The Archangel Dragons Of The Directions: Preface

In early 2021, I accepted a magical art commission.

There is a ritual that many modern magicians perform known as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, wherein they define a space that is both of this reality and outside of it. A space where Magic is easier to perform. Perhaps a space where the magician’s imperfections are carved away, little by little, every time they enter it.

A major part of this ritual involves visualizing four angels: RAPHAEL before you, GABRIEL behind you, MICHAEL on your right hand, and AURIEL on your left. The client wanted help doing this, and felt that they would find it easier if they were given the shape of dragons.

I was given a page of the text of the version of the rite they were working from. (There are a lot of different versions floating around; the original was cobbled together from diverse sources in the late 1800s by members of the Order of the Golden Dawn (no relation to the modern Greek neo-Nazi party), and ever since their secrets were made public, the variants have bloomed – both small tweaks within the same religious framework, and big tweaks like swapping out Arch-Angels with Hebrew names for members of pretty much any pantheon you might prefer.) This particular one was from the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn.

Beyond that, the only direction I was given was “flat colors rather than full shading” and “needs to fit on a letter-size page”. This could have been enough to start with. But I wanted more. So I broke out my copy of Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Reference Tables, dug through Israel Regardie’s The Middle Pillar, flipped through Damien Echols’ High Magick, pondered a few versions found online, and a half dozen other books. And I started taking notes, writing down ideas, and making sketches. In a little sketchbook with dragons embossed on its leather cover that my in-laws had given me this past Christmas – it felt like a book for a Project, and this was obviously the right one.

I pretty quickly settled on the idea of building each Archangel Dragon upon the skeleton of their sigil. I worked them out myself with the Golden Dawn’s Rose Cross sigil method. It took me a little longer to read the OSOGD’s version of the rite and pick up the repeated mention of colors “flashing” on the angel’s robes; this word is used in other places in Golden Dawn instruction to refer to very intensely-contrasting color pairings that tend to clash and vibrate in your eyes.

I set up an Illustrator file. With all those sigils. And a couple more, because the variant of the LBRP/LIRP I like the most adds in an additional angel above and below you. I hadn’t decided if I was going to do them yet but I figured I’d leave the option open.

I started doing the Ritual of the Pentagram regularly. The Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram in the morning, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in the evening, as directed by my copy of the Golden Dawn material, rather than doing the LBRP twice daily as almost everyone tends to tell you to do it now. Some of those ideas on how to approach this project were sitting there in my mind as I woke up, ready to be written down in the dream journal I’ve kept by my bed for a few years now. If I’m going to make images designed to be used as magical tools, I feel it is part of my job to do my best to make them potent. And part of that involves inviting the subject into my life, maybe to pose for my third eye, or maybe to just spend a little time sitting behind me while I work and casually dropping ideas into my head.

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The Archangel Dragons Of The Directions: Uriel

I have been commissioned to do a set of illustrations of the dragonsonas of the angels one calls upon during the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, if one is a neophyte in a magical system derived from the Golden Dawn documents. This is the fourth one. There may be more eventually but this is it for now.

Uriel (or Oriel, or Auriel; nobody can agree on which vowels to add into the consonants-only Ancient Hebrew name) is the patron of magicians, the Overseer of Tartarus, and is helpful in matters of divination, finances, and obtaining the treasures of the world.

They carry a shield, to remind you that this direction is associated with the suit of Pentacles.

Prints, posters, shirts, phone cases, etc, on Redbubble.

The Archangel Dragons Of The Directions: Michael

I have been commissioned to do a set of illustrations of the dragonsonas of the angels one calls upon during the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, if one is a neophyte in a magical system derived from the Golden Dawn documents. This is the third one. There will be at least one more.

Michael is chief among angels. He rules the Fire signs of the Zodiac, and is the angel of the orange sphere of Hod on the Tree of Life. He is helpful in matters of remaining chill during crisis, protection, success in business, and expressing your ideas well. He has very strong Cool Dad Energy.

He carries a sword, despite this direction being associated with the suit of Wands. Perhaps this is a clue.

I haven’t been able to see any other names on his nametag.

Unlike the other archangels, Michael gave me the distinct impression that his reaction to this project was that he already has a fursona, and that it is a lion, and if I am going to make him into some kind of dragon then it should be a seriously leonine dragon.

Prints, clothes, journals, and other whatnottery are available on Redbubble.

MA-X: Inner Library

So a while back in early March I was cycling lazily through the park thinking about Magical Stuff when this lady popped into my head and said “Congratulations! You have found the Inner Library!” and requested an access code. None of my first guesses worked. Perhaps I will get it eventually.

I drew this pretty soon afterwards, then let it sit for a while because I knew there should be some kind of sigil above her head, and that my attempt at drawing what had popped into my mind was not right:

Last night I finally got my head into the right place to investigate this, and scribbled down a quick version of the one you see in the main image; today I put it into Illustrator and am posting this. Time Sink says this image took about two hours of actual work in AI, if you are curious; I’ve gotten really good at making it do this sort of visual vibration quickly!

