Interior Illustrations for the Labyrinth of Flame

Last year I had the very good fortune to be asked to create interior illustrations for Courtney Schafer's book "The Labyrinth of Flame". This was the third book of a trilogy and, as such, Courtney wanted it to be something special. It's long been an ambition of mine to do interior illustrations, so I was thrilled to be asked to help bring Courtney's story to life. The world and characters she's created are richly developed and her storytelling fast paced and thrilling.  Illustrators don't always end up working with stories they would read anyways, but is It was a true pleasure to become absorbed with Courtney's adventure during this process. I'm truly grateful for her and her fans for supporting this project and my involvement.  You can purchase the book on Amazon.

Gorgeous cover by  David Palumbo

Gorgeous cover by David Palumbo

And here are a few of the thumbnails:

Month of Fear 2014

I only just realized I never posted all my 2014 Month of Fear work here!  Bad, bad artist. The 2nd annual Month of Fear was AMAZING. Truly the best art yet- I was so inspired! You can check out all the amazing images and challenges at monthoffear.com. 

I think I made some of my new personal favorite work with this year's challenge as well. So here are the images and if you want to read the full stories about them, check out my Month of Fear page here.

"Leviathan"
18 x 24 charcoal
For the 2014 Month of Fear challenge: Demons

"Rabbit"
18 x 24 charcoal
For the 2014 Month of Fear challenge: Things that go Bump

"False Muse"
18 x 24 charcoal
For the 2014 Month of Fear challenge: What are you Afraid of?


"Unmase"
18 x 24 charcoal
For the 2014 Month of Fear challenge: Masks

Arisia and Art Books



It has been a very busy couple of weeks with a lot of good news. Let's start with a couple of announcements:

I'm very excited to announce that the Inspired by ArtOrder challenge book is finally available for pre-order! Check it out here: http://www.theartorder.com/blog/inspiredartbook



Some of the amazing art in the book: left to right: Rebecca Yanovskaya, Wylie Beckert, Marc Scheff, Jon Picacio, Tara Larsen Chang, Kristina Carroll

I can't tell you how excited I am for this book. Not only is it a stunning group of artists and stories, Jon Schindehette did an exquisite job of putting it together. It's a very limited run- so don't miss out!

Speaking of books: I am honored to announce that I had three pieces accepted into the 3rd annual Infected By Art Book!

Leviathan
Charcoal 18 x 24

House of Leaves
Charcoal 18 x 24

Intelligent Design
Oil 6 x 6


There are so many wonderful artists in this and the judges for this annual were several people I have a great deal of admiration for, so it felt extra wonderful to get into this book. Thank you!

Also,  I had the pleasure of showing work in the Arisia Art Show this past week and had a great experience.  My good friend Lee Moyer was the Artist Guest of Honor and so it was extra great to get to see so much of his work (he had over 100 pieces in the show!) and catch up a bit with him.  But the good news doesn't stop there. I arrived at the show on Saturday to find a few surprised on my art: 



That's TWO awards! Frog Queen's Revenge won the Chairman's Choice award  and Dragonslayer Artist Guest of Honor award. (Lee had to run it by the committee. It's a common problem within this community, I think, as so many of us know each other already) 

And if that weren't enough, Dragonslayer found a new home with artist Max Martelli! (who had some lovely Lovecraftian pieces on the panel next to me) I was sort of sad to see it go as this is one of my favorite pieces but glad it has  found a new home with someone who enjoys it!

Max taking Dragonslayer home with him
So thank you Arisia, for being such an enjoyable experience! I will be doing Boskone's art show as well next month, so here's hoping for another good run! 

Finally: February is just around the corner which means, you guessed it, the 3rd annual Month of Love challenge! 


  
We have a shiny new website and an all-star roster of artists this year. Click on the banner to see what's new and how YOU can join.

Ok- that's all for now. Check back soon for more art and news!

Adventures in Charcoal - Prologue

Minotaur quickie sketch
powdered charcoal, charcoal pencil

Let me start by saying I love the internet. Social Media, while still massively flawed in many ways, does make it so easy to share information instantly and start a conversation with a ton of people.  A few weeks ago I put out a call on Facebook for input on charcoal brands. I've been loving the charcoal lately and  now that I am getting more comfortable with it, decided I needed to do some serious testing of the different options to up my game. Namely I wanted to find a charcoal with a smoother and more consistent application than what I have been using.   I got some great suggestions and immediately took advantage of all the Dick Blick back to school sales and free shipping to fill out my burnt wood collection. Charcoal is a very tricky mistress. She's messy and flexible which is what makes her fun but a little hard to control sometimes. 

