December 20, 2009

The Amazing Ray Troll...

Lucky me! I had the chance to attend the museum opening of the new Ray Troll exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

This is one fabulous show. I'd say it's easily the best museum show I've ever seen at the Burke... (or even in all of Seattle). I can't think of an art show I've ever found more fascinating. This show will NOT put anyone to sleep!

What's not to be fascinated by? Astonishing fossils... fabulous artwork. And the amazing Ray Troll was there in person along with Kirk Johnson, the knowledgeable author. He's also the director of the Denver Science Museum.

Both the author & artist were on hand to deliver a scholarly, yet very fun talk on the opening as they strolled around the gallery.

I was amazed it wasn't more crowded. I felt like a nervous groupie when I got to shake Roy Troll's hand... but then that's how I felt when I met Maurice Sendak.

'Riding the Fossil Freeway' is an amazing book... nearly a decade in the making (and it shows). There's also an awesome huge map of the fossil filled West. Ray signed my wall map 'Scientific Surrealism'... which I find to be a fascinating idea for an art genre.

Ray said it took him years to figure out that 'scientific surrealism' was actually what he had been doing as an artist. Makes sense to me. I can easily understand how an artist might spend years before finally crystalizing exactly what it is that we do. I know I've got lots of half-baked directions waiting for a good descriptive title.

I had read 'Riding the Fossil Freeway' twice the summer before last. I think half the reason I liked the book so much are all the stories about camping and driving through the outback of the West. I've been to many of those locations. It must have been a great road trip, driving the outback of most of the West.

Seeing the artwork all together in the museum on the wall is very powerful. There are way-cool gigantic hand-painted images from the book that line the walls. The show will be open all summer, so anyone in Seattle really must go, imho.

December 14, 2009

Cheeriest of Jollydays...

Tis the season... despite my natural tendency for Scroogitude, I have managed to bring forth yet another Holiday missive.

This is from my new book 'The Twelve Days of Christmas in Washington', which looks to be fun... and a lot of work.

I'm thinking I'll do this finish art with plain old real paints... which ought to be a challenge. Despite how much I love digital, I think when you have a 32 page book to do, the frustrations of crunching files all day doesn't match the spontaneous joys of sloshing real paints. Getting down and scrubbing & sanding and repainting can be so theraputic... albeit frustrating at times. It's learning to live with the imperfections that's always the hardest thing.

So it'll be 'cold turkey' for me. But I've got some fun new textures and techniques up my sleeve.

Onwards & Upwards with the Arts! Dash away Prancer, Dancer and Vixen!

December 8, 2009

Barking up the wrong trees...

One advantage of being a freelancer is that you can hop on the bicycle whenever the sun is shining. Also I have been sorely neglecting ye olde blog. But that's okay, since I don't figure anyone actually reads it much anyhow.

In the meantime I have been busy deciding which tree to bark up artworkwise.

Finally, after much kerfuffling, I settled on the characters for a new book. That's always the stickler... This has been a classic case of the 'pre-book' jitters. I guess it's sort of a precipice, where the artist figures they ought to decide to change things now or forever cling to continuity.

So I have jittered and re-jittered umpteen times. All to a worthwhile effect I must say. I have been experimenting to no end with new techniques for painting on various surfaces... sanding, gessoing, different layers, thick, thin and on and on. Very educational. It all brings to mind that saying of Thomas Edison's about invention being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So true.

Usually I have to redraw an idea for a character 25 times... never stopping to realize all along that I'm barking up the wrong tree.

I really busted my backside reworking each version... and my inner critic was merciless. But I'm glad he is such an unrelenting S.O.B. because finally I came up with a new direction that I like much better. Sometimes an artist can be as dumb as a doorbell and not have a clue as to what they're doing wrong. And usually their friends won't tell them either.

Finally I figure out the right tree... then it's simply a matter of scrambling up to arrive where I really wanted to go all along.

That's how it works for me at least...

Weather: freezing cold but gloriously sunny
Wearing: flannel lined everything and long-johns
Drinking: ionized water
Listening: KMRE-LP

November 19, 2009

Johnny be nimble, Johnny be quick!

Today it's raining... as it has rained for the last 7 days. This afternoon it's supposed to be blowing a gale. But yesterday morning, we had what's known as a 'sunbreak' here in the Pacific Northwest. Out of towners find the idea of 'sunbreaks' to be an amusing novelty. But that's how the weather is here.

Some Northwesterners even use online radar to plan their outings to coincide with periods of rain lightening up.

