Monday, October 24, 2011

more undead

been working as diligently as possible on Kevin Zombie as stupid real world jobs will allow. I feel I can really relate to my subject matter nowadays, being rendered practically brain dead by stress. But at least I'm onto the concept art stage. Yay!

Monday, October 17, 2011


Exclusive first look at concept sketches for Kevin Zombie:

Character: Kevin Donoghy

Monday, October 10, 2011

Valley of the Dolls

Man, I've been slack about my updates. What is it about Fall that feels like it must over-compensate for the chill torpor of summer?
But hey! It's October! Time for some Hallowy-weenie, creepy, ghoulie, ghostie posties: Let's talk about Voo-Doo Dolls!

I've been a doll nut since I was a kid. Most little girls are, but most out-grow it. I never did. But my mother had views on most of the commercially offered dolls, so my sisters and I mostly made our own. It's a hobby I enjoy to this day, and one that led to a passing fascination with voo-doo dolls.
 Voo-doo dolls are really just one version of a doll made with the intent of interacting with a spirit, and working related magic. Other such dolls include Worry Dolls, dolls meant to take away stress or problems merely by a person voicing their concerns to them, Corn Dollies, dolls made of wheat or corn chaff said to hold the spirit of the harvest through the winter to be released in the spring of the following year, and Fertility figurines, self explanatory.
  When most people think of voo-doo dolls they think of a dreadful and vindictive sorcerer woman sticking pins in a doll meant to inflict pain upon an unfaithful lover or the like. Wikipedia has this to say about the myth:

         "The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, but more appropriately Hoodoo (folk magic), is unknown. This practice is not unique to Voodoo or Hoodoo, however, and has as much basis in magical devices such as the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa. These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti is called pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such Voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.
There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by Vodou worshippers in popular media and imagination, i.e. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa."

A few years ago in a Charleston cemetery, a few dolls were found nailed to trees, and it caused quite an uproar. But I thought they looked kinda cool. Just little dolls made of a few twists of fabric, rather like the kind I made myself as a child. They had been there so long, they had grown lichens and the tanic acid of the tree had turned them nearly the same color as the bark. It was like they were part of the tree. This seemed to me as much a bitter-sweet memento mori as the tombstones nearby: a reminder that all things fade, and we all return to the earth. I thought it would have made a rather interesting art installation, but I was glad it wasn't because if it had been it would have been ignored, rather than getting a reaction out of people!
   It's always interesting to see how different people react to dolls. I love them. Even the creepy ones. I made a whole bunch of fairy-like whimsical dolls meant for mere hanging decoration and was selling them at a craft fair a few years ago. They were brightly colored with feathers and beads and whatnot. Totally whimsical, right? A little kid came up to me and said, "I like your dollies, but I'm not allowed to play with those kinds of dolls. Mama says they're for voo-doo." I wanted to snatch my creations away from him, cover their imaginary ears and say "don't listen to the little beast, you're beautiful!"
  Clearly, if a reaction is what you're looking for, a doll is a great way to get one. Humans, especially women, are biologically inclined to care for babies, or anything that resembles one. I feel this inclination to the point that if you drew eyes on a teapot and started being mean to it, i would want to punch you in the face. Because these little babies are meant to be so near and dear to us, they are able to tap into the things that frighten us as well. Unblinking eyes that seem neither living nor dead, dismembered Barbie bodies, white-faced porcelain dolls, all inanimate objects that can seriously creep you out just by standing there. They lie in that uncanny valley between a harmless object and a living thing that might do us harm. This opens the field wide for the whole creepy doll genre of horror from Chucky, to various Stephen King scenes, Toy Story, etc. They've become such a part of our cultures lexicon it's actually hard for me to name the actual films I've seen creepy dolls in. With such reactions, is it any wonder they became linked to voo-doo as power objects?

(left to right:) Madam Alexander Flying Monkey doll Jessica gave me from a happy meal
skeleton "voodoo" doll I made just now out of string
Sally, the first doll I ever made when I was 7

Monday, September 26, 2011

Poem Composed in Flight

It is worth the journey to say
I was there;
To stand on ground untrod by my ancestors.

It is worth the journey to hang
in the air above the desert
and watch it rain.

It is worth the journey to speak
to a stranger;
to hear their story in their native tongue.

It is worth the journey to know
that in English gardens blackbirds really do sing
in the dead of night.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

nanananananananananananana....BEACH MAN!

