Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Snow Gnomes

The Snow Gnomes - iPad using Procreate

A whirlwind holiday season made it difficult to give my little blog the time and attention it deserved. That will be one of my New Year's resolutions - more blog love.

Currently, I am creating this post through my newly acquired creative partner, a full-sized iPad. It's taken a few years of scrimping and saving to finally bring this fascinating little gadget into my life. I'm not one to jump onto the latest e-fad, but I've wanted one of these since Star Trek: TNG went on the air. Of all the Trekkie tech to be featured, this was the one I was most looking forward to seeing in our time. It only took 20 years or so.

Among the things I can do now are tree-friendly sketching, read books and mags in a space-saving fashion (which I desperately need), and watch online shows, movies and tutorials while pedaling away on my elliptical. And typing on a tablet has come pretty easily, too.

The above illustration was created in an app called Procreate . I've tried several - Sketchbook Pro, Brushes, Ink, Adobe Ideas, Eazel - but Procreate has been for me the most intuitive to use and most similar to Photoshop. It has layers, palettes, a great selection of brushes for painting, sketching and effects and the interface is so comfortable.

You can find many different iPad art demos on YouTube. The range of styles and detail is amazing. Illustrators Will Terry and Dani Jones use it often for their preliminary work. Dani Jones has just released a book called "iPad for Artists" which offers 144 pages of creative instruction and tool reviews for the iPad.

My illustration "The Snow Gnomes" is a peek into the workings of those little flake sculptors responsible for the winter wonderlands enjoyed by many each season. It is also my contribution to Aquariann's Snowflake Blog Hop. Hit the button below to visit and participate.

Happy New Year to all!

aquariann's Snowflake Blog Hop

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Unsquished

Zombie Bug • Digitally colored pen and ink

The Unsquished

The bug you squished is back once more.
He's standing right inside your door.

Just one antenna did he lose,
and from his side drips greenish ooze.

With legs reduced to only three,
he takes each step quite carefully.

But, soon he'll sit upon your head
as you lay snoozing in your bed.

The Unsquished ©2012 Teresa Rodriguez

'Tis the season for spooks and creeps. The above illustration pays homage to the unfortunate victims of swatters, rolled up magazines and well-aimed toxins. We've all dealt with the fly that wouldn't die. Did he have friends? Or, did he just...change into something else?

Click below to feature your creature at 
Aquariann's Zombie Blog Hop:

aquariann's Zombie Blog Hop

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cookin' Up Something New

Something's Cookin' - Digital
The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity
than the discovery of a new star. 
- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

When artists develop, they can occasionally find a style they feel too comfortable with, defining themselves by the medium or style and sticking to it until they burn out. It's a safe place to be, to stay with what you're good at and what's expected of you.

But, we are programmed to evolve. Everyone, from the old masters to the new amateurs, will show changes in their work over time. Those who embrace this process will lunge forward, making mistakes and glorious discoveries. Those who resist will eventually set aside their art for something more safe and predictable, never knowing what might have happened if they had stretched themselves.

The internet is a virtual buffet of resources from artists who generously offer their wisdom through websites, blogs and tutorials. Watching other artists won't necessarily affect your style overnight. However, you'll be armed with new possibilities as you work. Knowledge and experimentation takes you out of yourself, so you can reconnect with yourself again.

Here are some favorite web resources for tutorials, demos or general knowledge, a few grains of sand from an enormous beach:

UStream Channels:
Dani Draws  

David Petersen

YouTube Channels:
Jean Baptiste Monge  

Will Terry

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Feelin' Squirrelly

Feelin' Squirrelly - Digital

Acorn's Lament

I fear that I will never be
A towering grandeur of a tree

with leaves that dance when winds pass by,
and limbs that stretch toward beckoning sky.

When spring returns, no birds will race
to build a home in my embrace.

I won't be here, alas, alack,
for I've become a critter's snack.


if there's to be a desperate plea,
one final hope and prayer,
then Mr. Squirrel will bury me,
and won't remember where.

