Sad Happy (from Fairy Tail)

"Sad Happy," mixed media

“Sad Happy,” mixed media

Here’s Happy from Fairy Tail looking sad. I worked from a screen shot of the image, dropping the background. I have no excuses this round about my blue being less than ideal. (Click for a happy Happy and excuses.) I know watercolor blue lifts very easily. For the non-painters, I just mean you can take the color back off easily by brushing it with water. I wanted a bold cerulean blue, so I intended to paint several layers, but subsequent layers tended to lift previous layers. My round brushes were particularly streaky, so I switched to a flat, which, of course, wouldn’t work in the nooks and crannies. I used Cotman’s blue, which is a student grade paint made by Windsor & Newton. I only have a couple tubes of Cotman’s and the Payne’s gray is so separated and awful that I vowed to evade Cotman’s forevermore. I don’t know if I can blame Cotman’s for this, though–seems like user error. I have another cerulean by a brand named Soho, which is so cheap I’m a little afraid of it. My Soho blacks are chalky and clumpy, but after vigorous mixing they seem alright. Maybe I could try Happy in another blue.

Blue aside, I received an early birthday present of Faber-Castell pens. (Hurray!) It’s a set of eight Pitt pens, the wallet set. I used the smallest size (XS) for my outlining. I need to get better at speed lines to keep the widths the same. When I wobbled too much, I tried to hide it with a thicker line, which might be worse than leaving the wobble. I’ll just have to keep practicing. I used the widest round-tip pen in the set for the eyes, and by the end there was a piece of marker string trailing like a loose hair on a paintbrush. I don’t know if that was a fluke or a sign that the pens aren’t so super after all. I really liked the idea of avoiding the need to deal with cleaning and changing ink cartridges, which just might be the only way of having and using true art pens.

After the outlining, some of the shading looked even paler than before, and the blush lines on Happy’s cheeks and nose had pretty much disappeared. I had painted over the blue with a fine brush using predominantly alizarin crimson, but it wasn’t nearly bold enough. Using watercolor pencils, I added lines, but I didn’t add water to them, so they’re really just pencil lines. I also traced a shadow line around the interior of the eye outline because the starkness was just wrong and the shading I had used before, again, had become too pale against the contrast of the black ink.

There you have it–sad Happy, runny nose and all.

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Book Review: Shifting Shadows

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs; Cover art by Dan Dos Santos--Normally I totally love any cover by Dos Santos, but this one struck me as a bit too passive and generic, which may have been a bit of the goal since it's a collection of stories, mostly without Mercy in them.

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs; Cover art by Dan Dos Santos–Normally I totally love any cover by Dos Santos, but this one struck me as too passive and generic, which may have been a bit of the goal since it’s a collection of stories, mostly without Mercy in them.

Shifting Shadows is a collection by Patricia Briggs of stories set in her Mercy Thompson world. I suppose if you’re a bigger fan of the short story than the novel this could be the place for you to start reading about Mercy’s world, but really Shifting Shadows is meant to deliver the more, more, more that Briggs’ fans want.

Shifting Shadows consists of ten short stories and two outtakes from Silver Borne and Night Broken–to clarify, these are not scenes from those books, but scenes not included in those novels. Of the short stories, four have never been published before. Briggs assures us that this collection contains every Mercy Thompson story written to date, so this is a way to have them all in one place. Each story is preceded by commentary from Briggs clarifying why that story was written and where it fits within the timeline of the novels.

As aways, I was delighted with Briggs’ work. It’s hard not to gush. The stories are wonderful–I love her writing. Instead of prolonged praise, I’ll give you a quick idea of what each story is about.

Silver: “Silver” tells about Samuel and Bran becoming werewolves and meeting Ariana. It’s the saddest tale in the set, but we know what happens later.

Fairy Gifts: “Fairy Gifts” tells of the son of Chinese immigrants in Butte, Montana. Thomas encounters a vampire and a faery in a story of hate, revenge, and love. You know Briggs makes it feel good in the end.

Gray: “Gray” is a ghost-vampire love story set in Chicago.

Seeing Eye: “Seeing Eye” tells of Tom meeting Moira as he searches for his kidnapped, undercover brother.

