Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Arthritis Update

 


It's been a little while since I've written about my arthritis. While the progression and the loss are (thankfully) slow, I'm noticeably worse off with each new year than I was in the previous.

In regards to my art, most of the accommodations I have made (and blogged about here) have minimized the discomfort and allowed me to focus on the creativity rather than managing the pain.

Outside of that, I get aches in my hips, shoulders, knees, and neck now. Deep aches that are easy to be distracted from during the business of the day but hound me at night.  There are hot Florida nights where I sleep with a heating pad loosely wrapped around some body part. There are moments when I get up for a drink and hobble like an old man into the kitchen.

Even when playing video games (a hobby I realize I will also, regrettably, someday have to give up), I must adapt to the limitations of my hands and the strength left in my fingers. For example, I find now in many games where a selection of weapons are available I  only use automatic weapons where I can just hold down the trigger to fire or high powered weapons like sniper rifles, where one shot does the trick.

I tell myself, "Celebrate. These are still the good years."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

interference - Space and Time Magazine #139

 

Interference - Leonard Speiser. Space and Time Magazine, Anthony R. Rhodes

The challenge was to illustrate in black and white a story about colors.

The story, published in Space and Time Magazine (#139,) is titled "interference," written by Leonard Speiser.

It's a tale of science fiction where the characters are living beings of electromagnetic energy who live and work with some of the same biases and inequality we see in our own world. As the colors begin integrating, the world changes and some characters handle this change better than others.

It's a solid work of writing, thoughtful, with good momentum. It's also the first story I've illustrated where I had contact with the author about the artwork prior to publication. This story was considered somewhat abstract when the art was commissioned. There was also the challenge of working without color. This led the publishers to connect me with the author who had already shared the idea of using a large prism casting down a spectrum of light to help visualize the nature of this world. The prism was easy to integrate and, I feel, very effective. But this illustration was also the first time I had to worry about the possibility of disappointing an author, as I was unable to deliver on part of the vision he shared with me.

In his emails the author described how he pictured the characters as beings of energy, humanoid in shape but perhaps missing key human features like hands or mouths. He was also very good to link to images online which included faceless beings of bespeckled light. So, of course, my first sketches included faceless forms. Unfortunately, I wrestled with the results and ultimately just couldn't get them to work.

Later I realized that the reason faceless characters weren't working visually was because the story had a strong character focus. If this had been a tale of adventure with energy beings blasting through space, fighting monsters and discovering new worlds as its focus, illustrating the faceless characters would have worked perfectly well. But with Speiser's tale I kept feeling that the weight of character relationships and the sober societal themes of the story required an emotional focus for the reader to attach to. So I kept the faces and erased the heads instead.



The challenge of how to communicate color in a black and white drawing was almost immediately solved when the author proposed the idea of the prism. I would just translate colors to textures and give the sense of contrasting hue. So spilling out in this spectrum there are flag-like wavy lines, coarse static, linear scaffolding (like train-tracks?), curly fibers, and muscle sinew.

The bodies of the characters are themselves made up of only texture, a twisted optical illusion of curves for one and a more traditional, artful pattern of lines for the other. In the story one of the characters is a third generation immigrant and I chose a pattern that is meant to reflect the beauty and culture she carries with her.

The author and I also coordinated a few Easter eggs into the piece. One is the building at the distance seen between the two characters. In the story, this is The Factory. But it's shape and detail come directly from two real buildings found on the Wellesley College campus in
Massachusetts (namely the Tower Court building and the top of the Galen Stone Tower.) This was a nod to the author's wife who graduated from Wellesley and is herself a strong advocate in her community for equity and other noble causes.

Other inspirations for this illustration came from historic photos during the Civil Rights Movement, the science of prisms, 1980s shoulder glam, the lines of Fallingwater by F.L.W., and a tiny touch of The Grid from Tron. 

 
 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Dead Time on Hart Island - Space and Time Magazine #138

 


When someone dies without family or friends to pay for their burial the responsibility often falls upon the state.

