Friend Events!

It’s tough maintaining a social life when you’re stuck in a studio most of the time,  so it’s a real treat when an unexpected  “frent” (friend event) happens in my life. It’s even better when more than one of these “frents” happen in short order, which is exactly what came about this last month.

The first good news involves  Oscar Hokeah, a digital-age friend whom I’ve never physically met but who shares a love for accurately launching words in the same way  an expert marksman likes to hit the “ten-ring”. Oscar just got a book deal and while most writers write because word-crunching is woven into their DNA it’s always  nice to get some of that external validation1.

The other “frent” involves a buddy from years ago,  and by “years ago” I mean decades. Dave Doering was a fellow member of The Happy Valley Space Academy 2 a  loose-knit group of artists and fans living in the Provo-Orem area in the late 1980s. We’d meet once a month to socialize and share our work but Dave wasn’t above about stopping by during the month as well…and more importantly wasn’t above serving as an impromptu model when I needed reference material and the deadline was short.

Dave is a writer/podcaster interested in the fan/mundane interface and since the early 1980’s has been instrumental in both the establishment and conduct of a writer’s conference dubbed Life, The Universe and Everything. Dave and I lost contact when my family and I left Utah Valley in 1987 and I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from him during an otherwise dismal week.

Below is an example of a last-minute modeling job Dave sat in on:

 

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Artists: Val & Ron Lindahn

ValAndRonLindahn

Three of the most physically demanding experiences of my life

  • Two-a-day football practice
  • Basic Airborne course – “jump school”
  • Confederation 44

Confederation 44 AKA the 1986 World Science Fiction convention was not the type event you’d usually associate with strenuous physical activity but as I was in the midst of the initial  flare of ankylosing spondylitis it became an endurance test of sorts. The attendant severe pain along my spine and hips made getting both baggage and artwork from airport to hotel a definite challenge.

I would survive that Labor Day weekend on Motrin and Tylenol 3.

The Atlanta WORLDCON had not been on my schedule; not only did I have the physical discomfort to contend with – for the first time in my freelance career  I was bringing in enough work for a decent income, so I didn’t see a need for making what would be a miserable trip. However at the last minute a New York book publisher told me in a phone conversation that meeting at WORLDCON was all that lay between me and more lucrative book cover assignments.

$KA-CHING$

The  happy ending would have me making my way to Atlanta, inking a multi-book deal and selling several paintings in the art show – all while enjoying a miraculous remission of my physical ailments. Unfortunately reality was more a matter of pain and disappointment: travel aggravated the spasms, I sold nothing in the art show and my meeting with the publisher was a bust as in “ I don’t know what I was thinking when I told you that”,

….but in the middle of it all was a definite “silver lining in dark cloud” moment,

I was standing in the art show next to my panel and feeling totally overwhelmed  at having my work hung next to the stellar work of Steve Hickman when a total stranger walked up, shook my hand and said “Hi, I’m Ron Lindahn. Val and I have been looking at your work. It’s good and I just thought I’d introduce myself”.

I stood there for a moment then replied with something snappy like “Argle bargle urk”. At the time convention art shows were dominated by the book publishing industry and my entry from the role-playing game ghetto had been met with a cool response. Val and Ron Lindahn were definitely “names” in the business and I had difficulty processing what the h*ll they saw in me.

I’d seen their work and admired it from afar for a couple of years – there was a confidence in excellence that I’ve tried and failed to achieve in my own work. I’ve also liked they way they’d experiment and use non-traditional media – one of the most interesting conversations of the weekend revolved around unwinding and fraying coarse twine to use as stencil in rendering undersea plant life.

They are just as ‘excellent” in real-life as well;  I spent the rest of the Atlanta WORLDCON in their company and despite the elevated level of pain I was dealing with I had  a marvelous time, if nothing than for the fact that it was the first large S/F convention where I didn’t feel like a little kid with my nose pressed on the window glass, on the outside looking in.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen them – the A/S is in full force and I don’t get out much, but I will always remember their kindness.

Artists: Michael Whelan

Integral TreesWhen I first started going to S/F conventions the word was “Michael Whelan is the Robert Redford of the science-fiction illustration world”. While at this point in time Redford’s name may have been traded out for Brad Pitt the fact remains that Michael Whelan =  superstar.

Years ago I sat on panels at three different conventions with Mr. Whelan so we’re not really acquainted – but during those discussions he seemed pleasant, professional and blessedly free of that common artist’s ailment: an ego requiring a separate life-support system. I also watched him conduct a tour of the 1991 BOSKONE art show and was impressed when he delivered a constructive commentary of every item in the show, from marginally recognizable Spock portraits scratched out by desperate middle-school fans to polished professional work by peers and competitors working in the photorealistic manner of the Brandywine school of illustration.

He’s created a fantastic  body of work over the last 40+ years but the illustration I’m posting today is my pick of the bunch because:

  • Larry Niven is one of my favorite writers
  • As I grew up in Alaska it should be no surprise that I am “tree-hugger”.
  • Green dominates the composition.

