We had such a nice quiet Christmas this year, staying in our cozy apartment. It was fun to decorate a new space after having decorated the same living room for 8 straight years. That room had a lot of very dark stained walnut woodwork, and so with decorations, it quickly became a lot to take in.
I broke up the week by working on the comic from around 9-5 with an hour break for lunch each day, and then in the evenings worked on baking. On Christmas Eve, we decorated cookies, dropped some off at Chris's parents' house and swapped gifts (with masks; we were only inside for a few minutes), and then went home and Zoomed into my childhood church's last candlelight Christmas Eve service. The church started around 100 years ago and is shutting its doors for good today. After that, Chris's extended family had a Zoom call while we cooked.
We made a later dinner, then we watched A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott) and went to bed. In the morning we had cinnamon rolls for breakfast, opened gifts, and made dinner. There were a lot of desserts throughout the day. In the evening we went for a walk (it was strangely mild and breezy), and then watched Charlie Brown Christmas and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone while we played Wingspan (the most amazing board game ever).
I always feel the need to capture some of my favorite ornaments, too. New ornaments this year include: a glass pierogi (nod to our Ukrainian roots from my cousin Emily), guinea pig, cardinal, and snowman from from my mom, a penguin that I picked up at the Corning Museum last holiday season, and a felt owl that I found at an arts market here in Mansfield. I included some other pretty ones, and a couple from my Harry Potter collection from childhood.
Cooking and baking!
For baked goods this year, I made pumpkin pie, poppyseed bread, decorated cutout cookies, and sugar cookies with almond extract. For Christmas Eve dinner, we did pierogis with mushrooms and onions, minestrone soup, and homemade applesauce with rolls and ginger ale. For Christmas day, we did deviled eggs, a casserole with potatoes, onions, and cheese (my mom's "cheesy taters"), green beans with garlic and parsley, and maple ham (for Chris), more pierogis (for me), and sparkling cider. It was a lot more dishwashing that we are used to for two people! But so worth it :)
These aren't great quality photos, but we enjoyed using my grandmother's dishes to celebrate. The fancier dishes and platters are decorated with tiny ornate roses.
We went to Endicott for Thanksgiving, though we took every precaution possible. We got PCR testing done ahead of time through my work and got our results ~30 hours later. We wore masks when we first arrived and the results hadn't come in yet. I've been avoiding going out in public at all the last couple months, and Chris wears his mask, social distances, and brings his lunch to work - even if he's working in an empty house. We didn't stop anywhere on the way.
It was nice to have a Thanksgiving together, since I haven't seen my parents since December last year and Chris has never spent a holiday in my hometown. It was just the four of us, so it was very quiet. We went for a few walks, enjoyed my parents' excellent cooking, and went up to Round Top and down to Grippen Park, two public parks down the street, to enjoy new lookout areas and a hiking trail. Chris wasn't feeling great the whole time, which has been our major ongoing struggle since he got sick in May. We just wish we knew for sure whether it was covid, given the too early/too late timing of his two tests in May/June and the low-sensitivity antibody test that he got almost two months later, which the doctor didn't think would catch anything. We can't wait until the vaccine is released.
We got our tests done late in the evening when no one was around, so I ducked into the office to use the scanner and capture some of the latest drawings. I'm now in a pretty sad part of the chapter and am finding it both cathartic and really hard to draw some of these scenes without becoming very depressed. I've been taking more days off between drawing sessions, partially to not get overwhelmed, and also because my day job is very high-intensity lately and I have little energy at the end of the day.
Last weekend I spent most of my time working on a commission, this week I worked over 50 hours at my day job, and this weekend was managing a lot of holiday preparations (including illustrating and printing my holiday greeting cards) so I haven't done any comic drawing at all. I find this usually happens around the holidays though.
Next week is my last week of work, and I'm using my remaining vacation days to take a load off after a really rough year. With cases rising, Chris and I again have Covid tests scheduled proactively given rising cases, but we decided not to go anywhere for the rest of the year. It'll be a little sad, but better safe than sorry. It will be nice to have a two-week retreat to work on the comic as well.
According to my last few blog entries, I have been spending time exclusively on nature walks and furniture arrangement. But I have been drawing too! It’s just that since I've incorporated higher quality scans, I've had to start saving up new pages in batches to scan them in-person rather than post lower quality photos each week.
I had hoped to finish these first 18 test pages by August (meaning, within five months), but I officially finished up yesterday (eight months). With illnesses, politics, and a move, I'm okay with that. And then last night, I was very antsy during election coverage, so I redid an entire page that I wasn't happy with between 8pm and 2am. There is one other page I would like to redo (page 2), as well as a couple individual panels, which I would need to retroactively photoshop in to complete an otherwise solid page.
