Posts Tagged ‘art’

Light a Light

I sat down to write this morning, and like I do I decided to check social media first. (Because nothing says “getting into the right frame of mind for making up stories” like “fiddling around on Facebook for half an hour.”) And my body grew numb with horror and sorrow, and my tea got cold at my elbow, and when I closed my browser I stared at the document open on my laptop and thought, What even is the point?


Check the news, a friend messaged me, and try not to cry.


I didn’t try. I read about police officers being shot in Dallas, about a man being killed in St Paul, another in Baton Rouge, and I wept. These are human beings, each unique and valuable and beloved, and they are dead. Who would not weep, at the shattering of these worlds?


And what good does it do, to write another escapist fantasy, or draw technicolor superheroes, in the face of such horror?


These are not new thoughts, and I’m not the first to think them. In the face of a world turned upside-down and run mad, art seems silly and frivolous and without value, and I suppose it always has. We need laws! We need action! What, you’re going to draw a picture at a time like this?!


But what else can I do? The world is very dark, and we must fight the darkness with all the power and strength and ability we’ve been given. Let the teacher teach truth, and let the preacher preach love, let the police serve and protect, let the judges dispense justice. And let the writers tell their tales and the artists make beautiful art, and let us all each in our way, great or small, raise our lights against the darkness. We must, we must resist the powers of fear and hatred.


So I’ll write. What else can I do?


Art credit: Gwendolyn1-stock @ deviantArt


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Stephen King’s On Writing is fifteen years old this year (fifteen! the mind wobbles!), but still an engaging read on its own merits, especially for the overlapping middle section in the Venn diagram of Writers and Stephen King Fans.  It came to mind last night because, you see, I’ve been noticing this trend.

An aspiring writer (or rather, folks who write and aspire to make careers of it) can have a wonderful grasp of characters and how stories flow, a bright and new and incisive way of looking at the world, the best and most creative ideas–but none of it matters, because their grammar and spelling are terrible.

And if someone points out the problem, they respond airily, “That’s what editors are for.”  Whereupon one has no choice but to grind one’s teeth and turn the subject.

Because, guys, I hope you realize that is not what editors are for.

If we must have a toolbox, let it look like this one, please!

If we must have a toolbox, let it look like this one, please!

The middle section of On Writing is called “Toolbox,” and in it King details all the things you’ll need to have with you in order to write successfully.  (I just used an adverb, which he would decry, but you know what? “No adverbs” is less of a rule than a guideline, anyway.)  Vocabulary and grammar go on the top level of the tool box, accesible at need–and guess what? You always need them.

Now, I admit, I’m a bit of a grammar nerd.  I love all of the bits and pieces of English and how they fit together, like the nuts and bolts and cogs and gears and bellows and pumps and little spinny things that make up some wonderful, vast Steampunk machine.  We can debate the merits and uses of the Oxford comma or the split infinitive or God help us the passive voice all day long, and I will not sigh or check my phone nor excuse myself from the discussion, not once.

But you don’t have to be a grammar nerd to recognize that grammar, good grammar, is what carries the freight of your ideas from your brain to the brain of your reader.  If that train of thought is rickety, or ill-constructed, or just plain can’t roll out of the station, the idea transfer will be imperfect at best (and since what happens in the reader’s brain never 100% matches what happened in the writer’s brain, “imperfect” is already the best one can hope for), and at worst, impossible.

Take another metaphor.  My son, the Viking Prince, has decided he wants to be an artist.  I may have mentioned this before.  And he practices, and he tries, and he draws pretty damn well for a four-and-two-thirds-year-old.  Now, a drawing, like a story, is meant to convey an idea, and if the viewer can’t tell what he’s looking at, then the drawing has failed in its purpose.  (Old-fashioned, I know.)  What a four-year-old can convey, with the tools available to him, is going to be different from what a fourteen-year-old, or a forty-year-old, or a four-hundred-year-old (shout-out to all the immortals in the audience) can (or should be able to) convey.

Voltron, reposted with the artist's permission.

Voltron, reposted with the artist’s permission.

But if the grownup spurns the basic, the most basic, fundamental, necessary tools of grammar and spelling, then he is crippling himself.  Because you cannot, you can not convey ideas of any complexity without a proper understanding of how the language works.  You are an adult trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with stick figures.  The four-year-old is doing the best he can.  The forty-year-old must do better.

