Tag Archives: tempera

Why I Fail

"Why I Fail." 12/8/12. Tempera, watercolor, oil pastel. 9x12".
“Why I Fail.” 12/8/12. Tempera, watercolor, oil pastel. 9×12″.

Initially, this was to be a painting of me and this girl, having a picnic under the shade of a tree. You know – cute, innocent. Except not really.

Toward the end of 2012, there were a couple times in the van when I took out my headphones and noticed that the female patients were a little more giggly than usual – and talking about trees. On both occasions, I was the only male in the van and had been listening to music but it was still pretty dumb insofar as it was painfully obvious. Trees was a code word (and not a particularly clever one). I didn’t say anything though (who was I to ruin their fun?) I just rolled my eyes and put my headphones back in.

But that’s how I got the idea and I thought was really clever. On the surface, it’d be really sweet and innocuous but – underlying that – something a little bolder. I wanted it to say, “Hey, I like you, you like me, we’re really cute together,” as well as, “I know what your little code word means and – oh –  here’s a picture of my dickhow ’bout that?

So I set to work. First thing’s first: I needed to trace my penis (you know – the “tree” under which we’d be having our picnic). I chose not to start tracing from the bottom edge because I wanted to leave a little ambiguity. (Like, “Is this the whole thing? Maybe! Maybe not!”). After all, you don’t wanna give it all away, right? I still needed to camouflage it to some extent with branches and leaves, but I decided to draw the two of us sitting in the grass first.

I couldn’t fucking do it. I couldn’t get the characters to look the way that I wanted. I erased and began again over and over until I got frustrated. And then it occurred to me: this wonderful new thing (art) that had recently come into my life — I didn’t enjoy it because it was a way for me to showcase my dazzling fucking wit (or my penis), I enjoyed it because it was a way for me to legitimately work through my feelings and express myself authentically. This – what I was currently engaged in – was bullshit. And what do you know? Like so many of my mistakes and fuck-ups, both big and small, what was at the root of this misstep? My dick.

I changed course, painted without intent, and looked at the page. Yeah – there it was, right in front of me: WHY I FAIL.


Aside from a commission, my first sale was for two pieces: this painting and a drawing.

My first sale as an artist was a painting of my dick.

The buyer had to have seen it, right? Jacob certainly spotted it when I posted it on Facebook back in December. I opted to respond vaguely with comments like, “Eye of the beholder, my friend!” (even when he posted his own derivative work on Imgur to support his interpretation).

I think I was scared because if I acknowledged  it, anyone that saw it could play mathematician based on the dimensions of the painting. Unless I also added that it wasn’t my entire penis. And then I’m suddenly the kid on the internet writing about how “my dick is at least this big (and who knows how much bigger?)!

Which – now – I totally am anyway.

[By the way,  the answer: not that much].


Perfect Love / Exit Bag

"Perfect Love / Exit Bag." 10/31/12. Tempera, colored pencil, oil pastel. 12x18".
“Perfect Love / Exit Bag.” 10/31/12. Tempera, colored pencil, oil pastel. 12×18″.

“Perfect love” (to me) isn’t just unconditional love; it’s bigger than that and it’s greater (or wider) than any kind of romantic love. It’s a total respect for the entirety of another human being. It doesn’t have any room for jealousy or anything like that.

I really like the word “cupidity.” Technically, it’s an excessive desire to possess something (like money or materials things). Given the connotations of “cupid” though, I like to think of it as more of an excessive desire to possess someone. It’s sort of the opposite of perfect love. When I meet a girl, I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other. One minute, I might be totally enamored or infatuated with her and then – the second I fear that she might not reciprocate (if she’s paying more attention to someone else, for example) – I’ll totally shut off absolutely all feeling and cease to care about her in any way at all. And then – the moment my fear is somehow allayed – a switch flips and I’m one-hundred percent invested in her again.

I’ve never been what you’d call a jealous or possessive boyfriend. I’m not bothered by my girlfriend going out without me, having male friends, or anything like that, but I think that’s because – once she’s “officially” my girlfriend – my cupidity is sated. That’s all the “possession” I need to feel okay, but that’s still a problem. It’s still not okay with me that I (feel like I) need that at all.

Last October, I was in treatment and I liked a girl but I knew it was a bad idea for me to get involved. So I was trying to have a genuine friendship with her. I was trying to practice this concept of “perfect love” that I had in my head. I was trying to be real and authentic and honest, and to value and respect her as an independent human being. It was a totally different dynamic (and experience) than my usual approach of (still trying to be honest but primarily) trying to get her to like me (or want to be my girlfriend or want to sleep with me). I wanted my behavior to reflect perfect love, which meant acting without any expectation, desire, or even hope of receiving anything in return.

