A Plague on All Our Houses

Even the most steadfastly unquestioning among believers in various versions of mainline religions will allow that, if their deity cares for them as a shepherd cares for sheep, their own religions, yes, even their own temples, mosques, and churches, sometimes harbor wolves in sheep’s clothing. Partisans of every political and philosophical school of thought have seen the unmasking of many such monsters that have hidden behind the guise of goodness and faithfulness, selflessness and judiciousness, or at least experienced the dire effects those have on the lives of the truly committed. There are reasons most languages have such large inventories of words like heretic and traitor, infidel, apostate, renegade, impostor, infiltrator, double agent, betrayer, and hypocrite.
Digital illustration: A Pox on Both Your Houses!

So it astounds me every day that such experienced, otherwise reasonable people are either afraid, or simply refuse, to regularly and thoroughly question and examine the sources of their information, whether they are people or inanimate forms of evidence. Even among the most dedicated, wise, and well-meaning persons the human flaws we all bear cause mistakes and missteps. The most widely accepted proofs of truth may have come about by means of equally imperfect human study and the telephonic accidents of human transcription and translation. No matter how inspired the origin of the wisdom, it can’t be guaranteed to get to the page and from hand to hand, meeting to meeting, one end of the surprisingly not flat earth to the other, without sometimes being misinterpreted or co-opted, whether it’s by the false sheep in the flock or by our own good intentions.

All I can say is that if such stubbornness against rigorously examining our beliefs and every source of them is at its roots a terror of self-examination, we are doomed. We will forever repeat the grim side of human history, by acting out of doubt, cowardice, and ignorance, assumptions that have as much chance of being incorrect as not, and hidebound inability to see the wolves in our very midst for fear of discovering our own culpability. Circling each other with rapiers drawn and fighting to uphold traditions or beliefs or codes that we have so ingrained that they are unquestioned no matter how wrong, we will only deserve the curse of Shakespeare’s Mercutio—who, by the way, may or may not have said “A plague a’ both your houses,” in the original text, but various scholars over the years have guessed at such a reconstruction of it. Even Shakespeare, that demigod of English literature, is only as reliable a source as the many readers and interpreters since his time can determine, assuming that there was one playwright and poet of that name and not, as some believe, some cadre of the great literary minds of that era. Don’t get me started.

I will say right out that I know full well that I am guilty of being poorly or misinformed on a host of topics, and a stubbornly slow learner on top of that. I am trying, however I may stumble along the way, to grow beyond such ossified thinking. If only we could all begin with the premise that the fault might be not in our stars but in our selves, I think we might discover that our reliance on incomplete or incorrect information puts us constantly at risk for inner and outer conflicts we ought to have laid aside or, better yet, avoided altogether. The Other Guy might in fact deserve a listen, and acting first, asking questions later is not a conversation but is likely instead to end in swords crossed and lives lost. Acting in haste or acting in hate, the result may be the same because we were ill prepared to ask the right questions, let alone come to a wise and humane conclusion as a result. There are, sadly and unquestionably, baddies among us. But even so, if we all insist on clinging to our own versions of the truth without regularly and rigorously questioning their verity, then the attack we are all under begins inside, not from any external enemy, real or imagined.

You Inspire Me

Many people who know me think that I have two middle names. Legally, that’s correct–when I got married I took my spouse’s last name and just upgraded my original last name to being a second middle name. Most people get that I did not hyphenate but rather have four individual names. It’s hardly unusual, and even those notoriously fussy creatures known as federal agencies have figured out how to address me as a four-named person without batting a governmental eye.

But to be entirely transparent with you, I ought to add that I have a sort of unspoken additional middle name, that to which I’ve alluded here before, and it is: Lazy Pants. Okay, that’s two more middle names if we’re being truly precise.

Laziness is at the very center of my being. Believe me when I say that this is not bragging; I do realize that it’s not an enviable, admirable trait or one that should be emulated by others. But it’s my reality, and greatly affects what I do and don’t accomplish in this life of mine.

The happier news here is that I am surrounded by non-lazy people who not only know how to do fantastic things but get out there and DO them. This is pretty much a life-saver for your correspondent Miss Lazy-Pants. It means that someone more energetic and probably a lot more skilled is doing what needs to be done. Perhaps more importantly, it means that sometimes I receive the blessed necessity of a kick in the lazy pants to DO something myself, and better yet, the needed information and inspiration to help me do it better than I would have in the first place.

