sigils: towards a modern aesthetic

It occurs to me that not a single person who has worked on popularizing Austin Osman Spare’s methods of “sigil magic” has been, like, actually an artist.

So everyone draws these little things that chase the aesthetics of Goetic demon seals. Occasionally people will look at a Vodun veve for inspiration. But whatever they do, they always make little line-drawn symbols that positively reek of Witchiness. Or of the glyphs in Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. Sometimes you will see people paraphrasing Grant Morrison about how you can see corporate logos as powerful sigils of corporate egregores… but I never see anyone writing about Sigil Majgickqgh who actually tries to use that aesthetic. They just make the usual witchy scribbles. Because none of them seem to, like, actually draw as their vocation.

But I’m an artist. Spare was an artist. Sigils are fucking art majgickqgh.

I mean, I’ve been guilty of making Obviously Witchy Sigils too. It’s what everyone does in their examples, so it’s what I copied. And sometimes that is exactly the aesthetic something needs.

But. Lately I’ve been getting out of my armchair and making some sigils again. I’ve been starting with the usual modern chaos magic workflow of “throw out vowels and duplicate letters, start combining letters into a pleasing pattern”… but instead of keeping it a linear thing I could draw with pen and paper as I start finessing it, I’m just letting my hands do what they do naturally when I’ve got Illustrator open, and using a lot of solid shapes. Treating it as a rough sketch that vanishes, instead of lines to preserve.

I haven’t quite gotten anything down to the graphic power of, say, one of Paul Rand’s logos yet. Or maybe one of Jim Flora’s lively cubist album covers. But I’m getting somewhere that feels right. Somewhere that feels like art as well as magic.

I should probably actually find a copy of Spare’s books and plow through them sometime soon instead of reading yet another person rehashing Peter Carroll’s simplification of Spare.

above: some WIP sigils, none of them are entirely There yet, never mind charged, and in fact one of them saw some major revisions after I asked myself “what would Jim Flora do with this image to make it suck less” in the course of writing this post.


(and yes, I know that there is also a tradition of making sigils by just hooking up points on a grid of letters, and, y’know, that works but it is so utilitarian and boring…)

moving home

March 4: Nick and I got on a plane in Seattle, sat a while, then got off another plane in New Orleans, picked up our rental car, and went to my friend Lewis’ place to sleep.

March 5: We joined Lewis and Jeanine in going downtown, as we had accidentally scheduled our trip to coincide with Mardi Gras. Their plan was to bicycle about the city and sample the parades; we didn’t have bikes available, so we split up. When we got to Zulu, I raised my hands, hollered for beads, and got smacked in the face by a whole bag full. I shared them with Nick and then giddily dragged him up Zulu’s route against the flow of the floats, stoping regularly to scream for beads. He got hit in the side of the head with one of their medallions and was worried it drew blood for a bit. By the time we’d caught Rex at fast-forwards, he was utterly exhausted and overloaded with all these new sights and experiences, while I was feeling a place inside me get filled up that I hadn’t realized had been empty half my life.

Over the next few days we drove around New Orleans, checking out neighborhoods, and scoured various rental mapping websites to figure out what area we wanted to live in.

March 8: We started filling in an application for either of two amazing three-bedroom places in Mid-City and realized that, technically, someone in the Seattle postfurry scene from whom we were both Very Estranged was our second-previous landlord. We diffidently contacted her asking her to be chill if our new potential landlords followed up on us truthfully listing her in the list of past landlords. She demanded an apology from Nick, which he wrote at length.

We spent the weekend, in part, worrying about how this was going to go over. She could potentially ruin our chances if they contacted her, y’know? But we got the application finished off, and submitted electronically.

March 11: We went by the realty office to let them know we’d submitted the application, and wanted to make sure it was in the running for both places, not just the one officially assigned to it in their online system. They told us it was, and that they were handing off our application, and those of the four or five other people interested in these two places, off to the property owner that morning; we could expect some news within the hour. We bummed around midtown for a bit with lunch and chilling in City Park, then went back to Lewis’ place in Harahan (where we’d been staying).

Shortly after getting back, the phone rang. We did not get the absolutely dreamy three bedroom shotgun house one block off of Canal but we got the only slightly less amazing (and slightly cheaper) 3br shotgun two blocks off Canal was ours if we wanted it, and could come in to sign the lease today.

