Weird obsessions

What we talk about when we talk about tentacles

Recently, I was flipping through my 1978 edition of the Advanced D&D Monster Manual. I’d only ever played Dungeons & Dragons at one point in my life, back in the early 1980s when my dad was stationed on an Air Force base in England. Almost every summer weekend, my parents dragged us over to their friends’ house where the adults drank and played Mille Bourne until 2 am and my sister and I were stuck hanging out with their friends’ two boys who wanted to do nothing but play Atari or D&D. So I did a lot of both, not realizing that these Pepsi-and-Fritos-fueled sessions were to blame for sowing the little seed of dweeb that would later blossom into full-blown, nerd-girl dorkdom and a love of fantasy, science fiction, and retro video games.

Anyway, I was never a Dungeon Master, so I’m not sure why I own the AD&D manual. But for years, I combed its pages, dutifully copying its beasties and learning their histories and attack methods. Like all little girls, I was into horses, so I focused mainly on the more equine creatures like unicorns, pegasus, ki-rins, and even a demonic stallion from hell called a Nightmare. I loved the dragons and nymphs and lycanthropes and even a bizarre, dung-eating thing called a neo-otyugh.

Yet one of my absolute favorites was the Eye of the Deep.

The Eye is listed as Lawful Evil. Other Lawful Evil baddies include Boba Fett and Anton Chigurh.

Today, I blame the Eye of the Deep for my tentacle obsession. Because while I stopped drawing horses and dragons eons ago, to this day, I’m still fascinated by squids and octopi and anything involving long, feeler-like swirly bits. I love freaky, underwater creatures (like everything on this page) especially and most definitely if they feature all or some of the following: tentacles, big scary eyes, antennae, funky claws, strange mouths, and anything resembling brains or organs.

As I got older, the tentacle-thing manifested itself in other ways, such as my love of calligraphy and anything by the Art Nouveau master, Alphonse Mucha.

Ads for cigarette rolling papers never looked so gorgeous.

Source: Wikipedia

And then, of course, one of my all-time favorite artist/illustrators, Aubrey Beardsley.

I ♥♥♥ Beardsley

Source: Wikipedia

Tentacle-love also explains my zeal for Celtic knots, the grotesque and the arabesque, illuminated manuscripts, Japanese brush painting, the incredible designs of Marian Bantjes (especially this gorgeous poster), and definitely William Morris textiles. If there’s some voluted line swirling around like pea shoot or an elegant worm, you can bet I will adore it. I even worked one into my old logo.

The “S” has since been replaced by a squid.

So the Eye of the Deep got its swirly bits wrapped around me pretty tightly. I don’t think I’ll ever shake my tentacle obsession, which is why I opted to do my own interpretation of an Eye of the Deep for today’s drawing. I’d been jonesing to do some intensely detailed ink-work, and I figured the Eye would make a nice subject.

At this point, I realize the drawing will take forever and I kind of start to hate myself.

I wasn’t certain if I liked how the swirls were so closely packed together. Yet by the end, I thought they created a nice clockwork/steampunk look I hadn’t anticipated.

Sometimes, you just have to let the tentacles do what they will.


Wonder Woman: Bessie Coleman

“Queen Bess”: a model of determination, courage, and integrity. And cool goggles!

A month since I last posted. Yikes! However, I do have a good excuse: I’ve been busy rewriting my novel—92,000 words in eight weeks. When I work that intensely, it’s almost impossible to think about other creative projects, and therefore I took a hiatus from the blog, even though my list of cool things to draw has only accumulated. So while the manuscript sits and rests, I’ll take a moment and catch up on some visuals.

This illustration is the second in my Wonder Woman series, a set of portraits highlighting the lives and stories of badass women. I’m hoping to draw women from a range of backgrounds and experiences: artists, innovators, revolutionaries, or any woman who can inspire others by her aesthetic vision and/or the strength of her spirit (Adrienne Rich was my first Wonder Woman post).

Today’s portrait features Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman. I only recently learned about Brave Bessie last February, shortly after the film Red Tails came out. I’d heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, and since I’d been jonesing to draw some retro airplanes in a vaguely Pictoral Modernist style, I considered drawing them. But in the course of my research, I learned about Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman in the world to earn an international pilot’s license. The story of her determination to fly at a time when it was difficult for any woman to do so—to say nothing of a poor, black woman from the South—just blew me away.

Bessie Coleman was the 10th of 13 children born into a family of Texas sharecroppers. There are a ton of great sites out there detailing her family’s struggles and how Coleman made her way north to Chicago, where she figured out what she wanted most in the world. And how that happened to be one of the most remote and absurd things any woman could desire at that time: she wanted to fly.

Of course, being both female and black during a time when women had just earned the right even to vote, Coleman couldn’t find a U.S.-based aviation school that would take her. But she didn’t let that stop her. She saved her money, learned French by night, and then traveled to France, which was, in 1920, considered one of the world’s most racially-progressive nations. In seven months, she obtained her pilot’s license from Federation Aeronautique Internationale, then returned to the U.S. to earn fame as a barnstormer.

Coleman flew a Curtis Jenny. I’ve never flown anything, but I did jump out of the back of a Cessna once.

What I love most about this story is that, while everything and everyone in the world told Coleman her dreams were ridiculous and impossible, she figured out a way to make them happen. And because of this indomitable spirit, she changed history. Despite her tragic death during preparation for an airshow, she lived her life the way she wanted it and died doing what she loved most. She inspired generations of African-Americans to take to the skies, including Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space*. In the book Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator (1993), Jemison stated: “I point to Bessie Coleman and say without hesitation that here is a woman, a being, who exemplifies and serves as a model to all humanity: the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity, and beauty. It looks like a good day for flying.”

So any time I think my own dreams are ridiculous and impossible, I look to the sky and think of Brave Bessie. Dream big, work hard, and tell everyone to kiss your ass while you make it happen.

It does indeed look like a good day for flying.

* Jemison said she was also inspired to join NASA by Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. Yet another example of why Star Trek is awesome.