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…

Title Page: “Dog King John and The Stolen Syrup

2018-08-01 DJKSS CoverTitlePage

Title page for the aforementioned book I’m writing for my grandchildren. As you can see here and in other images from the book the linework and type are not perfect – and there’s a reason for that. I’m producing this in the “old-school” manner much like we did forty years ago. I’m using my computer strictly as a stat camera/typositor – all the drawings are done with pencil, pen and template as is the line work and graphic devices. I’m placing the type by hand and designing “by eye”.

You’ll also occasionally see stray construction lines that I’ve left in.

Some people dress in period costume and live in restored villages as a means of “living history”. This project it my way of doing so as well.

Update: Dog King John Page 2

2018-08-04 DJKSS Page 2

Page 2 of the Dog King John book.

Page-numbering in this book is a little different. Pages that are numbered (1,2,3 etc.) tell the story of the syrup hijacking.  Pages that are lettered (A,B, C etc.) show maps, diagrams, historical notes and other information that expand on the story. I’ll post the numbered pages but I’m holding back the lettered pages to keep the project  special for my grandkids – they’ll be the only ones completely “in the know”, at least  for the time being.

Update: Dog King John

As I wrote previously I am in the middle of a book project entitled “Dog King John and the Stolen Syrup”.  The story behind the project has more twists than an M. Night Shymalan script but basically involves my efforts to stay involved with my grandchildren through sketch cards I send to them each month.

I’m replacing the individual cards with pages from a book I’m writing for my wonderful mob of grandkids. If everything works according to schedule the book will be done third-quarter 2019 and will be available for purchase via a Kickstarter campaign at the time. Until then I will periodically publish occasional pages like this one:


The Golden Hound (revised)

It never fails to happen.

No sooner had I posted the first sketch of the airship Golden Hound but I  immediately started to mentally pick at the concept – just as I cannot ignore a snag of a sweater I got sucked back into tweaking/changing/designing the design. I think that I am finally happy with the this version – there is still an element of fantasy involved but the gondola doesn’t look quite so clunky now (it’s about half the previous size in comparison to the lift-cells.

2018-06-02 The Golden Hound

The Golden Hound

2018-06-02 The Golden HoundPreliminary rendering of Dog King John’s personal airship The Golden Hound.

Strictly speaking the gas cells on The Golden Hound are much too small to support a gondola and engines the size of these, but physical science works a little differently in the upcoming book Dog King John and the Stolen Syrup. Lift is provided not by helium or hydrogen but by fly-drogen , a gas that is not only not inert, it definitely has an altitude attitude.


Time for a change…again

My dad used to say ” a move was as good as a change” but I personally think the opposite to be true: “a change is as good as a move.” Living in Clarksville is nice but I do miss the gypsy days of my younger years when it seemed like I was moving every year or three.  Funny thing: I always felt a bit short-changed at the time because I didn’t have a home town – place where  I spent my entire youth from birth to young adulthood, but after living for extended periods in some places I realized that I like a change of venue from time to time.

All of which has nothing to do with the new masthead illustration. The title is “Solo Kill” and it was painted with acrylics on a 36″ X 15″ Masonite panel. It was produced in 1990 and is based on a book written by Skye Boult  – and  if you search through my older Solo Kill posts you will find that there’s actually an interesting back story to both the book and the painting.

…and yes, it really is a cat flying that airplane.


P-26 Model

Every time I put together a balsa kit model I am amazed by the courage and faith of earlier aviators. As the frames and stringers slowly build into shape and form the frai; nature of those first airplanes becomes more and more apparent. Even in the case of this latest model – Boeing P-26  with its landmark advances in metal construction – my stomach gets a little fluttery when I think about the pilot sitting in a cage while being pulled through the air by an engine.

…then some article about GPS navigation and the “glass cockpit” pops up in my news feed and baffles me even more, though to be honest the aviation tech I started out learning was probaby closer to that of the P-26 than what’s in use now.

2017-11-02 P-26 Balsa

Douglas SkyShark!

2017-07-02 Douglas SkySharkIt’s pretty obvious that aviation and aircraft rate fairly high on my list of interests (obsessions?). I  like classic aircraft best – mostly 1930’s and early World War 2 “stuff”- but I like some of the odder concepts that came out right after World War 2 when the superpowers were in a  race to see who could be first to put pilfered German technology to practical use.