Acorn's Lament ©2012 Teresa Rodriguez

This tree-hopping traveler was born of a doodle that begged for completion. And, though I initially tried to think of a suitable story for the furry subject, my sympathy went to the poor nut clutched between his paws. Perhaps instead of becoming a meal, an oak tree's potential will be fully realized, and someday Mr. Squirrel (or his children) will be happily frisking along its great branches.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Sea Girl and the Pearl

Digital - 7x8.25

The Sea Girl and the Pearl

She found a pearl,
the little Sea Girl,
upon the ocean floor.

She took it back
to add to her stack
of objects to adore.

The orb glowed bright
and offered delight
atop her trinket pile.

The Sea Girl's eyes
gazed on her new prize, 
and twinkled with her smile.

A giant eel
in search of a meal,
swam by the Sea Girl's home.

He saw a glimmer,
a shiny shimmer, 
in dunes of sandy loam.

The eel swooped down,
disturbing the ground
and searching for his prey.

The Sea Girl fled
into a thick bed
of seaweed where she lay.

The hungry eel,
who still had no meal,
went somewhere else to feed.

The Sea Girl packed
the treasures she stacked
and moved to the seaweed.

There was one thing
that she would not bring,
one thing she wouldn't miss.

She tossed her pearl,
the little Sea Girl,
into a deep abyss.

The Sea Girl and the Pearl ©2012 Teresa Rodriguez

The image above was the result of much experimentation in digital painting and painting in general. It was a rewarding venture, where I played with different brushes and techniques. Ironically, my work in Photoshop is helping my skills with traditional media such as gouache and watercolor. The main difference being the material expense that doesn't exist in cyberland.

I love to watch tutorials and demos by artists such as Will Terry, Chris Oatley and Dani Jones to see what how they develop their masterpieces. A search through YouTube can find lots of other educational nuggets by generous artists.

This week I am happy to be participating in Aquariann's Mermaid Blog Hop, where you can find lots of other sea folks who may have a less traumatic tale to tell. Click on the button below to visit. And if you are here from the Hop, welcome! :)

aquariann's Mermaid Blog Hop

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Aliens, Romance, and Pie

Scene from Twilight Zone's "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
- Ink on Yupo

This is my favorite TZ character, Haley the counterman at the HiWay Cafe. Big spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen that ep, but it's definitely watchable multiple times.

I've been experimenting with Yupo, a synthetic paper. Painting on Yupo is like painting on plastic - since the paper is polypropylene. Watercolor will pick up easily, ink will not. Lots of layers of washes are required. The resist factor of the surface takes some getting used to. I may do more pieces in ink, watercolor and pencil. Graphite glides on it like a marker. It's very cool and makes for richness in shading.

A previous study using inks was done on hot-press watercolor paper. Gone With The Wind was playing on TCM, and it's a nice background movie as you're working. I watched a bit, however, and became intrigued with the color palette of the scene when Rhett leaves Scarlet at the bridge to go off and join the Confederate army. Simple oranges, blacks and browns. I have those inks, I thought, and out came the supplies. A somewhat decent screenshot was found online for reference. Again, the ink won't budge like watercolors, but the brushstrokes and quickness of drying do create a nice texture.

Ink on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper

I used inks won in a couple of different contests through the Grumbacher and Koh-I-Noor FB pages. Grumbacher holds an ATC Swap every few months. It's great fun to enter, occasionally there are prizes, but the best part is receiving a little piece of art from someone else.

Koh-I-Noor held a Supply Closet Cleaning contest, offering a box of art goodies to two winners. Entrants were to illustrate the name Koh-I-Noor. I went with one of my favorite themes - pie. Apparently the judges were pie fans as well, and mine was one of the two chosen for a prize.

