Tuesday, September 10, 2013



As artists, we give things worth.

And as doctors, writers, musicians, cashiers, and barristas. Humans all.
But I can't speak for barristas- so we're going with artists for now.

There's my neat little hypothesis, all layed out at the start so I can write you all the way back to it like a good little high-school english student :)

Every now and then, I feel a blog post coming on- and more often than not, they are a long time in the making...usually it takes a good few broods to come to the point where I feel the need to write.

That's today- summer is coming to a close, the wind is crisp and the omnipresent New-England smell of something-burning-in-a-good-way is starting to waft in from everywhere. But rather than talk about pumpkin-spice-everything, I want to talk about something else that's been on my mind (as ever, it's something I need to sort out for my self much more than something I have any authority on- but that is what the self-indulgent blogosphere is for right? and hopefully someone else out there will get something out of it all) I want to talk about worth.

(And, as usual, it'll probably involve me talking about art and God and stuff. So if you're hear just to see some Pokemon, better skip it- more pokemon are on the way eventually :p)

When I don't think too closely, I seem to fall back on the strange idea that worth is objective- that we determine worth according to a system. You know- like money and stuff?
But I think we all know, on further reflection, that it isn't quite right. I'm not an econmonist, and can barely handle simple math (which is why I never worked at Coldstone creamery, tootally different story...) but it seems like that's too simplistic.

When the glove of a beloved baseball player can be sold for thousands of dollars on ebay- ordinary objects sold for FAR above their basic material value, in general- you have to acknowledge that some alchemy is transpiring that isn't purely scientific.
Somebody's screwing with my simple concept of what something is worth. It's got some of that icky subjectivity all up on it. And I'm not fond of subjectivity- it makes all my boxes leak into one another and it's really hard to tidy up my world-view that way.

It seems, to me, that we ascribe worth to things when they are loved. So it follows that we give worth to things when we love them.
Put cynically: The more people love something, the more it can be sold for; the more worth we communally agree it has.

A simple and slightly embarrassing example- but who else hasn't suddenly noticed someone, simply because they were loved or desired by someone else? Suddenly you sit up and take notice, because there must be something you weren't seeing before. Nothing about that actual person is changed, but now the fact that somebody else is interested in them makes you interested.
Bluntly: Ladies in relationships are highly desirable to single dudes (I'm lookin at you, beardo). It seems like people or things who are desirable are, if you follow, desirable because they are desired- it snowballs until nobody knows how on earth someone like Kim Kardashian got her own reality show. Alright, bad example, but-

What does this have to do with art?

I think that when we make art- the best of our art- we love.
We pick out something, and we notice it.
An artist pours all their attention into the things that people otherwise might pass over- the curve of a neck, the crook of a tree trunk, the wrinkling of the nose, the way someone's hand falls just-so on the table, the rough hew of a wooden door, the little bit of green in the blue of the sky as the sun starts to lower itself, the way the moon hangs faintly behind the clouds in the afternoon. I think it's why a lot of us have weird fixations- hairless cats, old worn and ripped things, snakes, strange color combinations, ogres- because we're paying closer attention to overlooked things and finding the beauty.

We notice, and we point people's attention to the details we love most.

That's what makes stylization so alluring- we are simplifying the visual statement to direct your attention to this-kind-of-arm or that-kind-of-smile. We create patterns from our love and attention.
You adore something by focusing all your attention on it. Art is a dimension of love. And from love we begin to derive worth. If we're being not-so-cynical.

So when we make art- we are making value. We are adding value to the things we draw. We are noticing the beauty in something, and showing others who might otherwise never look- and they are looking with fresh eyes at the world around them. They start to notice, too.

A spot becomes worth something because someone painted it. "This is the exact field he painted, and he stood right here!" (for the MA locals, see: Walden Pond)
Somebody noticed this place. There must be something you weren't seeing before. 

Something is worthwhile because it is loved.

Someone is worthwhile because they are loved.

And here's maybe where God steps from behind the curtain (he was there all along, sneaky guy). And it's also where this becomes personal.

