TRAVEL AS AN ARTIST: Part 1

Thanks for stopping by! This is the first post in a series of travel advice/review blogs that I’ve been working on as a way to showcase some tips and travel destinations for artists- whether you’re traveling solo, with a couple friends, or with your whole family. I also take suggestions on future posts- though I do have about 6 or 7 posts planned out for the series, if there’s anything you’d like to see or hear about in a future entry, go ahead and let me know!

Ormond Beach, FL

The best thing about traveling as an artist- especially one whose main media are drawing and painting instead of, say, sculpture- is being able to find visual inspiration for your work everywhere: from the hotel lobby, the roadside landscaping, the goofy giftshop offerings, and even from the actual parks, beaches, and attractions you came there to visit. I’m incredibly lucky; I live in Florida, which means I get to see all kinds of interesting people, lush pockets of wild and gardened greenery hosting wildlife between buildings and busy streets, and purposefully eye-catching feats of advertising meant to harpoon the brains of tourists and force them to stop and look at whatever it is that’s for sale. Especially as an Orlando native- I’m just a day trip away from all the inspiration you can eat.

Ormond Beach is not the closest beach to Orlando- that being said, though, it was the one I visited the most as a kid. There were times when we’d head up once or twice a week, after school or on the weekend for a just-because visit, or maybe to just grab some subs and eat a relaxed dinner on the sandy picnic tables at the Michael Crotty Bicentennial Park. It was a kind of stunning realization for me, to realize it’d been at least a couple of years since I’d been to Ormond Beach itself, and that it’d been even longer since the last time I’d been to this park in particular. I decided to head up for a day of plein-air sketching, maybe do a couple of studies for some paintings I’ve been mulling over for a while, rest up in a hotel for the night, and come home to Orlando mentally refreshed.

Well… that didn’t quite turn out.

Traveling Artist Tip #1: Check the weather. Fortunately, it did not rain on me in Ormond Beach, but it was very dark, chilly, and windy all day long. It was too cold to head onto the beach itself, and it was way too windy to bring my sketchbook out with me. That’s what’s so great about being alive in this point in history, though- my phone is a nice enough camera, and the light was still good enough (mid to late afternoon, even!) to take photos.

Now, the park itself is split into two areas- there is “beach access” parking in the front area, next to a set of slightly gross bathrooms and a couple of covered pavilions with picnic tables, and what is technically a walkway to the beach itself. However, the one I stopped near was closed due to storm damage, and I didn’t get a chance to head over to see if all of the walkways were similarly closed on this trip. This area is good for a lot of reasons- it’s free beach parking a decent enough distance from the hotels that the actual beach is usually pretty peaceful and clear of rowdy tourists- but with the weather like that, I opted to head a little farther back into the park itself for the second area.

a weathered, wall-mounted payphone
I did not touch this item.

Farther back, you get actual amenities- the bathrooms are, indeed, a bit nicer, even if they are home to a payphone of dubious provenance. There’s a really great playground for kids with one of those huge sail-like sunshades, a baseball diamond with little bleachers, a dog park, tennis courts, what appears to be a meeting room/clubhouse that could be used to host parties, and a very well-maintained set of low-ability walking paths into the woods between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway. I took my phone as we explored the walking paths- you can still see where abandoned, overgrown paths used to be in some areas, and there are a lot of animal-made paths beaten through the low bushes and knee-height palms.

mulch-lined path leading into a wooded park area
Peaceful and inviting!

It’s tough to find places in the middle of tourism towns that look and feel utterly remote- even deep in the woods at the back of the park, all you had to do to remember that you were in civilization was glance down at the perfectly manicured and mulched walking path under your feet. Looking up, though, makes it easier: you can see the wide blue sky bordered in green, unmarked by powerlines or the small planes dragging advertisement banners over the beach, and you can hear very little, because even the wind is muted by the trees around you. There aren’t any signs, or benches, or gaps in the greenery exposing the back of a campground manager’s cabin or the side of a campground manager’s pickup truck. It’s not “Old Florida,” necessarily, because it is so gentle and clean and forgiving- there’s no getting lost and surviving for days on swamp water and palmetto bugs here, but the fantasy of an older, emptier Florida lingers nearby.

Of course, even on a supremely empty and gloomy day, we ran into like… four separate groups of locals, including one lady walking not one but three very small and friendly old dogs. The Bicentennial Park is nice and quiet, but it’s in the middle of a decently populated tourist destination, and there’s probably times of year- high summer, spring break, any day with reasonably good weather- when it’ll be crowded or even impossible to park. The walking might be desolate enough in spots to set up a travel easel and bang out a few studies, but if the weather permits that sort of activity, it’s probably going to be even busier in all areas of the park, including the woods.

