Sketchblog

Angel — August 29, 2014

December ? 1999–August 29. 2014

Angel came into my life as I was trying to get out of an unfortunate marriage. Knowing that I would be keeping our dog, the beloved Ebby, my ex wanted a smart, adoring dog of his own to take with him when we split. An abandoned female lab mix puppy (similar to Ebby) wandered into the yard of the one other person who knew he was looking for just such a dog, and when an owner couldn't be found, the puppy moved into our house. My ex gave her the name "Angel" – as he expected her to become his guardian angel. 

I tried hard to not get attached to her, or to let her bond with me. Ebby was extremely jealous of and traumatized by this new thing in our house, and was never quite the same again. To try to reassure Ebby that she was still my best girl, I would shut the bedroom door each night so that Ebby and I could have our special alone time together and Angel could start bonding with the person she would be living with. Except Angel didn't. She lay outside my bedroom door, prefering to be closer to me, but never asking to come in.

I guess I probably ended up doing most of the daily feeding and care of Angel, while still trying not to bond emotionally with a puppy that would be leaving me; but she clearly loved me, and adored her disdainful "big sister" even though Ebby would have nothing to do with her. About 6 months later, when my ex was no longer living with us and was clearly not going to take Angel with him, I finally started to let myself get emotionally attached.

On the one hand, Angel was easy to love: she was always cheerful, easy-going, unconcerned about anything (in complete contrast to Ebby who eventually became tolerant of her, but never really enjoyed Angel's exuberance or got over her jealousy of any time I spent with Angel.) On the other hand, Angel was completely mis-named. She was a hellion on four legs. While I worked long hours, she merrily destroyed a love seat and two over-stuffed chairs. She drug in leaves and branches and a dead squirrel through the doggie door, and I came home every evening to a pretty much destroyed den. Typical of her labrador heritage, she remained wild and puppy-like for the first 5 years. 

It was difficult to give her the same one-on-one training I gave Ebby, so I didn't think Angel was as smart for a long time. But she was every bit as smart, and maybe even more intuitive of my moods. She stayed near me at all times, including accompanying me to the bathroom every time I went in the last 14 and a half years. If I got too preoccupied with some project on the computer and forgot to take a break every now and then, I'd find a head resting on my thigh, asking for some attention. And while I'm sure she enjoyed the affection at those moments, I think her real purpose was to remind me to take a break for my sake.

Angel had this great way of waking me up -- sort of the dog version of one of those alarm clocks that starts softly and gradually builds in intensity. She would start by bringing her face very close to mine, to the point that I could just barely feel her warm breath, and an occasional tickle of her whiskers. If that didn't rouse me, she would very gingerly dart her tongue to my neck or cheek, just barely touching me. This would continue, increasing in intensity, until I was sufficiently awake and would give in and get up to make breakfast. This went on for years, and is one of the things I've missed as she's gotten older.

When Angel was young, she would often put her paws up on the kitchen counter and look for crumbs or spills or utensils with food left on them. Before I figured this out, I would find random spoons, forks, and even paring knives (!) in the back yard, where she had taken them to finish washing them for me. She also quickly discovered the George Foreman Grill. After I would leave the house, she would stand at the counter and lick all the grease and drippings off of it. As time went on, she got braver and braver. She figured out that my showers last long enough for her to finish grill duty, so if I even started the water running in the shower, I could hear her trot down the hall and into the kitchen. I had to be careful to always leave sufficient cool-down time before leaving her unchaperoned.

Where Ebby was definitely a typical ball-chasing retriever, Angel had her own technique. She was not the least bit interested in running, but would back up about 6 feet from me and then leap straight up in the air to catch the ball. My totally unpredictable (read: uncoordinated) throws would often require her to twist and flip as she jumped, which was absolutely incredible to watch. 

There was not a trip I took to any room in the house in all these years in which I wasn't accompanied by at least one dog. Every single time I walked down the hall toward the bedroom, Angel would race ahead of me, leap up on the bed, and instantaneously adopt a relaxed lounging pose that made her look -- when I finally got to the room -- as though she had been there forever. It's a silly little thing that always made me laugh, and I hope it's a memory I never lose.

