Boundaries set upon drawn lines
Definition cultivated into set space
Trees cultured into artificial constructs
Defined into desired form
Seeking order though
Blooms into chaos
Boundaries set upon drawn lines
“Just a glass of water, no ice,” the old man said in a raspy voice to the waitress as she took our orders.
Juan called him the benefactor, a sickly old man dressed in a refined black coat, baggy suit, black mask, and what looked to be an old-style of Ray-Ban sunglasses. We sat at a booth at the Frontier restaurant across from the University of New Mexico, a sort of hub for some of our commissions and client meetings.
I felt out of place just being in his company. He looked nothing like the usual southwest art patrons, and doubt was easing in wondering if he would pay what Juan had promised.
Juan also seemed nervous. His face glossed with sweat as he ordered a cinnamon roll. He was good about finding commissions and work, but I was sensing how he also felt off with this client. I prayed silently that we weren’t going to be commissioned to do something kinky or obscene for some fetish.
Juan offered to pay for lunch when he told me about meeting the man initially, so I ordered a brunch combo with Christmas, smothered red and green chile. Money was tight since I lost my scholarship after failing my statistics class. I might save a couple of meals from this outing at least.
“I need to test you, and a couple of other artists around the area,” the old man said as he removed his mask. I had assumed he wore it due to his age and having a frail immune system, but his face was ghastly. His skin was blotchy, molded tightly on the bone structure of his skull, giving him a skeletal look. Scabbed boils and open sores were at the corners of his mouth, while loose skin sagged in unnatural wrinkles around his jowls. I imagined the terror of his sunken eyes if he removed his glasses, and was thankful he kept them on.
He pulled out a small black moleskin book.
“I want you to draw your portraits in this book,” he continued and took out a pencil case with various drawing supplies of charcoal, pastel and watercolor pencils.
I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture.
“What is this test for?” Juan asked as he clasped his hands in front of him, giving the man a studied look that I’ve seen him use before to negotiate a better contract for work. As good as he was as an up-and-coming artist, he was a better businessman with his refined style. Similar to the old man, he wore a fitted suit, but grey with an open blue shirt. No tie made him business casual.
No wonder I felt out of place. I tugged at my oversized graphix tee and leggings nested in a pair of Uggs. While my hair was in a fashionable top bun, and my makeup immaculate, (as I never leave the house otherwise,) I still looked closer to the beggars hanging by the bus stop than an artist seeking a commission.
The old man chuckled. “Do you know the story of Picasso and the portrait of the woman in the park?”
“Let me guess, the one where he charged her 5,000 francs for a 5-minute sketch. She gets mad at him, and he corrects her saying, “Ma’am, it took me a lifetime to draw your portrait.”
It was me who had interrupted, and I felt a little embarrassed acting out the deep voice I used for Picasso. I had enough of his tense atmosphere, and I could feel my insides turning with anxiety.
“Smart girl,” he said as he erected his posture and smiled and ghastly grin, revealing broken and black teeth that must have added to his subtle ascent.
“Smart girl has a name. It’s Lillian. I’m only here because Juan said that there was a commission for drawing a portrait for a ridiculous amount of money. I didn’t believe him.” I said nonchalantly I dipped a chip into salsa. Maybe eating something would ease my nerves.
“Yes,” he nodded. “I am willing to pay you $20,000. For the sketch, no less.” He paused and placed his hand over his heart. “I understand that it takes a lifetime to hone your craft.”
Juan and I exchanged glances.
“Are we drawing your portrait?” I asked, taking a swig of lemon water. The smell of Mexican and breakfast food was making me nauseous. This seemed too good to be true, and we are just starting our careers.
The old man sat back in a comfortable pose.
“No. I have enough of me. I wish you to draw your own portraits.”
He pulled out a black leather briefcase on the corner of the table. He seemed to enjoy studying our apprehensive faces while opening the metal clasps and propped the case open slightly to reveal bundles of cash.
“Are you a mobster?” I coughed jokingly before grabbing a pencil and opening the black book.
Really, what did I have to lose at that point? I noticed an odd stamp on the inside cover.