Still, this is a good place for photos- stock photography and resource and reference photos for sure, but there are a lot of nice spots that would work well for some kinds of photoshoots if you didn’t mind going all the way to the back of the park where the paths are. Possibly not wedding photography- it’s pretty far from the actual parking lot, and the bathrooms are unideal for trying to change into expensive formalwear- but certainly engagement photos, graduation announcements, that kind of thing.

After a couple of hours of hiking around and taking some pictures, I figured it would be a better idea to head to the hotel to check in and then get dinner afterward. Now we actually stayed a little bit away from the park- maybe 15 or 20 minutes driving in evening traffic- in the Hampton Inn right at the intersection of I95 and 40. Obviously, this meant that the hotel was SUPER easy to locate from all approaches- we actually passed by it on the way from Orlando to the beach- and even though there are plenty of food and convenience options within a five minute or less drive from the hotel, there’s literally a Cracker Barrel 400 feet away from the hotel. I have to say, it’d been like… fifteen years since I last stepped foot in a Cracker Barrel, for no particular reason other than not having a particular mind to do so. It’s so obviously a tourist trap- it’s basically two gift shops stuffed into one restaurant-shaped trench coat- but there’s a decent assortment of Cute Items I Legitimately Want To Buy, and if you want standardized, reliable Southern food, why the hell not?

Just as a disclaimer, I did not eat inside the Cracker Barrel this time. I ordered online from my hotel room, walked over to the takeout register inside the gift shop, and then spent about ten or fifteen minutes poking around the store looking at everything while I waited for my food to be finished and bagged up. I don’t know how convenient the tables are for taking out your sketchbook and doodling while you eat, but I feel like this is a good way to get sausage gravy in your papers. Maybe don’t risk it.

The thing is, by the time I carried the food back to my hotel room, I was pretty tired out from all the walking, and then the meal that I ordered (Uncle Herschel’s Favorite, poached eggs and hashbrown casserole and chicken tenders because I am an adult and order what I crave) slammed me directly into a food coma. I needed caffeine, so I headed into the lobby to make myself a free cup of coffee. Even though- obviously- it was way too late for the free breakfast you get at a Hampton Inn, there’s a complimentary beverage area. It’s basic stuff- coffee, tea, hot cocoa- but it was a nice touch considering I didn’t want to walk back to Cracker Barrel to ask them to please sell me a cup of coffee.

free coffee and tea in the lobby of a Hampton Inn by Hilton
Delicious caffeine….

Speaking of hotels in general:

This is important enough to be Traveling Artist Tip #2: If there is a free membership or loyalty program that you’re not yet a member of, sign up. A lot of hotel rewards programs will start you out with some basic perks at the very first level, including discounted stays and some amenities at check-in. Even if you don’t see the value at first, when you get to the stage where you’re getting steep discounts on rates, free upgrades on things like in-room wifi and room types, and enough points to book free stays, it makes every other aspect of traveling- whether it’s for art or work, or for a fun trip- that much easier to plan. A huge chunk of the various hotels and brands that exist will be covered under Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, so at the very least sign up for those two- if you travel a lot for conventions, though, you’ll really see the points and the benefits for future stays rack up. It’s absolutely worth your time to get that all set up before the next time you book a hotel room.

I grabbed a few photos in the lobby- those hanging-ring lamps were very pleasing to my eye, for some reason- and if I’d been less tired, I probably could have set up to draw for a while. Some lobbies are different, but when you know that it’s a big chain hotel, you can kind of depend on some things being consistent. Since Hampton Inns have free breakfast, the lobby usually doubles as the general dining area, so they have tables and comfortable seating. However, I fully realized that I would be drawing just a bit, and then tucking myself into bed by like… nine.

Lamps are soothing and compelling…

I actually lucked out, though- the local PBS station was showing an episode of Artbound (Season 9, Episode 7: Artist and Mother) which felt extremely fortuitous, and I got to watch the entire thing before dozing off in the middle of a show that seemed to be… all about the various tree types in South Carolina? I was asleep early, with the nebulous idea that I’d be up and running around early in the morning.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I would like to add that I haven’t engaged with the nightlife in Ormond Beach in five whole years, but the TGIFriday’s is still there, and Hanky Panky’s- a delightfully divey bar with bowling-alley carpeting- is still standing where I left it last. This will possibly be a report for a future visit, so I don’t want to go into too much detail there, and in all honesty, there’s a big chance that things will be different the next time I’m staying overnight and in a mood to hit a bar. So I’ll leave that be for today.

