As I currently type, we are being smacked with a snow/ice/sleet/thunderstorm. Hopefully the power stays on long enough for me to finish this and get it posted.

2019 has simultaneously felt incredibly long and stupidly short (like, really? There’s only one more day left of 2019?). Before I get into everything that did (and didn’t) happen this year, who wants to check out the annual xmas card envelope art? Anyone?

Your opinion is irrelevant, because I’m going to show them anyway.

This was the first envelope I drew in 2019, and it went to my sister. One of her sons is crazy about numbers (and pretty much always has been) with his current favorite being zero, and her other son is obsessed with trains. I’ve discovered I’m not great at drawing trains…

This envelope went to my brother, who’s sons are pretty big into superheroes right now. This was the second one I did (before I figured out the plunger usage theme), and I was really happy with it. This is definitely going to show up more somewhere, either in IPMDT, a shirt, a separate comic, somewhere. Given how big of an influence Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes are on me, this seems highly appropriate due to Calvin’s alter ego Stupendous Man.

My third envelope went to my best friend Bill. He and I share a great love of all things Star Wars, so a lot of my envelopes over the years have been Star Wars related. He also enjoys him some Plunger Monkey goodness (as does his youngest daughter), so I combined the two for a plunger-wearing Baby Yoda.

I was really struggling with ideas for my annual envelope art project. It was very frustrating. Then, I randomly came up with this idea for my cousin Cheryl’s envelop: Totally Reasonable Uses for Plungers. Hers was a fondue pot, because we both have fond memories of being very young and our families having fondue at parties. At some point that tradition stopped, and we have both lamented that. She gave my wife and I a fondue pot for our wedding…which we sadly haven’t used yet. Maybe we’ll have to invite her up…

This one went to my friend from high school, Tracey. Plungers are very versatile.

This Totally Reasonable Use for a Plunger went to my parents. I definitely had in mind Gray’s Ice Cream, a place we would go as kids (and that I take my kids to) when we were spending a lot of time down at “the beach” in RI. World’s best ice cream. This was apparently the first envelope I drew on for my parents, which surprises me. I haven’t really kept a list or anything, it started as a random, silly thing I did for a few friends, but it quickly evolved into PMD themed drawings. My parents are, of course, fans, but somehow I never included them in the recipients. I guess that is rectified, now.

This one went to my other best friend Jorj and his family. He also has a love of Star Wars, PMD, and the absurd.

I’m not sure how accurate one could be using a plunger for a tennis racket, but I imagine it would make a great sound.

My wife pointed out that mice don’t have naked tails, rats do, so perhaps this should be rat trap instead.

This was one of the last envelopes I drew (I think it was THE last). Once I settled on the uses for plungers theme, I was having a lot of fun.

Just in case you aren’t on our holiday mailing list, here’s the picture we sent out:

PMD has infiltrated our annual xmas card. The picture is from our trip to Quebec in October, and was just the right composition to sneak him in. It took a little effort to try to match the lighting and some of the photo texture, but I’m relatively happy with the result. I may be the only one that can see him, but he’s always there for me.

The cards were late this year. I was actually somewhat on time with prepping and uploading them, but there was a delay in them being shipped to us. I got all the cards out that didn’t have envelope art in a decent turn around time, but the illustrated ones took a bit longer. I mailed them on Christmas Eve.

So, let’s take a look back at 2019, shall we?

It started off with not much art. I actually sat and wrote up a bit of a goals list for the year, and the first thing I wanted to tackle was setting myself up as an LLC so I could then set up some DBAs (“doing business as”) for the sale of my art in it’s various forms. It was a monumental effort for me, as I was entering completely unknown territory, which produced a lot of anxiety. I was terribly concerned about screwing something up, and my natural indecisiveness made it hard to decide how to go about certain steps or whether or not the whole idea was the right one to begin with. In the end, by mid-March, I was officially Toby’s Brain, LLC with two DBAs: Plunger Monkey Designs for all my shirts and potential merchandise ideas, and PMD Press for my book and graphic novel dreams.

Just prior to that, though, I spent several weeks building my Tabbard Coat out of wool blankets (there is a post about it here somewhere).

Once that was all squared away, I finally prepped and published my children’s book, 10 Things. Those of you that either know me or have been reading here for some time know just how long a journey that has been. It started as a random, fun idea that soon became very time consuming. I took many breaks from working on it to work on other things, or because life intervened. I had put the finishing touches on it over a year ago, but didn’t take the next steps because it involved that whole LLC process, setting up a DBA, purchasing ISBNs, copyrighting, etc. So, it was a long time coming and a great relief to have finally followed through with it. Unfortunately, I haven’t promoted it at all (as that involves some time consuming efforts and learning about some things that I just haven’t forced myself to do yet), so it’s only sold to family and friends. Doing a little promotion and advertising for the book is on my short list going into 2020.

With those two big goals out of the way, I was feeling pretty good. The next things on my list were working on IPMDT with the goal of reaching strip #100 before the end of the year (which I came up short), working on Inside Toby’s Brain (which I did a little work on, but really not much), starting to work on Revery (which I didn’t at all), and creating and posting six new shirts (which I did follow through on).

