This is artwork from this blog in 2015, a year after I retired from teaching.
This is artwork from this blog in 2015, a year after I retired from teaching.
There is a reason why anything in my artwork starting with a rabbit is assumed to be autobiographical. I raised rabbits as a 4-H project from about the age of 10 and we kept rabbits in pens until I was finishing my undergraduate degree. (Rabbit chores fell to my little brother when I was away from home.) In many ways, I was a rabbit-man. My personal avatar as a school teacher was Reluctant Rabbit.
There is often an exaggerated sense of adventure in my cartoonally weird Paffoonies, the very name of which is a fantasy word.
I have been known to actually believe gingerbread can be magical enough for gingerbread men to come to life once baked. It is the reason I bite the legs off first, so they can’t run away.
I have been known to see elves, fairies, and numerous other things that aren’t really there. In fact, a whole secret hidden kingdom of them inhabited the schoolyard in Iowa where I attended grades K through 6. They were all mostly three inches tall. The biggest ones, like dragons reaching only about six inches tall at their largest.
As I continue to draw nearer to publishing my comic horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, busily polishing paragraphs and tweaking the format, I had to find time to do some drawing, some colored pencil cartooning, actually, in order to draw even closer to a comprehensive understanding of the title character, Torrie Brownfield.
I decided that what I wanted to draw was a full-bodied portrait of Torrie, displaying in short pants the full impact of his “werewolf hair” caused by his full-body hypertrichosis syndrome, a genetic hair-growth disorder.
So, I began by printing out a reduced version of the scan of Torrie’s face and shoulders that I created from the drawing I made of him back when the story itself was merely in outline form. I pasted that colored print onto a larger piece of drawing paper and first penciled and then inked the rest of his body. I then used my colored pencils to go all Crayola on the bulk of it, ending up with the complete Torrie Brownfield, holding the one and only copy of Dr. Horation Hespar-White’s recipe book for Magical Airborne Elixir.
Now it doesn’t make sense to create an image like this for no particular reason. Was it just something I was doing to keep my hands busy while watching Netflix? Well, yes, but I did get something out of it after all. I was able to think seriously about my monster theme as heavy-handedly I continue to beat the reader over the head with it. I am obsessed with this particular portrait because, minus the facial fur, it actually looks like and reminds me of the charming little former student the character in the book is actually based on. He was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic boy, naive, innocent, and thoroughly sweet-natured. And he shared with me a history of abuse during childhood. He was not sexually abused, but psychologically and physically abused. And that, of course, led me to the revelation while drawing that the monster of my horror story is not a real werewolf. Not even the murderer who is the villain of the book. The real monster of the story is a systematic abuse of children. It can have two possible results. It can make you into a sweet-natured determined survivor like Danny was, and like Torrie is. Or it can turn you into a vengeful psychotic potential serial killer lashing out because of mental scars and lingering pain. Believe me, I knew a couple of that kind of kid too. Drawing can, in fact, lead you to revelations about yourself and the universe around you. And so, this little obsession has done that very thing for me.
So, I end with this scan of the completed artwork so you can get a better look at it than you can from my crappy photography skills. Drawing something obsessively does have its uses.
One of the first pieces of classical music to grab me by the ears and absolutely force me to love a piece of music with no words was Ravel’s Bolero.
Miss Malek played it on a phonograph for us in the basement of the Rowan Schoolhouse when I was in 3rd grade back in the fall of 1965. Shortly after that, my father bought a record of it for our record player at home. I must have listened to it a hundred times before 4th grade. It was the first piece of music I learned to listen to with pictures creating themselves in my mind. Here’s the basic picture in fact;
Yes, it suggests to me that life is a long plodding march toward inevitable battle, a battle that one day will end in defeat and death. No one lives forever and no song continues without end. But there is beauty, pageantry, and color to be felt and filled with along the way. And the march is not without purpose. What music we will create along the way! It is glorious to be alive and provide the drumbeat for the march of the creations of your soul, your children and the words you come to live by. I do not intend to retreat to the castle as many would do. I will not cower as I await the conclusion. I will march to meet it in a glorious crescendo. And that, dear reader, is what Maurice Ravel’s Bolero is about, as far as I am concerned.
The picture I have been working on of the clowns of Sing Sad Songs is now finished.
These are the clowns;
As a novelist, certain characters, as I understand them, have to be portrayed in a certain specific way. It may be because the character is based on a real person, so those characteristics are tied to reality and changing them will impair the character’s realism. It may also be because the character has a very special function in the story, possibly a metaphorical or thematic function so a change in those particulars can derail the entire story. But portraying them in colored pencil is not nearly so arcane. Colored pencil is my own preferred medium, the one I know best how to use as an artist.
These characters are not specifically people. They are created in nature when a person dies in a blizzard by freezing to death. They act like banshees in that they serve both as omens of impending death, and collectors of the spirit forms of the deceased. Snow ghosts after a manner of speaking.
They are from my novel Snow Babies and give the book its name. Of course, they are not the only snow babies that the title refers to. But they are essential to the basic theme of the story.
Brent is the leader of the Pirates. He appears in the novels Superchicken, and The Baby Werewolf, though I have another couple of stories in my head where he plays an important role as well.
Brent is an amalgam of two real people. One was a boy from my boyhood gang, and the other was a student I taught more than a decade after that. He is a farm boy, naturally outgoing and athletic, but also a bit of a bully and a bigger bit of a jerk, especially around girls.