So in the spirit of art and the scientific method: I bring you Adventures in Charcoal! (feel free to hum some dramatic music)

Here are a bunch of my new (and some old)  toys I will be playing with :

It's like Christmas! I must have been very, very naughty to get all this coal. 

 The new players: 

Alphacolor charkoles recommended by Bill Carman

Coates recommended by Scott  and Teresa Fischer


Pan Pastels recommended by Eric Braddock and Dale Stephanos
Eric used these on his amazing Lord of the Rings drawings.

Nitram recommended by Robert Hunt

I really wanted to play with some of those big sticks, so tried out a quick experiment with the Nitram charcoals right away with this self portrait below.


Self Portrait
18 x 24
nitram charcoal on 300 series Strathmore charcoal paper
Right off the bat I noticed that the Nitram holds onto the paper better than a typical vine charcoal.  Often I prefer the 300 series charcoal pad from Strathmore because it has slightly less tooth and so I can float the charcoal on top a little easier, move it around with a brush or chamois and erase to white. The flipside to that is building up darks gets tricky. But with the Nitram I can build it up a bit thicker, get some darker colors and still erase. It doesn't go on quite as smooth as a soft vine charcoal but is still pretty consistent. Plus the larger. firmer sticks really lend themselves to filing into useful shapes which I will discuss more in a later post.

Over the next several weeks I will be experimenting with all of these more and posting my results. So please stay tuned and let me know if you have your own tips and tricks!

Figurative Friday 6 - Self Portrait

It's been a while since I did a proper self portrait from life and it was about time I captured the crazy hair anyways. Plus, I just got a huge supply of new charcoal toys to play with and couldn't wait to try some out . I will talk more in depth about the different brands and how they are to use in a later post but so far  the Nitram is quite lovely.
Nitram Charcoal on Strathmore 300 series pad


Figurative Friday 3 - Robin Williams


It's a strange thing grieving for celebrities. You think of their families, their friends and wonder what right do I have? Who are we to claim any ownership over the loss of someone we've never met?  And as an artist, what authority do I have to communicate that loss in my language? 

But in our culture of entertainment, there are certain people like Robin Williams who do become family. We grow up with their presence as a constant in our lives. Through the television, film screen and stage, they reach out and help shape us into the people we become. For me and many of my generation, Robin was so much. He was our Genie, our Peter Pan, our doctor, our father figure.  He taught us to laugh at ourselves through alien eyes,  to see homosexual relationships in a very human way, to embrace the weirdness of life and never stop laughing at it. In the way only someone who would make you laugh until you cried could, he taught us that inner darkness was not a thing to hide or ignore.

I am really going to miss all the things that he could have taught and the laughter he would have created.

Fear, Love and Art Order


Inspire
 1. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative:
2. To cause (something) to happen or be created
 from the Latin inspirare 'breathe into',

In October I hosted another month-long art challenge blog called Month of Fear with over 20 artists contributing. There was a ton of tremendous new work from everyone and I created some of my favorite work of the year as a result.

As it happened, Month of Fear coincided with an exciting contest hosted by Art Order called "Inspiration". Ok, so the truth is, it was not really a coincidence. The Art Order Inspiration challenge was actually a huge  incentive for following through with MoF. October was always my first choice for another art challenge BUT it was shaping up to be a very busy couple of  months. MoF very nearly didn't happen because I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed. However, wanting to push myself not only to  create something for Art Order but ready for another creative work-out like Month of Love , I found myself lying awake one night thinking things over. Suddenly a bunch of challenge ideas sprung into my head.  I turned on the light, wrote them all down and got really excited. The next morning, before I could talk myself out of it, I sent out an email to my trusty Month of Love family and a few more and we were off! There is nothing like the pressure of hosting an art challenge to silence excuses.

