Raise A Stone For All To See, Runes Carved To My Memory

Hey hey!
This will be my last post of the new year no doubt. Over 40 posts in the past year and virtually all of them included artwork I did so I can assume I managed to accomplish a good amount of work in 2010. I'm feeling pretty good about that right now, which takes the sting off of the reality that I am currently pretty behind on work for my show. Anyway, down to that business, I finished the second whale bone:

I decided to paint this guy after reading about a lake serpent described on the northernmost standing rune stone in Sweden:
This stone stood by the lake in Storsjön and supposedly depicted a serpent called Storsjöodjuret bound head to tail by a ribbon. In various stories the serpent was bound by the ribbon or by the runestone itself trapped in the lake circled head to tail around the island Frösön waiting to be freed to wreck havoc on the inhabitants.
It reminded me of the Midgard serpent and the Ouroboros in that it was a serpent coiled head to tail and that its reawakening meant doom for the inhabitants. There were also stories about the origin of the monster one of which involves it's creation by trolls.

"A long, long time ago two trolls, Jata and Kata, stood on the shores of the Great-Lake brewing a concoction in their cauldrons. They brewed and mixed and added to the liquid for days and weeks and years. They knew not what would result from their brew but they wondered about it a great deal. One evening there was heard a strange sound from one of their cauldrons. There was a wailing, a groaning and a crying, then suddenly came a loud bang. A strange animal with a black serpentine body and a cat-like head jumped out of the cauldron and disappeared into the lake. The monster enjoyed living in the lake, grew unbelievably larger and awakened terror among the people whenever it appeared. Finally, it extended all the way round the island of Frösön, and could even bite its own tail. Ketil Runske bound the mighty monster with a strong spell which was carved on a stone and raised on the island of Frösön. The serpent was pictured on the stone. Thus was the spell to be tied till the day someone came who could read and understand the inscription on the stone."

What's stranger is that in modern times the Storsjöodjuret has entered the realm of modern cryptozoology with people attempting to record evidence of it's existence. It was even supposedly added to the endangered species list for a brief time. There are a couple of websites devoted to the cause. Here it is:
um yeah...totally
In designing this particular creature I looked for images of viking ships and torc serpents and some celtic knotwork. Weirdly enough while I was home for the holidays I found some old instructional books on celtic spiral and lettering work that were my grandmother's:
It's always exciting to me to find something that belonged to her because we shared so many interests so I'm happy to have these, especially the lettering guide. As a person with the utmost appreciation for ridiculous life-wasting tedium and detail I can really appreciate stuff like the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts and I think its unfortunate that most people only see this stuff as it has been appropriated into countless bad tattoos.

Oh also speaking of the Ouroboros , check out this REAL LIFE one I found out about yesterday:

"The Armadillo Lizard possesses an uncommon antipredator adaptation, in which it takes its tail in its mouth and rolls into a ball when frightened. In this shape it is protected from predators by the thick, squarish scales along its back and the spines on its tail."

One more thing and then I'll shut up. So, it turns out I collect Tarot cards. It wasn't really intentional but I kept picking up decks with artwork I like and it's gotten to the point where I think it's officially a collection. Mike got me the most amazing deck for Christmas, the Russian St. Petersburg deck illustrated by the Russian miniature painter Yuri Shakov.
What's especially amazing about this deck is the fact that all of the illustrations were painted TO SCALE, meaning the center images were painted at a size that is rarely bigger than 2 1/2 inches. Totally insane. I mean, I think I paint small until I look at stuff like this! I took photos of some of my favorite ones:

Happy New Year, creeps!


Bit By A Dog With A Rabid Tooth


I finished the first whale rib painting this weekend. It actually went a lot faster than I thought considering how tricky it was. It's like painting on wood in that I have to give up and accept that there are minuscule flaws in the surface that might occasionally mess up teeny tiny details that most likely no one but myself will notice. I'm just going to post a few detail shots until closer to my show when my photographer friend has taken better photos of it.
I'm still trying to figure out whether I should coat it with the same gloss enamel I used on that deer jaw I painted. I keep going back and forth about it and worry about ruining it so if anyone has an opinion go ahead and share it! If it makes any difference these are all going to be displayed on black velvet in shadow boxes for the show so hopefully glare wont be a huge concern.