Five minutes after that, Nick got mail from the Very Estranged ex-friend going on at great length about the many, many sins that both he and I have committed to her person, her absolute blamelessness in all of our interactions, and how she could not ever say anything nice about us ever. We laughed. All that stress and fear, for naught.

Tomorrow, we run in town to grab the keys, then fly back to Seattle. And start packing or selling all our stuff. I think we may be hanging the beads we caught in a place of honor when we start decorating the new place; they really felt like the city saying HEY WELCOME HOME in its own special way.

It’s far from a perfect city. It’s got its flaws. It’s got its disasters. But I think that after twenty five years away from it, thirteen of which were spent leaning what “winter” is really like, I will be glad to be back home.

it’s probably nothing

October 2017: Astronomers in Hawaii discover an extrasolar object shortly after it’s slingshotted around the Sun. They name it ʻOumuamua, which roughly translates to “first distant messenger” or maybe “advance scout”.

June 2018: ʻOumuamua’s trajectory changed without any visible reason for it to do so. There’s probably a mundane explanation. It’s probably not a course adjustment on its way to the next destination. It’s probably not a deliberate wiggle to acknowledge that we were watching it and talking about it. There’s probably a perfectly fine reason for it being ten times shinier than the average comet, and there’s probably a perfectly sensible reason that its slow trajectory change was consistent with what a light sail would create rather than the abrupt change of a breakup or outgassing. There’s probably explanations for all the other interesting facts the chair of the Harvard astronomy department lists in this article, too. It’s probably not aliens.

January 2019: During a lunar eclipse, when humanity is paying a lot more attention to the moon than normal, something flashes on it near the middle of the eclipse. “Just a beachball-sized meteorite”, astronomers are currently saying. “Happens all the time, we just can’t see it when the sun’s on the moon.”

It’s probably just something mundane. Probably something boring. Probably not the work of an extrasolar probe that either knows it’s been seen, or doesn’t care if it is. It’s probably not something dropped on the moon by an alien probe.

Four days later, astronomers (again in Hawaii, with followup observations in London) notice a very low-mass object taking a highly erratic path around the earth outside the Moon’s orbit. Kinda like a trash bag blown in the wind. Looks really light for its size. It’s probably just a piece of junk that fell off of one of our satellites or something. Probably. It’s totally just a coincidence that the Popular Science article about this that I’m linking to compares it to the mechanics behind solar sails. It’s probably not some kind of exploration package ‘Oumuamua dropped off when it zoomed through the “Goldilocks zone” of our solar system. It’ll probably fall into our atmosphere and burn up, or get knocked out of anything resembling Earth orbit in a couple weeks.

Probably.

I’m probably just stoned and telling myself a story.

It sure works as the opening act of a first contact story, though. In the tiny possibility that it is one, I hope it’s more “The Day The Earth Stood Still” than “The War Against The Chtorr”.

Cultist Simulator: not quite a review.

A while back I played this art game called “Sunset”. In Sunset, you took the role of a maid, wandering around a super awesome bachelor pad the developers had built based on a spread in a late sixties issue of Playboy. You found messes, you clicked on them, the screen faded out and back in, and then they were cleaned up again.

There was something about a romance between your character and the Brazilian dictator who owned the place, told through furtive notes left lying around as the game progressed. But I don’t remember anything about that. What I remember is that after a while playing it, I closed the game, got up, and did some cleaning around the apartment that I’d put off. I never returned to it afterwards and probably never will.

I bring this up because I am feeling the same sensation from Cultist Simulator.

I drag a few cards into slots, I watch a timer expire, and then I am told I have Made an Art, which resulted in some mix of money, fame, and the occasional emotion. Sometimes, at random, I am told I have made a Great Art. If I made it secretly about something majgickqghahl then I get a lot more famous a lot faster. Which is not without its own problems, but it sure makes it easier to make money making art that’s about nothing but my own passions.

I look at my Tarot deck and the obvious opportunity presented by reprinting it, and I feel the same sensation I felt playing Sunset: “get up”, my brain says, “get up, stop pretending to do this, do this for real”.

And maybe get up and break out the books on majgicqgh and try to spend a little time with that more days than not, too. Probably not to the extent that I become a notorious cult leader who sends her minions off to raid libraries and ruins for ever-more-esoteric texts and trinkets, that sure sounds like some work.

