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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Kiss in the Crowd

   The essence of both visual and dramatic tension is the moment or space where two points almost meet. Perhaps this is the reason why I have been fascinated by kisses for my entire life. The mechanics of a kiss is really pretty bizarre when you compare it to most of the other gestures we use when in social situations. I mean at what point did human beings evolve the concept that touching mouths is a thing that should be done? You'd think far differently of me if i went up and stuck my finger in your ear, right? But it's even such a complex gesture that it can't be contained by merely defining it as a motion of affection. There are as many kinds of kisses as there are people who give them. A kiss can be coy, passionate, aggressive, tender, impish, impetuous, or even confrontational. To me, it expresses all the things that can happen when two people are that far within each others boundaries of personal space.
   Speaking of personal space, I tend to be very territorial about mine, and generally avoid places and scenarios where I am forced to share it. Which is why I surprised even myself by agreeing to go with my cousin to see the Darius Rucker Homegrown Tour concert. I think I wasn't expecting it to be all that crowded since he does it every year and hasn't been part of Hootie and the Blowfish for over a decade, but boy was I wrong. The stadium was packed by the time the warm up band finished. It was, of course, at that very moment when the bottom fell out of the sky in a torrential summer thunderstorm. The scene became a structurally reversed version of the Titanic: the rich folks stayed relatively dry and the rest of us in the cheap seats drowned. Because of the thunder and lightning we were forced to vacate the steel bleachers and wait out the storm in the gallery below. Of course with that volume of people nothing can happen fast, which made me wonder how it would have been had there been a fire, rather than mearly inconvenient and uncomfortable rain. So it took at least 30 minutes for us simply to get downstairs. Everyone was packed together, shoulder to shoulder, other parts to other parts, in a mass exodus that most of us silently agreed to get through as civilly as possible. But when you press that many people together when they can't move or really see where they are going, anything can happen. Two brawls very nearly happened when a man didn't appreciate people jostling his pregnant wife, and when a Jersey-born acquaintance of mine was accidentally shoved by then end of a domino-style series of stumbles as people tried to descend staircases littered with beer bottles.
  But then something completely different happened. A blond teen with a crew cut practically leaped over three of his friends to kiss a girl not two feet in front of me. He must have called her name, because she turned her head. He reached his entire body towards her, grabbed her neck and pulled her to him. He kissed her in the dazzle of the downpour. It wasn't a Euro-hello kiss, nor some childish "ha! I got away with it" kiss. This guy made it count! I saw he had blue eyes and they sparkled as he went for it and as he withdrew. The girl smiled. But then much to my confusion, the boy withdrew and melted back into the crowd. He didn't stay and chat or greet her friend she stood with or say "Bye." And I was like "WTF?!!" Who are you? Who is she to you? Where are you going? Why aren't you staying? WHAT'S GOING ON? I found myself entranced by these kids story that I had virtually no information about. It was a story made of a single gesture.
   Even if my phone hadn't gotten waterlogged and died, there would have been no way for me to whip it out and capture that moment. It happened in an instant. And plus if the kids saw me take a picture of their pda I'd have looked like a creeper. But I couldn't help it! It all happened 15 inches in front of my face! So I drew it. I'd like to take the time to work it into a fully completed drawing or digital painting, but only had time for a sketch this week.
It's so hard to draw a kiss happening and make it look real and believable. So much lining up has to happen and then how do you not mash noses? Anyway, maybe I'll work on it and post some process updates later.
In the meantime, check out the art of Claude Theberge: Some of his paintings of people kissing are kinda goofy, but I love the energy that his figures and compositions have because everything looks like it's posing or taking place in a high wind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Light Feet and Heavy Thoughts

I actually had time to put paint to actual canvas this week, which is something I haven't done since I moved. When we left our old apartment, I had to sell/give away most of my artwork. I had a lot of stuff that had accumulated over two years, and swore I would focus on digital media once in our new place in order that my new office/studio should not become cluttered and overflowing with paintings. I failed. I just missed that visceral feeling of painting, of actually mixing the colors that never come out exactly the same way twice. The feel of it on your brush as you sweep it across the canvas. Though I have outgrown my idea of earning a living selling paintings on the roadside (granted, there are folks that earn a living that way. I have not figured out how. More power to them.) I feel it is something I will always come back to.
When my husband and I were living in Rock Hill, there was a gallery that we would visit upon occasion called Lark & Key. They have a wonderfully unique collection of dreamy, earthy works from their artists. Check them out at My favorite artist is Duy Huynh. I always feel terrible that I can't remember how to spell or pronounce his name, but I wish I had a thousand dollars so I could have some of his work! His depictions of floating girls, shadowless birds, and contemplative youths  in mysterious open spaces are just hypnotic. I literally stood in the gallery for fifteen minutes just staring at a single piece.
This is a really bleary picture. I have the worst luck at photographing my work. Anyway, in addition to being influenced by Duy's work, it's also inspired in part by my friend Erin. When Erin was little, whenever she and her mom would drive by a memorial garden or cemetery, she would say "Look mom! A flower park! I want to go play in the flower park!" But of course her mother would never let her. I rather think I would have a different perspective on death if I were allowed to play gently in a cemetery as a child.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The forging of the A**Hole

