Monday, June 11, 2018

Rescuing My Old Paintings

Baron Munchausen, 1995, was done in watercolor and colored pencils,
with some blackboard chalk to add softer, more "airbrush-y" areas.
It's gone through some renovation for this version of  it.

The cover of my Redbubble calendar. 
    When I decided to make a calendar of older fantasy paintings to sell on Redbubble, I wanted to spruce them up a bit with my limited Photoshop abilities. I will always use traditional methods, I think, but Photoshop is an excellent tool for enhancing work for publication. 


    A lot of this older artwork is mostly from the ‘90s which I don’t physically own anymore, mostly because they were done for commissions, favors—or sold to buy food. (It happens) The only records I have of some of them are photographs I took with my old 35mm camera, long before I owned a digital camera, long before they even made them! A lot of these old photos… well, they really needed help, so I thought I'd show you some of the  newer, cleaner versions.

    You can see some of the untouched photos of these illustrations in my earliest posts here, such as Watercolor—You'reDoing it Wrong and Gouache and Pez Dispensers.

    For instance, in the case of Baron Munchausen (above), I brightened up the colors considerably from the original. And for Autumn Harvest (below), I added a new sky and digitally redrew my signature that was partly cropped out of my old photo of it.

Harvest Fairy was done in 1994, in watercolor and colored pencil, when I was still trying to teach myself to paint, and the original was sold years ago. I always loved seasonal themes for my fairy pictures and the leaf-haired Autumn Fairy would return many times after this, most recently in my still unfinished painting of poet John Keats!

    Similarly, these following old watercolor pictures from the mid '90s also went through  some enhancements: 

    Another of favorite theme of mine is... fauns! I love fauns and when I was a teenager I wrote a story about a faun named Ramsay, who leaves the safety of his enchanted valley in search of adventure and people who might respect him better, based loosely on the old Genesis song "A Trick of the Tail."


    The old notebook that contains this story still exists and one of my dream projects is re-writing and illustrating it. So this is why you'll see so many pictures of fauns from me: practice for Ramsay when he makes his re-appearance.


    This particular painting was also done in watercolor and colored pencils (1995) and is based on the Arthurian story of the Fisher King. The simplest knight finds the most precious object on a quest without trying to look for it because he only wanted to give an old man a drink of water. Like the Spring Fauns picture above, I brightened the colors up and "despeckled" the original photo. (I love the Photoshop "despeckler.") 
    This original of this painting currently hangs in my mother's house.

      The graphic shapes tool in Photoshop is very useful to help make an object rounder, even when you've used a circle template for drawing. I used the circle graphic many times to fix my planets, moons  and suns. (See my fan art.) Case at point: the sun in the background of my Samurai picture here looks so much better now.

        By 2002, when this was done, I'd already been working primarily in gouache for several years, still mixing it with chalk and colored pencils for effects. For this new enhanced version of Samurai, I smoothed out the sky and saturated the colors. This is another picture that I only have a very small photo of and I was grateful I could restore it.

    Kitsune is another Japanese-themed picture which I did on a rough-surfaced illustration board. I wasn't really satisfied with the grainy way the colored pencil looked on it and this is another picture where I smoothed out a lot of the rough bits in Photoshop with the brush tool.

    I always feel guilty about doing something like this because I don't want to lose the integrity of the original art. (In other words, I feel like I'm cheating!) But I can't argue with the ability to hopefully make the picture look better.

    Foxes are another of my favorite subjects, as well as my favorite animals. A kitsune is a shapeshifting Japanese fox fairy and I collect books on kitsune mythology, as well as their Chinese equivalent, huli jing.  

    While we're currently in Japan, here's some fan art I did of Mothra vs. King Ghidorah, from the Godzilla movies. (I've always been huge Godzilla fan and yes, I even have toys.
    A friend has the original painting and I have (as usual) a tiny photo that was actually cropped in a weird way making it necessary to try and fix it. This is another painting that had some parts redrawn with a mouse! (I really, really need to get a tablet and stylus one day...)
     I also re-worked the sky while I was at it and used the graphics tool to make the boxes of kanji-text a little neater-looking. I also saturated the colors of the original photo big time.


