Category Archives: Living Artfully

They Say You Shouldn’t

FALL IN LOVE WITH your writing. That you should be willing to kill your children. All of that. Nevertheless, I think this might be one of the best scenes I’ve ever written that doesn’t come to a conclusion.

And, to paraphrase River Song: Spoilers, sweetie.

Post Graduate Housing, North Campus, East College, February 15, 1998

Xena

“What’s this, Babe?” Xe asked, a rectangle of white paper — a photo print — in her hand.

“Where’d you get that?” Rowan demanded, all defensive and bristling.

“It was in that drawer you told me to use.”

“Oh.” The big climb-down. “Sorry. I must have missed it when I was cleaning.”

“So who is that?” She in the photo was incredibly beautiful in an exotic way. Gypsy? Very romantic, nevertheless, with raven hair in ringlets and deep, dark, soulful, anime eyes.

“Morgan.”

“Wassa Morgan?” Xe wasn’t confrontational, just curious. She could tell instantly from the Elf princess’s reaction that she might as well have shouted a deadly insult and thrown down a chain mail gauntlet. “I’m sorry,” she blurted in a burst of sudden contrition. “Forget I asked.”

Rowan sighed. “No. I’m sorry. You should know. Morgan was my roommate when we were both getting our doctorates at the Thaum. I stayed to do post-doc work here; she went to work at Hephaestus Industries, taking a place on the Executive Action team — the Nine Walkers.”

“That was Mitchell Drummond’s bunch,” Xe realized out loud.

“Yes,” Rowan said. It was hard to imagine a word that could be freighted with as much weltschmertz and agony of the heart that wasn’t no. But Rowan didn’t cry. Only looked like she might. Quite a concession for the normally stone-faced Elf royal.

Light dawned in the dark dolly’s mind. “She was your girlfriend.”

“And I hers.”

“She was killed.”

“In Athens. By Astarté.” Rowan’s eyes remained hooded. She would not meet Xe’s gaze, no matter how sympathetic and loving.

“So you owe Gabrielle…”

“After a fashion.” Which might have been the only thing that had held her back from a full-on physical assault of Redpath and Drummond on being told that the Genesis undertaking had been officially unsanctioned work and she was unlikely to get course credit for her work on it — that the newly-born of the project, Gabrielle East had somehow managed to catch the Goddess Astarté in a distracted moment and take off her head with a Japanese sword. Even so, Rowan had left the mark of her hand on Redpath’s cheek. Xe hadn’t been there at that precise moment — only later that night — but she’d heard about it, nearly in real time. Albeit from sources less-than-reliable. She and Rowan were among a very select handful of folks who knew that the Gabrielle dolly had survived the night of her Genesis and was hunted by the Babylonian God Marduk. Wherever she was, she had yet to be found, (it had only been two days, after all), but were she to reappear on campus, it would be the death of her, for sure.

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Callsign Baby Troll

A SNIPPET FROM the current work in progress to exposit the origin of Dolly’s nickname, Baby Troll.

Callsign: Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

When she and Aphrodite first arrived in Camp Meander via teleport, in September of ’97, the recruit company had been already a week into its training cycle. The dolly had, therefor, considerable catching up to do. She imagined and was subsequently told that there had been much debate as to whether it was wise to put her in such a position. It was seen by some as setting her up for failure. But Aphrodite was antsy and wanted her charge embarked on some activity — and meaningful activity at that; make-work was unacceptable. She asserted that the dolly would suffer far greater developmental damage from inactivity than from any possible failure. Further, she claimed, the dolly would not fail in any case.

An assessment with which the dolly was rather in greater agreement before she embarked on her training than she would be later on.

Until she got caught up, the dolly was subject to much harsh, no-nonsense treatment at the hands of the instructors, as she was always the last in her platoon at everything. Not only was she inexperienced and playing catchup, she was also smaller, lighter, and weaker than her platoon mates. Each new obstacle, each new task was to her a greater challenge than it would ever be to her comrades — even the billilaala, who were more her size.

It started the first day as she fell in on the parade ground with the rest and ended up at the wrong end of her rank. To be fair, they’d told her to line up according to height. Since everybody was taller than she, she figured it was mox nix — she’d always be the shortest and it made no never-mind which end she was on. She picked an end at random and took her position there. It was, however, a lapse which could not fail to attract the eye and ire of the lead instructor — Gunnery Sergeant Meru, a reputed martinet born in the Patkar Hills of Northern Burma and emigrant to the Canadian Rockies.

“What have we here?” the towering frekun ang said as she approached the dolly’s position at the wrong end of the rank. “Is this a baby Troll?”

Later, they would have better discipline, but it was early days, still, and the platoon had yet to learn better than to laugh.

“You lot think that’s funny, do you?” Meru asked in her very best parade ground voice. “Let’s see how funny you find it after a morning on the Main Loop. By squads. Double-time… HARCH!”

The Main Loop was a fifty-mile track that circumscribed most of the base. It was not paved. It was not level. It was cleared on occasion when NCOs thought some recruit unit needed to work on its brush-clearing skills. But otherwise, it was left alone, and the vegetation overgrew it with wild abandon. It was poorly marked. Passage through the woods just there was colloquially known as bush-whacking. It was held as an article of faith by all recruits that some alleged portions of the Loop existed only in the collective imaginations of the junior training NCOs, who accompanied trainee units on the route — and woe betide you if you mistook the trail. They might even send you back to start over. Independent Study, it was called.