This guy is a Rosmarus, the result of what is clearly a "whisper down the lane" type description of a walrus (the scientific name for the walrus is actually Odobenus rosmarus!). Imagine if you had never seen a walrus or anything like it and were forced to describe it using only animals in your pool of reference. Something like "a fish with the head of a dog" actually starts to make sense. It was also sometimes described as having the head of a horse which is actually a little baffling to me. It is also believed to be directly related to the heraldic "marine wolf". Here are some old cartographic illustrations of them:

It was actually believed that they walked onto the land to drink dew! That second illustration is from the Carta Marina, which is really interesting in it's own right! A lot of the monsters in bestiaries and medieval literature are represented on it. I've been looking at a lot of maps like this lately:
I've mentioned before that I'm doing this next show with Mike. I don't usually post too much work by other people on here but I'm so excited about this poster he just finished for our Australian friends Dave and Pete that I wanted to share it:
Goddamn! It's really cool living and working next to someone whose work you really like. We're going to check out the space sometime soon to try and figure out how best to fill it and split it up.

My friend Nishat just mailed us these amazing old barf bags for Mark of the Devil. Maybe we should give out barf bags at the door for our show....
It wont be that scary....

In other news work sucks, and this is me lately:


How Can You Call This A Home, When You Know It's A Grave?

I'll be brief because I'm writing this using the small chunk of personal time I've been able to grab at work lately.

Whale bones (bones in general) are hard to work with! While the crosses from my show were a tricky shape to compose in, these bones are a tricky shape and have the additional issue of curves and bumps. After a failed attempt at transferring an ill-fitted drawing and having to use a palm sander to get it off I finally worked out an image that I think fits the shape of this first bone and successfully transfered it. I have a whole new respect for tattoo artists who have to compose and draw around a 3 dimensional form.
Luckily, bone is much easier to paint on than it is to draw on, and I got the sky painted in quickly last night. This little guy is a sea wolf, one of many many ocean/land creature hybrids that were so popular in old bestiaries.
Oh I've also been meaning to post of picture of my bad habit, cleaning my brush on my left hand as I work:
I know, I have the tiniest hands.
I also just found this saved link about a cemetery in Russia where hungry bears are eating corpses. When the two women in the article first saw the bear hunched over a corpse they thought that he was a man in a fur coat (as this weird cgi reenactment from a Chinese news show demonstrates). I'd like to draw that.


She Comes From The Mountains In The Deep Of The Night

So for no real reason and despite the fact that I'm starting to panic about my upcoming show I did a little painting for a friend. I really wanted to do something about La Befana since it's that time of year so here she is:

La Befana (or La Strega, meaning "the witch")is a strange Italian Christmas witch, more popular there than Santa, but performing the same basic function; delivering presents to good children and coal to bad. It's pretty obvious that she's a pagan holdover given that there's absolutely no reason for a witch to be part of a Christian holiday though there are origin stories shoe-horning her into the nativity story. It's been theorized that she's a holdover of Hecate, and Roman winter festival goddesses like Strenia. In general there is a pretty interesting tradition of Italian witchcraft (Stregheria), with figures who seem more like traditional healing women. There's even a very popular and potent after dinner liquour called "Strega" which I choked down last time my dad offered it to me simply because the bottle was so cool:
ps- it is really truly nasty.

Like I said it's about time I panicked about my upcoming show in March. Despite the fact that it's a joint show with Mike the space is big enough that I actually have to complete a lot of work. The show is ocean themed and Mike is doing a lot of awesome sea bestiary stuff so I think I'm going to concentrate more on lore without being too literal. The first four pieces that I'm hoping to finish in the next month and a half are actually going to be done on whale bones.

