Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trickster art previews from the next book

Next project on the horizon now? I've made some brief mention of it in my deviantArt journal, but here it is in more detail.

Brought to you by Impact Books, the same guys who published my Dreamscapes last year. Working on a followup book now.

Kelly and Pam approached me at GenCon last year to ask if I'd be interested in doing a second book. I told them honestly that while I would love to, I wasn't quite sure what I could impart in a second book that I hadn't already covered in the one. I really did put everything into Dreamscapes, or I thought I did at least.

A bit later in the year, after the shows, Kelly asked me again, this time proposing maybe something to do with tarot.

I mulled over that a bit. Tarot's rather a narrow and specific topic. But what about what inspired me to do my tarot to begin with? What about the folklore and legends and myths and archetypes that the the tarot and major arcana in particular embodies? The tarot was just one mode of my expression of those archetypes.

Here will be another. The chapters will not be as in depth to a specific subject as Dreamscapes was; but more of an exploration of a multitude of fantasy archetypes, and examining how to touch on them and draw inspiration from tales, and of course lots more specific step by steps, drawing and watercolor techniques to concentrate on for each segment.

The chapter I just finished is on Tricksters. With as many forms as they have wily pranks and methods of escape from sticky situations of their doing (or undoing), Tricksters are a favorite of mine. The profusion of foxes in my artwork alone should speak for that. Specifically the fox spirits huli jing of Chinese stories (and of course there are kitsune in Japanese tales as well). My mother used to tease (and still does) my father not to fall victim to the illusions of huli jing when he was off on business trips to Asia.

When I was studying at Berkeley, I was poking around on the internet one day and came across a story, about a man who had the (mis)fortune to be loved by two women, both of who came into his life under mysteriously circumstances. One of whom turned out to be a ghost, and the other a fox spirit. After reading it, I rushed off somewhere, in that perpetually late state a student is in.

I found I couldn't stop thinking about that story though, so when I had a chance to catch my breath and free time presented itself in my life again, I tried to hunt it down. I was dismayed that I couldn't find it.

Used bookstores press in from all sides of Berkeley. You could go to a different one each day of the week. Finally one day I came across a book entitled Chinese Ghost and Love Stories. It had a horrid yellow cover and the binding was half falling off, and it was an English translation of a German translation of "The Liao Chai Stories" (now there's a roundabout route of translations!) You could almost imagine the puff of dust flying escaping as the pages crackle open.

But it had the story I was searching for, as well as many others. Chinese fairy tales: ghost stories, and fox spirit stories. In which the ghosts and spirits are not evil beings; though their morality is not quite in step with that of humans. They are drawn to and fascinated by humans. They long for an essence they no longer (the ghosts) or never (the fox spirits) possessed. Like moths to a flame. They hover around the bright flare of humanity, sometimes wreaking havoc with the strength of their yearning. And yet they are an integral part of the world and the natural order of the universe that they exist in, and there was an intimacy and a naturalness to their stories.

* * *

More ramblings and art previews from the book as I go!

Friday, February 27, 2009


Took BART back from the city. Public transit is much preferable to dealing with rush hour Friday night traffic bursting out of San Francisco's seams as the clock hits The Hour. Make my way down those familiar steps, down the hallway that echos with with the discordant harmonics of two warring musicians vying for donations at opposite ends of the corridor. Down the second set of steps to the train and then thunderrumblerattle through the tunnel that takes me across the bay and back to Oakland. There's a funny smell to the car I'm in, but it's too crowded to risk giving up my seat by shoving my way to another car with a less odoriferous character.

The train screeches to its halt at Lake Merritt. My brain is still in the semi-comatose state that a full convention day always seems to leave me in. Spending all day every day alone in my office and painting away doesn't give much opportunity to practice the more engaging social talents. I do enjoy the shows, and while at them there is no noticeable strain. But once I'm alone I feel the drain. Step step step up to emerge back into the night.

The scent pierces through the daze, and involuntarily I smile as the fragrance swims through me. I remember it from when I used to live at Lake Merritt and took BART every other day. The trees near the station exit are in bloom, and their sweet and delicate perfume makes my whole body sigh in relaxation. Like the breath I did not know I was holding while on the train (holding all winter) finally exhaling.

I forget about those trees every time, a day or two later. And then some time will pass. And then I'll take a late night train home. Usually from the city, packed into a car, people and old carpet smells, mechanical station announcements, lugging bags up the whirring escalators....