For having been the cause of the platoon’s having to run the Loop — nobody ever walked the whole thing — the dolly caught holy Hell. She also earned a nickname from the experience. Nicknames were uncomfortable things to earn in Basic in the Troll Guard, so the instructors generally tried to find one for everybody — to spread the misery around evenly and find appropriate radio callsigns for everyone. The dolly’s was, from that day forth, Baby Troll. She’d be forever trying to live it down — until she learned to make it a badge of honor and accept it as her callsign. It’s worth noting that, once she’d made that accommodation with reality — as the Americans put it, once she’d embraced the suck — she was generally treated with greater respect.

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Staring at the Walls

Mural at Katharina’s Cafe-Konditorei, 8th & Washington, Newport, in progress at post time. (Click to embiggen.)

WE SET OUT WITH A specific collection of goals — places we wanted to photograph on this trip: the new Edie Harper on the American Building, the new image of Rosemary Clooney (?) at Liberty & Pleasant Street, Central Fairmount School, and so-on.

As usual, our tendency to follow our noses once we got started sidetracked us almost immediately. Leaving the Bob Evans in Newport Shopping Center, where we had breakfast, Toni wanted to stop at a McDonald’s to get a cup of Diet Coke to sip on over the afternoon. I knew that there was a McDonald’s a block or two further out Monmouth street, so we headed there. Sitting in the drive-by lane, I was struck by the shape of a tree looming over the houses opposite.


It stands curbside between two houses on Linden Road which runs between Newport and Southgate, a gorgeous little neighborhood of funky craftsman houses mixed with early Victorian brick.

Rolling north on Monmouth, Toni spotted something and requested a detour. I don’t recall the exact sight that drew us aside, but we soon ended up circling (four or five times) the same blocks between Saratoga, Washington, Sixth and Ninth, with an occasional jog over to Monmouth. Along the way, the mural seen in my rearview mirror (above) caught my eye and we ended up circling blocks to get to within snapping distance of that.

Of course there are a lot of pix taken I’m not putting up here. I have plans for them, though. Toni has put up a bunch of what she took (including better shots of the mural above) on Facebook, so, if you’re her FB friend, you can check those out.

One of the cooler things that Cincinnati does is permit this group of artsy types, called Art Works, to paint murals on walls — buildings, retaining walls, you-name-it — to beautify the city. It’s been going on in one form or another since the ’70s, when the effort was called Urban Walls and there were a half-dozen of them all over downtown. Now there are hundreds, scattered over the whole city and in other cities as well. (There are a couple in Newport, for example.)

One of our famous families here, immigrants from a town upriver on the Kentucky side, are the Clooneys. Rosemary, Nick, and George. I’m pretty sure that this mural is meant to represent Rosemary, who was an icon in local TV and radio in the forties and fifties. It’s on the side of a building of railroad flats at the corner of Pleasant and Liberty Streets in the world-famous Over the Rhine.

Oh, and we did finally manage to get to one area I had as a goal for the day — Fairmount. The city is building out a project called the Lick Run Greenway between Queen City and Westwood avenues from State/Beekman out almost to Wyoming where it comes north down from Price Hill. I had noticed in Lyft trips through the area that there was rapid demolition being done and that, if the picturesque scenes were to be captured before they’re all gone, we’d have to get out there toot sweet. It’s not an area I suspect anybody is nostalgic about. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a low-rent dump, blighted, benighted, and all that, which is why the city is tearing it down and building a monument to the politicians spending our tax dollars on it. No doubt, it will be pretty.

There are a few gems being lost in the process. The old St. Francis Hospital, (featured a week or so ago on this blog), being one. Another is a bit of a surprise, nestled on a hillside alongside vertiginous White Street — Central Fairmount School. Which, as far as I know, is to be abandoned or torn down, unlike many of its contemporaries elsewhere in the city.

Reservoir Wall, Eden Park, 8-19-17

SOME FORTY-ODD years ago, the Park Board blew out the south wall of the reservoir in Eden Park and built a new reflecting pool atop it, providing the park’s users with a bilevel play field. In the time since, the upper level has been used mostly for quotidian recreation — frisbee throws, dog chases, et al and fairs and festivals, while the lower level is used a a baseball diamond, basketball court, and so-forth, while the top of the wall itself is used as a place for romantic walks and imaginary lovers’ leaps. (Never heard of the last, but it could be done.).

(Click to embiggen.)

I’ve always thought this to be a subject best treated in grayscale, thus the utterly desaturated tones.

Observation 006 – 08-13-17

Observatory with Clouds

A BRIEF DEPARTURE from my Cloud Observatory department, the Cincinnati Observatory — atop Mt. Lookout on Cincinnati’s East Side — with dramatic clouds. (Image composited in Photoshop.)

Extra Texture

THIS ONE CAUGHT MY EYE while I was on a ride with passenger. And, for the first time ever, I circled back around after I dropped her off and went to where I could get the shot.

The building is in the South Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, right by Walnut Hills and Corryville, at the corner of Union Street and Reading Road. I took the shot from my car while standing on Bowman Terrace, a block away. Minimal color processing in Photoshop.

(Click to embiggen.)

Katmunda

LADY JANE GREY named after the famous pretender queen of England, played by Helena Bonham Carter in the BBC Production of the same name.

(Click to embiggen.)

This image was taken under low-light conditions at under 18 inches with my Nokia Lumia 1020 camera phone and processed using Google’s Nik Collection, Color Efex Pro4, in Photoshop. Saved from flattened .psd to .jpg with maximum image quality selected.

How We Spent Our Sunday

AS IS BECOMING A CUSTOM here of late, Toni and I set out in the short bus for an afternoon of picture shooting. Well. No. We didn’t set out to do that. We were going to go to breakfast and then check out this urban ruins location Toni had read about in one of our local free news sheets. It was to be a one-shot, not an entire afternoon. The site is a compound of abandoned Victorian (pre-Civil War) houses, called Alexander Circle in Tower Park, in the Northern Kentucky suburb of Fort Thomas.

