Hats Off, January 20, 2023

This Show Case features four pieces submitted in response to our thirty-fourth Writing Prompt: Hats off. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for the Show Case page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.

And please share this Show Case with your family, friends, and other writers.

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Oh! Wad to Her a Silken Gown?

by Mimi Speike

They move slowly along a brickwork path hugging the west wing of the manse. They’re practicing their step-pause-step-pause saunter. 

Their first challenge is to get through the door. That problem is solved for them by a young woman pushing her way out, shrieking. “I will, Gigi. I absolutely will.Save your breath. You are not going to talk me out of it.”

Sly and Delly stand at the foot of the porch. The door is wide open. The way is clear, but for two young ladies, brilliantly dressed, arguing. 

“Bunny, please. Your father will hit the roof.”

“Good! I hope so.” 

“Your husband, it has to get back to him.” Phillip Sydney is gone for the week, showing an Italian acquaintance around Cambridge. 

“Good on that also. Don’t you worry about Phillip. I don’t.” Bunny stamps a satin-slippered foot. 

“Think of his standing at court. Remonstrate with your father, surely, but not here, not in front of guests. And none of it was Phillip’s fault. You will regret this, I warn you.”

Bunny is livid. She has good reason to be livid. Her cousin Margaret, with whom she’s never gotten along, has moments ago had confided, with malicious glee, a terrible secret. John Wickerson had spent the last two years in Marshalsea prison, and has just been released, handed a sum of money and sent packing, told never to show his face in London again. 

“John, in the Marshalsea! On father’s orders, without a doubt! God knows how Large Marge got the information, but she was thrilled to share it with me, damn the slut. I wanted to sock her. Oh, she would have loved that! But I kept my head. I smiled sweetly. That silly infatuation, I told her, what a mistake that was. I am fortunate to be wed to my delectable husband, don’t you agree? By the way, dear, how’s your love life going?” Bunny is on the verge of tears. “John, in that hellhole! How could father have done such a thing?”

She notices Sly and Delly, feet away. “Oh! How absolutely dear! Whose doing is this?” She scans the adjacent greenery, calling, “Closette!” – expecting Closette, her lady’s maid, to pop out from behind a shrub. No one appearing to take credit for the joke, she turns back to Sly. 

“I can do better for you than this,” she tells him. “Gigi! Run to my room, please. Fetch me down my jewel case off my dresser. No, wait. I’ll go myself. Do you dance, puss?” she asks, not expecting a response. Sly, held up by Delly, executes a jig-step. “Look! This darling boy dances!” She kneels down. “And what do you do, sweetheart?” Delly curtsies, one foot extended, wings gracefully spread. 

This is a young lady with spirit. An only child, she’d been spoiled, allowed to have her every way, until she took it upon herself to contract a marriage, behind her father’s back, to one of his employees. That foolishness was shut down immediately. She’s six months wed to a suitable man, a Dudley no less, and the Earl’s heir, his sole legitimate son having died months earlier.

Her husband has his own tale of romantic disappointment. He’d fallen in love with Penelope Devereux, and she with him, but her father had deemed the Sidneys insufficiently well-set and looked elsewhere for a son-in-law. Phillip struck a deal with the father of a second young lady. That fell through when the man died unexpectedly. The third try was the charm. He finds himself hitched to a pretty, vivacious sixteen-year-old, but not the one with whom he’s deeply in love. Well, there are ways around that. (He’d taken Penelope, once she was safely wed, as his mistress.) His marriage to Frances “Bunny” Walsingham had been pushed by his uncle, the patriarch of the clan, to cement a political alliance. Phillip, by the way, is not here tonight. He’s off–piddling around Cambridge is the way she puts it, conveying resentment, but not outright accusations. 

