Thursday, January 29, 2015

Saints and Martyrs

Flannery O'Connor is a wonderful writer and I heartily recommend that you read everything the woman ever wrote. One story, in particular, had me thinking a few weeks back: A Temple of the Holy Ghost. In it she describes the paintings seen at the fair where one could see "faded looking pictures on the canvas of people in tights, with stiff stretched composed faces like the faces of martyrs waiting to have their tongues cut out by the Roman soldier." What I was thinking about was the classic circus freaks and how she was right, they are a kind of martyr. 

I mean martyr in the sense of witness. Hear what God tells Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 4, "And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?"

It occurs to me that these people are witnesses to God simply by being. I don't know that I've worked it out much further than that, but God tells us many times in Scripture that his strength is made perfect in weakness and that his glory bursts through by means of very small things.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The End

Did your heart skip a beat? Did you get a panicky feeling as your throat seized up a little? Did you think the title to this post meat I was done with writing for the interwebs? Climb down off the ceiling and relax. All I meant was I have finished my current drawing book. Well, mostly.

You see, in the grand tradition of putting carts before horses, I have finished the last two pages of my book before I have finished several of the preceding pages. Why have I adopted this devil-may-care attitude and thrown caution to the wind? Why am I mixing my metaphors? Because I thought of a pun and I couldn't wait to get it down on paper.

You know how sometimes you think of a pun, and then think everyone else will find it equally as clever as you do? And how they don't because, I guess, everyone else is dumb? Well, that's where I'm sitting right now. The smiles on my face and in my head speak to something insanely clever, funny even. Something along these lines:

There was a guy who sent ten different puns to friends in the hopes that at least some of them would make his pals laugh. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

But funnier!

I've teased enough. Here's the image:

Get it?! Huh? Do you get it?!
I assume since you've persevered this long, you'll want to know the medium here. This is a relief rolled collagraph with white ink and a collage of watercolored paper and decorative paper scraps.

And all you sharp eyed devils out there will recognize this fish as a version of the collagraph that I wrote about on January 12th.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Some time back, I wrote about a "protomartyr" and what that means. I also said that that word made me think of cavemen. So, I decided to go for the caveman angle and make a drawing of St. Th├╝laak, Protomartyr of the Pleistocene. Obviously, the name is made up, but I thought it had a nice prehistoric ring to it and it sounds better than "Thag" or something ridiculous like that.

But the larger question of a Pleistocene martyr is before us. I don't want to say too much because I am still working on the details with a couple of friends of mine, but what would the circumstances be that would make a caveman martyr possible? I have become interested in the idea of a couple of species of humans alive together, one of them fallen, the other not. How would they interact? What kind of stories could be told? Would it make for a fun graphic novel?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Perhaps this is late...?

This is an image I did in collaboration with my colleague where I teach. She did the calligraphy and background and I did the image of the Virgin and Child. I really, really like this painting. However, collaborations are hard for me because it is difficult for me to cede control over an image to someone else's creative process. I have absolutely no issue with allowing randomness into my image-making (as a printmaker, it makes life much less stressful). But to allow someone else to say what they think is best in what I think of as my artwork? That is hard on my pride.

It's not just collaborations that I have trouble with. It's illustrations for publication. It seems that I will absolutely nail a drawing or a painting, send it off and then... see how it gets cropped and flooded with someone else's text. It absolutely drives me up the wall.  Of course, that's assuming the image is accepted as-is. A lot of times I get it back with "corrections". Rrrr. 

But perhaps all of this is a part of killing my pride and works in moving along my creeping sanctification. Or maybe everyone else is just wrong.

Friday, January 16, 2015


I had a real thing for bones in college. I mean a real thing. My patient wife would put up with me scouting the woods for old skeletons, making trips to taxidermy shops for leftovers, ditto for petshops (before you get all mad at me, they were already dead), even the occasional roadkill pick up. As a result I have quite a respectable skull and skeleton collection.

The question is, however, why? I think my fascination with bones goes back to my love of dinosaurs. The funny thing about dinosaurs is that we know them more by their skeletons than by what they looked like in life. I thought about what the reverse of that would be. What do living animals look like under their skin? A triceratops skeleton looks normal while a dog skeleton looks bizarre.

So I decided to look for skeletons of extant animals. While a living raccoon is familiar, its skeleton looks alien. For your enjoyment, I have here a small drawing of a skull that my kids found. It looks very strange until you realize it is probably the remains of a pug.

Ooohh, weird.

Monday, January 12, 2015


I have a brief history with collagraphs that is fraught with tension. On the one hand, the collagraph is an awesome side branch of printmaking. And I loves me some printmaking. On the other hand, it is a natural medium for generating beautiful, unexpected textures in your artwork. But on the third hand, almost all of my experiments with it have been disasters.

