My first NaNoWriMo isn't going well exactly, but my story is absolutely progressing.

One of the most encouraging developments has been the fleshing-out of my villains. When I started I had some idea of what they wanted, but very little of the why, and even less of what they looked like. As my eventual plan is probably to draw this story up into a graphic novel, the visual vagueness of these two very important characters was a serious problem. 

Interestingly, I found that as I gave these characters a history and a setting their appearance developed quite naturally. (This is a bit of an inversion for me- historically I'd come up with a cool looking character, and then have to make up reasons that they looked that way. Which maybe had something to do with why, historically, my plots were underdeveloped.)

Her name (at least until I decide to change it) is Ethelinda. He is Ofure. This is a picture of them in younger, happier days. At this point they are the heroes of their own story, not the villains in someone else's.


Battle Dragon

Battle-Critter This prompt is from a subreddit called Artbattle, which I admit I haven't quite gotten the hang of yet. There are... fights? Except kind of more like a rap-battle, because there's this one-upsmanship turn taking thing. But with drawings.

I didn't win this round. Despite deciding that there was no way I could make it in color before the deadline, I still didn't get it done in time.

On the bright side, I finally figured out how to armor a dragon. It just bugs me when fantasy armor doesn't make sense, and a dragon is a particularly tough case- the armoring needs are kind of like those of a horse, but the critter is flexible like a cat, plus it has some of it's own naturally grown plates and spikey bits that have to poke through.

This scene came out of this old story, but I've made a few changes: There are only two sizes of dragon (the ones shown here) and the difference isn't species. It's gender. Humans have only legends of the big ones and consider them mythical, but are quite familiar with the small ones and think of them as clever animals, so tame them much like hunting hawks. Although they are confused as to why the critters won't breed in captivity...




Working Title: Snowball

Sketches (in no particular order) from a sci-fi story I'm working on. Like many of my best ideas, this one came from three unrelated ideas that turned out to have quite a bit in common. First was the realization that what a galactic surveyor would consider to be 'earth like' might not look much like our current, temperate world. At one point in earth's history ice sheets covered most of the planet (this is hyperbolically referred to as 'snowball earth') and so a planet identical to ours in all the major quantities could, in fact, be a snowball. With proper 'marketing' I'd bet dollars to donuts they could get colonists out there.

Second was the impact that living in a colony has on an emotional and economic level. Our modern world doesn't have colonies in the old sense- it may be expensive to quickly get to or communicate instantly with Timbuktu, but if you've got the money, it can be done. Formerly, people living in colonies were truly cut off- it wasn't a matter of money. The supply ship came once a year, and sometimes if the storms were bad, or if it wouldn't be profitable, they didn't come at all.

Third was a definition that I'd never heard before. (I like words, so it's unusual for me to run across one in my daily life where I can't even hazard an educated guess at the meaning.) The word was subnivean: a zone that is in or under the snow layer. I was familiar with the concept from watching videos of foxes hunting mice in winter, but the word itself was new.

This is the first time where the environment that my story took place in came to me before the characters or plot. Here, the world defines everything. So welcome to Snowball.


Graduating Class, '90, Union College of Law

Something a little different for you this week: A photo restoration. This photo had a sad, sad life before it came to me. It was well loved however, as it must have been put in its frame fairly shortly after it was taken.  It was sandwiched into the frame with the frontpage of the newspaper Club Life, dated October 11th, 1890.

For those of you without a background in conservation, the operative word in the previous sentence is newspaper. Newspaper, particularly old newspaper, is full of all sorts of nasty reactive chemicals. By the time I got my hands on it, the newspaper had begun to dissolve under its own power.

As for the poor photo: At some point, the photo had become one with the glass. I'm not sure exactly what the chemical process was, but removing it was synonymous with destroying it. And that was the state of affairs when someone dropped it, and shattered the glass.

The owner brought it to me, and asked if there was anything I could do.  I blinked at her for a minute, and said I'd give it my best shot. The first order of business was to get it scanned, which was impossible in its current state. The photo had snapped along with the glass in some places, but was still intact in others.  The glass grated against itself every time I tried to move it, causing more damage to the glass and the photo. Flipping it over in order to scan it was out of the question. Also it was spitting glass slivers everywhere.

Painful as it was, I had to use a razor to finish the process of breaking the picture into pieces.  I scanned each piece separately, then I assembled them in Photoshop, which gave me this:


Thirty hours of work later, I gave this back to the client:




There are a few interesting things about this photo, beyond the reconstruction work.

First, it's pretty clear that not everyone had the same idea about how to pose for a graduation photograph. The guys in the back are posed and proper, hats in hand, while others sit with either genuine or awkward informality. Most people look in the direction of the photographer, but others seem to deliberately stare somewhere else. Everybody agrees that smiling is bad, but that's about the only consensus.

The Union College of Law later became the law school of Northwestern University.

Also, where the hell was this taken? A construction zone? An alley? Wherever it was, the guy lounging in the front felt obligated to put his handkerchief on the ground underneath him to protect his suit.