    Here's some other older seasonal fairy paintings from the mid-'90s that were also done before I made gouache my favorite medium, so the colors in these paintings are a bit more pastel. 


  I tried to saturate and smooth out the tones again here. Bear with me—I'm still a Photoshop novice and I'm still learning how to use it more effectively—but hopefully not too much!

    I'll leave that for the superb digital artists who are much better with this medium


    I'll leave you with the Tooth Fairy as my last "rescued" picture featured here in this post. (The usual, gouache, 2000.) I have many more old paintings that I'm still working on rescuing, and some that I'm convinced would be much better if I started new versions of them.

    In my next post, you'll see some more of the ones that I've restored a bit, along with some old "making-of" sketches from the '90s and early 2000s that I forgot that I had. I thought they might be fun for you to see.

               And I will get that Keats painting done eventually!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

It Lives!

Well, hello again! I’m back.

    It’s been more than two years since I’ve posted here in The Watcher Tree. I’ve been busy, to say the least, and I’ve missed updating this blog. I want to fix that.

    Sorry for the long, long, long absence. If you’re still following The Watcher Tree after all this time, I thank you so much for hanging in there with me. This blog has mostly been an informal place for me to share my projects, working methods and my continuing progress as I muddle through being an illustrator/writer/cartoonist. Occasionally, I’ll lapse into geeky posts without warning, going on about such subjects as Doctor Who or Doctor Strange or Blake’s 7 or the Pre-Raphaelite artists or Romantic poets or...

   Despite my professional illustration work and commission work, I still hold down a full-time day-job at a bookstore, as well as Saturday part-time job to help ends meet. I still do this for a steady paycheck and health insurance, which I most certainly need. This often makes me wish I was more prolific as my artist, but there are late nights and early mornings (with lots of coffee for fuel) and lunchbreaks in the bookstore for creative time.   

    Around my job(s), I’ve managed to keep making stuff (always, always making stuff) as well as practicing my story-writing techniques. (I’ll confess right now, without shame, to writing pseudonymous fanfiction. It’s good practice—and fun!) As far as my progress as an illustrator goes during the past few years, I’ve been able to post quick snippets about my projects on Facebook, Twitter, DeviantArt and Tumblr, sharing sketches and finished pictures to whomever wants to see them. My longer, more in-depth posts about projects have mostly been on Patreon these days, where I have some wonderful supporters who help keep me in gouache and brushes. In return, they get artwork and commissions from me as my thanks. (You know who you are: you guys rock and I can’t thank you enough.)

    But, sadly, I haven’t had a lot of time to come back and update the The Watcher Tree. I hope to remedy that now.

    Looking back at my own posts here, I see how much I’ve grown and changed since I first began it back in 2012. And I’m still learning.

    People have asked “What’s happened to Pre-Raphernalia?” 
    A lot of the work I highlighted early on in this blog was from my cartoon series Pre-Raphernalia, which is currently on hiatus, waiting grumpily for me to get back to it. I’ve been so busy with (paid) assignments that it became difficult to do any new work for it, despite many cartoon ideas for it left unfinished in my sketchbooks. Despite it being comprised mostly of these sketchbook drawings, the Pre-Raphernalia blog took quite a long time to put together, especially with all the added historical liner notes.

     However, I love the work I put into Pre-Raphernalia and I hope I will eventually be able to return to it again in the future. My love and geekiness for the Pre-Raphaelite artists is undiminished.

    My novel Heaven and the Dead City, which I posted about quite a lot in the earlier days of The Watcher Tree, had become a monster of work that I realized was beyond me as a graphic novel, so I made the decision to turn it into an illustrated prose novel instead. Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve been drawing. I have as many filled notebooks of writing as I do sketchbooks, and that’s a bookcase and a half. It’s always been my dream to combine my two loves into a single format. However, painting an entire graphic novel by hand had become impossible with my current schedule. Perhaps writing it as an illustrated book instead—while is still a tremendous amount of work—is a more attainable goal. I’ll certainly let you know. 