On the way there, we passed an interesting-looking cemetery in the city of Southgate, next door to Fort Thomas.

“Could we go in there?” Toni asked.

I allowed as how I’d never seen it posted no trespassing, so we probably could. “Want to on the way back?” I asked.

“If we come back by here,” Toni said. And I mumbled something about how that could be arranged.

Alexander Circle proved all that was promised. It’s the kind of place that makes your mouth water and your fingers itch for the pen to sign the papers. Nothing we could afford, mind, but much one could want. The houses are all huge and, as the sign notes, basically the officers’ quarters for the Fort. They’ve been abandoned since — I imagine — the Fort was decommissioned and are in sad condition, barely on the cusp of condemnation, and deeply in need of some TLC. There’s a sign posted that it’s U.S. Government property and trespassing is verboten. (Which, I imagine, no matter the town’s manifest patriotism, must stick in the craws of the community-oriented folks of Fort Thomas). But we managed to circumnavigate the circle, even if we couldn’t get into the actual street itself.

Then, on the way back, I returned north on Alexandria Pike to Evergreen Cemetery, no doubt familiar to all those who know the general area. The cemetery stands on some 250 hilly acres in the city of Southgate, Kentucky, a hop, skip, and a roll from the I-471 exit to US 27. You glide through the wide, wrought iron, double gates and enter a gentler time.

A time in which Rust may not have slept, but from which it surely entered into eternal rest. We took dozens of pictures each, strolling around the grounds, stopping for interesting sights and views. I’m sure that you’ll be seeing many of them from each of us, here and on Facebook, in times to come.

An afterword: I have complained a good bit lately about the inadequacies of my cell phone’s camera (Samsung Galaxy 6s). While I cannot afford to buy a real camera at the moment, I will be making plans to obtain one in the near-ish future. Meantime, I’ve bitten the bullet and charged up my late, lamented Nokia Lumia, in order to use its absolutely brilliant camera. We will see in the next whenever how much better I can do using it per preference. Watch this space.

Pro tip: Word Press will throw an error if you try to upload a media file while it is still open for editing in Photoshop. Word up.

Oot and Aboot

THE IDA STREET Bridge planters. Ida Street is one of the main streets of the Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams — a 600-700-foot-tall hill looming over the downtown area and the river. It’s a trendy, yuppified bohemian enclave (my mother once likened it to Greenwich Village), with inflated property values and no parking on its narrow, twisting streets. The bridge is an Art Deco arch which forms an elegant backdrop for views of the west side of The Hill (as Mt. Adams is known to the locals) from down in the basin. These planters caught my eye when I was traveling through. Saturday, I was up there again and had a moment to stop on the bridge and snap a few shots.

Click to embiggen.

A Second Hearty Eff-You to Facebook on This Subject.

I POSTED A photograph to Facebook. Without even asking — and certainly without permission (which would be absolutely denied) — the Fartbook decided to crop it in a way I neither approve or welcome, and make it into a panable image. I reproduce the approved (and copyrighted) version here (caption below). I shall take the original post down once this one goes live.

ORIGINAL CAPTION

Old St. Francis Hospital (Central Fairmount, Cincinnati), from the light at Quebec & Westwood. I’d like to get a shot clear of wires, but that means getting out of the car and standing on the sidewalk the other side of the stoplight on Westwood Ave — a fraught proposition for someone with my mobility problems. Still, the logitistics of it aren’t impossible, so…

I’m Sure Most of You

WILL HAVE HEARD but just in case you haven’t. The Dear and priceless Connie du Toit has passed, leaving the world bereft of her scintillating presence. And her beloved Kim is now alone in life and reaches out via a renewal of his blogness at Splendid Isolation Go. Read. Register so you can comment. It will doubtless be a lively community and participation will only be possible via commentary.

Dolly and I will attempt to keep up, though I’m dead certain Kim will set a lively pace.

It’s Dolly’s Birthday!!!

EVEN WHEN I THINK about it in advance and plan for it, I tend to forget this central fact about my ficton: Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East made The Leap from a free-floating anima to a fully-integrated soul inhabiting a human body — in short, she was born — today 19 years ago, February 14, 1998.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote this novel, detailing the first twelve hours of Dolly’s life.

Check it out. Buy it, if you are so moved. Enjoy it. I am certain you will.

Happy Valentine’s Day. As Niel Finn of Crowded House put it: I don’t pretend to know what you want, but I offer love.

On Process

THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION will have noticed that I am building in my Pinterest profile a series of boards full of pins containing reference images of stock decorative elements. The main board (the oldest one) is called Art Lessons. One of the more recent boards is Art Elements:

Many of the elements I’ve pinned there are oriented toward the design of ceramic tiles, about which I know a little (very little), having designed one.

In the fall of 2003, Sting’s Sacred Love album was released. And shortly thereafter, preparations began for a tour in support of the record. When long time Sting associate and tour manager Billy Francis contacted me to begin design work on the passes for the tour, he told me that Sting had played with a lot of diverse influences from around the world and wanted, as a theme, some Islamic influences. I immediately thought (though I didn’t say it then) of the line from Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”: By the blue-tiled wall near the market stalls/There’s a hidden door she leads you to./’These days,’ she says, ‘I feel my life/Just like a river running through/The Year of the Cat. The key point there being the “blue-tiled” bit. Moroccan tiles are famously blue. And intricate. And of wonderful workmanship. I don’t remember which one of us zeroed in on the ceramic tile design, but whoever it was, that became one of my focuses.

