Fear, Love and Art Order

 1. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative:
2. To cause (something) to happen or be created
 from the Latin inspirare 'breathe into',

In October I hosted another month-long art challenge blog called Month of Fear with over 20 artists contributing. There was a ton of tremendous new work from everyone and I created some of my favorite work of the year as a result.

As it happened, Month of Fear coincided with an exciting contest hosted by Art Order called "Inspiration". Ok, so the truth is, it was not really a coincidence. The Art Order Inspiration challenge was actually a huge  incentive for following through with MoF. October was always my first choice for another art challenge BUT it was shaping up to be a very busy couple of  months. MoF very nearly didn't happen because I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed. However, wanting to push myself not only to  create something for Art Order but ready for another creative work-out like Month of Love , I found myself lying awake one night thinking things over. Suddenly a bunch of challenge ideas sprung into my head.  I turned on the light, wrote them all down and got really excited. The next morning, before I could talk myself out of it, I sent out an email to my trusty Month of Love family and a few more and we were off! There is nothing like the pressure of hosting an art challenge to silence excuses.

I've combined all my challenges with their original text below. I love charcoal and have been looking for an excuse to do more with it. Each piece was done in only a day or two (mostly weekends between teaching classes all week, other art and visiting family) so beyond all else, I am very proud of myself just for pushing my finishing speed/output. I'm particularly happy with challenge 2 (Passage) which was an image I've had in my head for a while but never got right until now and number 5, (Equinophobia) which was so much fun to play with in regards to texture. But it was number 3 (House of Leaves) that pushed me through a little conceptual wall and out the other side and a very satisfying way. It was the challenge I really wanted to do the best with, because the I have such a love for the subject matter. Often as an artist, the more you are attached to a subject, the harder it is to visually do it justice. This time,  however, things seemed to line up. The resulting image is not only one of my favorites of the year but it won a place in the ArtOrder Inspiration book!  Have a look at the other winners- what an amazing line-up. I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Now on to the present for a moment. I am excited to announce that due to popular demand,  Month of Love is going to run again! We now have even more amazing artists joining the line-up and this year is going to be even bigger. We liked the MoF format with the longer challenges and staggered posting system, so we're going to be adopting that for MoL.

On top of that, we have some  ideas brewing for our  art from these challenges.

So get ready- February is going to be a ride!  Follow us on twitter for updates and stay tuned! https://twitter.com/MonthofLove

Without further Ado- The Month of Fear:

Challenge 1: What Lives Under Your Bed?

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It's funny how many artists have trouble sleeping. I have rarely had that problem. I do however have a very vivid dream-life and a lot of anxiety so my sleep is too often full of activity. All the things that might keep others awake at night follow me into sleep and transform into every manner of nightmare.

Sometimes I wish I had insomnia.

Challenge 2: What is Your Recurring Nightmare?
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I used to dream of flying all the time. I still do occasionally...but it's different now.When I was younger, it would be free and controlled. I would zip around, land on rooftops to watch people or sometimes even become a hero with magical powers. However, as I grew older, the dreams started to change. I had to concentrate a lot harder to fly or I wouldn't be able to control my speed and go up way too high then start falling or get stuck somewhere, having forgotten how to get started again. Then there were the wires. It would start fine- I would be flying great, ready to soar above the city and go wherever I wanted but suddenly there was a set of telephone wires in my way. I would try to go around but there were more. They were everywhere. At last, I try to go between them but I quickly get tangled up.

The worst part is when they start to electrocute me.

Challenge 3: Do an illustration for your favorite horror story.

House of Leaves
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 I read House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski a few years ago and it is not only one of the best "horror" stories I have ever read, it is one of the best books I have ever read. I have always been drawn to labyrinths and everything about this book is a labyrinth.

It's very difficult book to describe. There are multiple narrators, each with individual stories, who peel back layers of a core story: a family moves into a house where things immediately start going strange. Its clear this more than just a house. A black closet appears out of nowhere and it is discovered that the house measures larger from inside than out.  Then a hallway appears that eventually leads to a massive underground labyrinth. Characters attempt to explore and then things get really interesting for not only the family, but each narrator that in turn attempts to uncover the truth.

