Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Krampus!

I work in a bookstore and it's usually around this time of the year when I can't help wanting Krampus to make a visit at the store, if only to shake things up a bit and remind people of good behavior. (Including me!)

In certain parts of Europe, it's traditional for Santa and Krampus to work as sort of a Good Cop/ Bad Cop team before Christmas. (Just by looking at Krampus, you can guess which one he is.) Infact, December 5th is devoted to Krampusnacht, which is now beginning to be celebrated in this part of the world. For those of you who wish Halloween came more than once a year, say hello to the big guy with horns!

He knows when you've been bad or good.

Grace Nuth of the wonderful blog Domythic Bliss originally introduced me to Krampus last year and I was honestly surprised I had never heard of him, considering that some of my family came from the part of Europe where he's most popular.
Grace has written an excellent blog post about our horned buddy: http://domythicbliss.blogspot.com/2012/12/gru-vom-krampus.html

So, for fun, I did a few cartoons of Krampus in my sketchbook that I hope to turn into color Christmas cards next year. My idea was to give him a Victorian look, even make him a bit dapper. I really just wanted to see him in a top hat.

Krampus dressed and ready for a night out on the town.
Note the pocket watch for keeping those
important appointments...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Horns and Wings and Hooves

It's been quite awhile since my last blog-post here on The Watcher Tree. I've been drawing and painting new pages for my ongoing graphic novel, Heaven and the Dead City, as well as updating and drawing new cartoons for my other blog Pre-Raphernalia. All this on top of a 40-hour a week day-job at a bookstore. (Rent, food and kitty litter are very important...)

I mostly wanted to use The Watcher Tree to show some of my other work, but there hasn't been a lot of time to do some full-color paintings. There will be some new ones coming (currently in progress) but in the meantime, here are some more older paintings of mine.

Centaur, 1997. Gouache on tinted blue watercolor paper.

This guy has gotten a lot of attention over the years and I suspect he likes it. This was one of the fastest paintings I ever did, done on one dull Christmas Day at my apartment in New Jersey. I had bought a pack of tinted watercolor paper that was fun to use--pages colored pastel shades of blue, yellow, pink, green and gray-- and this one was done on a blue sheet. The company that put out the tinted pads of paper has since discontinued them (I guess they weren't a big seller) but I loved them because they were ideal for gouache. I still have a pad I saved over the years, waiting for just the right subjects.

These paintings below were also done on the tinted paper:

Unicorn , 1997, gouache.
Done on green paper.

Kirins, 1997, gouache.
Done on yellow paper.

Fire Angel, 2005. Gouache.
This guy above was done on a few hot summer days in Arizona, not on tinted paper, but since this photo was taken, I painted the background in metallic gold to sort of make it look like gold leaf. Notice his conveniently placed drapery and feathers.
                                Remind me I need to do more handsome angels.

I mean... I need to do a LOT of handsome angels. And handsome devils, too. (Let's not forget them.)

Another angel, this time based on a pen and ink drawing I did a long, long time ago (in the prehistoric 1980's) of a six-winged seraph. I like to take early pictures I've done and do "remakes" years later. I have a few more college pictures that I still (sort of) like that I would like to retry and hopefully do a better job on. This was one of those.

Seraph, 2009. Gouache and colored pencils.

I had been looking at an art book on angels from the Pratt college library and trying to figure out how to arrange the six wings a seraph is described as having. I imagined them sort of displayed like the petals of a large flower. There's also some Asian influence in the seraph's armor and it's definitely my most unintentionally "Burne-Jonesian" looking picture.
Another angel painting I've done is this old watercolor one that I  made for my grandmother one Christmas. I'd like to do a remake of this one as well, with goauche this time and correcting several things about it. (The "editing process" of an old picture is also sometimes a fun thing to do. You get to bring in any new techniques or knowledge that you've acquired since you did the picture the first time around.  I talked a little about that in this post.) It's based on a Polish folktale and is now currently hanging on a wall in my parents' house.
The Lady and the Angel, 1995, watercolor.
Wings of a different kind:
Tooth Fairy, 2000, goache and colored pencils.