And then that all falls away when those outer glass doors open and I breathe in the scent of my old friends.

Dana's there to pick me up. We drive back to The Foxhole. A scant half hour to toss my convention bags in a corner, grab a hasty bite to eat, pull my mind back from its drifting orbit, and grab up the flamenco shoes and makeup kit. The day's not allowed to be over yet. Back to La Taza de Cafe for the second show of the evening with Bernadette, Monica, and Garnada. Fusion flamenco and belly dancing show. A wine glass gets overly excited with my footwork during our new bulerias number and decides to join in. It skirts to the edge of the table, and as I execute a turn, it emulates me with a somersault to the floor. Poor wineglass.

Poor Monica who has to continue the rest of the show still, barefoot belly dancer around invisible splinters. She manages to avoid mishap.

It is a small, but appreciative audience tonight. They seem to truly enjoy the show, engaging in it, watching us with the enchantment plain on their faces and in the occasional exclamations we overhear.

* * *

While at Wondercon today, a few pieces completed during the quiet lulls. Sneak peak for some illustrations for upcoming Fantastical Visions IV:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Magical Suitcase of Holding

Friends at conventions always make fun of my "magical suitcase of holding" that I manage to stuff most of my whole booth setup into for the shows. Appearing harried (and usually sleep deprived for time jumps to the east coast) on the day of, frenetically pulling out everything out in a whirlwind of prints and easels and art.

It's a little easier for the local shows. At least I don't have to pack everything down to miniature size and play guessing games with "How close are you to the 50lb. check-in luggage limit?" Not having a bathroom scale makes it a gamble.

"That's 51.5lbs," says the bored Delta check-in agent. "$25.00, would you like to pay that with cre--?"

"Wait a sec," I interrupt, unzipping the bag and hastily trying to redistribute 1.5lbs into my carry-on instead while those waiting behind me shift from one foot to the other in boredom and impatience.

"You're still .5lbs over," says the agent.

Rummage, rummage, rummage. Now the gambling game has turned instead to a game of chicken. The agent breaks first. "Okay, fine," she grumbles after I've been searching unsuccessfully to find that last .2lb item for the past minute. "It's good enough. Here's your seat number, gate number, have a nice flight. Next please!"

* * *

So I'm off to set up for WonderCon this weekend. Local show, so a little less scampering to do. Unfortunately will have to fight my way through San Francisco rush hour traffic to get in and set up later today. Not looking forward to that part. But the show will be fun. It's amazing how much it's grown in the past 7 years. I remember taking a peek at it in 2001 when it was still a baby show in Oakland at the Marriott hotel. Now it's grown to a quite respectable size.

Friday - Sunday
San Francisco Moscone Center South
747 Howard Street
For detailed information, see:
"Coming off its biggest and most successful year ever, WonderCon is gearing up for its 23rd year as a Bay area tradition. The comics and popular arts convention returns to Moscone Center South for another three-day weekend run on February 27 through March 1. More than 29,000 people attended the show in 2008, and 2009 promises to be another incredible convention experience for fans from all over!"

I will be set up in the exhibit hall artist alley area with prints, books, and originals. Booth AA105, listed in the program book under Shadowscapes. Please feel free to drop me a note if there are any special requests for any prints or originals you wish to see at the show.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Flamenco Bug

It's evening, close to midnight. I've just come home from La Taza de Cafe after a show with Middle Eastern band, Garnada. Muscles ache with a pleasant twinge of exertion. A slight flush to my skin from the one glass of sangria I drank - the gift of Asian genes that turn my cheeks bright red with the mere scent of alcohol. The blush makes people think I'm drunk even when I've barely had a few sips.

Scrub the makeup from my eyes. I hate wearing makeup. Bern (the other dancer) and I both. The two of us wiping the lipstick off as soon as the show is over each time. The musicians laugh when they see us doing that. I think of shellac when I touch that crimson stick to my lips, painting a red "O". I think of the shellac Stephen showed me once in his studio, that he coats on the guitars he makes. It turns the rough sheets of wood into gleaming and beautiful instruments, coated in a layer of clear honeyed gold.

An old friend showed up this night to watch; from my software programmer days. Another lifetime. Sometimes it feels I have many lifetimes compartmentalized into this one existence. Can all the people of those disparate identities coexist in the same space? Or would that cause an implosion?

He got a nice front row seat. Not in the "poor people" section as we call the back side of the restaraunt, behind the pillar where the late reservations are seated. No, it was front and center, in the "our footwork will rattle the silverware right off your plate" (and sometimes right off onto the floor!) table.

