Oct 31 2014

A Fall visit to Mount Auburn

Published by under landscape

I was in Boston last week for a couple of school appearances. It was a super-short visit but I had about 2 hours of free time one afternoon, so I went to one of my favorite places, Mt Auburn Cemetery, to do a little painting.

Pond sitters

Pond sitters

Mt Auburn Fall 2014 1

Glorious maple near the offices

Click here for previous drawings/paintings from Mt Auburn.

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Oct 19 2014

Two digital landscapes

Published by under landscape,tools & tech

I painted these in Artrage. The first is from memory of one of the beaches on Little Cranberry Island, Maine. The second is a sunset view from my porch (have I mentioned I love my porch?).

Maine_landscape1 porch sunset 1

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Oct 13 2014

Blasts from the Past

Published by under Uncategorized

This week, amazingly, I sold two paintings I did for Dragon Magazine back in… wait for it… 1992. I can hardly believe it. It just goes to show, you never know when your art is going to make money. It rarely happens when or how you expect, but there you go.

Dragon Cover cropped 1992 Dragon ptg 2

In the process of retrieving those pieces from storage, I found some other pieces from the same era. Here are two that tickled me enough to bring them out and scan them.
First we have a drawing that I was going to color with watercolor or transparent acrylic and submit as a humorous piece for Dragon, but I never finished it. I still like the idea of the “while you wait” armor repair workshop.
Olde Armor Shoppe
Second, a school assignment from one of my favorite teachers, Art Director John White. He invited us to design a tattoo — and he wanted us to try to simulate what it would look like 30 years later,as the ink faded and/or bled. He also said he’d give extra credit if it somehow changed deliberately when it aged. I couldn’t resist that conceptual challenge. My idea was to have a bad-*** fantasy femme who would transform, as the ink lines bled together, into a more demure Victorian lady that an old man wouldn’t be embarrassed to have on his body.
Old tattoo
Of course, that revealed my ignorance of the fact that our personalities don’t really change much as we age, and plenty of tattooed folks are actually still happy with, and look pretty great in, the radical stuff they got inked on them in their youth. Also the linework might be too fine for a tattoo needle. Nevertheless, I felt good about it because I was the only one in the class that actually created this kind of transformation. Nerd power!

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Sep 12 2014

Islesford Painting Workshop 2014

Published by under landscape,sketchbook,travel

For the third year I joined the excellent painting workshop held at the Dock gallery/restaurant in Islesford, on Little Cranberry Island, off the coast of Mt. Desert Island in Maine. Henry Isaacs and Ashley Bryan do a wonderful job with this every year, the restaurant feeds us like kings, locals let us stay in their beautiful homes, and it’s always a great group of folks to paint and socialize with.

Here’s  recap of 2012 and 2013.

The workshop started off with the traditional day of fog, then turned sunny and beautiful for the rest of the time. I worked almost exclusively in gouache. Most of these are painted on 5×7″ watercolor postcards.


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Aug 05 2014


Published by under flowers,sketchbook

Quick painting of some lovely flowers we got at the Takoma Park farmer’s market.

Flowers 1

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Jul 23 2014

Reviews: Barbarian Lord, Seconds, The Shadow Hero, Andre the Giant, The Way Things Were

Published by under reviews

This weekend I went on a bit of a graphic novel binge. I went to Politics & Prose mainly to buy Brian Lee O’Malley’s new book Seconds and I walked out with a giant pile of books I needed to own. I read each of these in about 2 sittings, and I recommend them all.


The most unexpected was Matt Smith’s Barbarian Lord, which caught my attention for its beautiful cover and unusual trim size, then kept me reading in the store until I had to know where it was going. I’d say it’s 2 parts Conan (the premise, character and general story archetype), 1 part Beowulf (the poetic conventions of Old English / Icelandic verse plus several direct allusions), and 1 part Bone (the visual style). Parts of the story are narrated by animals whom the humans can’t understand, which I think is genius, and the dialog reads like it was penned in the days of Hrothgar. (Image from this preview.)