I don’t know why this wants to be numbered as Major Arcana X (Fortune). It just did, so I went with it. There’s certainly some visual correspondence with the image I did for the Silicon Dawn, and some of the other Majgickqghal Correspondences link up to that card, too:

(that’s a screengrab of stuff hovering off the side of the canvas in a “notes” layer)

Want this on a print, a t-shirt, a magnet, a journal, etc? Go over by my Redbubble shop.

Attend To The Silver Cog!

My old friend Dr. Pinkerton asked me to do a poster for his lab rock band’s upcoming gig. I sure did learn a few things about how to make Illustrator cope with complicated files while working on this one – it takes a surprisingly long time to render all these radiating pattern fills!

Here’s a couple of closeups, and an outline view.

If you’re in the New Orleans area I’ll probably be there.

Prints are available if this is a thing you would like to fill a space on your wall with.

Cracked By BDE

Yesterday I had a drunken urge to draw my fursona in the c64 palette, which then progressed into seeing how far I could get into making Illustrator render my crisp vector shapes into the distinctive 2:1 aspect ratio of the c64’s “multicolor” mode. And then I added some semblance of a CRT’s phosphor pattern, and changed the pixel aspect ratio transformation to precisely match the 1:0.75/2:0.75 ratio that an NTSC C64 would generate. And finally I fooled around with a few different palettes and found one that felt like it matched my memories of my own c64 – there are a lot of different palettes claiming to reproduce the c64’s output. And now I think this piece is Definitely Done.

(There are multiple reasons for this variety in what people claim were “the c64’s colors” but there are two main ones: firstly, the initial version of the video chip only had three luminance values for every color that was not black or white. This meant that everything blended into a total mess on a B&W TV. Which was still a thing that people would plug their computers into back then. So there was a revision of the chip that spread it out more, with those fourteen different colors getting sorted across seven different luminance levels. And second, there was a potentiometer sitting on the c64’s circuit board that controlled the overall saturation of the output; during assembly and testing, the workers were supposed to look at a screen and carefully use a screwdriver to turn this tiny knob until colors started to appear, but once the c64 started selling like crazy they didn’t have time to do that and meet quotas so they just cranked it all the way up. Add a lot of variance with how your TV was adjusted, and there’s even more spread.)

anyway here is some music to go with the rest of this post and better simulate the experience of being a teenager in the late eighties with a Commodore 64 and a bunch of weird games you downloaded from a local BBS that reference UK pop culture you have never heard of

Here’s a few images of this process from “fifteen minute drawing in the c64 palette” to “a big pile of effects that more closely simulate the c64, albiet with a larger canvas than it could ever show”.

It began as just a bunch of shapes with a c64 palette and some pattern fills in the characteristic double-wide dither patterns…

…but why not stuff all the layers this was drawn on into a new layer and apply a rasterize effect to that layer?

Well, for one thing, the c64’s “high res” mode (320×200) could only have two colors in any particular 8×8 pixel cell; it was much more common to use the “multicolor high res” mode, which let you have 4 colors in any individual 8×8 cell, at the price of it turning into a 4×8 cell of double-wide pixels. I decided I wasn’t going to bother with this and went to bed but the next morning I woke up with an idea in my head for a way to do it: apply a Transform effect to scrunch it to 50% of its width, then the rasterization step, then another transformation to stretch it back out. It worked!

And after I’d done that I decided to simulate a CRT’s phosphor dot pattern, plus a little generalized blur. And after that I was all, okay, fuck it, I guess I have to also go deal with the fact that the c64’s pixels were not square – they were 1:0.75. A little more fiddling with the transform, rasterize, transform trick made Illustrator fix that for me.

But it’s all still vector. Which made it incredibly easy to make a few tweaks here and there. This would have been a giant pain in the ass to do with anything even vaguely resembling an authentic c64 drawing tool.

And here’s a closeup of the phosphor dot effect. It could be better but I would have to write my own CRT filter plugin for Illustrator and I really don’t wanna bother with that.

This is far from being a perfect simulation of how this would look as an actual c64’s output – the rabbit hole can go pretty deep if you want to really emulate every single quirk of the VIC-II chip – but it’s good enough that the part of me that wants it to be relatively true to the platform’s limitations and quirks is shutting up. Just assume it’s a giant FLI image scrolling back and forth on the screen with some high-res sprites layered over it for the head and the text and don’t worry too hard about actually counting pixels, okay? :)

AAAND FINALLY because I could do it in like two minutes: here is a version that would actually fit on a c64 screen.

seriously all I had to do was make a new artboard of the appropriate size, duplicate the layers, size them down, and slightly resize the text and signature. I could finesse this but I don’t think I want to – the part of me that wants to improve this workflow a bit more and make something worth submitting to the graphics competition of a demo party is being quietly suppressed.

