Sunday, June 14, 2020

Award-Winning Story 2020

On May 15, 2020 a story of mine won an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Trumbull Library Competition.
It was published, along with the other winners, in PenWorks. This is the silly story I wrote (I've included a photo-illustration):

Comedy of Nature
Tom Kidd

This story begins in a time before phones did magic tricks, telling us how well we sleep, how far we walk, how much more we have to travel to lose weight, where we were, how to get elsewhere, what the weather is, reading us stories, handling our finances, doing our laundry (okay, not yet, but soon), and, most relevant to this story, depositing checks.
“It’s a nice day, let’s walk into town and deposit our tax refund,” I say to my wife, Andrea. It’s warm, the snow is melting, the world is greening, bugs are buzzing, and we prefer walking over driving. For breezy days like this, you need a jacket. And, if you have hair like mine, you need a hat, or you’ll end up looking like a wild man or Albert Einstein or, more to the point, Professor Irwin Corey.
Off we go into town, down the hill from the house towards the brook. Once past our shed, disaster strikes. Ahead of Andrea, carefully choosing my steps, leaving furrows in the mud, I hear her scream and jerk around. Nature is attacking. She stands with arms extending out like she’s pretending to fly, balancing on one foot. The hungry sludge has sucked a boot from her left foot. And it covets the sock hanging from her toe too — if not all of Andrea, should she fall. 
A most comical sight.
Andrea isn’t laughing, she needs my help. Here is my chance to be gallant. 
Instead, I cock my head to the side and ask, “What’s wrong?” as if her situation is hard to decipher. It’s shameful to admit, but this is what smart-asses do. They pretend not to see the patently obvious. Andrea looks at me with a face caught between anger and incredulity. Is my husband this big an asshole or is he more stupid than I imagine?
However, feeling a touch of sympathy, I work my way back through the muck to Andrea, steady her, pull up her lolling sock, then reach over to her boot to tug it out of the muck that ravenously struggles to consume it. The ground fights against my efforts, but I slowly work it loose. The ooze gurgles in disappointment. Then I untie the boot, place it back on her foot, and retie it tightly for her. This is all very difficult to do while I laugh and laugh and laugh; I shake with it so much, I nearly topple us both over. Andrea finds none of this funny. And, jerk that I am, I’m laughing as I write this.
Once we reach higher ground, we take some time to wipe off our shoes. It seems as if we survived the incident with little harm. What we don’t know, is that this is only a distraction. By shaking up Andrea a bit, Nature has set in motion a more dastardly plan.
We head to the crossing that will take us over the brook. I’d built it myself, and I was unduly proud of this structure, its twenty-foot span that I’d tied to piers on either side and then tied to trees to keep it in place during floods. There, disrespecting my triumph of engineering is a turd. Damn raccoons. We’re prepared, though. Next to our bridge sits a collection of branches and twigs we collect for removing fecal matter. Andrea calls them shit-sticks. I pick up one and use it to flick the offensive poop aside. Then I toss the soiled stick into the water and watch it float away to join the river, and I imagine it eventually going out to sea.
We cross, go up the hill, and into a field that leads into the cemetery. Contemplating what I’ve cleaned off the platform, I think back to the times I’ve seen teenagers using it for sex. Had those kids any idea what they were laying in, it might have given them pause. Once I saw a Great Blue Heron cover the surface with its white slurry as it flew over. What about my bridge makes it a toilet for wild animals? What about it causes such arousal in people and poop in animals? Sure, it’s hidden by trees and thick shrubs, but it’s part of a pathway. There’s a good chance people will come to cross it.
Here’s our routine when we see naked people on the bridge as we approach: 
Andrea yells out, “Is that a Peculated Auburn Shehawk?”
“No,” I yell back, “I think it’s a Gross-Beaked Booger-Flicker. Hand me my binoculars, I want to get a closer look.”
This loud behavior gives the couple time to cover up and move to the edge of the bridge to let us walk by. We pretend not to have seen anything. I’ve considered putting up a sign there that would say, “Crossing Only. Please, No Fucking.” My guess is that it’d have the opposite effect, and attract more couples who’d then pose next to the sign while acting out something from the Kama Sutra.
It’s more breezy than I prepared for. I wish I’d thought to wear a scarf like Andrea has. As I pull my collar tight, the wind nearly steals my favorite hat away.
Our walk in is uneventful: No foxes, no coyotes, no Scarlet tanagers, no Snow buntings, no turkeys, none of the usual hawks soar over us, only a few bluebirds that eat fat grubs.
We pass the hospital where Andrea works as a medical transcriptionist and head for the bank. Once in the bank, I get directly in line. Andrea is fumbling around in her purse behind me. As she does this, we move up in the line, move up again and again.
“Tom, I can’t find it. It’s not here.”
“The deposit slip or the check?”
“The check — it’s gone.”
We get out of line and go over to a table where Andrea dumps everything out of her purse. The refund definitely isn’t there. “I must’ve left it at home,” she says. 
I see a speck of mud on the pocketbook and think, maybe the zipper came open when Andrea flailed around in the backyard, and a gust plucked the check out? On a windy day like today, it could’ve blown miles away by now. Nature steals our days away, our eyesight, our memories, our loved ones, our dignity, and now our refund?
All we can do is leave and retrace our steps. Our overriding hope is to find that check forgotten on the kitchen island. I wonder how much trouble it’ll be to get the government to issue us a new one. It’s got to be a pain.
As we walk, I scan the ground. My vision was extraordinary back then. Nothing escapes me. Pale leaves and bits of paper trash blow about like money in the wind, but they don’t fool me, make me give chase. We cross over into the cemetery, repeating our earlier path. 
“That’s it!” I exclaim and point, “there, in the thorn bushes.” And it is there. It’s fluttering about, trying to pull free of its captor. I have only a second or two to reach it — and it takes me three. Off in the wind it goes. It flies towards the Civil War tombstones, then it jumps to the World War One group, and finally over to the World War Two stones. As the check wends and winds its way among them, the tiny American flags placed among the gravestones are flapping their chastisement. The absconding refund offends their sense of fairness. The evil wind ignores them and lifts the check beyond my reach, and carries it to the grassy center of a circular road. I chase after it. It’s clearly enjoying this game.
As I run for the fugitive refund, startled crows squawk and scatter from me. A squirrel darts across the lawn — and heads right towards my prize. Would I soon be chasing it as it leaps from tree to tree taunting me with my property in its mouth, showing off with its aerial acrobatics as I yell obscenities at it? In my mind, I can see people laughing at the story about the poor fellow who’d fallen from a tree while trying to catch a squirrel who’d run off with a tax refund. Ha-ha-ha, so glad my broken bones amuse you. But, no, the gray rodent passes right by it. Soon, it will be in my hand.
And then another flurry grabs the darn thing and carries it down to the Oranges. No, not the fruit, but tombstones with that rare name on them. At some point, our town had not one but two Oranges living here, and these are not the oddest first names in the cemetery. Headstones, worn and cracking with age, sing out their archaic names to me seductively, introducing themselves, beckoning me to join them, like they know something I don’t:

