I first discovered Bernie Wrightson back in my college days in Buffalo, NY. He wasn’t one of the established artists of the academic world, and someone that my professors would, for the most part, thumb their collective noses at since as an illustrator/comic creator Bernie wasn’t a ‘true’ artist in their minds.
Fortunately, I had a small group of friends that were into comics, metal, punk, and horror/sci-fi movies from whom I learned about Bernie. What drew my attention to his work is not just the subject matter, which was a big part of it, but his craftsmanship and attention to detail/composition.
I’ve always been fascinated with and drawn to, yes that’s a shitty pun, line work when creating art. A painting professor at the time made the statement that I’d be capable of painting with sticks, which is rather appropriate. I’ve never been interested in fields of color or blending. The abstraction of the line and the contrast of black ink and white paper always has been a part of my core as an artist. So, for me seeing Bernie’s work in black and white (although he has done color work and work in other mediums) was like manna from heaven. The fact that here’s a dude doing the type of work I adore in the medium I’m obsessed with was, and still is, fantastic. The fact that Bernie was alive and producing new work, unlike so many of the artists in the pantheon of the academic art world, was refreshing. It proved to me that not only was Bernie’s work relevant, but that that style and genre were too.
Despite the years that have passed since my college years, and the passing of Bernie last year, he still continues to inspire me and every time I look at his work I learn something new that can be applied to my own work and in my own style.
In the video interview I posted at the top Bernie mentions how when he draws its like his mind is projecting the image on the page as he draws, I can definitely relate to the idea. His thoughts on line drawing versus painting is also worth a listen.
I finished this one up earlier this morning. Strictly pen and ink with some brush work. I had been doing more with ink wash for tonal stuff and shading but decided to try my hand at stipling and other techniques to create values, textures. I’m happy with how it turned out. I suppose I could’ve done stipling for the black areas but then I’d end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. But the solid blacks give the viewer’s eyes a break.
I’ve been trying to capture ‘a moment in time’ in my work lately. By that I mean trying to convey the idea that something is occuring or is about to occur rather than having a drawing where the subject matter is static, stiff, and posed. If find it far more interesting and more of a challenge to have subject matters that aren’t ‘posing’ for me. Conveying motion, emotion, some sort of plot or idea that’s either specific or vague. Like a snapshot from a half-remembered dream or a snippet of an old memory.
Played around with some video editing software this morning and made this quick video featuring some of my artwork for fun. Back when I was in college I took a video production class as an elective. This was back in the early 1990’s when video cameras were the size of brief cases and used VHS tapes. Just writing that makes me feel old. It was a fun class, and learned how to edit in an actual editing suite. Still remember a bit but it’s much easier/quicker doing it on my laptop.
The other day while driving home from work, I was listening to an interview with an author. At one point the interviewer asked her if she ‘mined’ her daily life for inspiration. The author’s response was that she did not, and that writing was an alternative reality for her.
As a creative person I could really relate to that idea. For me writing and drawing has always been about escapism. I’ve never really been one to draw upon my daily experiences and the people in my life when it came to sitting down at the keyboard or drawing table. I’ve known plenty of writer friends that will base a character on their ex-spouse or idiot next door neighbor, and subject them to a horrible fate. I understand the idea about doing such things, it can be theraputic I am sure, but I’ve never delved into it.
For me it’s far more appealing to create a world and characters that don’t remind me of the everyday. A world where the fantastic and macabre can occur. Where the rules and rubbish of the real world do not hold sway over it. In a lot of ways it’s like when I was a kid playing with my action figures in the sandbox. It could be whatever I wanted it to be, and could evolve and develop according to my imagination’s whim. The moment something reminds me of the real world, it shatters the illusion of the ‘alternate’ reality.
I think that ‘alternative reality’ is a good label since whenever I’m fully immersed in a good novel, movie/show, art exhibit, play, music, etc, my life filled with working overtime and paying the mortgage and chasing my kids around fades away. Whatever creative piece of art I’m partaking in does seem real and does trasport me to another realm. That’s the power of creativity in all its forms, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it.
Happy Halloween, to those of you who celebrate it like me. I finished up this drawing yesterday. It came about after my family and I went to a local garden center and bought some pumpkins for making Jack-o-Lanterns. A few days later a local squirrel got the notion that gnawing on them was a good idea. We ended up putting them inside, until Halloween night. But that incident got my imagination going and during my lunch break at work one day I did a sketch which turned into this pen and brush ink drawing.
However you celebrate Halloween this year, be wary of strange farms …
Gotta break in the case this morning, turned out a woman reported being assaulted not too far from the warehouse where the cats’ were killed. According to the report it happened a few nights before.
