Saturday, January 12, 2013


I've spent most of my recent time on the project digging out referenced research (yes, even in my made-up fantasy construct, I've done a good deal of research) from a stack of books filled with bookmarks. I've been either adding the references to the wall, or into the Scrivener project. I have to say, this feels like work. Very little creativity involved here, just trying to collocate the reference with the material it will be used in.

The good part though, is that this week I had one of those epiphanies where I realized that I had this great set of parallel metaphors sitting around just waiting for me to see it and I think it will help make for a dramatic opening to the story and then have a profound resonance later in the story. I know that doesn't do much for anyone reading this, but it felt good to have it arrive on my doorstep.

Next step is a bit more research. The story opens in the early 17th century and involves the ocean voyage of a group of English settlers headed for the New World. I want to get the details of that part right. After that, things open up and my imagination takes over, so hopefully less research and more creativity. Though I have to say that I like to weave references and allusions into this stuff, so you can be sure that there will be more discussions of my side adventures into the realm of research.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

FROSTLEAF: of Type and Titles

It took me a very long time to come up with the name for The Epic. In fact, for years it was just 'My Epic", or "The Story". The obvious route for this sort of thing is to name it after the main character (Batman, Mickey Mouse, Tarzan, etc.) That approach is non-specific enough regarding content that you can write a lot of material under the umbrella of the title character. The other way is to stumble on a brand-name that is evocative of it's subject, but agnostic to character and can be broadly applied (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.). I wasn't comfortable naming it after my main character Faron (oops, dropped some content on you there), because it wasn't an immediately evocative name like say, Hellboy or Spiderman, and frankly, I wanted room to cover broader content than just his story.

I spent a lot of time searching, thinking and trying on names that I felt were evocative of the material I was developing. I was looking for something that certainly suggested fantasy (more hints there kids), and a world rooted in an ancient, timeless, green realm of thick forests and misty mountains (yet another). All the cliches rose quickly to the surface and were either already used, or seemed obvious, or generic ( The Otherworld, Greenwood, Elfland, and so on). The name I settled on just sort of hit me one morning trolling Pinterest, a picture of an ice-rimed  leaf spurred the word "Frostleaf" in my head. I had no idea what it meant, or how it applied. I didn't even know it was the title at the time. I just liked the sound and the image. For quite a while, I thought it was a character's name (could still be, in a way?). After living with it for a while, I came to realize, that regardless of it's connection to the story, it was The Title I wanted.

Just last week, while working out the outline, I suddenly realized what/who Frostleaf is, but it comes further down the road, and I think I'll save that for the appropriate time. Regardless, Frostleaf in many ways, lies at the core of the story literally, and symbolically.

So my next assignment to myself was to take the word Frostleaf, and design a logo out of it. Given my plans to make this into an issue-based graphic novel, I wanted to go the traditional route and have a masthead title to put on the cover of each issue, if not just the final collection.

The first thing I nixed was the on-the-nose idea of a frosted-leaf motif. I don't mind bringing in the organic suggestion of leaves, or ice, but it just seemed so obvious and redundant -dropped that idea before I even began.

I thought I had a good idea how I wanted to approach this, but as usual, once at the drawing board, I had some difficulty narrowing it down to a specific design. I had the word, but I also had oh so many options as far as typographic treatments and options. I generally try to avoid the obvious. A classic black letter treatment would quickly suggest the "fairy tale" aspect of the story, but to be honest, one of the things I'm trying to do with this, is to not force this into some kind of medieval, European, classical version of fairyland. The other obvious style sources would be that of the the classic illustrators I love so much such as Bilibin, or Dulac, or Bauer (who had done some lovely whimsical lettering from time to time), but none of them quite hit the tone I was looking for and ultimately only helped in the sense of pointing out what I didn't want.


I spent a good part of yesterday digging through type samples from various sources (I have big collection of Mucha, a great book dating from the late 1800's on Illuminated manuscripts, plenty of digital examples and actual fonts, piles of books on typography, posters, art nouveau, secessionist artist monographs  etc). I looked, I sketched, went down a lot of roads, but kept coming back to the simpler forms rather than the more ornate stuff. I really like the simplicity of runic forms as well, but every time I tried that style it looked way to metal :P

I also spent some time working with actual fonts in Illustrator, editing, shaping , adjusting and massaging them into a working logo-type, but in the end, they felt too digital, too mechanical. I just didn't get the right vibe from them.

