Cartooning

I could say so much about cartoons and comics, I could spend two whole weeks on the topic. (And who knows, I might just get to,)

But we’re not at full blown lecture mode. Yet. We’re just looking to have fun with a few skills.

There are two contrasting how-to writers that I’ll recommend for drawing up some quarantine cartoons.

One is Mark Kistler, of Draw Squad and Imagination Station.


I didn’t catch Bob Ross growing up, but from what I’ve gathered, Mark Kistler is the Bob Ross of cartoons. I used his books for step-by-step cartoons for a long time growing up. To the point, where opening this book up today, I found some 10-year-old Daniel originals inside.

No, YOU draw giant dino babies.

This is a great book for getting the confidence to start out drawing cartoons. It starts with super easy assignments, and then baby steps you through different techniques of shading and “3-D DRAWING!”. Plus everything in there is a specific kind of 90s zany. I picked it up today and got this lil guy in about 5 minutes while watching Great British Baking Show.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

But it’s a fairly prescriptive book. It’s a little like bowling with the gutter guards up. Or driving with your eyes open. Almost too easy. If you want to take your destiny in your own hands, I recommend going with Linda Barry’s Making Comics.


I’ve written about her before, I’ll write about her again. The goddess of casual freeform cartoons and collage. She spent decades perfecting her drawing, and then took a step back and started investigating how completely untrained humans and small children draw. You can follow her quarantine art adventures on insta @thenearsightedmonkey.

Her instructions are all general recommendations and freeform exercises for getting your ideas flowing onto paper without thinking about them. A lot of her figurative exercises use a super-simple Ivan Brunetti style humanoid to move beyond stick figures, but not TOO far.

noodle arms!

Cartooning is great, and super low maintenance. It works with any size of paper, any kind of writing implement. Less is more, and you can discover character in the most whimsical ways. It’s an easy go-to for me when I’ve got time on my hands.

And you can do it too! If you do not attempt to draw at least one quarantine dolphin, or giraffe, or mutating alien space potato in the next week… well, just know I will be very disappointed in you.

14 Skills for 14 Days

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.

It has come to my attention that many people are suddenly looking for creative options for socially-distanced activities.

Not to brag, but between the ages of 10-15, I was pretty incredible at social distancing.

I had very few friends. I was homeschooled. I participated in solo sports like tumbling, trampolining, and rock climbing. My hobbies included hiking, learning circus skills from books, and reading science-fiction.

DIY skills
A plethora of self-teaching books

And honestly, I got a LOT done. The skills I developed in that window have gotten me a foot in the door for a lot of professional artist gigs. And I’ve never gotten back to that level of self-taught productivity. Sure, I’ve had windows of social downtime that have led to picking up weird skill sets (learning jumpstyle dance in 2012, becoming a freelance audiobook narrator in 2016) but the years of my childhood where I got out of the house the least were the years that I picked up the most special skills.

Now, I’m not going to talk about *WHY* someone might be looking to spend a lot of time practicing new skills at home. That’s not my field of expertise. I’m not trained as a sociologist or epidemiologist. I cannot speak to the state of the world or best practices for personal health.

I’m trained as a writer and entertainer. And if people are looking for ways to stay occupied for 14 (or more) days at home, well BY GOLLY I’m going to give it to them.

For the next 14 days, I’m committing to staying in my house and practicing socially distanced creative skills. During this time, I’d like to share one skill a day that I have successfully taught myself. Some of them I’m good at. Some of them I’m bad at. But most importantly, all of them are fun challenges that YOU TOO CAN TRY FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN HOME.

The subjects I’ll be covering include:

  1. Monday, March 16th – Baking Bread
  2. Tuesday, March 17th – Juggling
  3. Wednesday, March 18th – Cartooning
  4. Thursday, March 19th – Unicycling
  5. Friday, March 20th – Stop-Motion Video
  6. Saturday, March 21st – Break dancing
  7. Sunday, March 22nd – Self-tape Monologues & Solo theater
  8. Monday, March 23rd – Building a catapult
  9. Tuesday, March 24th – Puppetry
  10. Wednesday, March 25th – Yo-yoing
  11. Thursday, March 26th – Headstands & handstands
  12. Friday, March 27th – Moonwalking
  13. Saturday, March 28th – Audiobook Narration
  14. Sunday, March 29th – Tabletop Theater

If anyone has a range of skills they’d like to spend two weeks sharing from home, I challenge them to create their own iteration of this. Let the games begin!


