Lenny Letter, Ice Scream & Summer Wrap-up

One of the biggest highlights for me this summer was illustrating The Seductive Pleasures of Sybille Bedford for Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner’s Lenny Letter.

I especially loved the challenge of there being only one photo of Sybille Bedford’s early life that I could find, so I needed to improvise. She was often hanging out on the French Riviera alongside the likes of Adolf Huxley (Brave New World) sipping wine with many other artists & writers of her time. I got to explore her world for a little bit in gouache and it was magical.

This summer is also where my project Beautiful Monsters began to feel like something more. I had started this project with an idea but it has since been taking a life of its own. I have pages of ideas to share, each one getting more exciting and pushing my interest in animated storytelling even further.

I couldn’t get an image of a screaming ice cream cone out of my head since Illustration Friday announced their June topic was ice creamEven though I didn’t make it in time for their site, I used this visual later to express my dread over summer’s end.

Let this be a warning, says the magpie to the morning, don't let this fading summer pass you by. (Neko Case)

All things fade at some point; seasons change, summer fades, even watercolor markers fade (when accidentally left by an open window before a downpour!) My illustration of that beach wasteland is how lonely it can feel inside my gut at the thought of holing up for wintertime.

I am looking forward to shifting gears with Beautiful Monsters. All October #thebeautifulmonstersproject posts will be Halloween & horror movie themed. I am also looking into the children’s book market (a pairing so fitting it’s actually maddening that I haven’t taken the plunge before), finding an agent, and setting up shop for prints & paintings. Despite years of experience, it was only until the very end of 2016 thru 2017 when I started finding my voice as an artist, even if it’s been right there under my nose all along.

“It’s not over until we say it’s over” (photo by timx13)

Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break Our Stride

Since the beginning of time we’ve heard about the forces of good and evil. Man vs. beast, gods vs. demons, Jedi vs. Sith. It’s what makes great TV and fiction. It’s the origin story of so many religions and mythologies. It’s why we’re addicted to superheroes and Game of Thrones.

While I’m aware that good and evil will always exist, I never expected what’s happening today to get this bad. Something feels off; broken. Humans broke through some alternate dimension where Trump is president and white supremacists are called “fine people”. This isn’t an episode of Fringe, even though we use terms like “alt-right” and “alt-left” the same way Fringe had an alt-Walt and alt-Olivia. This is not an alternate universe; it’s all really happening.

I still have hope and I will keep on fighting. So many of us will, and that is where history will repeat itself. When the balance is out of whack things are forced to change. We could look at it that way; that love and people will rise up just like they have in the past.

Things will only change if we don’t give up and keep on fighting the good fight. Evil is not the media or just this one man, it resides in each of us. I know I can’t change the world, but I can definitely get to work on a micro level. I can look at myself and my own behavior. Learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. Treat people with compassion. Speak up against hate. Admit when I am wrong. Check my privileges. Learn from others. I am willing do the work of being uncomfortable and letting people know when they make ignorant remarks. I am willing to leave friends and family if they stay on the side of hate and oppression, and I am willing to tell them why. It’s not that hard to fight for love and equality when we do this together. Good will prevail in the end.

Ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down. Oh no. I got to keep on moving. (Matthew Wilder)

Monster: The Wounded Heart
Antidote: sometimes you need to be uncomfortable and just feel the pain; the answers come when you lean in and listen
Special thanks: to my favorite bro duo, Tim & Mike Mucci, for helping me ideate the heart animation, 700 miles away from home

Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana

I first got the idea for a bananaman after seeing this page (above right photo by Fred Mortagne) in Juxtapose Magazine, issue 193. It was a goofy idea that turned into something a little more thoughtful. I kept thinking about the layers of consciousness and what we allow ourselves to see. Book rec: Peeling Back the Layers of the Mind by Michael Austin Jacobs.

What if a banana slipped on a banana?

Friday 8/4 #beautifulmonster:
Monster: Bananaramaram
Description: somewhere between overthinking, obsessing, and anxiously pulling back layers before the center is ripe. Too focused on the past or future that you could slip right through the present. 🍌 Enjoy your banana

Friday 8/11 #beautifulmonster:
Monster: Bannoyance
Description: the frustration you feel over things out of your control, like writing this IG post on your way to a weeklong beach vaca when the forecast predicts thunderstorms…every.single.day ⚡️

Liminal Space & Lucky Sevens

I got caught in liminal space making art about liminal space. There was a space in between who I was before, who I am becoming, and a whole lotta learning in between. I’ll use my own head as a metaphor: I’ve been growing my hair out for years, and yet today it’s still just at my shoulders. I’ve told this story before, but when I was a kid I had wild curly hair, to which my mother would iron out and reset into rollers–every single night–so that my curls would be different than their natural state and look more like Shirley Temple.

