hat++

I just spent about an hour stuffing a wire into the brim of the floppy red straw hat I got when I was first down in NOLA searching for an apartment and now it is SO much better.

Maybe I’ll spend another hour to redo the yellow hat this way, right now it’s got a wire that was meticulously sewn under the brim and it has slowly slid around and become looser, plus the wires keep trying to catch my hair.

edit: I sure did spend way too much time (about 2h? my hands are tired now) cramming a new wire into the yellow hat, then cramming the old wire into the brim beside the new wire. But I experimented with some ideas and maybe the next time I do this it’ll go faster.

I really need to keep my eyes open for more straw hats of various colors; I had another red one that seems to have gotten left somewhere recently, and there used to be a black one, too, and I feel like I am at the stage of my life where a purple one could work… they’ll show up when I need them, I’m sure.

Twenty years of no lines.

This is the oldest image in the gallery section of my website. It is not the first thing I drew with Illustrator. But it is the first thing I drew with Illustrator where I went from a scan of a pencil rough to flat shapes, instead of putting color under a scan of an inked drawing.

The date on the gallery is August 29th, 2000. Twenty years ago. The date on the copy of the Illustrator file on my hard drive is 2005, but that’s a lie; somewhere along the journey from a bulky second-hand PowerPC Mac clone running MacOS to a Powerbook running OSX 10.14, all the creation dates on my files got lost.

I’ve been doing this no-lines thing for twenty years. I pretty much stopped doing outlines entirely once I did this piece. It was hard at first, but as I learnt various tricks, I got to a point where using lines feels too easy. Feels like cheating.

And twenty years later I’m finally doing something with this character, too. She was originally the sidekick of “Ensign K”, now Baron K is her sidekick in Parallax. They’ve both got pretty much the same shapes, though the costumes and worlds are different.

That’s from late July of 2001. There’s only a couple finished images between these two, I was mostly busy riding the bus to Spumco, working on Flash animation for a horrible man. And my process was a lot slower back then: I was still learning to draw, to a certain extent. I was figuring out Illustrator from scratch. Illustrator was a smaller toolbox, too – it had just gotten transparency in 2000. I hadn’t found out that the Pencil tool has settings, with terrible defaults; I just thought it was kind of shitty, and painstakingly made all my shapes with the Pen.

The first image is also a skin for Audion, an MP3 player for the Mac that had a very flexible skinning setup. You could arrange your buttons any way you liked, and have whatever weird shape you wanted for your play-control window. Nowadays all my music is in iTunes, which spends its time hidden and being controlled by the media keys on the keyboard; back then those media keys didn’t exist, so we ended up with little desk toys like this.

Or like this. Which was a self-portrait from November 2001, according to the dates in my site’s gallery. It’s a self-portrait of me at the time: a skinny, not-very-masculine guy, who was trying to figure out just what “gender transition” would really entail, and if it was something he wanted to do. I’d been signing most of my art that I posted online as “Peganthyrus” since about 1997 so this was clearly a thing I was playing with; I wouldn’t actually start on hormones until about 2002 or 2003. It’s been a while, I’m not exactly sure beyond “somewhere after Weekend Pussy Hunt collapsed and before Katrina”, which means somewhere between 2000-5.

But I digress.

Here’s one of my earlier experiments in Illustrator. Still clinging to lines but very close to letting go. This is also just about the only piece of mine that involves a gradient mesh, a tool I find to be far more fiddly than its results justify. I think a lot of this might have been experimenting with the pencil tool? Zig-zag effects on simple curves for the ferns – one of my first halting explorations into territory I would end up returning to much later when I started trying to pull on everything I’d learnt over two decades to do full-color comics by myself.

This is pretty typical of my Illustrator-with-lines work. Scanned ink work – this looks like it’s probably some kind of brush pen – with Illustrator shapes below.

Or this. With a badly-drawn version of my then-roomie Gabe Swarr. Who has been spending the last couple of years working on the remake of Tiny Toons. Complete with occasional meetings with Steven Friggin’ Spielberg. I couldn’t hack it in the animation industry but he sure could, geez.

There was experimentation with other tools now and then, too. I’m pretty sure this is Painter. Does that default to saving as a .RIFF file? Because I have this on my drive as both a PSD and a RIFF.