That said, I have embarked on another adventure in collagraphs. This time, I'm using an earlier gyotaku print that I wrote about here. I made a few photocopies at 50% size and proceeded to cut them up, slather them with modeling paste and gel medium. Here's the result:

Midway through collagraph's journey
 I printed it this afternoon and I'm... not completely disappointed. I think it's a good start, but that it needs a lot more... what? Layers? Texture? Background? I'll keep working, you keep reading and I'll let you know how it goes.
The resulting beast.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hipster Dimetrodon

I promised to explore further the interior lives of ancient animals and that is what I have done here. This is a resident of the early Permian period. The dimetrodon has lost his way and no longer knows how to fulfill his role as a male or even as a member of the larger Paleozoic Era. He seems to have become what one of his older secular synapsid prophets termed "the last dimetrodons". He has become rather solipsistic in his personal philosophy (although he would never say it that way) and finds it almost impossible to see the world around him without irony. He is melancholy.

Hipster Dimetrodon is hip.

I am glad you are not tired of looking at my dimetrodon drawings. I know I'm not! You can see more here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Still a long, long time ago...

Think of this a a continuation of my last post. Instead of reptiles or amphibians, however, I have what is thoroughly a mammal. He is some kind of hominid. With a monocle. And also a crooked grin. Can't you imagine what he's thinking? I know I can't.

Oh yes, and he has a funny haircut. Have you ever thought about giving an ape a haircut? Maybe a goatee or some wicked sideburns? Perhaps if their skin was a different shade? Do you think you could ever do one up so that he would pass as something more than an animal? 

I remember being at the zoo and up very close to a gorilla. I concentrated on his ear – which looked an awful lot like mine. Then I looked into his eyes and saw something that was... unhappy. It wasn't two or three seconds later that he slammed his fist against the glass and ran off. It was a profoundly unsettling encounter for me and even though it was 12 or more years ago, I have never forgotten it. So I don't think a monocle and a haircut are too far off the mark for our un-human hominid friends.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A long, long, long time ago...

I would like to say I can talk to you on an intimate level about mammal-like synapsid reptiles or the evolution of tetrapods. But I can't; I have a passing familiarity with them, but really only passing. For example, while writing this post, I was about to refer to edaphosaurus and dimetrodon as pelycosaurs. I had no idea that that term had fallen out of favor with scientists over the last ten years. Thank goodness that Wikipedia saved me from that potentially embarrassing faux pas.

And what exactly can I say about ancient fish-like amphibians? Not very much. I read Stephen Jay Gould's Eight Little Piggies years ago (it's still on the shelf, but the scholarship is probably hopelessly out of date now), and I know that ancestral tetrapods likely had a whole mess of digits – way more than our sets of five. I also know that jaws likely evolved from gill arches and our inner ear bones evolved from spare jaw bones. But how to tell the difference between acanthostega, ichthyostega, panderichthys, temnospondyls, tiktaalik, and the rest? I'm not your guy*. Although I absolutely love reading about them and imagining their life histories and possible evolutionary relationships.

Clockwise from top left: Edaphosaurus, Crassigyrinus, Panderichthys, Dimetrodon

It's also fun to imagine what they were thinking about. How they felt and who they were friends with or who liked to play head games! What did they talk about and why did it matter? Does it make a difference that in some cases they were separated by tens of millions of years? For example, about 100 million years separates panderichthys and dimetrodon from each other. That's about 35 million years more than separates you and tyrannosaurus. But it all happened before people existed and prehistory has a remarkable way of flattening itself out in the imagination. My own lifetime makes sense to me in that I can imagine time in blocks measured in decades. That makes sense to me. But millions of years? That's just numbers. In my mind they all lived A Long Time Ago. So I'm free to put them together, make them friends or antagonists. Edaphosaurus can have insecurities about his neighbor crassigyrinus even though they are separated by about 100 million years. Give or take.

Here is a group of four handsome (or lovely, if you imagine they are ladies) creatures. They are posing for the camera, showing you their good side. There is obviously some sort of conversation going on here, but what are they saying. And to whom? And do you care as much as I do?

PS Happy New Year! Of course, what's one more year when we've been thinking of the heady notion of hundreds of millions of years?

*Okay, so I mostly know the difference between most of those, but they are still downright confusing to me. Depending on how the artist chooses to restore them, they can be unrecognizable from one illustration to the next. They exist as abstractions in my mind, unlike, say, a stegosaurus, which is very concrete no matter what colors the artist uses.