Ink and Watercolor on Bristol
I expected a little box and instead, at my doorstep after work one day, sat a carton big enough to hold an ambitious contortionist. They cleaned out the closets, alright. Paints, brushes, inks, pencils - all kinds of implements of creation were in there. Enough for me and a few of my artsy friends. Christmas in June!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Mouse and Commander: The Far Side of the Puddle

6x8, Pen & Watercolor on Bristol

Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate. 
- Captain Jack Aubrey

Peter Weir's 2003 film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, has become one of my favorite movies of the past decade. Its rich detail and captivating scenes transport you to the world of an early 19th Century British frigate chasing a French privateer around South America during the Napoleonic Wars. The combination of gorgeous photography, editing, composition, visual effects and music serve to accentuate the brilliant performances of its cast. Although, I haven't seen all of Mr. Weir's work, this film surely deserves to be hailed as his masterpiece.

An afternoon viewing of the film, followed by a sketching session, inspired the image above. It's been a while since I used the pen with watercolor, and recent experiments have ignited a long dormant enthusiasm for this combination.

One such exercise was to copy a work by Brian Froud, a masterful fantasy artist whose work has inspired characters in films such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The piece I chose was a creature identified as a Shetland Trow from the book Faeries, written and illustrated by Froud and the equally excellent Alan Lee.
Two Trows - Left, by Brian Froud - Right, by me.
Oh, to someday have Froud's command of tone and texture,
and subtleness of line.
Copying a master's work has been used as a way to stretch one's artistic muscle by students through the ages. The idea isn't to change your personal style to someone else's, but to gain insight into the decisions that the artist made in the composition, tone, and color selection. The lessons learned are then applied as you develop your style and skill. I recall the times in art school, when these kinds of assignments came up, and while they were difficult, they were always rewarding in ways that revealed themselves in later projects.

Getting away from the tablet and stylus once in a while to reconnect with traditional elements that don't have an undo key is exhilarating every time.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Critter of the Week: La Luna

Moon Hug • Digital

 The moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.
- William Shakespeare

This past Saturday saw the full moon reach perigee and look 14 percent larger than other full moons throughout the year, earning it the term Supermoon. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that night in my area, and I was left to create a big moon of my own to enjoy, with little Agnes to give it a great big hug. 

Here's some additional loony fun stuff:

Chinese mooncakes are made for the Chinese New Year and an autumn harvest festival. A thin crust covers a rich filling made from red bean or lotus seed paste with an egg yolk in the middle. Many recipes are available online, from quickies that look nothing like this pretty picture to more accurate versions that still use more familiar ingredients.

The first children's book written by L. Frank Baum was a collection of stories based on nursery rhymes called Mother Goose in Prose. Each nursery rhyme was expanded to a longer narrative with more detail and character development. We find out how the old woman ended up living in a shoe, a situation which many modern parents can relate to. The black sheep has an interesting attitude towards the wool industry. And the Man in the Moon longs to be a part of the world below, only to find difficulties arising from unexpected contradictions. 

I loved this book and especially loved the marvelous illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, such as the one above of the Moon Man.

Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, to date, is the only human being for whom the moon is a final resting place. Some of his ashes were on board 1999's Lunar Prospector when it was deliberately crashed into the lunar surface after a mapping mission. Dr. Shoemaker was best known for discovering the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with his wife Caroline and David Levy. He founded and was the first director of the Astrogeology Research Program and was involved in training the Apollo astronauts.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part Three: At The Ballpark

Citizen's Bank Park

Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic! 
That's beautiful: the hurrah game! 
Well - it's our game: that's a chief fact in connection with it: America's game.
- Walt Whitman

I belong to the Church of Baseball.

I'm not as zealous as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham; more of a enthusiastic supporter as much as time and finances will allow. Delaware has no MLB team of its own, so we "borrow" the neighbors' - Phillies or Orioles.

The Phillies have been on my altar since childhood. They were one of the few things besides DNA that my father and I had in common, until he converted to the Braves in later years, accentuating an already established chasm between us.