Miss Morgan is a middle school teacher based on a real-life colleague who had a gift for reaching and teaching challenging kids, though she’s also got a bit of me in her since the major challenges she faces in the story are mostly things that happened to me, and I made her an English teacher like me instead of the Science teacher she really was. She is the main character in the novel that bears her name, Magical Miss Morgan. She is also a minor character in Superchicken, almost twenty years earlier in time. I pictured her wearing a purple paisley dress to represent her magical abilities. That magic is, of course, the ability to make stories come to life through imagination and creativity.
Cudgel is “Grampy” of the Murphy Clan, living in the home of his eldest son Warren. He is basically a clown character, being an irascible, evil old man who loves his family, only ever drives his beloved Austin Hereford motor car (“the best goddam car in the whole goddam world from 1954”), and will fight for any reason or excuse at the drop of a hat.
He has already played a role in the novels The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and Snow Babies. And I hope to use him in several more. He is loosely based on several old men I have known throughout my life, but he functions mainly as a clown, a comic relief character that breaks up the tension in developing plots.
So there you have some characters that I have written about in my novels and illustrated in living colored pencil.
I often get criticized for talking to people who are basically invisible, probably imaginary, and definitely not real people, no matter what else they may be.
The unfinished cover picture is from the novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius which I just finished the final rewrite and edit for. All of the characters in that book are fictional. Even though some of them strongly resemble the real people who inspired me to create them, they are fictional people doing fictional and sometimes impossible things. And yet, they are all people who I have lived with as walking, talking, fictional people for many years. Most of those people have been talking to me since the 1970’s. I know some of them far better than any of the real people who are a part of my life.
These, of course, are only a few of my imaginary friends. Some I spend time with a lot. Some I haven’t seen or heard from in quite a while. And I do know they are not real people. Mandy is a cartoon panda bear, and Anneliese is a living gingerbread cookie. I do understand I made these people up in my stupid little head.
But it seems to me that the people in the world around us are really no less imaginary, ephemeral, and unreal. Look at the current Presidentumb of the Disunited States. He is an evil cartoon James Bond villain if there ever was one.
People in the real world create an imaginary person in their own stupid little heads, and pretend real hard that that imaginary person is really them in real life. And of course, nobody sees anybody else in the same way that they see themselves. Everybody thinks they are a somebody who is different from anybody else who thinks they are a somebody too, and really they are telling themselves, and each other, lies about who somebody really is, and it is all very confusing, and if you can follow this sentence, you must be a far better reader than I am a writer, because none of it really makes sense to me. I think everybody is imaginary in some sense of the word.
So, if you happen to see me talking to a big white rabbit-man who used to be a pet white rabbit, but got changed into a rabbit-man through futuristic genetic science and metal carrots, don’t panic and call the police. I am just talking to another fictional character from a book I just finished writing. And why are you looking inside my head, anyway? There’s an awful lot of personal stuff going on in there. Of course, you only see that because I wrote about it in this essay. So it is not an invasion of privacy. It is just me writing down stuff I probably should keep in my own stupid little head. My bad.
I have been very limited for over a week in the amount of time I have to spend on writing and blog posting. The start of a new novel has been delayed. My posts have been short… and hopefully also sweet. I have relied some on re-blogging old posts. Depression is a demanding illness. It requires the sacrifice of time, the sacrifice of energy, and even the sacrifice of self. It can go so far as to demand the sacrifice of a human life. And it can require you to offer up those things even when you are not the one depressed yourself. Though I must admit, my health and mood have suffered through hospital visits, business arrangements made without money to spend, only mortifying promises of doing whatever you can. And then doing those things. And at the same time I have earned zero dollars from Uber.
Ghosts from the past, long dead emotions, and ancient regrets all arise from crypts you have been keeping them in to remind you that you are mortal after all and subject to the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. And you must become a ghost-buster. How do you do it? How do you defeat the phantoms of past deeds and devilments?
Of course, Science can help. You need professional help from a real psychiatrist, especially if you can find a good one. The doctor we found is one who saved our family from darkness once before. This time a mood drug called Lexipro and vitamin D supplements helped. Before it was too much cortisol, the stress chemical, and lack of serotonin that threw things out of balance. Better life through proper medication is actually a thing.
And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Dr. Pinkenstein was not our psychiatrist. But if he makes us laugh about things… well, laughter really is good medicine.
And I have sailed these waters and fought these devils before. My little boat was easier to navigate this time because I had a map through the labyrinth that I drew for myself before. Experience and the wisdom to learn from it is seriously a super power.
Up, up, and away, me! We have come out of the darkness again, and it is time to get our lives back on track.
I am tired of reproducing my artworks in a way that gives you nothing but glops of brownish gray. My scanner isn’t large enough to get most of my pictures converted into a crisp digital image. Too many shadows and streaks sneak through the cracks. So I have been experimenting with lighting and camera quality.
This is my 300 watt bulb that I use for bounce lighting off the white bedroom ceiling. It effectively puts a low-glare patina of white light on an artwork that makes for a crisper photo.
Here’s an old D&D picture of the Pyromancer and his cat-man friend taking an early morning magic carpet ride. It has a variety of primary colors and colored-pencil surfaces that easily reflect glare, so the softer bright lighting makes a more pleasant outcome.
The real test comes from this graphite pencil drawing. Everything in this picture of Poppa Mouse coming home from work at the mouse post office is merely a shade of gray, no pure blacks or pure whites.
But as with anything in the world of making art, it is an on-going process, a work in progress. So I will continue to work at it.