    So, what have I been doing in the past two years since I last goofily posted about Avon from Blake’s 7 and all my Doctor Who fan art? Things that have surprised me.

    Once more, if you’ve been with me this long, thank you! And if you’re new to my blog, please bear with me. As a middle-aged woman finally finding my artistic stride after all these years, I hope I can also help inspire creativity in others by writing about my attempts. It really doesn’t matter if you’re eight or eighty, if you’re using crayons or acrylic gouache, just do your thing: creativity has no expiration date, art is NOT a competition and we NEED more artists in this world.  

                  Sorry for being so long-winded. Future posts may be a lot shorter. 

                                                        Here we go!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Zen and the Art of Avon

I was first introduced to Blake's 7 in the late '80s when I was visiting my friend Beck at college.   "There's a Blake's 7 marathon on PBS tonight!" 
"Oh, what's Blake's 7?"
"It's a British science fiction show about a bunch of space renegades. You'll love Avon."
             "Who's Avon?"

Subsequently, I found out who Avon was.

Of the five crew members of the rebel ship the Liberator (with its two super-computers, Zen and Orac), Avon was the brooding, scowling technical genius who you wouldn't want standing behind you on a cliff. He had questionable morals and he skulked about the ship in black leather and made derisive comments, especially at their idealistic leader Blake (played by Gareth Thomas).

"He's sarcastic," I said. "I like him."
Some of the highlights of my first couple episodes of Blake's 7 were Kerr "I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I'm not going" Avon being the fastest draw in the west with a space gun/curling iron. And part of the fun was hearing actor Paul Darrow snarl, purr and growl the best dialogue in the show at friends and foes alike in his velvet voice. Sitting on the floor of my friend's dorm in front of a tiny television, we were several episodes into the marathon, watching him snarking and pissing off his fellow crew-members.
          ...And then came "Sarcophagus."

     "This one was written by Tanith Lee!" I said excitedly. (I was a huge Tanith Lee fan, having read her books throughout high school and college.) "This should be good. Wait... Avon's in charge now? How did that happen?" (There were a couple continuity jumps during the marathon...)
       "Blake went away."
       "Sure, he did... Why?"
       "Long story. Ssh."

And then Avon snogs an alien who has possessed telepathic crew-member Cally. So... it was almost like he was snogging Cally.
"YES!!" we screamed in unison, high-fiving each other. "Good ol' Tanith doesn't disappoint." I loved the weird, fantasy aspect of this episode with its Jungian archetypes. One guess which crew member was "the Shadow".

Avon to Dayna: "You've just cured my headache."
Years passed, and because of lack of Blake's 7 videos and dvds in this country, I wasn't able to see the infamous finale until many years later. (Although I knew about it, of course.) Only recently this year, I've finally watched all four seasons consecutively and re-acquainted myself with the show, picking out other favorite characters, aspects and episodes.

I especially loved the tough female crew members: pirate and Liberator pilot Jenna, mysteriously chosen by Zen; tough and innovative Dayna (who always had a hidden explosive on her somewhere as well as being the first woman on the show to kiss Avon, right after she rescues him. Go Dayna.) Soolin the gunslinger who had some fantastic lines a little too late in the show's last year (Gauda Prime was looming); and Cally, poor Cally. For an alien, she was also the everywoman trying to fit in.

And then there was Servalan, their arch-nemesis, who was beautiful and oozed fabulousness. (It was the '80s, after all.) All of these ladies need portraits someday as well.

Sometime last year, a FB and Twitter friend (Neil Rule. Thanks again, Neil!) told me that Paul Darrow had seen and liked some of my Doctor Who artwork, so that's how this project got started. After I fangirled like an idiot over that news, I decided I needed to do an Avon portrait. (Or two...)