I spend so much of my life scrabbling for worth- trying to place myself on an objective ladder- a scale of worth, deciding where I fit and why I matter. I think we all do this to one extent or another, and when you really pull it out and look at it, it's pretty ugly: I'm more-handsome-than-so-and-so but less attractive than what's-his-face. I'm more talented than those people, but far less accomplished than she is.
We let these things determine our worth for us, but are baffled when someone comes along and tells us "you are beautiful." or that very perturbing "I love you".
Is anyone else tempted to pull out the lists and show them how wrong they are? "Well, you see- you're clearly mistaken because you haven't seen what's-his-face. You'd know I can't possibly compete. You're wrong."

I've been struggling with this whole concept lately- because I spend a lot of my life moving between wildly different contexts. I recently went to San Diego for Comic Con, and it was an incredible experience (as it often is) to be a nerd among nerds. It is beautiful and heartening to find others who care and value the things you care about and value. Especially when those things are Pokemon. And in that context, I found that I (absurdly) felt important.
(I often feel the same way on the internet- hits and likes and comments make me feel worthwhile and important. A lack thereof is a hit to my self esteem. I'm sure nobody can relate to that :p)
I felt that I had something to contribute- my art, my interests- I fit somewhere on the worth-ladder, and it made me feel good. I make a kind of sense in nerd-world. I fit.
But returning home is a different story.

The world away from nerddom can be jarring for a variety of reasons, but I'll pick a simple example: I came home to that most dreadful of summer passtimes; a day at the beach. I've always been self-conscious about the way I look. Freelance illustration hasn't done me any favors :p I've spent my whole life chasing a kind of professional worth, and as a result, at the beach, I feel like I don't have anything to contribute. There's a paradigm at work, and fuzzy art-hobbits don't measure up particularly well against bro-guy and his dudebuddies. And being a Brony isn't the same thing.
There are all kinds of beautiful people on display, and if my personal worth is determined by how much I am worth according to the beach paradigm, then I am pretty much a non-entity. I feel pretty worthless at the beach, when just days before I felt on top of the world at a convention of nerds. Weird.
By the time we move on to mini-golf, and I begin to regain some sense of personal worth based on how well I angled that tiny orange golfball under that comically proportioned wind-mill, I begin to think something might be seriously effed up about the way I'm choosing to determine my own value.

But then I think about love. And when I think about love, I think about my parents. I have never had a child- but I can imagine some part of what it must be like to hold a squalling little baby in your hands. And it doesn't matter whether it's handsome or whether it's got great plans for a new graphic novel- it's amazing because it's alive. And you love it because you love it. It's impressive enough to them, even now, that I live and think and breathe and try and struggle and hope. I don't need to accomplish anything to earn that love.

I am not worthwhile because of what comic-con tells me I'm worth. I am not worth what the beach-paradigm of beautiful summer people imply- because I have other kinds of worth, and because you could look rad at the beach and be a pretty crappy dude, and my talent could wax or wane or I could lose my right hand in a car accident and then where would I be in nerd-world? Also, art is neat but it's a shallow place to fix your hope of 'mattering' to the world.

I think this is an important point- both paradigms are broken. The art/work-as-worth paradigm as much as any other. I've seen online and in the art community (and coming out of art-school) a tremendous push towards the mentality of you-are-your-work. The idea that your work, your art, what you bring to the table, determines what you amount to.
I can't stand it. It blows my mind, in particular, when I've found people are jealous of where I'm at while I, all the while, am jealous of the next guy. Working in the video-game industry, illustrating a book, having achieved some measure of 'success' at a young age isn't enough- if you are fixing your hope that attaining those things will make you feel more worthwhile, please stop. It won't. You will always be hungry for more, and we just perpetuate the cycle by telling that lie over and over again.
I think sometimes we feel the need to work ourselves up into this frenzy about the all-importance of our work because otherwise it costs us too much to do it at all. It's the culture in game-development (and film, and illustration, and...) that keeps people away from their families and crunching at their desks until the wee hours. But it's not all-important. It's beautiful and good and edifying and fun. But it's not all important. You are not worthwhile because of what you produce.

You are worthwhile because you are loved.