I used an AB sketch pencil from the case and started to draw my portrait using the camera on my iPhone as a mirror. I have never really liked drawing my own portraits, not like Frida, one of my idols. While I loved her bravado for painting herself as the subject she knows best, I always felt uncomfortable using myself as the subject. It might have to do with how I take more interest in other people, or that there are times when I really don’t want to know myself. Not even for the simple study of a self-portrait.
The waitress was quick with our food, and I pushed my plate aside as Juan started slicing his cinnamon roll. The old man watched me intently as I drew my portrait, almost nodding in approval with each stroke.
“Do you enjoy watching art?” Juan asked.
I learned the hard way, that sometimes, it’s just best not to ask questions about why people like art.
“I do,” said the old man. “It is very important to me that you get the likeness of yourself,” he said gesturing around his face. “I do not like modern art. It seems to be more about making statements than a craft of capturing, or preserving, what is.”
“So is this like an art grant to you?” Juan asked and started eating one small delicate bite at a time. It felt like he was stalling, and that he was considering declining the commission. “From what I gathered, you are seeking to support some local artists. That’s how you got my number at the 505 Gallery, right?”
“In a way, yes,” the old man said, eying me all the more. He was creeping me out, but I was trying to remind myself that what he was also paying for watching us draw.
It didn’t take me very long to finish, about fifteen minutes. I was surprised to see how gleefully pleased he was about it. Juan started at me wide-eyed as the old man pulled out some cash and handed it to me.
I counted it below the table and was surprised to find it was the $20,000 as promised. I excused myself and made my way to the bathroom for a few moments to decompress. It not only felt stressful, but my back ached as if weighted down. I felt as though the wind were knocked from my chest, just from drawing a simple sketch. It made no sense.
When I returned, Juan stopped eating and had also started drawing his portrait into the book. I could sense his unease as he sat there hunched over the book while the benefactor watched him, as intensely as he was with me.
Juan then paid for our lunch while the old man collected the various pencils and the black book. He gave Juan his cash.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” he said as he tipped his hat in a farewell and left the booth.
“What business did we just do?” I asked Juan as I scooped my food into a to-go box. He shook his head, as he stuffed the cash he hid below the table into his pocket.
As we left the restaurant, another question filled me with dread. “Do you even know his name? He never even introduced himself.”
Juan stopped and stared into the distance. “No name. He called me from an unlisted phone number, asked me if I was good at drawing portraits. If I knew other artists who could draw their portraits quickly.”
“And that’s it?” I asked, my heart pounding. I felt the sweat forming on my back as a cool breeze hit us from nowhere.
“He asked that I meet him here, and he would pay $20,000 for a sketch in his book. Said he’d pay other artists available too.”
I tightened my grip on the to-go box in my hands. “Yeah, well, seeing is believing. I thought you were joking when you called me.”
“Me too. I keep expecting cameras or a show to pop up at any time. It didn’t feel scripted though.”
We continued to walk towards UNM as we used to after a study group or meetup, even though we haven’t had classes together for almost two years. We gravitated towards the duck pond, still processing the strange encounter with the benefactor.
“So what are you going to do with the money?” he asked me as we settled on some of the outdoor chairs near the student union building.
“It’s rent, food, and next semester’s tuition,” I muttered defensively.
He nodded and folded his hands in front of him. “It feels wrong, somehow.”
“What, do you feel like we swindled him?” I started to poke holes in the container. I decided that I would end up throwing the food out. I doubted that I would have an appetite later, and I didn’t want to be reminded of the odd man.
“No,” Juan paused. “Like we sold more, although, I can’t name why or how.”
My face scrunched into disbelief. “Really? We spent fifteen minutes to draw our portraits in a little black book for $20,000.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why.”
I pulled a cigarette while watching his frown turn deeper, the creases around his eyes and mouth turning into sharp shadows. I had never seen him this upset, and he looked as if he were aging years before my eyes.
“At least it wasn’t as bad as the Bella Rainbows Project,” I smiled, bringing up old memories.
Juan laughed, and I felt better seeing the shadows ease a bit on his face. ““That was a mess. I didn’t regret it though. Learned a lot.”
“But you regret this?” I breathed in deep some soothing smoke, feeling my nerves relax with each puff of my cancer stick.. “Why?”
“If I could tell you, I would.”