The "he" in question being Peter Davison. And then Neil sent me this picture:
Neil (wearing my Fifth Doctor t-shirt), sitting between Servalan and Avon,
aka, Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow.
And so...
Some very rough sketchbook drawings:

My idea in the tiny thumbnail sketch (to the left) is  Avon transitioning after the destruction of Blake’s ship, the Liberator, and the new ship, the Scorpio. (I thought an apt ship name for a leader known for his sting.)      

The outfit he's wearing is from the episode "Terminal" which saw the Liberator exploding (along with the heartbreaking death of Zen). This is where it's argued that Avon started the downward spiral that would lead to his final fatal mistake in the last episode.                                                                                                                                        
Zen, the ghostly ship's computeris the hexagon framing device behind Avon.) He never actually has both those guns at the same time (before anyone gives me grief!) And the little super-computer Orac is  in the corner, a bit of a nightmare to draw in perspective. Sure, "he" only looks like a harmless box of junk.

Finally, I've got Avon transferred onto a good piece of paper and Orac in perspective (with all "his" wires and tubes and thingamabobs). The ship's computer, Zen, is  in the background. The picture would be mostly monochrome except for Zen's blue and yellow flashing "disco" lights.

The pencil drawing was lightly inked to get ready for all the detail and shading of the acrylic gouache (the fun part!) It looks pretty basic and plain at this stage. This is how I start all my pictures, with just the simple outlines indicated. I keep a photocopied sketch (from the original sketchbook drawing) taped nearby for reference. I also loaded my iPod with photo references I can quickly consult for Avon's two guns, transporter bracelet, holster, the two computers, etc.

Next: Avon and Zen get attacked by a giant sea sponge!
(Bear with me on this one: it's for the texture on Zen's screen.)

This was fun. Sponges are fun. And messy. This makes a texture I can enhance with a brush a little later.

Below: you can see more texture on Zen, more detail and outline (helped by a Pigma Micron brush pen).

More progress, and I turned on Zen's disco lights. I also re-painted the hand holding the Scorpio gun. And the final version again, below, with a sample background color.

This is first of two Blake's 7 pictures I'm working on.

I was also playing around in my sketchbook with my two favorite (male) characters, Avon and Vila (who is holding Orac. He always seemed to save Orac despite Orac "suggesting" Avon throw Vila off the escape ship in the episode "Orbit". As I said, not a harmless box of junk.)

The planet they’re on was meant to look a bit like the Season Four opening credits, but it also looks like they’re up to no good in an alien Monument Valley. This, I thought, might fit with the “western in space” theme of the show: all the characters are outlaws, chased by the evil Federation. In the sky is their ship of the last season, the Scorpio.

Servalan’s probably hiding behind one of those rock formations, ready to pounce with her goons. Or at least to snog Avon.

(Waiting for her portrait too or there will be hell to pay.)

"Beware, Colin Baker! We will curl your hair EVEN MORE!
Look what we did to Tarrant."

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Strange Days

By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!
    My other favorite Doctor who debuted the year I was born (1963) is Doctor Strange. I discovered him when I was a very young pre-teen growing out of my Supergirl and Wonder Woman comics and finding what I thought of as the "more mature", teenager-friendly Marvel Comics. (These superheroes had Angst and Stuff™, like me.)   

     I had come across a discarded copy of The Defenders and found myself most fascinated by the guy with the mustache and gray streaks in his hair that the other Defenders team members were just calling "Stephen" in this particular issue. He had somehow been captured by demons and badly needed rescuing by Valkyrie. (The fact that a valkyrie had to rescue him appealed to me. Norse mythology and the "Yay, girls!" factor.) I later learned that this was Doctor Stephen Strange and he usually wore a grandiose cape with a high gothic collar because he was some sort of  magician, and this was part of his fashion sense. Or at least the Sorcerer Supreme's, and his powers weren't working very well at this moment.
     This required further investigation on my part. (He seemed oddly sad in this particular comic and my teen-aged self wanted to make sure he was all right. He had Angst and Stuff™, apparently.) Strange in general was just a sad guy all around. He had important Sorceror Supreme stuff that needed doing and it was lonely and stressful work. I got that. 