Well it's Labor Day folks. You know what that means. One last chance to sunburn the crap out of yourself before the onset of autumn. I thought I'd share a sight that I experienced at the beach last weekend.
My two lovely lissome sisters and I were at the beach lounging about, like ya do, when I noticed out of the very corner of my eye a man at the edge the surf. Normally I tend to block out the existence of tourists. They are a necessary evil and are to be tolerated at best, in the way you would a benign cyst, but this guy caught my attention because he was standing in what can only be called "The Super Man Pose". Hands on hips, looking slightly to the left of the horizon and legs spread just enough so that the line of his posture always drew your eye to, yep, you guessed it, his bulging speedo. He just stood there, for too long to be idly enjoying the scenery. Perhaps he  was indeed trying to catch the eye of the bikini-clad ladies just up the beach. From the angle he stood against the sun, he appeared thusly:

Now, I just sort of rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. To men of this ilk I say, good for you for clearly working out. It's good for men of your age to stay fit and enjoy fresh air, but men of that particular age also should know better than to wear a speedo, regardless of the condition of his man thighs. Then for reasons best know to him, he decided we would better appreciate the gun show if he turned sideways.

Yup. Sorry. Thanks for playing, Dude.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Culinary Arts

   Variety is the spice of Life. And after a week of fast food and leftovers, I was thrilled this weekend to have the time and reason to COOK. It helps to have friends to cook for. Good company I think is the best ingredient in any meal. Between discordant work schedules, and picky appetites, I rarely bother to pull out the pots and pans when it's just me and my husband who are eating. On a general basis, I don't cook. I eat. Somehow. You would think one would preclude the other, but no, not in our modern world of Chick-filla and microwaves. Food is instant. Food is fuel. If you're lucky it doesn't taste like crap, but it's something that we just don't have time to really think about these days.

   But oh, for the times that I may feast! To actually plan a meal! A real meal, with multiple food groups in it! Even perhaps more than one course! I feel I use different words, and entirely different parts of my brain when I cook. The whole experience is multi sensory. Let's start by looking:

   I love cook books. Specifically the big hardback ones with glossy pages full of beautiful photographs of glistening deserts and roasts and breads. I may be a bit of a snob this way. I grew up using my mothers cook books that were simple paper with a little country style border and just words and directions. Even though glossy or not, it all ends up sticky and covered in flour, but these plain ol' boring ones don't let you know what you're getting! How can I anticipate the deliciousness of pie if I don't know what it's supposed to look like when it's done? Moreover, what will I judge my own skills against? When your dish comes out brown and mushy instead of gold and crispy you know you did something wrong and you have a clear picture of what "gold and crispy" is. Pictures put you on the right path, by helping you decide what you want to cook, what you want to experience in the first place.

  The next step to a fulfilling cooking experience: Proper preparation. This is my biggest short coming, and always has been, but you really do make your life easier by reading the directions first. You know what ingredients and what tools you need. You also know how much time you need. This takes HOW LONG to cook?! Do I need to prepare the marinade in advance? You know to check your own cupboards to see what you need vs. what you have. You also can decide what may be substituted for something else. Must I go out and buy a Lemon zester? Or can I slice the peel very thinly? Can I use pears instead of figs? Can I use half and half instead of cream? Will soy milk be ok? Then you get to make your shopping list. To the local grocery store!

   I know most people hate grocery shopping, but I actually don't mind. Planning sometimes involves making a trip. Plus I think it's kinda cool to know where food comes from, what it looks like before it's real food. Also you always get better results when you use fresh ingredients. It turns cooking into a quest. Which for a special occasion, or a special person, makes the whole process, well, even more special. Nothing like having a reason to visit a spice store, or actually drive down to that shack by the creek for fresh caught sea food. Yay buying local!

   Now we get to see our food take shape! You get to use all sorts of words and motions that you really don't use doing anything else: chopping, mincing, dicing, paring, sifting,....tasting! Make a mess! In the name of culinary science! We are creating, but within the directed confines of the recipe, to which I will defer to some other chefs experience and wisdom. Things begin to boil, bake, waft, simmer, bubble. Smells fill your whole house and you know you are on the right track. Or it smells dreadful and you know you did something wrong. You are constantly being corrected and validated by your environment! Which is pretty cool!