Spotlight: Warhol’s Oxidation Painting

As a Warhol gallery attendant, I used to joke that we only had one painting on display that had been peed on, and my job was to keep it that way.

Now, we have two.

Let me back up.

Warhol created a series of paintings where he covered canvases in metallic paint and “oxidizing” it by exposing it to a corrosive liquid – human urine. He and his studio assistants peed on the canvases and let it corrode into fantastical color swirls. Then he sold them.

Like Warhol said, “art is whatever you can get away with”.

Our large gold painting has continued to corrode and the colors have shifted over the past 25 years, making it delicate and nigh impossible to move.

But we opened a new exhibit last week, and now we have a second, smaller oxidation painting up.

And speaking of shamelessly spraying human waste, I’m 2/2 in NaNoWriMo this year. Currently neck and neck with my 18-year-old self, despite having 15 hour work days both days. Take that, high school me!

Spotlight: Warhol’s Raphael

Warhol loved making works based on other people’s art. Sometimes, he got sued for it. Other times, he riffed on works well within the public domain.

Warhol’s painting Raphael Madonna-$6.99 is hard to miss. It’s 14 feet tall, and hangs alone on an entire wall of the Warhol Museum’s 4th floor.

Raphael Madonna- $6.99

The silkscreen painting is a recent addition to the 4th floor art. It was hung last month in preparation for the exhibit Revelations featuring Warhol’s religious artwork. The painting is so large, it cannot be stretched and cleaned inside of the museum’s Conservation Studio. It had to be hung up in the two-story tall gallery in order to receive its first conservation treatment in 26 years. The conservator spent ten days cleaning the surface of the painting from a scaffold, using a tool the size of a q-tip.


There’s a couple of prevailing opinions about the significance of the 6.99. The one that I stand by is that Warhol saw the painting on display in Dresden. Then he saw the poster for sale with the price sticker on it, and decided he liked that one even better.

Fun fact: while Warhol’s painting was being cleaned, a LOT of people asked me if we were “finishing painting it” for him.

Dinosaur Screen Test

Recently, I’ve been working as a Gallery Attendant at The Andy Warhol Museum.

It’s a lot like working as a Parking Attendant. If the cars were worth millions of dollars. And never moved.

I spend a lot of time staring at Warhol’s art. Enough time staring at art while thinking about my own art, and the influence seeps through. Sometimes pretty directly.

Warhol made hundreds of screen tests. Short film reels of people sitting in front of a camera trying to act naturally. He’d slow the film down, play it back, and call it art. You can do it yourself in the museum, and watch the results online.

I’ve also been spending time doing object puppetry. How much movement does it take to make something seem alive? How many life-like features does an object need before someone can empathize with it?

The connection is simple. Screen tests for inanimate objects. Test how they live and breath on film, see how much a viewer will project onto a simple, silent, black and white clip of the object.

My first attempt, my plastic dinosaur/succulent planter, Susan the Terrible.

Career Planning for Artists

There are no perfect plans.

From 2015-2016, I spent a year making different styles of art projects. The plan was to try everything I was potentially interested, and go to grad school for whatever I was most successful in. I tried it, I successfully wrote a lot, so I went and got an MFA in Dramatic Writing.

I like writing. But (as evidenced by my Finding the Framework challenges) I also like a lot of other things. Even after trying to spend two years concentrating on writing, I’ve ended up trying a lot of different projects. I joined an aerial dance company.

I started working for the Andy Warhol Museum

I started turning trash into puppets. And then touring shows with those trash puppets.

I joined the team for the largest immersive theater piece in town.

Three years ago, I thought I was playing with different disciplines to find my specialty. Now I can see that ‘playing with different disciplines’ is my specialty.

There’s no way I could have planned a path to end up here. I’ve discovered more of my next steps on accident than I have on purpose. Any accurate maps I have of what I’m doing are being drawn in retrospect. The creative process is all about discovery, so why shouldn’t the career plans be as well?

Interdisciplinary Performance

What does it mean to work in interdisciplinary performance? It means this week, I’m working on an immersive computer science show, a puppet opera, and a piece of aerial dance-theater.

It’s easy. Mash the names of two disciplines together. If it sounds like something you’d watch, do it!

  • Juggle boxing
  • Lawn darts ballet
  • Bicycle jousting
  • LEGO musicals
  • Real estate disco
  • Fire debates
  • EDM tea parties
  • Vegetable orchestra symphonies

Now you try!