But yesterday is what I keep in mind. It was sunny most of the morning! I should have taken a picture... glorious sunshine and shadows! So now, when such things happen, the first thing I do is pack up my paper & pencils and hop on my bike. It's sort of like a prison break. I know this sunbreak is not going to last. It's essential to not waste a minute.

Johnny be nimble, Johnny be quick! Catch that sunshine lickety-split!

I was glad I did. Biking to the nearby cafeteria and writing in a sunny window table is a little bit of heaven. I always think it's funny when people say, 'It's a beautiful day!'... what they really mean is it's a sunny day.

November 13, 2009

All Spiffed Up...

I just PDF'd off a painting... or did I FTP it? In any event, I don't know why I get so nervous when I do that. I much prefer the old fashioned mailbox and stamps and waiting in line. I always see the most fascinating people standing in line at the post office... whereas with FTP you only get to snoop around at cyber stuff. Not nearly as interesting.

I had a fabulous time shopping at Value Village the other day. I love shopping in thrift stores exactly as much as I hate shopping in malls. Malls depress me. They drain the spirit out of my soul.

Why do I like thrift stores best? First of all the prices are impossible to beat. I also much prefer clothes that are already a bit worn out... they match the rest of my wardrobe. (unlike those idiotic clothes from the high-end fashion stores where they want you to pay $145 for jeans that come 'pre-ripped').

Also the selection of clothes from thrift stores is far and away more interesting, with more character. High end labels, styles no longer made, assortments unavailable anywhere else... and all for a song. I also like how everything is in one store... so you don't have to troop for miles through a maze of flashing lights and glass counters full of glitzy junk like at the mall.

So I got all decked out in all my new thrift store finds... trying to feel like somebody else. That's the real reason I like thrift stores. For the first day or so it's like I'm somebody else instead of me, especially while they still have that thrift store smell. Eventually it wears off... and I return to being just me.

But I've prattled on too long, as usual. Anyhow, 2 cotton shirts, 2 corduroy pants, 1 pair of lined flannel chinos, 2 polartec pullovers and a light lined jacket... all for the price of 1 shirt at the mall. lol!

I was just thrilled to get a blog comment from the great nephew of Cromwell Dixon! Gosh... I know nobody else on planet earth much cares... but I do. Usually I feel slightly guilty when someone says they're going to buy my book... but in this case I'm making an exception.

November 9, 2009

Got Fungi?

Check out this mushroom! One thing about all the rain around here is the profusion of sci-fi mushrooms that sprout up in the most unlikely places. This one took me by surprise! It looks like the poison candy-apple that the evil witch gave to Snow White.

Or these odd concoctions... that look like Granny's lace knickers (as a writer friend once so aptly remarked).

Most of the exotic fungi that appear around here are more amorphous, slimy, and less picturesque. They are very often green or orange and grow on in places under the porch.

November 7, 2009

Technology - mixed up for monkeys!

Here in Seattle the perennial GLOOM has set in. After all that Denver sunshine, I'm ready to move! I think non-stop gloom is like a meteorological form of depression. Honestly, I don't know how people stand it sometimes.

Meanwhile... I spent the entire day yesterday trying to fix the scroll wheel on my wacom mouse. And failed miserably.

p.s. If you ever want to take apart your wacom mouse, you have to peel back the fabric on the base on the back end, what you will find there is a tiny screw. Just unscrew that and the rest pops off.

Or... if you're like me, you'll spend half the day trying to pry the top off with 4 screwdrivers, thinking, erroneously that it's held together by clips... (which is isn't).

Of course now that they've invented those USB cordless mice, it's easy to just plug one of those in to take the place of the wacom mouse.
The pen still works... no problem there. I hate how they've made the new wacom tablets so complicated. The Intuos 4 looks like it's got way too many bells & whistles. Or maybe it's just me...

Technology! It's a good mix for a monkey!

October 29, 2009

The Land That Time Forgot

Flying over Wyoming always makes me think of 'The Land That Time Forgot'.

Wyoming makes me think of dinosaurs and how many millions of years must have passed to form the landscape. The vastness of the empty bare landscape seems to tell the story of the passing of eons.

The view from 33,000 ft. is always sublime. It makes me want to try to paint it on canvas. The subtle colors and amazing shapes of the arid lands are always so beautiful.

I'm always intrigued by the few signs of people in the Wyoming landscape... tiny roads and houses out in the middle of nowhere. I always wonder who lives there and what it might be like.

October 28, 2009

My Trip to Denver

Well for an old stick in the mud like me, any trip out is exciting. So my recent jetting to Denver was lots of fun. Denver is where I grew up, so it's very much like a salmon returning home.

I especially enjoy looking out any airplane window. I'm one of those flyers who spends the entire trip glued to the window, since I'm fascinated with every little detail.