Here's a spot-the-difference! I'm kind of embarrassed by the original (right), but I think this shows how much you can learn and refine a style with a few months and a lot of practice. Here are some clear changes that have developed:
This is what all the pages look like together so far. I'm enjoying the ladder of purple part-way through. Funny how patterns like that develop unintentionally. At this point I don't think I can photograph them as a group anymore because the footprint is too big! Channeling Jo March with her pages-on-the-floor technique.
I started yesterday with a scenic walk in a pretty chilly wind. A lot of the leaves have suddenly fallen already because of the big snow last week. The pond near our house is so charming and I made a friend in the small duck pond in the park. I'm still watching election coverage as I write this and am trying not to fall into a panic spiral while results remain unclear. That said, the closeness of this race and the hypocrisy, callousness, selfishness, and cruelty fueling the Trump movement speak to the shameful state of this country. I cannot see eye to eye with any individual who supports Trump and his conspiracy theories, as he stands for so many hateful things and is incapable of exhibiting basic human compassion.
I'll wrap this up with some calming photos of ducks and fall leaves and moving water instead.
I look forward to going home for the holidays all year. I spent several years after college not being able to come home for Christmas, so now I plan my entire Paid Time Off use around the holidays. Unfortunately this year my brother and his family couldn't make it, but my dad and I went down to their house on Long Island for a couple days.
My niece is as sweet as can be. She loves books, sing-a-longs, and getting up and down from the couch. It was so fun to see her open presents and then and giggle as she learned what they did. Of course, many of them were books, but two of her grandparents are librarians so what do you expect?
The holiday season so far has been crazy. So many projects all of the sudden and I ended up having to left some of them go. But here are the ones I actually got to:
Relieved to finally be at my parents' house without much more to do but wrap gifts!
A lovely vegetarian Thanksgiving with the Misura family in my cousin's new home. Last time I was down in Florida for Thanksgiving was when the Misura grandparents were still alive. It was nice to gather together and reminisce about those who are no longer with us. And eat excellent pie
Some friends and family members may have heard that we had to say goodbye to Archie the guinea pig this week. Her surgery revealed an inoperable malignant tumor and we hoped to support her recovery while entering palliative care. But as the sedation wore off, it was clear that she was not herself, and prolonging her life just to avoid having to say goodbye was not the answer. We gathered together with Archie and Ivy on Wednesday night to hold her one last time as she slipped away.
It's been a rough few days in our home, where our routine no longer includes our little pumpkin companion. We remember when we accidentally get food for two instead of one, when we watch TV and we only have one furry friend for two laps, when Ivy does something sassy and I call her Archie, when Ivy returns to their house and looks for Archie out of habit, and when the morning is quiet and her little squeaks for breakfast are absent. She was part of our life and our family for four years, and although we knew she was sick, it's still hard to prepare.
As the days pass, I don't want to get used to her absence, because it means I accept it and I am moving on, but I feel myself adjusting anyway. I know that time slowly fills the negative space with the good memories.
While going through pictures, I tried to choose just 10 that really captured her warmth and personality, and our deep friendship. But the more I looked the more I appreciated the volume of small moments we captured with her, which together tell the story of our time together. So instead I assembled 10 collages.
We miss Archie so much. She was my emotional support when I lost my grandparents, while I prepared myself to move on after a five-year relationship, and as I dealt with stress and anxiety. She licked the tears from my face as I cradled her and worried about her surgery. She made us laugh and she was so smart. We each had our own language with her and she made us feel safe, even when the world didn't feel safe around us. She was a small, humble creature and some may not understand her impact on us, but she was our friend, our family, and our joy. We will try to hold that, even now that she's gone. We love you, Arch McGarch
10/1 First stab at inktober. Not sure how helpful this will be in terms of productivity because I'm trying to focus on thumbnails after work each night and it's not penciltober. But had fun picking this set of panels from my thumbnails and imagining them at a later stage.
10/2 That one time I told my parents there was something in my sleeping bag and when my dad turned it upside down, a scorpion fell out
10/3 When I was 4 years old my parents and brother went to Disney World but I was too scared to join them (giant characters walking around seemed scary). My grandparents sat with me in the lanai that night and let me believe that the white rabbit hopping around their backyard was the Easter Bunny.
10/4 Grandpa Andy watching the rabbit hop around in the yard eating the contents of the garden, while Grandma Rose carefully carries me a cup of cranberry juice.
10/5 Day 5... Upgraded to nice paper from thin sketchbook pages because watercolors were getting a little wrinkly the last couple entries.
10/6 Home sweet home
10/7 These are based on some photos of my grandparents' garden from 1991. My mom diligently labeled the back of each print.
