Saturday, March 28, 2009

The state of modern radio (hint: it's something like Montana)

A few weeks ago I mentioned the big suitcase record player/radio I used to listen to as a kid and how varied the playlists were back then. Soul next to rock next to progressive next to even some jazz, maybe some country...not so much nowadays. In fact, the state of commercial radio is well acknowledged to be in the bowels of the porcelain receptacle.

A few years ago, my wife was nice enough to give me a year's subscription to XM satellite radio and I was sooooo happy. I stayed that way for a long time, even did a presentation for a speech class extolling the virtues of XM in particular and satellite in general. The variety was incredible...XM alone had something like 130 channels, Sirius a comparable number (I never wanted to listen to Sirius because they had Howard Stern and I have always thought he was one of the biggest buttholes alive). Even though XM eventually got rid of their progressive rock channel, I stayed happy for a long time. Heck, I even did an XM annual report as a graphic design project (you can download the pdf here). Below you will see a group of illustrations I did in a new style for that project.

Recently XM and Sirius merged and although I still like my satellite radio, the variety has gone somewhat downhill...pandering to the lowest common denominator, I guess. There is still an exponentially larger amount of variety on satellite than terrestrial radio, but the golden days, the salad days...they seem to be a thing of the past.

I might have mentioned I have used my art to meet some of my favorite musicians...people like Don Mclean, Bruce Cockburn, Elvis Costello (twice), Todd Rundgren, Loudon Wainwright III, Tori Amos, Neil Finn, Jonatha Brooke, David Gray, Duncan Sheik, Peter Himmelman and X. Near misses, where I ended up with a signed print but couldn't meet them include U2, Sting, Springsteen, and Ani DiFranco and The Call. You can see a few of these pieces below.

There are still a few that I really want to "get." Musicians like Neil Young, Mark Eitzel, Joni Mitchell...but, living in Savannah for now means very few musicians come through on tours. San Diego was much better in that regard.

Have any of you met any of your favorite musicians? Got their phone numbers?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Books, Redux

Last week I talked about books that I bought solely because of the great covers they had. This week, I wanted to focus on books I have reread many times.

I would love it if any of my fellow constant readers would talk about the books that were loved so much that they demanded rereading. Have you read some more than twice? What brought you back to those specific books?

My list of books that were so good, once was not enough, is pretty I will only talk about a few.

Those of us into fantasy understand the attraction and sometimes the necessity of rereading books of epic proportions. These books seem new because the level of detail is so rich, the evens so numerous, you just have to go back for more. The most obvious is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (along with The Hobbit). I estimate I have read that whole series at least three times. The first time was almost like some sort of religious experience. I probably dreamt about Frodo, Sam and the Ents night after night. The books covered so much ground, had so many characters I could either empathize with (the diminutive Frodo and other Hobbits) or idolize (Aragorn and the elves). A similar series, but very different in tone, is Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant double trilogy. This one came later in my life and is intended for more mature readers, but it pushes many of the same buttons. It even has a magic ring! I also have read Stephen King's The Stand several times. Another book that is epic in scope, with a multitude of distinctive characters (see my version of Trashman below), I have probably read it four times or more. The last I will mention has nothing to do with fantasy, but is wonderfully fanciful, and those are the books of John Irving. I have read most several times, but The World According to Garp, The Water Method Man and The Hotel New Hampshire hold special places in my heart. No one can take the reader through such highs and lows and keep you coming back for more again and again.

Below you will see a few paintings of mine that were meant to be book covers or illustrations of favorite scenes. The first is the aforementioned Stephen King book, The Stand. The original is watercolor and about 12 x 16.

Below, you see a painting for the classic Portrait of Dorian Gray, which is one of several pieces I did for an educational magazine years ago.

Below is a cover for a recent book whose title escapes me.

Here is a cover for a collection of a comic book series that dealt with the mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe called The Red Diaries. The original is mixed media and about 20 x 30.

