being liam neeson (or, pep talk)

If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. — Liam Neeson in Taken

I’ve never actually seen the movie Taken, but I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot today.

I feel like I’m working on the foundations of… something. I’m not entirely sure what, but in the wake of vending at the beginning of the month, I’ve felt such momentum to build on that positive experience that I’m starting to do things. I’ve got websites for both lines of cards coming together while a friend of mine who has built a successful business as a massage therapist has been giving me pointers on how to build an actual business and how to network. I’m contacting a couple more stores this week, including one up in Vancouver BC, I’ve got plans for a Patreon and…

And then I stumble over myself. I’ll have prodigious bursts of creativity and inspiration, knowing just how to do this and that and the other damn thing, scribbling like a demon in my notebook followed by the certainty that it’s ridiculous. Because I’m just doing this thing? Pictures of minifigs? Pictures of flow artists?

Pictures at all?

Doesn’t everyone have a camera these days?

This isn’t like wildlife photography or photography in war zones. This is… this silly thing I do, crouching down over rocks in someone’s front garden.

Why bother people with it any more than I already do? Why put myself out there?

I have really got to get my head out of the space of “anyone can do this” and into the space of “I have a very particular set of skills”.

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Yes everyone has a camera. Yes there are a shit ton people at Spinurn taking photos and yes there are a metric fuckton of people on Instagram who take photos of Lego minifigs.

But I’m the one who started selling cards. I’m the one putting together shows and comics and getting kink Lego pictures accepted into art festivals.

I may not be the only person to stage a birthday party around the most recent collectible minifigure leaping out of a cake

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But by God, I am the only one to make it kinky before making it “creepy”.

And maybe that’s what pisses me off about these glad-handing, backslapping communities with their “aren’t we all great/don’t rock the boat” mentalities where everyone gets along. If everyone’s great, nobody’s good. Or great. Or different. Or even worth pursuing unless it’s something someone else did. Another fucking milk bath. And in those spaces, doing anything different or better or weird or more barely gets a reaction. So you can start to doubt your own skills, your own drives.

“I took high speed photos of raindrops being sliced by swords.”
That’s great!
“I took pictures of a naked girl on a beach.”
That’s great too!

I had a friend who was a burlesque performer for a year or two before giving up. The thing that drove her away was how everything was great, which meant that nothing stood out to the performers and producers themselves. A tightly choreographed act was as great as someone who flailed around. Which is polite, but it leads to this weird Harrison Bergeron-esque baseline that Vonnegut would have screamed to see in action. Assuming he didn’t every time he attended a creative writer’s workshop.

I have skills. I have a particular set of skills that comes from years of weirdness, years of burlesque photography, years of playing with fire, years of fucking around in the studio and it all adds up to this weird mixture that is… me.

It’s not a lot. But it’s something unique to me. Not everyone does this. Not anyone does this. And that has value. Maybe not a lot, maybe not enough to be hanging on the walls at SFMOMA (yet?) but it’s gotten attention and an audience. Even and especially when I go beyond the limits of Flickr or Instagram. Tacoma was a good start. I didn’t make a million bucks (unlikely as fuck, right?) but I made contacts. I made people laugh. As an added bonus, I made my costs back and then some. Enough to go on to the next wave of cards and ideas that are already making waves.

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from New Math by Craig Damrauer

It’s a small thing, maybe. But it matters. And it has meaning. And it makes me happy in a time of great, ongoing frustration.

So I’ll end this with a quote I heard in a Martin Short interview this morning.

“If I give one bit of wisdom to my children, it’s ‘Just be your biggest fan and maybe that sensibility will catch on with others.'”

Stay tuned. I’m rolling out two websites this week. We’ll see what happens next.

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Oof.

This weekend went from quite a lot of work to a lot of work to “We’re Sorry, But The Human You Are Trying To Contact Is Unavailable” of work.

On Saturday, my friend Maddie and I went down to Tacoma to vend at a goth/dark themed arts & crafts fair. This was my first time taking my kink Lego cards out on the road and on its own that would have been enough. I’ve devoted no small amount of brain power on getting everything ready and pulling together the this and the that to make it happen. Tablecloth and signage and finding my old Square card reader and oh yeah the actual cards that I’ve been knocking out.