So why is green such a big deal? For starters I just like the color green, especially cool greens that run to the pthalo green side of the palette; for “seconders”: from day one of my first illustration class and all the way through my entire career  all I’ve heard about green is that it’s  the kiss of death on a cover…

This image proves otherwise.

James Albert Smith (1933-2018)

Like so many other rites of passage, the whole idea of “talking trash” to peers didn’t occur to me until fifth grade at Woodland Park Elementary School, located in the wilds of deepest, darkest Spenard (Alaska). Central to the art of verbal dueling was developing a good defense, even if it was something as simple as “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”, when you were receiving fire, as in  “You were such an ugly baby your mom fed you with a slingshot”. I figured that the anxiety brought on by “words” would ease off as I got older but unfortunately there have always been statements that could definitely shake me up:

  1. “Surface winds on the DZ have dropped momentarily to light and variable.”
  2. I’m sure it’s just a mole.”
  3. “We have some questions about some of the deductions on your Schedule C.”
  4. “I’m going to raise my sons the same way I’ve watched you raise yours.”

That last comment was the most worrisome, and when my friend Delton spoke those words to me I slept poorly for a week, convinced that one or all of his boys would end up in an asylum or jail based on some faulty parenting technique he’d observed me practicing. I always wondered if Brother Smith’s chuckle-in-response was covering up a similar reaction when I made the same statement years ago.

That’s because no other man (including my own father) had as much influence on my growth as a parent as did James Albert Smith. He continued to laugh the idea off, maintaining that he’d never done anything that remarkable while raising his kids, but he never caught on to the fact that it wasn’t the things that he did, but the things that he didn’t do that made all the difference in the world.

He didn’t get a caribou

Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula I was surrounded by hard men – carpenters, mechanics, roustabouts and commercial fisherman who were veterans of World War 2 or the Korean conflict. A moose hunt  with them was more like combat reconnaissance patrol than a hunting trip. I couldn’t help but inwardly smirk as I watched Jim casually load up his boys on a fall morning in 1971, one rifle for the three of them and all of them in street shoes, however as I listened to them interact upon their return later that day I realized that the trip had less to do with steaks and more to do with forging bonds between a father and his sons, that he was spending more time teaching than hunting.

He couldn’t grow corn.

I witnessed Jim’s efforts at vegetable gardening over the course of three summers and it never ceased to amaze me that corn stalks always took up a  fair amount of space in his plot. It didn’t seem to matter that the growing season is too short, the soil too wet and daytime temperatures don’t stay warm enough for corn to thrive. It wasn’t until that third summer that I finally tumbled to the fact that his attempts had less to do with having fresh corn-on-the-cob for dinner and more to do with giving a little bit of Davis County ambiance to help his homesick sweetheart cope with the cold and dark  winters so far away from home.

He didn’t kick my fourth-point-of-contact

I have it on good authority that I can be somewhat of a dumb-a** at times, and I was in that mode of thinking when I once caused a great deal of distress for one of his children. At the time I was literally living on the other side of the continent and figured I was home free from any sort of parental retribution. I wasn’t prepared for the flinty stare he met me with when we finally did meet up in person two months later, a flinty stare which lasted all of twelve seconds before he broke into his trademark grin, slapped me on the shoulder and started quizzing me about “those fancy new graphic design classes you’ve been taking”.

It was truly amazing watching him in parental mode.  My own parents were firm believers in the percussive discipline school of child rearing and while my presence no doubt had a tempering effect on his conduct I was always impressed with the positive, low key manner with which he  counseled and corrected his kids…and when I told him that I was trying to adapt those traits into my own parenting style he just brushed off the statement and changed the topic of conversation to a short story he was working on.1

Despite time and distance the warmth never wavered – he was the only person I’ve ever known who had a grin that could be heard on the phone.  He was always interested in what I did, though to the very end he kept urging me to switch from design to copywriting2.  When I recently shared with him an illustration I created for The Friend his reaction was to tell me that my work was the best part of the magazine, a comment that meant more to me than all the other certificates and ribbons I’ve been awarded in my entire career.

I just hope when this life is over he’ll say the same thing about my parenting skills.

___________________________________________________________________________

Notes

  1. The plot involved father and son cobbling together a hovercraft out of the wreckage of a plane they’d crashed in.
  2. Writers ae usually paid better and are selected more often as supervisors

Another Thirty-year Old Drawing

Puffinzilla0003

This dates from back when we were house-sitting for my parents in Sterling in the late 1980s. I sold the original years ago but I think it  measured about six inches on the vertical side.

As for inspiration there are three things going on here:

  1.  I’ve always liked the way Val Paul Taylor works Pacific Northwest themes into his work – Val and I were classmates for one all-too-short years at BYU.
  2. I’ve been a fan of alternate history since Kirk Mitchell’s Procurator series in the mid-Eighties and I take great delight in designing arms and equipment for “What if” scenarios.
  3. While the Kenai Peninsula art “scene” had opened up immeasurably since I left home in 1971, it was still very much dominated in 1988 by touristy themes such as moose, mountains, the Northern Lights and PUFFINS!

We couldn’t go anywhere without running into paintings of puffins….