And not just loved by the people in your life that you care about. Because people's love is fleeting, and even a parent's love is subject to change. Art-worth and body-worth and intellectual-worth all have merit, but ultimately fall short- I will spend all my life chasing after those things, and never ever feeling full. Never feeling worthwhile enough. There will always be someone more beautiful, more intelligent, more talented, more popular, more accomplished, better dressed, and more motivated.

You are worthwhile because you are loved by God.

That's a hard one to get my head around. And to be perfectly honest- I'm still trying to get my head around it.

But my friend (and pastor) Andrew is fond of bringing this thought back again and again; what would the world look like if everyone walked around knowing they were truly, unconditionally loved at the depth of their being? What would people be free to do? What would we stop chasing? How much more could we in turn go and love others. It would be incredible.

And I think he's right. That's what's on offer in Christ. That is close to he heart of what this whole Christian-faith things is about.
It is not a political agenda, or a set of commandments constituting a checklist for worthiness; it is first and foremost a belief that we are loved. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" John 3:16
That is a dream worth striving towards and a hope worth hoping. How could it not profoundly effect my entire outlook on life?

Out of that place, (which is a place I can rarely stay for long before my attention and energy gets sucked away by short-sighted desires to prove my importance) I get so excited about art-making.
Because we can participate in loving, through what we do.

And when our worth comes from somewhere else, we are not earning worth for ourselves when we make art- we are giving it away to others. 

That is one of the ways that making art can be like praying a prayer.
Like thankfulness made manifest.
We can love and show others the worth in things they might have overlooked when we set pen to paper.
And so we can be about our Father's business.

That is incredible.

And if that keeps me at my desk till the wee-hours, then so be it. But I don't want to be driven to make art because I have some sense that it is going to justify my continued existence as a human being...because I've been made to feel that it is me. My work is not my worth (neither is yours)

That is something I need to remember on dark days. And something I often feel like I have little-to-no grasp on. Some days it's really hard to love or care or hope or anything- it's really easy to give up. I'm never sure about anything, and it's just as easy to give up on art as it is to give up on faith. Despair is the easiest thing in the world- I think it's easy to despair when I am convinced that my worth depends on how well the next piece turns out. How impressed people are by me, and realizing that I fall very short by those standards.

And yet, I am blessed beyond what I can hold- I haven't earned a bit of it. I don't deserve the family or friends I have, but all I can do is offer thanks for the love that has been poured out for me. Thank you all, and more than that thank God for the love I don't deserve. "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." Psalm 16: 6
I didn't earn any of that.

Maybe we don't earn worth. Maybe we're given it for free.
Maybe we can give it as freely as we receive it.
Praise God.

I hope you are blessed and feel loved today- truly truly. Wherever this finds you.
Let's draw?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Long Belated Update


It's been entirely too long. As so much has passed since I've last updated this blog.

I almost took a job designing almost-pokemon (but got to stay in the executive suite anyways), I was in the middle of negotiating a deal to design watercolor mascots for a theme park in France (Based on my Pokemon drawings? I know, whaaa??), went to comic-con in San Diego (almost died of the giggles, stood near Harrison Ford, and danced with two Doctor Who's and a youtube celebrity crush), and I slipped away from my duties at EA to take a job illustrating a book with...you know...those Disney people. 
I also spent some summer time watching the sun rise in Maine on a mountain (during which I was extremely grumpy for a variety of reasons, most of which were that it was 4am), rode in a Cessna, and ate one of the best breakfasts of my life. All of which are fine stories, but none of which I will tell here!

What about that book thingie, you ask? I won't go into detail or say much, but I am currently focusing all my creative energies on a fast-approaching deadline for this book. A fairy-tale project for the Maus Haus!
But I am working on a book! Actually illustrating! It is great! Mostly! Except when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing! Then I panic! Woo!

I've been told that I am allowed to show the teensiest bit of work from my project at EA- wanna see?
I was working on a MOBA that is now in Beta called Dawngate! It's apparently lots of fun, though I've never really played much myself (more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses, solve-the-puzzles, read-the-story kind of gamer myself). But it's been a lot of fun being a part of something that is actually out there in the world! And the team at Waystone games team is an absolutely killer group of people...really surprisingly open and engaged with their community for a team that's housed at EA. Big props to those people! Internet-fed prejudices eliminated!


