A Winter Fantasy
5" x 7"
Richeson hard pastels on Fresh Grey Art Spectrum Colourfix sanded pastel card.
Photo reference by AlainJ on WetCanvas.com for the January 2010 Landscape Challenge.

Yesterday, my new 120 color wood box set of Richeson semi-hard square pastels arrived. I was working on an ATC with pastel pencils and immediately switched to trying the new hard pastels, which were great. I went nuts and did several cool artworks all in the same day playing with my new supplies. I even brainlessly tried creating a full layered painting on a sketchbook page, which didn't turn out too bad as a sketch but should be redone on coated pastel paper.

I've written them up on HubPages at Richeson Semi-Hard Pastels Product Review featuring the gnome ATC, the fruit sketch and its underpainting and a color Conte sketch I did to compare with them. These pastels are artist grade, lightfast and relatively inexpensive. I might try the other two Richeson pastel products as well, though probably not in a full range set to start.

This month I didn't even try to curb my spending on art supplies. I deserved a big reward for getting my novel submission out on time during 2009, so I went to Dakota Pastels for the first time and used the reserve in my account along with my check to put in a $300 order with free shipping. Leaves me tight for January but very happy with a big package coming.

Dakota doesn't do the big coupons Blick did and the high free shipping threshold makes them a bit less convenient. I can't do a Dakota order any given month and save shipping, it would take premeditation to save a little first because shipping starts to run high over $200 -- $15.95 or something like that. The price of my new SpectraFix fixative with the little empty spray bottle thrown in, for an example on this order.

I have heard very good things about their shipping and customer service policies though. They also have some products Blick doesn't. They tend to get Pan Pastel products sooner. They carry the mid-hardness Richeson Soft Round pastels as well as the Handmade top range and the Semi-Hard. They also have some Dakota-specific products that are great, including a wooden foam lined pastel box that comes in three sizes. I'm very tempted to get the compact size and start breaking pieces off every pastel I own to create a compact kit that has all the colors and hardnesses in one place.

One thing specific to Dakota that I finally indulged in was a coated paper sampler and a Green soft pastels sampler. They put these together at Dakota itself, choosing colors for variety but within a range like "green" or "darks" so that you can use the sampler to fill out whatever area your palette's weak in. I love landscapes and can never get enough greens, so I chose the Green sampler.

The paper sampler pieces are all 9" x 12" -- my comfort size for serious painting. Any bigger than that and I start having trouble finishing the project. This will also let me write up a good series of product reviews on coated and sanded pastel papers. They also have a sampler of sanded or coated boards that I might pick up next time.

Their prices run a little higher than Dick Blick, but Dakota Pastels is a specialty store. They have a bigger selection in pastels than any other online supplier and a good reputation with many professional pastelists I know. I'll still use Dick Blick for the things Blick carries, but I'm glad Dakota carries products that don't always make it to Blick.

Hopefully the new trays for Pan Pastels that LLC Colorfin has promised will show up soon at Dakota Pastels. That's one reason I might go back there in a couple of months, though I've been windowshopping at Blick as usual and could easily revert to my old Blick habits, especially if they do a coupon for free shipping on orders smaller than $200 the way they did a few times during the Christmas rush. It would be nice to build up some reserves again so that I could get something really big, like a new laptop in 2010... not going to happen fast though with all these art supply temptations!
Lots to post since New Year's -- I completed my New Year's Resolution for 2009.

That's sort of impressive, isn't it? Aren't New Year's Resolutions those things people virtuously decide to change in their lives and then screw up by February, going into an annual guilt trip over being fat, smoking, exercising too little or otherwise trying to change their bad habits?

Well, due to some circumstances way beyond my control, I had gotten into a very bad habit. Writing good novels and not submitting them anywhere, also writing good novels but not giving them the necessary aftercare -- editing, synopsizing and presenting -- so that I could send them to agents or publishers. So in 2009, my resolution was to get a pro novel submission out during 2009.

On December 31st, 2009, I submitted Vaumuru's Curse to Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. Talk about final-deadline pressure! I was going to try for sending it to four different agents this year, but the fibromyalgia flare I got from breaking through submission anxiety flattened me once I'd sent out my good presentation exactly according to their submission guidelines. I wasn't up to doing another market search, so decided within a week would be good enough for multiple queries with sample.