Alpha and Omega: “Alpha and Omega” is the story of Charles meeting Anna, and the only story in the collection I had already read. I liked it so much I had hunted down a used copy of Alpha & Omega, the SFBC edition that included this short story plus Hunting Ground, Cry Wolf, and Fair Game.

The Star of David: “The Star of David” tells David Christiansen’s story of his daughter, who had never wanted to see him again, calling him up for a favor and possibly redemption.

Roses in Winter: “Roses in Winter” is a really terrific story (I’m holding back on the gushing) of the Moor and Kara, the child who was turned too young into a werewolf–her father appealed to Mercy for help about his daughter in Blood Bound.

In Red, with Pearls: “In Red, with Pearls” is a mystery told from Warren’s perspective that begins with an attack on Kyle.

Redemption: “Redemption” is told from Ben’s perspective and shows him uncomfortably reacting to the need to protect one of his coworkers. Briggs includes a bet with Adam that Ben can’t avoid cursing for a certain length of time to avoid what would have been the otherwise obligatory curse every other word of the narrative.

Hollow: “Hollow” is the only Mercy story in the bunch. Mercy takes on a ghost case after the events in Night Broken.

Silver Borne Outtake: This scene shows Samuel and Ariana together.

Night Broken Outtake: This scene shows Adam and Coyote in the hospital.

If you like Mercy and Anna’s world, then you really should read these (along with everything else Briggs has written).

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Lap Dragon

Lap Dragon with Pixie

“Lap Dragon with Pixie,” 7.5″ x 6″ watercolor, Kirito, Pina, and Yui from SAO II 

Winter is coming–the forecast predicts a night of ice and snow. What better time could there be for a feathery, blue lap dragon? And if that wasn’t enough, his blue fluffiness is cushioning a slumbering pixie. When this image appeared in last week’s Sword Art Online I thought I might just die of the cuteness. Kawaii!!

Pina and Yui

Pina, Yui, and Kirito

For those not aware, that’s our hero Kirito in his tell-tale black taking a nap in his cabin with Pina the dragon and Yui the sometimes pixie. 

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Sword Art Online: Sinon

Sinon in watercolor

Sinon in watercolor

As far as currently running anime go, my favorite is Sword Art Online. My favorite female character in SAO is Sinon, pictured above with her fabulous green-blue hair and eyes. Sinon appears in Sword Art Online II.

Sword Art Online begins as an online game that goes wrong. Players log into the game using head gear that puts them in a brand new type of full-sensory virtual reality, which consists of an entire fantasy world. Players can experience a complete fantasy life, engaging in adventures or setting up house. At least that’s the idea. But as soon as hoards of excited gamers log in, the Game Master removes their ability to log out. The only way to return to the real world, he explains, is to defeat the one hundred floors of the game. If a player dies in the game, that player dies in real life. If a family member unplugs that player, then the player dies in real life. As players begin dying, survivors must quickly adapt to the lifestyle and dangers of the virtual world. Those eager to escape press forward, facing increasingly difficult obstacles. Others take advantage of a world without law, and others simply give up.

Kirito is the hero of SAO. Kirito is predominantly calm and collected. He earnestly wishes to do the right thing, and as he battles against the difficulties of SAO, he uses his brain, skills, and brawn to move forward–he’s a very likable character. Kirito decides that it’s his responsibility–along with that of other capable players–to clear all of the floors and save everyone, especially those incapable of taking on major battles. Kirito begins as the classic loner, but as the story progresses, he accrues friends and allies, most notably Asuna, a leader of one of the organized fighting groups.

Sword Art Online has been a major fan success. The characters are engaging, the anime artwork is beautiful, and the story has depth and originality. After the initial story arc completed, new ones were added, including new virtual worlds and dangers. Along with the traditional fantasy world of SAO, there is a world built on Nordic and Celtic myth, called Alfheim Online (ALO). Characters in ALO select a fairy creature for their avatar, so familiar faces change somewhat, particularly with the addition of elf or cat ears. The myth smash-ups in ALO make my head want to explode, but the story’s still fun. Gun Gale Online (GGO) offers a post-apocalyptic looking world full of guns and mercenaries, but our hero manages to bring the SAO feel back by picking up a GGO-version of a light saber. Sword Art Online began as a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara. Along with the anime, SAO is also available in manga form. I’m sure we’ll continue to see new worlds for as long as the fan base is eager and the writer is writing.