Over the years, I've done a few commissioned portraits of people in fantasy settings based on their own photographs or ones that I took of them myself. This one above is of the latter: a co-worker at one of the bookstores I worked at came up with the concept of being the Tooth Fairy and I took several photos of her posed on top of the bookstore counter as reference. (Um, not during store hours, of course.) She told me what kind of wings, outfit, etc., she would like but the scepter/ toothbrush was my own idea.

Toaster Dragon, 2010. Gouache, colored pencils.
My sister's boyfriend Rob Lanning commissioned me to do a few "Kitchen Dragons" which are currently (of course) hanging on the wall of his kitchen. The Toaster Dragon (above) is preparing one of Rob's favorites, peanut butter on toast. He's handy to have during a power outtage.

Sink Serpent, 2010. Gouache and colored pencils.
A handy creature who actually enjoys doing your dishes. (And this is the actual sink from my old apartment.) The soap bubbles took the longest to do in this picture.
So now I will set tasks for myself to try to do some more new color paintings to show you over the next year. And also look for more silly fun (with historical notes) on The Watcher Tree's  sister blog, Pre-Raphernalia.
And as I've mentioned in previous posts, I will also begin to present the first pages of my  graphic novel Heaven and the Dead City here very soon as well. (And you can read the first three chapters here: http://www.co2comics.com/pages/co2_heaven_and_the_dead_city.html )
Happy holidays all!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heaven and the Dead City, Volume 1-- The Book

Volume 1 of my graphic novel Heaven and the Dead City is out!
It's my first REAL published book!
(As opposed to all those imaginary books I've had published, that is...)
Look! It even has a spine and everything!

(Um, try to ignore the paint-spattered table it's resting on...)
And you can turn the pages!!!

(Yes, I do have a Lucky Cat pencil holder...)

This volume covers Chapters 1 and 2 of the ongoing webcomic.
You can read them in their entirety here : http://www.co2comics.com/pages/co2_heaven_and_the_dead_city.html ,
as well as Chapter 3, currently in progress (on my drawing table as well.) :  http://www.co2comics.com/pages/co2_heaven_and_the_dead_city_3.html

As I mentioned in an earlier blog  post, this painting
will be the cover of Heaven and the Dead City,
                  Volume 2. (right)

Co2 Comics just recently did some blogposts about their artists and this week was my turn. You can read about it here: http://www.co2comics.com/blog/2012/07/24/the-forecast-calls-for-raine/  (Ahh, puns...)

Heaven and the Dead City is available in
both hardcover and paperback forms here:


In the future, I will also be posting early pages
of the story in sequence in The Watcher Tree.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fan Girls and Their Animal Friends...

A few years ago, I did several fan paintings of some of my favorite comics characters. They were done as much for my portfolio as they were for the sheer fun of it. There are actually lots of comic book portraits I'd still love to do (along with an endless amount of other ideas for illustrations) but here are the few I managed to finish.

And please notice the gratuitous use of animals whenever I can fit them into a picture...

Wonder Woman, 2000. Gouache, colored pencils, chalk.
With extra added doves.
This is Wonder Woman in one of her many evolving outfits. I did like that they recently tried to give her breastplate straps (how amazingly practical!) as well as dark leggings, which I also sort of liked as well. However, both the straps and pants seemed have disappeared once more and she's back to bare legs and worrying again about her top staying in place while she thwarts evil-doers.

Actually, I'd love to do portraits of other super-heroines -- Storm, Black Canary, Catwoman, Emma Frost, the Scarlet Witch, etc., etc.  For fun, I'd love to do a picture of the old version of Supergirl when she still had Streaky the Super-Cat and Comet the Superhorse...

                   Every little girls' dream pets... and they come with their own capes.

               While we're at it, why not the new Batwoman with Ace the Bat-hound?
                           Everyone remembers Ace the Bat-hound, right?

I just think poor Kate Kane needs a dog. Especially a dog who wears a mask
to conceal his secret identity to fight crime in Gotham City.
(I for one certainly wouldn't recognize him with the mask on...)

Oh, who am I kidding? I'll use any excuse to get an animal in a picture with the humans.

