When Shauna Narciso, Art Director of Dragon+ Magazine asked if I’d like to illustrate a “curious vegepygmy” in a fantasy jungle setting, you can imagine my reaction. It was truly a dream assignment, full of hidden messages & tendrilicious details. If you’d like to read the story that inspired the illustration, as well as an interview in which I perhaps reveal too much about my working process, have a look at Dragon+ Issue 16, now online!
On 11 February, my little sister Sarah suffered a stroke. It was completely unexpected– she is relatively young & extremely health-conscious, with no obvious risk factors. But the stroke was massive & for a time she was very close to death, in intensive care with many complications adding to our worries.
I’m very thankful to the doctors & everyone else at Duke for seeing her through this perilous time, & for all the support from family & friends. I’ve been spending many nights in the hospital, & have seen first-hand the hard work of all the doctors, nurses & therapists that collaborate to care for someone in this condition. And I see how Sarah draws strength from the flood of cards & messages from her students & fellow teachers, her friends in the environmental education movement, & the many, many others who care about her.
Sarah is an amazing person, & in some ways also very lucky. Though her left side is still entirely immobile, & for weeks she was unable to talk, she was able to sign the word “stroke” on her first day after the operation (one of her many linguistic skills is ASL), & she could also write much sooner than the doctors had expected. Better still, it was clear that not only had she retained her ability to think & communicate, but also her personality, which is full of humor & a strong streak of mischief, along with great curiosity & caring about the world.
One night I was with Sarah, helping her do some guided meditation to cope with pain. Sarah had traveled to India last summer, a life-changing voyage in many ways, & Hindu imagery was particularly fresh in her mind. She wrote on her clipboard that she envisioned the goddess Durga cradling & supporting her with her many arms, & asked if I would draw her a picture to help her focus on that image.
For weeks I had been so consumed with worry & care for Sarah that I was unable to bring myself to draw or paint– I had tried sketching once or twice, but my heart just wasn’t in it. But having that “assignment” motivated me to make art again, & I must say, it felt good!
Sarah moved from the hospital to acute rehab this week, & of course this picture is decorating the wall of her new room. She’s able to talk now, to joke with everybody, even to sing a little! Yesterday she stood (with assistance) for the first time. It’s going to be a long & arduous journey back to health, but I’m certain that, just as after her voyage to India, she will come back full of new insights & energy.
So… I’m cheating a bit here. I began this image in homage to Carbon Based Lifeforms, a Swedish ambient music band that is one of my favorites to listen to while sketching. Their music is mostly instrumental with wordless vocals, but lyrics do come in from time to time, such as these:
“Only illogics can find
Hidden flaws in a straight logic line.
Only erratics recognize
Errors in patterns of a perfect design.”
These particular lifeforms were of course heavily influenced by the work of Ernst Haeckel, with the central structure inspired by an allotrope of carbon popularly known as the Buckyball.
Unfortunately, some very erratic household chaos kept me away from the computer last week, so I missed my chance to chime in with the “C”s for AlphaBands. But as it happened, my choice for “D” was the bizarre alter ego of Kool Keith known as Dr. Octagon. Though his music could hardly be more different from CBL, (and, I should warn, it is mostly extremely NSFW) some of his color-crazed & hallucinatory lyrics somehow wormed their way into the picture:
“I come prepared with the white suit and stethoscope
Listen to your heartbeat, delete beep beep beep
Your insurance is high, but my price is cheap
Look at the land…blue flowers!
Drawing by the purple pond, in the purple pastures blue flowers!
Drawing by the purple pond, yellow ink that flows blue flowers!
Drawing by the pond, look, it’s raining yellow”
So, consider this the visual equivalent of a mashup. It’s just a pity that Buckyballs are constructed from hexagons & pentagons, with nary an octagon in the picture.
Photoshop with text scanned from Steele’s Fourteen Weeks in Chemistry, 1876
It’s the beginning of a new alphabet challenge! This time around it’s AlphaBands, the brainchild of Sam Wolk. We’re doing images inspired by bands for every letter of the alphabet, & we’d love for you to join us! If you’d like to enter your work, please check out the rules & enter here.
I’ve decided that rather than depicting the band members themselves I’ll mostly do illustrations inspired by their name, their sound, or their songs. My first entry is for the experimental band, Animal Collective– check out their music here. One of the members goes by the name Panda Bear, but the other animals are just what came out of my pencil as I sketched. The illusion of three heads, six bodies was inspired by a traditional Japanese visual trick.
Photoshop with text from the good old Practical Standard Dictionary. What I’d really love to do is animate this piece so that the animals spin– maybe I’ll have time to update later this week. :-)
I’m excited to be a part of this inventive new comic! Conceived by Isaac Cates, it is co-created by a team of writers and artists who take turns telling fantastic stories about various sectors of an imaginary world, Cartozia. It’s really a fascinating system– read more about it here.
The first issue should be coming out in August, & can be pre-ordered now.