A Perfectly Safe Tourist Map, Nothing More

Once upon a time, long long ago in the misty forgotten year of 1984, New Orleans hosted a World’s Fair. The fair’s mascot was a dapper pelican named Seymore D. Fair.

Walking through the French Quarter today, I had the idea of an egregiously fake map. One that was backwards and upside-down. One that would get tourists in massive trouble if they believed its cartoon mascot’s repeated insistence that it was perfectly safe and completely not lies. Or one that would at least send them off on wild goose chases to the ass end of the suburbs in search of the “Witchery & Voodoo District” that it claimed was out there.

I do not think I actually want to put the time in to make this happen but I was amused enough by the concept to spend a couple of hours drawing this instead of working on commissions like I was intending to do at the cafe.

Lamplighter

Three days ago, I got up and took a really big bong hit and read a review of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Which made me decide to take out my copy of the inspiration for that book: a series of prints of vast, imaginary prisons drawn by an 18th-century Italian guy named Giovanni Battista Piranesi. I looked at his drawings, I considered the two versions of most of them – one from when he was in his twenties, one from fifteen years later, where he went back in and drew a bunch more stuff, resulting in darker, denser imagery.

And then I just kinda started drawing this with no real plan or intent in mind. I decided I wanted to try to finish it as much like M.C. Escher’s wood/lino-cut work as I could manage: ‘me pretending to be Escher pretending to Piranesi”, as I described this a few times when I shared in-progress versions here and there. I fooled around with the WidthScribe plugin, and learnt that it can be pretty unstable – I crashed a lot, and unfortunately couldn’t make a good isolated bug report to pass to its developers. But once I’d learnt to save aggressively when dealing with it, I was able to quickly do stuff like decide that the column on the right should be drawn in hatchmarks radiating out from the central lamp instead of along its length (as I had it drawn at first), which would have taken days to change versus like twenty minutes including the time spent dealing with crashes.

Prints available on Redbubble. Source file on Patreon, if you wanna see how I did this – I leaned heavily on a couple of Astute’s plugins, you’ll need Widthscribe and Stylism to see how those were used. There’s a lot of use of pattern fills and blends for the various radiance effects, too.

I worked on this kind of obsessively for three days straight, it’s about nine hours of work total. Today I decided it was finished, and went for a walk to look at things further away than my monitor for a whole. On the way out to the park I realized that it needed some cats as well as a few people wandering around.

So I added a few. And some birds. It makes the whole piece feel a lot livelier to have something besides humans in there. I could add some more stuff but really I think it’s done, and I would like to have my attention back for other projects now.

This is a detail of a figure over on the left who’s mostly hidden behind the lantern light.

And this is a glimpse into the magic of WidthScribe. I can draw a greyscale image, then draw a bunch of lines on top of it, and this plugin will turn them into set of finely-etched lines that vary in weight based on the tones below. It’s pretty neat. Prone to crashing when I start editing it, but pretty neat. I really wish there was a way for Illustrator’s crash report to say “hey this is probably a plugin crash, please pass this on to the address registered by the plugin developer”.

(This is also a glimpse into part of my process: I like to make a layer called “notes”, where I type notes of things I want to make sure not to forget when I take a break from a piece and come back later.)

Anyway. Here are some progress shots, from messy loose pencil tool sketches to final-except-for-colors-and cats.

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Also just for laughs, here is a screengrab of the whole thing in outline view…

..and here is a screengrab of the whole thing in outline view after I expand all the blends and effects.

Document Info says this file about 3k paths before I expand everything, but those 3k paths make Illustrator create about 8k. Which really leans into how I like to describe Illustrator as “my magical assistant” – I outline what I want it to do, and it does it. Mostly without complaint though it sure did start getting slow to refresh the screen near the end of this piece.

421

I spent all 4/20 fitfully dozing while my body made a shit-ton of antibodies after the second dose of the ‘ronavax. So you get a 420 drawing a day late.

I thought it would be funny to generate every color in this drawing by using various overlaid blending modes on one green swatch. If you want to see how I did it (“lots of Graphic Styles”, mostly), the Illustrator 2020 source file’s available on my Patreon.

Also I am incredibly delighted that I have maneuvered my life to a point where “drawing a couple of my fursonæ stonedly flirting with one of my SO’s fursonæ” is a thing that I get paid to do, holy shit, Patreon is such a great thing and I am so glad I have this many people willing to give me a few bucks a month to keep on drawing what I like drawing.

branding revisions

Back in 2012 when I made my current website, I did a little drawing of the god-mode version of my fursona that’s hiding at the bottom if you scroll allllll the way down until the background peels away to reveal her.

Earlier this year I re-did the first thing you see when you open the site. And today I found myself looking at that old drawing of November-4 and feeling like I could do it a lot better. To be honest I was never entirely satisfied with it, it always felt a little off. But there were some technical reasons why it was hard to re-work (it’s all drawn in an opacity mask). Now I have some new tricks for doing transparency, and a few new tools to use as well.

I think I like this one a lot better. We’ll see if I still like it in about another ten years.