I've combined all my challenges with their original text below. I love charcoal and have been looking for an excuse to do more with it. Each piece was done in only a day or two (mostly weekends between teaching classes all week, other art and visiting family) so beyond all else, I am very proud of myself just for pushing my finishing speed/output. I'm particularly happy with challenge 2 (Passage) which was an image I've had in my head for a while but never got right until now and number 5, (Equinophobia) which was so much fun to play with in regards to texture. But it was number 3 (House of Leaves) that pushed me through a little conceptual wall and out the other side and a very satisfying way. It was the challenge I really wanted to do the best with, because the I have such a love for the subject matter. Often as an artist, the more you are attached to a subject, the harder it is to visually do it justice. This time,  however, things seemed to line up. The resulting image is not only one of my favorites of the year but it won a place in the ArtOrder Inspiration book!  Have a look at the other winners- what an amazing line-up. I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Now on to the present for a moment. I am excited to announce that due to popular demand,  Month of Love is going to run again! We now have even more amazing artists joining the line-up and this year is going to be even bigger. We liked the MoF format with the longer challenges and staggered posting system, so we're going to be adopting that for MoL.

On top of that, we have some  ideas brewing for our  art from these challenges.

So get ready- February is going to be a ride!  Follow us on twitter for updates and stay tuned! https://twitter.com/MonthofLove

Without further Ado- The Month of Fear:

Challenge 1: What Lives Under Your Bed?


Sub/Conscious
18 x 24 Charcoal
It's funny how many artists have trouble sleeping. I have rarely had that problem. I do however have a very vivid dream-life and a lot of anxiety so my sleep is too often full of activity. All the things that might keep others awake at night follow me into sleep and transform into every manner of nightmare.

Sometimes I wish I had insomnia.


Challenge 2: What is Your Recurring Nightmare?
Passage
18 x 24 Charcoal
I used to dream of flying all the time. I still do occasionally...but it's different now.When I was younger, it would be free and controlled. I would zip around, land on rooftops to watch people or sometimes even become a hero with magical powers. However, as I grew older, the dreams started to change. I had to concentrate a lot harder to fly or I wouldn't be able to control my speed and go up way too high then start falling or get stuck somewhere, having forgotten how to get started again. Then there were the wires. It would start fine- I would be flying great, ready to soar above the city and go wherever I wanted but suddenly there was a set of telephone wires in my way. I would try to go around but there were more. They were everywhere. At last, I try to go between them but I quickly get tangled up.

The worst part is when they start to electrocute me.


Challenge 3: Do an illustration for your favorite horror story.

House of Leaves
18 x 24 Charcoal
 I read House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski a few years ago and it is not only one of the best "horror" stories I have ever read, it is one of the best books I have ever read. I have always been drawn to labyrinths and everything about this book is a labyrinth.

It's very difficult book to describe. There are multiple narrators, each with individual stories, who peel back layers of a core story: a family moves into a house where things immediately start going strange. Its clear this more than just a house. A black closet appears out of nowhere and it is discovered that the house measures larger from inside than out.  Then a hallway appears that eventually leads to a massive underground labyrinth. Characters attempt to explore and then things get really interesting for not only the family, but each narrator that in turn attempts to uncover the truth.

 But all this isn't really just a book... It's more like a three dimensional work of interactive art. The way the book is written is very unconventional. The words on the page are often rearranged to reflect something happening in the story. Sometimes it's the madness of a character. Sometimes it's the speed in which you follow someone down miles of stairs. Sometimes it's the passage of time. It's often hard to follow but when you finally solve the puzzle of how to read a passage, it is that much more intimate and rewarding a story.



 
Challenge 4: What Terrified You as a Child


Run
18 x 24 Charcoal
Growing up, nearly every place I lived in had multiple floors and several of them required me to climb or descend stairs in order to get to and from my room either on a second floor or a basement. Even my ancient grade school had several floors with trembling creaking wooden stairs that I had to use to get to the bathrooms next to the creepy boiler room. While the worst stairs were always any basement stairs (obviously), pretty much any stairs seemed to trigger every scary story I had ever heard up to that point. Going down them was like a slow decent into inevitable horror- I knew something was going to be waiting down at the bottom.  (Especially when my bedroom was in the basement and I would go to bed after watching Unsolved Mysteries. ) Going up stairs, I was always being chased. Even now I occasionally have to feed the compulsion to run up stairs instead of walking.