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Happy from Fairy Tail

Happy, watercolor and pen

“Aye, Sir!” Happy, watercolor and pen

Here’s Happy, the flying cat from Fairy Tail. I painted him at night when the light wasn’t so great, so I deserve the splotchy blue I created. Also, I’m an utter newbie with pen AND I grabbed a size larger than I thought I had, so I about swallowed my tongue when I started drawing with it. Still, Happy just makes you want to smile, doesn’t he? I like him, but my husband thinks he’s mean.

Fairy Tail is an anime that isn’t really based on fairy tales. Instead, the story is set in a world of magic. Magic users join guilds and take on jobs posted at their guilds. Fairy Tail is the name of one guild, and Fairy Tail follows the adventures the characters of that guild pursue. It’s a light-hearted, child-friendly series that’s just plain fun.

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Book Review: Hell Bent

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

Hell Bent by Devon Monk: This is another cover that did not work for me. Generally speaking, person-with-gun on cover equals an instant rejection. Devon Monk’s name is the reason I read the back jacket copy. Counter to the cover, guns do not dominate in the fighting within the story. It would have been way cooler to see artwork illustrating the protagonist’s ability to destroy anything around him. In fact, he has to work hard not to.

Hell Bent is the first book in Devon Monk’s Broken Magic series, which focuses on some minor characters from her Allie Beckstrom series. You don’t need to have read them in order to read Hell Bent. Just know that some minor characters in Hell Bent get special moments now and then because they’re major characters in the Allie Beckstrom series.

Back to Hell Bent.

Hell Bent is that rare urban fantasy with a male protagonist, Shamus Flynn, and possibly even aimed at a male audience. Within a firmly gritty atmosphere, Shame notches the stakes up to downright abrasive. He’s so dislikable that you wonder why you kind of like him. Shame is a death magic user, and it becomes more and more clear that his magic is doing something to him that causes him to act like an addict. Shame zones in and out without realizing it, and his difficulties with other people have a great deal to do with the fact that he really doesn’t want to suck the very life out of them–except that’s just what his magic wants to do.

Shame is a breaker. Only when two magic users are soul complements do breakers exist, and their magic is deadly. Shame’s breaker partner is Terric Conley, a life magic user whom Shame has been avoiding for years. However, the government has discovered breaker potential and is hunting down breakers for use as weapons. People Shame cares about are being targeted, and an assassin Shame would rather kiss than kill is on his tail. As the plot heats up, Shame must foster the death magic within him while somehow managing not to kill the people he’s trying to protect.

Monk’s voice is really strong in Hell Bent. Shame is a very distinct protagonist. In the first chapters I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep reading about such a jerk, but Monk revealed just enough reasons why he might be acting the way he was acting to keep me curious and reading.

The story is set in Portland, with a focus on NoPo, although the characters get around town. Shame is a hard drinking, heavy smoking, quickly killing kind of guy. His breaker partner is a gay graphic designer, and most soul complements are couples. While Shame has difficulty carrying on a regular conversation with someone, Terric has been running a high-level city position and covering for Shame’s multi-year hiatus from work. In this world and time, breakers “break” magic in order to accomplish magical wonders, but it becomes increasingly clear that something else about Shame is broken, too, and possibly-maybe Terric is broken as well.

The protagonist’s name caught my attention. My brother’s name is Seamus, so at first I was just weirded out by how wrong the spelling was, but I also had a really hard time believing–I still haven’t–that anyone named Seamus would accept the nickname Shame. Even if the person would embrace that name, how could their friends call them that? It was jarring enough to constantly remind me that this was fiction in a way that people flinging about magic just didn’t do. I imagine the nickname was supposed to tie into the character’s darker feelings, but…

If you’re genuinely looking for a gritty urban fantasy, Hell Bent delivers.

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Werewolves: A Painting

Werewolves (12"x10") is a watercolor based on the artwork of Francis Tsai

Werewolves (12″x10″) is a watercolor based on the artwork of Francis Tsai

I love the writing of Patricia Briggs and lately I’ve been paying more attention to graphic novels as I’ve recently taken the plunge into manga. It only made sense that I pick up the graphic novel representations of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series. (I confused myself a fair amount on the first book by reading–or trying to read–it from right to left–it actually took me a couple pages of wondering at the incongruities before I could break free of my own idiocy. Baka!) Amongst the books, I immediately and strongly preferred Mercy Thompson Homecoming, the graphic novel of an original story, over the remakes of her regular novels. It’s hard not to compare two versions of the same story, and my love for the originals runs deep, so it would have really taken a lot to for a remake of any kind to shine nearly as bright. I also preferred the artwork of Homecoming, which was done by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo. (The covers are by Dan Dos Santos. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a definite weakness for picking up books with covers by Dos Santos. I can’t quite seem to help it.)