There were seasons when I would be glued to every game, and others where I was distracted by the usual life stuff that presented itself. Whenever I returned to baseball, it was always for the Phillies, a big city team with a loony, green mascot, and fans that made Attila the Hun's army look like pussycats.

My attention would ebb and fluctuate, even after their 2008 World Series win, until the 2010's Snowmaggedon. In the midst of storms and snowpiles that seemed never to end, I dreamt of spring and all that came with it, including sun, gardens, and baseball.

I had never paid so much attention to Spring Training before, but while buried in drifts of frozen white, I became obsessed. Baseball represented everything that winter was not. It was green. It was warm. It was joyous outside playtime. And I began to appreciate it in a way I never had before. Football never held any glamour for me, and seemed a cold, violent sport. So, at the end of each season, I now begin the countdown to the days when our boys travel to Clearwater, Florida to begin their preparations.

On Art and Baseball Day, after a luxurious dip in the Philadelphia Museum's collection, I drove down to the sociological ecosystem with the dismal name of Citizens' Bank Park. That's what it will be called until the next corporate takeover. If only we could go back to naming sports complexes in honor of dead people who don't try to buy out one another.

Having not been to a pro game in many years, I discovered two things. One, not surprisingly, the food is overpriced garbage and you eat it anyway. Fortunately for me, they had vegetarian-friendly overpriced garbage in the form of vegan hot dogs.

Two, I could not stay seated. Normally, I watch a game while pumping away on my elliptical, burning extra calories after home runs. I felt claustrophic and fidgety in the stands. Although, I carry around a few unwanted pounds, I'm not nearly as hefty as some other spectators who easily had a least 100 pounds on me and still sat squished in the little plastic seats. It was much more relaxing to walk around, partaking of the occasional fat-laden munchie, and watching the game from the rails.

They lost fabulously. Went down in flames. Got smacked home to Mama. It was well enough into the season to not be too surprised. This year so far, the Phillies are inspiring more tears than cheers. Those seasons happen every so often. But, being in a baseball park, I learned, is not strictly about the team. It's a social occasion, filled with mingling, eating, and enjoying fresh air.

While observing the crowds, I was reminded of a painting I had stood in front of earlier that afternoon: Toulouse-Lautrec's At The Moulin Rouge: The Dance. Like the baseball fans who milled around the stands and alleys, the painting's subjects were also people from all walks of life gathered at a popular social watering hole.

This was our Moulin Rouge, I thought, standing patiently in the ice cream line, while waves of bodies traveled back and forth like blood cells coursing through an artery. At night, the similarity would be even more apparent, under the glow of artificial light. Even though at the ballpark there are kids instead of prostitutes, Henri might still have enjoyed it.

I'll be returning later in the season, whether the team finds their game or not, to observe, enjoy, eat like a pig, yell "Hit something!" and absorb the last vestiges of Summer before the cold starts creeping in again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part Two: Scribbling Away at the Museum

Sketch of Virgin & Child, 1646, Jose Jusepe de Ribera
In case you hadn't noticed, I love to scribble.

The other, more refined term would be to sketch. Scribbling is what I call grabbing a pencil, pen, crayon, lump of coal or any other implement of creation and attacking a handy surface (usually paper) with it. Scribbling is the sound made by such an endeavor, when all other sounds fall away and shapes, curves and textures come to life at your hand.

After visiting the Van Gogh Up Close exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum, I inhaled some lunch, then set out to explore the countless rooms, hallways, nooks and crannies of the vast collection. If I saw something that caught my eye, out came the drawing pad and pencil, ready to take down pictorial dictation of a celebrated work.

It's amazing what you discover about a painting by copying its forms in simple graphite. Breaking it into shapes and tones, you see patterns that reveal themselves only after the intense scrutiny necessary for duplication.

I was drawn to Spanish Baroque painter Jose Jusepe de Ribera's Virgin and Child for its earthy depiction of the Holy Mother and little Christ. While working, I wondered about the models used, who they were and how they became the actors in this scene. Aside from the bright blue of the shawl and the angelic expressions, this could've been a sweet family portrait of any mother and baby.