When the last 16 months of Ebby's life became so challenging, and she required so much of my attention, Angel patiently waited and watched and let me spend as much time with Ebby as was required. After Ebby died, when I thought Angel would miss the "sister" she so adored, she just calmly accepted her place as only dog for the next two years. She never seemed lonely -- just content. As she matured, Angel's boundless enthusiasm mellowed into the most wonderful happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow attitide about everything! During and after the divorce years, as I struggled to deal with the challenges and eventually grew into the strong, independent adult I have become, it was her attitude about life that guided me. 

With the arrival of Finn three years ago, Angel got to have her second puppyhood. She patiently taught him how to play, and finally got to have the companion she'd waited her whole life to enjoy. The two of them had so much fun together, and I know it added great joy, if not years to her life.

Angel was an incredibly healthy dog her whole life. Even as she aged, she was quite easy to deal with, and her end this week, while a bit abrupt, was really as drama-free as her life. She lived more than 14 and a half wonderful years, and selflessly gave me more than I could ever repay. Goodbye, guardian Angel!


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Relationship advice — July 26, 2014

A good friend gave me some unsolicited advice this week:

"Pay more attention to your muse. No one likes a jealous muse."

Now this might have been said entirely in jest -- my friend has a delightfully wry sense of humor. Or it might have been relationship advice cloaked in a witty font from someone who has either been speaking directly with my creative muse or who is observing my artistic frustrations with an outsider's objectivity.

Isn't it true that most relationships suffer when one of the participants fails to show up regularly, or to pay adequate attention to the other? Relationships that matter aren't in name only and they really only work if all the participants show up regularly and contribute equally. Without similar committments of time and effort, the result is probably too one-sided to be a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.

This showing-up-and-putting-the-work-in isn't just about human relationships, of course. It applies to all endeavors in which one desires to excel -- art, music, dance, writing, sports, education. It's difficult to think of a goal that can be accomplished by simply having a desire that remains unaccompanied by actual effort.

I know what it feels like to experience the green-eyed monster when I perceive that the other person devotes disproportionate attention elsewhere. By my "waiting for inspiration," and not regularly showing up and putting the work in -- have I really been doing that to my relationship with my art, even in the hyperbole of my friend's cautionary epigram? 

Maybe it was all a joke. But then again, I wonder...

 


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Artist Favorites & Recent Images — July 17, 2014

I have decided to reorganize my online galleries just a bit, and to provide the visitor with two easy points of entry into viewing my work, the first of which will be a composite gallery of the images that are my personal favorites, and which I consider to be my best work over the years. You can find this gallery here. And while I'm at it, I should do a better job of annotating  my images, so I'm going to start by adding comments to each of these favorite images. Look for the symbol under large images, which will indicate that explanatory text exists and can be accessed by clicking the icon.

The second new gallery contains recent images from my "Sketchbook." These are my newest creations, and some may still be works-in-progress. Now whenever you'd like to see what I've been up to, this gallery can be your first stop.

I also intend to blog more frequently than I have in the past few years -- posting new images, commentary, and who knows what else as I return to what I believe will be a more prolific period of creativity. I've also enabled comments for these posts, until and unles this proves to be a bad idea. So stay tuned for more thoughts from me, and check back often. (And if I don't keep my word about posting more often, please harrass me!)


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The Making of Deziris — June 8, 2012

I began creating Deziris in early February, and worked on it off and on for almost four months before finally arriving at the finished work. 

Deziris

 

When I looked back on all the versions I saved along the way, I thought they would make an interesting video journal of my creative process. I did this once before with Under the Canopy and it was quite easy to put together. This time I got more ambitious, and the project grew and grew (and got completely out of hand) -- rather like kudzu.

At first I was just going to assemble the same kind of simple slideshow of the several dozen versions that I saved on the way to creating the final image. Then, because the tangents were somewhat disconnected, I fabricated some intermediary frames to make the transitions smoother and the overall effect more eloquent. I added some lovely ambient music by Bruno Sanfilippo, and then considered annotating the slides with text, except that there were so many and they faded too quickly for the viewer to both look at the image and read even brief comments. 