Cultist Simulator is a much more compelling system than Sunset. There’s a lot of things to play with. A lot of things to figure out. And I can feel it tickling the same parts of my brain that the beginning of an idle clicker game does, before it starts taking longer and longer to build up enough resources to do anything interesting. There’s a lot of neat little stories that assemble themselves out of the masterfully-crafted snippets of prose throughout the game, and those are fun to see when they happen.

But I can feel restlessness growing inside me. I can fee the urge to get up and resume the Great Work, whatever I determine it really is.

And if there is one thing this game has taught me, it is that Restlessness turns into Dread after a little while, and that if enough Dread piles up then you succumb to it. And die.

Five stars out of five. Would stop playing again.

keeb huffing

Some free writing around the prompt “what would be a cool way for elves to die”.


see nobody really knows how they die

because nobody’s ever seen one of them grow old and die

including other elves

they just kind of… wander away when you’re not looking, you hear their footsteps going out the door and they just never come back, or show up anywhere, ever again

rumors say that they just know they have to be somewhere else and will stop at nothing to get there without any interference; nobody has been successful at any attempts to keep a dying elf in one place, not even other elves, they don’t erupt into violence or magic or anything, people just find themselves loosening restraints without really thinking about it

(though some whisper tales of “turning to water like glass, from which twisting vines of flesh step out”)

generations of adventurers have perished looking for the Secret Graveyard of the Elves that some assume must exist somewhere; the only real profit anyone’s gotten from that is selling the maps (but, o brave voyager, I promise you this one is the real deal, I bought it off a little kobold who said she saw an elf gently come apart into a huge swarm of bees that she followed to a secluded valley full of a giant hive – she had some very good honey for sale too – no?)

and pay absolutely no mind to the scruffy folks selling jars of vapor that they claim is what an elf dissipates into, that’s just a really potent extraction of certain plants – they are right when they say that stuff will get you super high though


(i may have been huffing some keeb stoned off my ass while writing this, also the “twisting vines of flesh” is an attempt at “how would a medieval peasant describe the reverse of Dr. Manhattan building himself up from nothing through nervous system/muscles and skeleton/etc to a naked blue dude.)

how I work: file organization

It is the beginning of the year and it is time for everyone to post about how they organize their Important Stuff for the benefit of people who have made a new year’s resolution to Organize Their Shit. This is what works for me; I do not guarantee it will work for anyone else. It’s been working as a way to organize a mix of standalone drawings and big multi-image projects for most of twenty years now.

All of my artwork lives in one place on my hard drive: ~/Documents/gfx/working/. There’s a few other folders in /gfx/ but they haven’t been touched in years, as they’re the remnants of a former system I mostly abandoned.

This working folder mostly contains two things: a folder for each year I’ve been using this system, and a whole bunch of aliases to project folders. Each of those project folders lives inside the folder for the year I started it – Parallax is inside 2015, Rita’s inside 2012, the Tarot’s inside 2008, etc.

I do it this way instead of just making a folder for the project next to the yearly folders because this way I can rename those aliases without affecting anything inside them that has a file path in it. The projects I feel are currently in progress to some degree have a space at the front of their alias’ name, so they sort to the top of the list, above the yearly folders and below the ‘ . this year.’ alias, which gets pointed to a new folder around the beginning of every year. Deciding to take that space off the front of an alias feels momentous; it’s been sitting there for years, and now I’m declaring it either Done or Of The Table. It’s probably worth mentioning that everything below about 2006 is off the bottom of the normal size Finder windows will open at for me – I have to go looking for those things.

I also keep some of those aliases in the Finder’s favorites, so they’re quick to navigate to in a new Finder window or in a save dialogue.

Inside the project folders, I tend to have a whole pile of Illustrator files for the main body of the project, with Finder tags to mark the completion state of the file. In progress is purple, blue is finished, yellow is posted to Patreon. There’s a second blue tag for “double finished” which I only started using on Parallax, since I’m mostly working on that in double-page spreads. Rita’s just a long list of files with blue dots now, since it’s done.