Lastly, below you see an early cover for a collection of horror stories called Chilled to the Bone. This is mixed media and the book cover itself has some 3d elements, such as a real spider as part of the art.

Please, comment on the books that meant so much to you, that grabbed you so tightly that you had to go back and read them again. If you are like me, the list is long and gladly so!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Books, part 1: Judge them by their covers

When I was about 13 and living in a small town in Minnesota where my grandparents also lived, I detasseled corn as a summer job. When the job was over and I got what seemed at that time to be a huge paycheck, I made a mad dash for the fantasy section of the mall bookstore. I knew one author I would be looking for-Edgar Rice Burroughs-but other than that, I don't know if I had any specific plans. I just went in and looked at the covers that looked cool and bought something like 20 paperbacks. Many of them were those great Ace books of the 70's, like the ones you see below with covers by Roy Krenkel and the incredible Frank Frazetta.

Frank Frazetta tends to be overlooked outside the fantasy community (where he is justifiably a god). The fact that he illustrated comics and genre fiction seems to relegate him to the back room of pulp illustration in the mind of art critics and historians. But I challenge anyone to find a fine artist who can match the intensity, the constantly smart compositions as well as do each piece in a few hours (in oils, no less). Below you will see a few of the seminal Lancer Conan covers he did, as well as Rogue Roman...a sexy gladiator romp I bought just for the cover.

Have you bought books just because they had covers you liked? There are many others I could list if I had the time or space...many of them by Frazetta. The publishers knew he could sell a book, no matter how good or bad the contents were, and they used him relentlessly. I have heard stories of him doing a painting overnight, and drying it in the oven to get it done faster. And he had such an amazing visual memory, most of his work was done without reference. The guy deserves a same place of honor in the halls of fine art that he has in fantasy art.

I am no Frazetta, but I have done my share of book and comic covers. In the 1990's especially, I did a ton of covers for Revolutionary Comics (unauthorized bios of rock stars, mainly) and Caliber Comics. You can see a few below.

The painting of U2 was the first one they ever used, after having seen it in the San Diego Comicon art show sometime around 1990 or so. I remember for some reason having to meet the guy from Revolutionary in a Subway sandwich shop in the general area of their offices in downtown San Diego...I guess they were having some sort of trouble and were keeping mum on their location. Sadly, that same guy I met with, Todd Loren, was killed not too long after that. I continued to work for Revolutionary, which by then, was being run by his parents. A few more below...

I consider the one on the upper left (Metallica) one of the best ones I did for them. Below, you will see some of the wacky combinations that came about when they decided to reprint stories together. I mean, come on...George Clinton and Winger???

Some, like the Metallica and a few others below, were fun experiments in multimedia. The Elvis on the right has many collaged elements, along with both watercolor and acrylic paint. The one in the middle (girls of rock, including such hard rocking girls like Paula Abdul...oh boy) has an actual belt glued to the board. Also, the McCartney piece above has actual dirt and flowers sitting on the painting.

So, tell me...have you ever judged a book by it's cover...and then bought it?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Old guy rant, be warned!

Hey all you Twitters, or is it Twitsters? Let's just say Twits, that seems to fit. Too convenient, huh?

Does anyone really care what you or I are doing every friggin second of the day? We have cell phones, we have email, we have facebook, we have texting, and now we have...Twitter.

I have friends that use this thang, but I refuse to give in to it's insidious attempt at world domination. I mean, really, how much can you really say in 140 characters (or however many it is...I am going by a Jon Stewart report and my own crappy memory on this one)? Can it really be that important? When I heard of those ding dongs at the State of the Union (or whatever it was) twittering while Obama talked, that was it baby, the final straw.

We have gotten to a state of too much information, too much sharing, too much self importance. Do you really need a cell phone receiver stuck in your ear? And a pager on your belt? And a twit saying "I just walked into Wal-Mart, and boy does it stink?"