Challenge 5: Pick a Phobia and Illustrate it:


Equinophobia
 There are so many interesting phobias out there. Fear of Gravity (Barophobia), Fear of Beautiful Women (Caligynephobia.)... More obscure and one could argue more interesting than the Fear of Horses. But the more I thought about it, the more I just couldn't get the  image of horses out of my head. Between Henri Fuseli's Nightmare horse and the familiar Carousel Horse (why do they always look like they're terrified and screaming?), this one needed to get exorcised. A bit rushed due to a very busy week but I think it does the job nonetheless.

Challenge 6: Illustrate a Halloween memory or write your own scary story to illustrate.



The Face in the Window
18 x 24 Charcoal
The Face in The Window
(A quick Halloween Story and Illustration by Kristina Carroll)


 "Three in the morn. The soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. "
-Ray Bradbury from Something Wicked This Way Comes

She lay in bed staring at the ceiling. She could probably move if she wanted to.  She tried to tell herself it was only that she was afraid to wake her husband, not that there was a larger dread lurking at the edge of her vision.  A growing certainty should she turn her head toward the window, there would be something there and the moment she saw it,  acknowledged its existence,  was the moment it would be free to attack.

She turned her head toward the window next to the bed.

A face stared back at her from outside.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am. Again. 

The woman stared at the ceiling for a few minutes but knowing she wouldn’t get anymore sleep that night, rolled out of bed and walked to the living room. She sat on the couch, glanced at her desk in the corner, with its piles of hand-written outline notes and a few chapters stacked around it on the floor. She turned on the TV and sighed. 

The dream had started a few months ago. It was always the same: paralysis, fear, look, face in the window, wake, 3am. It didn’t matter how many times it happened, it was always new in the dream. It was always the same fresh terror. 

The worst part is that it was happening with more and more frequency.




When the sun came up, she made coffee and breakfast for her husband. She told him she’d had the dream again. Wasn't it weird that it was always 3am? He said she shouldn't read too hard into it and asked if she’d gotten any writing done while she was up. She looked down and stirred her coffee.
What was the point of having Insomnia if you can’t get anything done?

It had been nearly three months, he said. Maybe she ought to start looking for something part time at least.  Then he kissed her on the cheek and was out the door.

She sat at her desk and stared at her notes for a while. She rearranged a few sentences but soon the words began to blur. She yawned, went to the couch and fell asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.
The door slamming jolted her awake.  Her husband was staring at her from the hallway and it was already dark outside.  She cleared her throat and asked if he wanted her to order pizza.

She lay in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to move. Finally she was able to turn her head toward the window next to the bedA face stared back at her from outside. A hand pressed up against the glass.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.

She spent the morning running errands. She bought a new notebook thinking that she just needed to work on something completely new for a few days to shake her out of her current block.  When she finally got home, she found that she needed to make room for the new groceries and while she was at it, she should probably clean the fridge too.  The notebook lay forgotten on the counter.

She began to make a nice dinner even though she knew her husband was going to be late coming home from work. That had been happening more and more these days as well. He would joke that having a creative wife was an expensive luxury.  She took some pasta from the stove and turned toward the sink to drain the water. She glanced out the window above the sink briefly and then dropped the entire pot on the floor. The shock had forced her to look down and jump back from the scalding water but she immediately snapped her head back up to the window.

There had been a face. She was certain of it.

Trembling, she leaned across the sink to look into their large backyard.  It appeared empty and even if there had been something there it would have tripped the motion sensor lights. Even a large mouse would trip those.  It was probably just the lack of sleep and her own reflection in the glass. Still shaking, she began cleaning up the mess.

A face stared back at her from outside the window. A fog bloomed on the window from its dark mouth.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.  She stared at the ceiling and waited for her heart to slow as her husband snored softly.

She went into the kitchen to make some tea and found the bowl she had left out for her husband still on the counter.  She hadn’t even noticed him come home, it had been so late. She tossed the contents into the trash and put the bowl in the sink.

They had a dinner date with friends the next day. Their friends commented on the dark circles under her eyes and said she seemed a little bit jumpy. Still, they were very proud of her for being so brave and following her dream. They asked when they could read something from the new book. Soon, she’d said. It’s getting there. Her husband ordered them a third round of drinks.

Empty eyes gazed out of a pale face and a hand pressed against the glass, leaving streaks as it slid slowly down the pane.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.