The woman’s name was Rosie and she had a few priors, mainly prostitution and possession. A minor leaguer by criminal standards, but pretty common for that part of the city.
Unfortunately, Rosie had no permanent address and the flat-foot that took the report did a half-assed job of questioning her. Based on the account he took Rosie’s assailant could’ve been anyone. One thing that stuck out to me was that her cat had gone missing earlier that day and Rosie claimed that her assailant had her cat when she encountered him on the street. She tried to get it back, and an argument ensued which escalated to violence.
Jones and me hit the streets to find her. Lucky for us she’d been arrested for hooking last year, so her mug shot was fresh. Rosie was barely twenty. She should’ve had the cherubic face of a girl, but the hard life of the streets had etched lines into her face and despite the makeup she had the pallor brought on by a fast food diet and drug addiction. Her lost innocence was a pallid ghost dressed in a thrift store sundress and worn out sneakers. The saddest thing were her eyes, they were like an empty well.
We went to the usual hang outs. Neighborhoods that were full of porn shops and pawn stores. Chinese food and liquor stores. We spotted her outside a food truck selling burritos. She tried to rabbit on us, but Jones was hot on her heels so she didn’t get far.
“Let go of me,” she screeched while trying to pull her arm free from Jones’ iron grip. “Ya’ll should be out there looking for that sicko, not harassing me.”
I gestured to Jones to let her go. “That’s why we wanta talk to you.”
“I already told your boys everything downtown, and they didn’t give two shits.”
I glanced at the greasy slop the food truck was dolling out for five dollars a pop. Just the sight of it made my heartburn flare up. “I tell you what, you come with us and talk and I’ll buy you some real food.”
Rosie stared at me with her abysmal eyes ringed with smudge eyeliner. “Just talk and then you let me go?”
“That’s right. Now c’mon, let’s get outta here before I lose my appetite.”
Rosie took a sip of her strawberry milk shake and leaned back in her seat like it was an orgasmic experience. I couldn’t help but wonder when she had eaten last. The stack of empty plates piled in front of her and the cluster of empty glasses answered that question for me. Looking at her across the table, past the smudged make-up and hair dye, I could see the sweet girl underneath. How’d a girl like that end up here? Drugs, sexual abuse, teen-age pregnancy, or something else? Street rats like Rosie were a dime a dozen in the city, but they were still people. Flesh and blood. Hopes and dreams. Fears and failures. It was easy to lose track that they were people and not just a nuisance or a suspect.
The slurping of Rosie’s straw shook me from my thoughts. I caught her giving me the stink-eye and shifted my attention to my half-eaten steak and eggs. “So, tell me about the other day, I read the report but I want to hear it straight from you.”
Rosie shrugged. “Like I said, my cat was missing so I went out looking for her. Stupid fucking cat, I should’ve just stayed in bed. But I was down by the river, you know the old warehouse district, calling its stupid name. I was about to give up, when I heard this hissing and growling coming from an alley. I figured that might be her, and when I got into the alley I saw my cat, and this big fucker trying to catch her.”
Jones shifted anxiously next to me and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. “Do you remember what he looked like?”
“Oh yeah, he was big and ugly. Maybe six foot or more, and walked funny like he had a bad leg or something. He dressed funny too, like in a bathrobe or something.”
I pushed my plate over to Rosie.“Bathrobe?”
“Maybe an over-sized hoodie, I don’t know for sure, but he wasn’t dressed like the homies in the hood.”
I gulped down the last of my black coffee and gestured to the waitress for more. “What about his face, did you get a good look?”
Rosie grimaced. “Yeah, I did. He was a white dude, which was weird. White folk don’t come down there, not even the homeless, ya know?”
Jones peered over her horn-rimmed glasses. “We need specifics. Something I could use to create a sketch of the suspect.”
Rosie glanced at the clock on the wall. “How long’s this going to take, I got work to do.”
I tossed a couple fifties on the table. “Take the night off.”
Rosie’s hollow eyes darted between me and the money before she snatched it. “Why’re you guys so interested in this dude, he just stole me cat is all.”
Jones cleared her throat. “What did he look like?”
“Okay, whatever,” Rosie said, rolling her eyes. “Like I said he was a white dude. Big head on him like a block. A busted up nose like he’d been busted in the face too many times. He had heavy eyelids and long greasy hair that was a mess. Scruffy beard, and his face was too thin like he was a junkie or sick or something.”
“Anything else, anything that stood out like tattoos, scars, birthmarks?”
“Yeah, he had ink, a lot of it too. I saw some on his neck and his hands. It looked like high quality stuff, not the shitty prison ink most of these wannabe gangsters got.”
