Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nightgaunt and Chrystel Duchamp's "The Impostor"

One of the most rewarding things about putting out a fanzine is coming into contact with other like-minded folk trying to do the same thing. After I published and distributed Cthulhu Commune at NecronomiCon-Providence 2013, I received an email from a collector of Lovecraftian fanzines in France. Adam Joffrain is an author and translator, and earlier this year, he became the publisher of Nightgaunt, which to my knowledge, is the first bilingual Lovecraftian zine. In his first two issues he has published a new Wilum Pugmire story, begun the task of translating Pugmire's sonnet sequence Some Unknown Gulf of Night into French, and introduced authors Chrystel Duchamp and Ran Cartwright to new audiences. It's one of the more exciting endevours of the year and I'm proud to have been asked to contribute, since the other artists featured are fan favorites: Allen Kozsowski, Kim Holm, and Nick Gucker. That's some pretty good company to keep. 

For Duchamp's short story "The Impostor" in issue #2, I made a 5"x7" sketch, the same dimensions of the scratchboard I'd work on. I modeled the Lovecraft statue on the bust created by Bryan Moore, and since I don't own a replica, I drew a likeness from photos I took during the 2013 unveiling and installation at the Athenaeum Library in Providence. Because of the transformation in the story, I didn't want to show the protagonist... at one point, I thought to have a mirror on the wall, but it was too tempting to show the face. The only recognizable face would be Lovecraft, the statue on the writing desk. The author held a fountain pen, the kind I am fond of sketching with outdoors. The books should be French editions, I thought, so I Googled French titles in print and available on Amazon, and added the text to the finished scratchboard in Photoshop.

 To show the physical transformation that occurs in Duchamp's story, the protagonist's arms would be bare, revealing twisting muscles under the skin, as if snakes were coiling within. It didn't feel like an effective illustration to me, not as a stand-alone image, but with the story, it captured the act of deformation, and the French "imposteur!" pointed towards the title of the story and an accusation, written either by a stranger... or possibly by the author himself. I placed a framed painting in the background of the author's study, which isn't in Duchamp's story and is only meaningful to myself- Magritte's "The Lovers," which I saw during a Magritte Retrospective in Chicago in 1993. The heads of a man and woman are wrapped in cloth, giving them a strange deformity and anonymity, skewing identity... which were themes in Duchamp's "The Impostor," too.

Photo of scratchboard
Final illustration

Joffrain has sent me ten copies of each issue of Nightgaunt to bring with me to this year's NecronomiCon-Providence, and I expect the covers to capture some attention, but it will be the stories within that will endure. Look for more information on Nightgaunt at its Facebook page or its storefront for ordering instructions. I've also interviewed Joffrain in the second issue of my Cthulhu Commune zine, which will be made available after the convention.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Rowan" by K.G. Orphanides

My latest assignment for The Lovecraft eZine was K.G. Orphanides' "Rowan," set in an old mining town in South Wales where an old evil still lingers. The narrator follows a friend named Rowan to the abandoned mines in an almost mythical, archetypal descent into the underworld... and I'll stop there. Because you should read the story for yourself- and it can be read for free online- and also because that was the point in the story that fixated me upon the characters and where they were going.

I read this story a week after Christopher Lee's death, and I had just watched The Wicker Man DVD again, and I thought there might be a link between Rowan Morrison in the film and Orphanides' "Rowan." While researching rowan trees for an authentic look, I discovered the tree held a place in Norse and Celtic mythology and was sometimes referred to as a portal or threshold tree. It seemed appropriate to place a silhouetted rowan tree at the place where the girl stood, on the brink of the unknown.

Sketchbook page. Rowan designs on the right included rowan trees and a second figure in the foreground.

In my first few sketches, I had the narrator in the picture, attempting to keep up with the girl in the distance, the old mining equipment emerging from the fog behind them, the fog on the ground somewhat luminescent around the heaps of slag. By the time I began etching the scratchboard, I'd discarded the second figure to focus on the girl beckoning to the viewer from the ridge just before she disappears from sight. The skulls in the roots and the sneering faces in the mist were design elements that weren't in the story, but made for an enticing illustration.