I actually got these bones about 5 years ago when visiting my grandfather in Maine. He told me that a dead Minke whale had recently washed up in a cove right below someone's house. He and a few other guys had tried towing it out to the nearby island with their boats but it kept washing back to the same spot. Knowing what a gross-o I am he suggested I check it out though he very practically stated that "people already took all the good stuff". So my friend Jess, my brother and I hiked down the rocks for over an hour till we found the cove. The smell. Not only was there a rotting whale in that cove but by some freak chance there was also a dead deer! We picked around at what was left and I grabbed three ribs and a mystery item while Jess actually hacked a vertebre off the spinal cord. She and I lived together at the time and I can say that despite a full year of sun drying and bleaching that thing never stopped smelling disgusting (probably the marrow) and we had to throw it out. My grandfather suggested that my mystery item might be a "growth plate" but I can't really find any information about it. If there are any um...whale biologists or strange weekend hobbyists with a lot of knowledge about whale anatomy reading this let me know what this thing is?
Know what's interesting? The sudden realization after sanding a bunch of bones that you are covered in haunted bone dust.
I'm actually really excited to paint on them because it reminds me of sailor's scrimshaw and because the bones are attached to that little personal adventure. I'm still working out how exactly to frame and mount them.

I've also been doing a lot of reading to get some ideas if anyone has any suggestions. Anything ocean related, folklore, horror stories, true stories, ghost ships, cryptids. I have a few ideas right now for sunken cities, Melusine, islands that turn out to be gigantic submerged monsters and a Nordic sea serpent twisted around an island based on an image on a runic stone.

I was reading through "The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard" last night remembering that a lot of the stories and poems in there are set in an ocean town and found a little quote that pretty perfectly summed up the relationship with the ocean I was considering:

"The sea-the great, grey, cold-eyed woman of the ages. Her tides spoke to me as they have spoken to me since birth- in the swish of the flat waves along the sand, in the wail of the ocean-bird, in her throbbing silence. I am very old and very wise (brooded the sea), I have no part of man; I slay men and even their bodies I fling back upon the cowering land. There is life in my bosom but it is not human life (whispered the sea), my children hate the sons of men"

PS. I uploaded a mix to my friend's 2010 song exchange blog. If anyone is interested...


The Haunted Bookshelf

So I realized the other day that in all my rambling about process and art supplies and blah blah I hadn't really talked about the many books I mine for interesting ideas and visual inspiration. I wont go through my whole weird cluttered library now but I was looking at the stuff I use often and the stuff I've been looking at recently in preparation for my upcoming show and thought some of it was worth sharing. I'll probably do more posts like these in the future either when I get new books or when one is relevant to something I'm working on.

This first book is my absolute favorite. I got it at Caliban Books back when I lived in Pittsburgh. They had it in the window for weeks and I went by to ogle it several times but being a much less solvent 20 year old, the 30 dollar price tag seemed out of my range. I finally set aside some money and got it and it was so worth it. It is absolutely packed with amazing illustrations and information about every occult topic. There's extensive information about witchcraft and alchemy and because it predates the era of New Age is untainted by the boring corny stuff a lot of later texts are riddled with.
I'm so so glad I bought this book because it seems extremely hard to find at this point (though I see some other books on the same topic by the author on amazon) and I use it all the time.
If you aren't familiar with Taschen books and you're a fan of big beautiful books full of amazing images and reference you really need to check them out. This is one of my favorites and is the best collection of alchemy info and imagery I've found so far. And in full color!
It's easy to find but is now mysteriously expensive (I think it was around 20 bucks when I originally got it!)
This is another one of my favorite books. My awesome friend Roxy gave to to me for my last birthday. It's relatively light on illustrations but full of information. I usually make an attempt to read these big non-fiction books from front to back and fail, and that's the case here but flipping through randomly I always find something interesting. It's very very historically based and filled with real life accounts that sound pretty much exactly like the plot of The Devils.
Sparsely illustrated compared to the others but the ones that are in there are really cool!

This last book is something I bought for my upcoming show about sea monsters (and general ocean lore). I bought it sight unseen on amazon for a dollar or so (it's a used library book) and was so stoked when it arrived and ended up being a pretty huge book full of neat pictures and blurbs about folklore and images.