  Ding! The timer! The moment of Truth! Did my creation match the picture? A little different? Still delicious? Yes! Success! Now for the final sense: Taste! The best part. You may now fill your stomach with something your brain and your hands worked to create, and if your lucky, it may fill the bellies of your friends and family as well. My family and I may disagree on several things about our respective life choices, but we can all agree spaghetti is delicious no matter which of us makes it. By eating something you prepare, you can be transported. By the fragrant spice of Indian tandoori chicken, by the savory comfort of french onion soup, the tender warmth of fresh challah, the nutty deliciousness of pad thai, or the heavenly guilty pleasure of fresh brownies! We bask in our senses, we are pleased with our fullness, and we bask in the memories attached to each taste and smell. A totally satisfactory creative experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Once again, it comes to my attention just how badly the art education system has failed me. I don't blame my teachers, very few of them knew how to reach me, and until you can figure that out, one might as well be trying to explain design principles to a wheelbarrow. Anyway, it's up to me to teach myself, and I figured what better way to do that than by taking something apart and looking at its pieces. Worked for dad and the VCR, right?, it didn't.

But what I'm talking about deconstructing are scenes from my favorite movies. That's what my teachers should have done. In all fairness they did try to vaguely explain the idea of color blocking, roughs, and why it was a good practice to do them, but they always did it in terms of squares and circles and lines and dots. (Most of my teachers were modernists or abstract expressionists) I don't give a damn about squares. I don't care if these squares look odd when arranged against those circles, it doesn't really matter either way. One is just "more aesthetically pleasing" than the other. Yay. But put color and composition in terms of  The Story, and it's a whole new ball game. If the light doesn't point this way, we won't know what time of day it is, or where the hero is going. If these shadows go this way, we know he's headed for trouble. If you turn the plane this way it's tramatic and unstable because there is a fight!...I could go on and on, but let me try to do what my teachers didn't and show you what I'm talking about.

I did a number of what I supose you would call color blocking excersises. It's what concept artists do when they are trying to decide what color pallette and compositional elements will work well for a scene. It's helpful because when there are no lines are involved, you really see how color defines your forms and directs your eye. Your eyes might not know what you're looking at, but your brain does!

This scene from Kung Fu Panda was the first I attempted, and I felt it was a bit hard. I think my Histogram was destracting me. I was trying to get all my contrasts to match and was having trouble controling them, but that may be because I didn't have small areas of contrast in details the way the final image did. Either way, I think I was on the right track because when you squint the pictures look very similar. I so loved the asian influences on the camera work in this film. The zen rhythm of the rocks, the contrast of scale, signature influences of asian brush paintings. Our eye takes a journey before resting on Po, the focal point and area of highest contrast. It's a surprisingly restful view even though Po just got his but kicked!

I don't think I even need to post the original screen shots for these two. I love the color palate in Aladin! Hot oranges complimented with a deep, yet still slightly warm purples and blues! You totally feel the desert: scorching heat of the day, with the cool but deep lingering warmth left over after sunset. A sexy setting for a sexy couple if I do say so myself.  You can really see the color working in this second piece: The warmth, the highlight, the emphasis is on Aladin. He's the hero, he's the one reaching and striving for the cool calm princess, we are ultimatly following him not only on his journey, but through the simple and real motion of a kiss.
On a side note, the contrast of the warm and cool tones very nearly has a graphic flatening effect, which we can see carry over into movies like Hercules and Emperor's New Groove, films that had many members of the same artistic team.

This one I enjoyed because it was fast to do: It's already very high contrast, and the color palate is very dour and limited. Which is kinda a nice change up when looking at Disney, and one of the many reasons Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my all-time favorite movies. Anyway, not only does the hight contrast create drama, the fact that the whole composition is tipped diagonally makes it unstable, you don't know who will topple and win the fight! Your eye is bounced by way of the highlight from Quasi, to Frollo, to the dirk of doom as they struggle. Even those blurry bits of seemingly random rope whirl you in and out of the composition in a tangle of arms.

This last one, I'll admit, my version looks pretty creepy. Mushy faces generally do. But you can see that the composition still works, because your eyes bounce away from his to look at Tink. The contrast of the left side of the frame against Tink's light rock your view over towards her. The glow at the horizon line points to her and the folds in the drapes run through her as well. It's like the whole picture is inclined towards her to hear what urgent thing she has to say. Or jingle rather. This version of the classic children's tale didn't do well in theaters, and I can't figure out why. While far more faithful to the book, it had a few details and relationships with a rather thought provoking spin on them. And say what you will about the story or the acting, it was visually stunning. A mix of color filters, cg effects, and deft camera work made it look like a painting come to life right out of a childrens book.

So there are my thoughts for the week. Goodness knows when I will have time to practice them, but hopefully this idea of color blocking, or as I like to think of them, constructo-blob, will help me push my paintings to new and greater hights.