I added glow around the wolves eyes.

I added glow around the wolves’ eyes. At first I didn’t want to go with the square teeth, but then I decided they added a bit more were to the wolf, so I kept them square. I kind of love that his ears are glowing even without obvious back light. Minor regret: I wish I’d angled the head to the side a bit more like Tsai had. Mine isn’t nearly as menacing. Note to self: there is much power in the angle of the head.

One of the most impressive things to me about comic art is how they work the perspective. The first two pages of Homecoming are really engaging. Page one shows several shots of open landscape in four thin panels. The bottom panel involves looking down at a chain link fence. Turn the page and you have a full spread that I attempted to remake in the image at the top. The biggest difference (besides skill level) is that Tsai was not using watercolors and achieved much darker images, the wolves coming at you in menacing black with the background all sketchy, blotchy fabulousness–and a smooth, glowing moon. I really like how his design achieves a sense of “Oh, shit!” because the monsters are on you NOW.

Rarr!

Full size, although the photo isn’t as clear as it could be. I like how splotchy his body turned out, but I don’t think I got the watercolor dark enough to merit the push off foot being the same shade as the fence pole. Ah, another regret.

Not until I looked at Tsai’s painting did I realize the true perspective potential of a chain link fence. Toss hundreds of pounds of werewolf on a fence, and it’s going to bend. Want some diagonal lines to indicate action? Want some odd perspective to make the viewer feel off balance? Use a chain link fence being vaulted across by werewolves! A little moonlight supplies a gleam to one side of the metal and suddenly with the simplest lines they’ve got clear depth and connectivity with the overall image. I have never felt so much warmth towards a chain link fence! I admit, I drew parts of it over and over. I decided to freehand it for irregularity in the smash up, but I wasn’t sure how best to bend it. I wanted it more bent up than the original, mostly just because it seemed fun, but then I decided to quit playing around before I messed up my paper.

I used a white gel pen to highlight over the watercolor.

I used a white gel pen to highlight over the watercolor. This one claimed to be a .4 but it was the same size as the .8 that I also picked out. Ah, well. Maybe I’ll get my hands on a thinner white next time.  I really like how malformed the werewolf on the right is. He is an amalgam of man and wolf, distorted into the monster you see before you. The wolf to the left has a lovely coat of ivory black–warmer than the others–and his glowing eyes and wolf teeth both came out nicely.

I took longer on this project than average as I determined how I would try to do various things, but I liked seeing it on the easel. They look so fierce! I’d see them and go “Rarr!” which brought up a recurring discussion with my husband. He doesn’t think “Rarr!” is appropriate for werewolves. But I don’t think they’re in howl mode. They’re in eat-you mode. Rarr!

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Book Review: Night’s Edge

Night's Edge

Night’s Edge by Barbara Hambly, Charlaine Harris, and Maggie Shayne: This cover really doesn’t do anything for me. 

Night’s Edge is a collection of three novellas: Dancer in the Dark by Charlaine Harris, Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne, and Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly. All three are paranormal, suspense romances, with an emphasis on paranormal suspense. If you’re wondering what I mean by novella, each story is about one hundred paperback pages long. Night’s Edge is well-themed reading for the spooky month of October.

Dancer in the Dark connects with Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series in that it features a pair of characters who appear on the sidelines of some of the Sookie novels. Layla Rue is a dancer looking for a higher paying job to cover her university expenses. The job she’s auditioning for would require performing with a vampire. At the end of the performance, the vampire would bite her. Sean O’Rourke, an older vampire known for his standoffish nature, becomes her dance partner and quickly realizes that there is something Layla is afraid of–and it isn’t him. As Layla’s past catches up with her, she discovers the person she trusts the most is a vampire.

Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne features Kiley Brigham, who has just bought a house that seems to be haunted. Since Kiley is renowned for her journalism work of denouncing paranormal charlatans, she initially believes someone is attempting revenge for one of her features, but the more it seems that her house might genuinely be spooked and dangerous, the more likely it becomes that Kiley will have to ask Jack McCain, the local psychic she’s been targeting for her next exposé, to come to her house and do some ghost busting. Jack believes helping Kiley out would get him off her radar; the complication is that if her house truly is haunted then Kiley could finally get the evidence she’s been looking for that Jack is absolutely the fake she’s accused him of being.

Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly revolves around Maddie Laveau, a belly dancer and tarot reader, and the Glendower Building in New York City where she rents space to teach and where her young roommate, Tessa, practices ballet. When Tessa disappears one night from the dance studio, Maddie eventually finds her deeper in the building–along with the hostile voice of a man and later the appearance of Phil, a musician who is living in the practice space. As she struggles to pinpoint the danger, Maddie worries about Tessa and wonders whether Phil is a threat or a friend. Hambly cleverly builds the mystery so that the reader is guessing whether the story will reveal itself to be of a haunting or of a predatory supernatural creature. I won’t spoil it here.

I have long enjoyed the works of Harris and Hambly. This is the first story I’ve read by Shayne. Despite several clear exceptions, I’m not really a fan of the short story, so I wasn’t promptly taken by the notion of novellas, but my enjoyment of Hambly and Harris’s work in the past was enough for me to take this book home without much more thought than that. The plot of each of the stories leant itself well to the novella length.

Harris’s story could easily have been fleshed out into a novel filled with more interactions of the mysterious and romantic type as Layla and Sean built their understanding of each other, and Layla’s past became clear. The story felt quite a bit like Harris’ early book A Secret Rage, but in the style we’ve come to expect from her recent work. Despite being a dancer in poor circumstances, Layla comes across very much as a soft southern belle, and Dancer in the Dark leans more towards a gentle love story than a scintillating mystery, which is why I could easily see the story expanded to build it up more.

Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne felt just the right length. Kiley’s interactions with Jack smacked of hard-boiled crime fiction dialogue. While they were both more comfortable insulting each other than anything else, they were also very attracted to each other’s ideal bodies. I admit to wanting to grin and roll my eyes at the same time on a couple occasions. Their antics with each other worked to cancel out the horror elements, such as a message written in human blood on the bathroom mirror. Overall, this story felt the most like a traditional romance, albeit with horror and suspense aspects.

Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly was my favorite of the trio. The characters felt the most real to me. Their background information served to add depth to their choices and reactions as well as keep the reader’s active mind wondering which, if any, of the background elements might tie into the current mystery. Another layer was added by the theme of people or situations being misunderstood or falling outside of popular expectations. The prolonged uncertainty behind the supernatural aspects of the story also created more possibility for genuine spookiness. Hambly writes a good story.

I recommend Night’s Edge for October reading.

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October Beach

Oregon sea stacks shrouded in fog

Oregon sea stacks shrouded in fog

Sighted today on the beach: deep fog, ghostly strings of pelicans, and one pair of black bunnies. Tomorrow the rain starts.

One of a pair of black bunnies munching beyond the sea grass barrier.

When I got out of my car, which was parked next to the sand, the fog was too thick for me to see the ocean, but two black bunnies were munching off to the right, just behind the wind block of sea grass.

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Tengu

Tengu, watercolor and ink, modeled after the work of Katsushika Hokusai

Tengu, 7″ x 8″ watercolor and ink on artboard

I wanted to try my hand at a more traditional tengu. This is the end result. I modeled my tengu after the work of Katsushika Hokusai, who is particularly famous for his “Great Wave Off of Kanagawa.”

graphite drawing

graphite drawing

The script in the top left says Tengu. I kept the kanji from Hokusai’s image and dropped the hiragana that he had also included. These are the very first kanji of my life. Special thanks to Jess Myers, who graciously answered my questions regarding the kanji in the picture and advised corrections with the aim of making my writing legible. Any end mistakes are, of course, my own.

Tengu prior to inking

Tengu prior to inking

Here’s the tengu with several watercolor washes. I initially tried to finish him off with watercolor outlines, but the lines simply weren’t bold enough, so I aimed for the scratchiest pen I had on hand and finished him with the ink, as shown in the top image.

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