Sketch of Young Boy
with Toy Soldiers
1876, Antonio Mancini
The face of the Young Boy with Toy Soldiers by Antonio Mancini intrigued me. The composition of the piece looked like that of a photograph spontaneously taken while he played. Although frilly collars and over 130 years separate the subject from any kid today engrossed in his games, the unaffected expression of youth surely hasn't changed much.

Guan Yin, 960-1279, Song Dynasty
What a delight to turn a corner into a darkened Asian temple to find Guan Yin, the enlightened figure in the Buddhist tradition associated with compassion.
I always loved the way she sits, as she is often portrayed in this position, chilling out, ever so mellow and calm. One of my favorite stories about her is when she was executed for not entering an arranged marriage and was sent to a helllish realm, her love, compassion and grace threatened to turn it into a paradise, and she was summarily kicked out. It's been said by modern thought teachers that we are each responsible for the energy we bring into a situation. The legends of Guan Yin certainly illustrate that the lesson is not a new one.

There were other sketches done during that afternoon, favorite paintings revisited as well as new discoveries. During my years in Philly while attending UArts, I regret not spending more time at the Museum while I had easier access. As I left to go to Citizens' Bank Park for the Phillies' encounter with the Mets, I made a quiet pledge to come again later this year, and also take advantage of the close proximity of smaller museums around Delaware.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part One: A Visit with Vincent

Two Cut Sunflowers - Vincent Van Gogh •

Working distracts me infinitely better than anything else. 
And if I could once really throw myself into it with all my energy, 
that might possibly be the remedy.
-Vincent Van Gogh

On a carefully planned April day of Art and Baseball in the big city, I had an opportunity to attend the Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibition, Van Gogh Up Close. A feast for the eyes doesn't begin to describe it. The image above is a poor reproduction of the original painting, which is composed of chunky, luminous brushstrokes that tempts you to run your fingers over them.

How Van Gogh depicted the arrangement of seeds inside the sunflower through the subtlest of markings amazed me, and it's something you can only appreciate standing in front of the painting itself, close enough to take in the detail, but not so close the museum guard yanks you back like a hooked trout.

Rain - Vincent Van Gogh •

From outside of his room at the Saint-Paul clinic, Van Gogh was able to capture a field bombarded by a passing storm despite the bars covering his bedroom window. What impressed me most about this piece was that it really looks like a storm. So many storm paintings attempt to bring power to the clouds and water with color and contrast, making them too bright. The above image is an accurate portrayal of a dreary day where you can almost hear the rumble of thunder and the constant pattering of raindrops on the ground and the building. You can even make out the accumulation of water into glistening puddles.

The exhibit was a further reminder that no matter how good a print job or digital capture is done, you cannot experience a painting fully, with all its personality and imperfections, unless you meet it in person. There are colors that can never be conveyed by anything other than the human eye.

So many other paintings called to me in the exhibition rooms. I did what I usually do: wandered around like a lost drunk, gazing at some for several minutes, then running back to others that had stuck in my mind. I tried to exit several times, only to be stopped by the urge to make another round, all the while sending my love and gratitude to the artist.

After making it out the exit, I was immediately bombarded by the commercial inspiration of Van Gogh's work through the vast variety of overpriced items in the gift shop. Prints, bags, umbrellas, games, shirts, scarves, mugs, magnets, and so on. What do you think, Vinny? Thousands of dollars gleaned from paintings that people in your lifetime didn't give a damn about. You only sold one painting. These folks are making a fortune. The most painful offerings were the holographic bookmarks. Gag. That being said, a magnet of Two Cut Sunflowers graces my refrigerator, and the accompanying coffee table book for the show lies on my ottoman.