First, I found an image to be used as a reference. The image I found was perfect. It represented perfectly the tile I felt we were looking for. The only problem, as I remember it, was that the image was a photograph taken at an angle and the design wasn’t perfectly square and true, which meant, if I followed it exactly, my design would be all wibberty-jobberty. Not on. So I had to use it literally as a reference and NOT as a pattern. I had to figure out the size and proportions and the intervals, angles, and repeats geometrically. It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious.

Somewhere along in the process, I received in FedEx a DVD of photographs of Sting. The images were from a photographer (who works with Sting a lot) and had been heavily processed for use in the CD packaging for the Sacred Love album. Billy and I talked through ideas for the various pictures — this one to be used for the satin passes, that one for laminates, the third for signage and so-forth. We’ll do some post processing on one of them for the second leg and specials. (That may not have been the run of the actual conversations, but that’s how the process generally worked.) In the lot was a picture of Sting, barefoot, sitting on the floor with his back against a wall. The wall was in heavy shadow (The picture may appear in the CD package — I don’t recall.) I conceived the idea — harkening back to the “Year of the Cat” quote, of making a wall out of the tiles I was building — tilting them in perspective — and masking the figure of Sting to “float” above them so it looked like the wall he was leaning against was made of these beautiful Moroccan tiles of blue, white, and gold. Similar treatments in monochrome for the satin passes. (At the time we were still printing satin passes offset, not digitally, and so couldn’t print full-color except at great cost. Laminates were digital and so full-color, as well as being higher-value, so worthwhile doing something special (more on that in a bit).)

I worked the eventual pattern of the tile in CorelDRAW — giving myself the leeway to work the geometry in a vector application, which provided greater sharpness and precision to the design. Then I saved it out to Illustrator format which could be exchanged with Photoshop, where I had the ability to overlay color and lighting effects.

A fully-realized copy of the design, called startile with grout.

Although the image looks natural — and does more so in a smaller format and in perspective — it is wholly artificial. The geometric patterns are flat black-and-white. Each has an added color overlay and various shadowing and embossing or debossing to add the third dimension The white border is the “grout” to ensure that, in a step-and-repeat wallpaper pattern, there is a space between the tiles.

And, the “finished” product. Well, not completely. This is the base art, without type — which is added in CorelDRAW just before making up for printing. And I faked it. This isn’t the “real” image, but one I reproduced from memory. And, on the top-level laminate, issued to the inner circle of band, crew, staff, and management, the Sting logo script was stamped in gold leaf. I wish I could show the process of masking the image of Sting, and adding the shadow, but I no longer have access to those images, as they are the property of my former employer. Although, if you do a Google image search on Sting Sacred Love laminate, you’ll see a lot of other designs I did for this tour and other ones. (I never got the Sacred Love laminates onto my Pinterest board and, for some reason I can’t fathom, Otto has stopped displaying passes on their Web site. (CB: If you read this, can you shed some light on that?)

Throw Forward Wednesday: An Update

THE JOB I REFERRED COYLY TO the other week is no secret, I’ve just been coming to terms with it. It’s this simple: I’m driving for Lyft — the gig economy ride share service. In an interim progress report, it seems to be going well. I’m maintaining an acceptable-to-fair star rating and have a 100% acceptance rating (which probably means nothing to anyone not directly involved), and I’m making money. Not hand-over-fist, and not nearly $35/hour (though I can see how it’s possible). I can see how it can be a reasonable part-time job (I’m shooting to be on the road 36 hours a week), supplementing other income streams, or providing the mainstay of a diverse set of them.

The other day, Toni regaled me with some tales of her youth, spent in Detroit among a rich community of friends and family and a music scene that you have to see close up to realize how cool it would have been to be there.

Today, out doing my gig economy gig, I found myself taking a tour down memory lane, while listening to the nostalgia-inducing music of Crowded House on shuffle play on Spotify. I had a trip take me to the neighborhood that my high school crowd sometimes called Blonde Hill for the fact that my Jewish American Princess sweetheart lived there. After dropping off my rider, I tootled up the hill to what used to be her street. Just taking the turns at the stop signs, memories came flooding back. I followed the doglegs back to the cul de sac in front of her old house. There was another, similar one next to it that, somehow, I didn’t remember from back then. But I recognized the pattern of the windows on the front wall — the living room on the left, the kitchen on the right. The steep grade to the garage I don’t remember anybody ever using. They all parked on the street.

You have to picture all this to the sound track of Crowded House and a state of mind prone to fits of depressive nostalgia: she was the love of my life — the one who got away. She was entirely justified in leaving me, but, as Amanda Marshall put it, it broke me. I still feel it, but it was — also as the song goes — no-no-no-no-o body’s fault but mine. In a mood that grows out of Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I Loved Before,” I wonder whatever became of her. She’d be 61, now (she’s nine months younger than I). Is the petite girl who, on figure skates on Eden Park’s Mirror Lake, evoked Elton John’s Tiny Dancer for me still in there somewhere? God how I’ve missed her!

Then, a few moments later, I found myself again translated to another of my old stomping grounds — this time the University of Cincinnati area, called Clifton, and the various places I lived there in my early 20s, from leaving High School and hanging out in a co-op house near the Zoo, through my first solo apartment, the job at the Palace Theater, and starting out at Otto, on through until Toni and I, recently married, moved out of our expensive apartment on the other side of the hill to a house in a tonier ZIP code with a cheaper monthly mortgage payment.

