October 2010

An autumn field and sunset in the country

Rolling country fields at sunset... taken while living in PA.

I’m juggling a few balls in the air, so expect some goodies in the coming weeks…

First, the deadline for Etsy’s Space Craft contest, partnered with NASA – is literally days away, and I’ve got an awesome entry for it! Regardless of whether my piece earns a place, this portrait inspired by the intergalactic aspirations of our forefathers is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine.

Here’s a sneak peek… but you’ll have to wait until after this weekend to see the rest!

helioscope dated to 1880s and TaraFly's digital art telescope rendering

A helioscope dating back to the 1880's, and my digitally painted version

Jane Bennet’s portrait is also coming along and I will be unveiling her next week as well.

I’m happy to report that my first cat doll has received some rough toddler handling over the last few weeks, and has passed the durability test without flying fur… eh, stuffing. I may be looking into streamlining a line of dolls once I perfect the pattern. Okay, once I actually draw a pattern… 😉

I have a new T-shirt design featuring Mr. Bennet, which I think is just adorable. He is already available in my Zazzle shop, but I would love to sell some of these shirts on my site and Etsy, although I can only produce them myself as iron-on transfers at the moment… screenprinting seems more popular, so I will check into whether my multi-colored designs can be affordably reproduced onto shirts.

My other transfers have held up really well, so far… and I’m very lazy when it comes to following laundering directions. I laugh maniacally at the symbols and throw everything together. Everything gets put into the dryer, whether it should be line-dried or not. Yeah, beat me with an environmentally friendly stick.

When I lived in the country, we had a clothesline which I attempted to use, but I never quite managed to get the hang of it. The clothes were either rigid or full
of spiders, but my ex-husband hated the electric dryer and cussed at me for using it.
(One wonders why he bothered leaving it hooked up…. was it the proverbial Tree of Knowledge?)

Nowadays, convenience and fluffy clothes win out… unless these ghastly electric bills climb any higher.

I noticed some faint crackling in the transfer after they escaped the heat, but it gives them a worn, lived-in character. The colors are still bright, and nothing is peeling.

TaraFly modeling her artwork Red Coat Soldier Cat on T-shirt

Here was the shirt I made with Red Coat Soldier Dommie.

My transfer directions also specify that shirts should be washed wrong-side-out. Hehe That never happens. I don’t separate colors and whites either… The majority of my wardrobe predates all three of my children, and none of the fabric bleeds or shrinks anymore. 😉
I do wash everything in cold water, unless it’s extremely soiled, to save money.

Speaking of saving money…. ahem. Since the holidays are around the corner and people need gifts to buy, and I need money to buy gifts…
Beginning Monday, November 1st, I will be offering Free Shipping on orders over $25.00 in my Etsy shop This applies to both domestic and international customers; the shipping costs will be refunded through Paypal.
And orders over $50.00 will receive a 10% discount and free shipping, also via Paypal refund.
Because Etsy still hasn’t given me the one thing on my Christmas list: a coupon/discount system for customers. And I’ve been good this year… 😛

A similar offer will be available on my website: free shipping for orders over $25.00… however, every new or existing customer to my Art Shop (between Nov. 1st and Dec. 31st) will receive a 10% discount on any purchase, regardless of the total.
It would be awesome if I could bring some additional traffic to my website, since I sweated and slaved over it for months.

Which reminds me…. when you’re visiting my site in the coming months, you might notice some tinkering behind the scenes, as I experiment with different colors, graphics, and the site map. I’m looking for an alternative to my landing page, perhaps using site highlights (latest blog excerpts, sales info, etc).
The Neapolitan color theme is also wearing out its welcome – well, the strawberry pink color is anyway.

white tan brown color palette for website

my current and prospective color palettes

I’ve been toying with the idea to get rid of the sugary pink altogether, or at least eliminate it from my headers, and focus primarily on white… with accents of tan/sienna and chocolate brown/black. Think – calico cat! I want to invoke the feeling of calico fur, and also brown is a comforting, studious color that reminds me of archival parchments, cavernous libraries, and dusty books. 🙂