"Dead Time on Hart Island" is a warm, thoughtful ghost story written by author Barbara Krasnoff and published in the current issue of Space and Time Magazine (#138). The story takes place on a real world potters field located at the west end of Long Island Sound where for decades the unwanted and forgotten dead have been stacked atop one another in long cut trenches.

Interred on Hart Island are the indigent, the stillborn, the unclaimed, and the long forgotten. When the AIDS epidemic hit New York, Hart Island embraced many of its victims. Today as the Coronavirus kills hundreds of thousands, Hart Island is in steady use. There are even remains of confederate prisoners of war nestled in that soil.

The main character of Barbara's story is an inmate at Rikers Island Penitentiary. He is part of the detail of prisoners who work the island and inter the simple wooden coffins into the earth. It also happens that he converses with the dead.

"Dead Time at Hart Island" is one of those stories that feels as much about the setting as it is about the characters and events. Understanding the island and its history give weight to the story as it lays the foundations for the heavy themes which underlie an otherwise brief and lighthearted tale. 

Lucky for me there was plenty of information and pictures of the island available online and I was able to incorporate real things like buildings, machinery, and prisoner outfits into the illustration. For example, the bucket the central figure sits upon says "Harts Island" with an "s." Several of the reference photos I found included prisoners wearing jackets with this phrase hand painted on the back. I like what a little detail like that misspelling says about the attention, or lack thereof, the prison system gave to the island and it's workers.

Photos of Hart Island also informed the use of numbers in the illustration. In the real world numbered markers are scattered all over the island to denote mass grave sites. Each pit has a number as does each coffin. The coffins are stacked three or four high using the numbers to identify and catalog them.

Sketching to find the right feeling.

While the numbers I chose for the illustration were random, they are anything but insignificant. At The Hart Island Project (https://www.hartisland.net/burial_records/search) you'll find a webpage where you can actually search these plot numbers and see information about the people buried there. All of the marker numbers in the illustration are also on that website. You can type them into the search and see the names and sometimes personal information, pictures, and reminiscence of the people buried in that plot.

Without The Hart Island Project, a non-profit labor of love, most of those souls buried on the island would be forgotten completely. Just numbers in a field and on a page in a dusty log book.

The main character of the story notes several times that he expects to be buried on the island when he dies.

So in the illustration the numbers on the markers, the coffin, and the character's jacket are meant to be a visual association both about this man's fate with the island and a statement about the parallel dehumanization of the discarded dead and the state prisoners who lay them to rest.

As an added statement, the one thing in the illustration that actually does have a name is the large industrialized machine; “CASE” being a real brand of power shovel.

Often I wonder if it's better to reveal secrets or leave them to be discovered on their own.  In this illustration there's a character modeled after American author Dawn Powell (who was half Irish and who's remains are actually interred on Hart Island). Another character has a hint of Billy Porter in his style. There's a nativity feel to the cluster of figures in the upper half of the frame for which only my subconscious can take credit (this would've been enormously more amusing if the character's name had been Jesus). The opening notes were written by Sondheim.

The penguins are there for Barb.




Tuesday, July 7, 2020

After Altera - Space & Time Magazine #137

After Altera, Space and Time Magazine, Narnia, C S Lewis


After Altera is refreshing new story by author Andrew Reichard, recently published in Issue #137 of Space and Time Magazine.

The story begins with a young girl climbing out of the old family wardrobe having spent a lifetime in the distant world beyond it. The story then focuses on the challenges and social isolation that result from having an adult brain in a child's body and the distant dysfunctional dynamics of the family the main character now suddenly finds herself reinserted into.

There's a moment in the middle of the story where the "girl" and a classmate with a developmental disability are talking and I very much wanted to use this for the illustration. I don't recall ever seeing a person with Down Syndrome, for example, illustrated in a magazine. It would have felt good to provide some representation for those families. I had the whole picture mapped out and there would have been elements of fantasy galleons in combat to keep things interesting. But in the end this would have been a very self-serving illustration and would not have honored what I thought was the core of Andrew's story; the intellectual isolation; the internalization and external social exile.