For those of you who don't know and may possibly care, I'm currently working on writing a graphic novel. I feel silly trying to explain the premise, mostly because I'm sure it will offend hard-core zombie genre enthusiasts, but silly is exactly what I mean for it to be because silly is how I perceive the entire zombie concept... So there!

My zombie world is much more like our own, but full of undead people. Kevin is one of those, who is not only having to come to grips with being a rotting corpse, but having to contend with all the trials and tribulations high school as well. In addition, he has a crumbling home life, which brings me to the subject of today's post: Kevin's father Chet.

Chet is, for all intents and purposes, one of the villains of the story. I have to say, I am relatively new to the fiction writing gig, but I have to say without a doubt that the bad guy is the hardest to write! And even more so when all he really is is a massive jerk. Anyone can write a Super villain. You can go nuts! Everyone loves to write the Hitlers, the Voldemorts, the Magnetos, the Maleficents. A baddie on a grand scale is easy because going into it, everyone knows that this dude is pretty  F***ed up! I mean, look at the outfit. The flunkies. The capricious insane gestures of grandeur. There's a theatricality that is undeniable and irresistible. They're fun to write, and fun to play.

But what about all the wannabees? The C-class villains, who, at the end of the day are the types that we deal with the most. Most of us will likely never deal with someone who is legitimately evil. Even though roughly a third of our government and business leaders have psychopathic and sociopathic personality markers, most of us will come up against people who are merely assholes.

But what separates these sorts of bad guys? Is a jerk the same as a bully? Is a prick the same as a douchebag? I felt like I needed to straighten this out, because I actually have three separate characters that I need to spread out over the spectrum of petty evil and I don't want them to all seem like cardboard cut outs of each other.
I drew some sketches of Chet to help me. Sometimes the drawing of the characters expression, body language, etc, tells you things about the character that you didn't even know in the writing.
Initially, he seemed like a domestic bully. But Kevin has a bully at school, and I didn't want the relationship to be the same. After looking at the sketches, I felt like Chet's posture and falling-apart, disjointed body language weren't nearly aggressive enough to be a true bully. Passive aggression. That's Chet's style. He's resentful of the world because the Event (the unexplained whatever that caused 70% of the human population to go zombie-fied) also cost him his job, as well as his former college athlete good looks. He hates his boss for no real reason and embarks on several failed attempts to kill him and eat his brains, only adding to the hatred. He resents his family for not being the perfect 1950's style household that he once envisioned it to be. I haven't come up with a specific issue he has with Kevin, and I feel like that might be important. Kevin can't stand him in general because he's a jerk who lashes out at everyone.

I feel like writing dialog, getting into the head of a jerk, is really difficult because I've worked for the majority of my life not to be one! The kind of person who is rude to waitresses. The person who doesn't tip. Who can't appreciate anything from anyone. I can articulate all these things that I want Chet to be, but I don't know how to show him as such. I tried to do a little research on who are modern pop culture's greatest jerks and I don't want to dig any deeper because I can't stand reading about Kate Gosselin BECAUSE SHE'S SUCH A JERK! Lol. But probably exactly who I need to watch for inspiration. Her and maybe Hannity.

To complicate matters, my story is essentially supposed to be a comedy, so I have to make him a funny a**hole, and not so much of a jerk that the reader wants to walk away. Or more importantly, I want to walk away before I finish! I also want to give him a bit of a character arc, if only from bad to worse. (SPOILERS!) Ultimately, Chet drives away his family and descends into alcoholism. How do I make that funny?
Looking at my drawings, I feel like as a zombie, he should be more gruesome, but I want you to be able to see the shadow of his former self. To be able to tell he was once a good looking man, so there's some pity for this character who will ultimately and quite literally fall apart by the end of the series.