Download My Art Study Journal

A while back on my Instagram feed, I shared photos of my 2020 art study journal. Now here’s the whole thing, though it’s still just a slim and sparse booklet.

I kinda didn’t wanna share this because it’s so, ew, a hot mess, disorganized, and you can even witness my mood changes as my handwriting teeters from neat and meticulous to hasty and illegible.

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Random Personal Update

Most of this blog on my website consists of deck reviews, some book reviews, and right now because SKT III is in production, SKT status updates. I haven’t checked in with you with a personal update in a while. So let’s chat. Hi! How’ve you been? Let me share with you what’s been going on in my corner. =)

That Novel I Kinda Started Talking About… and then Didn’t?

In March of 2020, I posted this: “Novel Writing Adventures.” And this: “What Writing and Publishing a Novel Means to Me + Asian American Kid Problems.”

Back in 2013 I started this ambitious novel (I say “ambitious” because the plot and premise is really convoluted and in terms of my own skill level, I was trying to accomplish way more than my technical proficiency or storytelling ability was capable of.) I got up to 37,000 words before I abandoned ship.

I revisited that same manuscript in 2015, discarded about a third of what I had written in 2013, continued on, and got to 59,000 words before, again, abandoning the undertaking because it got too overwhelming.

In 2018, I threw away all 59k words of the previous manuscript, started from 0, wrote furiously for 2 years straight, and by February/March of 2020, exactly when the pandemic hit the U.S., completed the manuscript at 118,000 words.

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Journey to the West (Monkey King) Taiwanese Playing Cards

Click on image files for enlarged view

This is kinda for Kim from FablesDen. I was listening to her chat with Wai here where she talked about wishing there was a Journey to the West tarot deck. While I don’t have that, and don’t know if one exists, I do have this very cool Journey to the West themed deck of playing cards.

Journey to the West is a Chinese epic from the 1500s. It’s about Tripitaka, a Buddhist monk from China’s ancient capital (think: somewhere in the central north of the modern-day country you’re familiar with) who is tasked by Kuan Yin to journey to India to receive Buddhist scriptures.

Kuan Yin frees the Monkey King, a trickster figure with magical abilities, from his incarceration, who was punished by the Buddha and imprisoned after he stole peaches of immortality from Heaven. In exchange for helping the monk on his quest, the Monkey King will not only be freed, but will achieve enlightenment.

White Dragon Horse, a banished dragon spirit transformed into a horse, serves as Tripitaka’s steed. At the end of the journey, the horse becomes a bodhisattva and is restored to his original white dragon form.

Pigsy, a philandering and gluttonous warrior general banished from Heaven’s army after he offended Chang’er, the moon goddess, is also tasked to accompany Tripitaka, as is Sandy, another former warrior general in Heaven exiled to the mortal realm due to anger management issues. It’s a quest story about a virtuous, principled monk and a band of misfits who fight or outsmart demons and survive supernaturally perilous terrain.

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A Curious Herbal (1737) by Elizabeth Blackwell: Hand-colored engravings

These hand-painted engravings of healing herbs and garden vegetables are a delight, and I’m sure at least one creative person seeing this will get ideas, download, and do something lovely with these illustrations, so here you go.

They’re from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737). Below you’ll find a zip file you can download of high-res images from the book. Or view it in the entirety, courtesy of The British Library, Catalogues & Collections.

A Curious Herbal (1737)

Download Zip File

About the Book:

Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal is notable both for its beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants and for the unusual circumstances of its creation.

[It] contains illustrations and descriptions of plants, their medicinal preparations, and the ailments for which they are used.

The first herbal was written by the Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century AD.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Aberdeen in about 1700, but moved to London after she married. She undertook this ambitious project to raise money to pay her husband’s debts and release him from debtors’ prison.

Blackwell’s Herbal was an unprecedented artistic, scientific and commercial enterprise for a woman of her time.

She drew, engraved and coloured the illustrations herself, mostly using plant specimens from the Chelsea Physic Garden.

It was highly praised by leading physicians and apothecaries (makers and sellers of medicines), and made enough money to secure her husband’s freedom, although she later had to sell the copyright as well.

This finely-bound copy of A Curious Herbal is from the collection of King George III, held in the British Library.

British Library 34.I.12 -13

Last SKT III Update for 2020: Revelation

Going in the order of the cards I’ve presented here, I’m ending 2020 and beginning 2021 on the Ten of Swords. Hmm. Yah I’m not going to read into that. =) Moving on.