"Rowan," 5"x 7" scratchboard

"Rowan" by K.G. Orphanides appeared in issue 35- the Summer 2015 edition- of The Lovecraft eZine and can be read online for free here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dance of the Cult

For this year's Ars Necronomica, which is NecronomiCon-Providence's art show, I wanted to bring new scratchboards, and figured whatever illustration I did for the cover of my Cthulhu Commune zine might effectively kill two birds with one stone, and would serve as a cross-promotion, as well- if you saw the illustration hanging in the show, you might recognize it on the zine in the vendor's room. The finished piece took about a week to complete and went through a transformation in the design process.

 The first sketch was the cover layout with the zine's title. Cultists dance around a pillar, on top of which stands a small Cthulhu idol, and the elder god himself rises behind the scene. The first drawing envisioned an ugly asymmetrical Cthulhu, while a second attempt looked like insect eyes. Not really the look I wanted. These drawings were made on vellum trace so I could lay each successive design on top of the previous one to see what could stay and what needed to be altered. Some of the dancers changed poses as I went on.

As I continued to work on eye placement, I Googled images of octopi heads and incorporated a more realistic form into the image. Wanting to include Cthulhu's dramatic wingspan, I redesigned the drawing for a horizontal layout. For the image to work as a zine cover, I made sure all the essential elements- cultists, idol, and monster- were in the center.

Designing the image for a 9"x12" scratchboard allowed a wider scope, and I thought I might show the hanging corpses that had been sacrifices, but knowing this piece would be included in a gallery art show, I decided against a scene of disembowelment and gore.

The first part of the drawing to be committed to the scratchboard was Cthulhu and the idol. It was such a stark and effective image, I scanned it for future use. I've since included it with text on Cthulhu Commune's blog and my business card. I spent a lot of time removing the black surface from this scratchboard, planning to add a watercolor tint to it, but my wife suggested against the color, leaving this scratchboard whiter and brighter than many of the ones I've done. Piles of skulls replaced the hanging corpses, and the skulls worked better in the design anyway.

When I took the scratchboard to be professionally framed, my wife chose one with faded silver paint that gives the scratchboard a silvery look. And the scratchboard was framed on top of the matte, giving it a floating three-dimensional effect that looks... well, stunning.

There are so many great artists featured in this year's Ars Necronomica, I knew I needed to bring my best work, and the time spent on this one piece was worth it for me to be included in the same show as Artist Guest of Honor John Coulthart.

"The Dance of the Cult" is hanging and for sale at the Providence Art Club. If you decide you cannot leave NecronomiCon-Providence 2015 without this picture and purchase it from the Club, email me and I'll gladly send you all the drawings I've included in this post, which will satisfy any completist.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Designing the cover for Brandon Barrows' new book

I'm excited by my recent involvement with Dunhams Manor Press, and I've committed to illustrating ten limited-edition hardcovers to be published by them in 2016. Working on the cover for Jon Padgett's The Infusorium earlier this year was a true learning experience, and brain-storming with Jon and editor/publisher Jordan Krall produced a stack of sketches. My cover illustration for Brandon Barrows' book, The Castle-Town Tragedy and Other Stories, resulted in a similar array of art as I bounced ideas off the author, seeing which resonated with him. Since it's my hope to use this blog as a way to show the development and process behind the various projects I'm in, I thought Barrows' book would be an excellent place to start, since it will be the first book released, likely by November 2015.

Pages from my sketchbook done as I read Barrows' manuscript. He singled out an image on the second page for me to work on.
As I read the manuscript, I looked for common themes or particular scenes that would make an exciting cover, and I knew immediately it had to be Carnacki's supernatural encounter of the first story. Even before I had finished reading, I was sketching the ghost outside the castle's gate, using different angles to make for an interesting design.

White pencil on black paper to simulate a scratchboard look.