And this. This was done with Creature House’s Expression, a vector package built from the ground up for faking natural media. Sadly by the time I had enough money to buy a legit copy of it they’d been eaten by Microsoft, who made it Windows-only and much less natural-media focused. If they’d stuck around I might be putting out very different work nowadays. But I went with Illustrator because that was the least awkward tool for doing the color workflow I was used to from my formative years in Deluxe Paint I-V on my Amiga, where I could twiddle a palette swatch and see everything drawn in it change. I still rely on that to this day.

Also man I sure did draw stretched-out torsos and necks back then. The arm’s deliberately stretched out to stylize motion; the body and neck, I think, are stretched out because I just… did that a lot.

And finally in this tour of Early Art From Me:

I learnt so damn much about working in sharply limited palettes drawing this. I remember feeling like the whole thing was a complex puzzle: this part has to be this color, but this part that also has to be the same color has to pass behind it – can I make it work solely as silhouettes? or do I find an excuse to use one of the other two colors as a highlight or shadow to create a contrast? Mostly I pushed myself to make it work entirely as silhouettes in this one. I also learnt something important about zooming in; I think it was after finding myself zoomed in and drawing reflections on an iris in this drawing, which were not even a pixel at final size, that I made myself learn the habit of hitting command-1 (view>actual size) on a regular basis to keep myself from getting lost in minutae nobody would ever see.

And for contrast, here’s a piece I did last week:

(click this one for the full size image)

I’ve felt like I’ve been getting too painterly in my recent work so I took this one back towards a limited palette, though I had to expand that out a bit to include the colors of the bisexual and trans flags. Other than that the palette’s only slightly less limited than the “four tints of two colors” that I used in Absinthe. This only took three hours; I don’t have any time tracking on these old files but I am pretty damn sure most of them took a lot more than that, despite their general lack of any kind of background!

(this one links to the full size too)

(yet another link to a full size image)

And some recent painterly stuff: a page of Parallax I’m happy with, and a stream commission that’s actually clean (I’ve been streaming now and then lately, and it has mostly been very horny stuff.). I like the airbrush feeling I have in these; 1990s me really loved the look of airbrush art but found actually dealing with the noisy compressor and trying to organize endless layers of physical masks to be a lot more hassle than it was worth. 2020s me just does a bunch of gradients and blurred shapes and slaps a noise texture on top and figures it’s close enough to airbrushed Dr. Martin’s on cold press illustration board for something that took a fraction of the time. But I’ve been chasing that look pretty hard for the past year and I think it’s time for some fucking around with flat stuff when I’m not working on the comic.

 

Anyway. If you wanna look at more old art by me, the last page of my site’s gallery is here. Perhaps someday I should make it work better on mobile phones and whatnot, it’s full of neat visual effects that happen when you hover your mouse cursor over stuff.

Amber.

Recently I felt like it was time to re-read Zelazny’s “Amber”.

I got a copy of the giant, unwieldy omnibus, and put marks on the side of the pages so I could tell where the hell I was in the overall saga.

It took me about a half a month, but today I finished it. The Merlin books sure are the middle series; they barely finish themselves, and open up a huge window for the third series Zelazny never wrote before the end.

Maybe I’ll have to see if I can hunt down the short story collection with several short pieces Roger wrote as ways to explore where it would have gone. Maybe I won’t. It’s unfinished either way.

I can make guesses. It would probably be from the viewpoint of a third character who was on the periphery of the existing books. Maybe someone younger. Maybe not. Something in me whispers “Fiona” and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps some child of hers, coming out of an obscure Shadow. It would involve the conflict between the Pattern and the Logrus. It might end with the implosion of both of them and the Shadows between, and the creation of some new setup – possibly the same order/chaos balance, albeit an octave higher, possibly something new. But those are obvious guesses. And I am sure that Zelazny had these thoughts, and asked himself which of them were existing patterns (ahem) worth following, and which ones went somewhere far more interesting if he asked himself what the opposite of them was…

I think the biggest difference in tone between the Corwin and Merlin books is that, while Corwin starts out reacting to all the weird shit he stumbles into, he starts making his own plots and plans early on. Merlin never finds his footing, he’s always reacting to outside events. I suppose I can give him a pass for ending up being manipulated by the Serpent and the Unicorn themselves, but… he’s always someone’s pawn, from beginning to end.