You can imagine how this indecisiveness makes it difficult to market myself… alas, I’m still using business cards with fire-breathing Dominic on them! LOL It’s hard to believe that he was still the focal point of my website 10 months ago… it was so hard to say good-bye.
Perhaps I’ll design something for him especially for the holidays, as a tribute. The Christmas Cat who tends the fireplace, or the Thanksgiving guest who spit-roasts the turkey…

On the horizon… after Jane B and the Mystery Piece are finished, work on patient Mr. Bingley will begin in earnest. Joe and I also discussed adding more photomanipulations to my Regency series, in addition to “Gazing On Pemberley” and “The Letter”… as they are always well received. Perhaps something with an autumn or winter flavor. (I particularly like the potential of my opening image, the field).
And I’m also planning to create another Mr. Darcy Limited Edition print for the yuletide season, same number of prints: (50) 8×10 and (20) 11×14 sizes.

As with Halloween Darcy, they will only be on the market for a limited time during the holidays. If any prints remain afterwards, their listings will be taken down until the following October. So you’ll have to wait a whole year, and hope a few remain, unless you get one soon. 😉

Phantom Masked Cat by TaraFly framed limited edition reproduction

Phantom Darcy Limited Edition (shown here framed)

Yes, I realize this post sounds terribly “spammy”… which is why I rarely write updates on my work and need lots of practice. But now that I’ve shared everything with you, and all these inspiring ideas and irritating To-Dos aren’t crashing around in my brain, I can regain focus and start checking things OFF the list.

Yeah, and don’t even get me started on the Holiday Boot Camp thing… editing my titles and tags (again!) and including metric dimensions in each shop listing.

Does anyone know where I can hire a rabid pack of zombie cheerleaders?
It is Halloween, after all… 😛

4-year-old visiting the zoo tropical rainforest

Lydia exploring the tropical rainforest habitat - The National Zoo, Wash. D.C.

You’ll often hear me complaining about not having “enough time”… how the household chores and caring for the little beasties manage to both distract and drain me creatively.
The advice I hear most: “Cherish these days with your children. They grow up so fast.” …usually from empty-nesters who are looking back at their own missed opportunities.

And I want them to know that, deep down, I do cherish these days.

I made a conscious decision to put my family first when I left my full-time job.
I didn’t quit to embark on the USS Entrepreneur-Ship, and become a self-employed artist, as exotic as that sounds. I accepted the role of stay-at-home Mom because I was tired of letting other people raise and mother my children, and being held at their mercy.
When your child is sick (and that darn daycare center that you pay for dearly each week won’t accept kids with fevers)… and you’re scrambling to find an emergency sitter at the last minute, otherwise you’ll be forced to miss work – leaving your boss angry and your paperwork piling up…. the decision to stay home permanently seems reasonable. Even feasible.

Well, there were many other factors leading to the decision to remain at home… it was seriously a tough call to make, because I was a total workaholic until 2 years ago. Putting in extra hours on the job, and working every holiday, was par for the course as a retail manager. I completely defined my sense of self by a title and a paycheck.
But I haven’t regretted one single day, and you want to know why?

Are you sure? Cause I’m about to confess something truly horrible about myself…

There was a time when I was utterly shallow, and completely focused on myself at the expense of others.

My oldest daughter and my first husband were victims of my immaturity and selfishness. Unlike my second divorce, which is one of the few holidays I actually celebrate, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Lydia’s father. He is a great guy, honestly.
It was my fault that I couldn’t remain content as a working mom living an ordinary life. I wanted excitement and freedom, with nobody to hold me accountable, and no one to tie me down.
Immediately after leaving him, I booked a flight to London. Yes, England.
I went all by myself, just because I felt like it.
I also switched jobs, for a change of scene, and I returned to the stage…

TaraFly performing on stage

Simple Joys of Maidenhood

See, as a teenager, I wasn’t serious about becoming a fine artist, although I took a few elective art classes and participated in student shows.
Acting was my real passion. I lived and breathed the theatre atmosphere, and throughout high school I focused on making acting my future career.

TaraFly as Elaine Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace

I have portrayed Elaine Harper in two Arsenic and Old Lace productions.

Performing arts colleges were the only schools I applied for, and turned down a possible full scholarship offered by the University of Dallas because it stipulated that I major in Latin. (My Latin teacher apparently recommended me to her contacts there – sending along my grades and exam scores)

Singing Christmas carols in "Wonderful Life"

It's A Wonderful Life finale... I've portrayed Violet and Mary in separate shows.