      What this led to was my discovering what's been called the "trippy" and "psychedelic" weirdness of Steve Ditko's art, to be followed by such amazing artists as Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, P. Craig Russell and many others. Ditko originally based Strange's look on actor Vincent Price, but he went through many stages of handsomeness, from Errol Flynn to even Frank Zappa.

I still need Volume Four...
      Stephen Strange is a vain surgeon whose hands are scarred and crippled in a car accident. He travels the world in search of a cure and unwittingly finds himself in Tibet, where he meets a mysterious being named The Ancient One who sees that there is some hope and decency left in this arrogant, selfish man. And thus he trains him to become a dimension-hopping sorcerer who finally learns humility and becomes a hero. Angst and Stuff™ ensues. I ate it up.

Having fun with a blank
variant "sketch cover"and
my sketchbook drawing.

       The stories were just downright weird and the artwork was intricate, gorgeous and insane. I adored it. I found myself picking up issues of Doctor Strange intermittently through my college years, even though I was aware he wasn't exactly Marvel's top-selling superhero. (I went to college at Pratt Institute and often bought my comics in a small shop in Greenwich Village, the part of New York City where Doctor Strange's infamous Sanctum Sanctorum brownstone, with its distinctive window, was supposedly located.)

He tended to disappear and reappear in other characters' comics. I had hoped for years for a proper Doctor Strange film or television adaption, but knew his lack of sales probably would mean that it wouldn't be happening any time soon, if at all. And yes, I had seen the '70s Doctor Strange tv movie the first time it ever aired, and, well... just... no.) There was an excellent animated movie that Marvel released a few years back that changed a lot of the backstory but I enjoyed it nevertheless. This was closer to the Strange I was fond of.

      Oh, and then there was the Venture Brothers' Doctor Orpheus, of course, to hold me over with their wacky Doctor Strange parody. (Strange really needs a cat now and a goth teenage daughter... Doctor Orpheus is just so damned lovable.) BUT THEN I heard Stephen Strange's name mentioned for the first time in a modern Marvel film (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) which was the personal highlight of that film for me. Did this mean what I thought it meant...? After all these years, would we finally be getting a big-budget, special effects-laden, crazy Doctor Strange movie?

      Yes. And he would be played by Benedict (Sherlock) Cumberbatch. For me, it was like Christmas and Halloween (my favorite holiday) rolled into one. And did I mention it will also have Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor in it? (Swoons)

   Initially I thought Cumberbatch was far too young for the part, but hey, he's got the cheekbones. And he can play angst and arrogance equally well. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I'm hoping for the Doctor Strange movie I've always wanted to see for our 53rd birthday in November, Strange and I.
And I need to draw more of my favorite Marvel character. But he needs to say this just once in the film.
                                                            Just once? Please?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Song for the Butterfly-Jellies

I painted my sketch of the Second Doctor. Patrick Troughton plays one of my favorite Doctors, and I adore him and wish more of his lost episodes could be found!

This was originally a sketchbook drawing. The reason behind this one is because of several sources mentioning that Patrick Troughton loved butterflies. He mentions them in an old PBS interview , and even the Second Doctor (right after his regeneration from William Hartnell, when his companions don't believe he's still the Doctor) says, "I'd like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after it spreads its wings." In his biography of his father, Michael Troughton writes that his father had used to collect them as a boy and, as an adult, used to call out the names of different species of butterflies when he saw them in the garden.

My idea here was for the Doctor to play a song on his trusty recorder for some weird alien jellyfish-butterflies, who probably appreciate his music more than his TARDIS companions ever did.

The picture is done in my usual way: acrylic gouache and ink, with Photoshop touch-ups.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

ALL the Doctors are Done!

Sorry I haven't been updating this blog as frequently as I should have, but I've been happy to say I've been somewhat crazy-busy on lots of different projects... all at once! (And still maintaining a full-time job at a bookstore at the same time. Yes, coffee. Lots of coffee. Bring it on.)