Easter Eggs and Retro-Design

I’m not the first artist to hide Easter Eggs in work, but I think I might be in contention for the title of “most obscure reference.”. Take the nice little pen & ink drawing I did in the summer of 1988 depicting a British tank crew on the Western Desert ca. 1941. In the foreground is the commander sipping a mug of tea, in the background was an-obviously-recently-shot-down pterodactyl and on the hull of the tank itself is painting the Cross of St. George.

ST George

Unfortunately it all worked out the way a  visiting friend predicted:  ” Nice drawing but no one will get the reference”

Today’s drawing falls into much the same category…

2018-10-01 SkyDiver 1939

Never mind the fact that the idea has been retro-designed to approximately TL 1939…

Artists: Jim Sharpe

TimeMay77Begin

Jim Sharpe was the first mainstream illustrator whose work I could identify by name. Oh, I’d known about Norman Rockwell, but he didn’t count – Rockwell was so well known that his name had become a generic term like Kleenex or Xerox. I knew  about Frank Frazetta, Neil Adams  and other various comic artists but none of those names could pass snob-muster in the Graphic Design and Illustration program I was enrolled in.

 Sharpe, I learned about when I returned to BYU after my bicycle penance –  this stunning portrait of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin was part of a travelling exhibit of Time Magazine cover illustrations that had taken roost in the university’s secured gallery for a month or so.  It was an exhibit that I almost missed as it overlapped with the preparations my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I were making to start our life together. Sharpe’s work is good, but it couldn’t compete with that gentle cascade of light brown hair, the water-color blue eyes with the slightly sad tilt, and the hint of a Southern accent.

 Somehow, I ended up in the gallery one day between classes and the minute I saw the crisp design and macho pencil work “up-close and personal” I was transfixed. I actually stood in front of the framed original taking notes and sketching details until the gallery attendant hustled me out the door just before closing for the day.

 For the balance of my undergraduate studies I kept a clipping of this TIME cover thumbtacked above my desk and went on to collect clippings of his work over the years. His drawing skill and refined sense of design are a major factor in the aesthetic vision that drove my work when I was first starting out.

 I was disappointed but not really surprised to find that he passed away in 2005, but while I was doing research for this post I found out something that brought a smile to my face.  Before Jim Sharpe was an award-winning illustrator had been a naval aviator flying the F3Hs Demon. In the late 1950s he deployed to the West Pacific, serving  with VF 193 on the USS Bonhomme Richard  (CVA 31);  I managed to find a copy of a  CVN 31 cruise book and was  delighted to find a picture of Sharpe in his flight suit and helmet…and to find out that he had been the squadron’s administration department for the cruise, a position that I held at FIRSTEURLANT 0867 during my five-year experiment with the Navy Reserve.

 He only served the one tour before continuing his education at Art Center School of Design in Pasadena and launching himself into the illustration world and stardom in the Sixties. Was the common interest in aviation a factor in my interest in his work? I honestly have no idea – I mean the guy surpassed me so far in both illustration and aviation that I can’t even begin to make a comparison, but I’d like to think that somewhere in that tight design and arrangement of “macho pencil lines” is something that I can identify with.

Staying Grounded

I spent a good portion of the 1970s working as a roustabout for Chevron USA out at the Swanson River Oil Field on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. T.H. Auldridge was the gang foreman, and I give him as much credit as any other human being for anything I may have become or accomplished in my life. He fought across Europe as a tank destroyer commander during WWII, and despite the lack of a college education or any sort of management training, he was one of the best leaders and smartest men I have ever known.

He was Texas-born & bred and as such was prone to uttering “colorful” observations on life, most of which are not printable in this particular forum. Of the ones that were printable my favorite was “The next time you think you’re a big deal just try to give an order to another man’s dog”,

I’ve had that principle reinforced in my life countless times in every field of endeavor I have worked in – especially in my creative work. During all the years I worked as a freelance illustrator I took pride in my work, especially my 100+ game covers and the conceptual designs  I did for BattleTech, Traveller and most recently the Gun Kingdom books written by R. Scott Taylor. I look at those images as my signature work, but do you know what my most heavily published, wide-spread work is?

Kid’s Puzzles.

From 1998 to 2008 Lori and I created linework for a series of kid’s puzzles published by Patch Products. We would create black & white line images that in-house artists would scan/shade/color via Photoshop for use in puzzles sold through Wal-Mart.

Patch2008PondBW0006

That’s right – those 11”X17” kid’s puzzles that are bundled and shrink-wrapped eight-to-a-package? The ones displayed on the end-caps of the toy aisles.

Those.

That means that years from now when the gophers are bringing me the mail I won’t be remembered for BattleTech, or Star Trek licensed work or the fine art I create – I will be memorialized by insects, dinosaurs and cars.

…and as much as I’d like to think that my writing will make more of an impact that my art, I am jolted back to reality whenever I check stats on this page. It’s not the stories from my youth, the commentaries on music or reflections on life that get the most attention.  The single post that gets the most views – the one piece of writing that has been seen the most by people around the world.

Cardboard Batmobile.