It’s Always Halloween

Happy All Souls’ Day. (belated as of the time of this posting.)

Halloween has come and gone and I am now at the time of year where I desperately try to cling to the spooky vestiges of the past and dread the coming of jingle bells.

This Halloween I ended up spending mostly alone with the cat. Worse ways to spend a holiday I guess, though not very exciting. At least I did get to participate and attend the annual local Monster Show again.

I got accepted early, I have lots of time, nothing pressing on my schedule, a new set of paints I love playing with. I have everything but…motivation. Or ideas. Or a concept.

So we are off to a great start as usual.

Our tale begins with me kicking around art block, and trying to work around it by doing stuff I don’t normally do.

I had a few folks close to me argue that the pieces I did last year weren’t “monstrous” enough and I should try something scarier. I also had close friend of mine suggest I channel my love of kaiju and Godzilla movies into this and do a big monster piece.

I AM a rather large nerd for kaiju movies. I’m not an expert but I have very fond memories of watching Godzilla movies with my dad and am able to name quite a few of them, One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Pacific Rim, to the extent I actually have a few jaeger action figures hanging out with Godzilla on my shelf as we speak.
After deciding to try that direction I tried to narrow down what I liked in my kaiju designs. I decided pretty much out the gate not to do any of Godzilla or friends directly and do my own thing. A lot of pieces last year were of Godzilla or other movie monsters and I like to try to do something different. Something that isn’t done a hundred times over.

So I decide to do my own glow-y sea serpent thing. Paint it all pretty with silver ink on black paper make it visually pop, bit of an eel, part glow-y whats it from that movie with the monsters in it, throw a bit of angler fish in there and…

Give up decide its awful and chunk it in the recycle bin.

Okay so lets trying something else…

fuuSomething like the Belle Dame sans Merci – but different.

Something that’s visually, obviously monstrous. Maybe a snake lady, siren sort of thing? Subtle but still monstrous. I may or may not be trying to do a Waterhouse sort of thing.

I try to be careful with the composition cause layout can help make or break a piece. I throw the golden ratio spiral at it and see if I can do anything with it.

So I sketch out a concept and decide it doesn’t read at all.

I then decide the whole idea was crap to begin with.  And so it goes in the bin next to the sea serpent. And my hopes and dreams.

At this point in our tale, the plot twist is depression was the real monster all along.

But I’ve still got a few weeks to come up with…something. Anything. So I scale back my expectations and decide to settle for something vaguely inhuman. Just as long as I can get it on the page.

A friend lets me darken her door for a change of scenery and company, which tends to help when my depression sets in like this. In between watching anime and playing with her cat I go through her bookcase and run across her copy of The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. Flipping through it I look for anything that might be interesting. And come across the baku I’m not exactly inspired but I’m at least encouraged.

This weird little thing is actually not a “monster” persay. It’s a helpful spirit creature that wards off evil and eats nightmares for breakfast. It’s said to have the legs of a tiger, trunk of an elephant, tail of an ox, body of a bear etc.So it at least looks the part.

I remember it from a Neil Gaiman story I read ages ago and have fond memories of, and considering my current mental state this seems like something everyone could use more of. So I doodle baku for a couple days to see if I can get a decent concept going for a painting.


I decide to that giving it some sort of action that isn’t gyring and gimbling around like a kitten is probably the best option as much as I discover I love drawing baku looking like my derpy cat chasing a moth.  So I try for a more action sort of pose, bounding after…something.

I’m not sure how to draw nightmares, traditionally woodblock artists seem to have shrugged and drawn them as wispy miasma. At least the bar is set pretty low and there’s really no wrong answer.

I send this sketch off to a few art friends of mine, who have better understanding of  animal anatomy than I do, to look it over. They give a few details for me to change but generally give the thumbs up and one of them even recognizes the thing without any prompting so I decide to not throw this one out and proceed.

bakulineI still feel this piece is too simple so I decide to do it with gold ink on black paper with gouache – which is something I ‘ve done before and it stands out in a crowd.

So I set up a digital color key for this with the edited line art. The art show rules are the piece has to be original, not a digital print, and on paper. So I do all my brain storming on the computer to apply on the final copy.

Baku have no set colors, so I’m free to do whatever I wanted. I decide blue is a nice soothing color and it pops well on the black, the orange is done as a contrast and also as a nod to the fact a lot of baku imagery seems to have an element of fire or smoke to them.

After this its a pretty simple process of transferring and painting the final version of this. Which I have covered in the write up of the last piece I did like this.


Paintings done like this look really awesome in person but scan and photograph like butt. So this is the best photo I got out of this. So I get this done with about a week and a half to spare before the deadline for the show. It isn’t the most complicated piece ever but I think it looks alright and I don’t feel like throwing it in the trashcan which is a plus.


So I have one piece done for the monster show and one week left before deadline. That means I’m done and can let myself curl up in a blanket burrito until I feel like a person again yes?


The show organizers promise at least two pieces from each artist will be hung at the show and I never like to do things in halves. So I decide to try to rush one more piece out, cause I am a masochist.

Since working out of my comfort zone was not really doing much good, especially with a close deadline; I decided to stay with what I knew: creepy ladies, masks and watercolors!

I was still thinking back to the Neil Gaiman story that I read that had baku in it, and remembered one of the main characters in it was a kitsune. The baku were a side note but the kitsune was the main character.