It was a nightly ritual that lasted up until the fifth grade (when I finally said enough is enough!) and the rollers were painful to sleep on. It might seem minor, but embedded somewhere in there was a message that my natural state was never good enough. Throughout my teen years and beyond I rebelled by taking control of it myself, dying and straightening, still reinforcing that my naturalness was never good enough. It was only until recently that I saw through this charade in its entirety and have been letting the curls roam free. No more blow dryer, straightening iron, or fretting over my Little Orphan Annie fro at the beach. My hair has never been happier.

King Protea flower (Protea cynaroides) symbolizes change and transformation (source)

In these years of waiting for my hair to get long again, hairdressers would say that I needed to get regular cuts in order for it to grow. I dutifully listened, but in the past few years, my hair has not grown past my shoulders. It’s as though I was growing out bad decisions (just like those tiny unmanageable bangs) and truly finding myself within this process. I stopped listening to other people and listened to what my hair had to say instead. I endured the visual discomfort of growing out horrible bangs and layers that didn’t work, and now my hair is starting to look and feel healthy again. This can be said about life sometimes; when you listen to other people–or even the stories we tell ourselves–we may never step out of the transitional unknown and grow.

Art desk + #thebeautifulmonstersproject #art #illustration #strangefigurations

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

So what is this liminal space? “The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold–any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us.” (source) It’s a transitional time when old ideas come apart and return anew. It’s not unlike the hero’s journey (think Star Wars!) but for some of us this journey is more quiet, metaphorical, and happening within. It did for me anyway.

Trust is the antidote to the discomfort of not knowing, though the hardest time to have trust is while facing the unknown (when you need it the most). There’s a great book for times that gnaw at our fear of the unknown: Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. Trust that the answers will come.

I’ve also been watching an enormous amount of David Lynch these past months with the return of Twin Peaks. I fell down the rabbit hole and rewatched the original series, then some of his movies, then interviews… He’s big on transcendental meditation, and while that’s a practice to explore another time, the shared sentiment I came away with is accessing an “ocean of awareness” within.

A moving painting, but with sound. That idea stuck in my head. A moving painting. (David Lynch)

There is also something Lynch said in The Art Life that I have been recently discovering in my work. This unexplainable thing that’s happening in the wee hours when I’m experimenting with my personal work, these chaotic animated drawings that I post sometimes. I’ve been referring to this new route as “moving sketches”, though Lynch refers to them as “moving paintings.” I’m pretty smitten that I was close tho.

Happy accidents #gouache #paint

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

Liminal Space is a beautiful thing but it’s totally possible to stay too long (hello, skeleton!)

An update on the Beautiful Monsters Project itself: a new monster will be posted every Friday on Instagram through September 8th. The posts will be shorter, and I will stop floating around in space! That makes a total of seven (including this one), so I’m calling these next monsters my Lucky Seven. Here’s a nice glass of PJ Harvey to pair with this week’s theme:

Monster: Kevin Liminal Spacey
Descriptionthe space of ambiguity where you don’t know the answers and often rush through it to make yourself feel comfortable again. Discomfort with the unknown. The spaces in between. No affiliation to real-life actor Kevin Spacey, other than I think his movies are pretty good. 

I Was A Teenage Werewolf

I am not overly nostalgic about my teen years, my niece turning 13 last month reminded me of that. She and I talked briefly about what it’s like at school these days. 7th grade pecking orders, puberty, mean girls, bullying (only this time with death threats because the internet has made all of that so much worse). The timing sounds about right, 13 and beyond were brutal. When I look at myself back then—usually a visit to Dad’s house, looking at graduation photos frozen in time behind the china closet glass—I wonder how any of these pictures can make someone happy, taken at a time when I was so miserable. I feel different in all ways possible now, so it’s hard to know who that person is anymore.

Long before I knew the incredible strength of being weird and following one’s own path, I felt the traumatic pain of being awkwardly different.

When I’ve come across the occasional photo of my 13-year old self, I used to only see a frizzy mound with braces and hair—so much hair—and I remember how hideous I looked and felt back then. Then there was the dysfunctional home life tacked on. That didn’t go unnoticed, as it was the perfect blend to make a kid become the perfect target for teasing. A self-conscious, sweaty, hairy, frizzy, socially-awkward, mess. Even though I may not consciously be thinking of those years, they left a fair amount of invisible scars.

Next #beautifulmonster in progress ⚡️#beautifulmonstersproject

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

Those battle scars are how I got here today though, and I gained insurmountable strength and empathy as a result. Since life is the most awesome it’s ever been, it’s bittersweet to think back to that time now. I know if it weren’t for that teenage hell, I wouldn’t be the adult I am today. That’s a hard trade. You really can’t be a badass warrior if you haven’t been to battle and slayed some real life dragons. Aside from all the painful, embarrassing (and downright humiliating) memories of my 13-year old self, I admire her greatly for sticking through it.