An editor can’t read your mind, and he can’t tell your story for you.  If the editor wanted to tell that story, he would write it himself.  It is not his job to turn your childish scribbles into the Sistine Chapel.

So please, if you have true aspirations towards being a writer, do not neglect the basics.  (Never neglect the basics, in anything–but that’s a post for another day, maybe.)  You can’t build a glorious cathedral without humble things, boards and stones and chisels and planes.  These things are not beneath your notice; they are necessary.  Fundamentals are called that for a reason; they are the basis, the foundation, for all the wonderful things you can build on top of them.  So fill your toolbox well.

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I would show what I've been working on, but, you know, NDAs and whatnot.

I would show what I’ve actually been working on, but, you know, NDAs and whatnot.

Work has been keeping me busy, which means less blogging, of course, but I thought I would interrupted my deadline-imposed blog exile for a couple of advertisements.

First, my nautical fantasy The Voyage to Ruin, chock-full of pirates, airships, swashbuckling, ancient sea gods, dragons, magicians, and countries named after food, is now only $2.99 at Smashwords and on Amazon. I am informed it is available on Google Play as well, but since my dashboard there won’t give me a link nor where to find one, probably easier to go to one of the other places. If I ever do get a Google link, I will share it. [ETA: A helpful and keen-eyed reader discovered the Google Books link for me.  A glass of rum with you, sir!] Two dollars and ninety-nine cents! It is an excellent price for over 100,000 words of intrigue, sorcery, fisticuffs, sea battles, and even a hint of romance. There is no kitchen sink included, only because none of the main characters ever set foot inside a kitchen, and ships lack such amenities anyway.

And second, TeePublic is holding its monthly sitewide sale. Like the gentleman who, when he had a little money, bought books, when I have a little spare time I draw Thor. Some of those Thor-related designs can be purchased on shirts at my TeePublic shop, and I would take it as a kindness if you would go and check them out. There is also a Last Unicorn design, for those who remember that movie with fondness.

Colorful shirts for your torso!

Colorful shirts for your torso!

This concludes our advertisement interruption; we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Oh, and happy Thorsday! 😀

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When I’m working on a story, it often helps my writing-brain if the drawing-brain gets in on the act too.  Right now I’m plugging away at an old-fashioned buddy low fantasy adventure tale, in the vein of the pulp authors in the heyday of sword-and-sorcery (I like pulp.  It’s overwrought and over-the-top and fun, never preachy (unless, “Hey, Therns, enslaving people and murdering them is not cool, so quit it” is preaching), and it’s eventful and colorful.  So how do you meld a pulp sensibility with a more modern story-telling style?  Will that even work? Stay tuned), and trying to nail down a design for the main characters keeps me thinking about them even when I’m not actually writing–which, let’s be honest, is 22 out of the 24 hours of the day, most days.

So here is a rough pass at Clover and Bronig*, the heroes of my work-in-progress.  He’s a Viking warrior with a penchant for smashing, she’s a cleric of an unknown god, together they fight crime monsters!  (I’m hoping to submit the story to the latest Sword and Sorceress anthology, deadline soon, so everyone please send me happy story-finishy thoughts.)

Rough pencils--please excuse the mess.

Rough pencils–please excuse the mess.

I had wanted to finish this drawing and color it before today, but oh well.  Maybe next week! 😀  Clover must be standing on a box here, because otherwise she would only stand as tall as his belly-button.  Yes, he is huge and she is tiny; I love that kind of contrast in my main characters, and since they are both warriors, I needed to find other ways to play up their differences.

How about a snippet, while we’re here?  I cut this bit because it set the wrong tone, and because it was taking too long: it’s supposed to be a short story, which means I don’t have a thousand words to spend on the characters walking up to a church.

The Sanctuary of the Queen crouched in the midst of lower buildings, at the end of a tangle of hilly streets, as though lying in wait to pounce. The long, bleak stone plaza fronting its tall red doors gave it plenty of time to overawe the approaching worshipper with its dense black height, its bristle of towers and turrets and scowling gargoyles and its row of wholly extraneous spikes along the peak of its roofline, and the blank eyes of the buildings lining the plaza glared to reinforce any approaching human’s littleness and the sanctuary’s superiority.