Phillip, though of an influential family, is poor as a church mouse (for a member of the near-nobility). He and Bunny share both Barn Elms and a London address with her father (who is none other than Sir Francis Walsingham). She’s been married against her wishes, to a handsome, charming, intelligent young man, but not he who’d won her heart. She’s known Phillip since her childhood. In the English Consulate in Paris in 1572, during the horrific events of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,1 he’d calmed and distracted her from the savagery unfolding beyond the walls of the compound. She’d thought of him as a big brother. He’d been a prize on the marriage market; she is widely envied, most especially by her cousins Margaret and Catherine Beale, pudgy, awkward girls, pathologically jealous of their dainty, graceful relative. 

She’s content with her lot, it could have been a far worse pairing, but tonight she’s furious. She suspects the affair with Penelope Devereux, now Penelope Rich, that he’d sworn he’d put an end to, is still on the burn. She’ll sing tonight, as she does at these galas. She’d chosen a favorite tune, but she’s substituted a more incendiary lyric. She crouches down, takes Sly’s face in her hands, and whispers, “We’ll show these men they do not own us. We are not theirs to do with as they please, right, puss?” 

He licks her nose. 

* * *

Bunny’s up and back, her arms full of pretties. She’s singing. Long drawn-out notes come fluttering out of her lips:

Oh! Wad to me a silken gown, wi’ a poor broken heart?

Or wad to me a gemstone crown, gin frae my love I part?

She unleashes, from the depth of her being, a bitter laugh. “What can you do with that, m’darling?” she asks. Sly mimics the melody perfectly. “You are a marvel,” she squeals. “What might your companion do?” Delly adds her squawk to his yowl, creating an interesting harmony. Bunny is beside herself. “Oh! You are wonderful! You and Mistress Poule2 will accompany me, and, if you’re up to it, act it out. Watch, follow my example.” She demonstrates a dramatic pose. 

Sly arranges himself in a tragic attitude. Delly portrays kind commiseration.

“Excellent. Ha! This will set Father’s teeth on edge. Phillip’s also. Six months wed and I’m already insulted. I’m a laughingstock! Tit for tat, Gigi. Fetch me out my harp! I’ve a new lyric. I’ll sing it to you. Here,” she tells Sly, “let’s gussy you two up even better. She holds out a small ruff. She opens her jewelry box, pulls forth a sapphire and pearl brooch, a wedding gift from Robert Dudley. “Here we go!” she hoots. “This will send a message. Every female in the both families has drooled over the piece. Tonight it’s worn by a chicken. That’s what I think of Dudleys just now.”

Georgina is back with the harp. An Irish harp is not the full-size instrument. It is strummed, cradled in the crook of an arm. A cat, of course, would deal with it in the classic fashion. Sat upright on the floor, it’s the perfect proportion. 

The Irish harp had been one of the instruments Sly had mastered during his days with “Nipsy” Rawstorne, working London street-corners for tips. He’d picked the strings with his claws, easier than wielding a bow, though he was adept at the fiddle also, handling it as one would a cello.

Gigi had placed the harp on a bench. Bunny goes to reach for it, but Sly has taken beaten her to the punch. He picks out a tune that always brought a tear to his Mama’s eye, As I walked forth one summer’s day to view the meadows green and gay.

Beyond a boxwood hedge, Delly’s barnyard cronies promenade. As the performance ends, Frenchie rushes forth, bleating, “M’ hat’s off to ye, sir, for this rare enchantment. Right, ladies? Three cheers for a real fine gentleman.” 

The sow and five hens join him at the foot of the porch, producing sounds that equate to, Hip hurrah! Hip hurrah! Hip hurrah!

  1. On August 23-24, 1572, St. Bartholomew’s Eve, began a massacre of French Protestant Huguenots. Starting in Paris, the savagery spread to the countryside and other urban canters. Modern Estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000. Francis Walsingham was the English ambassador at the time, and his family was with him in the consulate.
  2. Poule: hen, in French.

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Hats Off to Hammie

by John Correll

John and Cappie, 1976 (Photo credit: Dorothy Dale)

Take your hats off to I. B. (Hammie) Wilberforce, companion, entertainer, finger biter, Master at the wheel, terrier’s tormentor, and hamster. Dorothy Dale, his faithful cleaner, discovered his mangled remains yesterday at noon. 