While the style and approach for the earlier editions asked of you to journey inward, this third edition, which I’m calling The Revelation, asks of you to journey outward. If my earlier editions were about depth, then this third edition is about expanse.

Realm of Sevens

The Revelation Edition can be treated as an entirely different deck from the First and Vitruvian Editions. It’s within the SKT family, hence the deck name remains the same. And while it shares the same DNA, SKT III has really evolved to solidify its own unconnected identity.

Realm of Eights

I cannot wait to share with you the companion guidebook. It’s basically a new Book of Maps, because it had to be. I go into detail explaining the who, what, where, when, and why for each card illustration, and then for interpreting it, the how.

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Selling Art Prints & More Diary Notes on Learning How to Art

benebellwen.com/artprints

I’m now offering my art prints for sale, and if you’re interested, click on the above hyperlinked banner to go straight to the art descriptions page and instructions on how to order. But this is a blog post, so I want to get a little more cas (casual, pronounced “kage,” where “ka” is like “cat” and “ge” is pronounced like “george” omigod why am I taking so much time and text explaining something so stupid) and ramble about that process.

The above banner thing was totally just for fun, to amuse myself. I didn’t bother following any art composition principles, other than, well, the one I made up myself, which is “more is more.” =D Every single feature you see in that banner comes from the illustrations for the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, The Revelation (my name for the third edition of SKT).

This blog post is just to share some of the behind-the-scenes art journeying.

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Tarot Tag: 15 Questions, via Arwen

This tarot tag is from 2017, started by Arwen, and I’m only getting around to it now. But it’s a fun one!

EDIT: Omg, no, I did do this tag before! Back in April of 2017! See here. That’s hilarious. I totally forgot!

1. What is your current favorite deck?

I’ll start by disqualifying my own deck.

I’m in love with the Majors only Pharos Tarot by M. M. Meleen. It’s Thoth-based and Meleen’s artwork is exquisite. You can learn more about it and order your copy from Meleen here. I’ll be posting an in-depth review of the deck and its guidebook in the near future.

Artistically and theosophically, I see the evolution from her Tabula Mundi Tarot. I love seeing the way Thoth influences this deck compared to the Thoth influences in the Tabula Mundi.

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SKT III Status Update Report

I’ve just finished up the first drafts of the Fives, so I figured it might be a good time to share a status update on SKT III (edition still unnamed). There are some videos up already on my YouTube channel to get a little more into the creator intentions behind each card, though public videos ended at the Threes. I’ve put the videos on pause for now, in terms of releasing them.

Works-in-progress drafts only; final production subject to change

If you might recall, Key 1: The Magus was the very first card I learned digital painting on. The line work was done by hand, scanned in, and the color was subsequently done via digital painting software programs. Then it was Key 2: The Priestess, and so on.

It’s amusing to look back on those first five keys, because it’s painfully obvious how scared of color I was. =) I didn’t know what I was doing. I was winging it. And you can tell.

It’s not until Key 6: The Lovers card that a noticeable improvement happens. Then after Key 7: The Chariot, off I went! =) Now that I know how to color, after finishing the Tens I’m going to return to Keys 1 through 5. I’ve already made notes on how I want to revise them.

The three versions of Key 0 in the SKT (left to right): The Initiate, The Seeker, and The Keeper

You can click on any of these image files for an enlarged view.

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What Writing and Publishing a Novel Means to Me + Asian American Kid Problems =)

Sigh. I’m querying a novel that concludes in the time period of the bubonic plague. During the Covid-19 outbreak and global quarantine. And lots of literary agents on social media are posting about how this is really not the time to be sending apocalyptic novels to them because they just want to read something light, fun, and heart-warming.

Like most of you, I’ve been sheltering in place for several weeks now and figured why not document the thoughts that have had quite a bit of time and space to magnify in my head around the trajectory of my novel writing journey.

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Novel Writing Adventures & New Vlog Series

So I did a Thing. I completed a novel. I say “completed” instead of “wrote” because I’ve written many incomplete novels over the decades. This is the first one I pushed over the finish line. Yay.

For those interested in following the journey of my novel manuscript, I’ll be sharing the experience by way of a vlog series on my YouTube channel.

Continue reading “Novel Writing Adventures & New Vlog Series”