Mostly, I designed skins for the existing Shapers...but one main character I had the privilege of redesigning myself! Her name is Zeri, and if you have played the Beta you've met her already! There are some characters you design because you're assigned them, but Zeri I did for fun. I heard her voice-acting and saw the general idea (a paintbrush wielding art-school chick) and fell in love. Some times you just get attached, you know?
Anyways- they liked what I came up with, and it's in the game! If you get a chance to try out Dawngate, give her a spin...her sound-bites are hilarious :)

all grown up and three dimensional!

And now for something completely different! I've been keeping up freelance work along with my other projects, and one of them was an animated show concept with a local studio called Cloudkid. I can't say anything more about it, since it's still in development. But I have been permission to show some of the work I did for them...which was super fun! I love working in a range of styles to mix things up (part of my ongoing art puberty), and designing a set of characters with expressions and personality strongly in mind was a new experience for me. It's a whole new way of giving life to a design! Also; octodog!

Lastly, on the work-updates-I-can-show-you front! I painted my first ever Vinyl figurine for an art show in Mexico! Check out Trampantojo for deets! I'm still slim on information about the where and when of the show myself- but it was fun!



Looking back over the last few months- it's been a real rollercoaster of events and emotions- not all of them good or fun. Often, when I disappear from the internet it is because a combination of busy and sad are keeping me away. But no more! I am determined to move ever-onward, and glad to have the support of you guys to keep me arting. I can't wait to share the book with all of y'all :)

A couple of quick plugs- if you read and enjoyed my comic from a while back about freelance , then you should follow this twitter account if you want to be amused/terribly terribly sad.

If you are interested in my more frequent thoughts and sketches- I'm on twitter, tumblr, and instagram and post relatively often. Still sticking with this blogger thing, though- cuz I love you guys.

In the meantime, I hope you are super well.
God's blessings and much love!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

West! or The Dream List

So, THIS Freaking Place

Hello, humans!

As seems to be the pattern, it's been a while since my last post- but I am back once again!
And most recently, I am back from San Francisco. A city which, due to the hype that has been laid down by many of my west coasty friends, I was totally prepared to be disappointed in.
Well. I wasn't. It was magical. It was won me over for California- though I am no fan of the palm-tree-ey bits that look like saved by the bell and trapper keepers- the northy bit is neat!
I also happened to be in town on the exact evening that a Beauty and the Beast singalong was underway (after which I proceeded to get lost in the Tenderloin with no money and no ID at midnight, but that is a much longer story for another time). And my very wonderful best brony Liz Mooney's family whisked me away into the hills of Petaluma to smell all the flowers (they do actually have flowers there! LIVING PLANTS, NEW ENGLAND!) and basically drive windingly through a giant Eyvind Earle painting.

But that was not why I was there! No no no, dear reader- I was there on business!

Business indeed- because (and it only just occurred to me that most people don't have a clue this is the case) I am now an employee of EA Games!


I am a character concept artist working a remote contract from my home base in MA. And I got to fly out to the left side of the country to meet my colleagues and see the project first hand. It is a great gig, a fun project, and a team full of excellent folk!
I can't tell you anything about it (and sadly it will mark a return to the making-almost-entirely-secret-work lifestyle of those employed in pretty much any creative industry) but I can at least show you the art test I did that got me the gig- 


It is a timely gig, and one I don't have to relocate permanently for, which is a blessing I cannot do justice in words. God is good, and merciful. 
Regrettably, this comes on the heels of the first round of Jellybots graphic novel pitch not-quite-working-out with publishers. Which was, frankly, kind of heartbreaking- I really really want to  make this book happen. I'll be looking into what to do with that whole thing, and in the meantime I'll at least be able to feed myself and maybe take a nip out of the crushing college debt that prevents me from taking bigger risks.

Still, all this got me thinking about art and life and God and hopes and dreams and what is it that I actually wanted to do with my life, again? 
So I made a list. 
And I'm going to publish it here in the hope that somehow the internet will hold me accountable to having some dreams and hopes and maybe even one day achieving them. SO, help me not give up, internet! And if you happen to be one of the people who could actually help me do one of these things, then fiiind me!