This is a gift I enjoy receiving regularly from those lovely people who, as family and proximal friends, make up my immediate daily surroundings and embrace me in their great and comforting network of support. Thanks to my life of blogging I have now got the auxiliary family of encouraging people to push me out of my comfortable lazy cocoon and make me willing to tackle actual projects, motivate me to do something new and maybe different and, just possibly, even useful.

And I thank you, each and every one of you. I’d say ‘you know who you are’–but a whole lot of you don’t even know that you inspire me, let alone how deeply you inspire me. If you’re reading this and I’ve ever, ever visited and commented on your blog, you have inspired me. Even if I’ve only lurked at your blog and never come out of my shell enough to say Hello or make a remark, I have probably learned useful things that lit a friendly little fire under my lazy pants to get back to work and do something that, if not useful in a universal way by a long stretch, will prove useful in improving me as a person and as an artist.

One of my regular inspirations and motivations comes from those bloggers who focus on making art, because it’s one of those things I love to do but often have to get pushed into starting no matter how much good I know will come from getting back to work. So today’s post is brought to you in part by the good graces of you, all of you, and I thank you.

Specific thanks for this bit also go to that marvelous pencil-wielding mistress of Drawing Saudade, who daily doses us with her creatures, characters, costumes and comforts in a marvelous flowing style that made me want to play with something similar for a change from my own typical stuff, as well as return to a longtime fascination with costume design. Thanks, friend!graphite drawing

The Lens of Revelation

Discovery and learning don’t always have to come at the expense of laborious study and practice. Sometimes they are handed to us by the magician-teachers who simply tell us exactly what they have done, lifting the curtain and letting us see what’s behind it and in the works from beginning to end. That, at least, is how the learning starts for many of us. Certainly for me. I have been gifted, over the many years of my life, in which I was, am and will be a student forever, with a number of such generous teachers.

I can only return the favor as far as my skills and wit allow, but I hope I’m at least skilled and sharp-witted enough to make it worth a few other people’s while. Of course, the plain facts don’t complete the education by a long shot–the study and practice parts have to follow to make it stick and create anything useable out of it. What you do with the information, as they say, is what completes the equation. But isn’t it fun to share our little secrets, to let each other peek at what’s behind the facade of polish and confidence and see what we can make of it?

Herewith, another little set of iterations digitally made to convert a black and white graphite drawing into a full-color digital illustration.

graphite drawing

Once again, I begin with a plain graphite drawing, scanned and very lightly cleaned to remove dust specks and make the scan match the original. I wish I had made the ‘lens’ look more curved or somehow indicated its thickness better so that there was a more logical reason for the eye behind it being moved that far from its expected location, but then I remember that this is, after all, an utterly nonsensical and *not* logical creature-person. Next drawing, perhaps. For now, I’ll play with the cards I dealt myself.

graphite drawing + color test

To begin the digital part of the process, I just did my usual small test of whether injecting color into a black and white original might bring out some useful or interesting aspects of the character (both the humanoid one and the character of the drawing).

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Why not. What if I isolate a larger area and keep the illustration black and white but with the lens area being in full color? Hmmm. That could work. I ‘paint’ in the color, layering it bit by bit and erasing bits to add highlights or even out the application of the colors.

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Strangely, I find that having only the lens area colored flattens out the image a little more than I expected. I think this might be in part because the color has reduced the contrast and visible texture of the graphite strokes. Maybe I’ll just add a bit more color over the other parts of the drawing. No, not quite enough, I’d say. So I add a Photoshop filter of ink lines to emphasize the drawn textures and contrast more deeply with the coloring.

digital illustration from a graphite drawing

Well, here I go again. I can’t resist adding color to the whole image. I think it balances the image better. But I’m married to the idea of letting the part seen through the lens be the only richly ‘full color’ part–the True Self, if you will, seen through this lens. So I decided to keep what wasn’t part of the lens itself or seen through it mainly monochromatic; a sepia tone for the face seemed in keeping with the sort of Steampunk creature’s vintage-yet-otherworldly quality. And then, of course, the face was flattened a bit by the color too, so I added the inky filter to that as well. And here we are. A day of tweaking and monkeying around with the drawing that took me a few days to draw, and here we are. On to the next project, my friends. Hope you find something compelling to do, too, even if as with mine, your projects only lead to more projects. Because that’s what happens when we share our ideas: they proliferate. Granted, some of them grow up to be really weird characters all on their own, but they do proliferate. Revealing, as they do, further parts of *our* character through *their* lens.

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink


for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.