Saturday, January 24, 2009

Make Room! Make Room!

Holy smokes, I just realized that when I processed this for the site I forgot to reduce the size of the image. This thing's four feet long... Anyway, now all I need to do is add a little blur to the shading on the land and the reflections in the water and mess a little with the overall color. And I realized that while I started off thinking of this as a river it looks more like a lake or reservoir.

So my pal Deborah Kuchar is coming over this afternoon to have lunch and then help me start whipping my studio into functional shape.

I need to get rid of a ton of books in order to make room for things that are currently sitting on the floor. It's not going to be an entirely heartbreaking situation -- I'll be dumping old computer manuals, books with visual references that I can easily look up on the web, things I bought at yard sales and never got around to reading.

I like to go through my library this way every so often. There's a hard core of books that I know damn well I'm going to read again. There are books that are so darned cute I can't bear to part with them. There are necessary reference volumes.

But right now I'm at the point I just need space. We may have a new member in the writer's group and if I don't get some elbow room cleared we're gonna have trouble. Plus, I want to get my printer back into play.

So today we get to see a massive dump of volumes. Oh, joy.

The Demon DJ; or Learning To Live With Dysphoric Melodic Mnemonic Syndrome

After further experimentation with layers and modes I was able to get this. Next up is finding a way of taming the darkest areas in the image -- I need to lighten them up enough to show some color.

So I've been sleeping well lately, usually between seven and eight hours a night. This is very unusual for me, especially this time of year. Actually, this time of year I'm usually drowning in the slough of despond and right now I'm feeling pretty good. It's always encouraging to find out that my depression can be lifted by good experiences. It's a drag being unable to perceive pleasure.

One of the things that's been helping the insomnia has been my newly-acquired habit of listening to music right before I go to sleep. To be specific, it's the Paillard Chamber Orchestra's performance of the Pachelbel Canon.

There are those who sneer at the Pachelbel Canon. "Brunch music," they call it. Simple, repetitive, boring... Fair enough. But that's why it's helping me. See, I have what I call a Demon DJ in my head. I always hear music. Always. Been this way since high school -- I learned I could play and record music mentally and since I couldn't afford a Walkman I used this ability quite deliberately to keep myself pumped and motivated when I was working. (Janitor and child care assistant.)

Then I found I couldn't turn it off. A major contribution to my insomnia it the way the Demon DJ is prone to interrupting my slumber with songs like, oh, Ace of Spades by Motorhead or Kerosene by Big Black, or Cop Killer by Body Count. Even worse are the poppy catchy songs, bands like They Might Be Giants or the stuff on the Nuggets collections or Oingo Boingo.

I've actually found myself deliberately avoiding some of my favorite music in the last few years for this reason. It's a drag. And it's difficult to change the tune that the Demon DJ is playing.

Here's something really weird. I sleep on my side. So the nostril on the down side tends to shut while the one on the up side tends to open.

Now I'm going to lay some muddled pseudo-science on you. I'm not sure how absolutely accurate the following information is -- it's cobbled together from a mixture of half-forgotten things that I've read and my personal experiences. If anyone has any criticisms of this I'd be happy to hear them.

As I understand it, at different times of the day the halves of your brain are active to different degrees -- and part of this has to do with which nostril is open. See, usually only one of your nostrils is clear at a time, and it's the one that's opposite the side of your brain that's currently dominant.

I think that there is a feedback mechanism there -- that the nostril doesn't simply open in response to the activity of the brain but that by controlling which nostril is the open one you can affect brain function. This would account for the effectiveness of the meditative techniques associated with breathing, things like pranayama.

I've found that it's easier for me to change the Demon DJ is playing when I roll from my right side to my left.

But it's a lot easier to just listen to pieces of music that soothe and calm me. See, from my perspective music is a tool that can be used to provoke endogenous altered states. By which I mean that you can use it to force your brain to make drugs for you. Punk and metal are crank and chamber music is Qualudes.