We’re Ina and Affa and Einar and Dianthia
Urania, Petrea, Analia, Athalia
With Beuel and Geuel and Herkuel and Eziequel
Next to Mindwell and Deuel and Fanuel and Lemuel

Eerily, the voices continue:

We’re Alondra, Amelia, Almira, Adalia 
Noadiah, Obadiah, Viviana, Malia
Vesta and Electa and Mayletta and Permelia
With Jabez and Jehiel and Jeruel and Abreonia

And continue, threatening to break my concentration:

We’re Urana and Jerusa and Alpha and Bathsheba
Orinda and Serina and Lemira and Renata
With Almon, Aurellia, Amazia, Livonia
Salvin, Sabella, Sophronia, Parthenia

The damn check rolls past the Oranges and onto the road, directing all my concentration back to it. Oh no, oh God no, it’s heading for the brook, to swim away from me. If it makes it there, it has won and will float off to join the shit-sticks in the sea.
I speed down the hill, leaping over headstones like I'm in a steeple race. The wind steals the hat from my head, but I give it no mind. Fully fixed on my prey, I run. Piercing out to me comes Andrea’s screaming voice with one word.
Momentum carries me two more steps. My right foot reaches the road. All I have now is one final thought.
I’m dead.
There’s no time for introspection or retrospection, only the knowledge that at the end of that thought I’ll no longer exist as I sense a speeding vehicle reaching me — and blurring past me leaving only dust and not my mangled body.
That infernally devious piece of paper tried to kill me.
I push aside thoughts of mortality and revenge and concentrate on how to stop the would-be assassin from getting away. Like a racehorse bursting from the gate, I shoot forward, galloping past the check. I spin around and stop to act as a barrier to it and the brook. Then I dive forward with a right feint and go left. This ruse deceives my quarry, and I catch it and hold it in the air, my heart pumping in triumph. Andrea comes down the hill, holding my hat. “Ha, your hair looks funny,” she says and hugs me. “You scared the crap out of me. How did you not see that truck?” My knees go wobbly at the mention of it.
As I hug Andrea back, I look down at what’s in my hand. “Andrea, this refund check isn’t ours,” I hold it up, a look of horror on my face and say with disbelief, “it’s someone else’s.”
“No, it can’t be, not after all that trouble, no.” Andrea’s face is one of defeat, so I show her the check and her expression changes to outrage. “You asshole, that is our check.” When she sees my smile, she gives me a good push.