“Poor little blighter, dead on the floor, he was. Cold as my dentures on an icy morning,” she explained, tears racing down her cheeks.

Within minutes, authorities apprehended the only suspect, one Cap Carnivore (terrier-shepherd-beagle cross). Mr. Carnivore, under no duress, immediately confessed to the crime, “He gave me the evil eye he did. I couldn’t take it no more. Can I grovel now?”

An immediate cross-examination and trial proceeded under his Right Honorable, Wag (Finger) Sternly, experienced Magistrate and minder. 

“Mr. Carnivore,” Sternly started with his finger poised for pointed action.

“It’s Cap, your honorableness,” Cap corrected with his tongue dragging like overcooked spaghetti.

Sternly locked his thumbs into his lapels. “Right, Cap — you flung Mr. Wilberforce’s bookshelf perched home smack onto the ground, did you not?”

“No, sir. He pushed himself.”

“Pardon? Are you suggesting a five-ounce hamster pushed a twenty-pound cage?”

Cap thumped his tail on the floor. “I put my nose to his door and told him to stop with the eye thing, and he kept banging against the opposite wall like crazy. Then the house sort of tipped over. Sudden-like.”

The Magistrate raised his finger, then stuffed his hand in his pocket and snorted. “But, you confessed to the apprehending officer, the seasoned Sergeant Sternly.” 

“You mean your mother, your Honorable Masterlyness?” Cap dripped slubber onto the floor.

“What? Yes, Sergeant Sternly. She said you had guilt written all over your furry face.”

“But, she shook her finger fiercely, and I kissed her feet, begging her to stop torturing me.”

“Her fierce finger?” Sternly examined his own appendage as if it were gangrenous. “Does mother do it better than me?” 

“Oh no, Master, you’re much-much-more meaner.”

“Good. You remember that. Okay, the house fell, and you murdered Mr. Wilberforce in cold blood.”

“There was no cold blood, Master. Hammie lay stunned on the floor, and I picked him up, all gentle-like to put him back in his house, but the house was everywhere, and then the little monster bit my lip, and I instinctively snapped and tossed him in the air. So, actually, it was an accident, you see.” Cap spun around to bite his tail without success.

“An accident?” Sternly rubbed his chin.

“Can I grovel and lick your hand now?” Cap raised his paw and scratched Sternly’s knee.

“Stop it.” Sternly waved his hand, and Cap rolled on his back. “I’ll discard the neighbor’s rabbit accusation — for now. And, considering your meritorious record with rats and the lack of witnesses, it is the decision of this court to release you on the provision of never touching another hamster, ever.”

“But what about the evil eye? Those hamsters curse me to the core. Pure evil. Somebody needs to stop them.” Cap licked Sternly’s offered palm.

“Mother decided Wilberforce would be the last hamster. So, it doesn’t matter.” Sternly wiped his wet hand on his pants and patted Cap’s head. “Walkies, Cappie, old man?”

“I’ll never say no to walkies, Wag old boy.”

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Complicated Darren

by SL Randall

Dunia’s Divot (Artwork by SL Randall)

I’m finding Darren to be a complicated character. He’s a big strong athletic guy, turned a bit paunchy by years in an office. He’s a bit of a blowhard, who masks his sensitivity and morals behind a silver tongue. 

As I write through this, his cracks are starting to appear. I think Darren is headed for a morality check and will need to decide which is more important to him, pleasing Sophia, or giving in to his better morality.

I need to explore more of Darren and his inner conflict. I also think Dunia has tempered his baser instincts, simply because he admires her.

The First time Darren and Dunia meet.

“Excuse me.”

Darren removed his ball cap, so he could look up at the young woman addressing him. Girl really, he amended the thought. “Yeah?”

“I was told I’d find the Adventravia tour guide in here.”

Darren took his eyes off the girl. These days, looking too long usually got you in trouble. He dug into his burger, ignoring her.

“Well?” she said. 

He kept chewing.

She startled him when her palm smacked the table next to his plate.

“I’m eating,” he mumbled irritably through a mouthful of food.

She sat down across the small table from him and stared.