Putting the characters in one picture but distancing them visually and psychologically seemed a better option.

Sometimes I wonder if it's better to reveal secrets or leave them to be discovered on their own. In the illustration there's a forest, a lion, a light post, a very wardrobe-like mirror, apocalyptic stars, a particular college's team's logo, and more. The lighting and perspective lines for each of the characters are deliberately individualized to help visually isolate the players while they share the frame.

There was some difficulty getting the expression on the the girls face right. But eventually she came through (hopefully) looking pensive, longing, and like an old soul who's seen some shit in her lifetime(s).


After Altera

Friday, May 15, 2020

Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown: Completed

Anthony Rhodes, Sarah Avery
Click the image to view
With Sarah Avery's dark Fae serial fully published, I thought I would post all three images side-by-side. I've also gone back and updated each of the three blog posts with new information about colophons, hag stones, bed sheets, bearded dragons, and more. =)

Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

Link to Part 3

Monday, April 6, 2020

Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown (Part 3)




The third dark Fae illustration is finished and with it my six-month journey living in Sarah Avery's serialized story Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown, currently published in issue #136 of Space and Time Magazine.

How fun it was to have this story fluttering around my brain. Dark faeries, dark deeds, and heroic and intelligent characters. Part 3 leads us deep into the Fae barrow where our heroine's courageous rescue attempt comes to it's dramatic conclusion.

I'd been looking forward to this part of the story. Early on I knew I wanted the faerie world to have some hint of art deco/art nouveau and that I was going to try throwing a little Harry Clarke inspired patters at it.


In some ways sketching is like auditioning actors.
 I love the sass of this fella but he just wasn't the Lump I was looking for.


However, it was a rough start. I was disappointed with my initial thumbnails but things started to fall in place when the background took form and, thankfully, the detailing pulled it through. I'd been looking at  Bernie Wrightson art lately and reading Junji Ito and I can see a little of each sneaking unannounced into parts of the illustration.

We're closer to the main characters now and it allows for more detail and the shading of the human figures to contrast more obviously with the lack of shading in the Fae. Perspective and dimension are deliberately thrown a little askew to give the barrow a slight disorienting feel.

Over the last year, as the three illustrations have been published, I've posted to Twitter and Facebook photos of the story's title page against a colorful patterned background. That patterned background was my bed sheets (I just sat the magazine on the bed). But from the beginning I knew that sort of flowered, curly textile was where I wanted to head. Here in the last illustration I was able to literally incorporate that pattern into, again, the background.

Sometimes I wonder if it's better to tell your secrets or to let someone discover them for themselves. Throughout the process of illustrating the three parts of this story I couldn't shake the feeling that these Fae characters were somehow connected to the history of the Imlen Brat, another universe written by Sarah Avery. I mean with a magic transporting mound that can appear anywhere (and perhaps any-when), who's to say? But for the life of me, I couldn't point the viewer to any particular clues across the illustrations, even if they were in fact there. Aren't the shape of the mistress's wings pretty and somehow familiar?

In the end, I think it's a strong finish to a strong story.

Flashlight, Knife, and Flowered Crown





Thursday, December 26, 2019

Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown (Part 2)


The second part in the "Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown" serial, written by Sarah Avery, has now been published in Space and Time Magazine issue #135 (Dec, 2019).

In the first illustration, I tried to capture the terror of having your child abducted by faerie. Here in the second illustration, I try to convey the gravity of that threat. The Fae do not take great care of their child-pets and dispose of their emaciated and mummified corpses in one of many vaults with their other broken treasures. Our hero must transverse one such vault on her journey into the faerie barrow to rescue her son.
Character sketch of our heroine in detail.

I decided to pull away from the characters and feature the room (that horrifying room). I will note that we are getting closer to the Fae characters as the illustrations progress. 

For a while I tried to feature the bearded dragon in the foreground, but couldn't get it to work.