That on its own would have been enough and I’ll write about it later. But two days after I sent in the paperwork and the money to vend there, another friend who runs a massage therapy clinic wanted to hire me again to shoot at her new location, would I be free on March 31st? The day of vending? The day… oof. Fortunately we managed to schedule everything on April 1st.

And that would have been enough. Except on Tuesday of this week, Maddie asked if I’d be free for a last minute shoot at a haunted house she volunteered at last year. Seems they’d be tearing down a scene for the season and she wanted to pull something together quickly. And of course I said yes, because we do weird and wonderful things together.

But add it all up and… frankly I’m amazed I was able to walk upright today. Not so much from physical weariness as mental and emotional exhaustion. There were a lot of people and a lot of creative energy and a lot of expectations that, while really low key one at a time added up over the span of three days. Totally worth it.

Friday’s shoot was the right kind of dramatic insanity I’d been hoping for. Maddie wanted to shoot something in the haunt’s asylum so we had a crazy girl in a straitjacket and a creepy plague doctor with stark light to make it properly horrific. I only got enough time to tease a couple of images before I had to crash because the next day was getting up at the crack of dawn.

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So Tacoma! This was Maddie’s first time vending ever and while I’ve vended before, this was new. This was my Lego kink cards. This was something I haven’t really seen before and would anyone like it or would I be lucky if I made a sale or……

As it turned out, I did really well there and not just in sales. The response was very positive (not counting the usual assortment of people who nodded and smiled at my weird shit, of course) and the organizer said I had a lot of buzz going. And it was so much happening and so many conversations, all I’ve got are postcards and moments.

One woman walked by and stopped on seeing my booth. “Oh my god, it’s you! You’re the guy!!!” It turns out she bought a bunch of my cards when Doghouse Leather stocked them last month. Because she loves Lego, her partner is a full-on Lego Builder (currently working on a five year project of some Star Wars ship) and she thought the cards were fucking fantastic. I had a fan and I didn’t even know it. The only thing keeping her from buying more was that she couldn’t remember what she already had. But I got some great pointers for other places to vend, notes on what to pitch to Doghouse in future (I need to get started plotting Pride cards).

Actually there was a really fun overlap between kinky people and Lego fans. I think I may have found a market. And most of the kinky people seemed to share my reservations about kinky art, which was wonderful.

There was the undeniable pleasure of watching parents steer kids of a certain age away from my booth. There weren’t supposed to be children at all (no one under 12?) but there were vendor friends and friends of friends so a couple were around and oh, it was hilarious. “Look kids, Legooooooo… and over there, look it’s a clown!” I was dying of laughter.

I brought postcards of my Postcard design and made my costs back in one day, with a bunch of people wishing I had more designs in that form factor, so I’m pondering. I actually put out more of my Seattle cards and got a decent response from them. And the few Dia de los Muertos cards I had sold out before noon.

There was another vendor there who dug the hell out of what I was doing and gave me some direction in terms of touching base within the kink scene. I may have a couple of other leads through her for other projects as well. Meeting her alone was worthwhile. I’ll be dropping her a line tomorrow to see

To cap it all off, I’ve been invited to vend again at another event in July. I can even share space with Maddie to save costs, which sounds really bloody good. I mean, I was expecting to be stared at like a dog that’s been shown a card trick and instead I found people who dug me. Or knew people who would. Or took my card and…

It was wonderfully reassuring.

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Portrait of the artist as an exhausted vendor

And finally yesterday’s shoot consisted of headshots, some pics of the new space and not a lot more. Better, it was with people who I’d worked with before so it was actually really simple. And then an impromptu business seminar with my friend giving me some good pointers on how to build my business. While I still have to work on all those photos, it’s not like a mass of Spinurn shots. Or even a typical shoot with Maddie for that matter.

But that’s tomorrow. Tonight…

It’s been real and it’s been fun and I’m so glad it’s over. Not least of all because I haven’t had a lot of time or energy to focus on the next batch of schemes, y’know? So much has been building towards vending that I haven’t had time to shoot or plot or even plan new shoots. Just accumulate elements and tools for those shoots. Or plan to accumulate stuff.

Now I can do. And the ideas are there, waiting. I went to the Lego store today to get some more minifigs for the next wave of cards, both kink and regular. I have ideas of how to brand two different card lines, my photography business, a mailing list and maybe even more?

Is this what confidence feels like?

Watch this space. I see a mailing list in the works, at least.

pin-up push back

I mean, really, the thing that I love most of all about pin-up photography is the creativity.