Clover, stepping into the plaza from the mouth of a narrow alley, raised her eyes and recoiled, her heel coming down squarely on the top Bronig’s foot.

He grunted. “Easy,” he said, and removed her.

“That church,” Clover declared, “is a bully.”

Bronig said nothing. His silence weighed nearly as much as that of the inimical building glaring them down. Clover twisted round to beam at him.

“Ineed,” she said. “Have we not faced much worse on our journeys? And shall we falter in our divine purpose now? No, indeed!” Back to the sanctuary, she raised her voice and her fist and cried, “We do not fear you!”

The shout rebounded from stone to stone, filling the space between buildings with echoes. With a a rattle of wings, a raft of large black birds launched themselves into scummy sky, screeling. Bronig patted Clover’s head.

“Well,” he said. “Now they definitely know we’re coming.”

She grinned at him, a flash of teeth like a drawn sword. “It is honorable to give one’s foes fair warning,” she said.

He shook his head–but the corner of his mouth twitched a little beneath his moustache.

Their footsteps rang loud against the cobbles–or Clover’s did, her boot heels like the clappers of bells. Bronig by rights should have clanked like a working forge with all the cutlery he had hanging about his person, but not a single dagger rattled in its sheath, and his tread was inaudible beneath all the racket Clover was making. No other humans were visible, in that stony space before the looming sanctuary and between the cramped, inward-leaning buildings, but the sense of being watched was strong. Clover’s shoulders twitched, and her hands dropped to the hilts of her twin swords. Bronig dropped back a few paces behind her, his gaze keen and alert and everywhere.

Under the sanctuary’s shadow, the peak of its roof cleaving the sky, its stained stones straining at their bonds, each eager to be the first to fall on the interlopers. Clover’s toe touched the first step up to the red doors, and she paused, craning up, and the building glared back down. Bronig, passing her, hooked his arm through hers and hauled her up, sure-footed as a mountain ram, unworried as a man traversing his own home.

“I can walk!” Clover protested.

“So do it,” was his unruffled reply.

Halfway up, the tall red doors swung silently outward; a figure stood in the opening, waiting.


*I think I’ll leave the story of the origins of these characters for another day, but I should mention that Bronig is somebody else’s creation, and I made sure to get his permission and blessing before snatching up his character and running off with him!

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Maybe you’ve seen the video going around titled “What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?” Here it is, just in case.



The video’s taking some flak for tweaking the “original” sequences from the film to make them even more desaturated, if that were possible, and I mention this only in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, because the “original” clips in the video sure match how I remember MoS looking. I haven’t checked back on the actual film, because once was enough for me, thanks.  (I did think the “honest trailer” was accurate.)



Whether or not the VideoLab folks were being quite fair to Man of Steel and Zak Snyder’s grim-n-gritty vision, the re-touched clips look bright and appealing, and make me wonder how much of the negative reaction to the film is on account of the bleak, desaturated visuals. (The rest of the negative reaction is obviously on account of the script.) That in turn got me thinking about another recent sci-fi action movie with a distinctive visual style.





There’s a great article on the visual vocabulary of Pacific Rim, and anybody interested in telling stories in a visual medium ought to go give it a read. (Blue language for them as worries about such things.) The writer touches briefly on the use of color, and he’s spot on: Pacific Rim is an incredibly visually intelligent film. If you have a couple of hours, you might also check out Guillermo del Toro’s commentary on the film, which is packed with one genius observation after another. Yeah, I might be fangirling a little bit.


But listen, color plays a huge role in how we experience the world, and thus in how we experience stories. Different colors can cause different effects in us, stimulating different centers in our brain, and a savvy storyteller will know those effects and use them to give his story even more impact. Pacific Rim starts out with a fairly straightlaced “realistic” color scheme, and gradually brings in more and more hues until it’s a rainbow-colored phantasmagoria in the Hong Kong battle, heightening reality so that the audience can forget about “serious” stuff for a while and enjoy the spectacle of a giant robot smashing the hell out of a monster from the deep.


Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon in the lower third.

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon towards the bottom.


And then of course there’s this:


Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba


I can’t stop.