She was sitting on the floor staring at the half-empty pages of notes strewn around her when her husband finally woke up. Red-eyed and slightly hung-over, he grumbled something from the hallway and she said she would make breakfast while he showered.  As she stood and stretched, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye and spun toward the window. There was nothing there. Probably just a bird outside, she told herself but when she looked down at the glass, she thought she saw a fading hand print for a moment. Then she blinked and it was gone.

 Knowing her husband was running late, she wrapped up his breakfast and put his coffee in a thermos. As he grabbed both off the counter, he told her she shouldn’t have let him sleep in. Now he would definitely have to stay late tonight. Don’t wait up. His lips missed her cheek as he swept out the door.

Dark lips slowly opened and closed in its white face and soft hissing sound began to emerge from the mouth.

She woke up with a start. It was 3am.  She was alone in the bed.

She must have eventually fallen asleep again because she woke once more to the sound of the shower and smell of burnt toast. She stayed in bed until she heard the door slam and the car pull out of the driveway.

On her way to the store, she turned the radio up louder than usual and tapped her palms aggressively on the wheel to tinny pop-music. When the station suddenly began hissing static, she reached for the tuner but a something made her glance up at the passenger window.  

A pale face with a black, gaping mouth and hollow eyes stared back.

There was a loud crunching sound and a jerk and that snapped her head forward. She had rear-ended a large SUV in front of her. Shaking, she opened the door of her car to the sounds of shouted curses and pointing fingers.  The left, front side of her car had folded like an accordion. The SUV barely had a dent. Still, all she could do as the policemen and tow trucks did their waltz around the scene was to keep glancing at the window of her car, looking for evidence she knew she wouldn't find. In the taxi, she kept her eyes resolutely down at her hands for the entire ride.

When she finally got home that evening, there were shouts, accusations and slammed doors.  She lay in bed alone all night and would not sleep. Even with her back to the window, she felt a cold dread like breath on her neck daring her to turn around.

The next day she sat at her desk staring at blank pages until the shadows grew long outside. She saw movement out of every sideways glance and in each mirror she was certain that it was not her own face that stared back at her at first but the haunted, gaping face from her dreams. When the skies began to darken, she turned on every light in the house and closed all the curtains. She drank so much coffee that her hands shook but eventually her eyes got too blurry and her limbs got too heavy to fight.  She stumbled into her empty bedroom where she collapsed without turning off a single light.

She woke with a start. It was dark in the room and it was 2:59.  That felt wrong but she couldn't remember why. She shivered.   Her mind was slow and her vision fuzzy as she turned over and then immediately realized why she shouldn't have. Her senses suddenly sharpened as she gazed toward the window.

The black mouth made gulping motions like a fish. Dark, hollow eyes stared back from a pale face. A bone-thin hand reached up slowly, grasping.

And it was no longer outside.

She woke up with a start. She was standing outside but didn't know how she’d got there. It was dim and cold. She was next to a house and there was a dark window by her head. Disoriented, she did the first thing she could think of to get her bearings. She pressed her hand against the glass of the window and peered in. As her gaze traveled around the room inside, an icy chill crept over her. It was a bedroom. It was familiar. Her eyes wandered from the sleeping figures in the bed to the nightstand.

The clock read 3am.

The woman in the bed opened her eyes. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson


charcoal/digital
Neil deGrasse Tyson is simply one of my favorite human beings. The joy, passion and eloquence with which he discusses (and defends) science and astrophysics makes me grateful we share stardust. I've had this charcoal drawing floating around for a bit and decided I needed to toss some pixels onto it and share.

I am so so SO excited for his sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos next year:


(if you don't get chills watching this, we can't be friends)

It's Halloween in July! A song and a drawing.

So one of my best friends, Lucy, who is a very skilled musician (fun fact: she is also one of the three "Wyrds") has been doing this extraordinary weekly song-writing challenge through the Ignition Lab. I've been watching with delight as every week she writes, composes and records a new song, with a new baby no less! This week was especially fun, as she got to write about one of her favorite subjects: Halloween.

It was also fun because she had an image floating in her head during the process so decided that she needed some art to go with the music. She got in touch with me and commissioned a quick Medusa sketch to go along with the song. I hadn't even heard the song yet, but on Sunday I sat down  with my charcoal, then my wacom and came up with this:
Medusa
Charcoal and Digital
And today I got to hear Lucy's song for the first time! It is fun and catchy and you should go listen too:


See all of Lucy's and the other Ignition Lab ladies ' videos here.