Although it was my intention to get a BFA, and I was actually accepted to the first school of my choice, passing the auditions and all… life had other plans for me.
Actually, that’s a whole blog unto itself, and it speaks volumes about my fiercely independent nature.

Eight years after graduation, I had a house, a job, and a 4-year-old daughter. The desire to reclaim my life took hold… I joined the theatre community again,
to express myself creatively and delve back into the artistic social scene. Unfortunately, I neglected my family and spent all this newfound “free time”
pursuing my hobbies.

Sunset sky view of mountain hillside and country field

The Hills of Rural Pennsylvania

My soon-to-be-2nd-ex and I had purchased land in the mountains, which meant a two-hour round-trip daily work commute. My chosen theatre was 1.5 hours in the opposite direction.
So, my typical day went something like this:

  1. Awake at 3:30AM… (shower, dress, eat)
  2. Leave house at 3:45-4:00AM
  3. Arrive at work: 5:00AM*
  4. Work ends: 2:00PM
  5. Arrive Home: 3:00PM…. (eat early dinner, change clothes, “family time”)
  6. Leave for Theatre: 4:30PM
  7. Rehearsal Begins: 6:00PM
  8. Rehearsal Ends: 10:00-11:00PM
  9. Arrive Home: 11:30PM-12:30AM

(hopefully fall asleep quickly because alarm goes off at 3:30AM, rinse and repeat…)
*I was a bakery manager then, where early shifts are the norm – the whole fresh doughnut, muffin, breakfast bagel crowd.

Now, it’s obvious that my commute carved a considerable chunk out of my day… and I often spent my lunch hour napping in my car.
But even after I left my second husband and moved closer (to the theatre, lol), spending night after night away from home begins to take its toll on more than
just a car’s engine.

4-year-old daughter asleep in her carseat

Lydia taking her daily nap... buckled into her carseat

I will never forgive myself for treating my daughter like a handbag… if I couldn’t find a sitter, I would drag her along to the theatre, roping my poor co-stars into watching her while I practiced. She would either hang out in the Green Room or sit in the audience, quietly coloring or chatting with strangers.
It wasn’t unusual to find her asleep, curled up in a fetal position in a hard metal chair, at the end of the night. With a jacket draped over her like a blanket.

If there wasn’t time for a home cooked meal, or I didn’t feel like cooking (more than likely)… I would throw some snacks and peanut butter sandwiches in her bag. Or I’d treat her to a fast-food junk meal from Burger King, since we passed it on route.

Of course, if you ask Lydia, she’ll look back with fond memories… the whole experience was like a circus parade for her, full of colorful characters, sparkly costumes, bright lights, cheering crowds, bouquets of flowers… she just ate it up.

She began to talk about wanting to perform in shows herself, and I was so proud to see her following my footsteps, because she had natural ability.
She actually did audition with me once, and was thisclose to getting cast…
The director loved her talent, but decided on a “young” girl with more stage
experience. And I witnessed my daughter’s first rejection as bitterly as if it were my own (although I got a leading role).
The other child turned out to be quite a brat, and the director later confided that overlooking my daughter was a decision he regretted.

TaraFly dressed as nun praying in graveyard

Goofing off during October's Sound of Music rehearsals...

However, it was to be my final show (at least for this chapter of my life)…

Shortly thereafter I met Joe, and finally had a chance to relax and breathe. I had found the man of my dreams, and I began realizing how it felt to “come home” and enjoy simple domestic things.

We didn’t “go out on the town”, instead favoring quiet dinners at home. When Mia was born, those maternal instincts that were late to develop finally emerged… for the first time ever, I didn’t want to return to work after my maternity leave. In fact, I agonized over leaving my baby with strangers.

These were brand new feelings to me then… and very familiar feelings to me now. Something changed in my heart. Or perhaps I just grew up.

There isn’t a day that goes by, when I’m not reminded of all the missed opportunities – those trips to the park and zoo, when my ear was glued to that damned cellphone, the family movies we never watched, the night-time rituals that never developed. Unless you count passing out in the dressing room as a ritual.

Three children walking to the park play ground

They'll never walk alone.