Can only be normal for so long

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

I think of teenagers as werewolves (girls and their periods, hello moon). All that growing, changing, unwanted hair, mood swings, morphing, shape shifting; the blood, sweat and tears; the darkness and light. This article just popped up on NPR:

It's difficult to have a teenager's mind. The brain develops rapidly during the adolescent years, which partially explains why teens experience anger, sadness and frustration so intensely.

Monster ref #streetfinds #beautifulmonstersproject

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

Since old feelings were being summoned up as a result, I wrote a quick letter to my inner teenage monster in order to face her pestering presence:

Hey kid, love ya, but can you do me a favor and please comb that indeterminable mass of frizz shaped like a Christmas tree on top of your head? It’s also totally okay to start shaving your legs now, above the knee, but I’m not here to body shame you. Seriously though, things are gonna get good. So good. Life-changing, mind-blowing good. You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you how good life can get, but believe me. Good. It’s just that it’s going to take, like, enormous work and a few coupla decades! You’ll suffer quite a bit, but no big. You got this. Well, you will eventually get this. It will make you stronger. I wish I could go back in time and give you the tools needed to not suffer as hard, but what can you do. It’s a tough trade considering how life will turn out after all that school crap is over. Stop caring what other people think (don’t worry though, you’ll get over that too) they’ll have their own monsters to deal with. Trust yourself. Be okay with being the weirdo that you are, make lots of art. You will eventually have all the answers you need. Other people are pretty stupid, and you will eventually not look like a massive ball of fuzz and teeth. I promise.

Late night note to self

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

This week’s monster is dedicated to my teenage self, my niece, and any other weirdo teen having a tough time out there. It was also inspired by Duckie from Pretty in Pink, specifically this scene when he’s moping around about Andie listening to The Smiths.

Monster: Teenage Werewolfster
Description: a moper, doper, and all around gloomster because the world is only as big as the inside of their head. Sometimes they wear all black, sometimes they wear bright colors. It really doesn’t matter what they look like, or if they’re smiling on the outside, or what music they listen to, the insides are all the same; feral and frustrated as their internal wires are being tampered with. Sometimes Wolfster still visits as an adult, your moody gloomy old self moping in the corner. Tends to pop up at a time when your self-esteem is most fragile. They’re annoying and kind of a drag. Be nice to this monster though, they really need it, even though they act like they don’t

Beautiful Monsters, Milestones & The Metaphoric Woods

BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS is a new project exploring the ups, downs & in-betweens of this emotional life. We’re gonna feel those darn feelings and draw them out, making them into something tangible and less destructive. The title is an amalgamation of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography Savage Beauty (after finding a free copy on the curb), Millicent Patrick’s epic Gill-man (omg this photo), and Husky Rescue’s super pretty Beautiful My Monster. This project is about the beautiful, ugly and tragic monsters creeping around inside all of us.


Thoreau peeking #beard #art #animation #illustration #thebeautifulmonstersproject #henrydavidthoreau

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

My own time out in making this artwork had me reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which was said to be “part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and (to some degree) manual for self-reliance.” [1] Though Thoreau was controversial to some, who can argue that taking a little time out for yourself isn’t important; when you take time to examine your thoughts and feelings you can find gems in there.


Life In The Woods #henrydavidthoreau #cabin #interiors #walden #sketch #thebeautifulmonstersproject #art #illustration

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

The monster is never just there where we think he is. What is truly monstrous is our cowardice and sloth.

Much like Thoreau, I had to go into the woods, take a step back from all the noise to investigate my own head, and plant seeds for the next steps in my art.

As a milestone birthday approaches, I did something I have never done before: slowed down and invested time solely on art. What emerged is BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS, a playful look into emotion. Putting this project together wasn’t easy for me at first. I spent a lot of time creating stacks of drawings but not finishing them; obsessing too much and trying to talk myself out of it (it’s so easy to go down the road of “what’s the point? if you think about anything long enough).

I was getting too distracted by news and politics (like the rest of us), feeling enormous resistance to share the work or talk about it with anyone else; slowing myself down by cramming too much into one idea. Fear morphed into a slothlike creature and too much time was passing by.

To quote Steven Pressfield from the The War of Art, “the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” It’s time to push this monster out of its own slothy gates of hell and move forward into the unknown:

Monster: Slothus Goeth Nowhereicus
Description: the slothy resistance that keeps you away from real movement or change, dragging its feet in place forever. Slothus Goeth Nowhereicus would love for you to stay in your pj’s all day, every day, and sink into the couch until you’re molded together as one. Be wary of its Snuggie™–wrapped, cheeto-eating charms. You’re going nowhere, my friend. Get out into the real woods and take an actual walk; the longer you wait for everything to be absolutely perfect, the longer ol’ Slothy sticks around.

Beautiful Monsters: New Project


A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

Creating monsters + learning how to defeat them #saturday

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on

The weirdos are coming! New illustrations coming soon #BeautifulMonsters

A post shared by Andrea Sparacio (@artsparrow) on