More Experiments With Art & Illustration

Millie Ho Sketch Surreal Bunnysuit Illustration

I’ve been experimenting with a variety of art and illustration styles as part of my back to basics efforts. Most of the experimenting has been done on pen and paper, with a few digital illustrations.

Millie Ho Towel Head Surreal Illustration Art

The weird/surreal sketches come easiest to me, but I think they can be improved if I build a narrative around them, like I did for the supernatural sketches I posted a month ago. I’m still working on this.

Millie Ho SORROWBACON Cat Illustration Perish Art

Since I draw a cat comic, I also tried doing cat illustrations with a slight comic book slant. For some reason, the cat sketches in this style always come out chaotic and disorganized, but maybe that’s just the nature of me drawing cats. I’m not good at drawing calm cats.

Millie Ho Art Supernatural Office Illustration Supernatural

The above is the complete and digital version of a sketch I posted last month. I discovered that I like using bright and psychedelic colours for the final product, which I believe makes the content a little less gloomy (or maybe more gloomy by contrast).

Millie Ho Illustration Cat Eating Poison

Aaaaand here is a digital illustration of a cat binging on what looks like poison. This one was the first time I scanned a sketch and coloured it on my computer. I feel like I’m getting closer to what I want to achieve with illustration. At the moment, I think my style is like an extension of the comic I draw, infused with this kind of depressed manic energy.

I’m still figuring it out, but it’s going well so far. Sketching every day helps, so does committing to drawing weekly comics. Once I finish revising the New Story and send it off to beta readers in mid-September, I will have more time to work on the art stuff and update my portfolio. Huzzah!

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Millie’s Note: Do you have a favourite art style/artist?

Strike On

Millie Ho Writing Writer Poems

Strike on,
wilderness.

Strike on,
lost ground.

Blood rocks can be
stepping stones.

Violet leaves,
our ceiling.

Let’s roll up them sleeves,
and find that single
shard.

We could leave today,
really.

Draw the blade
beneath the clavicle
a second longer.

Carve the wisdom from
that meat hanger
and call it a
day.

—––

Millie’s Note: I went out last night, and as I walked around downtown Toronto, I thought about how a city at night could look like the wilderness. There was also this feeling of dark detachment and casual hedonism. I wrote this poem when I got home.

How Being Patient Improved My Writing

This year, I really started to work on improving my patience as a writer. I realized that most of my writing problems were psychological instead of technical, and at the core of all of these problems was a lack of patience.

In the last couple of months, my writing output, approach, and results have improved because I learned to be more patient. Below is a summary of my findings (I go into more detail in the video).

Reasons Why I Was Impatient

1. Needing instant gratification.

This is conditioning from the hyper-connected world we live in. We want what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. I had let my expectations of writing be influenced by how quickly I had my other needs met, when writing is nothing like Amazon’s same-day delivery, for example.

2. False ideas about writing success from the media.

When you see a published author, you only see the final product. You don’t see the years of mundane and frustrating work that they put into it. Because I didn’t see them struggling with their manuscripts, I felt impatient and also inadequate because I was comparing their final product with my work-in-progress.

3. Listening to non-writers talk about writing.

Loved ones who don’t write will give you advice about how you should a) write your book or b) how you should stop writing your book. Questions I got a lot was “If you’re so passionate and hard-working, why aren’t you published yet?” or “You should focus on X instead, because X makes money”. What I should’ve done was tune out their voices and go at my own pace.

These factors have been subtly influencing me until early this year, when I understood myself better and started making some changes. I’ve been practicing being more patient for 4-5 months now, and the results are becoming more noticeable.

How Being More Patient Improved My Writing

1. Feeling less disappointed (and therefore working harder).

Because I now saw myself trying to improve as a writer for the rest of my life, it was a load off my mind. I felt less frustrated because I realized I had all this time left to grow. I learned that writing every day, re-writing, and the occasional failure and rejection slip just came with the territory. As a result, I wrote more, even submitted these stories to literary magazines (something I never did), and 3 out of the 10 places I submitted to accepted me. This would never have happened if I was impatient.

2. Writing more honestly.

I discovered that my Long-Suffering Manuscript was broken because it was written at a time when I wasn’t 100% writing what I wanted to write. But I no longer felt like I needed to stick with it because I put so much time into it and/or needed to get published ASAP. In April, I started writing a new novel that was more authentic and fulfilling, and used all the learnings from the LSM to write this book. I am now revising Draft 3 and am writing more like myself.