On Halloween, she was having a problem and – after coming to me for help – she went to someone else. “What – I’m not enough? My help wasn’t good enough? What’s happening!?”–I thought. I didn’t show any of this outwardly, but the switch flipped and I immediately ceased to have any interest in this girl. My feelings were hurt so I was going to stop caring. …Because I wasn’t the only person that she shared her problem with…

And it’s worse than that even. In these situations, I don’t usually stop caring about the girl alone – more often than not, I also stop caring about myself. Suddenly, I’m a worthless unlovable piece of shit and there’s no reason for me to be alive. (My attempt at perfect love was an abysmal failure).

This all happened just before expressive art therapy group. An “exit bag” is a homemade suicide device. To make one, you need a helium tank, an oven bag, a piece of string, some tape, and a tube. I felt like I wanted to die, but I knew that I didn’t really and I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings because I probably wasn’t ready to feel better. I needed to punish myself by stewing in misery for a little bit longer. Writing “helium, bag, string, tape, and tube” here was my way of saying “I WANT TO DIE” without having to deal with anyone’s response to a statement like that.

Because so much of what I was experiencing as I made this piece so perfectly exemplifies (/is symptomatic of) borderline personality disorder, I came to see the ghost that I drew here as sort of a stand-in for BPD. He’s in at least five of my pieces (including a tattoo). Once I have more of those online, I’ll probably do a special post just to feature him in all his different forms. (That sounds like fun to me). : )

Moving Boxes (and Little Else)

"Moving Boxes (and Little Else)." 5/24/13. Tempera and pen on paper. 12x16".
“Moving Boxes (and Little Else).” 5/24/13. Tempera and pen on paper. 12×16″.

She might be scared, but that has nothing to do with me, my choices, my attitude, or my … how I’ve been.
I’m ambitious and I have confidence but moving out starts the ticking of the clock. It sets the deadline for my success or the date of my failure. Not moving out is what I’m comfortable with. But how long is it okay for me to stall intimate relationships so that I can enjoy myself (and do the things I want to without worry)?
Is it okay for me to be okay? Complacency. Fear. Priorities. GROWING UP. I understand far less than I let on. Strange that someone with all the answers in interactions has nothing but questions when alone.

That’s the text within this piece – painted in my Friday expressive art therapy group at Tranquil Shores. It was getting closer to the time Heather and I had talked about picking up and moving to Jacksonville. We were bickering a lot. I had asked her what was really going on. When she failed to come up with anything, I suggested that maybe she was scared about moving to a new city. After all, it wasn’t me. I’m itinerant! I’m punk! All we do is move. We have no roots. “I don’t live anywhere!” She, on the other hand, had never moved to a new city before so she was scared and that was making her irritable. Obviously.

But this was expressive art therapy and (in therapy) we don’t look at what’s wrong with other people, we look at ourselves. So that’s what I tried to do as I painted and – when I started writing – all of this suddenly came out of me.

God dammit. It was totally me. I was terrified. If I moved to Jacksonville with Heather, I’d suddenly be responsible for rent and utilities and who knows what else. I had been out of (inpatient) treatment for three months and thus far was doing great. I was supporting myself without having to give in to reality and get a real job. (Which – in hindsight – I realize may not have been all that impressive a feat considering that I had absolutely no bills to pay). But if I moved to Jacksonville and came up short on money for bills one month, all of a sudden, I’d have to admit that I was wrong. I’d have to get a job and acknowledge that I couldn’t support myself creatively…

Maybe I should just break it off and stay in Bradenton and live with Taylor’s family forever…? I don’t need a girlfriend or to be an adult or…

God dammit.

“Moving boxes and little else” is an acknowledgment that I had moved more times than I could count but was terrified to move forward.

But I did! And – so far – so good.

This piece is important to me because the process of creating it really was revelatory. I had spend a lot time thinking about this stuff and had gotten nowhere. After I made this piece, the bickering between Heather and I stopped completely. It’s pretty remarkable how much garbage sometimes lurks just below the surface (and how badly it can fuck me up). This piece is proof that art is essential to the maintenance of my mental health.


Here’s the song I quoted in this entry. It’s from the new Dead Mechanical album out soon on Toxic Pop (who split released the last DM full-length with Traffic Street (that’s my label, you guys!)) When I lived in DC, I spent a lot of time in Baltimore. When I wasn’t copping or shooting heroin, I was usually at a Dead Mechanical show. (Sometimes both!) But getting to see them play all the time was definitely one of the best things about living up there.

