a japanese matchbook label for spring

Byoko615What better way to celebrate the last days of winter than to look ahead to spring with another one of those classic Japanese matchbox labels. The vernal equinox is on Friday, and I fully expect that by Saturday it will be sunny and warm, the flowers will be blooming,  and I will be outside with an old school view camera, photographing an appropriate seasonal selection of puppies, kitties,  bunnies and birdies.

That may be overly optimistic, but it’s still a great label.

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the “red arrow” of the “far west”

thewolfdemonThe Professor was bemused by this color photocopy someone posted on Iowa’s bulletin board in the basement of the Noakes.  “I hope,” he announced loudly to all the part time employees and library riffraff who were lurking around the doorway of the Dreaded Basement Breakroom, drinking coffee and waiting to see his reaction, “that this is not somebody’s way of suggesting I grow a large drooping mustache.  Because that is just not on.”

Everyone shuddered at the thought.  Except for his rather unfortunate sideburns, the Professor was always meticulously clean shaven down to the collar (literally, in his case), but anyone who had ever seen him without a shirt on (which was everyone, really, necessary transformations being what they were) knew that if he relaxed his standards even for a day or two, a large drooping mustache would be the least of their problems.

“You could start carrying a tomahawk to use on people who don’t read their shelves regularly,” suggested Iowa.

“Of course not.  Blood would be very bad for the bindings.  I’ll just poison the coffee.  That way I could get all the slackers at once.” For some reason that sent everyone off to do their shelving, leaving Iowa and the Professor standing in front of the bulletin board.  Iowa was thinking about writing a paper about wolfman characters in English penny dreadfuls.  But the way the Professor was twisting his upper lip while looking at his reflection in a laminated notice to turn off unused lights made her pretty sure he was thinking about how he’d look with that mustache.

(read the Noakes Library tumblr here.)

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the accidental renaissance

Everything old is new again and some people who are wise and observant and love art have been finding interesting (and probably really not so accidental parallels) between some excellent modern photographs and Old Master paintings.   If you want to follow the links here, you’ll find a bit of bickery, nit-picky art history stuff you will probably want to ignore (hint: there is a reason I am not an art historian), but the basic premise is sound, and rather thrilling.  If nothing else, it’s good to see someone treating technically skillful representational art with a little respect.

Or just take the opportunity to look at some very fine images, including this portrait of cosmonaut Elena Serova, returned to Earth and photographed as the Madonna of the Van with the Purple Draperies.tkjgqaazddmlebuv0mu4

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accomplishing the possum impossible

Tumblr Sunday is Pinterest* Sunday this week–maybe it’s time to start calling it One Cool Image from the Visual Networks of the Internet Sunday.

The animals of Kekionga include all of the fauna of regular Indiana plus some extras, and we’ve already established the presence of the opossum in Kekionga’s “homemade folklore” with the charming  Christmas legend of the Possum Lady.

But the possum, to anyone who’s met one even casually in the yard at night, is a moderately terrifying beast.  I plan to play that up in all my possum characters. This photographer has succeeded in doing the impossible by making his or her possum subject freakin’ adorable.  Look at its little ears! They look like raisins.18a6774ea00a137980f4e8731595759d

(I’m “blackberry fox” on Pinterest, where I maintain boards on a wide variety of subjects, from doors to cars to airplanes to informative charts, plus fan stuff and funny stuff and several art, design, and photography boards.)

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best of the drawing of the day, week 150: lenny

drawingoftheday-week-150-lennyAnd here’s Lenny! This is the finished version of the penciled drawing I posted yesterday … just scroll down.  As you see, correcting the serious faults in the structure of the face (well, mostly correcting– the drawing still has problems) required taking the pencils down a long way.  And, as often happens when you aren’t drawing a specific character, when I built them back up, a slightly different person emerged. Instead of the intellectual type in the first version, we ended up with a rather arty looking boy and his funky cool pet.  Lenny, on the other hand, is a strongwilled guy and ended up looking pretty much the same as he did in the pencils.

Plus, I thought up a story fragment/personal statement to go with it, so it did turn out to be a Pretty Good Dragon.  The text is just written down rather than lettered properly, so it’s cool if you can’t read it.  The boy is saying “I can’t pronounce what kind he is, but it translates a “White Feather Shield”.  We just call him Lenny.  I’m in art school and Lenny’s posed for a lot of tattoos.”

I just decided as a reread the words that although in my mind the boy is definitely an art student (black turtleneck and trendy haircut!) he just as definitely would not say it.  I think in the finished version of this drawing I will add a tattoo showing above the collar of the shirt, and leave the question of whether he is an art student, a tattoo enthusiast or both up to the viewer.