I’m trying my best to make amends now, and I cherish the innocence of my younger children who have never been reprimanded for talking to their mother in the middle of a scene, who have never stepped back stage, or watched strangers getting (un)dressed, or spent a night away from home.

Seeing them cuddled together on the couch each evening, watching a Disney movie and messily eating their dessert, is a picture I wouldn’t trade for any amount of money or fame.

Or time.

Acrylic painting of saluting ARMY cat by TaraFly, dressed in US military uniform

ARMY Cat was one of my earliest and most popular paintings for sale.

A few weeks ago, one of Etsy’s coordinators/admins, DanielleXO, announced her plans to host a “Holiday Boot Camp” to assist sellers with their shop preparations.

Since I don’t spend hours lurking in the forums, I found out a few days later from the head of EFA – EtsyForAnimals, Michele (MVegan5), when she sent me a personal convo congratulating “ARMY Cat” for being nominated as “Boot Camp Mascot”. …And politely admonishing me for not being an active EFA participant, although I’d removed most of the associated links and tags, in order to feel less guilty about riding on their coattails.
So I was obligued to replace the links, tags, join the various Yahoo and Facebook groups, and make a couple forum appearances.

TaraFly featured in Etsy Success Holiday Boot Camp Treasury

Nominees for Holiday Boot Camp mascot, voted on by the Etsy community

There was a public vote in Etsy’s Treasury, and Lou the Monster won by a landslide, but I do appreciate all the folks who voted for me (including many EFA team members)… it was humbling, and more than a bit embarrassing.

A few members were brutally honest: “TaraFly who?” Bwahaha. And I appreciate them as well, for voting according to their instincts, and not being swayed by a group newsletter endorsing a prodigal member. 😉

At last, I decided to join the bandwagon and enlist in this Boot camp experiment myself. I’ll admit to needing a boatload of motivation to keep up with everyone else… as I tend to dig myself under a rock during the holiday season, and my shop sales reflect it.
This year, I vowed to myself that I would do everything possible to promote and improve my business (on Etsy and elsewhere) because we could really utilize the extra income this season.

Etsy wanted us to write a mission statement… what inspires us to “work our butts off” this year. On the surface, my statement is simple and obvious: “I don’t want to feel guilty anymore.”

I felt guilty browsing for toys at the Goodwill last year, guiltier still for writing Lydia an IOU for a big-ticket item she really wanted.
“Let’s wait until our tax return comes, Okay?”

TaraFly's daughter Mia hugging a half-finished handmade stuffed cat doll

The kids loved the stuffed cat doll even before she was finished...

I’m content to live without wealth, and to make things for our kids to wear and play with, and we’re setting an example for them, right? Don’t expect a lavish spread of expensive gifts, because god-forbid it isn’t healthy to spoil the children and make them ungrateful little materialists. Blah, blah…
I’d still like to be able to purchase at least a couple things on their modest wish lists.

Under the surface, guilt plays a hand in how I feel about myself and my contributions to this family as well. I had always measured my worthiness by a job-title, a paycheck, or my value to a company.
Now I feel guilty that Joe carries the weight of our household on his shoulders, and every time he comes home under stress from employer-fueled issues, I want to tell him to quit, get a new job, or at least take a vacation. Unfortunately, none of those options are feasible right now. I need to be able to contribute more to our bottom line without sacrificing the family-oriented lifestyle we’ve built.
(i.e. NO daycare, we’ve had enough of that drama!)

TaraFly's son and husband taking a walk at the park

Joe and Jakey take off, exploring the park...

When we met, we were both working for the same company, and bonded over shared responsibilities. Although we have many other things in common (cheesy sci-fi movies, cats, gardening, Photoshop), I’ve noticed a shift in the way we discuss our day. He doesn’t share work-related things with me anymore, and I don’t “bore” him with my domestic frustrations much either.. because we’re living in two different worlds and we both feel the other wouldn’t “get it”.
Just watch the way his eyes glaze over when I mention SEO and Google in the same sentance. 😛

I reminisce back to our first lunch date, where he divulged his dream of owning a workshop, building furniture and various wooden objects… and he boldly suggested I could be the resident artist who embellished the pieces. I’d love to be able to afford all the tools he needs, and hire him to build some jewelry boxes, picture frames, lawn decorations, shadowboxes, shelves, and countless other goodies for me to add some painted Regency Cat scenes.