Looking at this post, with its lack of a real conclusion, I suspect that the new job will be the source of other posts. I hope they will be entertaining. More-so than the one below, which finally explains from my perspective, what became of the greatest gig in the world and my mysterious departure from it.

In My Early Teens, Despite Never Having Been…

OUT TO SEA, OR EVEN out on water in anything more substantial than a car ferry, I designed a sailboat. Which, to my delight, my nautically-inclined leatherneck uncle pronounced a fair-looking craft. He even thought it would float.

In world building my ficton for the Baby Troll Chronicles, I’ve included in my back story a character who is partly attached to the modern stories of the adventures of Gabrielle “Dolly” East, her karmic predecessor, Gabrielle Francesca East, called the most successful Childe of the East in the long history of Upothesa, who held that office from 1838 to 1863 and founded East College of the Americas, which is the main venue for most of the stories.

During her tenure, GFE1, as I call her for short, served for a time as the chief factor of the commercial enterprises of the Greek God Hephaestus — Olympia Trading, Ltd. As such, she was required to travel the world at some length (indeed, spending all of her 20s at sea, participating in such various historical events as the founding of Hong Kong and the Crimean War). Her vehicle for these travels is an iconic sailing vessel, which I have early on typed as a sloop and christened Bella Donna (Italian, meaning Beautiful Lady). The choice of sloop seemed appropriate at first, as it could be crewed by a small complement, but would be seaworthy for long voyages, given opportunities and resources for resupply.

Here recently, I’ve been exercising my love of sailing ships and conning them across the open water by gathering images of tall ships on a Pinterest board I’ve called Tall Ships, Blue Water. Along with that, I’ve been reading about sailing vessels — renewing my acquaintance with the types. And I’ve come to think that the sloop is not so much the appropriate type for Bella Donna, the first Gabrielle Francesca’s yacht and have settled, perhaps, on a schooner, such as The Lady Washington (left below) or The Pride of Baltimore (right), although a three-masted, ketch-rigged, fore-and-aft, topsail schooner would fit the bill completely, which takes us into the realm more of a brig or a brigantine.

As I take up my pencil and pens to re-up my drafting chops, I find myself eager to try drawing a sailing vessel of some type, albeit not one so complex and sophisticated as those above. Wish me success, please.

For some reason, the embed code for the pins of the ship images above is problematic. If you can’t see the thumbnails and want to see the full images, click on the box(es) to be taken to the Pinterest board in question. There’s a wealth of reading on the subject at Wikipedia, and, being as the subject is not one where opinions are as heated as, say, whether or not Hillary Clinton is a double-damned dirty traitor or Donald Trump is a money-grubbing parvenu, most of the articles may be trusted as relatively accurate.

Bryce-ing Weather and the Art Thing

BEHIND THE SCENES HERE AT Casa d’Alger, it’s been a busy summer. Mostly because of me hustling to earn some money, but also because of me working to improve my art. And recover lost skills. Just wanted to surface for a minute, here, and post a couple of examples of what I’ve been doing. This is a rendering from Bryce.

first_render_160924

Bryce, for the uninitiated is an application that’s about 20 years old or so. It was developed by Kai Krause of Kai’s Power Tools fame and is made to build landscapes and scenes of places — like gardens and yards and houses, and suchlike. It sees a lot of use in game development and fantasy illustration. And book covers, which is why I’m using it. I used to use it extensively at Otto, but have fallen out of practice. Here’s a design I did for the Moody Blues back around the turn of the millennium using Bryce and a couple of other apps — Raydream Designer and Photoshop for the most part. In the way things develop, it’s a fairly crude illustration. I can conceive far more sophisticated images, now, but this, in its day was fairly complex and hard to do.

My intention, here, is to work toward several possible interior and exterior scenes that might be candidates for cover art, with the addition of character figures inserted in post. But, there being many a slip twixt cup and lip, things may change between now and then. We’ll see.

Print That Out And I’ll Chop It

IN A DISCUSSION AMONG WRITERS and fans on another blog, the notion of a chop — a stamp or seal used to sign and sanctify a document — for authors, the idea being to allow said author to sign more autographs and/or books in a shorter period of time.

Reading the various comments, it came to mind that I have used the concept in the past myself — signing work with a winged capital “A”, as can be seen in this frame from my orphaned comic strip, Jazzcat.

And that I might want to play with the notion of trying it again — to update the idea from forty years ago to the 21st Century. An image I had seen recently — an illustration by an asian woman, the provenance of which I can’t recall any more — put me in mind of a certain style of sig or logo that is, indeed, derivative of Chinese chop seals. examples of which can be seen on this Pinterest board (which I am now following). Designs like those seen can be rendered onto a custom made rubber stamp or, at greater expense, a formal chop-type seal. I do not have the facility with either the Chinese language or the system of writing to design my own of either, though, sometime in the future, given an improved pecuniary circumstance, if I can form a favorite aphorism to thus encode, I might have one made for myself. Meantimes, I tried my hand at a sort of a roundeyes version of the idea.

chop_malger_base_160628If you google “artists’ signatures”, you’ll find page after page of images of things like the Chinese chops and seals. And, in a lot of cases, the designs take advantage of the resemblance of geometric primitives — circles, squares, triangles, etc — to some arcane alphabet. I decided to take that as a jumping off point, using my initials — MPA — as the input filter. The result, as you can see, looks like the back of an envelope — which is kind of meta, if you think about it.

The image I’ve been carrying in my mind is, as best I can remember it, in two colors — black and red, with the design and characters reversed out to the (white) paper color. So I played with the basic logo to make several variations, but not wanting to get too far from something that, in the absence of a stamp or seal, could be drawn with a few quick strokes of a pen. The results below. (Click to embiggen.)

chop_malger_1_variations_160628.