Here’s another song from the same record. Just ’cause.

Hit the Toxic Pop website to check out the album art (by Julie Benoit!) and pre-order the LP, which starts shipping next week. (I know the site says that it starts shipping in early August, but Mike (Toxic Pop) sent out an update changing the shipping date due to delays at the pressing plant).


This painting is currently for sale. Or – if you’re not a big spender – you can pick up a signed and framed (behind glass) print/poster that’s the same size as the original.

They Mean Well, Baby Bird

I painted this for a friend’s nursery (and wrote this) after the birth of his first child.

"They Mean Well, Baby Bird." 5/15/13. Tempera, acrylic, colored pencil. 12x16".
“They Mean Well, Baby Bird.” 5/15/13. Tempera, acrylic, colored pencil. 12×16″.

Sometime in April, I found two baby birds that had fallen out of a nest and were clearly dying. I’m embarrassed to say so (which strikes me as a pretty strong indication that I should) but that little incident sparked serious thought – about my priorities, my responsibilities, and how I spend my time. I felt stupid since (apparently) I need to be confronted face-to-face with a dying animal in order to consider it. And I felt weak for being affected by the encounter at all.

About an hour before I had planned to start painting this, I was reminded of another incident where I had felt similarly weak. In twelve-step programs, the sixth step is to become ready to have God remove all of one’s character defects (and the seventh is to actually ask God to remove them). For me, step six meant spending a considerable amount of time actually considering and listing my character defects and then really thinking about whether I truly wanted to stop indulging them. Regarding the seventh step… I talk about faith in relation to other pieces and it’s not the crux of this painting so I’ll just say that one of the best things I’ve ever heard in Alcoholics Anonymous (one of very few things that actually stuck with me) was: “If you’re gonna pray for your character defects to go away, you better fucking act like it worked.”

I did those two steps and realized, “Shit – if I just committed to being honest, I can’t really sneak out of rehab tomorrow to meet up with a girl.” (A scheme I had hatched earlier in the week). So I called the girl. “Um… this is going to sound really dopey, but I have to cancel… I just did my seventh step so I can’t be dishonest and sneak out to see you.”

The buildings in this painting are arranged like the ones at Tranquil Shores. The one with the bird at the window was my room. I often contemplated sneaking out by stepping out of that window and onto the roof of the adjacent building. (I never followed through, but only because I had easier means of sneaking out).

I’ll never forget when Kyle’s mom left (or, more specifically, the day she came back), her attitude, and Kyle’s response…  We were sitting in his room when she showed up at the house. She was really happy to see him and he was just… blank. Emotionless. He looked bored by it. I’m sure he wasn’t bored, but he was hurt and I guess that’s how he protected himself. Or maybe he was angry and that was his way of getting back at her: acting like he didn’t care. I don’t know why Kyle’s mom left and maybe she didn’t have a choice, but I saw how the way that she left hurt my friend. She loved him, but she fucked up. My parents loved me and they fucked up. Kyle has his own kid now and I have faith in him as a dad, but he’s going to fuck up in some respect somewhere along the way. We all do. It won’t mean he doesn’t love his daughter, it just means that he’s as shitty, selfish, and imperfect as everyone else. I might do tremendously terrible things in some moment, but I never have that intention; I’m just misguided, short-sighted, frustrated, or [whatever].

The mean looking bird is in my window because it’s me. It’s me and it’s my dad – and my mom. It’s Kyle’s parents, it’s Kyle, it’s his girlfriend, and one day it’ll be their daughter.

“Take what you need and leave the rest” is a slogan that gets used a lot in the contexts of substance abuse recovery and mental health treatment. “Take what you need and leave the nest” is a silly, little bird/growing up pun that I came up with for this piece to show everyone how clever I am.

I struck out on my own at a pretty early age. Some people seem to never leave home. It doesn’t matter. When it comes to parents, family, and home (or anything really), get what you can out of it – all the good lessons or experiences available – and then move forward to what’s next. Don’t dwell on the bad. Resentments only hurt one person – the person holding them. Forgiveness can still be tough, but it’s easier to forgive someone when you remember: they mean well, baby bird.


On an unrelated note, I just fixed a lamp with a soldering iron. If anyone needs the wiring in their house redone, I’m now taking appointments.


Who says a full-length can’t be 19 minutes long? The first three tracks on this thing are so good, they could have cut it off right there and called it a full-length and I still wouldn’t have argued.

I Wish I Could Get Everyone to Stop Waiting

"I Wish I Could Get Everyone to Stop Waiting." 6/7/13. Tempera and pencil on paper, cut up and rearranged. 12x12".