Optimally, I want to be successful enough, over time, to enable him to quit altogether and work for me!

I selfishly want to draw him into my corner, and teach him everything about running Zen-cart and Etsy, how to program code, list items, and upload promotional photos… I’d like to teach him about packaging and shipping safely, and let him run all my errands… my own personal assistant… so I could spend more time painting stuff.
Of course, I’d encourage his creative time in the workshop while I torture the children with a BBC mini-series.

And I occasionally need a break to practice my cheesecake recipes.

“What motivates you?” is not a simple question after all.. but I can appreciate the exercise which causes us to dig deeper and put a human face to the formidable obstacle on our calendars, and in our own minds. In my case, it has four distinct faces… keeping in mind that my family will benefit the most from a successful holiday season.

TaraFly's son Jacob sits in photoshoot of her artwork.

Jake crashes an art photoshoot with his rugged charms.

Etsy’s Bootcamp may end after December, but for me, the lessons learned will need to be revisited often in the up-coming months.
It’s time to take myself a few steps further from this shallow rock.

“You’re not thinking fourth dimensionally. You’ll instantly be transported back into 1885, and those Indians won’t even be there.”
– Doc Brown, “Back to the Future: Part 3

I recently came across this list of thought processes, and although I haven’t had time to study each definition, who knew there were so many schools of thought? By the way, “fourth dimensional thinking” apparently hasn’t been accepted yet. Sorry Doc.

TaraFly in the car, sticking out her tongue

It's dangerous to let me roam free in public...

So I haven’t yet determined which process(es) my brain uses – if any! – but I can tell you one thing my mind is not capable of: understanding my relative position and orienting myself in unfamiliar surroundings. Basically, I get myself lost. A lot.

For some reason, my brain can’t paint an imaginary map and stick a thumb tack in my current location… I require step-by step directions and/or descriptive visual landmarks.

Embarrassingly, I don’t even know my own neighborhood well enough to explore off the beaten path. Once I memorize the steps needed to reach a destination, I never deviate from the trail.

Washington Street midday traffic in Hagerstown Maryland

A former neighborhood of mine... populated by crazy folks. 😉

My husband, on the other hand, can picture the entire city laid out inside his brain, and can figure out half a million short-cuts to arrive anywhere he wants.
Whereas, I take specific streets bypassing familiar landmarks, and will go “the long way” to avoid getting lost.

If you give me directions to your house, such as:
“Once you pass the red brick building with cement steps, on the left, turn right at the intersection…”
I will always and forever associate your house with that brick building on the LEFT. Coming from the opposite direction, with the house appearing on the right, I would probably not recognize it.
And if for some reason, I’m heading down a perpendicular street, two blocks away… I might as well be in Germany.

And woe to me if I’ve taken the route to your house 50,000 times in fair weather, only to find myself suddenly driving in the dark, or in unfavorable conditions. Impaired visibility leaves me completely disoriented.

Turn of the century buildings in downtown Hagerstown, Maryland

Early century rowhouses in downtown Hagerstown

“Where’s her house?! Where’s that damned red building with cement steps! It’s supposed to be on the left.”

I can easily drive in circles all around it.

Of course, learning the street names often helps… unless the road is 10 miles long and I’m at the wrong end. God, please, don’t get me started on those streets that stealthily change names on poor unsuspecting folk!

Once a route becomes familiar, I often set my internal clock to measure my estimated arrival time. And each landmark acquires its own benchmark: 
“Reach the brick building 15 minutes before ETA.”
Or if I’m faced with a deadline, it becomes “…gotta pass that brick building no later than 7:45AM or I’ll be late.”

A historic building on Washington Street, downtown Hagerstown MD

A historic stone building located at a busy intersection

Of course, those who have ridden as my passengers will eagerly tell you that my timeframes are grossly exaggerated. It doesn’t really take the average person 45 minutes to get there…. but those speed limits are supposed to be a glass ceiling, not merely a guideline.

With me behind the wheel, you’ll have time to stick your face out the window to smell the roses… and take a macro shot of them as well.