The next step was to elaborate upon the simple sketch by making larger and more detailed drawings on black paper that would resemble the look of a scratchboard. Both the author and editor liked the image on the above left, which looked down on a figure pleading to the heavens for justice.

sketchbook pages
final sketch and aborted cover scratchboard

I continued to work on the pose and background ideas such as the gate and Carnacki's electric pentacle, and when I thought I had everything in place, I drew a pencil sketch the same size as the 8x10" scratchboard. This sketch was used as the scratch template, which I transferred to the scratchboard as faithfully as possible. Once free of the paper, though, I'm free to elaborate with fine detail and shading as I scratch away the black surface with a nib. I was content with the stylized figure, the gate, and the pentacle on the cobblestone street, but I became unhappy with the electricity that surrounded the spirit, and the figure didn't seem dynamic or creepy enough to merit belonging on a cover of a horror book. It simply didn't demand attention. I decided to do another scratchboard with a new drawing, and left the original to serve as an interior illustration.

reworked drawings and the second scratchboard illustration

I spent a few days working on the features, contorting my own face and twisting my limbs in the mirror, before my second attempt, and this time I was better prepared. I simplified the design by removing background ornamentation and the wires of Carnacki's electric pentacle, and used the pentagram itself as a design, tying the blood on the hands with the spilled blood on the stones. With the trappings of science removed, the image just screamed of the occult. As a Carnacki the Ghost-Finder book should!

Font variations
The second scratchboard was then painted with a limited palette of watercolors, and after it dried for twenty-four hours, I went back and scratched some color out for highlights- on the bricks, on the bloody hands, on the ghost, and in the background fog. Occult symbols were added to the pentagram design, too. I put together a few different covers in Photoshop that used different fonts, each with their own feel, and I soon abandoned my idea of red lettering for white, which worked with all the highlights, tying the whole cover together.

Looking through the progression of art and ideas, there's a big leap between the initial sketches and finished product, where the scratchboard's details allow for a great degree of realism and exaggeration, and in doing so, I try to conceive of a book that would capture my eye on the shelf (or the internet, these days), one that looks both beautiful and dangerous, and I set out to make that book real with a cover that suits the author's taste and intent, too.

Dunhams Manor Press is printing only about 125 copies of The Castle-Town Tragedy and Other Stories by Brandon Barrows and the other books in their 2016 hardcover series, and they've put together a subscription plan that will save readers money, but this plan is limited to only twenty-five subscribers. As seen above, with all the art generated by a single cover alone, there's plenty of original drawings that can be made available to collectors, so these twenty-five subscribers will also receive art from one of the books. It's satisfying to think some of these sketches won't just sit around my studio, that they'll find a home in someone's Dunhams Manor collection. Information about this series and subscriptions can be found on Dunhams Manor Press' blog and on Dynatox Ministries' storefront.

Whew... that was work. I'll try to post more behind-the-scenes work as I'm able. Next Dunhams Manor hardcover to be illustrated: Jack Werrett, The Flood Man, by Rebecca Lloyd!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blue Moon 2015

After a month trying to stay on top of commitments and projects needed for NecronomiCon-Providence, I wanted to do some work that was just about itself and the moment, and the occasion of a blue moon- the second full moon in the month of July- seemed right. It wasn't blue, of course, but it was an excuse to use Ampersand's scratchboard/clayboard inks for the first time.

At first I thought to place the moon in a Lovecraftian context, either over the bog of Kilderry or the ruins of Ib, then found a simple design to be the most evocative: a fantastic toad against a large moon.

The blue ink went on very dark- too dark- which I unsuccessfully tried to dilute and scrub away. It set very fast, though, and thinking the scratchboard ruined, I put it away for the night.

With the board completely dry the following morning, I scratched away some of the paint to give the toad highlights, and suddenly his figure stood out against the blue moon. For a piece I thought lost, it works nicely. I'll need to experiment with Ampersand's ink more to become accustomed to application and drying... in the meantime I'll continue to use watercolors that provide a wider spectrum of color at the moment.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eddy C. Bertin

"The air began moving around the moon, as if the moon were the center of a great black cloud, just before membranous veils lifted from the moon and they saw that it was a gigantic eye staring down at them. Around the eye, the sky split; deep clefts opened through which darkness began to ooze, a darkness blacker than the night, which crawled down as a set of slimy tentacles..." Eddy Bertin, "Darkness, My Name Is," The Disciples of Cthulhu, DAW, 1975

This 5"x 7" scratchboard portrait of Bertin, done late last year for Graeme Phillips, appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Phillips' zine Cyaegha and is currently available.