 But all this isn't really just a book... It's more like a three dimensional work of interactive art. The way the book is written is very unconventional. The words on the page are often rearranged to reflect something happening in the story. Sometimes it's the madness of a character. Sometimes it's the speed in which you follow someone down miles of stairs. Sometimes it's the passage of time. It's often hard to follow but when you finally solve the puzzle of how to read a passage, it is that much more intimate and rewarding a story.

Challenge 4: What Terrified You as a Child

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Growing up, nearly every place I lived in had multiple floors and several of them required me to climb or descend stairs in order to get to and from my room either on a second floor or a basement. Even my ancient grade school had several floors with trembling creaking wooden stairs that I had to use to get to the bathrooms next to the creepy boiler room. While the worst stairs were always any basement stairs (obviously), pretty much any stairs seemed to trigger every scary story I had ever heard up to that point. Going down them was like a slow decent into inevitable horror- I knew something was going to be waiting down at the bottom.  (Especially when my bedroom was in the basement and I would go to bed after watching Unsolved Mysteries. ) Going up stairs, I was always being chased. Even now I occasionally have to feed the compulsion to run up stairs instead of walking.

Challenge 5: Pick a Phobia and Illustrate it:

 There are so many interesting phobias out there. Fear of Gravity (Barophobia), Fear of Beautiful Women (Caligynephobia.)... More obscure and one could argue more interesting than the Fear of Horses. But the more I thought about it, the more I just couldn't get the  image of horses out of my head. Between Henri Fuseli's Nightmare horse and the familiar Carousel Horse (why do they always look like they're terrified and screaming?), this one needed to get exorcised. A bit rushed due to a very busy week but I think it does the job nonetheless.

Challenge 6: Illustrate a Halloween memory or write your own scary story to illustrate.

The Face in the Window
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The Face in The Window
(A quick Halloween Story and Illustration by Kristina Carroll)

 "Three in the morn. The soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. "
-Ray Bradbury from Something Wicked This Way Comes

She lay in bed staring at the ceiling. She could probably move if she wanted to.  She tried to tell herself it was only that she was afraid to wake her husband, not that there was a larger dread lurking at the edge of her vision.  A growing certainty should she turn her head toward the window, there would be something there and the moment she saw it,  acknowledged its existence,  was the moment it would be free to attack.

She turned her head toward the window next to the bed.

A face stared back at her from outside.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am. Again. 

The woman stared at the ceiling for a few minutes but knowing she wouldn’t get anymore sleep that night, rolled out of bed and walked to the living room. She sat on the couch, glanced at her desk in the corner, with its piles of hand-written outline notes and a few chapters stacked around it on the floor. She turned on the TV and sighed. 

The dream had started a few months ago. It was always the same: paralysis, fear, look, face in the window, wake, 3am. It didn’t matter how many times it happened, it was always new in the dream. It was always the same fresh terror. 

The worst part is that it was happening with more and more frequency.

When the sun came up, she made coffee and breakfast for her husband. She told him she’d had the dream again. Wasn't it weird that it was always 3am? He said she shouldn't read too hard into it and asked if she’d gotten any writing done while she was up. She looked down and stirred her coffee.
What was the point of having Insomnia if you can’t get anything done?

It had been nearly three months, he said. Maybe she ought to start looking for something part time at least.  Then he kissed her on the cheek and was out the door.

She sat at her desk and stared at her notes for a while. She rearranged a few sentences but soon the words began to blur. She yawned, went to the couch and fell asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.
The door slamming jolted her awake.  Her husband was staring at her from the hallway and it was already dark outside.  She cleared her throat and asked if he wanted her to order pizza.

She lay in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to move. Finally she was able to turn her head toward the window next to the bedA face stared back at her from outside. A hand pressed up against the glass.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.

She spent the morning running errands. She bought a new notebook thinking that she just needed to work on something completely new for a few days to shake her out of her current block.  When she finally got home, she found that she needed to make room for the new groceries and while she was at it, she should probably clean the fridge too.  The notebook lay forgotten on the counter.

She began to make a nice dinner even though she knew her husband was going to be late coming home from work. That had been happening more and more these days as well. He would joke that having a creative wife was an expensive luxury.  She took some pasta from the stove and turned toward the sink to drain the water. She glanced out the window above the sink briefly and then dropped the entire pot on the floor. The shock had forced her to look down and jump back from the scalding water but she immediately snapped her head back up to the window.