Of course American designers came up with some interesting concepts on their own. The Skyshark was an attempt by Douglas Aircraft to combine turbine technology with contra-rotating propellers to get a really, really fast naval attack plane  – but unfortunately technology available in the late 1940s was not equal to the task. Once more a beautiful concept was shot down by ugly fact when the gearboxes between the engines and propellers routinely disintegrated into bits of metal during acceleration so the United States Navy wisely went with the A1 Skyraider as the attack plane of choice.

Of course that doesn’t deter me from making whimsical drawings of the plane (in imaginary insignia/markings ) in my sketchbook …


1979: Look Before You Land

Another lesson from the “can’t tell a book from its cover” manual.

I was a flight student at Fort Rucker in the fall of 1979. The course of instruction was a little different then than it is now; each class wore a different colored hat (my class wore green) and our primary flight training was conducted in the TH55 – a small two-place helicopter manufactured by Hughes that was powered by a reciprocating engine and equipped with a manual throttle that you had to roll on and roll off as you changed power settings.  Taking to the air in the TH55 was not so much matter of sitting in an aircraft as it was strapping one to your back and then taking off.

Individual classes would fly either in the morning or the afternoon, taking off from a large central airfield and splitting up between various stage fields all over post to avoid the hazards inherent in overcrowding an airfield.  During primary phase we would receive dual instruction, then solo flights, all of which would continue for about a month or so when we’d get a check ride and go into the next phase of training

Our class ended up taking a bit longer to complete primary flight training as bad weather broke our flying time up with several days stuck on the ground. After being cleared for operations after one lengthy stretch of weather days we were dismayed to find that our class had been switched to another location – Toth Stage Field. Normally that wouldn’t have been so bad – except on the first day back flying I was scheduled to fly solo to this new stage field. Bear in mind that at this point we were yet to be taught cross-country navigation, I hadn’t flown solo since my second supervised solo three weeks earlier and I hadn’t flown at all in over a week.  I was a bit nervous, but as a newly-minted second lieutenant flying with a class of warrant officer candidates I put on a very brave face and set out firmly in control of both that TH55 with the pesky manual throttle and situation.

I had planned my route carefully, taking notes of landmarks to help me find Toth Stage field, enter the traffic pattern safely and land but unfortunately I failed to take in consideration the prevailing winds from the south which were much stronger at the new stage field (at the southern edge of the reservation) than they were at our old field (at the very northern edge). I flew along blissfully unaware, starting into a long loop far outside the stage field which I had planned to set up at the correct angle to enter traffic.

Unfortunately those prevailing winds had pushed me back towards the field and that long loop around ended up much closer to the stage field than I realized.  All of a sudden a crisp voice came over the radio “AIRCRAFT ON DOWNWIND, PLEASE BE ADVISED. TOTH IS LANDING TO THE EAST. TOTH IS LANDING TO THE EAST”. “I looked around and sighed, thinking “They told us this might happen. Some bozo got turned around.

The radio crackled again – this time a bit more urgent: “AIRCRAFT ON DOWNWIND, PLEASE BE ADVISED. TOTH IS LANDING TO THE EAST. TOTH IS LANDING TO THE EAST”. “Just at that moment I saw another TH55 coming straight at me, barely missing me as it buzzed by. I casually lifted the collective up as far as I could, the airspeed dropped to almost zero and I popped up several hundred feet before I regained control of the aircraft, got myself reoriented and landed safely.

All hopes of my not being found out were dashed as was met by a very stern flight commander at the door to the ready room.  He then took me immediately to the instructor-pilot that had been in control of the helicopter that barely missed me and I prepared to have a length of my hide torn off….

To my surprise this crusty old aviator- who were all kind of afraid of- coolly talked me through the whole process. Instead of “tearing that strip of hide off of me”, we went over what I had planned versus what actually happened. With a smile he calmly explained what I should have done, then ended with the assurance that he bore no ill will towards me and I wouldn’t be written up. It kind of surprised me because this particular instructor pilot was even more scowling, scruffy and hard-bitten than usual – from his demeanor my buddies wondered if maybe he had a collection of ears from his two tours in Viet-Nam.

I always thought I could “figure people out” fairly well just through observation.  It’s a second-child-in-the-birth-order trick; you sit back and watch while your older sibling happily walks into whatever minefield Life has set up at the time. Maybe it was because I was now functioning in a very different world where I had little to no experience, but it prompted me to “observe” a little longer before making a judgment.