There are a ton of great places in Ormond Beach to hang out, look at art, and draw- another personal favorite is Tomoka State Park, which has a lot of cool things to do, is dog friendly, and also has a great big weird commemorative statue. There are art galleries and museums- there’s actually an art walk that I’ve never had a chance to participate in- and of course, tons of great spots for people-watching.

Gorgeous day, too.

It was warmer and less windy the next day, so I hung out around the hotel pool for part of the morning before checkout- and, again, as an artist, I know it can be rough to make the budget work for trips like this sometimes. Any hotel that has a free breakfast is worth the investment simply because you can buddy up with one or two or even three other artist friends for a trip like this to split the costs, and all of you can get a great breakfast in the mornings, saving you, what, ten or fifteen dollars per person just for the one meal? Plus, like I mentioned earlier, places that serve breakfast have big, comfortable seating areas with tables that you can use to sit down and draw somewhere other than your actual bed or the desk in the hotel room, which might be needed for a staging area.

You want to keep in mind that no matter where you go, you’re always going as an artist. Especially when you’re already traveling for work, family, etc- if you’re already going to be staying somewhere out of your normal homespace, there’s going to spaces and opportunities for practicing your art even when you’re not typically a plein-air artist, and there’s going to be a list of opportunities there to help make it easier to save money, time, and effort here and there that can really benefit you in the long term, too.

Now, I ended up going to one of my other favorite local beaches- New Smyrna- that next day, but honestly, that will end up being a whole other entry in this series, because I actually have another trip planned this spring to go and spend a couple of days and nights in New Smyrna, so I’ll just leave those particular photos for next time.

Now- was this trip a success? COMPLETELY. Even though I didn’t get to do the exact amount of art that I’d planned on, it totally refreshed me to get out of the house and put my eyes on a different- though, for me, familiar- landscape, and I was able to work out some sketches on the trip and make a digital composition study for a painting I’m hoping to work on this summer. That’s the thing about traveling as an artist- you’re not always going to park yourself in some well-lit spot and bang out a Monet in an afternoon, right? Sometimes you just need to recharge and rebuild your mental database for future work.

Keep an eye out for Part Two of the Traveling Artist series!

Redbubble update!

(Bear in mind, I’m trying out the new editor, this is very interesting but uh, hard to get used to, haha.)

I’m very pleased to report that my first valiant attempt at a complex, seamless repeating pattern was a success! Eventually! I’m selling it on some items right now as a pattern on Redbubble and may choose to do a non-pattern version soon as well. Here’s a preview that shows the three background color options that I’m offering with it!

tricolor seamless pattern containing bones, eyes, teeth, rabbits, bees, sharks, nautilus, deer, axolotl
Screencap of a color example for my first-ever pattern on redbubble, starring: the cast of the spacedad novel I’m working on!

You can take a look at the pattern itself on my redbubble account, here!

UGH!

I’m not entirely convinced that the Tumblr Meltdown of 2018 wasn’t specifically engineered to drive as much of its userbase to revenue-creating websites as quickly as possible, BUT…. oh well. Hopefully more people using the wordpress blogging/reading function will give people a chance to meet one another.

In other news, I’ve really REALLY got the Christmas Spirit lately, no doubt due to having been held hostage by my lovely coworkers playing Hallmark Christmas movies nonstop since October! To be fair, though, I… love them… and am eagerly thinking of ways to show my love for these shows, lmao.

(REAL TALK: A Gift To Remember? LOVE IT. OH MY GOSH. Love the DOG, love the AMNESIA, love the TWIST, it’s just so wholesome and charming I could DIE.)

Udemy Course Update!

So! I was able to finish another free course- this was an Excel Quickstart Tutorial Course, meant to really be a very quick and dirty absolute beginner’s course. I think it was pretty good- I don’t have Microsoft Office on my computer, because I have OpenOffice instead, and I wasn’t able to perform the quizzes in this course, but pretty good! I had used excel spreadsheets before at work, but extremely sparingly, and had done a lot of things manually and with a lot of errors that I had to then correct, also manually. This course made it pretty easy to see where I’d gotten it wrong, although I will probably have to use a tutorial or helpdesk the first few times I try to use it in a professional setting.

Since I have OpenOffice, I will also probably have to look up tutorials for people explaining how the two programs differ, but, I mean, it looks mostly the same, I just couldn’t figure out where certain things were.

