A New Way of Thinking for 2022

Pieces of a Gingerbread House Kit poorly decorated and not assembled.
Nick’s and my attempt at creating a gingerbread house from a kit. It’s a deconstructed gingerbread house!

As 2021 came to a close, I downloaded a year-end compass and filled it out, looking at what I spent my time on over the past year, what I had hoped to accomplish, and what I had actually ended up accomplishing. As I got to the end of it, when I started setting my goals for this year, I realized that a lot of my goals are the same from the previous year. So I didn’t actually end up accomplishing what I had hoped to. Which made me wonder what I did all last year.

Looking back though, I actually did a lot. I started taking guitar lessons, I sewed some new pajamas, I did a bunch of drawing tutorials, I knitted myself a sweater, I hung out with friends, I spent a lot of time with Nick, I learned a lot more about 3D rendering and modeling, I started painting more Last Night on Earth figures, I played a lot of video games…

But going through my actual goals, I didn’t hit a single one. Which was kind of surprising. I’ve been working from home, so I have about an hour and a half extra each day that I’m saving on commuting. And I know I’ve let that time slide a bit, and I’ve done things like work on crossword puzzles, surf the internet, and sleep in, rather than anything related to what I was working on for the year. But I didn’t do that constantly, so I should have gotten more done.

Ordinarily, I would be disappointed in myself, pledge to do better, and then start out strong for the new year. Eventually, I would run out of steam or just not really feel like working on what I had planned to work on. And the cycle would continue. But this time I decided to look at what might be going on, and how can I fix it for this new year.

When I was younger, my goals were really simple: I would learn to draw better, learn to sew better, and knit more. But anyone who’s ever done goal training knows that vague goals like that are not ok. You need to have measurable goals. So rather than learning to draw better, my goal turned into create one drawing that I was proud enough of to put in an art show. Sewing better became create three pieces of clothing that fit me properly (not including pajamas, since I’ve made those patterns multiple times now, so they don’t count!). And knit more became create one sweater that fits me properly.

Looking at this past year, I don’t have one piece of art that I would consider putting into an art show. I have a lot of art that I created, but it was all tutorials, which aren’t original, so shouldn’t be in a show. I sewed two pairs of pajamas, and they fit better than any set I’ve ever sewn before, but I have been struggling to alter my t-shirt pattern to fit me properly, so I have no new clothes that I’ve created. And I did knit a sweater, but I did something wrong, and it has a really strange neckline and doesn’t fit properly. And after finishing it, I was a bit discouraged and didn’t want to start over again.

But I don’t look back at any of those projects and feel like I’ve wasted my time. I either learned a lot or enjoyed my time watching TV shows and working on making something, even if it isn’t something that I’ll ever show anyone or end up using. So maybe my problem is the actual goal? If I compare what I did last year to my younger-goal-setting-self, I hit every one. I have learned to draw better, sew better, and knit more.

So this year, I decided to go against all goal setting wisdom, and just have no goals for the year! I guess what I’ve decided to do is maybe more of a resolution? But my plan is to just enjoy my time and live more in the moment. If I decide I want to sew, then I’m going to sew. If I decide to just watch TV or surf the internet, and that’s what I will be happy doing, then that’s what I’m going to do. At the end of the year, I won’t have a measurable goal to have succeeded for failed at, but hopefully I will have a lot of experiences that I have enjoyed.

And we’ll see. Maybe next year, this year will have seemed like complete chaos, and I’ll have jumped around and started a bunch of projects that have never gotten finished. Or maybe it will be so freeing, that I’ll do the same thing again. We’ll find out!

It All Started With A Donut…

digital drawing of a pink frosted donut on a bluish background

A few months ago, Nick sent me a link to the YouTube channel “Art with Flo.” A blog he was reading mentioned her “You Can Draw This” series that teaches you how to draw in Procreate on the iPad. Since I’ve had Procreate for a few years and have never really gotten beyond the basics, I thought I’d check it out.

I started with the donut tutorial above, and I was quickly hooked! I spent my next few weekends and evenings going through almost everything she had available on YouTube. I learned a lot, but wanted more! So I ended up backing her on Patreon. I’ve never backed a Patreon before, so I had no idea what to expect. But I’ve been really pleased! She puts out at least one tutorial every week. They come with a variety of things: you almost always get the swatches that she uses, in case you want to match what she’s doing exactly, sometimes there are new brushes (I’m pretty sure my brush library has doubled since I started her tutorials.), sometimes there are reference photos, sometimes study sheets, and sometimes she adds her Procreate file so that you can study what she’s done. It’s great!