Gratuitous Hellboy--er, Hannibal Chau

Gratuitous Hellboy–er, Hannibal Chau


Look at him! His suit is mauve! His shop is green! How often do you see these colors in films nowadays? (And his tie picks up exactly the green of the kaiju specimins behind him. That is attention to detail, man!)


Color is powerful and evocative, and while I understand that the grim-n-gritty aesthetic is a thing, I also think the directors of these monochrome films are missing out. Even a pop of color in the right place, or contrasting a colorful scene with a desaturated one, can add flair and drama to your tale.  A color can symbolize a character or an emotion, or tie elements of your story together thematically without anyone having to speak a word.  Colors can enhance emotions, suggest connections that the audience might not even be consciously aware of, like the connection between Mako’s blue bangs, the blue jacket she wore as a child, and the blood of the kaiju (you did read that article, right?).  Also, did you notice that Mako and Raleigh’s colors totally start matching each other once they are co-pilots?  Because they totally do. (Okay, I’m geeking out again.)


Or, you know, you could just keep everything kind of grey, if that’s what you’re going for.


I would just like to point out that the color of the sky in this picture…

... is grey.

… is grey.

All screencaps via kissthemgoodbye.net


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The other day the Viking Prince informed me that he wants to be an artist like Mommy.  Now, of course this is terribly flattering, and the Mother part of me is proud as heck, but the Artist part is appalled.  (Or is it the other way around?  Mother, who wants Viking Prince to be safe and warm and fed and happy, is appalled, but Artist, who understands the call of these things, is proud?  Anyway.)  Art, as a hobby, is probably a lot of fun.  Art, as a job, is … well, it’s a job.

But business too

But business too

I bring this up because, what with one thing and another (i.e., life) my records got very much behind, and I have spent the last couple of hours struggling to bring them up to date.  “Records!” you scoff.  “What do records have to do with ART?”  And I reply, “Alas, the job of the freelance artist is not just to make pretty pictures that people enjoy (and enjoy enough to buy).  You must also communicate with clients, keep records of income and expense, pay taxes … in short, you must also run a business.”

This goes for writers, too, of course, and for a good rundown of what to expect as a self-employed creative person, head over to Patricia Wrede’s blog and look at the entries tagged “business.” She has been publishing novels for thirty-odd years now, and she’s a practical and apparently organized person who gives excellent advice.

“But look,” you object, “I got into art to get away from spreadsheets and all that boring stuff. Why should I bother about it?”

“Hey,” I respond, “you sound a lot like me!”

The thing is, life happens, and communications come at you from a bajillionty different directions at once, and when life is happening it’s hard (impossible!) to remember what you promised whom and when–and that’s why building good record-keeping habits from the start is a smart idea. So you don’t have to spend hours and hours much better spent making art catching up on your records.

If only I had reminded myself of these truths, oh … six months ago?

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Happycrow blogged about his “spare time” list, and that got me thinking about what I would like to do in that elusive thing called “spare time.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

My goal for the new year was to be done done done with sketchcards so I could focus on other things: like moving into comic book pencilling, finish my novel (and start on the next one!), actually get paid a living wage for the work I do … you know, crazy stuff like that.  SPELLCASTERS was going to be my last set, for realsies.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Because I am weak willed and have trouble saying no (and some of the things I wasn’t saying “no” to are really cool gigs), now I’m looking at June before I am done done done.  Late June.

Here's what's on my desk right now.  That's not counting all the stuff that's drawn but not yet inked or colored.  Oy vey!

Here’s what’s on my desk right now. That’s not counting all the stuff that’s drawn but not yet inked or colored. Oy vey!

But what would I be doing, if I weren’t breaking my heart, mind, soul and body over a drawing table in the wee hours of the night (because daytime is kid time)?

  • Finish Steel Butterfly
  • Redo the bathroom
  • Brush up on my animation skills
  • Get my concealed carry license
  • Learn basic car care, so that I can do the maintenance on my Dad’s car myself
  • Gardening!  Lots and lots of gardening.  I am thinking: roses everywhere!  (Sidenote: the house down the street just took out all their rosebushes.  What were they thinking?!)
  • Get in shape
  • Work on personal art
  • Learn how to make bread
  • Learn to play the mandolin

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  Some of this stuff is just me dreaming, but some of it is going to happen.  Just.  You know.  Not till after June.

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