Barry Me

The MacArthur Fellows program is my all time favorite program for funding creative work. Each year their panel picks a wide array of creative trailblazers to receive generous long-term funding to keep doing what you’re doing. There’s no application. The panel is kept secret. Just a “Hey, we noticed that what you are doing is exceptional. Here’s $625,000 to make it even better.”

I had the good fortune to study briefly under Dr. Richards-Kortum in undergrad, who received the award in 2016 for her work in global health technology. My brief time studying with her was enough to inspire an entire opera libretto about her field of work. Many of the creative role models whose names I invoked on a weekly basis in grad school have received this award.

I was thrilled to learn this week that Lynda Barry has been named one of the 2019 MacArthur Fellows. I first encountered her work a year ago, through her book Syllabus.

Lynda Barry books

Since writing about my booklist a few years back, I’ve read a few more titles. Like, maybe exactly 268 more. If I were to list my top ten of those (which I will. Tomorrow?) Syllabus and What It Is would both make the list. Her approach to approaching the core values of art by circumventing the technical steps that tend to get in people’s way is thrilling. As a die-hard supporter of playfulness and creative chaos, her work and philosophy are the gold standard for me. Seeing her cartoon monkeys and doodle spirals achieve international acclaim stirs up shimmering gelatinous art-pride for everything she has done.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for humanity out there in the piles of cast-off composition books and index cards.

A Year of Kicking my Brain in the Face

This is it.  It has been one year since I embarked on my Finding the Framework challenge.  I would say that I had no idea what I was signing up for on Oct 1st, 2015.  But let’s be real.  I knew this would be a comprehensive and exhausting creative challenge.  I’ve pushed myself as hard this year as any year during my undergraduate career, pursuing projects that were well beyond my comfort zone.

While I feel that I could have gone further with many of these projects, I’ve come to terms with the fact that a year is still a finite length of time.  I’ve explored a wide range of avenues of artistic projects, and have ended up with a much clearer picture of where my strengths and interests lie than I had a year ago.

I’ll spend some time in the next few months synthesizing my experiences pursuing different artistic fields, but here at the 1 year mark, I’d like to briefly overview each category, and rate how successful I think each challenge was:

1. Write a novel – 8/10


Last November, I completed a 50,000 word manuscript as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve written similar projects before, and thoroughly enjoy the intensive one month writing project.  However, I know the draft has a number of plot holes and stylistic flaws.  I didn’t invest time in rewrites, and while I know I’ll be writing more prose fiction manuscripts, I don’t anticipate them reaching a professional level any time soon.

2. Write a full-length play – 10/10


This is my jam.  Writing roadmaps for living, thinking people to play with and put into action in real time and space is a place where so many of my creative drives overlap.  I wrote a play Baikonur to complete thins challenge, which I’ve submitted to some workshops and am also revising on my own.  Buuut, just for good measure I also wrote the 50 minute show Outside the Lines, and the short plays Road Rage, Unknowingly Agnostic, Waiting for Kyle, Give Me the Chicken and a collection of monologues for both Caution: Not a Step and Find Your Backyard.

3. Perform in a play – 10/10


I performed in a 2 week run of Deirdre of the Sorrows at the Dairy Arts Center, for 2 weeks of my solo show Outside the Lines in the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and in short runs of Find Your Backyard, Caution: Not a Step, and Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.  I realized during Outside the Lines, though- I’m really not looking for a career as an actor.  I am capable of acting, and sometimes I enjoy it.  But performing night after night onstage in major roles takes a huge amount of energy from me, and I know it’s not something I could sustain for a routine work schedule.  I will continue to end up on stage, but realizing that stage acting is not going to be my primary artistic pursuit has really helped to hone down my focus for future projects.

4. Perform in a dance showcase – 6/10


If I had world enough and time… This year started off well.  Back when I sat at my desk job, swimming in tens of dollars of expendable income, I could pay for aerial dance classes in my free evenings, and jazz dance classes during my lunch breaks.  And then I began to get more serious about my artistic pursuits.  The expendable income went away as I began sinking money into producing shows.  And the free evenings went away as I began designing costumes and teching shows.  And then the lunch breaks went away as I transitioned to freelance work.  And so the dance went away, and I was left rehearsing my movement pieces alone in apartment with no appropriate dance flooring.