Oh also: I would like to include this toot from a couple days ago…

Coincidence Watch:

This morning I put down the Amber omnibus to warm some bread to make a sandwich. Picked up the book again, read some more. Got up when the timer went off, made my sandwich.

When I picked up the book to continue reading while I ate, it was right at the beginning of the truce-and-dinner scene in chapters 1 and 2 of “Knight of Shadows”.

I did not alter the pace of my eating or my reading. But I ended up working on the last bite of my sandwich just as Merlin, Mandor, and Jasra finished their meal and got back to the plot.

Sky Radio

“hey peggy whatcha gonna do today”

“i dunno”

“how about you get excited about a new spiritual sequel to jet set radio, get stoned, and spend two hours drawing your fursona in that style while listening to an online radio station inspired by JSR’s soundtrack?”

“sounds good to me”


Illustrator, with a different flow to it than usual. Looping back to where I was when I was a fan of Mignola’s big solid blacks combined with constant-width lines, dropping my recent reliance on a whole lot of shading and highlighting to conceal color decisions that just don’t work from a value contrast level, leaving a few bits of rough work in the final piece, stepping back from my usual phobia of any obviously-linear elements. Kinda feels like Ronald Wimberley’s stuff more than anything else, to me.

Maybe I’ll draw the next chapter of Parallax like this instead of all that painting. I learnt a lot by doing all that painting but I miss high-contrast solid color stuff.

Themis

Over the past few months, one local sideline to all the craziness of 2020 has been the public disintegration of the Krewe of Nyx after its captain posted “All Lives Matter” on the krewe’s social media and refused to back down when a lot of people called her out on it being a racist dogwhistle phrase. Last week, multiple former members of Nyx announced the formation of the Krewe of Themis.

I’ve been intending to draw a series of images of various deities for a while. Welcoming Themis to New Orleans felt like a good reason to finally start on that. May the parade in her honor make this town a more just place.


And now some quick notes on exactly who this lady is:

Themis (THEE-mis) is the Greek Titan of Divine Law.

Not of human law. That’s the domain of her daughter, Dike. Divine law. She’s one of those little voices that tells you what’s wrong and needs to change, even if it’s enshrined in the laws of your country. It’s an important difference. Straight-Counselled Themis is not blind; she saw what you did.

The Titans came before Zeus and his familiar court. They don’t show up in mythology that much. Just a few cameos here and there, like a beloved actor of your grandparents’ generation who keeps getting bit parts in new shows. They’re the children of Gaia (the Earth) and either Aither (Light and the Sky) or Ouranos (the Sky), depending on who you listen to. They’re big and old and primal. To be quite honest there’s not much on her in the references I had available; a lot of elements of this piece come from flipping through Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables and picking associations that felt like the right ones to highlight.

She is cognate to Maat, one of the Egyptian deities who you will encounter shortly after death. You’re probably familiar with the image of Anubis weighing your heart against a feather? Maat is that feather. So’s Themis.

Themis was one of the first wives of her nephew Zeus and acted as his counsel for a time. She was in charge of group functions; she was the voice oracles spoke with at Dephi. But this image? This image is focused on her role as Divine Law.

shatter’d!

Once upon a time, way back in 1985, an artist named Mike Saenz thought he could use his shiny new Macintosh Plus to draw comics. In MacPaint, a simple B&W paint program that predated the concept of “layers”. With a mouse. These B&W images then had what looked like watercolors overlaid on them to print the final, full-color comic. It looked something like this:

(image swiped from Ben Towle’s tweet regarding Shatter that inspired me to do this)

Narratively, it was a bunch of cyberpunk stuff. Saenz left after three issues, other artists worked in more traditional methods before scanning it into the Mac, adding tones, and printing it out for the signature look, until another person crazy enough to actually do it in the Mac (now with a slightly more sophisticated paint program, though still not one much more powerful than MSPaint, and a drawing tablet) came on board for the rest of its run.

It was amazing at the time. Cyberpunk! Made on a computer! SO COOL! Now, of course, it looks insanely retro.

Today I was reminded it existed, and wondered if I could get Illustrator to reproduce its signature look. A half hour later, I had this:

It ain’t perfect but it’s a pretty good start.