People knew how to put letters in their names in the 1890's. Boy howdy. Here's the best example, before and after.


Lastly, there are two women in the photo. One would have been unusual, and two is really something of a surprise.


The registry lists them as L. Blanche Fearing (to the left) and Mrs. Fearing.

That's right. She has no first name, not for the likes of you, anyway. She is Mrs. Fearing. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Old Character Studies

Today's post is a present for a guy I've been chatting about art stuff with on the internet. Because I am actually kind of a slow adapter to technology, (I don't know how to post pictures to the forum we're on) and because I thought it'd make a good post (*cough*lazy*coughcough*) I scanned some old comic character studies for you. I'm testing out three stylistic choices here: the 'diary' approach to telling a story, using the city itself as an atmospheric character, and unconventional panels. Scott McCloud would be so proud.

Keep in mind these are a rough draft, so neither the text or images are of a quality that I'd want to publish. This is a just a place to let this character flail around a bit, so I can find out who he is. Some of it's a bit inconsistent, but that's okay at this stage. It's like when you go to the shelter to get a pet: you can't tell what they're like at all when they're in a tiny cage. When you take them home and give them space and some time to relax, that's when you find out what you've got.

Text from the panel is typed below the image.


-Sometimes I wonder... whose hands do I have? Whose nose? I'm not going to seek him out or anything like that, but I still imagine sometimes what I would do if I met him on the street. Probably punch him in the mouth and mount his teeth on my wall.


- I'm a nice guy. Really. I just have the damnedest time convincing people of that.


-There are times when I sort of enjoy a good hangover.

- Mary. She's what they call a 'sensitive'. A bit clairvoyant, a bit telepathic, definitely psychic. She hates it when I smoke.

-Her job is to diagnose the problem.

-My job is to pull her out.


-The scientists. Creepy little bastards.

-They test everybody about once a month. They make a special fuss over me, because they don't know how I do what I do.

They keep telling me to stop moping. It effects the test.


I told you I had a basalisk.

Don't be alarmed though. This little guy is a pampered pet. I didn't include any scale in the image, but he's completely tame, and about knee-high. (He does have a tendency to jump up though, particularly if you're holding food. ) In his world, the pseudo-millitary elite have a bad habit of keeping extremely dangerous animals as pets. As this is a feudal society, each of the lords tries to one-up each other at this. Basalisks are the most recent fad.

Pet basilisks can be made 'safe' by attaching a permant hood to the head and covers to the worst of the spines. (The head and back spines are springy, somewhat like pine needles. So long as you rub them the right way, petting a basalisk can actually be sort of pleasant.) These hood and covers are of course opululent, underscoring the wealth of the basalisk's owner. The exact coloring and jewels involved in basalisk covers have historically been used to send political invitations, insults, and other information in a subtle and plausibly deniable manner.

Artistically, this was just fun. I set myself the moderate challenge of drawing a reasonably functional six-legged creature in motion, and I'm really pleased with how that turned out. I particularly like the feet: the one in front reminds me of how small showdogs with overlarge paws will fling the paw out in almost a snap-the-whip motion. Overall, I think I nailed the 'cute but dangerous' vibe. It was also nice to do a piece with lots of scales again. For a few years in highschool, I did at least one fully-scaled dragon a day.


This is Smidgeon. He's a shoulder dragon.

See?  Shoulder dragon.

If you are into details, you probably noticed that Smidgeon looks a bit different between the two drawings. I'm still kicking around exactly what he looks like (Should the spikes go all the way to the end of the tail? Or should it be prehensile?) but I've made some progress in fleshing out the world he lives in.

The text on the reference illustration mentions Common and Noble Dragons. So far, my concept is this: In generic sword and sorcery pre-industrial world X, small dragons are common pets of the elite. (There are other things they keep as pets too... I have a basilisk illustration I'll show you another time.) These dragons are both status symbols and hunting animals, similar to hawks. Although they have to work a small magic in order to fly, that's the limit of their magical skills. These Common Dragons are really just animals, about as smart as a very smart dog.

In X, there's a history of dragon lore and literature that is assumed to be mythological. Stories mention small dragons that could talk, and would intercede with the big dragons on the humans behalf. These little dragons were called Nobles, and the big dragons (your good old proper knight-roasting kind) were called Royals.

At the time my story is set, nobody's seen or heard of a Noble or Royal in a few hundred years. (dun dun DUUUN!) Royals of course, are on the horizon. (I'm thinking a broken treaty...broken when humans forgot about it, 'cause they have this pesky habit of dying every eighty years or so. That makes for a much shorter institutional memory than dragons have. Funny enough, none of the dragons thought of that when the treaty was made in the first place.) It turns out that Noble Dragons are quite alive and well thank you: masquerading as Commons. There are actually small physical differences, but since humans have been breeding Commons selectively for a few generations, domesticated Commons look more like Nobles. My idea is centered on Smidgeon: a moderately valuable hunting Dragon owned my an up-and-coming human aristocrat. Smidgeon of course, is a Noble, and the story begins when a human realizes that.

But this is all background. Maybe later I'll have some actual plot.