One of the difficulties of working at this detail level is trying to make the illustration simple enough that it reads at the published 6x4 inch size. At last count, there were 72 tiny kiddie corpses in this illustration, then I added a few more where they were needed. Grandma always said you should never be stingie when sprinkling the landscape with malnourished infants and preteens. Each child is unique. Nina is there. Many have their own brief backstories.

I'll briefly share one such story.

--One of the children, one of the most beautiful the faerie had ever taken, had autism. This child refused to drink the nectar fed them, finding the texture beyond aversive. The nectar is what magically preserves the bodies of the children, and without it this child's has faded to nothing but bones.-- 

Sarah's story has elements of enchanted items, objects with attitudes and personality, and for the most part I never planned to feature this in any of the three illustrations but I was just able to hint at it here by putting frumpy faces into the background pillars.

I think I may have figured out why the children call him Toady.

Also scattered about are a number of broken art treasures from throughout mankind's history, from the Olmec to the Egyptians to pre-historic Peruvian Chancay dolls. Sarah and her family keep pet dragons and I thew a bearded one in for them (the fat rodent, however, is just there for a quick lunch).

For the illustrator, the most important words in the story.


Here too we begin seeing the transition I mentioned in my blog about Part 1; a transition into the textiles and shapes of the Fae world as we stand just outside the doorway to their realm. Next illustration should feature these type of forms prominently with the human characters maintaining the style established in the first two. We'll see if it all works.









Tuesday, December 17, 2019

More Adaptation




I'm calling this a life saver. Finally got around to wrapping my WACOM stylus so that I don't have to painfully hold my arthritic fingers to a tight point.

Tattoo artists do this often and I used some of their recommendations, going with medical tape as the main padding. It took a little getting used to and, at first, felt like drawing with one of those comically large novelty pencils. But by the end the results were obvious.

I managed to work on the illustration with little discomfort and no need for icing or pain relieving creme until the last three hours of work. Normally, I have to stop and take a break after two hours of drawing.

A big win for these achy digits.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown (Part 1)

Sarah Avery, Space and Time Magazine #134


This is the first of a small set of illustrations I'm doing for the story Flashlight, Knife and Flowered Crown, written by the very talented Sarah Avery and published across the next few issues (#134-136) of Space and Time Magazine.

It's a story about faerie abduction and a badass mom prepared to do what is necessary to rescue her child.

It's a detailed, clever, and exciting tale with smart characters which is just as enjoyable on the third and fourth readings. The text is longer than usual, which is why it's being serialized across three issues. Upon being assigned to illustrate the first part of the story, I practically begged to illustrate the rest.

This will have been the first time I've done multiple illustrations for a single story. There were fleeting thoughts of how to integrate the set (a visual thread that connected the images when you placed them side by side in sequence) but this was abandoned when I realized, in order to avoid accidentally getting ahead of the story, I needed to know where the cuts were to occur across issues. This, of course, was no minor task for the publisher, Angela Yuriko Smith, requiring her to plan part of the magazine content several issues ahead of publication.

Eventually I decided to abandon interconnecting the set. In order to avoid jumping ahead of the story, I chose a moment which takes place sometime before the narrative begins --a playground, deceptively pleasant, but with something curious off in the distance. 



Early Fae sketch, too aggressive and inelegant.


While the illustration set will not interconnect, I did find a visual narrative to run through them, deciding that as the story progresses out of the modern world and into that of the Fae realm, I would transition the style. Hopefully, this will provide a nice otherworldly sense to the later half of the tale, and provide a unspoken contrast that these human creatures are not of this magic place. How well this will come across, we shall see. But taken as a set, I think it should work. This is why the fairy in this first illustration does not have the shading lines as the other characters. Things work differently in the realm of the Fae. It is also why I used a thicker pen for the modern world. It will help contrast the human characters later with their environment, and again, hopefully provide a sense of 'otherness.'