An art teacher of mine once told of how someone had said that an artist must suffer in order to create. My teacher had scoffed at this, only to change his mind later on. I, too, did not embrace the notion that pain was necessary for an artist. It seemed like a dismal future for anyone who embraced a creative career. But, the years have taught me different.

When we create, we enter a new world, away from the one that is the source of the pain. For a little while, the brushstrokes, or chords, or words, or whatever becomes the reason to exist. The relationship to the medium is the only one that matters, and it's a relationship that gives far more comfort, sometimes, than those with the situations and people in our lives. Van Gogh seemed to feel that keenly, as suggested by the above quote.

If the universe gave us the pain of our self-awareness, it was at least thoughtful enough to also give us a wonderful form of escape that can still be shared with others.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Critter of the Week: The Gift

Jack and Midgie - Digital 8x10.5
This image was inspired by the wonderful offerings of the Nightmare Before Christmas tribute show at Galerie Arludik in Paris.

I found out about this when Australian concept artist and illustrator extraordinaire Charles Santoso posted his lovely submission on his blog, My Mini Tree House, another inspiration spot worth exploring.

Do check out the show's pieces online if you get a chance. They are absolutely delightful! You'll see artwork by Charles, Bobby ChiuGirald Guerlais, Uli Meyer and so, so many others.

My angle for the above scene was an alternative outcome to Jack Skellington's experiment. What if the kids, instead of being horrified by the presents produced by the Halloweentown crew, were thrilled with the unusual and exotic "toys." Who needs bland Barbie dolls and lame Legos, when you can have your very own toothy, snarling, drooling Groggelyte? Talk about wondrous variety.

Many thanks to storyteller Tim Burton for his zany little tale, and to director Henry Selick, who brought glorious life and vision to the film.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Critter of the Week: A Best Friend Who Has Passed Away

"Meatballs with Baxter" - Digital, 2011

You think dogs will not be in heaven?
I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

The above illustration was inspired by a flash fiction story called, "Meatballs with Baxter" by Mark Belisle. It was featured on his Rogue Wave Fiction blog, on which can be found many short stories and short, short stories of a slightly off-center and always entertaining nature.

In the story, a man has an unusual conversation with his dog, who has come to know him pretty well. The breed is never stated, but for pictorial reference, I used a friend's dog, also named Baxter, who was a large and gentle black and white great dane.

The real Baxter passed away last week. So did a rottweiler named Taylor belonging to another family I know. Both these dogs were loved and cherished by their humans, and in their own way returned that love and comfort as only a furry critter can.

My childhood dog, a springer spaniel-lab mix named Buddy, passed away at 14 years while I was in college. He had been suffering from various maladies, and there was a feeling of relief at his finally being at peace. Yet, there also lingered, as usually does after a loss, regret at not having spent more time with him in years past, more afternoons playing in the yard, more walks around the neighborhood or park.

Coming into this world, a dog's life doesn't have many prospects. Many dogs will be passed around from shelter to shelter, never knowing a comfortable spot on a couch next to an affectionate owner.

Any kindness, care and love towards an animal that you share your home with, whether it spans a few years or lasts for over a decade, is always well spent. Whereas, the relationship with a person is complex with its expectations and fluctuations, a relationship with a dog doesn't require much beyond food and love. May the hearts of humans someday revert back to that simplicity.

Farewell, Baxter, Taylor, and all the pups who have left us. We thank you for your warm companionship and your unconditional acceptance.

And, please remember those left behind in shelters. Make a donation to a local shelter or animal advocacy group today for a pet that you or a friend has loved.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Redneck Cupid - 5x5" x 4.25",  Digital

It's the time of year when a multi-billion dollar industry's fancy turns to showering retail outlets with every shade of red, pink, and purple in celebration of that highly profitable notion, Love. 

The namesake of the second-largest card purchasing holiday of the year met with a much unhappier ending at the hands of the Roman Empire, but not before presumably sending the first Valentine in the form of a note to his jailer's daughter, whom he cured of blindness before his execution.