“Well, I got things to do.” I smashed the cigarette on the table. I had been trying to quit for a while, but it still relieves me at times.
I kissed him on the forehead, smelling his cologne, and felt my heartache. It had been weeks since we last even talked. He didn’t say anything as I departed to my dorm room east of campus.
Thoughts filled my mind as my eyes adjusted to my dark dorm room. Maybe I was too callous about certain things, especially when it came to money. I was needy at the same time, a bit insecure about my own talent and skill. I knew I was a mess, but at least I owned it. Maybe that’s why we didn’t work, but he had a lot more support than me. His parents at least supported his career path.
I went to the bathroom and was startled by my reflection in the mirror. White streaks predominantly appeared in the part of my hair. I undid my bun and turned on the full set of lights. Was it a trick, or did my hair just start turning white in the last hour?
I stared wide-eyed in the mirror. It wasn’t a trick. Not only was my hair greying, but I noticed similar deep creases form around my eyes and mouth, similar to Juan’s at the pond. Were we aging? Rapidly?
My hands started shaking as I grabbed my phone. I paused a moment before calling him and sat down on the toilet to relieve myself. Surely, I was going mad. I needed to calm down. It had to be stress. This would all pass.
My stomach sickened sitting there, and I looked down, noticing cellulite and stretch marks appearing on my inner thighs. Even my stomach heaved, and I felt intense pain as I emptied my bowels, as if I had eaten bad food or were getting over a hangover.
Something was very wrong with me, and if this was happening to me, was it happening to Juan too?
It sat there for what felt like hours, but it was only about fifteen minutes when I looked at my phone. When I finally stood up, my legs felt numb and it took a few minutes to feel the tingles of blood circulating back into them.
I looked back into the mirror and screamed, barely recognizing my own voice as it sounded deeper and raspier than it should have been. More of my hair had turned white, and my skin formed blotches similar to what I had seen on the old man.
After my initial shock, I dabbed at the sore that started to develop at the corner of my mouth, gasping in horror at the rapid deterioration of my body.
I was startled by my phone’s sudden ringtone playing a song I picked specifically for Juan.
“Juan,” I panted into the phone. “What’s happening to us?”
“Are you aging too?” he asked, his voice sounding familiar, loud and authoritative, but short and airy.
I started crying on the phone.
“What did we really sell to him, Juan?”
I heard deep heaving breathing and sudden gasping noises. Then I heard nothing at all.
Bad poetry has a purpose.
To capture pain
write it down,
process and transform it.
Because memories bog the mind,
hurting relationships that could flourish.
killing art that could be created,
and inhibiting relief needed to heal.
Better to write bad poetry to expel pain,
then let it rot the heart.
Walls, boundaries by another name. Hard to open, she felt could let him in, but he barricaded himself in. Hurt, she opened to another, who shamed her, and another just stood, not knowing what to say. So she moved on, taking brick by brick down, exposing all for any connection.
Since her own wings were clipped,
she only saw the molting feathers,
and not the potential for them to fly.
She took out her scissors
to keep them grounded,
keep them safe,
never to reach for the sky again.
She loved the ideal romanticism
he displayed in his posture,
the way he talked,
and how he listened.
his actions were a never-ending performance.
His hands occasionally shook
during moments of vulnerability,
and he retreated.
It is impossible to read the real him,
the ever actor shielding his true self
The sound still resonated in his ears, echoing the rhythm of his quickened heart. “Sic Semper Tyrannus!” he bellowed desperately as he leaped off the balcony to the stage below.
He gasped as sharp pains jerked from his knee, and started sweating profusely as heat and agony burned through his leg. He had acted on the plan, and for a moment he was satisfied before the numbness of his injury set in.
Time slowed as he focused on the audience before him, who only stared back at him in awe and amazement. He narrowed on the confused smile of a boy he had seen before, a regular to his plays. They think I’m an act, he surmised. His fame ruined his current declaration. The audience continued to gaze at him dumbfoundedly until it was broken by the shrill screams of a woman.
In the commotion of the president going down, the audience broke their sight of him to the balcony where soldiers amassed. Adrenaline bolstered his movement backstage, and muscle memory aided him to a back exit. His greatest performance, but he wouldn’t enjoy it.