After the shirts and some work on IPMDT, and one random illustration (the PMD Chicken Squid or Squid Chicken piece), summer hit. As is too often the case, having the kids home all day throws a giant monkey wrench into my daily routine. I know it’s coming. I try to plan for it. I try to overcome it. I usually fail. The summer of 2019 I failed harder than expected. I barely did any work at all between stuff with the kids, general life things, and of course, scouts. The only art to speak of I accomplished over the summer were some moleskin sketches at summer camp (which I almost didn’t have the heart and motivation to do after I had to send my middle son home due to his anxieties).

I am remembering that I did spend a good chunk of the summer designing and building some prototype bags that I’ve been dreaming about. There was a lot of frustration involved. Lot’s of knotted thread and broken needles, misaligned fabric and mistakes of all kinds. Things took a LOT longer than I expected, and didn’t all turn out the way I hoped. I have some new designs in mind based on all my mis-steps, but I haven’t taken the time to cement them and do some proper planning.

September hit, kids were back in school, but I struggled to get into my routine again. There are always distractions, and I have a difficult time prioritizing my own goals over my chosen obligations and volunteer work. I was able to turn my focus towards my annual birthday dragon for my wife, though. I think I started with a strong concept, and at various points I was pretty happy with it, but the final result feels too…I don’t know? Amateurish? It bugs me, and I can’t figure out if it’s legitimate self-criticism or if I finished it within that annoying window for creatives when your ability to “see” and judge leaps way ahead of your actual technical abilities. I got it done, though, so I was happy about that.

October is Inktober. I was so out of my routine and frustrated and depressed and overly anxious about certain things going on in life that I didn’t really have the motivation. I did a random moleskin sketch on day 1 and thought that was going to be it. My wife got on my case a little bit, and I had a spontaneous moment of inspiration and decided I would take all of the official Inktober 2019 prompts and Plunger Monkey-ify them. It had it’s challenging moments, but it turned out to be a fantastic time for me. I felt really good about all of my illustrations and the non-literal directions I went with some of the prompts. I’m very glad my wife gave me that little nudge. I finished a few days into November, but I did 31 illustrations (plus that moleskin one).

I don’t even know what happened in November. I know I worked here and there on Inside Toby’s Brain, but didn’t really accomplish much. I do know that at Thanksgiving I developed some cellulitis in my foot, which knocked me down for about 3 weeks. That wasn’t fun. Somewhere in there I managed the illustration for our xmas card.

Oh, wait. I filmed my American Ninja Warrior submission in November. It took me a while as I hadn’t been good over the last year of filming little bits of my workouts, and I had no idea what I was going to say or do in general to try to get noticed. I got it done, and I was content with the result, but I doubt I’ll get “the call” this year. I’ve been waiting to get another chance since 2012, and I will keep entering as long as I’m able, but the competition to get noticed is stiff.

Here we are in December. The only art I’ve done this month has been for those envelopes. I put a bit more time and effort into them than usual, and the result is I have a few new ideas to explore in 2020. The Masked Plunger is going to be a “thing”, I’m just not sure what form he will take yet. He might show up in future installments of IPMDT (perhaps when I eventually get through the search for the multi-purpose novelty squid story line), there will probably be a shirt, there may even be his own comic. I don’t know yet. I definitely want to do something with the whole “Totally Reasonable Uses for a Plunger” thing. I think I could have a lot of fun with that. Again, not sure how that will manifest. Most likely a book, but black and white? Full color? Size? Format? How many “uses”? No idea yet.

Other things on the horizon for 2020 will be some advertising for 10 Things as well as my shirts, I want to explore selling some stickers of my art (it’s a new offering from the company that prints my shirts and would be a more affordable thing for people to purchase. I’m excited about it, but again, it involves learning something new-the formatting of the stickers and adding them as a product-and more advertising), I’ve got a few new shirt ideas, and as always, there’s the various comic and graphic novel projects: IPMDT, ITB, and Revery. I still have some sewing projects I want to get to, as well, like the next generation of my Every Day Carry/super bag and some wool projects such as a blanket poncho and some arm gaiters/sleeves.

As I look back through my files from 2019, I’m disappointed in how little art I have to show for the last 365 days. This is the first year in quite a few that I won’t be entering the Spectrum art contest, as I really don’t have anything to submit. It’s kind of depressing. But, having just gone through this post and reflected on this last year, I did do quite a bit, just maybe not as much actual art as I would have liked. The business accomplishments are a big deal for me, publishing a book, even the sewing projects count for something. I know I have time management issues, I know I struggle switching between different tasks (for example, it can take me up to an hour to shift from making art/working in my studio in some capacity to being able to focus on getting a work out in. I’ve fought with that my whole life), I know I get paralyzed by having too many ideas (which, coupled with my indecisiveness, makes it very tough to start new projects) and I know I get very easily side-tracked and spend too much time on other things that are worthy, but should not be impacting my goals and my career dreams as much as they do. Well, maybe side-tracked is the wrong way to describe it. I tend to get very focused on things and want to see them through to their end. This happens when I’m working on a project for the house and I push through for 12+ hours until it’s just too late (i.e. everyone else has had dinner and is thinking about bed) or I’m physically in too much pain, but I want to keep going because it’s not done yet, or even when I get sucked into answering scout-related emails and coordinating and planning things, then all of sudden my studio time is gone. Something to work on.

So, there it all is, Toby’s Brain 2019. I’m not into the whole New Year’s resolutions business, but I am finding it useful to keep a list of goals with some rough deadlines. I missed a lot of them last year, but I also scratched off quite a few big ones. Some time in the next few days I’ll be drafting a 2020 list. I hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year.