10/8 Added some more flowers to this collection, and think there may be a few more to add before I run out of room
10/9 Alright, time to move on from this collage. By the way Rattlebox is very poisonous and I think invasive in Florida, but very pretty
10/10 One way I've been processing loss is by trying to honor the people who are no longer here with what feels like a sacred study of their faces, their things, and their interests. Some things I noticed while studying Grandpa Andy's District Ranger certificate: he was exceedingly handsome, had a very distinct nose, eyebrows, and boyish grin, and wow was he a lefty. The date stamp and commissioner signature I drew with a set of Grandma Rose's colored pencils, which I'd originally sent to her two years ago as a gift for her coloring books, and which my dear Aunt sent back to me last month to commemorate her. I don't think I'll use them much. I want to preserve where each point was left when she last sharpened and colored with it. Special thanks to my aunt for letting me cherish these little mementos
10/11 The summer we drove to Florida the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. We picked up our copy at midnight at the Barnes & Noble release party, in costume, and spent the whole ride down with Mom and Dad reading aloud from the front seat. By the time we arrived Andy and I were fighting over whose turn it was to read independently so we could find out what happens and we had to put caps on reading time. With the three following releases we bought two separate copies of each so we could each read at our leisure.
My commute home... getting into that left turn lane is always the funnest part when there's a Sox game. But it's still faster and less miserable than the train.
Another proof of concept with Blackwing pencil instead of micron, and larger format.
10/14 A little tired today, so just did some light sketches of a nice hot shower
10/15 8pm: I could go to bed early. Or I could start a 20-panel series about my grandma making me Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese when I was a kid
10/17 "Stir once during heating." To be honest, drawing macaroni & cheese has been all I can really handle with work this week, so that's why this has been happening at such a slow pace. Lunch will be served... eventually.
10/19 Getting some milk
10/20 First page done, think I'll try and crank out the last 8 panels today
I still have a label from a can of Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese from one of these summers, which I was using as a bookmark in one of the Harry Potter books. Our grocery stores up north didn't sell the Chef Boyardee mac & cheese at the time so this was always such a special treat while visiting my grandparents. Made even more special by my grandma preparing it for me. I still remember her chuckling because she gave me half a can in a bowl the first time she made it for me, and said I could have more if I wanted. As soon as I finished the bowl, I said, yes, in fact I want more please. She was so tickled by my appetite.
This comic is sandwiched by some panels of me thinking back on our time together while riding my bike to and from work everyday, which is the best time to be alone with my memories (aside from drawing)
10/21 Biking down memory lane, if you will
10/23 Whew. One week and 32 panels = only a single page spread. Lots of great practice drawing hands, dishes, microwaves, and bike helmets.
10/24 Rollin up to the hotel pool like
10/25 My older brother with my dad and a pelican
10/26 Watercolor/colored pencil copy of one of Grandma Rose's Ukrainian eggs. I started this last night at 11pm because I was stressed out by some pet health issues. It was a relief to get lost in her design, learning the pattern and focusing on the same four colors. Even though I haven't tried pysanky in over 10 years, I still feel the appeal of meditating on something small and intricate. It's nice to feel that that is in my blood, even if I'm working on paper and not an actual egg shell. Also you can see her signature in the last slide, a miniature "rm" in cursive.
10/27 Grandma Rose selling her pysanky at St. Mary's bazaar. Simpler designs were $10, more detailed were $18. I think they're worth more! Thank you again to my aunt for sharing this one.
10/28 More diving
10/29 Beach bum
10/30 It's Halloween so here's a drawing of the year our Christmas tree fell over in the middle of the night and broke a bunch of ornaments with sentimental value. That was the last time my parents got a real tree.
Last day of Inktober was inspired by my niece's majestic unicorn look. Can't believe she is almost 18 months and is zooming around!
I think the largest benefit of this was learning that even after a long day, I can still find the energy to work on something creative, even if it's a simple sketch while watching tv in bed. I can still make things and relax at the same time. I went into every project with an open mind, only choosing to work on whatever struck my fancy that day, and my one constant was family and memory. Some days it was hard and I'd spend a whole hour wondering what to draw, but there was always something that grabbed me in the end.
Technically speaking, I learned a lot about the materials I'm looking to use and the size format, having done many watercolors on my chosen paper and with the same setup I'd be using for final inks, so this will hopefully help me envision the project more while drafting. And stylistically this was an excellent way to oscillate between approaches without having to commit to one.
Now that the month is over, I think it will be much easier to come home and know that, until my thumbnails are done, the task at hand is obvious rather than something I need to cast around for. And I still have the flexibility to not work in chronological order if there is a specific scene I want to dig into. Plus, thumbnails aren't meant to feel precious, so the inktober exercise of working two hours a night will hopefully help me churn out content more efficiently.
I was concerned that I would end inktober feeling burned out, but I'm glad I feel inspired to keep working!
Two years ago, Grandma Rose and I spent our shared birthday together for the first and last time. She was turning 85 and I was turning 27, with exactly 58 years between us to the day. It was the last time I ever saw her. It's hard knowing that our birthday will always be bittersweet now, with only one of us here to celebrate it. But I'm so glad that I will always have her name as mine and that we had this beautiful day together that our family put together. I recorded our conversations that day so I could always remember it, and her laugh, and how charmed she was to be surrounded by her family. Miss you grandma. Happy birthday.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.