Other sonic narcotics include Air on a G-String, Sheep May Safely Graze, and others by Bach, Let's Go Away for a While by the Beach Boys off the Pet Sounds album, the last track on Oxygene by Jean Micheal Jarre, Thursday Afternoon, Discrete Music, and The Shutov Assembly by Brian Eno, etc, etc.

But the combination of structural simplicity and repetition inherent in the composition of the Pachelbell Canon combined with the intricacy of execution on the part of the Paillard Chamber Orchestra makes this specific track the best tranquilizer I've found thus far.

You may be thinking that the term Demon DJ is a little harsh for a cognitive quirk like this one. Let me enlighten you. See, the Demon DJ doesn't just play music. Sometimes he comes up with new music -- and there are a few compositions I've put together based on these hallucinations. (Hallucination is inspiration.)

But these things you kids call mash-ups? My brain was doing that a long time before samplers hit the consumer market. If I focus I can change the instrumentation in the music -- swap piano for guitar, for instance, or change the lyrics of a song. Thing is, is that sometimes the Demon DJ will perform these kinds of manipulations all on his own.

The worst was one time when the Missus had a fondness for a Steve Winwood album -- I think it was Arc of a Diver -- and it had a Jesus-is-swell song on it.

That song stuck in my head for weeks, when suddenly the DJ realized that it had the same scansion and so on as Highway to Hell by AC/DC. So now I was hearing Highway to Hell as sung by Steve Winwood with inspirational backing.

And after weeks of this, the Demon DJ added the finishing touch. Steve Winwood was no longer singing lead. You know who took over?

Bob Dylan.

And this went on for months. I call this function/symptom/rogue sub-personality the Demon DJ because he/it is quite capable of making my head a private hell...

Friday, January 23, 2009

In Which In Which I Try To Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The President

Here's the next stage. I've made large area selections for the sky, ground, and water and have added two layers of color using two different blending modes.

Half the fun of this project is splashing around and making the blots. When I found out it was going to be raining yesterday I set some paper out -- museum board, heavy watercolor paper, and some coated stock something like a glossy plate bristol board -- and squirted gouts of black and white tempera on them. Then the rain came and washed the paint randomly all over the place.

The results are pretty darned cool. The museum board took an overall varied grayish tone, there are good blot patterns on the watercolor paper, and the coated stock just needed a good squirt of ink to turn into something interesting. I'm just worried about what state they'll be in by the time they're dry enough to move inside...

It's interesting. My reaction to Obama's election is considerably different from the people around me and it's making me realize just how misanthropic and cynical I actually am. I've always regarded these characteristics as essentially being a form of realism -- but now I am, to an extent, questioning that.

For all the talk of the significance of race in this election -- and I do not mean to diminish this -- I find myself more fascinated by two different prejudices. One is American anti-intellectualism. For the first time in a long, long time the smartest candidate won. Obama didn't pull a Bush-style shuck-and-jive where an Ivy-league son of inherited wealth tries to act like a goddamn yard man. Instead, he made a virtue out of his education and intellect. And it worked.

The other is my own prejudice against authority figures. I have to confess that when watching Obama speak, there is something in me that draws back and prepares for a fight. To see anyone -- anyone -- stand up in front of a cheering crowd and feel proud and comfortable in that situation punches a button in me.

I voted for Obama.

Let me clarify that. This is the first presidential election where I've had the opportunity to actually cast a vote in favor of someone I wanted to see in the White House. Nixon was my introduction to the concept of government and nation. Vietnam, Watergate -- when I think of government, these are the kinds of things that come to mind.

Ever since I started voting, I've always voted against a candidate. It's always a situation where I've said, "Well, Dracula does suck the blood of virgins but at least he's got a better foreign policy than the Wolfman does."

But this time around when I looked at Obama's history and stated policies I found myself nodding in agreement. The way he ran his campaign was exemplary in the sense that it should serve as an example for the future of American politics.

But to see him in front of a crowd, clearly proud of his achievements and reveling in the historical moment that he created...