I've always been a huge fan of 19th century through the early 20th art (Dulac, Bauer, early Tenggren, Rackham, etc included). Everything from the Arts and Crafts movement (Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood specifically) up through Art Nouveau (Mucha) and the Viennese Secession (esp. Klimt). There is a common thread in some of the decorative typography of the period that hearkens back to early Latin cursive forms. Interestingly enough, last night I was watching a show about the history of the monarchy in England, and the segment on Alfred the Great featured him writing on a tablet in such a form -it was serendipitous and I'll take it as a good omen to continue down this line of thinking.

Essentially what I was after, was something that felt hand-written or drawn, not something too complicated or too fixed in a clear cultural tradition or time (medieval Europe specifically), but at the same time felt timeless, naive, somewhat otherworldly, without feeling overly crude. At the same time, it had to work as a mast-head -commanding enough attention on it's own and being able to hold the cover together.

So off I went to working something up from a hand-drawn logotype. I should have known better -hand designing type is not my strong suit. I got it drawn, scanned and vectorized. I spent most of the rest of the day (way over my 2 hours) massaging the hell out of the resulting vectors -the result was a steadily worse, more disappointing logo. It went from fresh to somewhere between naive and a sort of part-way there slick logo. The curves weren't quite right, the corners not exactly how I wanted them....a bad day. I decided to put it away for the day and look at it again the next day.

My analysis of what went wrong is that I took a simple, direct type treatment and then tried to reconfigure the glyphs into a too complex configuration. Also, as much as I like these minimal forms, I'm not 100% sold that it can hold up as a masthead without getting lost against the rest of the cover(s).

Day 3?: Decided to go back into Illustrator and cobble together a bunch of logotypes at approximate size so I could make fair assessments as far as visual weight is concerned and compare them more fairly. the one I toiled over yesterday was better than I remembered, but some of the treatments I had discounted as being too on-the-nose, actually look and feel pretty good today. As usual, I was likely over-thinking it. To some extent, the type style is going to telegraph the content, as such it should read as "Fantasy". Beyond that, I want something elegant, well constructed and attention getting, yet not someting that totally dominates the page.

I was actually happy with a lot of the Illustrator samples I worked up, but still felt that the result was looking too "commercial" or generic. I wanted this to be from my hand. I spent the afternoon yesterday watching the Hobbit again and while waiting for the movie to begin, sketched a simple logotype that at least had the proportion and shape I was looking for. Being New Year's Eve, I quit early and let it lie.

Day 4: Really? Day 4? Or is it 5? New Years Day 2013 anyway.

Got up and sketched some more first thing (before coffee!) and I think I created an amalgamation of the layout and design and the desired illustrated quality I was after. I wondered if there was a base font I could use to help me draw over it so I didn't have to rely on my untrained sense of type proportion. So I googled "Art Nouveau Fonts" and came across Jessie King. King was a contemporary of MacIntosh, from the Scottish branch of the Arts and Crafts movement. I knew her work well, but for some reason when initially looking for samples to study, I had forgotten her. She had the perfect combination of Fairy Tale (she did lot's of Arthurian illustration work) and a simpler, handmade, but not a blackletter style that was just perfect for my uses. I didn't find exactly the font, but I did find an excellent guidepost in her work.

I also found inspiration in the tree forms she so frequently uses to frame her work. I had been playing with adding branching elements to the logo all along, so I decided to take it further and see how that felt. That at least would take the logo away from the realm of clean, machined feeling fonts. I spent more time than I wanted (again) working up the logo, trying like crazy to not kill the spirit of the initial sketch while at the same time getting it clean and nicely squared up.

So after a few days delay, I finally got around to working up a final image to scan and clean up in Illustrator, then haul over to Photoshop to lay with a number of style treatments. The image at the top of this post is the result. I still think I need to tweak it, and to have simpler version for single-color applications, but overall, it's done at last!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Milestone Completed!

I wrapped up the reconciliation of my notes and the outline! A major milestone in the process, but really just means I can begin for real. The Scrivener file still needs a ton of cleaning, but I will do that as I write otherwise I'd be weighed down with editing for the foreseeable future. I have what I need to mover forward and that's good enough.