She’s right though, only an asshole would play a terrible joke on a wife who’d just saved his life. I’m worse than Nature herself.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Micron Pen Drawings

Find a quiet room, relax, let go, enter a dreamlike state, nothing matters. Close your eyes and look inside your mind, see the demons and the sprites dancing with your muses. Let your drawing hand dance with them and follow them wherever they lead you. They travel paths that exist only in your subconscious, in directions that don’t yet exist in our universe. It doesn’t matter where you go, only that you travel. Then have your tale your told with little ink drawings. Here are some of mine.

Brian Bowes (check out his art), when I wrote 'inkings' in a previous post, he read it as ‘inklings.’ It’s a very nice name for this type of drawing, better than anything I thought of but other clever people thought of it too. Still ‘inklings’ describe them well because they’re done in ink and also the beginning of ideas. By the way, there is a company called Inkling Entertainment. It’s Bob Camp’s. Bob lives only 15 minutes south of me but I've never met him. I rarely leave my studio.

Painting and doodling help balance an artist out. Doodling reminds you to loosen up and keeps you from becoming stodgy and self-important about your work. It's also fun to see pictures appear that you didn't expect, as if someone else is in control.
At some point I started thinking I'll use a few of these as remarques in my two how-to art books OtherWorlds and How to Draw and Paint Dragons, hence the paint brushes and palettes appearing.
I started drawing dragons but other animals popped up here and there. Some are dragon-like but the line between dragon and non-dragon is a fuzzy one. A dragonfly is distinctly un-dragon-like. They're really cool animals though that can withstand amazing g-forces but, sadly, have no ability to breath fire.
  Some of my best ideas come from my doodles. They often end up somewhere else in a different form or become a greeting card of some kind. In the upper left of this one is Anna the Cavegirl and her friend Percival the Pachyderm painting hearts on each other. They love each other but I assure you that it's platonic. Inter-species affairs between sentient and consenting creatures don't offend me, this relationship will never be romantic so stop the speculating.
Here's a tiny remarque I did for a copy of Kiddography, my biographical art monograph. I usually draw bigger ones on the page previous to the title page but I never can stay with tradition.
My dragon book had several editions. This was drawn in the Barron's. I like including stuff around the page in my sketches. This drawing just gave me a neat idea.
This demon painter is based on one of my doodles. It's drawn in my OtherWorlds book. I typically initial my drawings and inscribe the book elsewhere. For all of the remarques I used a ballpoint pen. I like things that are easy to find to draw with. You can ask for a ballpoint pen anywhere and someone will lend it to you. Although people usually have pencils too, they smear (unless sprayed) when inside books and are rarely sharp or soft enough for me.
This was drawn in a Search Press edition of the dragon book. The book was published in many different languages as well. I like this dragon's puffed up hair. He's clearly a madman with a brush.
Another remarque for OtherWorlds: Which is mightier, the sword, the pen or the brush? Maybe it's the palette if it's big enough.
I've always thought that dragons and bats have a disadvantage to birds in that their wings are a bit stiffer when folded up. Bat wings don't seem like they'd be good insulators like feather covered bird wings are. I'll have to read up on this. Six-limbed (four legs, two wings) dragons can gallop and attack using their wing claws (thumbs) while standing sturdily on all fours. Birds can't do that!

This is the sort of thing that I think about as I draw my little pictures. Practical thought leads to many imaginative ideas. My new book: Unchain Your Brain with Drawing. The idea is an inkling.
This remarque fits the introduction to OtherWorlds well. In it I compare the importance of practice for warriors to practice for becoming an illustrator. This little guy is ready to paint anything that comes his way and kill anyone who tries to stop him from his artistic duties.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Card 2010

This is, of course, my Christmas card this year and not a real book in this form. I borrowed a recent cover I did for Baen Books for this faux beat up copy of a thriller. The real book this cover is for is Grantville Gazette VI and it is a collection of stories around Eric Flint's 1633 series. Click here to learn about this very successful and very well done long-running series. Below is the inside of the card. The physical card is going out late for anyone expecting one.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Several Inks & A Pencil