In the lower left corner of the illustration is a long, smooth hag stone. Why a hag stone? It's not part of the story as Sarah wrote it. Visually, I needed something in that space. Legend has it that hag/witch/adder stones, when viewed through the hole naturally formed within them, can reveal the hidden world of the Fae. I found it ever more tragic that the parent, who's point of view we take in the illustration, could have witnessed and perhaps even thwarted their child's abduction if only they'd known to look through that stone at their feet. Also, it fills that fucking gap in the lower left corner.

Sarah's story was so enjoyable on first read that I immediately pulled up Amazon and purchased her book The Imlen Brat with it's gorgeous illustrations and an memorable colophon of a seven-pointed crown over a jumping dolphin by Kate Baylay. I'd finished reading the book before I'd finished the illustration and there are a few less-than-subtle choices I made with that book in mind. Colophon is a lovely word, is it not?

Looking forward to continuing on this journey. I find it nice to have just one story to tumble around in my head over the next six months.





Monday, September 30, 2019

LAFFCON4 Poster

RA Lafferty, Reefs of Earth


Laffcon4 took place in June of 2019.

This year I had a bigger role in things than usual, taking responsibility for choosing and negotiating with presenters for the event and with contributors for the conference booklet. I organized an international Lafferty inspired poetry contest. I also managed the website & social media, did the layout, and published the program booklet. This year's poster was also mine

The visual theme was Lafferty's novel "The Reefs of Earth," about a family of goblin-like alien children Hell-bent on destroying humanity. The illustration had to be pulled together quickly. References were taken from pictures of Depression-era children. 

In the story there are six Dulanty children (seven if you count Bad John) [which I did not]. Working on the piece I began to realize that the imagery was coming across as too Holloween'ish. This led to the removal of the old dead tree painted into the background and my choice not to include Bad John, who is a ghost. 

Kevin Cheek will be organizing next year's event.
I'm looking forward to going back in 2020 and in focusing just on the artwork.
 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Adaptation


Just finished a new detailed illustration for Space and Time Magazine and, again, my hand was none too happy about it (osteoarthritis). So, in the spirit of adapting to getting older, I experimented with icing my hand every hour or so. It did nothing for the pain, but wonders for the redness and swelling. There's a creme for pain that works well. Next time, I'll try alternating heat and ice and I still need to find some foam or padding to wrap around the stylus so I don't have to squeeze quite so tightly.

The illustration will appear in issue #134, available for purchase in multiple formats on September 23, 2019.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Twisted-Up Things - Space and Time Magazine #133



Space and Time Magazine commissioned me for a second illustration. This time for a story by author Evey Brett titled "Twisted-Up Things."

Twisted-Up Things takes place in a fantasy world but with slightly more   technology than the average tale (shotguns and pocket knives exist). For me the story has notes of Shelly's Frankenstein and a more serious and personal undertone than the last illustration I did for Space and Time.

I had a lot of stops and starts with this one. I liked the characters and my first instinct was to illustrate my favorite scene when the main character finds their first semblance of peace and acceptance on an old farm. The illustration would have been in my usual cartoonish style and would have had shadow fey lingering in the shadows and corners of the frame. If it had been a book, I would have loved to have completed this illustration for the interior.


But then over the course of a few days the story began to sink in and I realized this scene was too calm and peaceful, wasn't necessarily going to visually draw in the viewer, and generally misrepresented the soul of the story. More importantly, I realized that my cartoonish style could not do the story, or the author, justice.

So I tried something new.

One of the best illustrated Frankenstein stories is Bernie Wrightston's Frankenstein. I've admired the detail and style of those images for a few years now and I loved the idea of trying to shade the image without crosshatching. Finally, I had a use for my old magnifying glass!




Eventually, I settled on the image of the main character curled in pain in a hay loft. Other elements from the story filled in the open spaces and even the shadow plays a purpose.

References were from Bernie's Frankenstein, old barns, fantasy spiders, Ren-Fair leatherwork, and some ancient and not so ancient symbols, but NOT any reference to actual hay. I was having just too much fun drawing squiggles to try and make it look like real hay. Plus, i decided, "You know what? Why wouldn't this hay be as twisted as anything else in the world? Those troublesome fae!" And that made everything better.