... something in me said, "Uh-huh. Looks like we got us a president here." And I just don't trust presidents. My whole life I've believed that the main problem facing mankind as a species is that we are hierarchical in nature and the people drawn toward positions at the top of the hierarchy tend to be scum.

The last eight years have done nothing to affect that opinion.

But perhaps I need to step back from that. Perhaps I should consider the possibility that there are leaders who are not essentially predatory or parasitic.

I have decided to tentatively regard Obama's decisions to associate himself with people like Rick Warren as a good thing. While I don't approve of Mr. Warren, his inclusion in the inauguration gave a broad swath of the American populace a reason to feel that they were not being shut out. That's a good thing. Were Mr. Warren to be put in a position to decide social policy I'd feel differently about it but to allow him to recite a little mumbo-jumbo does no serious harm.

I don't know, though. I may or may not be able to conquer my detestation of authority and power. Maybe I shouldn't worry about it. Somebody's got to hate and it may as well be me. I'm good at it.

But maybe I should allow myself to have a little hope.

And just as an aside, I've heard two songs in the past few days that really struck me as appropriate for the way I've been feeling about this -- Pomps and Pride by Toots and the Maytalls, and Ambiguity Song by Camper van Beethoven...

All across the nation people are getting together
From many ideas they form a single goal
Some people gonna benefit and others gotta sacrifice
but everything seems to be up in the air at this time

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Short Imaginary Conversation With A Former President (Because Someone Had To Do It)

Sometimes a stained image of a mutilated dead bug
just feels right.

(phone rings)

The Oaf: President Bush, I was just wondering about your exit strategy from Afganistan.

The Shrub: It's not my problem, I'm not the president anymore. Good-bye. (hangs up.)

(phone rings)

The Oaf: And I was wondering about the way you sold off our national food stores. What with the economy, aren't we going to wish we still had those?

The Shrub: It's not my problem, I'm not the president anymore. Good-bye. (hangs up.)

(phone rings)

The Oaf: Listen, dude, as a citizen I thought it was the ultimate in international embarrassment when your old man puked on the Japanese Prime Minister but you've put him in the shade. Go ahead and rape the Constitution and the economy and all that but for pete's sake, as our nation's representative could you just stop acting like a doofus when there are grownups in the room?

The Shrub: Will you cut it out? I'm not the president. I'm not the president! I'M NOT THE PRESIDENT! Why do you keep making me tell you I'm not the president?

The Oaf: Sorry, man. I just like the way it sounds.

(rim shot and fade)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Brief Bout Of Sanity

What do you see in this inkblot? I see a river with a landscape reflected in it. Over the next few days I'll be using various Photoshop tricks to pull that image out and color it.

A Conversation:

The Oaf: Well, I was thinking about the plans I had for the semester when I realized that I was bug-fuck insane.

The Missus: ... uh ... YOU'RE ALWAYS BUG-FUCK INSANE!

The Oaf: Yeah, but figuring it out before I screw up my entire life is a brand-new phenomenon.

The Missus: Heh, heh, heh.

The Oaf: I realized that adding a major creative project to my schedule is just another self-sabotage technique.

The Missus: Well, when the creative impulse hits, you gotta run with it.

The Oaf: True enough.

So the CAPTCHA novel is going back into the compost pile to age and swap juices with the other ideas waiting their turn for execution. Yeah, I'm going nuts waiting to get back to work on The Ghost Rockers (I've found the agent I want to sent it to first so I'm shifting impatiently from one foot to the other -- it's like I've gotta pee.) but I need to channel that energy into my art projects. For the curious, I'll post the unedited totally raw first chapter in the comments.

We've almost got the stories together for the next issue of Swill. It's gonna be a good one -- our first professional writer, one of my two best pieces of fiction so far, some great noir and gritty lit -- and I need to get cracking on the illustrations.

Since the illustrations for the last two issues have been turned into prints, I'm flipping the process this time -- I'm executing them as prints first, then turning them into black-and-white illustrations. You keep hearing me say that good coloring works when you change it to black-and-white? Time to put my money where my mouth is.