Without further ado (and in no particular order):

The List Of Things I Want To Do (Mostly Art Related, But Not Exclusively) Before I Die:

Write and create my own graphic novels
Work for Disney on an animated feature
Work for Dreamworks as a character artist
Do color-design for a movie
Work with That Game Company
Do any kind of story for First Second Publishing
Travel to warm places, far away
Work on something unabashedly adorable
Work for Laika
Teach Art
Make watercolors of things and be paid for it
Design Pokemon for Gamefreak
Design absolutely anything for Skies of Arcadia 2
Ditto for Jet Set Radio
Oh, and anything Myst related
Be paid for actual voice acting
Be involved in story meetings on an animated feature
Work on Avatar/Korra
Be involved in adapting Redwall for...anything
Harry Potter graphic novel
Work in any capacity on an animated musical (please please please)
Develop dream projects and contribute to the vision of a small company at its outset
Work on something for actual kids. Not grown-ups who have the minds of kids.
Work on Tinkerbell (yes.)
Work on anything remotely as rad as Gravity Falls
Be surprised by something not on this list
Do something non-art related in a beautiful place
Give professional hugs
aaaand eat all the cheese.

So that's all I got right now!
It's really cathartic to get that out there- It's not a comprehensive list, and what's neat about dreams is that they change and grow and die and return. But sometimes it's hard to remember what it is you're even shooting for, and then it's easy to get stagnant and stop trying. SO LET'S NOT DO THAT!

I'm curious, wonderful and patient readers- what are your hopes and art-dreams?

I hope you are better than me today. I came home from travel with the 24 hour death-flu. I will be ok soon. Or I will be dead.
Either way, have some Pokemon!

Much love!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Hi all!

I am coming to the end of a lull in work. Things have quieted down, and that affords me an opportunity to blog before it gets all crazy again.

I'm going to attempt to keep it brief this time (HA!).
But if you'll indulge me, I need to process something I've been grappling with: Art-fear.

I feel like I've been going through (a second) art-puberty for the last several months. I've been experimenting with style and trying to find ways to get excited about making pictures again. I've been doing the same thing for a while now, and in order to get away from it all I started taking long bike rides and watercoloring- which I found was just about the only thing I've wanted to do.

It's therapeutic. I do a lot of art for other people- to see their reaction, to get a paycheck, to feed my insatiable approval-hunger. But watercolor I generally do for me.

The thing about watercolor is: It doesn't do what you want it to.

Watercolor does what it wants. It arrives when it arrives and it's more or less up to you to get on board. The less control you exert, the better it will be. It's permanent, unforgiving, and you have to take a leap of faith with your precious drawing.
If you let it surprise you, it will give you better gifts than if you assert your control.
It requires trust.

Photoshop, on the other hand, is all about control- what color would you like? Have you adjusted the contrast lately?  Are you sure about that pixel, sir? UNDO UNDO!

So I started to play. And I did a sketch (up top) that I really liked. The thing was- between pen and watercolor, there's no way to erase, precious little control, and no time for second thoughts.
I didn't know who that kid was going to be when I started- he just happened. Does he have anatomy? pffff. Is he a "Great Design"? naw. Will people be impressed? probably not.
But something surprising occurred and I was holding the brush when it happened and I liked it. So naturally I wanted to do it again.
Womp Womp.
Man plans. God laughs. Watercolor does what it wants.

The blank page can be totally paralyzing when you bring expectations to it.
"I don't know what I'm going to draw, but it's got to be amazing!" is a pretty sure guarantee you're going to make stiff, awkward, insincere garbage. Fear makes me a terrible artist.

So I sat down and I froze up and awkwardly tried to put pen to paper and wound up with this mess:


Maybe you like it fine. Maybe the shirt turned out alright and the watercolor was gracious with me, but that face is a turd (at least it wasn't what I was hoping for/what I felt I was capable of) I was afraid, and by the end of sketching I was SO FRUSTRATED.

I left the coffee shop I was sitting in and went to see a friend in a cloud of art-angst.
During our conversation we got to talking about fear and expectations, and I vented about my unsuccessful sketch. And he reminded me of something I've told people, students, myself...time and time again...

"You have to give yourself permission to suck."