I have a bunch of pen & ink illustrations to do. To warm up for them I do little inkings. I really love the immediacy of the Pigma pens. You pick one up and you’re inking away. All of these pictures are small, doodles really (except the one above). The point is to get myself relaxed. Ink goes down and stays down. Paint isn’t harsh and unforgiving: make a mistake, wipe it away, do it over. A brush, works for me like a shock absorber, softening the unfortunate shake in my hand. So watch me ruin a couple of these. The one above is an illustration for a book by Orson Scott Card titled Hamlet’s Father. It’s not a test but a finish illustration included so I could have a picture at the top. It was done with Black Magic ink using a #1 W&N sable brush.
Above: These first three were taken from my transmogrifying sketchbook. I kind of draw from life and change it to something a little or a lot different. Most of these are drawn lightly with pencil and drawn over with a ballpoint pen. Starting at left is a balcony I was sitting on. I changed it quite a bit, mainly using the perspective. It’s both Pigma pen and ballpoint. Next is a doggy I saw running around. In this case I did a few drawings of the puppy separately and redrew it in the scene above. It’s pretty corny but sometimes I want simple, corny and cute. I need to learn how to draw dogs better from memory so this was a useful exercise. I used a Pigma pen on this one. The last one is a bank in town. I fancied it up some. It’s ballpoint.
I call the things above id creatures. They’re all over the place it you look carefully, in marble, in stained carpets and in lichen. All were all done with Pigma pens or brushes of one kind or another. The Pigma brushes don’t have the control of a sable dipped in ink but they’re useful when putting down heavy blacks and they don’t cause horrible spills. Some of these were done directly in ink without drawing. Often I get story ideas from these doodles.
Above: These first two sets are an exercise I call ‘keep inking till you ruin it.’ First I inked the three figures till I was satisfied, scanned the group and inked more. How better to know when you should’ve stopped than to go too far? The girl with her hand on her head is a mess in the second version but the girl holding her hand up still looks okay. I like how the hand stands out now. The mountain girl still looks okay too. It’s a matter of taste on this one. The story behind The Mountain Girl is that she’s a wild feral creature. What’s with the dress, you may ask? She “found” it, tried it on, liked it and is hoping to gain some sophistication by wearing it. Next is the fairy juggler who has charmed the clothes off of the lady he’s entertaining. I often do better with facial expressions when I draw small so after I got the big smile down right I felt I should try it up larger. My wife saw the basketball player with the stars in her eyes and said, hey, her arms are too long. Wrong! Her torso’s too short . . . and her legs a bit. Not to mention the massive hands, feet and head. Cartoons don’t care about their proportions and if they don’t why should I?
Above: As ugly as my friends think it is I love my World Fantasy Award. It was cast from a sculpture by Gahan Wilson after all. You can’t beat that thousand-mile stare from H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve done a couple of drawings of this and I’ll probably do a few more. The light on the slivery bust fascinates me as well. I did this directly in ink with a Pigma pen. I consider the self-portrait a failure. It’s not me. I look too friendly. There’s no hint of the bitter old man I’ve become. Also, my eyes should be a bit more crossed as I look at the mooring airship. People ask me sometimes if I have airships on my mind all the time. Nope, just look to the right of me. There are the flying naked ladies that haunt me with their terrible beauty and their lighter-than-air frolicking. I never quite finished this drawing before the wind caught it one day and it flew away, only to be found damaged under a couch. Now those lofty ladies will have to be kept here constantly nagging me to lighten my mood.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Agatha H. and the Airship City, A Navel History

Above are a couple of quick character sketches of Agatha Heterodyne. She’s the main character in Girl Genius. Agatha's normal dress is modest but not always. I figured less was best for the cover.