3. Using success stories to inspire me—not put me down.

I don’t feel inadequate anymore when I read a book by the many authors I admire. I now understand that it took a lot of long nights, re-writing, labour hours, and hair-pulling to get to where they arrived. Therefore, I use their success to inspire me and show me what’s possible if I do the work as well. They were patient and didn’t give up—I can be like that, too.

Writing Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

This year, I learned how true this is. I can’t expect things to happen quickly or the way I want. I should only focus on controlling what I can control, which is writing and re-writing. I like what Aristotle said about patience:

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

What are your thoughts on patience?

“Heavy Moons” Published in Gone Lawn (Issue 22)

Gone Lawn Issue 22 Cover

Gone Lawn 22 cover, Alternate Flux by Kelley Stephens.

My story “Heavy Moons”, which is about lovers, a crime, and alternate realities, is published in Gone Lawn, one of my favourite online literary journals. This story was inspired by my suburban upbringing and Thin Lizzy’s Dancing In The Moonlight, a good song for nighttime strolls.

You can read “Heavy Moons” here: http://journal.gonelawn.net/issue22/Ho.php

Please check out the other writers as well. Enjoy!

FOGBANK

William Klein New York 67th Street

Temper black and radiant,
She leaves me voicemail messages on
her birthday.

Draw me things! Give me things!
You owe me things!

I awoke realizing I was a thing,
have been walking through fog bank
for some time now.

Here is a wire, child.

Play with it until you can see
a way out.

—–

Millie’s Note: Photo by William Klein.

Back to Basics With Art and Illustration

Millie Ho Illustration Work In Progress

My work-in-progress digital illustration.

Here are some sketches and illustrations from the past few weeks. I’m getting into the habit of sketching at least one idea a day. At first, I was just drawing to update my Art page, but now drawing has become a daily habit.

Millie Ho Sketch Supernatural Office

The original sketch, “How you doin’?”

I always sketch with a pen because a pen glides better, and also because I don’t erase things much.

Millie Ho Cat Riding Fish Sketch

A cat and a translucent Leviathan.

While I love drawing cats, the more I sketch, the more I find myself introducing supernatural elements into my art.

Millie Ho Giant Cat Sketch

“I bring you peace, I bring you love.”

I think the process of sketching a lot, like writing a lot, is that you get to know yourself better and discover what you actually like to draw, beyond the default options.

Millie Ho Sketch Submerged Woman Art

I sure hope that’s gum.

Once you let go of any judgement and faithfully transport what’s in your mind onto the page, that’s when you discover who you really are.

Millie Ho Illustration Demon Hugging Cats

Inspired by this book on giants I’ve had since forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life would’ve turned out if I went to an art school instead of majoring in business. I would definitely have a better grasp of fundamentals and the tools of the trade, and would also have produced more artwork. However, I think it ultimately comes down to working hard, regardless if you majored in art or not.

I’m grateful for where I am in life, grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, but art has always been an itch I couldn’t scratch, a hobby I kept pushing to the sidelines. But if I can learn to write every day, then I can learn to draw every day. I can and will improve. I owe that much to my younger self, to that kid who found her self-worth through art.

I must practice more, practice consistently, and maximize my potential. Basically, I’m going back to basics. But the good news is that we live in an age where anybody can learn or improve anything if they want it badly enough and keep at it long enough.

More sketches and illustrations to come!

—–

Millie’s Note: I post more art on the SORROWBACON Facebook page.

The More You Write, The More Ideas You’ll Have

Millie Ho The More You Write The More Ideas You'll Have

My brainstorming book, ft. nonchalant teen character.

I used to think that I would run out of ideas if I wrote too much. This fear drained my ability to write at times. But it made sense, right? Your mind can only generate so much content in a lifetime, and eventually you’ll just end up rewriting your existing ideas. Or worse, you could hit a brick wall that won’t move no matter how hard you slam into it. Writer’s block could last for days, months, years—and it’s always worse knowing that you’ve actually hit your ceiling than for it to remain a vague possibility looming in the background.

Now that I’ve been writing consistently every day and haven’t run out of ideas yet, I’d like to correct some of my misconceptions. Perhaps you can relate!

Misconception #1: I’ll become a parody of myself.

I had a fear that I would just be rehashing the same ideas over and over. But I haven’t reached the kind of output to qualify for self-parody status yet, not by a long shot. And if I become a parody of myself, so what? At least there’s something to parody, at least I’ll know what I’m all about. So there’s no need to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Just focus on what needs to be written today.

Misconception #2: I need to come up with insanely original ideas.

Nope, not really. There are infinite ways you can tell the same story. I’ve been reading How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, which is a very helpful classic on storytelling, and one section in particular caught my eye:

How many novels could be written on the Samson and Delilah theme? Dozens and dozens. Ever read a story in which a plain but deserving girl finally marries Mr. Wonderful? It has been done a trillion times and will be done a trillion times more.