The boundless variety involved. You can have a brunette or a blonde or even a redhead!

And the poses! Don’t get me started.

Lowest common denominator sexy. Take model, put in retro clothes and styling, pose in a style that Vargas made famous with a facial expression never seen in nature….

Just add Pose 16-b in Outfit Bikini 4 (red) holding a Prop from the Closet.

Believe it or not, I love pin-up artists. Give me an Elvgren girl any day of the week. But that’s because they’re working in sheer fantasy, regardless of the photo references involved. And I like that fantasy because I can buy into it.

It’s the translation into the real world of three dimensions where I can’t help but wonder if it hurts to sit like that or walk in those shoes for too long that I get lost. And yet, because the modern translation is aping those classic looks, there’s the expectation that, hey, isn’t she…?

I always liked the idea of intellectual pinup. The idea of making it personal to the model or subject instead of forcing them into the mold. I haven’t managed it yet. Maybe this summer?

resting fire face

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I’m deeply amused whenever anyone complains about how they’re never smiling in their Spinurn pictures. “I always look so serious, y’know?”

Dude, you’re playing with FIRE! I get it.

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Don’t get me wrong, as a photographer I love it when someone plays to the camera or looks like they’re having a blast. But as a fellow flow… person… thing… I also understand how hard it can be to relax enough to look at the audience or a photographer or, say, anything but the BALL OF FLAMING MATERIAL YOU’RE SPINNING PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO YOUR FACE!!!!!

Because, trust me, no matter how familiar you are with your prop, no matter the safety training you’ve done, it’s fire and I think our hind brains will never stop reacting to it as such, because to do otherwise would be potentially perilous.

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So yeah, I’m happy for the pictures of people having fun and laughing. But if they’re not expressive…

Don’t we all kind of get why?

Welcome to 2018

tumblr_nxrm46oD4w1r5v028o1_1280.pngCan we agree that resolutions kind of suck?

They’re so easy to self-sabotage. Getting a gym membership doesn’t mean you’re actually going to use it, which gyms frequently count on. You may have the best intentions ever to write that Great American Novel, but writing?

It’s daunting as fuck. And for everyone who finds motivation in their artist’s journals and their scheduled times or whatever, there are countless others who just can’t make it stick no matter their intentions. Myself included. The Artist’s Way might as well have been a guide to anxiety for me. “Did I…? Oh god no, and then I have to…”

That said, I have taken a photograph almost every day for the past two years but it wasn’t a challenge or a resolution. I just noticed that it was kind of happening after I got my first iPhone, so I kept doing it. They’re not all great artistic works, but they’re pictures. They force me to keep my eye open, even if I have to make the tableau myself with a bunch of Lego. It’s so regular it’s practically a barometer for my mood. Did I take a picture? No? Something’s up and I should mention it to my therapist at the next appointment.

And that’s what works for me.

So yeah, no novels here. No Great Works. And I think we would all do well to not get bogged down in Big Epic Dreams With No Small Steps.

That said…

I think we should stop being tired. I think we could maybe stop with the excuses and justifications for why we aren’t doing something. Anything. Stop saying that because the rest of the world is doing the same thing or doing something to a larger audience than you that, really, why bother?

And maybe… do it instead?

Instead of automatically bingeing the next show on Netflix, take five or ten minutes every day to do whatever the hell it is you want to be doing. Take pictures? Write the novel? Learn the dance? Sketch?

Plot, plan, scheme and then do!

Because as tired as we are, as weary or drained as we are from the day’s efforts, I think we owe it to ourselves to do something. Anything. And by breaking it down into manageable chunks, we can build up our tolerances and our endurances and our instincts to a point where we might be able to do these things with pleasure or instinctively or better or longer.

You don’t win a marathon the first time you put on a pair of sneakers. Hell, you don’t run a marathon with your first pair of trainers. I have friends who run marathons, they trained and practiced and watched their diets and so on and so forth. And we hear about that and think yeah, well, that makes sense for running.

But I want to paint! And the museum is already full.

I want to dance! And I’m not going to be cast in Swan Lake.

I want to take a picture of a woman wearing that outfit in that lighting… but someone else took it and I think it sucks but it’s been done so fuck that.