Of course, given a Photoshop install (which I don’t have at the moment — the subscription for PSCC being beyond my reach*), one could readily spin off a wide variation with textures, embossing, shadows, glows, and lens flare, though you’d want to keep it simple. Either you can use a rubber stamp — which you can get custom-made for a reasonable fee — or you want to draw the chop by hand. If you get to the point where you have to use a 4-color, die-cut sticker, the idea of simplifying the autograph process has just jumped the shark.

*Though, it could be made possible were person or persons among the readership here moved to make contributions to the as-yet-ongoing GoFundMe campaign (button at right). Such would also serve the purpose of kick-starting my freelance art business, which is, at this moment (see posts below), stillborn.

Artsy Fartsy Living

SO I’M SITTING HERE THINKING Photography’s an art, innit? Right?

There was a big controversy about that back when I was a boy photographer back in the ’60s. They said, “Anybody can TAKE a picture.” (Implying, of course, that there’s not much art in that.)

Of course, as the true photographers knew all along, you don’t so much TAKE a picture, as you MAKE a picture. Even were it possible to capture a scene exactly as it is in a given instant, the next instant, it will change — subtly or in gross. And, in photographing the scene, you influence its appearance, as well as the quantum existence of its constituents.

Plus, a photograph prevents you from actually knowing a given scene. There’s the NCIS example, when di Nozzo explained to Kate why they still sketch crime scenes. Others, I’m certain, abound. Even I knew all that back then. It concludeth to say that there is more artifice in a photograph than not.

In my HS days, though, my specialty was candid portraits. Even on the yearbook staff, it was an acknowledged specialty. And I took my text from Henri Cartier-Bresson**, who was famous for his fly-on-the-wall mode of getting images. I even carried a black camera, as inspired by HC-B.

(And, funnily enough, I look up at the camera hanging by its strap off the baker’s rack I use for a desk and — sure enough — I’m still carrying a black Nikon.)

And the shots of mine that made it into the book(s) the years I was on the staff were candid. Though I suspect I wasn’t all that unobtrusive. Sitting in a high school classroom, ignoring the teacher, snapping away, shooting endless rolls of Tri-X, candid shots of self-conscious teenagers: hard to avoid being noticed. And being a 6-foot-plus hulk, (albeit pretty skinny back then), dressed in dark colors, with that big old camera stuck up to my eye all the time.

malger selfie 160422earnie_in_window_lightBut that’s still my style, making candid portraits of the world around me. Nowadays with digital cameras — in the phone, yet (What’ll they think of next!?), it’s easier to capture what you see, though sometimes, it’s still a tough job to get what you see in the frame. Even in a mirror. Not gonna state it as a rule, but it does seem to me as though you can’t get a camera in a position to where you can photograph yourself as you see you in a mirror. The perspective is always wrong — the shapes of objects are distorted subtly. Here, I was looking at the image in the mirror, but the image is looking at the screen on the phone, thus lidding the eyes, it being impossible to look two directions at once.

Serendipity plays a pivotal role in instantaneous art — that is art over which the artist has only when-to-push-the-button control over when to freeze the motion that is an inevitable component of any scene — even the stillest of still lives. In the fast-moving art of candid photography, even the most carefully-framed shot will reveal the unexpected — which can often be seen as a bonus.

serendipity_illustration_btb_160424jane looks upFor example: in the images to the right, the top shot is the intended frame. I was trying to get a picture of Loki. Jane just photobombed me. But Loki moved too fast for the shutter to “freeze” him in action, thus making him too blurry for a normally acceptable shot. (I say normally, because I’ve had blurry shots turn out cool enough to use for some purpose, but it’s not common.) But The image of Jane, when framed and cropped correctly, is of interest. So it is treated so and saved as one of “my” pictures.

**The link goes to a Wikipedia article about Henri Cartier-Bresson. For the love of God, if you have the slightest interest in art or fine-art photography, go and read the article. Follow the links. Buy the books — especially Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.

Yet Another Art-a-Day Post

TWO WEEKS LATER. In fact, it’s been so long, with the interim so eventful, I barely recall the subject matter alluded to in the March 29 post. However, today, I have a different subject to relate to you.

Part of my take — right or wrong — on this exercise is that we participants ought to present current works IN PROGRESS. A sort of a semi-formalized What I Did Today. Being a procrastinator, I’m going to lag that a bit. But I think I have an excuse. I was up until 3AM fighting with the machinery and software to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. (If anybody knows a transfer utility superior to Air Droid, please enlighten me. For me, it keeps losing the WiFi connection and failing of transfer. The photo set for today’s post totals out at 43MB. I’ve no idea why, even at WiFi speeds, that should take long enough to time out.) So my post TODAY is about what I did YESTERDAY. For what I did TODAY, tune in TOMORROW. (Or maybe later, depending on how well I can keep to this schedule. Past performance being a reliable indicator of future results. (Or however that goes.))

20160412_171354Swennyway. What I did yesterday was build a shelf. For my wife Toni (whose birthday was Monday, BTW) to go on the exposed brick chimney above her desk in the Study at Casa d’Alger. So, as a spoiler, here’s what it looks like, now finished. Process shots next. (Click to embiggen. Click all the little pictures if you want to see them bigger.)

The whole thing stems from when Toni started collecting things VW. Well, no, I suspect it goes back to the eighties when we collected Lladro porcelain figurines. We have a large stock of cats, flappers … I think there’s a ship under sail in there. Birds, bunnies, rocks, ashtrays (not so many of those since both of us quit smoking). Tux, the Linux penguin. A rubber duckie. Mugs and mugs full of pencils and markers. And, here lately, Toni’s been developing quite the garageful of bugs and buses. And neat, framed art — photos and prints.