My favorite tutorial so far has been the eye with rainbow makeup (I don’t remember the actual name of it, but you can see my version below). This is the best eye I’ve ever drawn in my entire life! I never thought I was capable of drawing things that are more photo-realistic, so it was nice to see that I can…well, when I follow the tutorial and match what Flo is doing, step by step. After this tutorial, I was inspired to do a self portrait, and the results were not what I was hoping for. But I did see an improvement over past self portraits, so that’s good!

I’m excited to follow along with the next tutorial, but also to practice more and get more familiar with the brushes and drawing on an iPad! I can only get better!

3D Work

3D rendering of game box with components inside

About two years ago I started relearning how to 3D model. It was a very difficult task! I haven’t touched 3D since when I was in college years ago. And back then I used 3D Studio Max, which, while I still see mentioned on occasion, it does not appear to be used much in the industry anymore.

Because of that fact, I needed to figure out what program I should use. Not only did I want to learn 3D for mocking up games at work, I also wanted to use it for creating things that I could 3D print in my personal life. I ended up deciding to go with Blender. I chose it because it’s an open source program, and it’s free. The free part was probably the larger deciding factor. There was definitely a fear that I might not be any good at 3D modeling or even enjoy it. If that turned out to be the case, I only wasted a download and some of my time. Luckily, I enjoy it, and while I’m not a master, I’m getting better.

The hardest part about learning Blender for me was the tutorials. Everyone uses shortcuts. Which is great! I love shortcuts, and I use them often in my design work. But from a learning perspective, it’s really hard to remember all those shortcuts at once. And there are different ways to get to those shortcuts as well. So one tutorial might tell you to do a shortcut one way, while another one uses a different shortcut. Which is really confusing!

Then there’s the fact that I’m using a Mac with a Magic Mouse. I have to emulate a 3-button mouse, and that limits the shortcuts available to me. While people using a standard mouse can right-click and scroll wheel to get all these options, I can’t. (I know. This is my own problem. I could just get a new mouse. I might some day. But for now, I am familiar with how to do what I’m trying to do, and I’m not ready to throw that all out the window and relearn how to do things, since it changes navigation.)

To make things even more difficult, while I was just starting to understand how things were working, Blender went through a major redesign. Granted, I didn’t have to download the newest version, but I saw a lot of comments online about how it made it more user-friendly. So I thought it would be in my best interest to check it out. It turns out that for me, it did help a lot. And it also added more confusion, when I would open up older files I had made that looked good, and they now looked horrible. Why?!

Unfortunately, the redesign also made tutorials more difficult to understand. So while there are a lot of tutorials out there, a lot of them are not up to date and using the newest version of Blender. (I get it. I have never made a tutorial, but I imagine they take a really long time to make.) I think it was probably fine for older versions of Blender, but it was harder for me as a newbie to follow along when I had to look in a different place for everything. Now that I know Blender a little bit better, I can watch those older tutorials, and I usually know where to find what they are showing me. But when you’re first starting out, it can be hard to follow along.

On the good side, all of my searching online and trying different tutorials and getting confused caused me to find some great tutorials that really clicked for me and helped me understand things better! For anyone out there who is trying to learn Blender, I highly recommend CG Cookie (They are not paying me for this and have no idea I’m even recommending them). They have a lot of tutorials that are really informative and go over things in great detail. Plus, the basics tell you where to find something in the menus AND how to also use the shortcuts. This was a game changer for me. I now know that if someone uses a shortcut, I can likely find it somewhere else in the program, if I can’t right-click for it.

In addition to modeling, I have also decided to try to learn sculpting. I have some ideas for sculpts in my head that I’m excited to get into the computer and maybe even eventually 3D print. It will probably be awhile before I do that though. The tools don’t seem to always work the way that I expect them to, and since Blender has so many shortcuts, I sometimes accidentally hit a key, mess something up, have no idea what I did, and have no idea how to fix it. But that happened a lot in the beginning when I was learning modeling, so I’m sure I’ll eventually figure some of that out.