For instance:
                                             It's Logan with his cuddly wolverine buddies!
                                                  (Wolverine, 2001. Gouache, colored pencils, chalk.)                

Because if you work in comics you're going to eventually have to do a picture
 of Wolverine someday... It's inevitable.

Animal Man, 2001. Gouache, colored pencils.
And of course, if you're going to combine animals with superheroes, here's a no-brainer:
Animal Man. (left)

 I loved the Grant Morrison revision of this character in the early '90's
and I even did a
few sample pages of penciling for my portfolio years ago. (I can drag those out for a future post if you really want to see them...)

But ten years later, I took one of the panels from those early sample pages and for fun, blew it up and turned it into this painting.

Actually the first comic characters I ever attempted were for my friend Matt, who is a big Neil Gaiman and Sandman fan. He commissioned me to do several members of the Endless, and although I never finished the whole family for him, I did get to have fun experimenting with the new medium I was working in (gouache.) 
Death, 1998. Gouache. No animals.
But she does have a goldfish (not pictured.)

This is the first painting I did for Matt. He came up with the concepts and drew little sketches for me of his ideas. I used his ideas as the basis for all the following (with the exception of Daniel, which was my concept.)

Delirium, 1999. Gouache.
Here's some goldfish... and some flying frogs...
and oh, my head hurts...

With a definite Salvador Dali and Tori Amos influence.
Even though I've also been told she looks a lot like my sister.
Destiny, 2005. Gouache.
Too stoic for cute animal friends.
Destiny was the roughest one to do because he isn't exactly the jolliest guy in comics. And trying to get the eclipse lighting was frustrating no matter how many astronomy photos I looked at as reference.
Dream, 2000. Gouache.
The raven was a must...

A photo of Matt's friend and her new baby was used
as reference for Lyta and baby Daniel.
Matt (who's an architect) wanted the castle in the background to
 look like it was Gaudi-inspired.
Daniel, 2000.  Gouache.
Now this guy's got some cool pets.

Daniel grew up to become the new Dream King, all in white. Again, I couldn't resist the urge to put animals in the picture, so here we have the three Gate Guardians of the Dream Realm.
Zatanna, 2000. Gouache.

Yes, I posed for this one twelve years ago and nearly
threw out my back in the process...

And here's my version of Zatanna the Magician, with brown hair as opposed to the  black hair she's usually shown with. Apart from looking a little like the young Kate Bush (intentional), she's a bit more cheesecake than I usually do. And that certainly isn't a bad thing. 

(Speaking of magicians, I've always had a soft spot for Dr. Strange and wouldn't mind doing a portrait of him one day.
Oh, I'll find some sort of

weird Steve Ditko-esque creature to keep
him company, don't you worry...)

Later on, I became a fan of James Robinson's Starman series and started playing around with decorative borders, which I've recently become quite fond of using.
(Example: my previous blog post...)   
Starman Jack, 2002. Gouache, colored pencils.
I was trying to give this one an Art Deco look in keeping with how the city in the comic looked. A former neighbor of mine posed as Jack by sitting on his kitchen counter and holding a mop on his shoulder.

Hey, you use what you can get.
For instance:

Not a comic character  but...

I did this picture for a former co-worker in exchange for his photographing some of my artwork for me. He picked the subject matter and wanted to pose as Caesar.

I took a reference photo of him sitting on a library cart (which became his horse) and holding an umbrella as his sword.

Back to Starman...While I gave Jack an Art Deco border, I gave his unlikely friend The Shade something older and creepier:

The Shade, 2002. Gouache, colored pencils.
Never leaves home without his
trusty shadow critters.


A former villain with power over shadows, The Shade was one of the highlights of the comic for me.

My painting of him sort of looks like a Victorian Fred Astaire on acid.

Jane of The Wonderverse, 2002. Gouache, colored pencils.
Speaking of the Victorian era, I did a steampunk cowgirl painting for an independent company in New Mexico called Opposite Numbers. It was for a comic called The Wonderverse and like my own Heaven and the Dead City,
one of its featured characters
was a tough cowgirl.
(There can't be  enough tough cowgirl characters in comics, I decided.)