Okay, I admit it I love airships (the picture above was for another book with airships). Give me a book with airships in it and I’m a happy guy. To tell you the truth it’s not that I like gas filled balloons so much it’s that I’ve done the research and I love putting my knowledge to use. Having read a great deal about airships I know that in our present time we underestimate and underutilize this wonderful technology. We seem blind to its potential. As I write this I shake my head in disappointment for us all. It’s shameful.
Now that I’ve finished proselytizing I can get to the main thing I’m posting about today. I did the cover to a very well written and entertaining book by Phil and Kaja Foglio. The title is Agatha H. and the Airship City. Above is that cover. It’s likely that you’re familiar with the graphic novel that the book is based on but if not go here.
Now to the story of the cover: the art director for Night Shade Books, David Palumbo, contacted me and asked me if I’d like to do the cover. First, the airships – all right! Next, the first book in the series by the Foglios – good deal! I know Phil and Kaja so the pleasure was all mine. It was a mystery to me that Phil wasn’t doing his own cover but that they’d trust me to do it made me feel pretty good. Above is the first stage of painting.
Phil invented some pretty cool machinery and mechanical men so I wanted them to be on the cover. It also had to be an action cover. Agatha had to be there and she had to be beautiful. I figured she should be sexy too. Hey, look at the comic, va-va-va-voom! Above is the next day of painting. As you can see things move fast but then they slow down quick because it took me several days to get to the finish. Note that I move the Wulfenbach troopers, the mechanical men, in closer. Agatha is the center of interest of course.
Above is the cover I first turned in. Here Agatha is dressed in her bedclothes with a coat around her. She makes clockwork men in her sleep and when awoken she is embarrassed to be found dressed skimpily.
The book is being directed at a general audience, and I believe very much that it will have a wide appeal. This is why I was asked to tone down the cover. My friend Photoshop allowed me to make this change without painting on the original. Although, sadly we've lost Agatha's midriff.
Here in this closeup you can see Agatha's well formed belly, bellybutton and all. This is why my subtitle is "A Navel History." It went away only digitally. Thanks to Photoshop what's gone doesn't have to stay gone. It's almost as if the cat's tail points to it.

PS: By the way, art director at Night Shade is David Palumbo, a fantastic artist himself. Here’s something I didn’t know about David until after I did the cover, he’s Julie Bell’s son (I feel stupid having not known this). I only knew he was a good artist. You probably already know this but Julie Bell is married to Boris Vallejo. Boris’ son is Dorian Vallejo whose work always amazes me. That’s not enough though, Julie has another son, Anthony Palumbo, and he’s an accomplished painter as well. Let’s just call them the fantastic five. The reason I think I don’t know much about other artists’ personal lives is because I’m a paint person and not a people person. I tend to be absorbed in the art and I forget to have curiosity about the artists I know.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cover to How-To Book Becomes How-To

Above is not the cover to the book with this title unless you're from an alternate world. In our world it's the cover to Starfinder, a nicely written book by John Marco.

I was planning to write this as a detailed explanation of how I work but I changed my mind and I decided to leave it open to question. If you want to know how the paint was applied, what paint I used, what mediums went into this or if there’s anything you wonder about ask me and I’ll answer. It’s likely that there’s a lot of things I don’t know I know and won’t till someone asks me.

This is a step-by-step for the cover I did for OtherWorlds: How to Imagine, Paint and Create Epic Scenes of Fantasy. That sure is a long title. I have to look it up every time I write it. The original title for the book was A Kama Sutra-Like Guide for the Fantasy Artist: With Detailed Step-By-Steps. Unfortunately, it got changed at the last minute. I don’t know why.

The reason the painting above couldn't be used for my book is that Starfinder is still in print so I couldn’t let them use it. We talked about other possibilities and they asked me if I’d paint a new cover for the book so I did that. Here are those steps with few comments:
Above: First is my initial idea, some idea drawings of sculptures and then examples of me trying to get everything to fit in a pleasantly aesthetic manner with the cover design they sent me. Photoshop is used as an arranging tool.
Above: Look ma, no pencil! The initial lay in is done directly with paint on pre-toned gessoed board.
Above: Close-up.
Above: A change to the design takes place. The dragon sculpture becomes a goddess instead.
Above: This is a close-up of the change.
Above: Color is added wet into wet.
Above: Details are added and color is shifted to cooler warms.
Above: The dam is changed and refined. I can never stick to a script.
Above: More refining, probably less than an hour's work. Note how the foreground dragon's wing changes but will change back. Can't make up my mind.
Above: So is this blog entry TMI, Too Much Information or TMI, That's Mighty Interesting?
Above: A close-up of an area of change.
Above: The other area of change.
Above: The background is concentrated on.
Above: Knoll becomes grassy with texture and drybrush work.
Above: Early versions of the dragons' coloration.
Above: It's hard to tell what I've done but it has been refined.
Above: You can barely see the lines but this is a perspective test. I've guessed it fairly well but adjustments are needed. Note that the spine of the book will line up with the column in the center. Type will go there.
Above: A close-up of refinements. People are added. Can you see the mermaid sculpture?
Above: A shot of the detail. You can see how I turned and moved one of the dragon sculpture drawing ideas over here.
Above: The finish without any type over it. I've Photoshopped in some extra space around it to make it easier for the designer to place because I try to make other people's jobs a bit easier when I can. Click here to see it as a cover. It feels kind of empty like this. Click here to see a lot more of the book. Google put up a large portion of the book. I'm guessing the publisher knows and is okay with this. To buy it click on the previous 'to buy.' Remember what I said about making other people's jobs easier? That 'to buy' link makes the promotions department at Impact happy.