It begs one to ask, what the heck does the sacrifice of a saint have to do with the annual flurry of affectionate greetings hitting the postal service, as well as the consumption of over 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate? 

Well, we could go back a little further, before Christianity set out to absorb a number of pagan holidays, to a time during the month that would be February when the pastoral festival of Lupercalia was held to chase out the evil spirits and promote health and baby-making. 

The festival consisted of ritual sacrifices of goats and dogs, after which the neighborhood male youths would run through town's crowds with strips of the animals' skins. Women would deliberately stand in the way, as being whacked with the swinging pelts would ensure fertility and an easy childbirth.

Personally, I think we've advanced quite a bit with the card swap and bon-bon stuffing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Critter of the Week: A Hobbit

Bilbo Contemplates - 3.5" x 2", Digital
It is a dangerous thing, 
going out your front door.
- J.R.R. Tolkien

An entry for Ellen Million's Sketch Fest, which usually lasts one or two days. Contributors choose one prompt from many posted by others, and whip up an illustration in under an hour. I usually push it. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But, it's a good exercise in thinking and working quickly.

The prompt I chose was "There and back again" from Marta Fabianek. I immediately pictured the legendary little guy, recollecting his experiences, and choosing just the right words with which to record them. Perhaps a little exaggeration here, a bit of embroidery there...

Tolkien's The Hobbit is a study in getting outside one's comfort zone. Hobbits are known for their comfort zones. They stay in their holes, mind their own business, and certainly don't have adventures. What would compel a respectable hobbit to leave his home and run off with a crazy old wizard and a bunch of dwarves? Why would anyone leave their safe haven and wander out into an unpredictable world?

We are torn between the desire for security and the need for personal development. Both are necessary for survival and without a healthy balance between them, the result is either being stuck under a rock or end up spinning out into space. Biologist Bruce Lipton has equated the behavior and needs of cells to that of the complete organism. When cells don't grow, they stagnate and die. When they grow too much, cancer develops. Stagnation is easy. Growth is more challenging, yet essential for all life.

Leaving the safety of the hobbit hole, even just by changing our ideas, can be just as terrifying as facing the trolls and dragons of Middle Earth, especially when we define ourselves through entrenched beliefs and perceived limitations. By opening his door and his mind, Bilbo Baggins returned home with a better understanding of his own character and depth of courage, and also a better understanding of other types of people and places. He became more, not less, of who he was. And isn't finding out who we are the point of our journey?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Inner Voice (We All Ignore)

2.5"x3.5", Watercolor, Ink

Above is my latest submission to the Grumbacher ATC Swap, held on their happy little Facebook page. The theme this time around is “Fairy Tales,” and I chose the scene in which the disguised Queen offers Snow White the poisoned apple.

It’s a moment similar to many in our own lives, when that inner voice strains to warn us, but we’re too thick to listen. Most of the time, we’re faced with something more innocuous than impending death. But, afterward, it’s hard to shake off the feeling of “I knew that was gonna happen. Why didn’t I...?”

Oprah Winfrey calls it the whisper. She says the warning starts with a whisper, and when you don’t listen, it becomes a pebble upside the head, then a brick, then a brick wall falling down on you, etc. As individuals, one of the hardest things we’ll ever have to do in life is learn how to listen to that internal warning system. As a species, we have become champions at blowing it off altogether.

In the original story collected by the Brothers Grimm, which was called Snowdrop, the young princess has several chances to get it right, but still falls for the evil Queen’s lures despite repeated warnings from the Dwarves. The first time the Queen visits, she pulls the laces on Snowdrop’s dress tight, cutting off her breath. The Dwarves come back, loosen the laces and revive her. The Queen returns on another day and offers her victim a poisoned comb. Down she goes, again. The Dwarves find her, remove the comb, and all is well.