Here I am playing with border designs again as The Wonderverse's character, Jane, visits London during the days of Jack the Ripper (right):
 No animals in the few paintings above, but to make up for that I will share with you one last geeky fangirl tribute:

King Ghidorah versus Mothra! 

...From the Godzilla movies (of which I've been a fan since childhood.)

Hmm, I may do a future post on my own monsters and dragons someday...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yaira and the Dead City

Before I do a post on some  "fan art" paintings I've done, I thought I'd show you something a bit more recent. Infact, I finally finished it this week...

Yaira, 2012. Gouache and colored pencils.

Yaira is a character from my online graphic novel "Heaven and the Dead City"
( http://www.co2comics.com/pages/co2_heaven_and_the_dead_city.html ).

This will hopefully be the cover of Volume Two and is meant to be a companion piece to the Volume One cover that features  the mysterious "gentleman-witch," Swamp. (below)

Yaira is a "runner" (aka, scavenger) for a small settlement outside the ruined walls of the Dead City.

She is an accomplished horsewoman and proficient with several weapons (preferrably anything pointy, but she can handle a lasso with a certain amount of flair...)

She gathers supplies, old medicine and the occasional forbidden book for her people, all the time trying to dodge the deadly guardian golems (called the Beserkers) left inside the city walls.  (She calls them 'Zerkers.)
And you thought your cockroaches were a problem...

For the cover painting of Yaira I first did a drawing in my sketchbook which I then photocopied at a larger size and transferred by lightbox to an 11"x 17" piece of vellum bristol paper (better surface for paints.)

I should say that the border was done separately on a sheet of tracing paper and added afterwards to the sketch. (I only drew half of the entire border and flipped it over on the lightbox so the other side would match in reverse.) I wanted Yaira's border to be sharper in contrast to Swamp's more rounded one to sort of reflect the shape of her arrows.

When I was happy with the finished sketch transferred to bristol paper, I made photocopies again so I could refer back to them when I started painting. (I also loosely painted one of the photocopies to see which colors I wanted to use.) So with the painted photocopy and one of the original sketches taped nearby, I then started work on the actual painting.

I wanted her painting to be in very warm colors (reds, golds and pinks) as opposed to Swamp's very weird, cold blues and greens.

The steps here to a finished illustration may seem like a lot, but this is how I seem to work best!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Faeries, Goddesses and Warrior Women

When in doubt, I always say, paint a faerie picture. Or a goddess. Or a warrior woman.

Before I do some posts about me and comics, I thought I'd share some more paintings I've done of Mythical Ladies...
Artemis, 1999. Gouache and blackboard chalk.

First, we'll start with a goddess. This was a portrait of  a friend of mine and fellow bookstore employee who wanted to pose as Artemis. (I took a reference photo of her in the breakroom of the bookstore holding a yardstick and a dowel rod as her bow and arrow. )

(Note the use again of blackboard chalk for the clouds and mist.)

Since posting this picture a few years ago online, I had a request for it to be used  as an illustration in a British pagan magazine for an article about Artemis.

I didn't get paid for it, but I got a year's subscription! Sweet.

Leaf Faery, 1998. Gouache.
You may have already seen some of my other faerie paintings from my previous posts. For awhile in the mid to late '90's, I was doing quite a lot of them...  I had more than enough ideas because of all the sketchbooks I'd compiled over the years.

This is my ubiquitous Leaf Faery. (Yes, I know, she probably combs her hair with a rake...)

She showed up in an earlier watercolor painting I did about autumn, standing in a wheat field and holding a basket of produce.

Her next appearance will be in the painting I started of the poet John Keats and his poem , "Ode to Autumn."

Here's the original rough drawing from my sketchbook that I transferred onto bristol paper (vellum surface) to also be painted in gouache.

Snow Faery, 2003. Gouache and colored pencils.
Green Faery, 1999. Gouache and colored pencils.

What you can't see very well in this photo of the Snow Faery is that the background is painted in silver metallic gouache which makes the snowflakes easier to see.