He kept eating. He was not going to let an annoying child interrupt his lunch.

“So you’re the guide then?” she asked.

He nodded. Clearly she wasn’t going to leave him alone. 

“Great. When do we leave?”

He grunted, “Where’s your parents? We’ll go when they’re ready.”

“Mom’s dead, Dad’s an asshole. Neither one are here, just me and some friends. We came here to raft, hike and camp, not waste time dragging our guide away from his trough.”

He snorted. Despite her youth and irritating demands he was beginning to like her. He pushed that thought away, another avenue to trouble. He drained his pint and pushed his empty plate away. “Fine, get your mates, and your gear and meet out front of the office in twenty minutes.”

She stood up, and offered her hand, “Thanks, my name’s Dunia.”

He regarded the outstretched hand, then stood. Surprised by her grip he replied, “I’m Darren. I’ll be along shortly. I need to gather my own gear.” 

He watched her walk away, straight backed and striding as if she owned the place. He wondered how old she really was, then for the third time reminded himself of the danger in that line of thought.

*** *** ***

Present Day

Darren slumped into a plush chair in the executive men’s room. In ten minutes, Sophia expected to hear a report from his department. It all hinged on Dunia’s work. She had always been brilliant, but she also had a nagging sense of decency. He had admired that in her, but now it was inconvenient.

Dunia was right. He had changed. He no longer saw the world in the simple terms Dunia did. If he was going to survive in the corporate world, he had to let go of his principals. A loss he mourned if he allowed himself to think about it. Wiping sweaty palms on his trousers, he stood, straightened his tie and reached for the door. While Dunia could mathematically solve their problems, he had developed a smooth tongue. He could talk his way around Sophia. The problem was the acid in his gut. He knew they needed to produce a working model of verse jumping. He also knew it was possible. It had been done before.

Sophia’s father had discovered verse jumping many years ago.  Then he and his wife had disappeared along with all his research. Sophia had been in her twenties. Their disappearance had been suspicious, which made Sophia look guilty. Adventravia had closed its labs for two years while the Feds investigated her. Finding nothing, they finally had to let her go on about her business. 

By the time Dunia had her doctorate in Quantum Gravitational physics, Sophia was eager to get the labs working again. Darren’s silk tongue got them from guiding tourists to running the research lab, but it was Dunia who moved the research. The problem, they had reached a roadblock. Without Muwan Golas research, Dunia had to develop it from scratch. Sophia had been able to provide a few clues. What Dunia did with next to nothing had been astounding. Sophia, unimpressed, expected more. Always more.

The more Sophia pressed him, the more he turned pressure on Dunia. Now here he was, caught in between the two. 

“Clowns to the left of me

Jokers to the right

Here I am stuck in the middle with you …”

Gerry Rafferty’s voice rambled through his head. His mirthless snort cut the replay short. It was time to make his own music and talk his way out of this corner. He opened the door and strode down the corridor to the conference room.

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We Did It

by S.T. Ranscht

Image credit: Ivan Diaz on Unsplash
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22 responses to “Hats Off, January 20, 2023”

  1. Sue Ranscht Avatar

    Thank you, authors. My hat’s off to you!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Mellow Curmudgeon Avatar

    @ STR — If we find a healthy new home, will we foul that nest too?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sue Ranscht Avatar

      If the most far-sighted among us are unable to convince the deniers to become willing and able to clean up the mess we’ve made here, it’s difficult to be hopeful unless the deniers can be left behind.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Sandy Randall Avatar

    “He licks her nose.” Brilliant Mimi, I actually laughed out loud and clapped at this. What a simply perfect response. I do admit I got a bit lost in who married who and who was shagging who, but I get the feeling that exchange and getting lost is somewhat intentional. It really highlights the whole feel of how entangled and gossipy high society can be. Truly a harbinger of social media a few centuries later!
    I realize from your notes, the period is set in 1572, but the massacre reminded me of a British festival I actually got to witness, Bonfire Night also known as Guy Fawkes night. The festival is held November 5th, and originally happened in 1605. Here is the wikipedia link. you might enjoy it and be able to use it somewhere else, or simply find it fun historical reading. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night . One thing I love about visiting the UK and Europe is experiencing local traditions most Americans really never hear about. Which makes your historical aspects of Sly so full of depth. If only history classes were presented with a fun tale like Sly’s!