I have made a few things in Blender that I’ve 3D printed, but I’m finding that I am not able to be as precise as I want to be/need to be. I have measured things out and recreated them, and found that they don’t all fit together, so I have to resize them. Which is fine for a 3D render that will never be put into the physical world. But it’s not so great for items that I want to make and actually use. So I think I’m going to have to learn a CAD program for that stuff. But that’s a whole new world that seems more similar to working in a Microsoft program rather than an Adobe program. So I’m struggling a bit more with it.

Overall though, I’m really pleased with how much I’ve grown in my 3D modeling. I’m looking forward to learning even more and hopefully eventually being able to show you some real-world items!

3D rendering of a treasure chest
A treasure chest I started from a tutorial on CG Cookie.


Artwork, Design, Miscellaneous
colored sketch of happy cat on back

2020 is finally over! What a strange year it was. And a long year. I’m hoping 2021 will be better, but it didn’t get off to the best start. But as the month has progressed, it’s calmed down a bit. So that’s good!

Looking back at my year, I was really fortunate. I was able to keep my job and work from home. I got to see my Grandma before she died, and I have some really good memories from that. And Nick and I have proven we are capable of inhabiting the same space for really long amounts of time and not murder each other!

There were some bad moments too, of course, but overall, I tried to stay positive. When the pandemic first started, I honestly didn’t think it would last for as long as it has. I tried to keep my schedule relatively the same, so that I could jump right back in to my normal life, as soon as we all got back into it. And I tried to see the opportunities that it was giving me. I drive a long way to work, so I gained extra time every day! The extra time gave me more time to do the things I’ve been wanting to do. Practice guitar daily! Draw more! Extra time to blog more! Run longer distances! Extra time to treat myself by doing face masks, painting my nails, and relaxing! And extra time with Nick!

Unfortunately, as time has moved on, I have adjusted for this to now be my normal. I don’t get up as early as I used to. I have spent more time in front of the TV than I have in years. I’m not practicing guitar as much. I’m not blogging much. I’m sitting around more, and my running mileage has not progressed at all.

But it hasn’t all been bad. I’m almost finished painting our Last Night on Earth Hero game figures, which has been on my list of things to do for awhile now. I’ve started knitting again, which I haven’t done in forever. I have been taking more time to focus on me. I’ve gotten to play more video games. And Nick and I have tried to come up with fun and creative things to keep our days from becoming mundane (we have formal Fridays, had a coffee date on the porch, set up a photo booth, had a cultural fest, and our very own version of GenCon!).

The biggest takeaways I got from 2020 are that exercise is very important for me, it’s ok to relax and not feel guilty about it, and yes, I am definitely an introvert!

I always knew that exercise was important to me, but I guess I thought it was more of a want than a need. But as it got colder outside, and I kept indoors more and didn’t move as much, I started to notice it in my mood. I started getting easily irritated by things that didn’t bother me before, and I started to feel really down and depressed. This past year, I reached my lowest low, and it was not a good place to be. I’m glad I was able to break out of it, and I hope to never get there again. ‘Cause when you’re down, it affects the people around you as well, and when you are stuck indoors with them, it makes for some really terrible times.

Being ok with relaxing and not being productive has always been hard for me. And I’m not saying that I’m such a productive person, I’m constantly doing things and never relax. I’m saying that I’m fairly productive, but I push myself to be ultra productive, which then ends in me being slightly productive and feeling guilty that I’m not more productive. So when I am not being productive, I feel guilty that I’m not, and I stress about it, and I’m not able to relax. But by getting rid of those thoughts that every second of my day has to be ultra productive has caused me to be more productive because when it’s time for me to relax, even though I could be doing something else, I’m relaxing, which has been so helpful for my creativity and is so restorative. When it’s time for me to do something to be productive, I have way more energy and get more done.

For some, being stuck indoors has been horrible. For me, this hasn’t really been a problem. I’m not sure if it’s just my personality or if I just had so much going on in life before, that I’m enjoying all the free time and not having to rush off to another appointment or engagement (and I’m sure a lot of this has to do with driving. When I was doing improv, my drive from work to improv was about an hour!). Don’t get me wrong. I do miss my friends and family. And I’m looking forward to the spring when I can sit outside more. But I’m also perfectly content to sit at home all day. I’ve always known I’m introverted. But I guess I didn’t realize just how introverted I am. If introverts get their energy from being alone, I am storing up so much, that people are not going to be able to handle me when I’m finally back in the world!