And I need to get moving on my Anomalocaris, and then on to the next one in that series. And so on. And so forth.

I just need to keep myself on track. Focus, oafboy, focus.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Plots Thicken, Mysteries Deepen, And I Suck, Again

More of my early dinosaur work from that recovered sketchbook. Those in the know will recognize the Gregory Paul posture -- I was working from a skeletal diagram from Predatory Dinosaurs of the World.

I did do a feathered version but back then the consensus was against feathered dinosaurs. Well, Mr. Paul said small theropods were likely feathered and he turned out to be dead right...

So. I was able to find out a little more about whatever's going on. It seems that the first web appearance of the image I scanned and posted yesterday showed up here.

Other sources, of which I dare not speak, have informed me that the above posting is just the nose of the nightmare. I've been invited to join a cabal. Normally you don't mention this kind of thing in public -- but this particular band of conspirators consists of my entire readership, aside from a media mole or two.

On the serial: I got the feedback from my writer's group this week. Unfortunately the SF/Fantasy reader wasn't there, which means I got a lot of well-earned "What the hell is going on here?"

Which means I'm going to do a drastic re-write of the first chapter and change my approach. Instead of a post-cyberpunk influenced nugget of informational density I'm going to go to more of a Once Upon a Time approach where I spell things out and provide explanations for the readers.

Because they are weak and ignorant, he said petulantly. Because they fear the dictionary.

Thank god I've got people to bring me back from the brink of total incomprehensibility.

And I screwed up my classes this semester. Damnit. I thought my Art Marketing class was on Friday afternoons. Instead, it's tonight. Which means I have to drop my Photography class. Hopefully there's something I need on Fridays...

Monday, January 19, 2009

In Which The Cold Nose Of Mystery Is Thrust Against My Flank

It was really hard to get this image to read clearly -- after I scanned the chicken skin it took me hours in Photoshop to clean things up. But I am saving the skin texture to use in some of my work...

So the missus has this dog, Amanda. She's an Australian Shepherd and a getaway dog -- she knows there's a wide world out there filled with garbage and cat food and other tasty treats. (Like this, for example -- it's a story, not an image, I promise. My mystery-writing buddy said a) it is actually a pretty good mystery story and b) it made him gag.)

We've been having trouble with the gate lately and yesterday the missus used her feminine wiles to get the next-door neighbor to help her fix the latch. (Why not me? Because the missus still hasn't made the connection between my years of experience as a janitorial and maintenance man and my ability to handle small household repairs. For reasons involving our delicate balance of power I am reluctant to enlighten her.)

Anyway. During the repair there was a moment of inattention and Amanda cut loose and headed out in search of something repulsive to eat. When I noticed I went out and looked for about twenty minutes before giving up.

And of course half an hour after that she was cavorting on the front porch. Watching her cavort is like watching me dance. It just ain't right -- it's like the passage of an evil star through the heavens. A bad omen.

Which is exactly what it was. Amanda wound up puking all over the kitchen floor, and once again it was hard to figure out what it was she'd been eating. Some kind of raw meat but I couldn't quite figure out what it was. My best bet is stewing hen.

If you touch the skin of a supermarket chicken it's soft and gelatinous. But if you get a cock or a stewing hen that's been out in the world running around and grubbing for bugs everything about the animal is different than you get from a store-bought chicken. The bones are harder, the meat more flavorful. And the skin has a texture that's tough and rubbery.

I found a patch of skin with that texture in the puke and while I was picking it up with a paper towel it sort of flopped over and there were some markings on it. I think they must have been a tattoo. So on a whim I took it up to the studio and scanned it in to see if I could pull out a readable image. As soon as the scan was done the skin went into the compost -- let's just say you don't want me to describe the way it smelled.

What I got was the picture at the top of the post. That and a dose of the weebs and the sound of ol' Bob Dylan's voice running through the back of my head --

Something's happening and you don't know what it is,
do you, Mr. Jones?