Photos never do gold or silver paint justice...

I purposefully put sprigs of wormwood in this faery's hair---one of the key ingredients in absinthe.

And that is quite an elusive shade of lipstick she's wearing...

She and the Snow Faery must buy makeup at the same goth shop.

                           Pine Faery, 2001. Gouache.

The Pine Faery I actually started on a canvas. In oils.  Well, water-soluble oils to be exact. I've always been impatient with oils--not only do they take forever to dry, they take forever to clean up, smell funny and I don't like the greasiness on my hands.
Being a true Water Sign, I thought maybe water-soluble oils would be the solution to my oil painting annoyances...

Nope. For me, at least, water and oil still don't mix and I grumpily started this painting all over again in good ol' reliable gouache.

Kitsune, 2004. Gouache and colored pencils.

Now onto a different type of  faery altogether...

This is a kitsune, a Japanese fox spirit.
They are supernatural foxes who can shapeshift, usually into the form of a desirable man or woman. Some live to cause havoc; some are benign and actually marry humans.

As the fox ages and grows in power and wisdom over the centuries, it grows additional tails. Eventually a one- thousand-year old fox will become completely white and have nine tails.

I have a fondness for foxes and love kitsune myths. I have many books about their Japanese and Chinese variations.

Samurai, 2002. Gouache,acrylic medium, colored pencils.
In staying with the Japanese theme, my local comic book store, Samurai Comics, had a wall of samurai artwork done by customers and some professionals.

I thought they needed a little Girl Power up there so I did this samurai woman.

This is one of the first pictures that I experimented with putting small drops of  acrylic medium in the gouache to make it waterproof. What was much better was my discovery that they actually make acrylic gouache in tubes and now I do a sort of  "underpainting" in the acrylic gouache (I use Holbein Acryla Gouache) and then paint and blend on top with my good ol' Windsor & Newton "regular" gouache.

But what led to my trying this out was actually painting the designs on her kimono!
By the way, the large kanji to her right means "samurai" and the smaller one beneath is "rain." (Or "Raine...")
Siren of Warsaw, 1998. Gouache.

The above mermaid, known as the Siren of Warsaw, guards the Vistula River in Poland and is sort of a Slavic Lady of the Lake. She's the emblem of the city of Warsaw, which my dad assures me is where my ancestors came from. (As well as Slovakia and what was once known as Prussia.)
The rim of the circle in this picture is painted in metallic gold (you can actually tell it's metallic in this picture as opposed to the Snow Faery's silver paint.)

I'm sure the guy to the right is probably waiting for just the right gust of wind...

(Oh, another note. People have asked me about this: If you've noticed I sign my name "Szramska"  rather than "Szramski", it's just that "Szramska" is the feminine version of my last name in Polish, as opposed to the masculine "Szramski" which is what I grew up with. Most Polish-Americans usually just use the masculine form, but I actually am more fond of the feminine version, which is what my grandmother grew up with.)

Owl Watch, 2009. Gouache, colored pencils.

I have about a dozen sketchbooks filled with fantasy pictures like this for "future paintings." Unfortunately, I'm not as fast a painter as I'd like to be (although I've been known to become quite energetic when someone promises me money if I can get it done in a weekend... Then I start making endless pots of coffee...)

But this one wasn't one of those, and infact was one in a stack of drawings I've had for years waiting to be painted. This one I finally got around to, and is bigger than most pictures I do (the average size I work is about 16"x 20"). I used the acrylic gouache "underpainting" I just talked about, with blended gouache and light colored pencil "glazing" on top.

Basically, I just wanted an excuse to paint a barn owl, my favorite type of owl. They have heart-shaped faces, sort of "toasted marshmallow" coloring and their eyes are dark, which is unlike the yellow eyes most other owls have. The woman in the picture, however, does have yellow eyes.

And finally our last picture for this post is one I did for my friend Kristin as a wedding present:

This idea was suggested by my sister, Victoria, because of Kris' love of dragons.

I don't think the dragon in this picture is meant to be her husband, but I could be wrong...

Coming up next: I will talk about some pictures I did of another kind of mythical people...