But gosh darn it, I performed my dance piece anyways.  There was music, I moved around in a relatively coordinated manner, and people clapped at the end.  That’s all that matters, right?  Caution: Not a Step was honestly much better received at the Ft. Collins Fringe than I thought it would be, and this was definitely an activity that stretched my boundaries as an artist.

5. Produce a show – 10/10 


Prior to this challenge, I had only officially produced 2 theatrical events outside of college- one staged reading, and a one-night only dinner theater show.  Now, in the past 6 months alone, I have produced a 30 minute dance theater showcase (Caution: Not a Step), a 50 minute play (Outside the Lines), a 75 minute variety show (Find Your Backyard), and a 10 minute act for a fundraiser (Give Me the Chicken).  Now that I’ve realized that I possess all the tools to make original live entertainment happen, I have a feeling the fun is only just beginning.

6. Produce a music album – 7/10


To stick to the original challenge, yes, I teamed up with composer Nigel Deane to create a soundtrack for Outside the Lines.  And by that, I mean I threw some ideas and words at Nigel, and he came back with fully formed auditory masterpieces.  But hey, team effort, right?

But, in the world of audio production, this year I realized another major field where my various interests overlap.  Audiobook production.  I took a class on audiobook narration starting the first week of this challenge, and it caught my attention.  One year later, I’m finishing up the editing on my 10th audiobook title.  I had never even thought that it was a plausible freelance gig to pursue, but all it took was a little creative push and some support, and now I have a whole new avenue of creative projects.

7. Create a webcomic – 4/10


I absolutely love comics.  I now also realize how much time, effort, and creative energy they take to routinely produce.  And patience, big time.  Technically, I did create a webcomic this year- Best Fiends.  However, I have only completed 5 strips, and haven’t developed any routines or patterns for consistent drawing and posting like I had hoped to.  But through my research and attempts, I have a much better understanding of the process of creating webcomics, and certainly have more practice than I did before this year.

8. Create a short film – 5/10

Short film.png

I had really hoped to spend a week out in the sand dunes shooting a short post-apocalyptic comedy with actor friends from around the country.  I had kind of hoped to spend a weekend in an empty office building filming a comedic short about internships.  I had vaguely been interested in drawing strange cartoon hedgehogs on old brown paper packaging and animating them to music.  But then I got sucked into all my other projects and put all my resources into show producing.  So I ended up with some eclectic promotional videos instead, like this one.  and this one.

I hope to put together at least one more project from footage and ideas I got from this year.  But for the time being, you can also have a link to the Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth footage as consolation.

9. Display an artwork at a gallery – 2/10


Yeah… about the whole “gallery” thing.  I’m not going to pretend that I can casually teach myself to be a successful visual artist from a couple of books and youtube videos.  I had kind of planned to just display an artwork in a nearby community arts collective on one of their open studio nights.  And then I stopped by one of their events and realized that a lot of their events were centered around talking through their experiences with mind-altering substances and sharing paintings of flowers resembling genitalia.  Thanks, Boulder.

Ironically, I now actually work part-time in a building with several galleries, and talk through art with paintings and have actually made a couple of sales.  I’m refining plans for a collection of sarcastic art jokes masquerading as a gallery, but I couldn’t rush through it enough to fit it within the official year of the project.  Stay tuned though!

10. Learn to make macarons – 8/10


I am so glad I added this challenge on to the end of the list.  Honestly, I think this was the category that I had the most growth in.  I started at a skill level of absolute zero as far as macarons were concerned, with my first batch ending up as sticky, almond-flavored glop.  Now I have the process down to a relative habit, and can whip up a batch with little effort, complete with a custom maple-brown syrup filling.

On top of these official challenges, I have also ended up fully submerged in all the arts world related activities that falls between the lines of the categories I laid out.  It’s a little ridiculous how much things have changed.  At the start of the challenge, I was an assistant at a small publishing company who did performing arts on the side.  Now, I’m a freelance artist working for a number of the region’s big arts groups for a living.  In the past year, I have been paid to work as a costumer, carpenter, welder, props manager, stage manager, actor, producer, playwright, director, stagehand, lighting technician, sound engineer, projection designer, makeup artist, house manager, and box office manager.  I’ve taken some substantial risks, failed spectacularly a number of times, and racked up a huge pile of rejections.  But letting go and leaping into the unknown has led me to a crazy new life as a fully fledged member of the artistic community.  I still have a long way to go, but I really can say: I found the framework.