The apple incident is the final attempt by the Queen. Snowdrop takes a bite and collapses. This time, the Dwarves cannot wake her, and instead place her in a glass coffin which the Prince discovers later on. In the Grimms’ version, he doesn’t kiss her, but rather has the coffin transported to his castle and the movement jostles the piece of apple out of Snowdrop’s mouth. Oh, joy! She’s alive to marry the Prince. The Queen dies from shock at their wedding. Happiness ever after ensues.

After some thought, it occurred to me that perhaps the Dwarves didn’t really try hard enough to save their charge the last time. It would get to be tiresome, don’t you think, coming home every day from working hard at the mines, only to deal with a body sprawled on the floor of your cottage? A discussion like the following might have taken place:
  • First Dwarf: “Seriously? This makes three times!” 
  • Second Dwarf: “That is one daffy broad.” 
  • Third Dwarf: “The apple chunk is probably still lodged in her throat.” 
  • Passing Squirrel: “Y'all are crazy to wake that chick up again.” 
  • Fourth Dwarf: I'm not waking her up.” 
  • Fifth Dwarf: “Well, here's a thought. Let's leave her out in the woods, and maybe someone will come by and take her away.” 
  • Sixth Dwarf: “I like that idea. It worked for that old couch we didn't need anymore.” 
  • Seventh Dwarf: “Right on. But, we'd better put her in a glass case, so the critters won't think she's lunch.” 

Of course, the heroines in the fairy tales of old haven’t exactly been renowned for their mental acuity. Snowdrop’s mother wished her physical beauty, but was content to allow chance to bestow upon her daughter the common sense of a gnat. 

At the very least, these stories call for a follow-up conversation to offset 19th century sexism. After reading a fairy tale to a child, the question should be asked, "What would you have done differently than Snowdrop, Rapunzel, Cinderella...?" Kids today could come up with superbly imaginative responses.

It’s never too early to teach problem-solving skills and nurture attention to one’s inner voice. You never know when a homicidal Queen will show up in your life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Critter of the Week: A Furry Weatherman

What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You're hypocrites, all of you!
- Phil Connors, Groundhog Day (1993)

The Groundhog (Marmota monax) - harbinger of either an early appearance by robins and daffodils or six more weeks of thermal underwear. One declaration will garner it praise and cheers. The other will have folks thinking about braised woodchuck with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

As a semi-vegetarian who avoids eating land critters, but can't give up shrimp scampi, I have been inspired on past February 2nds to entertain the notion of groundhog burgers when the stubborn varmint insists on seeing his shadow. Especially, when I find myself tunneling through snow drifts taller than me to get to the lump that might be my car.

Many have tried and failed to influence the outcome of these predictions. Wishful letters á la Santa Claus or the Great Pumpkin, bearing messages like "Dear Mr. Groundhog, I've been real good this year. Please sleep in." generally end up shredded by the recipient, who prefers comfy bedding to written correspondence.

Bribes have spanned the spectrum from humble to lavish. Small and sincere offerings such as nuts, candy, or fruit baskets don't seem to make as much of an impression as the gold-plated tooth sharpeners or gift certificates to rodent-friendly spas given by fans wanting to spend extra time on the slopes in the Poconos.

Those truly adverse to more high heating bills have resorted to threats, some going so far as to make sure the only shadow cast on that day comes from a large, hulking figure looming over the hole, clad in shades and brass knuckles. Little success has come from this approach; the furball just pops up from another, safer location.

2010's Snowmageddon drove one enterprising and exasperated soul to empty several concrete mixers onto the burrow and a 500 yard radius around it, only to later receive a collect call from Australia through which a squeaky voice proclaimed, "I saw my shadooooow!"

As of this writing, we've had a winter too anemic for any self-respecting Groundhog to extend. Still, February is a schizoid and fickle month; a precarious minefield through which we must travel to reach March's gateway to warm and sunny outdoor playtime. Anything can happen during those weeks and usually does.

So, we fair-weather aficionados are left to prepare in the best way possible. I just hope the little rat likes the 60" plasma television I sent him.

UPDATE: Apparently he didn't. Strike up the grill.