And next to that pile of The Actual Pages is folders for other stuff. A folder of final web renders of pages (and a ‘ finals’ alias so I can get to it quickly, since that sorts above all the pages), and a few other folders for… stuff. Model sheets, web sites (which might contain aliases of folders deep in ~/Sites/, that get used when I fire up MAMP to run my local development copy of WordPress), fan-art I’ve gotten, book publishing stuff, ads… whatever. Make a folder, don’t just put it in the same pile as the raw pages.

There’s a few non-yearly folders in the main /working/ folder for stuff that I have to deal with now and then: resumes, files for the print book I take to conventions. They feel like they don’t belong to a year, it’s a judgement call I make now and then.

I feel like the big guiding principles here are that stuff never moves but aliases do and that everything for a project is in one place.

If I want to find a particular standalone drawing I usually go over to ~/Pictures/My Art/ where I stick pngs/jpgs of all my finished pictures, make the icons big, and look for it. That’ll tell me the year and then I can find its source file pretty quickly; the filename I make it under is usually never the final image title, and I never bother changing it. It could maybe be more efficient but I don’t have to do this often enough to really try to optimize it.

When I do a batch of commissions they’ll end up in a folder with a name like “april commissions” in the appropriate year that’ll get an alias at the top of the list. And maybe even an alias on the desktop – which I mostly try to keep clean, for what it’s worth. I don’t have any in progress so there’s none of them currently visible.

a midnight candle

dreaming on the canvas, summoning an old old friend

air + water + power = smoke; there is no ground to be found here

whisper words, tell a story once more time

the dream of too much light

I dreamt I was in a city, full of artificial sunlight. All day long, and all night long too. I was getting more and more tired and just couldn’t get any sleep because of this fake daylight.

Eventually the scene shifted and I stopped being tired. I think that’s a first, though. I’ve never been tired in my dreams before. I hope it doesn’t become a regular thing.

some brief thoughts on “style”

Style is like love. It sneaks up on you when you’re not looking.

It’s the bits you’re naturally good at. It’s the cheats and abstractions of reality you’ve internalized, whether you figured them out yourself or stole them from another artist. It’s the things you just can’t get a handle on, no matter how hard you try, and the ways you’ve evolved to make this look intentional.

You can appropriate someone else’s style, but your style is what you get when you pick apart the styles of all your influences and stick them in a blender along with observation of reality, analysis, and practice.

 

I originally wrote this more than a decade ago, as a reply on DeviantArt’s forums to the zillionth thread started by some beginner artist worrying about “finding their style”. Today I found myself digging for it once more, to post it as a reply to a thread from a beginner who’s barely begun to scratch the surface of Illustrator who was asking if their “new style” had been done before. I figured I would post it here so I can find it again if my account on DA, or the whole site, vanishes before my website does.

If you are a beginning artist, I strongly encourage you to spend some time drawing things from life and/or photo reference instead of worrying about “your new style”.

ten years

I am going through the giant prints left over from the gallery showing of the Tarot deck, so I can hang some of them at Morsel, and I am realizing they are from 2008.

That’s ten years ago. And it feels like a while. Some of these pieces I’d want to spend a bit more time on now. Some of them are still just fine by my current standards. My anatomy’s gotten better with subtle stuff but these are still perfectly fine drawings; I think the biggest change in the work if I was to do them from scratch now would be that I’d go from rough to final colors a LOT faster – I was still laboriously pulling paths out with the pen tool back then. I think it was near the end of the whole thing that I discovered that the pencil tool has settings, whose defaults render it useless, played with those settings, and switched to it for pretty much everything shortly afterwards.

I wonder if I should make a regular practice of drawing some kind of bright, happy flat piece once a month. As a vacation from the giant task of a fully-painted comic. I could do it as porny commissions with my alter-ego, like I did this December, or I could do them as my cleaner identity and regularly print them out and do galleries. Finding subjects feels like the hard part; I could start going down some prompt lists? Or I could occasionally just ask my followers/patrons for an assortment of words, then shuffle them together to give me some directions to draw in. (If I wanted to be topical it might be fun to do a series of Chaos Deities, since that sure feels like the theme of the past couple years. Eris, Kali, Tiamat, Kek (yes probably with a frog pin), Azathoth, etc, maybe even paired with Law Deities from the same pantheons because that would be a lot of chaos to evoke in my personal life without some balance…)

 

(more: hmm, really I could just mine “a selection of deities” for multiple shows. wisdom would be fun, I could use more of that in my life.)