He knew I danced, though he'd never come to see it before. Having seen it now, he had questions: How long have you been at it, where when what?

Dana loves it when I tell people of the Berkeley days - when I first caught the bug. It's an addiction I was warned by someone, by multiple someones, right from the start. You'll catch the bug. The first classes I took whetted my appetite. Then I met a guitarist, just starting out as well. There was an old house on the lot that he rented; squeezed right up against the main house with barely any space to breathe between them. This is the Bay Area after all. A quarter acre for a lot is huge. Most places...much smaller than that. The landlady ignored that second house, letting it fall to disrepair. It had no electricity, no water. The carpet (where there was any) was old and dingy, and the wood stripped.

We started to use it for practice space - me, the guitarist, and another dancer. After classes and homework and studying - computer science, biology, chemistry, anthropology; we'd meet there, slip out the back door of the main house and into that run-down shack. Candles and matchbooks in hand. Set the tea lights all along the windowsills. The light flickered up at the bare and useless bulbs in the ceiling, and glimmered in the black mirrors the windows turned into.

He'd play his guitar. Seviannas, Alegrias, Solea (my favorite), rippling through the small space. Anything, everything. We'd dance. Sometimes we'd practice what we had learned. Sometimes we knew the styles from class. Sometimes we made it up. It didn't matter, there were no critics present. The shadows shattered across the walls from the multiple light sources, shivering with the surreal aspect of it all. And then sometime after midnight - 1AM, 2AM, there would be mutual consent that the night had to end. Blow out the candles, and head back out into the cool night to our apartments scattered across campus.

I have romantic notions at times. Like wanting to take my sketchbook out to sit on the rock beside the pond in Tokyo to sketch the koi. Within fifteen minutes the mosquitoes dissuaded me from that fancy when I realized that in the time it had taken me to get situated and dig for my pencils I had acquired at least three golf ball sized bites along my legs. And that rock was not nearly as comfortable as I had imagined it would be! Or wanting to just close my eyes and drift when floating in that wonderfully buoyant salt water embrace of the ocean...but self preservation says you idiot, you know how dangerous that current could be? Eyes open, watch out where you are. Or the magical garden I dreamed of having when I was bouncing around rented apartments, for the house I would one day own...but that garden is now at the mercy of my less than green thumb, paired with relentless allergies.

Maybe it's just memory that alters and paints those flamenco sessions with a gloss of romanticism, but I don't believe that's the case. By contrast to those ill-fated notions of what I think I want reality to be, this actually was. I think even then that I knew it was a strange reality I was participating in that was an odd disjunct from the daily routines of studying and programming and stressing and exams; an odd gleaming thread in the fabric of that time.

My rehearsal sessions these days have a much more mundane veneer. Though now there are no longer candlelit jaunts in forgotten houses, that memory for me is linked with flamenco forever. Ingrained memory of exhilaration, abandonment, freedom, and utter immersion in movement and music.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

78 cards later

Here's life after the tarot --

Well, backtrack a bit.

June 2004 I started on a project to create a tarot deck. 78 pieces of art. Not for any client, just for my own pleasure; though I soon found embarking on a long project like that, regardless of whether there's someone holding purse strings on it, sets its own terms.

It had to be cohesive: in style, in tone, in color. Concerns about the first item on that checklist did give me pause. I knew that without someone actually paying for the project to happen, it would necessarily take several years to complete. Over the course of which my style and skill was bound to change. At least...I should hope skill level would change (One could wish for the better, right???). And the second two items, well, those are the parameters for the pieces really. The boundaries I'd have to work within.

When I got down to #71 and the end was in sight, I started to wonder what it'd be like when I was done. For so long now (over 4 years) my "free time" has been dictated by "the next card." I have the paying jobs I do on commission. And when I'm not working on those, it was the tarot.

72, 73, 74 slipped by in between conventions. Then paying project deadlines and holidays took over briefly. Signing with Llewellyn to publish the deck. Hurry up finish the rest now that there's an actual deadline for THIS too.

75, 76 between mouthfuls of Thanksgiving turkey. I can see the end.

77 with my brother's dog running neurotic Australian shepherd circles around the table and around the Christmas tree. Reluctance a bit...what will I do when this is done? Don't think about that too much. Write the book.

78. Send it all in.


Now what?

Do I have to learn what this thing is called "artist's block"?