It should come as no surprise that Seconds is awesome. O’Malley has a unique genius for manipulating the comics medium to produce something that is oh-so-cool and yet heartfelt and emotionally real. In Seconds we lose the video game storytelling devices that were SO funny in Scott Pilgrim, but we still get a snarky narrator, who happens to be — well that might be a minor spoiler, so let’s just say the choice of narrative voice is genius. Am I overusing that word? I can’t help it, O’Malley, Yang and Guibert are some of the giants of the current comics scene; they are geniuses. Anyway, so here’s Seconds in a nutshell: Katie is a chef who wants to open a new restaurant because the current one is boring and she doesn’t own it. Of course opening a restaurant is no easy task, and Katie feels like everything is going wrong. Then this happens: Then a great deal of strangeness and character development occurs. It’s Groundhog Day meets Chef with a side of 11/22/63 and just a sprinkle of Anathem and Paranorman. (Images linked from this review.)


Likewise, there was really no question that I would love The Shadow Hero. While I will go on record as saying that the lack of author notes in Boxers & Saints annoyed the heck out of me, nevertheless everything Yang writes is brilliant. To continue the cooking imagery, Yang mixes together immigration, Chinese gangs, superheroes, kung fu, and some wonderfully broken family dynamics into a yummy and satisfying… uh… turtle soup. Sonny Liew illustrates it in a style that effectively conveys character, humor and action, with a slightly vintage look.  Protagonist Hank Chu just wants to work in his dad’s shop, but his mom decides he needs to become a superhero. But how can he get super-powers? Mom will find a way… (Images linked from this review.)


How the World Was by Emmanuel Guibert is a sort of prequel to Alan’s War, illustrating Alan Cope’s memories of his childhood in California. Guibert’s work makes incredible use of two techniques. First, his art is stunning in it’s simplified realism. With a few deft lines of a water dropper he precisely depicts the faces, clothes, body language, and every detail in the settings of this very real time and place. Second, having put you there, he tells the story with the minimum amount of drama, letting the ordinariness of life hit you with more impact than the biggest superhero battle. Heck, he even breaks narrative tension at certain points when it starts to develop! It’s a bit like the way Wes Anderson deliberately breaks all the rules of cinematography, except in the service of realism instead of whatever you call the off-kilter-ness Wes Anderson loves. Guibert’s rich visuals and realistic storytelling also remind me of Mariko & Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (another book I highly recommend!). The following quote by Guibert from an interview about The Photographer has stuck with me — in fact it makes me a little misty every time I read it: “No speeches, no violins, no spilt blood. Drama is often something which hasn’t the appearance of a drama: just a child lying on a bed, silent and still, but who won’t get up anymore.” That’s the kind of drama of which Guibert is the master. (Images borrowed from this review).


Also last week I read Box Brown’s Andre the Giant GN biography. This is a must-read if you have any affection for Andre or the history / shenanigans of ’80s pro wrestling. Like Guibert, Brown goes for a very quiet tone, but the art is more cartoony — the book is about the idea of Andre the Giant, what he means as an icon as well as what his personal life was like. As you read it you kind of feel like you’re hanging out at a bar with a bunch of Andre’s friends, reminiscing. By the way check out these photos of Andre! Here’s a page showing how Brown explains the theatrics of pro wrestling:

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Jul 18 2014

Common Core, Testing, Beck, what the heck?

Published by under Uncategorized

I went to a movie yesterday, and there was an advertisement before the trailers for an organization/event launched by Glenn Beck to take down Common Core. It’s called “We Will Not Conform”.

I’m definitely not an expert in Common Core’s principles or implementation, but I know a bit about it through my wife’s work with one of the people who created CC, and I know that those two things — principle and implementation — are not the same.

The Principles of CC are sound in my opinion. They mostly have to do with using texts in a more integrated way than “read and regurgitate,” understanding how knowledge scaffolds and what kids need to know to be college-ready.