Anyway, I last told you (in my previous post) that I was midway through my Doctor Who portraits. (And being a giddy fangirl.) And now, I'm happy to say: they're all DONE! All fifteen! (Fifteen, because I added two variants: two versions of the Eighth Doctor, and two versions of the War Doctor.) And yes, there's a distinct possibility that you might be seeing a non-canon Peter Cushing Doctor coming soon, as well as a Richard E. Grant Shalka Doctor... but that might be a little while yet.

Here are the Doctors that were still in progress when I published my last post, all finally finished. (See my previous post for the other finished Doctors.)

The First Doctor (William Hartnell)
Because he's the one who started it all, I wanted to make him look sort of like a wizard
coming out of his TARDIS. The scraps of paper blowing around him have the
date of the first episode, 23 November 1963. In the sky behind him is are
two "classic" versions of the Dalek saucers.
The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)
On Gallifrey, with its two suns, trusty K-9 and a bag of multicolored jelly babies.

The only one of my Doctors showing any teeth.
(I think Tom Baker has more teeth than the average human anyway.)

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)
Playing cricket on Androzani, with the falling star in the sky symbolizing Adric.
Peter Davison has the hardest face of all the actors to get right.

Whereas Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton, for instance, pretty much
draw themselves, Peter has more delicate features that are
more difficult to exaggerate.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)
The master strategist on a chessboard, things seemed to
blow up a lot around the 7th Doctor.

I decided Seven got to have Daleks in his picture because he infact blew up
the Daleks' homeworld, Skaro (although temporarily, it would seem).

(Also, I was given my very own question mark umbrella as a
Christmas present from my sister this year!)
The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)
I did a Time War version of Eight (which was in my last post) and that was
the only finished one I got to actually show Paul McGann when I met him.
(This earlier version of the 8th Doctor wasn't finished in time for that con.)

This is Eight from the tv movie, with his velvet frock coat and longer hair and
magnificent gothic TARDIS. (Still my very favorite TARDIS interior.)
The Young War Doctor (John Hurt)
Seen only briefly at the very end of  "Night of the Doctor", young John Hurt's image was
actually taken from a production of Crime and Punishment that he did many years ago.
I actually watched this and made sketches of him for this version of the War Doctor.

There was an odd coincidence about this picture as well:

A wonderful charity short film was made about the young War Doctor called
Seasons of War
and I was contacted by the makers of it when they saw my
picture. It seems we both used a Dalek eyestalk as a symbol.

In Seasons, the War Doctor uses it as a telescope (pretty ingenious, if you ask me). In my
version above, I think he just ripped it out of a Dalek as a trophy of war. (Well, maybe
he then goes and makes a telescope out of it later but here he looks like he just
wants to hit someone with it. Young Captain Grumpy. Also notice that there's
Dalek-gunk on his watch in the corner of the picture. Ewww.)

The coincidence was pretty amazing! And I made new friends!!

The War Doctor (John Hurt)
My older version of the War Doctor, with Arcadia (the main city of Gallifrey),
behind him and under siege by Dalek saucers. The sentient bomb, The
, is nearby waiting for its activation. 

I was extremely happy that Sir John actually got to see the finished version
of this picture! (He had previously seen the sketch.)
The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)
My favorite 9th Doctor episodes are "The Empty Child"/ "The Doctor
which take place in London during the Blitz. I thought some
of the most dramatic images of this time period (and which
were used in the show itself) were of the searchlights
and the barrage balloons in the sky.

I'd already used the Tower of Big Ben in the Third Doctor picture, so
I couldn't resist putting in St. Paul's Cathedral, site of so many other
Doctor Who invasions.

It took me a few tries to get the shape of Christopher Eccleston's head right.
Because of his severely short haircut, there wasn't a lot of hair
for me to camouflage it with!

The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)
The very last of my Doctor illustrations to be finished. I have him set him in
, in the episode "The Pandorica Opens". I was trying to get a
kinetic pose out of him, with a twist at the waist like he was in mid-spin.

(It may not look it, but this was a very painful Doctor to pose for in
front of a full-length mirror. )
               And here they all are together in one collage!

So, yes, this took me a year to finish, but it was great fun and practice... and I met a lot of new friends just by attempting this project!