I'm very happy with the style experiment and proud of the illustration and to be a part of this story. The only drawback was that my hands were aching like all get out through the whole process. All those little lines took a tole on my osteoarthritis.

Worth it, though?
Absolutely.



Monday, November 19, 2018

Stinky, Stinky Little Pig - Space and Time Magazine issue #132


Stinky, Stinky Little Pig
 
Recently I was fortunate to illustrate a story for issue #132 of Space and Time Magazine.

Space and Time has been a creative institution since the 60s, featuring a broad spectrum of short stories, poetry, and artwork in genres from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and weird fiction. It was an honor to provide an illustration and a particular joy being inspired by this story. I especially owe thanks to art director (and fellow Lafferty fan), Diane Weinstein for making this possible.

[Warning: Spoilers]

Stinky, Stinky Little Pig is a tale by author David Sandner about a taxing encounter between an aged Lewis Carroll, a grownup Alice Liddell, and one of her young sons.

In an odd coincidence, I have always been drawn to the lives surrounding the "real" Alice in Wonderland. In the mid-1980s there was a movie titled Dreamchild which focused on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. It's been a while and I cannot speak to the quality of the film now, but the movie left a profound impression and throughout my life I've read several books specifically about Dodson and the Liddell family. Many of those books are still in my personal library.

So then, as I flipped through the story pages provided by the magazine and it is revealed this is, in fact, a story about Dodgson and Alice, I unexpectedly found myself gasping and tossing the manuscript across the room. It was frighteningly fortuitous that my first experience professionally illustrating a story should be on this subject.

I couldn't finish reading the story immediately. Instead, I Googled the author. David Sandner is a professor of English and scholar of Romanticism and children's literature. I remembered from school that Romanticism encompassed art and illustration as well as prose and poetry and I started looking for something in those works to inspire my illustration for this story. 

I found that inspiration in The Sleep of Reason  Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya.


The image of the dreary artist haunted by woes embodied by wildlife guided my own concept. One difference of note: Goya's monsters are focused upon the man, whereas mine are hidden and dismissive; as if the character is haunted not by their leering eyes but the lack thereof, the exception, of course, being the dodo.

I drew upon a number of references and interspersed as many clues as I could fit, from Dodgson's home at Oxford to Tenniel's original illustrations for Through The Looking-Glass; from portraits of Dodgson to photographs of Alice's children; adapting them as best I could to my cartoonish style.

In total it was a fulfilling experience and in so many ways a dream realized. 

Click image to enlarge


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ike's Chili on the Guna Slopes

RA Lafferty, Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes


Upon my first reading of the R. A. Lafferty story “Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes” I missed this; a reference to Ike's Chili Parlour. Ike's Chili has been a Tulsa staple since just about forever. It's the oldest restaurant in Tulsa and it has long held legendary status in my family. This September they celebrate 110 years of business.

It was the custom of my grandfather to take the family to Ike's Chili, gorge themselves, and follow the meal with a spoonful of vinegar taken from a glass bottle off the table. The vinegar, grandfather argued, broke down the grease and helped cleanse the palate. Of course, it's no coincidence that only the men in the family engaged in this sour tradition. And what men they were.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gray Ghost - A Reminiscence


I rolled a three. Dead man Captain John said that he had a seven. I put a dollar bill in his bony hand when it came up. I shivered when I touched its bones. I was never meant to play games with a dead man.
--  R. A. Lafferty, “Gray Ghost: A Reminiscence”


A personal note about the first part of the story:

Growing up in Tulsa, I lived close enough to the Arkansas river that I was regularly warned from playing on the islands of sand that formed when the water ran low. The river ran low often because it was choked by the Keystone Dam. The islands that appeared were full of air pockets and loose sand and were wholly unstable. The street runs close to the river in several spots and you'd occasionally see someone doing something foolish out there in the middle of the water. I had never heard of anyone digging into the sand as they do in the story, but the threat of the environment was very real as a part of my childhood.