Because the “what kids need to know” part of the standards boils down to “quite a bit, actually,” there has been an inordinate amount of focus put on testing whether kids know what they’re supposed to at each stage. which sounds sort of reasonable in a vacuum, but in the real world it often translates into schools making teachers “teach to the test,” which sucks in SO MANY ways.

I believe CC can be implemented in a good way, but I’m sure it’s a bit harder, and requires forward-thinking administrators to make it work. And I’m worried that may be too big an ask from our educational system as a whole. What do you think?

Did I make it sound like Glenn Beck was just against testing? No, not only that, he and his supporters believe CC is a tool of the liberal intelligentsia to indoctrinate everyone’s kids throughout the country with liberal values. Yep. Again, I think the political content can be separated from the basic CC principles, but on the other hand, it seems quite possible that he’s right. Most of the people writing content for CC are probably using the latest consensus ideas about climate change, American history, multicultural literature, tolerance, and so on. If CC makes it harder to shelter your kids from all of THAT, then is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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Jun 24 2014


Published by under sketchbook,travel

Just got back from a great week in Colorado. I was a guest of the Denver Comic Con, which has grown HUGE in just a few years. I was on a couple of excellent panels, met cool people, spent some time tabling and sketching, and then took off for the mountains of Estes Park, where I hung out with ground squirrels and elk :-)

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Jun 19 2014

e-Books are here! Also Macbeth and MailChimp

Published by under e-books

First, I have delivered Macbeth, and it is scheduled for release in May 2015 from Candlewick Press. I really think you’ll like it. It’s as dark, atmospheric, claustrophobic, bloody and eery as I could make it. I’ll let you know when the release date approaches and the book is available for pre-order.

Second, I’m excited to announce that all of my titles are now available as e-books. They are currently available via Apple iBooksGoogle PlayKobo, and within a week or so, B&N Nook. By Summer’s end they will also be on the school/library subscription services Hoopla and Tumblebooks, and probably on Comixology and several other platforms as well. (If there’s a particular platform on which you want to see my books, please let me know so I can [a] pursue it, and [b] let you know when/if it happens.)

Kobo, Nook, and Google Play Books are cross-platform apps, so they’re available on pretty much all e-readers, including Apple and Kindle devices. (I won’t be working with Amazon directly, for several reasons including the current Hachette dust-up — though Amazon now owns Comixology). If you’re wondering which method nets me the most money per sale, that would be either iBooks or Kobo. Kobo also lets you set up your account such that you can support your independent bookstore of choice with each purchase, which is awesome.

If assistive technology is important to you, I’m happy to say that most of my titles have “live” text so they should support whatever features the reader software provides. The only exceptions are The Collected Beowulf (because it’s hand-lettered), and King Lear on iBooks/Kobo (the ePub format can’t handle some of the fancy text formatting so I had to flatten it).

Personally, I love a physical book, and that is pretty much always my format of choice. But I think the current generation of tablets offers quite a good reading experience, and perhaps you or someone you know would like to save money, trees, weight, bookshelf space, or replacement costs by getting my books electronically. Now you can! Or, if you want to buy my physical books, check out my store page.

There are two other things you could do if you want to help me out: first, writing a quick online review (on any of these e-book services or on Amazon) will help others find my books. Second, if you know teachers or students who are transitioning to using tablets for schoolwork, you might pass the word along to them.

Lastly, I’m creating a new mailing list via MailChimp. You can sign up below (and for smaller, more frequent updates, please follow me on Twitter.)

Subscribe to my low-volume mailing list

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May 22 2014

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki at Politics & Prose

Published by under sketchbook

The fabulous Mariko and Jillian Tamaki gave a nice talk at Politics and Prose last Saturday to close out their book tour for This One Summer. It’s a gorgeous book, and I have huge respect for these two ladies as writer and illustrator.

I had left my sketchbook in the car (doh!) so I drew these one the back of some official P&P stationery. Click to enlarge.

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki at PnP

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