It’s started to get a bit crowded over there. So Toni started looking for corbels. I was picturing a pair of nice acanthus leaves, or an owl or a gargoyle. But she ended up with some nice, Shaker-esque brackets. Seven inches tall by five deep. With dadoes cut top and back and screw eyes mounted in the dadoes.

Left Corbel20160412_174719Meantime, let us consider the field. As you can see in the pic above (and the left and right ends, herewith), there is casing molding either side of the brick, covering the seam between the brick and the drywall. Og and I selected this and the dentil molding that runs around the ceiling line of the whole room (or will once it’s done). It’s triple-fluted, so the placement of the corbels is critical. It would have been nicer if they had been the same width as the molding, but you do with what you have. The downside of this is that it becomes obvious that the two pieces — the molding board and the corbel — were not made to go together. If they had, either there would be a table cut into the molding to bed the corbel or the flutes would have been stopped short of the corbel’s position. However, simply mounting the corbel on the molding, with the flutes continuing under it doesn’t look THAT bad. And the upside is that there is a well-centered trough in which to position the mounting screw, which makes the mounting easier.

Before mounting the corbels, I set a six-foot level across the space and drew a line on the moldings to serve as a guide to everything. Then I measured the corbels to make sure I was setting the screws in the right place to position the tops level to each other and the base line. Good thing I did that. On one, the keyhole for the mounting screw was centered 1316” down on the other, the drop was 1¾”. I also noticed to my chagrin that the manufacturer had neglected to include a bracket for the shelf in the top dado. Seemed a rather dumb design decision to me, but, hey — they’re selling, so it must work for them. I’ll never buy another anything from that manufacturer and I doubt they’ll miss me.

Having marked the drops, I set the screws and drove them in with the drill, leaving the heads proud (and testing with the brackets periodically, adjusting with a hand screwdriver). I take a moment to note here that the idiot teenager who designed these things specified flat head screws, rather than the application appropriate round or pan head (with or without washer).

20160412_165438Then the action moved outside with a collection of tools and a six-foot number one grade white pine one by six bought previously. I cut it to length. (Love my Diablo blade — a quick spritz of WD40 on the running blade helps fora cleaner cut and helps keep the blade clean.) 57 inches was our rough measurement to determine needed stock, but the actual length turned out to be 56¾”

20160412_165555Once cut to length, I wanted to chamfer the top edges on three sides (not the side against the wall. My router is a Bosch 2¼ HP beast that weighs a ton but is suprisingly easy to handle and quite nimble on the wood. It handles like a dream when its running. The spinning motor has enough mass to have a gyroscope effect, making the thing tend to want to stay steady. I pulled it out of storage for this project and was surprised when I opened the case to find that I’d put it away with the chamfer bit already locked up and height adjusted to a cut depth appropriate for a ¾” board. It was the work of a couple of minutes to finish the edges.

We’d agreed not to put any kind of sealant or finish on the shelf because of Ditto. Birds don’t take well to the volatile organic compounds that are outgassed from paints and varnishes, not to mention solvents, so you don’t use them in areas where birds are — or even nearby. (And that includes deodorizers.) So the final step in building this shelf was to sand it smooth and clean — free of blemishes and splinters. Not too hard, since I’d started out with white wood to begin with. I put a quarter-sheet of 320 grit sandpaper in my Bosch orbital pad sander — another power tool that’s a dream to use — and smoothed the face and edges, softening the corners as I went. I spotted and smoothed one place where the router had chattered a bit and missed another one. I bet nobody else will ever see it.

Next time, a pretty jewel of a piece.

The Artfully Living Post: 3/29/16

THE EAGLE SHITS TODAY by which I mean, Amazon royalty payments to authors who have elected to receive via direct deposit will drop today — according to what Amazon has sent out. My take: big whoop. If only my books were selling better, I might muster more enthusiasm. Still and all, I must be grateful for every fan. To do otherwise is declasse.

And, one should also keep in mind that the reason we are here on this mission is with the hope that, by enhancing my illustrating skills, I might improve the interesting-ness (is so a word) of my covers and improve my sales. So. To our muttons. (Add media.)

20160328_181957 As the school-days poem goes, I meant to do my work today. I spent a good deal of time gathering links to matter relevant and illustrations of principles great and small, but ran out of time (and energy) before I got to actually putting pencil to paper to draw the intended art for today. (Remember? We’re posting a work a day? That one.)

But… When I pulled out my pad of drawing bristol, I found the bit of visual doggerel at right tucked in behind the cover. It is a beginning exercise from a drawing lesson I never completed. For my usual reason — impatience. And therein lieth a lesson. I have little patience to wait (or work) for results. I want to achieve what I see in my mind’s eye right away. So, because so much comes so easily to me that I’ve come to expect it, it is harder for me than it ought to be to learn some subjects that require that I apply myself diligently. The exercise at hand is one that requires long practice and rigid control. Because the artist needs to lay down line after line after line of graphite so closely and evenly spaced that the resulting field appears to be a continuous swatch of a single color — or shade of gray. And, I think you can tell from the drawing of Ms. Easton in yesterday’s post I have little patience for finicky details. And when you say it like that, I think to myself that I really ought to grow up and buckle down to work instead of wanting it all RIGHT NOW. I do that a lot — have to remind myself to adult. Adultin’s hard doncha know. The technique is called the 5 Pencil Method and is espoused by Darrel Tank. You could do worse. If your results are a tenth of what Tank achieves, you’ll do well.