I'm going to turn my chair 180 degrees and the action can finally switch to the drawing board for a change. I have a logotype I want to work up. For whatever reason, I like to start a project with a working logo. Don't ask why, it's just one of my odd quirks. Hope to have something to show by  tomorrow's post.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Presents to Myself

I really hoped to get through to the end of the notes today, but there is just too much to cover and reconcile yet.

Another day of digging through old notes and material, shaping them into a coherent whole has been an amazing process. It's remarkable how much material I've generated over the years. Because of the separation in time, the dislocation of various notes (Google docs, loose post-its, Scrivener files, and random thoughts as I go) and the somewhat stop and start approach I've taken to this project, I've found it fascinating to see how some material supports other parts created at very different stages, how crazy deep I dug and how many cool little details I jotted down here and there. Like finding buried treasure with every shovelful.

Appropriate to the day, it's like finding a roomful of presents I've left for myself. I've spent my morning opening them with deep gratitude to myself for having taken the time to do the work, to save the inspiration for this moment.

I doubt that this protracted, even stalled method of story development is the recommended or "best" practice, but in this case it's been like marinating a stew or aging a wine. I've found deep value in letting this story accumulate and self-select rather than to have tried to sit down and force it to life. It's organically grown- deeply rooted in my psyche, fed with time and imagination and watered from the common well of myth. The first shoots of green are promising what could grow to be a mighty tree. I'm excited.

I will take tomorrow off, so to those who celebrate it, a Merry Christmas. To all, a joyous celebration of the return of the light, the turn of the season and renewal of your spirit and the bonds of family and friends.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hack and Slash

Sorry about the blurring -just not at a place where I'm ready to share the raw notes!
Spent today's 2 hrs (maybe more) reconciling the written outline with my Scrivener notes and my handwritten notebook. For the most part it was easy and interestingly enough, some major ideas I though I developed in the last few days had existed previously in some corner of my notes. I can't say if I was subconciously recovering them, or if I came to the same point by separate paths. In any case, the fact that I came to the same conclusion twice suggests that I was on to something.

I also found it interesting in reviewing my notes that sometime around last March, I got really lost in self-doubt. My God, the sudden gutting and gyrations I went though is astounding. I literally spent part of my day today writing comforting notes to my former self telling him, it was OK and that these "problems" were in hand. What I found was that I lost the core of the story, but now it's back and feeling solid. I guess I had to have a moment (or month) of testing my own faith to prove that I had been on the correct path to begin with.

I still have a lot of notes to go through, but I need to get on with my day. It's been pretty tedious getting through it all, but over time, as I ruminated on the story, and did research, read influential source material, etc, I had a lot of inspiration coming from many angles and frankly they can't all live together and so need to be reconciled.

I have to say, the whole process has been really energizing. The discovery of this world, though long in the making seems very fresh and new to me. I'm actually surprised how much I like what I've put together: the characters, the setting , the plot, the locations. This is a story I would read.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The End

Well, I ran out of room, so that must mean I've reached the end of the outline. Actually, I had to turn the corner and put a few on the side of the bookshelf.

So this marks the first round of outlining. The next step is to review a slew of lose notes I have and see what stays, what goes and what gets added.

I found that even though I was mostly just transcibing the Scrivener project to Post-Its, that I did a fair amount of "writing" while I did it. I came up with a number of sub-plots, fleshed out the stories of at least 4 of the main players, and resolved a fair number of plot problems. Hopefully, my pass over the newer notes won't hose much of this as I'm pretty happy with what I've gotten. It's been really gratifying going through the narrative chronologically in a short period of time and getting an idea of the flow and scope.

I have to admit I spent a few paranoid hours looking into potential "assignment of rights" problems. Though this isn't software, a game or anything connected to my job, nor do I ever work on it on company equipment or time, but the boilerplate in my contract could be read to say anything I ever make, do, or conceive of  at work or on my own time belongs to my employer. I started this thing years before I started with them (though the content has changed over time), and I doubt they would have interest in glomming my comic book, but you never know. IP could be seen as IP. So I have this horrible Catch-22 situation that suggests I'd have to quit my job to produce this thing and still keep the rights to it, which isn't in anybody's best interest. It would break my heart to put this aside, and it would break my wallet to put my job aside, so for now I'll soldier on and hope for the best. I've never heard of an employer taking an employees personal work in that way, though I realize that counting on that is naive.