Jones peered up from her pad. “What type of tattoos?”
Rosie fiddled with her fork. “I don’t remember all of them, but I remember he had a big one on his throat. It freaked me out when I saw it, it looked like a big eye and had these squiggly lines around it. The rest of them, I don’t remember exactly, maybe more squiggly lines? I … I don’t know.”
I pulled out my note book and showed her the drawing I did at the warehouse. “Like this?”
Rosie’s eyes bulged. “Yeah, that’s it!”
“Have you ever seen it before, not just as a tattoo?”
Jones held up her pad. “Does this look like him?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
I waited until the waitress refilled my coffee. “What exactly happened in that alley?”
“I started yelling at the fucker to leave my cat alone,” Rosie said, while chewing on some ice from one of her empty glasses. “But he snatched her up by the scruff of her neck and shoved her into a canvas bag. By the looks of it he had other cats in there, too. Then he came after me. I ran, but he managed to catch me from behind. I thought he was going to rape me or maybe even kill me. He tried strangling me, and I nearly blacked out but I managed to get my mace out of my coat pocket and sprayed him. That got him off me, and he took off with my cat. I got out there and called the cops from a pay-phone down the street.”
“Well, he was screaming at me while he was chokingl me. Some weird shit I didn’t really understand. Maybe cause I couldn’t even breath. Something about ‘He’s coming or he’s waiting’ and how ‘I must be cleansed’ or some shit.”
I grunted and exchanged a knowing glance with Jones. Rosie’s account confirmed what we’d already suspected. This nut job wasn’t going to be satisfied with killing cats. He was working his way up to people, and that made him far more dangerous. Underneath all the bullshit of ‘He Awaits’ and the eyeball graffiti there lurked a potential serial killer. Me and Jones had to get to him before he killed anyone, if he hadn’t already.
“What way did he go, after you maced him?” I asked.
“Down the alley, toward the warehouses.”
“Where is this alley, exactly?” Jones asked, while slipping her notebook back into her pocket.
“I can show you if you want,” Rosie said. “It’s not far from where I’ve been squatting lately.”
I got up from the table, grimacing at the twinge of pain in my knees as I did so. “Good, let me pay the bill and then we’ll head over there.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with gouache. The first time I used it was when I was going to community college right after high school. I was taking a introductory painting course that focused mainly on watercolors. Midway through the semester the professor introduced gouache to us as an alternative. I did a few projects with it and frankly like it much better than watercolors. The main reasons being was the matte quality and boldness of the color when it dried. As well it tended to dry a lot faster than watercolor. I also liked that you did not need linseed oil or other mediums that pose health issues as well as plainly speaking – stink up the room. Although you cannot get some of the interesting visual effects or the atmospheric qualities with it as you do with watercolors, it can be used with acrylic mediums for textures and etc that you cannot use with watercolors. It also has a tendency to reproduce digitally or photographically much better than watercolors, hence it was often used and still is used by illustrators and designers as well as traditional artists.
During my college years I went onto paint with acrylics and oil. Although oil painting is the rock star of the fine art world it never really appealed to me as an artist. In fact traditional painting never appealed to me. One semester when I was taking an upper level oil painting class the professor said that I may as well be painting with sticks rather than brushes. I suppose that could have been perceived as an insult, but my brain is not wired to ‘see’ in planes of color. Lines, detail, shapes. That’s what lures me into creating imagery.
Overtime, I started creating line drawings with pencil and ink and shading them or coloring them with various mediums. In a lot of ways the old school illustrations of the weird fiction artists of the ‘pulp era’ influenced me. In particular the work of Jack Davis on Tales From The Crypt is/was a huge influence. Unfortuantely, Jack died back in July but he left behind a plethora of work behind. Besides Jack, others influence me like contemporary artists Coop and Pus Head.
I chose to do this piece in black and white, and future ones, because I like the contrast and the subtle nature of the shading. It also does not distract from the quality of the line as would full color. Plus, for most of us we see full color everyday and by portraying something bizarres, such as this Gaunt, in black and white it gives it an even more surreal/strange quality. Black and white is like one strong voice projecting itself across a room while color is an orchestra. Both are valid when used with precision and purpose but for myself, I prefer black and white.
This particular drawing was loosely based on the poem ‘The Night-Gaunts’ by H.P. Lovecraft.
Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell, But every night I see the rubbery things, Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings, They come in legions on the north wind’s swell With obscene clutch that titillates and stings, Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.
Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep, Heedless of all the cries I try to make, And down the nether pits to that foul lake Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep. But ho! If only they would make some sound, Or wear a face where faces should be found!