Tomorrow — I won’t promised, because I’ve learned better than to make promises I may not keep — or the next post, anyway, I do promise to get onto the choice of a face shape for a character under design. See you then.

Arting Livefully

MY YOUNGER FRIEND, CEDAR is undertaking to post a piece of art — no matter how trivial-seeming — every day for a year. I have seized on this notion as being a way to boot myself in the butt and get some serious time in on the drawing board.

I have just recently set up a work space in a corner of the office at Casa d’Alger — catty-corner from the bird’s cage, though not out of earshot of him when he gets all wound up (he’s self-winding) and starts in on the ear-splitting shrieks. The intent is that, now having a place to work, I will take advantage of any opportunity. But, I have found over my career in the field that opportunity never fails to take advantage of the opportunity to slip away, so that opportunity must be paired with a requirement for work to be done in order to permit progress. So the formula for self-employement needs to look something like this: opportunity to work plus work to be done over a deadline equals project. Having a project implies explicitly (or, as Dolly would put it: explies) the will to work or the desire.

The situation is far from ideal, so my perfectionism (the cynical or snarktastic individual will call it OCD) will niggle at me until I get the object of my desire

…A five-foot drawing table from Ikea on a tilt-and-height-adjustable trestle base. It’s not expensive for what it is, but I have no money right now and no income (but I do have a method for accepting donations — click the Go Fund Me link at right — hint-hint), so even the $150 for that table (most pro-level drawing tables run in the $500 range) is out of reach.

My present table is a piece of 1/2″ cheap-assed Chinese “hardwood” ply with a 1×2 stretcher glued to the bottom and clamped into the jaws of a Black&Decker Workmate. If you’re not used to working on a drawing table, this may not hit you right off, but those who have will get it immediately: the biggest drawback to this arrangement is that the work surface is flat. Level. Like a table.

And, that it’s not dedicated solely to arting means that I’ll have to take it down when I want to use the Workmate for something else — like building a shelf for SWMBO, which is coming up this week.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand — making excuses. (Sorry if your head got whipped around by that sudden change in direction, but there have been hints.)

I’m going to try the same thing: post a piece of art every day. I hope not to be so long-winded every time as I have been here. As my goal — the project, which is necessary to the demand for work-to-be-done, is to improve the covers of the Dolly stories (again, sorry for the sudden tangent) — my first task, or sub-project, is to devise a character design of Dolly. Which means drawing — first with pencil, then in pen and ink, with color following on — of a human face and figure, from the skin out. I will be following self-assigned lessons.

My preferred text, Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing has a whole section on drawing the human figure, heads and faces, hands, and so-forth, but is primarily aimed at classical fine art technique, and what I’m after is a more modern, comic style (comic book, manga, anime), so I will be drawing (pun intended) lessons from elsewhere. For the last year or so, I have been gathering images and articles from around the Web to a Pinterest Board, called Art Lessons There are around 700 pins on the board right now, and I am constantly adding more on an ongoing basis, so you may imagine that most of them are not relevant to the topic at hand. Nor are the lessons on “how to draw” (although Civardi’s does touch on technique), as it’s assumed that the student will already have a modicum of eye-hand coordination to make him able to draw what he sees. (There, though, the main trick is in the seeing — I know you’re tired of hearing that, but until you “get” it, it’s going to keep being repeated. And then you’ll get it and start preaching it yourself.)

And, now, to the nut of things. I can imaging that those of you who have been following along at home are scratching your little wooden heads and asking: “This guy claims to have been a professional for an entire career; why is he starting with the basics?” Good question. Here’s a dirty little secret: commercial artists don’t do much art. That is, to say, that what an artist does is art by definition, and therefor, what commercial artists do is to be considered art, but what we-they-I do/did wasn’t what a lot of people consider art. That is, to say, I didn’t really draw or paint on a daily basis and have never made any sculpture. And, truth be told, very few of the images I used in my designs were of my own original creation. And, I suspect, that, up to a certain level, this is universally true of all production commercial designers. We manipulate images and do so according to accepted design standards, and to technical specifications, but there’s only so much “art” (pron: “aht”) in it.

sheena_easton_drawingWhat art there is is more like this: a picture of the Scottish singer, Sheena Easton. It is essentially a tracing (it could be a copy, I don’t really remember) from a photograph. In processing terms, it would have been a CMYK separation from a printed piece (a CD longbox), which would have to be scanned in what was then known as a “copydot and rescreen” process in order to be actually used, but which would have potentially added several thousand dollars to the product cost. So, if memory serves, we never used the photograph, but only logos and type to produce the work for the tour. So the image is “orphaned.” It is work product and the image it references was never used by us.

And, as the drawing — not the scan, which is fresh today — is from sometime around 1990 (Wikipedia says the album — What Comes Naturally — was released in 1991, which sounds about right.) Which makes it a quarter-century old, and could be the last time I drew an image with my own hand, as Otto was in the process of going digital for art and prepress even then, so the rest of my output from then to last December was done on a computer. Which means that I haven’t drawn in twenty-five or so years. And, like any motor skill, drawing ability can deteriorate over time if not used. So, if I want to make the illustrations for my own covers, and not be held captive by the availability and price of others, and be permitted the liberty of making any image I can imagine and execute, and not having to rely on modifying stock photos, I need to be able to draw the human figure.

That’s why.

Word Press is reporting over 1200 words so far, so I’m going to cut this short and continue tomorrow. I intend my first efforts to be the exploration of the shapes of female faces. There are a whole bunch of charts of heads of manga/anime/comic characters in the Art Lessons boards. If you want to read ahead (that’s how you spot the ambitious ones), feel free. Until then, then.