“I Wish I Could Get Everyone to Stop Waiting.” June 7th, 2013. Tempera and pencil on paper, cut up and rearranged. 12×12”.

This was the last piece I made in my Wednesday night “Art of Recovery” group, before moving to Jacksonville.

The text says, “I wish I could get everyone to stop waiting. They’d rather die than try something new and risk being happy.” It’s about the people in my life caught in patterns of addiction, codependency/enabling, and other kinds of mental illness. Or, rather, it’s about my own frustration in not being able to help/change/save them. It’s about the way we have a tendency to think things like, “Once [this] happens, then I can do [that], and THEN I’ll be happy.”

I know that if I can’t be happy now, regardless of my current situation, there’s nothing that could happen that will make me happy. Happiness comes from within and has nothing to do with external factors outside of my own control. In that sense, this piece is very much an echo of the sentiment (as I’ve interpreted it anyway) in the opening song on one of my favorite records. The chorus is: “What does your dream home look like? It’ll take you years to even tell, and I’ll be sleeping well, here in hell.”

This statement isn’t from June. I just wrote it. So I still know these things, it’s just that I’m having trouble applying them. I’m gonna give it my best shot today.

Maybe I Don’t Believe in God

Originally, I was going to spend tonight working on some art for Billy Raygun, but (as excited as I am about that) I think I need to do some expressive art therapy. I’ve got a lot on my mind and a lot that I’m stressing out about, so I’m gonna try to be present, here and now, and just paint whatever comes.

“Maybe I Don’t Believe in God.” April 19th, 2013. Tempera and oil pastels on cardboard. 14×17″.

If you take the time to read this, I think you’ll appreciate it.

Statement. June 1st, 2013.

On “the inside,” my ability to express myself authentically reached incredible new heights. Out here, in the real world, sometimes I’m inclined to put my walls back up just a little bit. I had taken to talking about God for a while. When I’d talk about God, I was just referring to my ideas about love, acceptance, and [well] reality, I guess. The word “god” was part convenient shorthand and part… it just felt right. I didn’t feel the need to explain my personal brand of faith every time I used it. I speak coherently and my words have meaning that doesn’t require an exposition of my own understanding of (what I might call) God.

But back in the aforementioned real world… (outside of the contexts of twelve-step meetings and mental health treatment facilities) “God” has certain connotations that I might not want to be associated with. I don’t want people to judge me – to misunderstand me – and see me as something that I’m not, just because I feel okay terming my beliefs as “belief in God.” “Besides,” I thought to myself, “if I know that I’m only choosing to believe in the things I do – that I don’t think there’s any absolute truth to it (or to anything else for that matter) – is that even really belief?” I wasn’t really sure and I wasn’t certain that I was willing to take the risk of espousing something that could result in my being labeled as a Christian or even as some kind of new age spirituality dweeb.

This was on my mind when I showed up to expressive art therapy group back at Tranquil Shores one day in April. “Today, we’re going to make shields,” Julie told us.

And this is what came out of me. “Fucking perfect” – is how I’m compelled to describe it now. That afternoon though, as I was painting it, I was a little unsure. When I was asked to share a little bit about my piece with the others in the group (which – aside from me – is always comprised of the facility’s current inpatients) I spewed out a summary of my journey from the fiercely irreligious, non-agnostic, non-atheist to [whatever it is that I am today].

When someone finishes sharing about their artwork, the floor is open for feedback, if anyone has any. “That was better – that was more helpful than anything I’ve ever heard my counselor say”; “I want Sam to be my counselor”; “I want Sam to be my sponsor”; “that was amazing”; and “please don’t ever stop coming back for this group” were some of the things I heard. I felt incredible. I felt blessed.

This piece isn’t about my spirituality. It’s about fear. It’s about authenticity of expression. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I still get scared. The quotes at the end of the preceding paragraph: I’m afraid to include them lest they be perceived as indications of arrogance. But when I stand up to my fear – when I put down my shield – and express myself honestly and authentically, the rewards are beyond description.

That’s not always easy. I started this statement with the story and background that I shared that day (about my spirituality). But – as stated – this piece isn’t about spirituality. After ninety minutes spent on this, I realized that what drove me to begin this statement in that way was the same fear that I was addressing in painting the piece that I’m writing about: a fear of being judged or labeled as someone who “believes” in something. Despite the time and energy I poured into that writing tonight, to not remove it would have been antithetical to everything you’ve just read (which was, originally, the conclusion of this statement).