Mostly it relies on two effects:

First off, I’ve got a couple of layers that I’m doing some simple B&W art on. One layer’s got the lines and textures, the other’s got a bunch of translucent shapes.

These two layers are crammed into a layer, which has the halftone effect from Astute’s Phantasm plugin applied to it. This gives it that distinctive one-bit MacPaint look.

Below this, there’s a couple of layers for the foreground and background colors, which are also crammed into a layer. This one’s got a Gaussian blur to muck it up. (The white shapes are part of the ‘ink’ layers, and vanish in the final art because I’m telling the halftone plugin to render all of this as an overprint for that extra bit of Four-Color Comics Process authenticity.)

And also here is a quick 15-minute drawing of the Baron from Parallax using these effects. With some slightly different settings on the halftone plugin – Bayer dithering instead of Floyd-Steinberg, which does a better job on large areas of tone.

Now I kinda want to draw a goofy short cyberpunk comic this way. Probably just B&W with a little spot color here and there.

My Star Wars pitch. Call me, Disney! (Don’t.)

So there is this meme I saw making the rounds.

I looked at this for a moment. And I sighed, and rolled my eyes. And I typed this. With some help from Wookiepedia because I sure did not know the names of the Cantina Band until ten minutes ago.

Man fuck all these guys, I want a film about Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes and their path through the world of Jizz music. Was their appearance in the Mos Eisly cantina in Star Wars part of their long coast into obscurity? Was it part of a point in their career where they honed their chops to monofilament-perfection like the Beatles in Hamburg? Was it the turning point where Nalan Cheel got her left thumb shot off in the fracas after one deadbeat shot another deadbeat, and put down the bandfill forever in favor of the hokotaur, developing a distinctive style that would go on to influence a generation? I want a musical biopic with all their greatest hits, all the tunes that left a solid mark on Jizz. I want to know about their pivotal role in the 300th annual Galactivision contest.

Also especially fuck Fett, he got like ten seconds in the original films, most of which were spent getting eaten, and his stupid figure didn’t shoot the little boffers out of its jetpack like it was supposed to. Though I guess if I gotta pick one then I want a comedy about Boba, The Most Hilariously Incompetent Bounty Hunter In The Galaxy.

Urmahlullu

The bathroom can be a dangerous place! The Urmahlullu is here to help.

Prints (and shower curtains and bath mats!) are available if you would like your own toilet guardian lioness: https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/50452006

(I need to get my own copy to replace the original quick drawing this is based on!)

casual household magic

Today I learnt about the Urmahlullu, a Mesopotamian spirit shaped like a lion-taur who guards toilets against Šulak, the demon who lurks in your bathroom and gives you a stroke when you strain too much while pooping.

So I drew one and put her in the bathroom, right above the toilet. Traditionally they wear a cap of divinity and hold a club; I took the slight liberty of modernizing this loadout with a pair of rubber gloves and a plunger. Which is surely a +6 Holy Avenger plunger given how it’s glowing.

Then two of the three cats who live under the house hopped in the window to investigate, and make sure they weren’t being replaced in their assorted guardian duties. They got petted, and on their way back out, one of them alerted me to the fact that I got both a cable I was waiting on for my new desk, and three unmarked envelopes containing my new credit and debit cards to replace the ones that got stolen a week ago.

Imminent kittens

Tonight I went outside to take out the recycling. I heard this piercing MEW from somewhere on the porch as I did so. I looked around, seeing nothing… until I looked up, and saw a small stripey kitten, clinging desperately to the transom window above the door to the other half of the shotgun double we live in.

Looks like the kittens our neighbor has been helping Shadow (the resident cat matriarch) with are starting to get adventurous. I climbed on one of the chairs we keep out on the porch and deftly plucked the little mewbeast, and Nick rang the doorbell. In a moment one of the neighbors came to the door and was, well, mostly glad to see the little lost kitty – taking care of a half dozen or so kittens has to be kind of wearying!

Soon they will be going outside on a more regular basis, and eventually start vanishing into the neighborhood. Maybe some will stick around, who knows. We have human neighbors, and we have cat neighbors, and we try to be good neighbors to both kinds. Except for that one big stripey orange cat who Shadow always hisses at when he sneaks up onto the porch to swipe the food we leave out. I stick my head out the door and hiss at him too.