Kitsune are fox spirits that are generally not too high up on the “monster” scale of things. they like to play tricks and cause trouble but nothing too bad or malicious. Basically be polite and not a greedy idiot and you’ll probably be safe.

Many folktales have them magically transforming themselves into pretty ladies to blend in with the general populace, even marrying and raising human families, until something causes them to slip and reveal their  true nature.


So I start off scribbling out a composition. I grew up around a lot of Japanese and Asian art and antiques so I absentmindedly try to set this up in the sort of quiet pose you’d find in a woodblock print.

I start hating on this and talking myself out of this picture about as quickly as I draw it. I feel like it’s not really that interesting and stereotypical and just  dull.I set it aside and sulk for a bit until I realize I really don’t have much else going on so I decide to keep working on this piece.

On the second pass on this piece I start cleaning up the pose. I originally wasn’t sure what she was doing besides sitting daintily, or what she was holding other than the mask. So I start sorting that out. Along with the rest of my life choices. steropty2

Our fair lady here, isn’t really from a specific time period. Her ensemble is based on a woodblock of a courtesan, that I can not find again for the life of me. Her hair is a mess,  I wanted half way disheveled for some movement, interest and sort of way to imply a wildness about her.

At this point I leave a note to myself to research and figure out some sort of hair clip to go in her hair. There is a lot of etiquette about time of year, occasion, etc that goes into some hair ornaments so I wanted to go back and fill that in later.

I double checked kimono etiquette to make sure I had it fastened in the proper fashion and such. For the record, a living person fastens their clothing left over right, it’s only reversed if you are burying someone.

Also, generally if you are a lady type, traditionally kimonos are fastened in the back. Courtesans and other ladies of the night, fastened them in the front. Presumably for ease…of …access. I decide that this fox lady isn’t a “nice girl” so she’s partying with her sash in the front.

Sadly at this stage I still feel sort of meh about the piece, that it really isn’t interesting or worth the effort. But I have a few friends positive feedback help me decide to finish this thing.

kitsune2I clean this piece up, decide to simplify her hair piece to a simple comb. All the linework is now streamlined, to mimic the woodblock look some more.  (Please note that at this point I haven’t actually taken any thought to the color scheme beyond what parts are black,  and her ears.)

The details of her mask are also sorted out on this step. Her mask is based on a mask for Noh theater, more specifically the mask used for the role of a young woman. It’s not a huge detail but I felt is was appropriate for the situation.

With this lineart cleaned up it gets printed and transferred to watercolor paper using a lightpad. For quicker pieces this works really well for me, for big complicated pieces I’m intending to layer and work on I want to use the watercolor block, which doesn’t work with the lightpad at all. (Please note I didn’t photograph this process – I will talk about that when I get to my traditional media entry.)

The piece gets inked pretty qiuckly, and I’m feeling pretty good about things for teh moment. Untill I realize I haven’t settled on a color scheme. As much as there is an etiquette for hair pieces, and how the clothing is fastened, there is a lot to be said about the colors of the kimono. So I go tumbling down a research hole.

I had just intended to find a color scheme and move on with my life. But things are never that simple. The clothing and patterns, are based on the age and status of the wearer, the time of the year and  some patterns specifically whether or not cherry blossoms are blooming. (Traditional kimonos are so entrenched in rules even modern Japanese people hire someone to help them for occasions they need to wear them apparently.)

I’m devoted to at least trying to do this vaguely right so I am not going to slap colors around willy nilly. I had hoped to just find some sort of chart or guide – like the color scheme version of the language of flowers. I know that black is a formal color, white is for the dead and beyond that one needs professional help.

I also at this point discover a few sources that claim that a woman in court, during the Hiean era, was not prized for her looks but rather for her ability to properly combine kimono colors, and I start to believe it.

Alas I do not find a simple chart – instead I find…this

Well it is a chart. (Explanation for how to use said color_coordination_block_chartchart is behind the link.)

So this is my starting point – and I try to go from there. This chart, which I’ve run across multiple places but have not found a source, is used by selecting a color, and then either drawing a straight line DOWN, or a triangle, or a circle.

So after drawing strange shapes in the air and mulling over what is pretty much feeling like witchcraft I finally arrive at a color scheme.


The photo isn’t very good but the scheme I settled on is purple, yellow, a lemon yellow and green. But things are still feeling flat. I decide we need to add some patterns to this to spice it up.  In real life kimonos are elaborately decorated and painted, so this is an obvious additional step.

Even in the olden days, woodblock artists added patterns in their depictions of people and their clothing.The  Japanese woodblock artists also had the patience of Job.

example from the Met’s collection of Japanese woodblocks

At this point my deadline is now a couple days away, I want to speed this process up. I don’t want to spend my last shreds of sanity on trying to make a pattern match fabric folds. Thankfully I have a tool my Japanese predecessors didn’t: Photoshop. I find a tiling Photoshop pattern that as far as I can tell has not overbearing significance and apply it to a scan of the painting. From there I use the Warp tool   to bend and shape the pattern so it sort of follows the form of the figure.

The pattern I found initially wasn’t packaged with the black and white transparent version so I have to take the color version and play with the levels until I just have the lines. This then gets sized to be the same size as the painting and printed. Then its a simple case of tracing the result with the lightpad onto the painting using a colored pencil.


The final product is done a day before deadline and I can drop these off with the show organizers and come home and be a blanket burrito until my brain stops screaming at me. Huzzah.

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