I’d prefer to keep this personal, but I feel a little bit of background information is necessary here. Krokodil is a synthetic opiate that, basically, has the effect of eating the flesh off of your fucking bones. It sort of turns you into a zombie… It’s bizarre and fucked up and awful. For a time though, I reveled in krokodil; I was thoroughly in love with the concept of this people-eating drug. There’s nothing to really love about something that destroys people the way that this particular drug does though. With one exception…

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say to (or about) some drug addict in their life, “Why can’t [you/he/she] just stop? Just fucking stop.” Some people say addiction is a disease. I don’t know about that (and, really, I think that’s sort of a semantic argument anyway). I know this though: if addiction was a matter of control, of self-discipline, of restraint… no one would ever inject a drug that [ahem] eats the flesh off of your fucking bones. It’s only when a person is so hopelessly crippled by their misery, self-loathing, pain, addiction, and that endless cycle of the same that they would do something as devastatingly destructive as injecting krokodil. Which, I believe, makes krokodil proof positive that when we talk about addicts, we are not talking about willpower or resolve. Disease, mental disorder, a symptom of some other ill… classify it however you want, so long as you understand that we’re not talking about a simple character defect.

I used to say I loved krokodil because it was so wonderfully dark, evil, and fucked up. Now I claim to love it insofar as it’s the ultimate evidence that conquering addiction is not something that an addict can simply decide and will him or herself into. Which one is really the truth about why I love krokodil? In all honesty, I’m not sure. Certainly there’s truth to both of them, but to what degree I’m not sure. Krokodil is emblematic of my struggle to express myself authentically. And it’s something that I need to spend more time really examining.

The writing of this statement has been revelatory and – like many of my paintings – has been “painted and repainted” to the point where it bears no resemblance to what I first put on the “canvas.” At a certain point though, whether or not I feel like I’ve reached a point of denouement, I stop painting and let a piece exist for what it is – as a snapshot of myself at a certain moment in my life. I’m told (and I know) that I am not the person I once was. For longer than I can remember, I was thoroughly negative, but – today – I have a positive energy and am a welcome presence in the lives of the people whom I care about and who care about me. Nevertheless, I am still attracted to (what I can only think to describe as) darkness. Hate, pain, tragedy – these are things that I’m more than familiar with; I’m comfortable with them. I’m no longer interested in nurturing them or living in them, but… maybe they’re just part of who I am. And maybe – so long as I’m not contributing to them – maybe that’s okay.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. But I’m happy today and I like who I am today. I do good things. That’s enough.

The No Self-Esteem Engine

This blog has been fucking with me. On the one hand, I want a chronological, comprehensive gallery of my artwork. On the other hand, I like making art and this doesn’t feel like a creative project… I feel like a fucking archivist and it’s boring and the feedback I’ve gotten doesn’t seem sufficient to justify it. So from now on, fuck what I *think* I should be doing with this website. I’m just going to do what I *feel* like doing with it. Limiting myself to one post each day is putting an unnecessary restriction on my ability to express myself and what’s currently going on in my life. I’ll post whatever the fuck I want, however often I want. The point of this whole thing is to honor myself by expressing myself freely and honestly. Somehow I lost sight of that really early in, but now I’m ready to correct it.
And I feel better already.
By the way, all of this came to me while – SURPRISE – painting. Funny how that always works for me. I’ve been stressing out about this for the last three days, unable to figure it out. Of course, I hadn’t painted anything new in that time, so it makes total sense.
With that said, I do feel like posting the next piece in the chronology now. It’s called “The No Self-Esteem Engine.” An alternate equally clever title suggested by a friend was “The Little Engine That Wouldn’t.” When I made it, I was pretty miserable and had very little grasp on why that was. I was losing my temper a lot. Things were not going well. That same week, I completed a treatment assignment that I think illuminates that particular struggle pretty well. I’ll type that up and share it later. Along with the new painting that I’m working on today.
thenoselfesteemengine“The No Self-Esteem Engine.” September 19th, 2012. Tempera. 12×18″.
You know that Green Day song, “Having a Blast,” and the lyric, “Do you ever wanna lead a long trail of destruction and mow down any bullshit that confronts you?” That was my favorite song when I was eight years old and it was on my mind when I painted this. And that’s a target on the front of the train because I felt like I must have had a fucking target painted on my face for all of the shit that the world seemed to be constantly hitting me with. The world, of course, was not actually doing anything to me at all, but when you’re a self-absorbed drug-addled asshole, it can feel that way sometimes.
Oh – also – Noelle asked me the other day if I’d make the flier for Rational Anthem’s homecoming show. And, earlier today, I did just that.rational8:3