I guess I have to somehow bring it back to art, don't I? Well, there was an assignment I did awhile back that related somewhat to this, though it focused more on gaming, as you see below. Really, it's pretty much the same thing. And hey, for 200., it's yours (negotiable)!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Music has color, art has rhythm

Anyone that knows me knows that I love music...probably too much. Just ask my checking account (or my wife...but they're the same thing anyway).

I can remember being about 14, back when I lived here in Savannah as a kid, moving from house to house, project to project (as in housing project). One mother with five kids will do that to you, I guess. I can remember one house out in the sticks because at that time I had one of those old radio/record players that opened like a suitcase. I would listen to the local rock station (although, back then, the variety was so great I also heard tons of great old was Georgia, after all) late at night, when I was supposed to be asleep. WSGA was the station, and I actually still have two old small xerox playlists from back then...around 1971 (see below, and click on it to be able to read a section of the varied list). One song I particularly remember was Emerson, Lake and Palmer's From the Beginning. Apropos, I guess.

Since then, I have always immersed myself in music, even though I never learned to play an instrument. I sing pretty well...when no one is around to listen. I have been a DJ at a few small radio stations over the years, and doing it for a living would be dream come true. But, it would have to be at a station with great variety, such as XM, for example. Anyway, I digress.

Many of my paintings have either been portraits of musicians (you can see many of those in the music section of my site at, which have many times enabled me to meet those same musicians...or sometimes I will name a painting after a song. Much of the time, the painting will really have very little to do with the song it's named just seemed to fit. For example, the very old one below is named after a line in a song by Guadalcanal Diary called Where Angels Fear to Tread. The line is "Rattlesnake coiled in a young girl's arms."

Next, another older piece (probably around 1982 or so) is called Anima Rising, after a line in a song by the great Joni Mitchell.

Next, you can view a painting that combines the coast of San Diego, where I lived for about 10 great years, and a "Ghost Girl," named after a song by the wacky and sometimes moody Split Enz.

There are many more that I have done in this manner over the years, inspired by the music I listened to constantly. Related to that, a class I am a teacher's assistant in this quarter had a music related recent assignment. They had to adapt a poem (or song lyrics) into a four page sequential story. If I were in the class, I would have many choices, being so darn old...but the one that came to mind in this class was the great Genesis album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are so many great images and story sequences on that album. The main character, a young puerto rican graffitti artist called Rael, is hurled into another dimension, where he interacts with snake women, diseased characters covered with boils and sores, carpet crawlers, a giant raven that snatches a jar from around Rael's neck (which contains his severed penis that he is hoping to get reattached), and much more. The album is rife with great story ideas. I myself did an illustration or two loooong ago based on it. But, I couldn't get any of the students interested...guess it is just way too long before their time.

But then again, good music is timeless and spans generations. My 8 year old likes the Beatles, my 14 year old has recently gotten into Jeff Buckley, and I like my share of the current stuff.

To paraphrase Nick Drake, music is magic. Sometimes, I am a lucky man in that I am able to apply some of that magic to my art. Lucky man. So, we are back to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kids...they'll kill ya!

Actually, I am pretty lucky in the kid department. My oldest, Riley (14), has a pretty good head on her shoulders. She does really well in school, while playing on her school soccer team, an indoor soccer team and being on facebook or texting 23 hours a day. Avery is the younger sister at 8, and is...well, let's just say she has no shortage of personality. She is also very smart, reading at a 5th grade level (and reading a lot), doing well in school in all subjects...and yet, she still finds time to argue with me about the tiniest things! Maybe she'll end up being a lawyer.

We've now been in the Savannah area going on 6 years now I think. This is the first time in my life I have been anywhere long enough (while having kids at the same time) to see changes occur over the long haul. I've seen Riley and her friends at the school she just left go from about age 10 to's been really interesting. I've never really felt so grounded and tied to a place, while at the same time wishing we were still living in San Diego. The school both girls were in (Avery is still there) is small enough that I know many of the kids there. You can see a group of quickie watercolor portraits of many of them done about 2 years ago here (including Riley and Avery). Great school, great bunch of kids and teachers.