And I hyperventilate on highways, refusing to use them unless I have no other options. Trust me, I ask everybody to learn whether there is a back road over the mountain I can take first.

a cornfield beside a two-lane road in rural Maryland

Driving on an overpass, wishing I'd taken that road instead

Even sticking to the slow lane on the interstate isn’t enough to save me from crazy lunatics and impatient wannabe Nascar drivers. They blame me for clogging the road, and I blame Ford for inventing these motorized death-traps, when we’d all be safer driving carriages powered by real horses.

I’ve often thought it would be nice to eliminate highways and major roads altogether, and return to the good old days of wagons and stagecoaches… except that I do appreciate how technology has brought convenience into my life. Can anyone say 24 hour supermarkets?

Intersection of I-81 and I-70 near Hagerstown, Maryland

Going home, after an afternoon outside among real people...

Besides, if I did discover time travel, and transport myself back to 1885… I’d take a wrong turn down an ambiguous muddy lane (in a lightning storm) and never be seen or heard from again.

Black Cat Eye digital painting by TaraFly in a frame

My oldest daughter has only been in third grade for a month, and she’s been reprimanded twice for talking in class. She swears, however, that she’s improved greatly…
“They yelled at me for talking a lot more last year.”
My dear, it’s only October.

She inherits this gene from my mother, and the incessant chatter can be really irritating. Before you make any further comparisons, I must defend myself by saying that my incessant, rambling thoughts are contained in my mind… and in my writing. If you read my 3,000 word blogs and ridiculously mundane Facebook posts, you’re only receiving half the story… because offline I’m typically quiet, and downright unsociable at times.

I am pleased to note, though, that her recent aptitude test scores revealed a reading level on par with an average seventh grader.
She inherited that from me… naturally. 😉

“You probably never got in trouble for anything, did you?” It wasn’t really a question, because she assumed I would say:
“Of course not! I was a good kid.” (like my husband does) … and I almost did.

Except that I suddenly recalled that it wasn’t true. I did get into trouble occasionally for forgetting to finish my homework. I also received a couple disappointing grades on assignments that felt like a slap on my face… although admittedly, I was rushing to complete them at 1:30 in the morning… the same morning they were due. 😛

Truth be told, I’ve suffered from procrastination my entire life. And my poor kids will probably never outgrow their ability to talk a deaf mule’s ears off.
The only thing one can do is harness it, somehow, and make it work for you.

Take my loathing to complete time-sensitive tasks for example… you can look at my situation two ways.
I’m either always late, or I’m incredibly early.

Last year, when my artist friends were rushing around being productive, preparing for “the season” with their calendars and Halloween-Turkey-Yuletide masterpieces…
I was painting holiday-free fare like Composer Cat (a commission, granted), Indian Sari Cat, and the veeeery summer invoking “Gazing Upon Pemberley”… the photomanipulation I decided to create in November.
Well, I did toss out “Trick Or Treat Kittens” at the eleventh hour, and sold it on eBay to a UCLA faculty member.
But two of my creepiest pieces weren’t created until December and January… long after the Halloween decorations were taken down or baked into pumpkin pies.

When the wrapping paper and ribbon goes on clearance, it’s my cue to get festive … nothing wrong with that, right? I now have four dark and scary pieces already in my Etsy shop, freshly re-photographed, and starring in Halloween treasuries.

Except that I still haven’t prepared anything for winter. I guess the dread of snowfall doesn’t inspire me.. and so I’ve been dreaming about spring flowers instead.

Pen and ink sketch drawing illustration of Regency Cat by TaraFly

Miss Jane Bennet gathering flowers in a gentle summer breeze.

This is the character profile I drew for Jane Bennet, dressed in light outerwear and shawl, carrying a picked bouquet in her basket.
She is more than a pen sketch now… I’m digitally painting a wooden texture for the picket fence behind her.
So far, I haven’t resorted to photographic textures, but I still might decide to use one for her dress.

Jane Bennet Regency Cat illustration by TaraFly

She, along with Mr. Bingley on horseback, will be appearing in my shop soon, and will patiently sit and wait for the frost to thaw and tulips to bloom.. and they will be right on time.

As often as I’ve talked about moving to Canada, I think we’d be better off heading south to Australia instead.
The flowers are blooming there now. 🙂