I think artistically it has pushed me to be a better artist in numerous ways (forcing me to paint male and female figures in equal number, facilitating gradual experimentation of perspective, size, and color). I can see the differences from the first cards to the last, and could bore anyone with the details of the progression.

Even though the project was my own from start to finish, dictated by parameters I set myself, it was still a boundary. A safe zone for me to fall into easily. While it may have stretched the technical and craftsman's muscles in my brain, there hasn't been need to really push and brainstorm wild concepts and subject matter. Or even color schemes for that matter; since for the sake of cohesion I focused on matching color sets for each suit.

So now I sit here for the first time in years and with a bit of "free time" again... and there's no "next card" to work on. No fixed color scheme to match. Any subject, any colors. It's a bit daunting. My paper seems too big, too white. My palette seems too varied and overwhelming. Green. No, purple. No with purple shadows!

It's a lovely feeling to do a piece of art again "just because I feel like it". Not that I felt the lack before, because I loved every minute of that 78 card journey, and am very proud of it. But it's a feeling of freedom you don't really notice until it it's there with you again.

Ink drawings of the nearby ravine have been sprouting under my hands; with a profusion like the greenery that they depict (rain rain rain this past month). And some dragons; with any colors I feel like painting!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tomatoes, Poppies, and Art

My husband and I went to Home Depot yesterday on a plant-buying mission. Our garden was in need of some additions after a horde of invading oxalis weeds had been forcibly removed. The battlefield of raw upturned dirt and stone that resulted called out for something to cover it.

California poppies, he suggested, and I agreed instantly with the idea. The image of golden orange flower cups swaying the breeze was tantalizing, a romantic image, reminding me of some paintings I’d done in the past. Reminded me of bicycle rides as a kid along half-wild pathways under the freeways. An added bonus: a drought-resistant native plant so that we wouldn’t have to wrangle with a sprinkler system and pull out the instruction manual to figure out watering schedules.

It was looking to be a dry year. Midwinter already had already passed, and not nearly as much rainfall as we should have gotten by this time. It felt like spring already, and we were just edging past January. The jasmine had been fooled into flowering - a fact which the onset of my pollen allergies was adamantly reminding me of every morning. So there we were at Home Depot, in the gardening section, scratching our heads as we pondered the racks of seeds. Finally we settled on a packet, grabbed it, paid up, and headed out.

The next day, Dana admitted to me sheepishly, “You want to know a really stupid thought I had yesterday at Home Depot?”

“What?” I asked.

“I was looking at the tomato seeds, and I thought, ‘Huh. Those look a lot like the seeds of tomatoes.’”

I laughed. I walked away to the kitchen. Did some chores. Watered some plants. Took out the poppy seed packet. Laughed again at Dana’s tomato seed naivete. Then stopped laughing as I realized the thought in my head the previous day when I first picked up the packet of poppy seeds was, “Huh. Those look a lot like poppy seeds.” As in, the poppy seeds on my bagels.

Now I’m not a complete gardening novice. I’ve got my little herb and vegetable pots with tomatoes and fresh basil every summer. Long planters filled with strawberries along the edge of the terrace. But I’ve never tried growing anything from seeds.

That moment of realized stupidity was a bit of a reminder of how far removed we are from what we eat. The fruits and seeds we shove into our mouths…are just faceless supermarket product, magically engineered and appearing in our refrigerators and pantries. They have no link in our heads to a real life cycle, to a natural world of seed, germination, flowering, fruit. Of course I know how it works intellectually. But the connection of that knowledge to the supermarket tomato in my hand, or to the poppy seed Bagel I get from Noah’s, has been severed by our food culture (or lack of). Without that link, they’ve lost their meaning, shoved from hand to mouth without appreciation.

And what’s the link of all this to Art?

Does artwork that revels in nature also suffer this disconnect? If at such a basic level of what we intake three-plus times a day, there is a removal from the life cycles of the world, how can there be any true appreciation of what nature means, and the beauties and intricacies of it? The painting of a tree, no matter how faithful, is just a painting of a tree. It is as manufactured as that supermarket tomato with its hybrid genetically engineered suicide genes to prevent any of its seeds from ever even dreaming of becoming a real actual plant. What a dire thought.

Or maybe that painting can be the jolt of realization that makes its viewers remember the shadow of the oak tree that used to hang across their doorway, or the scent of the jasmine that would waft through open windows in the summertime. Maybe that painting can be the link to re-forge an appreciation of our connection to the world around us.

Only if the artist who created it had the eyes to see. I try very hard to open my eyes to see.