To seque into my own art, I will show various portraits of the two girls below (as well as my other daughters, Rowan and Rahne who are now close to 18). You can have portraits done of your kids if you like...or anything else. Check my portrait site at for more samples.

Above are Rowan and Rahne at about 10 years old. Watercolor.

Here is Riley on Halloween when she was about 7 years old. Watercolor and acrylic and Riley actually helped on this one.

Here is Avery at about 6 in a fantasy setting, watercolor.

And here they are both together, about two years ago, acrylic and oil.

I've painted several other pieces of both girls and will likely do many more. They are most often presents for my wife, but also serve as a great document of the growth of these amazing little beings.

Whatever you do, don't ask Riley about the flying babies painting.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Caricatures and Professors

Wow, so much has changed since my last entry just one week ago. I went out to buy new Dove chocolates, started a new load of wash, repainted a door inside the playroom, changed the rabbit litter...and that's just the exciting stuff.

Don't you wish you were an artist like me?

Actually, one interesting thing I did was go to a teaching seminar (there is one a week for a period of time, each dealing with a different topic with different panel members, etc). It started me to thinking (again) about teaching style. If you were (or are) a college student, what do you prefer, an authoritative figure who you call 'Mr.' or 'Professor' and has definite guidelines for you to follow (and if you don't there are dire consequences)?

Or, do you think you would rather have a more informal professor who tries to have a more fun environment, lets you call him or her by their first name, etc? Which do you think works best for you? And, do you think that method works best for everyone?

I go back and forth between those two options, and question how good I will be as a teacher much of the time. Do I need to be an entertainer? A facilitator? An authoritarian? A buddy? What's your take on this?

On a lighter note (unless you look inside my wallet), below you will find a few items for sale, as well as a look behind the scenes at the sketches that went into the making of said pieces.

Also, always remember, I do commissions as desired. So, ramp up that desire!

Today, it will be caricature funtime! Whoohooo! Below, you will see sketches for each piece, the finished piece and price (and a paypal know you want to!), and a little explanation.

You'll notice two versions of Jason Lee as Earl. The one at right was done first, trying to figure out what to emphasize, the bane of caricature work. At left is a better version, also containing some of the other elements (though not all).

This was a fun image to do. I did it on illustration board, to have as much control with fine line work. As usual, it's watercolor, and about 15 inches square.

The second piece was done for a client who was trying to help Hillary Clinton get elected. I did an additional piece with McCain and one later for Obama alone. You can see in the sketches my trying to work out all the other candidates. What I was supposed to do was make more outlandish caricatures of the other candidates, and keep Hillary (though still a caricature) more attractive. I also obviously separated Hillary from the others by color. If you saw a previous piece I did of Hillary, you can understand why the client wondered if I would be able to do this (check it out at This piece is watercolor, about 16 x 20 and does not contain the text.

Lastly, you can see a music related piece done in a mixed media technique invented by the great illustrator C. F. Payne. Below you see the usual working out of what to emphasize or diminish. Neil Young was easy...Dylan not so much, and Cohen was the hardest. I don't know if I really captured him as much as I would have liked.

And below, the finished, piece. Mixed media, about 15 inches square.

Speaking of music, last week I neglected to mention how much I have been listening to the new My Morning Jacket. It took awhile for me to get it, especially with such wacky tracks as the title track, Evil Urges, or especially Highly Suspicious. But, man, do I love it now. It has the exhilarating guitar histrionics, but a real playfulness as well. A great follow up to my favorite, the previous release, Z. I mentioned Fleet Foxes last week, and they sort of sound like MMJ without the guitar wails as well as a little more homespun. Sorta like if MMJ just crawled out of the Appalachian woods.

Have a good weekend and please, comment!