So on to the next editing pass.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day 3: Out of Green Post-Its

Yay! I've kept this up for 3 days (well 2 of actual writing work). Got through the end of Book (Act) II. Didn't make as much progress as I thought, but I underestimated just how much material I had in hand for this section. It's both the section with the most meat and the most problems. Since it's inception, I had the ending and to some extent the beginning pretty clear in my mind (though I swear I have written a dozen variants on the opening chapter, all suitable, all compelling, but finally settled on one). The middle section had a solid through line, but how it was traveled has varied a lot and I needed to filter out a lot of potential ideas and get the singular plot worked out. Beyond that, it has the most need for exposition and working how what needed to be presented, what could be implied, and what was just backstory I needed to know for myself  but needn't be explicitly revealed.

This section also has a lot more detail I wanted to capture as I'd written so much into this area already, so the ratio of post-it's to content is off compared to the previous act. That long strip in the third column adds up to maybe 2 chapters at best -previous notes are about 1 chapter per post-it.

As you can see, Act II occupies twice the board space and has a crap-ton of notes (green, blue and red). Ran out of Green Post-Its today, so I can't get much further until I run out late rand get more ;). All in all, I'm feeling pretty good about the process. I've been working from my Scrivener notes from about 6 months ago. I've made a good deal of changes as I go, but it's SO much easier taking this as one big text rather than picking at parts. Still, once I have this part all up on the board, I need to go through the last 6 months of notes I've written and see what I want to change, rearrange, add, etc. It's been hard to keep all this in my head, so who knows how much of this will make to the final.

I should keep in mind that if this actually gets finished, that there is plenty of room for future tales with these characters and the material that doesn't make the cut might find a home elsewhere. Today alone I uncovered what would make at least a few one-offs and the roots of 2-3 other adventures.

I realize suddenly that I haven't revealed a lick of what this is about. That should be coming out soonish. Just not ready to talk about it yet other than in the broad sense that this is my idea of an Epic Fairy Tale.

Now time for lunch and then off to get green post-its.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Plotting and Planning a Wonderous Story

Post-it Key: yellow=plot, green=notes, red=problems, blue=to-do tasks

I've made a commitment to myself to work 2 hrs a day on the "The Project". Although I really wanted to keep working today, I held myself to it. My reasoning is that I figure that's about what I can afford to commit to when I have work and a regular life going. I need to both convince myself that I can get a lot done in 2 hrs (I can) and I want to build the habit by keeping a regular, consistent schedule at first.

So today's accomplishment was the rough outlining of what I'm calling Book I and about what I figure is 1/3 of  Book II. Looking at the pic of the board, I think I'm going to run out of room for Book II faster than I like -need to write smaller I guess!

I've concluded that this method will work really well for capturing the big picture and let me see where it's going and what needs filling in. I think now though that Scrivener will be very useful when I get to the "Chapter" (or in my mind "Issue") level of outlining. It's all a big learning process, I've never tackled something this large before.

At this rate, I think I could be finished with the broad-stroke outlining in a day or two. Then will come the rather laborious effort to run through the last 6 months or more of notes I've been taking and seeing what still makes sense or what changes need to be made to the outline. That effort could take some time if only because there are so many ideas to filter and reconcile.

After this planning phase, I have plans to outline the first "Issue" and begin visual design in earnest -that should be the fun part, though I have to say, I enjoy fitting all the story bits together and weaving plot.

As a side note, I took  hearing this song come up in my random mix as I worked on this as a good omen:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Well, I'm Back.....

So I'm back! Did you miss me? Most of my life has been on Facebook of late and I haven't been doing much on the side. My day job has kept me pretty busy, add to that any number of side jobs, and I haven't had much to share.

That said, my oft spoken of Epic is ready to go into production and I thought I'd change the focus of this blog once again to a more focused look at the project. At some point, I may break off a separate blog to cover just that content.

Today is the first day of my Christmas break, and I've decided to make a concerted effort to get the pre-production work on my Epic out of the way, or at least started. I've been developing this thing for at least the last 4 years on and off. It's seen a lot of changes and I've collected enough characters, plots and scenes to write half a dozen tales. Some time mid-year I ported it all over to Scrivener to try to get a handle on it. My intention for today was to get back into it and start shaping the project file into a usable state, but alas, I've found that as powerful as Scrivener is, it may not be the best day-to-day tool for me.