    John,
    What a wonderful conversational, naughty dog story. Poor Evil eye Hammie. But then Hammies in the captivity of humans do tend to suffer mishaps. My oldest son and youngest daughter (10 years apart in age) have “Hammie comes to a dastardly end” story. I hope we get some more Cappie stories. I love you dog tales. The only difficult part I had was at first I thought it was Cappies mangled remains on the floor, further dialogue quickly cleared that up. I love how you are telling the tale from the dogs understanding and I see you have improved your POV switches between the dog and the owner (I assume you). I look forward to you mastering the POV switch. Comparing it to a previous showcase with the toy spaceman, you have grown in skill on this technique!

    Mine … I realized, by rereading this here, I now need to explore the disappearance of Sophia’s parents. I do have a paragraph about in my notes, But I think writing what happened will help me with tying the past to the present. Outline? No not me, I write vignettes and attempt to paint holes in walls.

    Sue,
    So many meanings in so few words … Your work is evocative. My first read, I am delighted by the image and the words. My second read, the words sink in a bit. I think, but wait … Exploring is in our nature. It is all well and good, but before we pat ourselves on the back for making it to space, should we not reflect back on what we have? Should we not work to make our existing home healthy before we find another?
    You made me think. Hats off to you for writing a piece that gives me pause and cause to reflect on, what was, what is and what could be.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. mimispeike Avatar
      mimispeike

      Sandy, I’ve read ‘The Brilliant Stage’, a novel, but well researched, of Frances Walsingham and her first husband Sir Phillip Sidney, four times now, and I still can’t remember who was related to who by a first, second, third marriage, whose son or daughter wed the child of the first Earl of Somewhere, whose stepmother was his half-sister … my head is spinning.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Sue Ranscht Avatar

      Thank you, Sandy. I always try for something beneath the surface or beyond the obvious, so I’m gratified to read your thoughts. I think it adds both an edge and a depth to what could be a flat reflection.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        I think the picture, coupled with the words makes a difference. If your piece was read in black and white text, I think it is the same difference as reading a text message rather than hearing and seeing someone speak it. Plain text loses inflection, expression and body language. In this case your message brings a more specific meaning to the picture. The picture by itself also has it’s own interpretation. The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” still isn’t as poignant as the 15 words, out of a thousand you chose, to convey a specific line of thought about the image.
        See you’re still making me go deeper in my thinking about your work. I appreciate that.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Sandy Randall Avatar

    Written vertigo, I wonder if that’s a thing? 🤔💭🤨🧐

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mellow Curmudgeon Avatar

    @ John – Hats off to Cap also, for his cleverly described skills at obtaining forgiveness.

    While I could see the humor in odd names for the people involved, I was confused and put off by the names for other animals.  The dog is “Cappie” in a caption but “Cap” (when not “Mr Carnivore”) otherwise.  The name [Cappie] is too similar to the [Hammie] part of the absurdly long name for the hamster.  Druther see just “Wilburforce” for the hamster and “Cap Carnivore” in the caption.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sue Ranscht Avatar

      Actually, Mel, I confess I chose the caption name. I think Cap Carnivore would have been a better choice, but John had referred to him as Cappie when he addressed the dog at the end of his story, so I used that.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. GD Deckard Avatar

    Mimi, I just read “Oh! Wad to Her a Silken Gown?”
    You are gifted. The drawing is incomperable.

    But I did a Google “search for similar images” and Google compares your art to Jiří Trnka
    https://huusmanngarff-stories.blogspot.com/2013/06/jiri-trnka.html

    Check this piece:

    Liked by 3 people

    1. mimispeike Avatar
      mimispeike

      Oops. Not mine, GD. A Victorian/Edwardian illustration, possibly one of those ‘scraps’ from which ‘scrapbook’ is derived.