Still, the book is finished, edited to the best of my current skill and properly synopsized including its twist ending. Sending it out to more agencies and some publishers is not going to be as hard now that the hard part's done.

I made no resolutions for 2010 other than to enjoy my life, which is good now. I live in a climate that's much better for me, with loving family. I've got the energy to function here in Arkansas and have proved to myself that I can make a deadline on a project, even when life interfered to put off its completion.

Moving out of state took several months out of 2009 just at the point I was starting to get focused on it. Then the year's annual autumn writing fests got going, distracting me from the editing task. I actually did two novel submissions in 2009, because paying the fee, printing out my entry and mailing it to Canada to enter the Three Day Novel Contest counted as a novel submission. It could win.

If it doesn't, I'm going to re-edit this year's Three Day Novel and send it somewhere else, because it was a breakthrough and a fun little fantasy novel. Only 50,000 words, but fantasy novels dealing with Christianity as a topic are rare and non-trendy. I was writing from life about Christian ideas, beliefs, habits and phenomenons, in general contrasting real faith with religious fraud. I do not think it will offend Christian readers, the theme rests on familiar Christian ideas of good and evil and the pious characters are based on real Christians that I've known well.

2009 was a breakthrough on the editing process itself. The time crunch caused by NaNoWriMo, the Three Day Novel contest and a flu that knocked me down throughout October was actually a good thing in some ways. It made me finish up that edit in one month.

Long ago, I asked full time successful SFF author Leigh Brackett how long it took her to write a novel. I am so glad she was the one I asked, because less prolific writers might have answered anything between a year to five or ten years depending on the amount of research needed for the work. Ms. Brackett told me "About a month to write the rough draft, then another month, maybe a month and a half to edit it if it's giving me trouble."

I knew this pace was possible from meeting Leigh Brackett. She and her husband Ed Hamilton made a good living throughout the Depression when everyone else was out looking for work and not finding any. They weren't paid much per title but with each of them writing five or six novels a year, they kept up their house and a comfortable lifestyle in a grim economic environment.

In a purely technical, artistic sense, I think that kind of prolific speed gives a great advantage: practice. A given rough draft novel is not the soul-investment of a two year project, where acceptance or rejection carries the emotional weight of whether you personally are accepted-rejected or the defeat of two years of good hard work rejected every time it doesn't fit a market. It becomes a large, well-done, finished project comparable to a painter's doing a big canvas, something that may become a great success or just turn out well as part of your portfolio.

Most of all, writing a lot of them takes the learning curve and spreads it out over more than one book. Novel writing isn't easy -- to learn. It's a big complex skill as difficult to get good at as most human professions, but isn't taught as a six or seven year course in universities with a postgraduate program and a mentor. Instead, every novelist reinvents the process of writing a novel and develops a method that's intensely personal to reach a result that can be measured in pure technical competence as well as on more subjective criteria.

Once you can tell a good story, you can tell a good story no matter what it is.

But the editing process isn't going over and over the same one for years until you learn how to write one to professional craft standards. The prolific approach does a lot of sketches and fast projects, each one of them teaches me something. My prose is a lot cleaner now. I get fewer grammatical errors in Word and have fewer problems with pacing. That doesn't mean I don't need to edit.

What it means is that I've gotten a good eye for what always needs to be edited in every rough and started turning editing novels into a routine as familiar as writing rough drafts. When I got one done in a month, I started achieving Brackett speed. That will let me continue to write, submit, grow until my professional career launches. It almost guarantees that when I make a first sale, the next book I sell will be at least as good as the first one that sold.

Someone said it takes five million words of bad fiction to learn to write well. I tend to agree with that, so I don't mourn losing some of my trunk novels. Those that I remember the idea will probably get rewritten from scratch, something I enjoy doing that will improve them immensely over the lost version. Those that I don't remember were probably already subsumed into other projects.

To me, right now they're a big sketchbook full of potential. I could choose any of them to edit and finish to completion. I will be starting in on another one soon after a break for goofing around with art while marketing Vaumuru's Curse.

But I wanted to share that amazing triumph with you -- a New Year's Resolution completed exactly as phrased despite major life changes that filled more than half of the year with other unplanned activity. I did it. So can you with whatever you set out to do on New Year's -- just try to pace it so that you're not trying to do it all at once, that helps a lot.