I'm a visual person, and though you can see a project in both pin-board, text and outline form, and move elements, cross-reference notes, etc., Scrivener just doesn't let me see the big picture the way I need right now. For that reason, and others (not the least of which is getting a fresh start), I decided to go to a real-world pin-board and post-it method of working out my story. I figure that having a physical presence in my studio will make it easier to keep it fresh and active as well. Hidden away in computer file means I only take it out to work on sporadically. I'm hoping that having the Story on a wall, in plain sight will help both with clarity and spontaneous changes and updates. We'll see.

So instead of writing this morning, I moved my big pin board from one wall to another, put a few more holes in the wall and got my studio rearranged to accommodate it all. I find that often I need to get the setting right before getting started on a new endeavor.

I hope to make a regular habit of blogging my progress and start building some awareness of the project as well as make some promises I feel compelled to keep.

Watch this space!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Studio Man Cave

I've been inspired by Teri Windling's recent posts of various people's work spaces . I captured my man-cave in a panorama. Of note is the my completely ordinary drafting table that is special only to me because I've had it since the 8th grade in 1980. Also of note is the chair by the drafting table which was liberated from the University of Maryland computer lab sometime around 1985-6. Not shown is the walk-in closet (behind the closed door on the left) that I converted into a walk-in library because my book collection just got too big to keep in the room itself.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Getting Started

Wow, I actually had enough time today to work on a piece for myself. It's been a really long time. I think I have a long way to go yet to get where I want to be ( this is a bit generic, a bit stiff, and not quite the "me" I know is possible), but at least I finished a drawing. I'll be doing color on this sometime soon. I'm trying to commit to a 100% natural media approach (though a few Photoshop tweaks are reasonable).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Influence Map

Seems a lot of my artist friends are doing this. I found it really interesting to try to filter it down to those artists who really influence me (as opposed to ones I admire or like, but don't necessarily find to be an influence). Size to some extent in the image reflects degree of influence, but I only really have a limited scale here, so don't give it too much importance (Mignola should have a bigger square, so should Man Arenas, Miyazaki and and Moebius).

Clockwise  around the outside from the upper left: Alphonse Mucha, Winsor McCay, Man Arenas, Frank Frazetta, Moebius, Mary Blair, N.C. Wyeth, Roger Dean, Eyvinde Earl, Mike Mignola, Gustaf Tenggren, Kawase Hasui, Ivan Bilibin, Hayao Miyazaki; Center: John Bauer.

Get your own template here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A New Beginning

Well, looks like I landed a job! So I hope now to convert this blog into what I always wanted it to be which is a home for my work, not the work I do for others. I am proud of what I've done  and continue to do for my employers, but rarely are my job and my personal inclinations  in sync. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Odd Man

There is something about his piece that I really like. I think it is its utter simplicity. It represents a style that I still can do, but never had much opportunity to pursue. I am currently working on a large personal project that I hope retains some of the qualities in this piece.

New Tools!

A long time ago I bought a suite of tools from Adobe. Mainly for Photoshop and After Effects, but they threw in Illustrator as well. I had had a really frustrating time years before with Illustrator, so I kind of "forgot" that I had it. A few years later I saw some Illustrator workby an artist that I admired that seemed to mesh well with where my personal work was going at the time -all flat and stylized. So I busted out Illustrator to see what I could do with it and to my surprise mastered it very quickly. I did a lot of  personal work with it and continue to hold it in my arsenal today.

One place I really got a work out was in doing forum avatars for my guild's website. It started by making images for me and my wife, but then everyone wanted one. So I ended up doing toon versions of somewhere over 60 guildies. We even opened a Cafe Press shop so we could buy mugs and tshirts. It was a lot of fun. I did a few custom pieces as well ranging from illustrating a crafting guide to a few special tshirts.

Where we start, is where we began.

Just over 10 years ago, I found myself stranded in Seattle, with no job and a pregnant wife. I had been designing and art directing the Babylon 5 game for over 2 years and my portfolio was old and worn. I decided to task myself with building some new pieces to show just what I could do, with an emphasis on world-building and concept design. The result was a project I called Si. An Asian flavored fantasy set in a world of clouds and floating islands. I think they still hold up pretty well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Stuff Coming Soon!

Well, I find myself in need of an on-line portfolio and I need it pretty fast, so this is going to be the new home for that until I do something more permanent. Stay tuned as work will be going up as soon as I sort and process it all.