And we’re all… so… tired…

Me too. Take five minutes. Take a picture. Sketch a coffee cup. Write a scene of dialogue between two characters. Then try for ten minutes. Then write a chapter. Try NaNoWriMo! I did that years ago and had a blast.

Take that damned picture and make it yours!

And if you don’t like it after a chunk of time, if you’re not getting That Rush of Creativity, give yourself permission to try some new thing. And also kick your ass to try some new thing.

I just took a picture a day for a while until that picture a day became two years with a couple lapses. And now, with exceptions because I have some shitty fucking days where I can’t pull my head out of my ass or see anything but my own anxiety, I have my eyes open for a picture. Or an idea after seeing a Lego minifig.

Because I showed up enough that the muse is usually there waiting.

2018: Show up, Show up, Show up.

merry kinkmas

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Two things about these images.

First, yes, I know I’m going to a very special hell when I die. Obviously. But there’s something appealing and fun about coming up with such odd things.

Second, this is why I kind of love Lego photography.

I had the idea for the first image, set it up, snapped it and walked away. Then some marketing part of my mind kicked in and thought that, y’know, there’s probably an audience for the same sex/leather daddy version of this image. A quick swap (and no small amount of angry muttering as things kept falling over) later and I took the second picture. And I was done.

What happens next? Eh, maybe cards next year? Or at SEAF? I dunno. But I dug the hell out of the process.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

let’s get critical

I fancied myself something of a poet when I was in college. I wrote a lot, hit a bunch of open mic and went through the standard cliched Bukowski phase (because of course). When I moved to Seattle in 1999 I imagined that here I would find my artistic transformation and take over the scene. I got published a couple of times, which was cool, but after a while I just drifted away and got bored. Shades of things to come.

But I think of it all now and again, particularly in terms of constructive criticism and the best bit of advice I ever got as any kind of creative person. Something I still use to center myself and wish I had the chutzpah to pass on in the proper setting.

Long story short, I was a member of an online writer’s forum and I had just posted my Epic to a criticism group. Looking back, it was an angsty bit of twaddle full of adolescent rage and “You don’t understand MAN!!!!” rhetoric. At the time, though, I thought I’d cracked something and the praise would just come pouring in.

The first comment has stayed with me to this day, decades later.

“I’m glad you got that off your chest. Now go write a poem.”

Of course I was furious. Didn’t he get it? Didn’t he see? OMG!!!! I had feelings!!!!

But eventually I calmed the hell down and I thought about it. And while, at the time, I was still quite smitten with what I’d written, I began to see it for what it was. That it was trite and monotonous and, ok, yeah, fine…

It wasn’t a poem. It wasn’t good.

But maybe next time…?

In a weird way, I think this is the best constructive criticism I’ve ever gotten. I’m serious. It didn’t faff about talking about the imagery or the emotions involved. It was blunt and it knocked me on my ass and it made me think. Eventually.

And I think about it now whenever I’m in any kind of creative group or community that doesn’t have room for constructive criticism. Where everything’s great and everyone’s amazing and, oh my god, where did you get your ideas to post yet another picture of a naked girl by a waterfall? Again?

On the one hand, everyone has different goals in their artistic journeys. I get that in my fire spinning groups. I’m pretty content to flow and call it good while others will practice for hours at a time to perfect every move. Hell, there’s room for fine art and coloring books, selfies and studio photography, Bob Ross and Pablo Picasso. Who am I to critique someone who’s just having fun taking pictures? Hell, honestly I wouldn’t like people to inundate my Instagram feed with unasked for criticism.

On the other, I think a little criticism would do us all good as creative people, especially in groups or communities dedicated to the arts. It doesn’t have to be mean or dickish, but a little bit of bluntness maybe? Or even the freedom to respond to someone asking “what do you think?” with something other than just a polite “nice!”

Or, more frustrating to me, being silent because, as we all know, if you can’t say anything nice…

I’d like to say something honest. I’d like to say something constructive. I’d like to say that I can’t make out the model in the chaos of the background. That the photo isn’t “mysterious” so much as I just can’t tell what the hell is going on. Or that it’s minifigure on moss. That the colors are great but how is this different from the last picture? Or the pose is great but the composition could’ve used some work.

On the one hand, the artist doesn’t have to do a damn thing about any of it. But maybe the next time they approach a concept, something will resonate? Or maybe someone else will read it and think of it the next time they plan a shoot? And maybe we can all develop thicker skins and grow?

Just by being honest.