As he lumbered to the horses staged behind the theater, he reflected on all that had gone wrong in the months before. The kidnapping plot that went awry, and General Lee conceding to defeat. He took the reins, heart reverberating with each gallop, resounding the shot he continued to hear. An echo that subverted the Federal Government of the United States.
Written for NYC Flash Fiction Competition 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Picture: Painting for Friend 2021
To share my voice.
As a mediator, I quieted my voice to make peace for others in hopes of making a healthier environment for my loved ones to feel safe. When my parents divorced, I quieted my voice for my dad since he didn’t have emotional support from anyone. I was his ‘sounding board,’ and I grew from 8 to 18 in a span of weeks helping him run his household.
I quieted my voice for the sake of my friends when they wanted to be mean to a girl I knew was standoffish because I knew she was suffering at home. For most of my life, I learned to quiet my voice, not make waves or be a bother, and in doing so, I lost myself over time.
When I found out about my husband’s demon, I quieted my voice trying to work through our problems.
When I had children, I quieted my voice to be a better parent to be able to listen to them and make sure they felt heard.
The wisest people listen more than they speak, but what good is their wisdom if they never express it?
I don’t claim to be a wise person, but I’ve lived through some unique experiences. Putting my stories on paper helps to process both trauma and build gratitude for the marvelous things in life. It would be impossible to appreciate the good in life if you did not also experience the storms.
I revolve to share my vulnerabilities more, express love and write and make bad poetry and art. To create is to free the soul, and I kept mine trapped for too long attending to my duties as a wife, mother, daughter, Soldier, worker. This year, I resolve to immerse myself in my art.
I resolve to share my voice because it may encourage others to do the same. In life, how you live is the greatest example for your children, coworkers, friends. It’s not hiding behind the escapism of TV shows, games, or gossip.
I resolve to be kinder to myself and let my inner voice be one that is caring for myself as a child, to quell the negative thoughts and feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy.
I’m at an age in my life where the beliefs I once held are no longer true to the person I am. The limiting beliefs of my childhood and the rigidity of the institutions I work for frustrate me. The roles of my gender are totally redefined on a daily basis as women break the ceiling for what they once were able to achieve. Really, there are no limits except the ones we impose on ourselves, and it’s time to let them go.
So how does one speak their voice today?
The universe provides answers if you are open to finding them. It’s mostly psychology and confirmation bias, you will find what you are seeking. The Law of Attraction, what you put out will come back. That’s how I found this opportunity.
There are so many platforms, opportunities, programs, and media outlets to help a person find their voice. Social media like Pinterest and Instagram help artists share their work. Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to keep in contact with coworkers, friends, and families. There are no barriers to what media you may to publish in. YouTube allows us to share video, and the web itself is a vehicle for sharing one’s voice and story.
It’s not counting content sharing companies like Medium, Vocal, and various other communities and storytelling platforms. The options are endless and almost daunting and limitless. All we have to do is create, and hopefully, find an audience that resonates with what we express.
Since the start of the new year, I enrolled in a Horror Course with AutoCrit, a community of like-minded people who love the horror genre. I joined Vocal because I like the contest approach with deadlines. While I am intrinsically motivated, I will lag indefinitely on my personal projects. Contests help add a restriction to the time I have to create a piece of work, and even if it’s not completed in my vision, it is at least finished.
More importantly, I resolve to be courageous enough to share my art. The path to learning is often by failure and growth only happens through the pain. People are happier when they confront things that scare them, and sharing my point of view is what has held me from being my most authentic self.
There are six ways I plan to share my voice during this next year.
1. Pick a few platforms and master them.
With opportunities everywhere, it can easily get overwhelming trying to figure out what to focus on. I plan to stick to Vocal and my website for my writing projects.
2. Set Deadlines and stick to them.
A challenge for the procrastinator that I am, but every extended deadline is a broken promise to myself. It’s the fastest way to kill your self-confidence.
3. Be consistent, and publish weekly.
Be it a blog post, entering a contest, or sharing my art with friends and family, I need to share my work weekly.
4. Write daily, even when tired or not in the mood.
Writing is like exercise. The more you do it, the better it gets. I know I am the type of person that has to write daily. Once in motion, you stay in motion. Once in rest, you stay at rest.