The next option was to record a narrative, which came with its own challenges and obsessive/compulsiveness. I learned a lot, and I'm very pleased with some of the nuances in how the music, images, and even my narration interact. The end result is still not flawless, and I'm clearly not going to have a career in voiceover work, but I really need to get on with my life and tackle some of the many other projects on my list.

I hope you enjoy it!


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Amazing detail to explore! — June 17, 2010

I've been intrigued for some time by Kerry Mitchell's Rotated Newton images (see the first five images in his Gallery 19, as well as Amoebae, Fire Dance and You and I in Gallery 21). While Kerry is unquestionably the master of this formula, I was inspired by his recent Giant Steps image to play around once again in his world.

The formula is challenging to work with because what you see in Ultra Fractal during the creation process barely resembles the degree of intricacy that this formula will produce in the finished render. For instance, here's what I saw in UF:

In UF

 

Compare the above with the two rendered versions below.

The difference between these two renders comes from varying the number of iterations performed. The glorious fractal structure in each is the result of substantial anti-aliasing during the render process:

Two starting points

 

I like both of these versions for different reasons. The stark contrast of light and dark tones in the first is quite striking, while the second contains amazingly detailed fractal structure. I was unwilling to select one version over the other, so my next thought was to try to combine the best qualities of each into a single image. Not only did I arrive at a happy compromise, I wanted to create a very large render that would reveal the marvelous depth of fractal structure.

The first 144+ hour render revealed a tiny but unforgiveable error in my method of merging the two images. Once fixed, I waited another 6 days to get the final version of Sixtene:

Sixtene

 

I have uploaded a high resolution render that can be explored in depth (much like zooming into Google Earth) here. Enjoy!


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Merge mode: Dance — May 30, 2010

About six weeks ago, I had the idea to merge the two artistic passions of my life into one project -- a ballet about the iterations and relationships of my life, costumed with my fractal art printed on fabric. The choreographic process probably deserves its own blog entry, so I'll focus first on the costume/art element.

I've experimented with having my art printed on fabric at Spoonflower and thought of the possibility of using the different panels of this triptych:

Se Cyre -- a fractal triptych

 

as the basis for my ballet's costumes. The soft, painterly, oogey quality of the fractal's coloring seemed a natural fit for the music I had chosen and the style of contemporary movement I would be using.

I spoke with Ballet Memphis' resident costume designer, Bruce Bui, about my ideas. I showed him a print of the original art, plus expanded views of the three panels which gave us three complete, but differently-colored versions of the fractal structure:

three panels

Bruce made photocopies of these, and then cut them apart with scissors and applied them to sketches of the dancer's bodies to give us some idea of how each would look. Here are scans of his sketches:

costume sketch

costume sketch

costume sketch

Bruce explained that the areas of the fractal structure on the bodices would wrap around the torso, and be connected by illusion -- a stretch fabric that matches the dancers' skin. The hemlines of the skirts would be irregular, as well, following the crevices and curves of the fractal structure.

Bruce figured out what areas of the fractal would be used for each of the costumes, and to what scale those sections needed to be printed. I realized that where he was placing the circular skirt would require a bit more structure in each image than I had originally rendered. I was also concerned about the darkness of the original art and how it might print on the fabric, so I lightened and increased the saturation of the final versions I uploaded to Spoonflower.

fabric panels

To have the best drape and flow in the dresses, we chose Spoonflower's Organic Cotton Interlock Knit. Although it turned out to be a bit heavier and thicker than I imagined, the stretch and weight of the fabric worked very well in the finished costumes. And because the edges do not need to be finished, it was relatively easy to follow the design of the fractal for both the bodice and skirt sections.

Here are some photos of the finished costumes:

Rachel costume front

Rachel costume back

Crystal/Lana front

Crystal/Lana back

Kendall front

Kendall back

And finally, here are some excerpts of the ballet, through you so i, showing the costumes and art in action. The dancers are Kendall Britt, Crystal Brothers, Lana Muhlbach, and Rachel Shumake, of Ballet Memphis.


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