There had been a face. She was certain of it.

Trembling, she leaned across the sink to look into their large backyard.  It appeared empty and even if there had been something there it would have tripped the motion sensor lights. Even a large mouse would trip those.  It was probably just the lack of sleep and her own reflection in the glass. Still shaking, she began cleaning up the mess.

A face stared back at her from outside the window. A fog bloomed on the window from its dark mouth.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.  She stared at the ceiling and waited for her heart to slow as her husband snored softly.

She went into the kitchen to make some tea and found the bowl she had left out for her husband still on the counter.  She hadn’t even noticed him come home, it had been so late. She tossed the contents into the trash and put the bowl in the sink.

They had a dinner date with friends the next day. Their friends commented on the dark circles under her eyes and said she seemed a little bit jumpy. Still, they were very proud of her for being so brave and following her dream. They asked when they could read something from the new book. Soon, she’d said. It’s getting there. Her husband ordered them a third round of drinks.

Empty eyes gazed out of a pale face and a hand pressed against the glass, leaving streaks as it slid slowly down the pane.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.

She was sitting on the floor staring at the half-empty pages of notes strewn around her when her husband finally woke up. Red-eyed and slightly hung-over, he grumbled something from the hallway and she said she would make breakfast while he showered.  As she stood and stretched, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye and spun toward the window. There was nothing there. Probably just a bird outside, she told herself but when she looked down at the glass, she thought she saw a fading hand print for a moment. Then she blinked and it was gone.

 Knowing her husband was running late, she wrapped up his breakfast and put his coffee in a thermos. As he grabbed both off the counter, he told her she shouldn’t have let him sleep in. Now he would definitely have to stay late tonight. Don’t wait up. His lips missed her cheek as he swept out the door.

Dark lips slowly opened and closed in its white face and soft hissing sound began to emerge from the mouth.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.  She was alone in the bed.

She must have eventually fallen asleep again because she woke once more to the sound of the shower and smell of burnt toast. She stayed in bed until she heard the door slam and the car pull out of the driveway.

On her way to the store, she turned the radio up louder than usual and tapped her palms aggressively on the wheel to tinny pop-music. When the station suddenly began hissing static, she reached for the tuner but a something made her glance up at the passenger window.  

A pale face with a black, gaping mouth and hollow eyes stared back.

There was a loud crunching sound and a jerk and that snapped her head forward. She had rear-ended a large SUV in front of her. Shaking, she opened the door of her car to the sounds of shouted curses and pointing fingers.  The left, front side of her car had folded like an accordion. The SUV barely had a dent. Still, all she could do as the policemen and tow trucks did their waltz around the scene was to keep glancing at the window of her car, looking for evidence she knew she wouldn't find. In the taxi, she kept her eyes resolutely down at her hands for the entire ride.

When she finally got home that evening, there were shouts, accusations and slammed doors.  She lay in bed alone all night and would not sleep. Even with her back to the window, she felt a cold dread like breath on her neck daring her to turn around.

The next day she sat at her desk staring at blank pages until the shadows grew long outside. She saw movement out of every sideways glance and in each mirror she was certain that it was not her own face that stared back at her at first but the haunted, gaping face from her dreams. When the skies began to darken, she turned on every light in the house and closed all the curtains. She drank so much coffee that her hands shook but eventually her eyes got too blurry and her limbs got too heavy to fight.  She stumbled into her empty bedroom where she collapsed without turning off a single light.

She woke with a start. It was dark in the room and it was 2:59.  That felt wrong but she couldn't remember why. She shivered.   Her mind was slow and her vision fuzzy as she turned over and then immediately realized why she shouldn't have. Her senses suddenly sharpened as she gazed toward the window.

The black mouth made gulping motions like a fish. Dark, hollow eyes stared back from a pale face. A bone-thin hand reached up slowly, grasping.

And it was no longer outside.

She woke up with a start. She was standing outside but didn't know how she’d got there. It was dim and cold. She was next to a house and there was a dark window by her head. Disoriented, she did the first thing she could think of to get her bearings. She pressed her hand against the glass of the window and peered in. As her gaze traveled around the room inside, an icy chill crept over her. It was a bedroom. It was familiar. Her eyes wandered from the sleeping figures in the bed to the nightstand.

The clock read 3am.

The woman in the bed opened her eyes.