Four portraits of people with vegetation on their heads



Oh, boy. September already? I guess it’s time for some drawings of people with trees on their heads.

Actually, these are a few drawings for an upcoming issue of Monday Night I had to squeeze into Labor Day weekend and figured I’d share on my neglected blog.

28-Tree2 28-Tree3

This one’s a bristlecone pine. These are some of my favorite trees in the world.28-Tree4


And here’s a hipster with dandelions. I was sort of tired at this point and in no mood to cross-hatch any more complicated roots. Not too crazy about how the grass and leaves turned out, but hey, it’s done.


Here there be dragons

Smartphone photo realism, with flying dragons

Smartphone photo realism, with flying dragons

All right, I’ve fallen off the blog again. I have some pretty good reasons, but they’re all the same boring ones: work, work, work. But! I’m halfway through this next major illustration project, so I can finally take a break for another behind-the-scenes post about process. This makes for a good follow-up to my last post as the drawing style followed a similar process for all the panels.

For this project, I’m creating ten drawings for a somewhat magical-realist novel in which the main character takes photos on her phone. In this first image, the narrator sneaks a shot of her husband playing his favorite online fantasy game, which features flying dragons and a steampunk zeppelin. While I knew this would be a lot of work and require producing three images–the laptop screen inside the room scene, nested in the frame of the smartphone–I was secretly thrilled about the prospect of dragons.

Once upon a time, I drew many dragons and unicorns. Yes, I was that kind of kid.

When I was 11, there were no interwebs. There were colored pencils and my D&D books.

When I was 11, there were no interwebs. There were only colored pencils and my D&D books. It would take a few years before I figured out proper human proportions, but boy could I throw down a unicorn

Anyway, it was fun to look up pictures of dragons and zeppelins and figure out how to assemble the thing. Naturally, I started off with the initial line work.

Step 1: pencil and ink

Step 1: pencil and ink

I brought the dragons into Illustrator as I knew I’d be moving and resizing them around a lot and wanted to work with vector images.

Step 2: vector dragons

Step 2: vector dragons

Then I bring all this into Photoshop. The clouds were done with custom brushes. The moon is an actual photo of the moon with lighting effects.

Step 3: Photoshop!

Step 3: Photoshop!

Then I spent another hour or so rendering the zeppelin.

Step 4: Tedious rendering

Step 4: Tedious rendering

Once the screen image was done, I started the second drawing in pencil and ink. After a quick, clean-up in Illustrator, I brought the lines into Photoshop.

Step 5: Exterior drawing

Step 5: Exterior drawing

Then I drop the screen shot in, render with other textures, and finally create an exterior of the phone to encapsulate the whole thing.

Initial drawing

Initial drawing

The client, however, wanted the image to be bigger, so I zoomed in on the screen a bit more (top image). The fingers are off to the side so you still get a sense of what’s going on.

And that’s it for Image #1. Only nine more to go!

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.

Beware the Notophtalmus gingrichisis


Most deadly trait: a hazardous volley of "newt-spew"


Since my last post featured a tumescent, quasi-human parasite, I thought I’d share this entry from my Field Guide to Obnoxious Creatures of North America. I feel like I’ve seen this critter recently, and I wanted to learn more. Here’s what I found:

The earliest known sightings of Notophtalmus gingrichisis—the swollen-headed or “fathead” newt—were reported in the Eastern United States in the mid-twentieth century. However, its most commonly accepted origins are the humid subtropics of Georgia, where it migrated in the early stages of its growth. Today, the swollen-headed newt can be found in all areas of country, though it is most frequently observed in areas of concentrated wealth ranging from the swampy, lower depths of Republican fund-raisers to drier, well-illuminated locales, such as Tiffany stores.

While a prominent head is its most distinguishing feature*, Notophtalmus gingrichisis is also characterized by extreme grandiosity and bad gaffes. Observers are advised to avoid the creature, as fathead newts in the wild often exhibit signs of violent temper, ruthlessness, unethical behavior, and excessive greed. Evidence also suggests the creature believes itself a brilliant visionary, though by all accounts it is, in fact, terribly myopic and given to confusing concepts like “historian” with “lobbyist” and “democracy” with “demagoguery”. Great caution is advised if one comes into close contact as the newt’s most deadly trait is its hyperbolic speeches and diatribes, frequently referred to as “newt-spew”. Newt-spew is a known toxin, causing confusion, numbness, paralysis, hallucinations, and/or memory loss. Repeated or extended exposure to newt-spew will cause victims to lose all sense of reality and begin to believe that the newt is an actual human being.

* and will flush scarlet when aroused, as in the presence of Female Staffers

Sounds like a nasty little bugger—and one that might very well prove dangerous. Be advised.

Be careful what you wish for

Great knowledge comes at a great price.


I recently read (and reviewed) Laini Taylor’s urban fantasy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which inspired this image. While I loved the book’s heroine, Karou, the character that really fascinated me was Izîl, the doomed man from Marrakesh. Taylor creates a terrific mythos in the book about wishes and magic, and Izîl makes a tragic decision to tap into the most powerful magic-wish there is: a bruxis, which he can only obtain by extracting all of his teeth. Unfortunately, like Faust, Izîl wishes for knowledge, and his wish is granted in the form of Razgut, a fallen angel who rides the man like a mule until his death. Being an astral creature, Razgut has cosmic secrets that he continually whispers into Izîl’s ear—fulfilling the man’s desire for knowledge but also, in the process, driving him mad. Naturally, no one but Izîl can see Razgut, so he also loses his family and livelihood as mind and body are all destroyed by a wish that ultimately proves a terrible curse.

For the illustration, I was mostly interested in Razgut, who’s described as a kind of parasite, “a bloated torso with reedy arms wrapped tight around the human’s neck”. I imagined him like a giant tic, draining Izîl’s vitality so the man grows ever frailer as Razgut engorges himself. I figured he’d be tricky to draw as his face should have some remnants of seraphic beauty, but he’s mostly a vile creature, an imp-angel with little to suggest his previous life but a pair of wing stubs.

At any rate, these characters got me to thinking about wishes that are best off not coming true. I wondered*: had Izîl known the exact form of his wish fulfillment, would he have simply have been more specific? Or would he save his teeth and never wish at all?

Myself? I’d save my teeth.

* Yes, I know fictional characters are not real people. I just like to pretend they are.

A blog is born


Question: is the bird puking the baby or eating it?


Sometime in 2009, I started thinking about creating a draw blog. A few things were in the way–a day job plus freelance work, and a novel, which I struggled to write in my cracks of between-time. After finally getting a solid draft of that book down, I’ve since reorganized my life to spend more time on what I love (drawing! writing!), so the time has come to finally unleash my sick and twisted visuals onto the interwebs.

My goal with this blog is to create at least one new image per week. I’ll likely include other scraps from whatever I’m working on and random musings about things I love: art, books, food, music, film, bicycling, and Boston Terriers.

For starters, I’ve decided to work on a series of drawings featuring fantastic animals. I’m currently finishing a collection of stories called Strange Beasts, so I figured I’d keep in the theme of things with this first drawing. I’ll also be re-imagining select monsters from my 1978 AD&D Monster Manual (and if you know what that is, I love you already).

Note that I’ll be looking to readers for comments and ideas on what to draw. So stay tuned for all the excitement and free Facebook portraits for winning suggestions! The first reader contest will be coming soon. For now, the word to remember is: chimera.

Thanks for stopping by! Even if my ramblings fail to amuse, I hope I can entertain the world with some demented drawings.