My favorite views out the airplane window are the empty landscapes of the West, where I always imagine how wonderful it would be to be way out there, 100 miles from anything, without anything to get in the way of anything.

The Denver Art Museum is fabulous... (photos) I think it's lots more impressive than the Seattle Art Museum. Also the Denver Zoo and the Denver Science Museum are totally world class... head & shoulders above their Seattle counterparts.

October 18, 2009

Barns, pumpkins & gold

It's that time of year again down on pumpkin acres.

The same maple that has been here 100 years is turning gold.

Golden leaves - tinged with rust.

Some new friends in the neighborhood.

Pumpkins, chair and hay.

The clouds cling to the mountainsides all day long.

And Old MacDonald is still on his tractor.

October 16, 2009

The Original 'Balloon Boy' - Cromwell Dixon

Of course Cromwell Dixon was the world's first 'Balloon Boy'. I find the sensationalism of today's modern story about the phantom Balloon Boy very interesting.

Having written the true story about a boy of 13 who built and flew his own balloon powered airship, I imagine the real life events of 1907 had some of the same aire of sensationalism.

There are some interesting opinions online:

Mleswan tweeted, "Oh sweet irony. The kid's name is FALCON?!?! Oh that's classic."

Neoncow said: "I don't care what they say. A father who builds a flying saucer hot air balloon with his son is a good father."

Mossyskeleton: "I wonder if his dad is going to ground him when he gets back."

I imagine that there was much stern criticism of Mrs. Dixon for allowing her son to go flying off into the clouds. But how could she stop him when he had spent years working day and night to achieve such a thing? In fact Cromwell Dixon safely made hundreds of balloon ascensions over the years without ever getting hurt.

It was only those new fangled machine aeroplanes that eventually got him into trouble.
I wonder if the mother of the Wright Brothers had similar reservations about her foolhardy boys out playing with crazy kites.

In any event,
my book, titled Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle is the amazing true story of America’s forgotten ‘Boy Aeronaut’, who actually built and flew his own flying bicycle over the skyscrapers of Columbus, Ohio in 1907.

It’s a true story of adventure, determination, courage and perseverance. 1907 was an amazing age of new invention in America. For the first time in history people were flying and even building flying machines in their own backyards.

This book is a real ‘boy’s book’, filled with illustrations of amazing home-made inventions built in Cromwell Dixon’s workshop that capture the inventive spirit of the times.

The reviews have been very uplifting... it's a shame that it's not being carried by the major chain bookstores.

From Kirkus Review: A fine tribute to teenage inventors everywhere “Dare to dream” is the clear message here.

From School Library Journal:
This lively account is filled with informative and fascinating images. Young inventors as well as aviation aficionados will be intrigued. This fictionalized account is also a great example of the importance of determination, derring-do, and imagination.–Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA

October 14, 2009

Photoshop Personals

You: You were born with an intimate knowledge of the Curves tool and you know how to push them in all the right places.

You're sensible about color choices, yet daring enough to know when to toss in the odd high-key contrast. You know how to pull a Fill gradient to perfection... but you also know when to stop. Textures are your specialty. Tweaked to perfection... you know you've always been digital at heart, even though you'll always adore your natural media and real brushes.

Me: I'm really a natural media kind of guy at heart, a bit of a Lone Wolf. But now, like the rest of the planet I'm into Digital. I guess I like running with the pack. I'm usually slow about working in Channels... and always keep my Paths discreetly ordered. But I mean well and usually Merge my Comps just right when it matters. New Cloned textures are what I live for... and the ease of ordering Layers floats my boat.

Together we'll take long walks on the cyber-beach, glowing in the warm illumination of our flat-screens. We'll load our Palettes to a whole new screen. Sunset toned washes will roll over us in waves of reckless abandon as we indulge in new creative freedoms. We'll fine tune our Quick-Masks to perfection, undoing any misunderstandings instantly.

And if we do make a mistake, we both know the History tool and Undo will always be there for us... so we'll never have to say we're sorry. Together our Wacom and Bamboo pens might drift into the twilight... cords and nibs intertwined.

Together we'll click our Magic Wand tools to achieve the ideal selection.

October 1, 2009

A new book...

I thought I'd blog a bit about a new book that's just come out with Kane Press... 'Daisy Diaz Shakes Up Camp', by Lisa Harrader... with pictures by moi. It's a summery summer camp book... painted with watercolors, the old fashioned way.

This was a challenging project... and I was trying for a new style of painting. Given that premise, I guess the artist is probably the last person to ask about the verdict of such an attempt. I thought it was interesting... and I had tried to break up the painterly spaces with blank areas... interspersed with areas of color.