The key differentiator is not in the idea itself, Frey suggests, but in how the writer executes the idea. Remembering this helped redirect my focus from brainstorming to revising. After all, the real magic happens during the editing process, when the writer demonstrates how their story stands out. Originality comes from execution.

Misconception #3: It’s bad to produce crappy ideas.

Sure, I believe in quality over quantity just as much as the next person, but how do you develop quality? You need to generate lots of crappy ideas first! The more I jot down all new ideas, the more good ideas I get along with the bad ones. And sometimes it’s not even the initial idea that materializes into the final story, but a secondary idea that branched off the main one. Knowing this has encouraged me to keep writing and generating new ideas, even if they don’t go anywhere. You never know when the stars will align.

My Experience With Writing Stories Daily

It all started a few months ago, when I wrote new stories to take my mind off Draft One of my manuscript so that I could revise it objectively. My first few ideas were bad. They resembled half-formed thoughts and I failed multiple times trying to stretch them into stories. But I persisted. I worked on one story for a few days, set it aside and started a new one, then edited the first one after I finished the second one. Rinse and repeat, over and over.

Eventually something interesting happened: my ideas began to get better. My execution of these ideas also improved. I also began to see ideas everywhere: an overheard conversation in a restaurant, a random song lyric that formed the basis of a character sketch. Since I now believed I won’t run out of ideas, I began to see the ideas I would’ve missed if I hadn’t been looking.

Consistency Is key

I tried doing something like this in the past, but I didn’t stick with it consistently. As a result, my ability to ideate turned rusty. Eventually, I falsely believed that I was incapable of brainstorming new and better ideas. But it’s like exercising, really: it’s inefficient to start, stop for a few weeks, and then pick up the dumbbells again. To properly strengthen the writing muscle, I need to keep exercising every single day.

My experience has taught me that you won’t run out of ideas.

You’ll just get better at recognizing and developing them.

——-

Millie’s Note: What’s your experience?

The Hammer

William Klein Family Millie Ho Short Story

The best you can ever hope for is to stay out of prison.

Gavin replayed his stepfather’s words in his head as he jumped the fence and landed in his parents’ backyard.

He’d been kicked out of the house a week earlier for doing something he couldn’t even remember. Was it for speaking out against the stepfather gambling his mother’s wages away? Or was it for hitting his stepsister after he saw her not only steal the rum Gavin had stashed under his bed, but also freaking lick the excess liquid off the bottle with her gross, bumpy tongue in order to hide her crime?

It didn’t matter. What mattered now was his stepfather’s dog sleeping in the doghouse. Gavin pulled the dog out by its tail, and then held on to the leash when the dog started twisting and yelping.

“Shut up, fugly bitch,” Gavin said, and tugged on the leash hard.

The dog looked like no other dog in the neighbourhood. It had long, black fur that hung down its sturdy body like dreads. When it pounced the dreads flailed about like a mop. Gavin couldn’t see the dog’s eyes. All he saw was the long black coat and the red floppy tongue. Creepy as hell.

Gavin grunted as he continued dragging the dog towards the shed. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but it was going to be something that would make a statement. The shed contained all his father’s tools. Gavin remembered the slingshot-propelled cart he and his father had built together for a middle school project. His mother had told him it would be easier to just buy a kit from some toy store, but Gavin had enjoyed toiling over the building of the thing with his father, liked seeing how the pieces fitted and were put together.

Now he was going to use the same tools to take the pieces apart, he decided. He set the dog in the middle of the shed and fastened the leash to the workbench leg. The dog started yelping and Gavin shut the door. He turned on the lights. He looked around the crowded space for the first time since his father was killed. There were cobwebs everywhere, in bright spaces and dark spaces, between the small crowded objects on the workbench and along the long wooden planks stacked against the wall.

Gavin took a hammer and held the dog’s head in his other hand. The walls seemed to close in on him and the air felt dense on his skin. He didn’t realize he’d been waiting for some time, just standing there and staring at the black mop head that didn’t have any eyes, until he heard the garage door creak.

Somebody was coming home.

His stepfather would be out with his poker buddies, so it must be either his stepsister or his mother—whatever, they were all the same, all brainwashed by the same freeloading tyrant.

Gavin stared at the dog again. He could do this. His hammer-holding hand was starting to shake, and Gavin hated any part of him shaking, hated anything that made him feel weak.

Then something long and rectangular caught his eye. It poked out between the toolbox near the wall, under a tapestry of cobwebs.