To make god-awful, un-viewable hot-garbage. You have to go there. You have to make your worst art. TRY to make bad sketches. Stop being afraid of it- leap into the blank page and make a mess. Break the seal. Look that giant boss-monster straight in its terrifying red eye and then throw your sword away, put on your most ridiculous hat and do your most alarming dance. You might not kill the monster, but you might make it so uncomfortable that it just leaves. It doesn't want to eat your kind of crazy.

I forgot that. And fear makes me seize up and I make no art at all.
If I want to improve I have to remember- bad art is better than no art. Always.
At least you're moving.
In high-school theatre the director could shape the performance of that one girl with the loud voice who would sing anything at the top of her lungs, out of key. You could work with that.
But good freaking luck pulling anything out of the wallflower who's too shy to make a peep. It's like pulling teeth.
God can help direct you once you start moving.

So I sat down and I made some hot garbage.

Hot Garbage. 

Maybe you like it, maybe you don't. That is a terrible cup. And what even is that underneath it?
I can promise you all of these looked heinous before watercolor. But I would submit to you that each sketch here is better than the stiff, awkward attempt at a mustachioed fellow above. They all turned out better, stranger, more alive.
I did this so fast and so frantically. And once the dust cleared, I didn't feel paralyzed anymore.

Nobody yelled at me. Nobody was "disappointed, son". The world didn't fall apart, and now I have two pages full of raw material. New experiments!
So if you're afraid, I prescribe making a mess. Go a little crazy. Draw only what you want, as fast as you can, let it be awful...like, really awful and unrecognizable. And let Control-Z take a flying leap.

It's weird, and I hope you'll allow me to wax poetical- but I feel like watercolor is teaching me things about God, about love, about decisions and life. "Let go- trust. Move. Make work, don't fear." God is (once again) speaking "art" to me because he knows I'll hear it when he does.

Praise the Lord for grace like that.


As the experiment continues, I've been trying to find ways to combine my love of watercolor with the colors I get digitally. I may even break out more colors than Prussian Blue eventually! Who knows? Baby steps.

I defy you, perspective.

To keep moving, practicing and experimenting I started painting Pokemon (because that's kind of all I want to draw these days) and then decided to join the Pokemonathon! I'm gonna draw em all! :)
You can follow my progress at pkmnathon.tumblr.com and nicholaskole.tumblr.com!

But since you're all so lovely and have listened so far, here's a look at the set so far (with a few I haven't posted on tumblr yet):

That's it for now.
I wish you the very best and God's blessings in chilly, icky winter!
Much love,


Friday, January 4, 2013

Goodbye, 2012.

"I have no Plan B" has been a phrase that's been doing laps around my head recently.
But writing it down I realize I'm not even sure if I've got a plan A.

As a friend recently phrased it: "You know how I was seeing the new year as this big...cliff? Where I didn't know what was past it? Well. I'm here!"

I feel the need to eulogize 2012. If only to put it behind me.

Many years come and go and sort of blend into eachother as they pass, but 2012 was a year that I think I will always remember.
My little life was turned quite upside down. At the start of 2012 I was in love, employed, and living in Providence. We had just had a beautiful Christmas, and the upcoming weeks of winter meant there was more time during the week and on the weekends to sneak away and have adventures. Work was wearing on me, and I was dreaming about what I'd do after the game wrapped up and launched. Within the company the tension and anticipation was growing: we were entering what we thought would be a long crunch-time before the game's (seemingly) inevitable release.
But my heart wasn't in crunch- I was feeling reluctant and contented. No adventures, thank you. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things- make you late for dinner.
Change was not the plan- I had a good thing going.

But getting your dreams- it's strange but it seems a little, well...complicated.
There's a kind of a sort of...cost.
There's a couple of things get...lost.
There are bridges you cross you didn't know you'd crossed until you've crossed. 
-Thank Goodness from Wicked. 
This part always wrecks me. Getting what you think you want can suck. 

Over the course of 2012 a lot changed- in rather spectacular fashion. Fireworks, Gandalf.
In the course of a few months right in the middle of it, I broke up with my girlfriend, lost my job (along with 300 coworkers as the company hit an iceberg and sank slowly under the fiscal sea. "Too-big-to-fail" took on a new and sinister meaning), I moved out of the city and home to my folks, and both my dog and my grandfather passed away. The silence that followed it all was deafening.
I wasn't enjoying this adventure anymore.