It's always a challenge to figure out a way to emphasize aspects of a group scene... without over-painting everything. But such is art... not an easy thing and always a work in progress.

September 22, 2009

The whole trick is to avoid 'clothespin nose'

I feel the same way about my Powermac and Epson 2200. Some things are just supposed to work magic, that's all there is to it.

The whole trick is to avoid 'clothespin nose'. That's the tricky part.

September 17, 2009

A place stranger than fiction...

There have been some very odd goings-on lately in Seattle's Discovery Park. And it's especially unusual to have two perplexing headlines occur within weeks in this same park. Maybe odd things are just falling out of the blue there. I went by just to be sure... hoping for something amazing.

Discovery park is known for it's breathtaking views of Puget Sound... and the large expanse of woods and meadows.

The first amazing headline was the appearance of 'John Doe'... an amnesia victim who was found wandering in Discovery Park. He appeared to have totally lost all memory of the key events of his life. He's been characterized in the press as a 'distinguished gentleman' well acquainted with european and oriental art... also a 'high caliber' chef. All very mysterious. The doctors remain baffled.

The poor fellow claims in an interview that if he spends much more time alone he'll go out of his mind. (I can totally relate to this myself, as a freelancer.

Anyhow, shortly on the heels of that story, we have D.B. Cougar appearing in Discovery Park! No one knows how, but a wild cougar found his way through 30 miles of urban sprawl to prowl through the wilds of Discovery Park. Past all the freeways, shopping malls, subdivisions and traffic. Miraculous! There's nothing like having a hungry cougar prowling the park to make things interesting. Life is better with a little bit of the 'wild' still left in it I think.

I wonder if there's some sort of time-space portal thing going on in Discovery Park?

September 15, 2009

Line quality drives me nuts...

Line quality drives me nuts... plain & simple.

While working up a new digital technique I tried this experiment using a recent page from a new book. I used the exact same drawing for each, done with a 2B pencil. The drawing on the left is done with digital and the right hand drawing is done with acrylic paints and a real paintbrush.

At first I liked the digital drawing more. But a few days went by and I started to like the painted drawing more. They each have their advantages... and drawbacks.

The speed of changing around digital art can often make it harder to decide on any one thing. At least that's how it works for me. This is just the sort of thing that can drive an artist to distraction.

September 12, 2009

Favorite New French Movie

Favorite new french movie: Angel-A . This movie goes directly to my favorite movie list. It's a bit like 'It's a Wonderful Life' (which I always think is the best movie ever made) meets 'Girl On a Bridge'. Only in this version the angel that comes to the rescue is a blonde in a mini-skirt. The theme of self-acceptance is wonderful. The black & white photography of the bridges of Paris is breathtaking. It's funny I never heard of it before. I just found it by chance at the library.

Favorite scientific irony: Odd then to think how science is spending billions on trying to discover whether or not there is life on Mars... when in fact life here on Earth is going extinct at the fastest rate ever. Scientists do love playing with their toys though... as do we all.

I am of the philosophy that even the tiniest insect probably contains more complexity than the physics of the entire galaxy. I know it might seem irrational, but that's what I think. Planets and suns and black holes are all just huge blobs of matter behaving under the laws of physics.

Yet that tiny inset has evolved over millions of years so that each part of it, the wings that are hinged and can fold to fly, the legs with equally complex legs and joints... the beating heart, the circulatory system, the senses... they all seem far more miraculous and inexplicable.

Latest remuddling accomplishment: Finished the screen door make-over. Not much of a learning curve... but learning to do the aluminum screen correctly was a bit tricky.

I think I'm getting near to done with remuddling. It has been a long, long summer of sanding, sawing, nailing, measuring, painting, plastering, grouting, plumbing... and many, many trips to the hardware store.

September 10, 2009


So often it seems every attempt at blogging is met with an equal resistance to blogging. One loses the knack of triviality.

Eventually one also feels compelled to blab about the daily vicissitudes of life.

Favorite new software discovery: Camino - an awesome web browser designed for older systems like OSX 10.3.9. Finally I can once again surf the web without half the sites crashing and falling apart. It's nice to think that my aged 5 year old Powermac has not been totally abandoned by the computing world. One does tire of buying new computers when the old one can still do everything I need. It's ironic to think this same Powermac was once considered a national security threat if shipped to North Korea, because of it's 'supercomputer' status! Before I discovered Camino it was getting to where it could scarcely run Youtube. lol! To top it all off, Camino is noticeably faster than Safari or Firefox.