It also has tons of information about first hand accounts of sea monster encounters and the whole last half is dedicated to REAL sea monsters (giant squid, deep sea creatures, sharks, prehistoric ocean life). I can say that between this book and a couple of others I got on the topic I am now embarrassingly totally convinced of the existence of Loch Ness monster type creatures (maybe not actually in loch ness...sigh)

In related news, the guy over at monster brains posted a short, sea monster themed, Junji Ito comic in full. I love Junji Ito's comics simply for their disturbing grossness. Remember to read right to left:


For All The Works Of Cultured Man Must Fare and Fade and Fall


So it's been a while since I wrote on this because I really haven't completed any work (I try really hard to only post when I have something to show). I spent the month of November constantly working or traveling and just last week got back from a 10 day trip to Romania.

Predictably Romania was beautiful and strange. Wallachia was sort of a bummer (very industrial) but Transylvania and Maramureş were amazing. The Carpathian mountains are beautiful and spooky, and it was incredible to be in little medieval fortified cities like Sighişoara and Brașov and see them looming in the distance. The orthodox churches were filled with some of the most amazing art, floor to ceiling with elaborate iconstasis and bright frescos and patterns and gold leaf on every conceivable surface. We saw insane wooden architecture (similar to stuff you'd see in Russia or Norway) and carved wooden gates in Barsana, the ruins of Vlad Țepeș' fortress, Poienari, 1,480 steps up into the mountains, an ancient oak forest in Sighişoara, and best of all the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta. I'll just describe it briefly here since I'm aiming to write a longer entry at the blog Mike and I started for our creepy travel stories (corpsealtar), but it's basically a cemetery in a small town where all of the markers were hand-carved and hand painted by an amazing local artist and included images of the people as they were in life, or the way they died along with inscriptions that ranged from whimsical to grim and curse-laden. Here are a few pictures:

The Merry Cemetery
The mind-blowing home of Stan Ioan Pătraş the artist behind the Merry Cemetery
Full moon in BrasovBreite plateau ancient oak forest
Barsana MonastaryCurtes de Arges

There was so much going on here visually, I felt pretty inspired the whole time, and tried to take pictures of absolutely everything. Luckily I found a great book of the collection from the Museum of Romanian Art which was FULL of incredible icon paintings, embroideries and medieval metal pieces.

Sadly, I've felt less than inspired in the week since I got back since I immediately worked a 7 day week of 10 hour days at my mind numbing job. Right about now is when I should be working on one of two things; my upcoming show with Mike in March, or the "Year Long Project". The year long project was conceived with some friends during a conversation about my inability to make anything really physically large with the level of detail I like to use because of the fact that I work so much. I said something to the effect of "it would take me a whole year to make a painting that big" and we all realized it might be fun to organize a group show of pieces that were made slowly over the course of a year. Eventually we'll be starting a group blog to mark our progress, and basically I just added a consistent undercurrent of additional stress and pressure to my next year. However I'm pretty excited to try to do something really intricate. I bought a "frame" at the thrift store down the street which is actually a huge mirror with an ornate frame. It's about4 ft by 3 ft.

Annnnyway rather than work on either of those things I've been obsessing over pagan winter festivals that have been held over and adapted to Christianity and decided to make a card for some friends. I'll post the line drawing for the La Befana (more on that later) one but the Krampus one I'm working on really isn't coming out right so I'll probably scrap it and start over in a few weeks. Can you tell how much I love the The Old Witch from The Haunt of Fear?
I would also like to take this moment to say that I'm pretty much done with Micron pens. They completely blow and I've wasted so much money on them the past two years when the quality abruptly dropped off. Just inking this one small thing was such a struggle despite the fact that it was a brand new pen. Maybe I'll go back to Rapidographs, but they were always so much work to maintain and I'm such a slob. The really important line work comes at the end and is done with a brush so maybe I'd be just as happy with some crappy Pilot pen or something.

Anyway, sorry this entry was light on the art and big on the chatter. Romania was so awesome and relevant to the kind of art I like to look at at make though so...deal with it!