Anyway! I have a cool signup link for Udemy again! It does benefit me by I think like $5 of Udemy credits per person who signs up for the first time using that link, but only for the first six people. I would be using those course credits to enroll in some of the coursework that is paid-access- since at this time Udemy isn’t accredited, I don’t feel totally comfortable paying for its services using real money. That being said, you might as well use it if you haven’t signed up for any courses before– there are a ton of free courses on a variety of subjects and I’m definitely going to continue using it just for the sheer joy of learning something even remotely useful or interesting.

Udemy SEO course by Moz review!

Alright well! Obviously with Halloween and various personal events and whatnot, it took longer than I expected to finish the course I mentioned, BUT:

Do I Recommend This Course: A Short Essay By Me, A Sharo

Yes actually! Okay, does it assume that you already know some basic, introductory-level terms and phrases and programs/services? Yes. I feel like a link to a glossary or even an Intro-to-Intro lecture explaining some of these basics would have been super useful, and since there wasn’t one I’ve basically been going back over my notes highlighting things I don’t immediately understand so I can research them on my own. A level-zero beginner like me should have probably looked for an even more basic course first- however, none of the content of the lectures was so incomprehensible that I couldn’t follow along with the concepts, despite having blank patches here and there. Somebody who’s even very slightly more educated than I am about this subject will not have this problem.

One thing that was a little confusing a handful of times was that they referenced rules, programs, or sites that might not apply anymore- some of this content is from as far back as 2014, and for a lecture series that mentions periodically that rules and practices are constantly shifting or changing, this is kind of disheartening. At one point they mention using Google Plus to see if somebody is a trustworthy subject matter expert like… come on bruh, haha… that’s not a sentence that aged well.

Is this all information that artists, especially artists with web-based businesses, can use? Yeah I think so! I’ve started making changes to this site based on the info in the lecture course, and while it’s too early to tell if it’s having the kinds of effects I’m looking for, I was hit with a number of ideas for ways SEO type info can help with future projects and business ventures. Is this course going to be the THING that gets your art out there in a way that actually means making the kinds of sales you’d need to survive AS an artist?

Hrm, we’ll see, of course. But here’s the link again, since it certainly can’t hurt to learn this info! As well, I noticed that when I finished the course, I got this thing that popped up that said I could get credits that could go toward paid courses (most of the courses on Udemy seem to be paid, but this one is free.) However, I did not do the thing that would have led to the free course credits, so, ahaha, maybe the next course I do will have that same popup and I can put the link here so people can sign up for other, similarly free courses through me. I’m actually enrolled in a couple other short courses right now, so we’ll see how that all goes!

 

Just a quick side note-

-I decided to take an introductory online course for SEO on udemy and I’m really enjoying learning again. It’s been eight and a half years since I was in a college class or had to really learn anything in earnest, outside of small, minor skills or trivia here and there.

But anyway! SEO is so far really interesting, because it’s kind of hitting that middle ground between “marketing for humans” and “learning how computers think,” which are both subjects I’m very interested in. Plus, it’s giving me a look at skills that I definitely will need and want to have for if/when I manage to start that business I’ve been thinking about starting. And even before that, I think it’s the kind of skillset that a lot of artists could definitely benefit from having both in regards to their personal brand and in gaining access to the types of valuable work that can be done remotely or as a single contracted gig.

I’m about 65% through the course itself (it’s 3.5 hours long, but I haven’t been able to sit through it all in one go due to various reasons) and I think that someone who has more experience with SEO would definitely be able to get through the whole thing in less than a day. But! For someone like me, who has zero prior knowledge or experience other than knowing what SEO is conceptually, having it in this form is really helpful- I’m able to pause it and rewind to take down more accurate notes, and giving myself time between the lectures is giving me a chance to review previous notes and try to look up answers to questions I had about some basics that seemed to be understood implicitly.

If you’re not like me and don’t have to take physical paper notes in order to hammer in the lesson though, this is the sort of thing you could do on your bed at any time of the day or night. It also looks like there are paid courses for the same kind of thing available, too- not sure if those come with an “official” certification or if, like the free course, there’s an “unofficial” certification you can get for them, or if there’s a real or major difference in terms of skill level/job attractiveness between the two. I’ll post a more full review along with a link to the course once I’m done!

KO-FI Art Reward Roundup!

A quick update! Thanks to my lovely ko-fi contributors, my original goal was met, so I’ve gone ahead and updated my page to reflect the new goal. At this time there are still about 2 weeks left for my “donate to my kofi and get a drawing” offer, so anybody itching to get $3 worth of drawing out of me should head there now and see about chipping in for the current goal!

Please note: “Six Sights” and all versions of the Six Sights Stan are from/inspired by A Thousand Natural Shocks by WDW/Dubs!