      I’m too busy to create art for every piece I post.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. GD Deckard Avatar

        Well, your work is obviously just as good, Mimi 😉 or I wouldn’t be confused.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. GD Deckard Avatar

    I enjoyed Hats Off to Hammie John, but mostly because I ignored all those names and concentrated on the story.
    😝

    Liked by 2 people

  8. GD Deckard Avatar

    Complicated Darren is a complicated story, SL. (I’m only guessing here but) if you build as it thoroughly as a Stephen King world, it could be a great story. Specifically, show Darren is a bit of a blowhard, who masks his sensitivity and morals behind a silver tongue. Don’t just tell it. It’s a story that might take years to write. But it could be a truly great read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      Thanks GD, it’s hard to write Darren. I want to slap his blowhard, but I need him to be one lol. He’s actually a new add to this story which is why I don’t know him well. My initial descriptive of him is exactly that, me trying to figure out what type he is. Darren the STB (silver tongue blowhard or bastard lol) I actually painted a picture of him sitting in the chair of the mens room with his head in hands … crap picture … but it helped me with the writing. This story has been trying to exit my head for years, but it’s coming out like cheese stuck in a cheese grater rather than flowing. Some stories are like that I guess.
      As to the world building … Let’s just step that up a notch, I’m somewhere between galaxy and universe building. I decided awhile ago, that the inside of my head is another universe trying to tell it’s stories in this one. The story I am writing in episodes on my website is turning into a compendium of that universe. In order to organize it, I have created “The UOC” The Universal Operation Center. From there is the well from which all my stories spring. That way if a character from one story does a cameo in another story … I can at least say they’re in the same universe! lol
      And there you have it … unbidden … a glimpse into my head. I’d go mad if I couldn’t write and paint.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. GD Deckard Avatar

        Sandy,
        “This story has been trying to exit my head for years”
        Let it. The story we want to write should have time to emerge. Consider Joseph Heller writing Catch-22:

        While sitting at home one morning in 1953, Heller thought of the lines, “It was love at first sight. The first time he [Yossarian] saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.” Within the next day, he began to envision the story that could result from this beginning, and invented the characters, the plot, and the tone that the story would eventually take. Within a week, he had finished the first chapter and sent it to his agent. He did not do any more writing for the next year, as he planned the rest of the story.

        When he was one-third done with the work, his agent, Candida Donadio, sent it to publishers. The work was soon purchased by Simon & Schuster, which gave him $750 and promised him an additional $750 when the full manuscript was delivered. Heller missed his deadline by four to five years, but, after eight years of thought, delivered the novel to his publisher.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Heller

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sandy Randall Avatar

          It definitely is working it’s way out in its own time. My theory, If a piece of writing stalls for a time, the writer is actively gathering more data and information required to get the piece going again. At least that’s how it works for me. When I started this story, I can tell you Facebook was barely a thing and research on gravitational membranes was A. not even a glimmer in my wheelhouse, and B. completely unimaginable to me. I work on a piece until I write myself out, set it aside and do something different. I guess it’s like going to the gym and working different muscle groups. Today is leg day, tomorrow is biceps and the day after is rest day. Works for me lol.
          I did notice one portion of the bio “Heller was not particularly attached to the work, and decided that he would not finish it if publishers were not interested.” I find that interesting and so like a writer or artist. I can relate.

          Liked by 2 people

  9. GD Deckard Avatar

    We Did It by S.T. Ranscht
    😏All animals have to leave the nest. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sue Ranscht Avatar

      But even baby birds are trained to relieve themselves over the edge of it so as not to befoul it. Offspring of any species generally leave to create their own nests in the same general area, not because they’ve killed their world.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    Sandy, good work here. All characters are complicated if you take the time to look under the hood. That’s the problem I see with short pieces. You don’t have time to do your due diligence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      Thanks Mimi, I think that’s why I’ve gone to doing these character vignettes…. I feel a bit like a cartoonist… if that makes any sense, but it does help with getting under the hood.
      I can’t tell you how much your style of creating has helped me.
      Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

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