One really great thing this year was that I got to attend the Adobe Max conference. In normal times, I don’t think I would have ever gotten to go, since it’s really expensive. But last year, they offered it virtually and for free if you had a Creative Cloud membership. In true Melonie-fashion, I booked myself full of classes every day. Anything that sounded even slightly interesting was on my list. I even got up early to watch classes. It was so great! But the best part was when I stumbled into some of the celebrity talks. I wasn’t planning on going to any of those talks, since I didn’t thinks they’d be interesting. But when I had some down time, I decided to check one of them out, and I’m so glad I did! They were so inspiring!

As an artist, I’ve always been insecure about my work. I worry that what I do is not good enough, since it doesn’t look perfect. Or it’s not as good as what someone else can do. Or as imaginative as what someone else might have come up with. This year has been especially hard on me at work, since we’ve hired new people in my department. They both have much more experience in graphic design than I do, since I spent more of my time doing prepress than actual design. So with these new hires, I’m sharing the creative side of things. And whenever I’m not a part of a new project, I do sometimes wonder if it’s just because that’s not where my strength lies, but it’s where the other person thrives or is it because I’m not good enough? So it was nice to hear celebrities and established creatives talk about their own self doubt. And to be reminded that my work isn’t worse. It’s just different.

So going forward into 2021, work-wise, I’m hoping to get better at 3D modeling, learning to better work creatively within a group, becoming an art director, and pushing my design abilities. Artistically, I’m hoping to continue drawing, finish painting all of the Last Night on Earth figures, and squeezing in some traditional/digital paintings. Craft-wise, I’d like to squeeze in a few sewing and some knitting projects. Personally, I want to continue to work on myself and my marriage to make both of them the best they can be. And I also want to learn to play one song in its entirety on the guitar. Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope this year is better for you all than last year!


Board Game Manhattan board, box, rulebook, pieces, and cards laid out

About three years ago, Nick and I were inspired by a fan-made board redesign for the game Manhattan, and we decided we wanted to update our copy. The game is so much fun, but the graphic design reminds me of when I was first in school and learned about Photoshop’s filters! No offense to the graphic designer, but it’s really bad. It was also designed in the 90s, so I’m sure it seemed really great back then. But now it just looks super dated.

Our original plan was that we would use the fan-made board and just make our own cards. We wanted to use Game Crafters to print everything, and the board wasn’t set up in their standard size. The fan-made board was a rectangle with a map of Manhattan in the background, and the Game Crafters boards were square, which was not going to work. But no worries! We can design a board as well!

We started our redesign with inspiration of subway stations and graffiti art. Our plan was to make the different card-types each look like a prominent Manhattan station and have a different graffiti style. Shortly after starting this redesign, I got hired at Chip Theory Games. For me, the pressure was on. I now worked at a board game company, so the five people who would come to our house and ever see this would obviously expect something amazing. And I would give them something amazing!

I won’t go into the details of how long I spent perfecting each subway tile or all the disagreements that Nick and I had about how long this project should take. I put the pressure on myself, and I took it to the extreme. The worst part is that I knew better. I knew that all the details I was making looked great on the screen, but were too small to print. But it took me way too long to finally print it out and see what a dumbass I was being!

After I had my realization, we decided it would be best to take a break from the game. In the meantime, an announcement of a redesign came out. Which made our break seem good, since we could buy the new version and just move on with life. But we were disappointed with the redesign when we finally saw it. Not because it’s not a good design. More because we had this idea in our heads of what we wanted the art to look like, and this was different. We decided that our redesign was back on!

Nick had the really good idea of having a Design Jam. We gave ourselves 8 hours to figure out and finalize all the design. The only things we were allowed to do after that 8 hours was prepress work to get the files ready for printing. And if we got to the eighth hour and still had work to do, then we were done. We would either buy the new version or just deal with our old version.

The first thing we did was to dig into all of our previous work. It was surprising to see that there was some good stuff in there! We weren’t completely starting from scratch. Looking at the design with fresh eyes, we noticed that while our card idea had the ability to look really cool, it was going to be a lot of work and was also a different style from the rest of the game. But we loved the board! So we decided to minimalize the cards more and match them to the board. 8 hours later, we were done and had a game to send off to the printer!

I’m really pleased with how everything turned out! And now we have a game we enjoy with our own design! And I learned to not focus so much on the details, until it’s time to focus on the details! (Well, hopefully I learned that!)