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drawing of the day pencils

drawing of the day pencilsIt’s been a while since I’ve shared any uninked pencils here, so have a “raw” drawing of the day.  It has at least the potential to be a good ‘un, probably one of the ongoing Pretty Good Dragons series.  Of course that means I will have to write some text to go with it, sometime between here and there.  And of course, correct some of the terrible problems that I didn’t catch while I was drawing it, but which seem obvious now that I look at the scan.  (How many can you find?)

I sense some erasing and re-penciling in my future, before I even get to the inks!

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terry pratchett

This has been a bad month for the great artists of my heart. Terry Pratchett was one of my all time favorite writers, the least fantastic of the great fantasists, a great creator of characters, a worldbuilder beyond compare, and a keen student of the human spirit.

The man who created Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax (my all time favorite woman in literature) would be remembered forever for his characters. The mind that gave us Ankh-Morpork, the greatest of all imaginary cities, and the Small Gods and L-Space and Death and the Discworld itself, floating in the serene void, supported by four elephants that stand in turn on the back of a cosmic turtle, would be practically impossible to surpass as seedbed of worlds.  Even half credit for the great angel/devil story Good Omens (which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman) would be  enough to ensure his immortality.

Terry Pratchett will never be forgotten.  But, oh, there will never be another Discworld story from the original source.

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mammoths (were really big)

man with mammoth tusk-blog

Mammoths were really big.  There’s a reason their name was adopted into many modern languages as a tighter-reading synonym for that awkward phrase.  Yes, the name of the animal came first, entering Russian at the time of the first recorded discoveries of bones in around 1600, and passing into Continental languages by around 1700. Thomas Jefferson is credited with popularizing the word “mammoth” in American English.

The Russian word for the owner of the big bones is “mamant”, derived from various indigenous Siberian words usual transcribed as something like “mamut”.  The root of this word, “maa”, means Earth in these languages, and the bones were, according to the locals, those of giant burrowing ratlike creatures.  Which would be way scarier than the actual animal, in my opinion, but did explain why the bones were often found buried underground.

But it takes a photograph like this one of a modern person with the preserved tusk of what looks like a big woolly to remind most of us of just how enormous these animals must have been.  If you, like me, are a cartoonist who likes to tell stories about mammoths, it’s wise to take a field trip to a museum of natural history every once in a while to stand next to a skeleton of a restoration and recharge your sense of wonder.  Until then, come back here once in a while to look at the man with the mammoth tusk.

This is important because the temptation to make our mammoth characters smaller than life in our drawings is hard to resist.  We don’t mean anything by it, but a mammoth is hard to fit into a panel with a human sized character, and it’s even harder to show the two of them interacting.  We all need the occasional reminder of the true scale.  The next time I draw Kekionga’s resident mammoths, I am going to make them … really big.

(To read more about the quite fascinating history of the word “mammoth”, click here.  And for a good set of basic mammoth facts, you could always check the Wikipedia.  Thanks to Wolfie for finding and sending  the photograph.)

 

 

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the china beast

thechinabeast-3-blogOne of the purposes of photography, at least for me, is to reduce the acquisition of random objects, particularly those I am tempted to buy purely because I want to draw them or put them in a story somehow.  When these objects are both expensive and fragile, the incentive to just take a picture instead is even higher.

Which brings us to this china beast, which I saw at the antique and vintage object sale this past weekend.  It is a most elegant china beast, seemingly equal parts fox and corgi and Egyptian style jackal, and it will surprise exactly no one that I coveted it immediately and intensely.  If my beast had been on offer cheap at a garage sale, or if it had been made of wood or plastic or some other durable material, I doubt I would have been able to resist it.  But this china beast is made of fine porcelain, with a price tag to match. I knew it would be wisest to leave it where it was rather than let it clutter up the studio, fill me with buyers’ remorse,  and in due time leave a fragment of my heart in bits alongside it when it met with some kind of mishap.

So farewell, china beast.  I miss you rather more than I thought I would, in spite of the photographs.  How does a missed opportunity to own a wonderful china beast weigh against an image and a wise choice?thechinabeast1-blog

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walking in pine branches

toby-pinebranches-1-blogIt was long past time for the first warm day, and the first decent walk in longer than any of us care to remember.  Along the way, we came across a place where a limb had fallen from a huge pine tree during one of the half dozen heavy snowfalls we’ve had since the turning of the year.  The sidewalk there was covered in pine branches.toby-pinebranches-2-blog

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