5. Create every day.
Write bad poetry, work on stories, memoirs, flash fiction, or even drawing and illustrating my ideas. As long as I make progress daily, I am doing better than the day before.
6. Enjoy one day at a time.
The act of creation brings many mixed emotions, but the one I feel the most is joy.
If you haven’t guessed by now, these Process themed posts are about how I conduct business in providing both marketing consulting and design services. I mentioned in an earlier post how transparency is essential to personal branding because it is the easiest way to establish trust with your clients. This article may help new clients understand how I may conduct business with them, and they may help you determine and share your process for how you do business.
The Importance of Contracts
Contracts are essential to any design work because they protect both the client and my business. Contracts have legal implications that ensure that I will get paid for the work I have produced, and also ensure that you get a product that helps your business. Contracts are the best documents for creating a good working relationship with boundaries that will protect both parties. By setting up a contract, you show your clients that you mean business and are looking out for their best interests in creating the work. They are the best way of setting up a business relationship on the right foot.
I have designed my business to do all contracting and invoicing through AND CO, a company that allows me to create contracts, project trackers, time management tool, and sending invoices that will enable my clients to pay online for their convenience. It also tracks my business expenses, saves receipts, and helps to prepare my taxes. It helps me to keep my business documents organized and saves me time, so I can focus on doing the business that I love.
Do you like these marketing insights? Subscribe to my newsletter today!
Timelines and Payment Plans
One of the things I outline in my contracts is a timeline of when deliverables are expected to be completed. Deliverables are the actual products I make for you, such as your logo, copywriting, website designs, and final website build.
I make accommodations for my clients since they are mostly small business owners who may need a payment plan to pay for my services.
If the payments are over a couple of several months, deliverables will be spaced apart because I will have to find other client work to pay my bills.
If a client can pay the full sum, I require half of the payment up front, partly because it is a deposit, and because it is needed to purchase items such as website domains and other expenses that may be required to pay for their website development.
Final invoices are paid after the client is happy with their finished product.
Marketing and Consulting Interview
I am not just your designer, but also your marketing consultant. One way that my business is very different from other website or branding businesses is that I provide marketing consulting that takes more into consideration than just online marketing. I do research on your competitors, and I look into the other ways on how they find work.
For instance, your competitors may have profiles on services like Gigmasters, a service that offers business profiles for service based gigs such as face painting or party hosting. Getting a profile established on those lead website may also help to increase your business, and it’s slightly different for every industry.
Are you ready to give your branding or website an upgrade? Contact me today!
The hardest part of upgrading your branding or website is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of what you currently have, and how it performs TODAY. A consulting interview is essential in figuring out what work needs to conducted on your website or personal brand.
Rarely, there is a one-solution for fixing the issues that could be effecting engagement on your website. This is because small business owners often have niche audiences that require a different type of reach or engagement. It would be a mistake to try a one-type fix such as solely focusing on one element of your website.
What do I mean by one-type fixes? A one-type fix may be the redesigning the overall layout of your website, or rebranding, creating different social media engagement, or focusing on solely on SEO, or search engine optimization. A well-designed website will keep users on the site.
While Search Engine Optimization is essential to get your audience even to see your web presence, the algorithms, and methods that SEO regularly change. The SEO practices of five years ago would include creating large sites full of pages with repeating keywords to make the websites rank higher in search engines.
Today, the best practices include creating meaningful content that engages the viewer enough not to click away from the page but continue to scroll through the material. Content is king, and long landing pages with exciting multimedia content are what keeps users engaged.
If you would like to schedule a free consulting interview to see what could make your website level up, call me at 505-270-6794 or email me here.
See Your Website With a New Set of Eyes
A consulting interview can give you a fresh pair of eyes to see your website and branding. You are an expert in your industry, and it is easy to get caught up using jargon or technical terms that may not make sense to your audience.
A consultation with me can also help determine if you are promoting the right message, in the right tone of voice to your target audience.
For example, therapists will need to sound professional, but also human and approachable. Life coaches are selling themselves and the story of how you can improve your life.
Artists and writers may have artist statements of why they create their work, but telling it in a story or witty clips is more engaging.
One of the potential problems in working with an agency is the one type all marketing may not apply to your business. You may have a beautifully designed website, but need better-written content, or vice verses.