"O!" said Bilbo, and just at that moment he felt more tired than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favorite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time."

And in the middle of all that, a dear friend's sister was in a car accident. The crash paralyzed her from the waist down and limited the use of her hands. If I've ever needed a slap in the face to stop feeling sorry for myself, it was then- and there it was. I will try not to over-romanticize it, but the bare facts are these- I don't know what all her plans were, but they all certainly changed.
And somehow, through it all, with the church rallying around her and her family drawing in near-  it would never be the same, but somehow it was going to be...good. Because there was love. you could see it: God was there.
It was tragic, but it was also one of the most hopeful things I've ever seen.

Her story is bigger than this, but it got me thinking.
There was a moment, driving down the highway and into Providence, when I realized anything -anything- could be taken from me. At any time.
My plans had been shipwrecked, but not as much as they could have been. And even if they were- God is still good. There is love in the world. A story is being told and it's NOT ALL ABOUT ME GETTING WHAT I WANT.
And my plans? They were never much good to begin with.
All my dreams I had built on my own ambitions- on my artistic skill, assuming it would always be there.
I could lose my ability to draw in a split second!
And in light of all that had happened I suddenly, strangely felt like that was ok. There was peace there.
I would be ok. God is still good.

In 2012 my sister was married by the sea. And the gathering of friends and family, there to celebrate her and her husband and praise God with us all was one of the most joyous I can ever remember. It was perfect.

In 2012 I went to North Carolina and I saw my best friend in the world, John Epling, just before he left for Afghanistan. I met Susanna, his then-fiance (now Mrs. Epling) for the first time. We went to an aquarium, and I sat under the glass wall of an incredible tank of shifting, silver fish with my watercolors and I knew that God loved me, and that is was going to be alright.
In 2012 he returned safely home.
Last weekend he was married and I passed him the rings.

In 2012 I saw two of my favorite people, Alex and Peggy, who I had the joy of introducing to eachother (one from Austria, one from RISD) get married in Canada. We shared a gorgeous weekend together that mixed all the sweetness and sadness of the year together as we caught up again.

Then I flew to Seattle to see another one of my best friends (and Jellybots collaborator) Peter Lefferts marry his sweetheart Esther in a sunlit park.

I found new friends in 2012, and felt more held and more part of a family in my church community than I ever had before. When I was most up against the ropes financially and emotionally- there they were.
I will not easily forget a morning when I didn't want to wake up, and Steve Caroll called to walk me through brushing my teeth.

I spent the summer on my bicycle, rediscovering the world outside and the simple joy I have in a little watercolor.

In 2012 I grew a moustache.

Everything is not magically better. I will not whitewash over the whole thing-

I've been trying to pitch Jellybots for so long I can barely remember why I was trying to do it in the first place. It feels like I no longer recall the taste of strawberries.
The plan was not to sit in silence for several months, second-guessing myself, but here I am.

I am looking ahead at 2013, and I realize more than any time before in my life- I have no idea what I'm going to do.

Meditating on this past year, the words of John the Baptist in Matthew ch. 3 stuck me hard-

"The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire" 

I'm a melodramatic soul, I'll admit. But that's how it has felt...like my tree is being chopped down. I know that's bleak, but this advent season another scripture struck me even harder. In Isaiah ch. 11 he predicts the coming of Jesus:

 "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit."

What struck me particularly hard was that, without having read this scripture, I doodled this about a year ago:

I am sure there will be more trial, more pain, and more struggle. 2012 has certainly held its share. Maybe the chopping isn't done, but when I consider Jesus and that image of a shoot coming up out of a stump...it doesn't matter how long or what is lost along the way. "whatever was to my profit I now consider loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ". (Philippians 3)
There is hope out of the darkest winter and this past Christmas reminds me that hope does not come from the fruition of my plans and ambitions- God has something better in mind. The world hoped for a savior and got a baby. Weak and small and unexpected, but everything they needed and more.
There is hope and it is Christ.

I have no idea where 2013 is going- but I'd rather have God's surprises than my plans, anyway.