It was the cart he and his father built. It was crusted and dusted with age and splintered in more places than he remembered. But it was the one and the same.

Then the sound of the front door opening, and door keys jingling.

In the end, Gavin set the hammer down and let the dog go.

When he escaped, however, he made sure to leave through the fence door this time, and to leave it wide, wide open.


Millie’s Note: Happy Father’s Day! Photo by William Klein, as usual.

 

How A Bridge Collapses

A bridge collapses in plain view while
the children are hunted down.

Red arrows put collars onto backdoors
and push palms through cracks.

When small mouths gasp
bitter water seeps in.

The vines grow tall here and
the walls don’t have ears.

Meanwhile the parents claim this never
happened.

“Get your facts straight, sweetie,” they say,
palms up, legs outstretched, forming the
perfect triangle again.

Thin fingers re-work the memories
into something more manageable.

When small mouths grow big
the eyes stay small,
seeing the parents as long shadows,
themselves as pillars of salt.

When did the bridge collapse?

And why?

You must remember that a bridge
did not exist.

Things that did not exist cannot
collapse.

 

What to Do While Waiting to Revise

Millie Ho Illustration Drawing Grinning Girl

A drawing done over the waiting period.

I didn’t do enough of waiting before revising in the past. Because I didn’t wait, I wasn’t entirely removed from the narrative. Characters and situations were still fresh in my mind, and my revisions suffered because I still had vivid and biased opinions about what’s what. The only way I can edit Draft One objectively is to put some time between me and the manuscript, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks: waiting.

The next question is what to do during this waiting period. Here’s what I did, and maybe it will give you some ideas.

Writing New Stories

I quickly realized that the best way to take my mind off something I wrote is to start writing something else. Within a week of brainstorming ideas and writing flash fiction and short stories, these new narratives started to push the old narrative from my headspace. My focus shifted, and I started to forget.

The funny thing is that my short stories are getting written in the Draft One method—I start with a plot skeleton and then allow myself to deviate by chasing my instincts as I went along. Previously unforeseen or unplanned characteristics, situations, and themes got unearthed. It’s great, and I’m (still) amazed at how it hasn’t turned on its side and vomited in my face yet.

I’m also getting more comfortable with the idea that everything will come together in the revision process. For my flash fiction and short stories, it certainly has. This speaks again to the idea of not editing your work until you’ve seen the complete picture. When you’re feeling your way through a story, it’s pretty damn hard to get a sense of the whole. Just bow your head and keep writing and edit once you’ve had the benefit of hindsight.

Drawing and Painting

Millie Ho Oil Painting Brushes Medium Paints

Turpentine, so good yet so toxic.

A few weeks ago, I picked up hog hair brushes, paints, canvases and masonite boards and have been upping my oil painting game. I’m a beginner with oils and used to be daunted by the prospect of working with solvents or accidentally smudging my colours, but my fears were unfounded. Like the “Whatever works” writing method, just paint something and revise once the layers are dry. It doesn’t matter if it takes a week or two to dry completely—you’ll get there eventually. The first step is just to have a go at it.

Youtube is a great free resource for painters and illustrators. If you’re interested in oil painting, a channel I’ve been obsessively combing through is Draw Mix Paint. The artist offers clear tips and demonstrates techniques that are helpful for both beginners and seasoned painters. If you’re into painting portraits and love ivory black paint as much as I do, you’ll get a kick out of the channel.

I’ve also been working on updating my art portfolio. Most of the art on my existing Art page were from when I was in high school/early university, plus a book cover I did for Marie Marshall a few years back. So now’s as good a time as any to be prolific. The new pieces aren’t ready to go up yet, but here’s a quick drawing I did.

Millie Ho Illustration Skull Drawing

I call her Skully.

I’ll share more artwork when they’re all polished and shiny with a bow on top.

Living in the Moment

Now that I’m no longer furiously typing all the time, I’ve been living more in the moment, which includes but is not limited to

Millie Ho Uncle Hank Lookalike

spotting the Breaking Bad characters walking among us or

Millie Ho Favourite Books

reading old favourites and

Millie Ho Full Moon

admiring nature (albeit from afar).

It’s been good.

When to Start Revising

The contents of Draft One are fading each week, so I will likely start revising next week. In summary, the waiting period was a good reminder that I need to be patient. It’s an interesting switching of gears. I binge wrote Draft One, but it would’ve been unwise for me to quickly jump into the revision process. Believe me, I was definitely ready to—but then I took a good hard look at my past experiences and realized I could’ve done some things differently.

I’ll conclude with what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird:

“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbour’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

In other words, stick to the game plan. We’ll get there eventually.

——

Millie’s Note: Do you wait before revising?