Favorite new Project: I am enjoying developing the character of a new book I'm writing and illustrating. This is nothing to rush into rashly. I have learned that the first few decisions one makes can often be the most crucial... so it's always best to take it slow. A sketch... wait a day... sketch some more and wait a weekend. See what else might alter the orbit of that new planet before rushing in to change everything.

Favorite new Mystery: Wallander, the Swedish version of Morse. I like how Wallander works mostly through intuition. I also find it easy to relate to the fact that his life is basically falling apart, but his trusty Volvo always comes to the rescue. My trusty Volvo had it's brake pins fall out the other day, and instead of trying to fix it myself I took it to Daisywagon, my local garage. To think this car probably drove down Mt. Rainier without brake pins!

Favorite Photoshop command: Command T - the Transform tool. I think photoshopping rough sketches with the Transform tool is like adding a jet-pak to one's ordinary brain. Works for me.

Favorite Scientific thought: A chance meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs most likely allowed the evolution of humans. Also I don't think there's enough appreciation of the fact that the magneto-rotation of the earth's molten core is what creates the Van Allen radiation belts which shelter all life from deadly cosmic rays. I also think it's ironic that the earth is mostly filled with molten magma... and the sun produces enough energy every minute to run all of civilization for 5,000 years. But we're still dependent on gasoline and petrochemicals for energy.

Somehow it's all very reassuring to know this, to maybe even being to explain the mystery of things.

Meanwhile the bees and butterflies are busily buzzing all around the flowers in the September sun. A daddy long-lets glides along a trace above the sidewalk, barely visible except for its shadow.

September 2, 2009

I think that might have been my summer vacation...

It was a cloudy day at the beach yesterday... the fog never did burn off. The weather-people misled everyone yesterday. They had all been forecasting a sunny day and high of 75.

I had imagined sunny hours on the beach, relaxing, tossing pebbles and pondering the meaning of life.

But in fact the clouds just stuck around all day and it barely got to 61. And soon enough the rain started which didn't stop for hours.

Of course as soon as we got all the way back home the sun came out again.

I think that might have been my summer vacation...

August 14, 2009

Grateful for a thumb...

Drawing: Alligators of every ilk. I've developed a fun new technique of coloring that works like digital magic.
Eating: Blueberries, fresh blueberries... topped with every sort of thing
Listening: To old time radio... on my new favorite old time radio station
Recovering: From the 4 stitches in my drawing thumb... OUCH!
Wondering: What to do about some sort of summer vacation...

The really big event of the week was slicing my thumb open on a friggin' cat food lid! I was compressing the garbage by hand to fit into the new midget sized cans and there just happened to be a razor sharp cat food lid hidden there awaiting my fate.

Yeeoowch! I hate it when you're scared to even look to see how bad you've been cut. But a quick glance at the gushing font of liquid crimson combined with the terrifying glimpse of things one doesn't expect to see inside a cut soon convinced me a trip to the emergency room was in order.

My wonderful spouse drove me to the emergency room, which was nearly empty, thank gosh. The doctor, the talented Dr. Lee, turned out to be an accomplished artiste with a needle and syringe. She did an excellent job of tidying up the four stitches required, and with the magic of local anesthetics, I felt next to nothing. (not like the last time I had to have stitches which was 45 minutes of agony).

So... it's always invigorating to be restored to a measure of wellness. Now, except for an over sized band-aid, I'm about 90% back to normal... and darn grateful for it too.

And through all of that I met the deadlines I had waiting for me the next day too.

I think it's ironic that I've been working with skill saws and power drills all summer on the bathroom remodel... and it's the cat food lid that got me in the end!

And another very odd thing is that it finally RAINED in Seattle! After about 3 months with scarcely a drop, the heavens finally opened right in the middle of all this to revive the parched landscape.

August 4, 2009

Rustic charm & astonishing vistas...

There's something about a mountain path that makes me want to just keep climbing and never come back.

The glacial rivers are ice cold, naturally... there's a 150 foot waterfall just downstream.

Sunset over the Tatoosh Range. The porch railing along the side of the Lodge makes the perfect place to be on vacation... the very spot for contemplation of a summer sunset.

Inside the lodge glows with gemutlich charms. Handmade giant clocks, piney wood tables and oversized log chairs fill the lobby. The cross-timbered ceiling is such a unique architectural space... completely captivating. It's lit at night with classic vintage painted lamps to add a rustic charisma.

Sunrise on Mt. Rainier dawned clear as a bell. The immensity of this peak that rises from sea level to 14,000 feet is astonishing.

I think this is probably my favorite place in the world to have breakfast... bar none. I guess it's places like this that make me a westerner. Even though I don't go to the mountains all that often, I still somehow need to know they're there.