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Featured Art: The TiYessin

Next alien from Dan Repperger’s Epoch of Rysos © universe.

These are the TiYessin, an exoskeletal race. They are bipedal, but can assume a quadrupedal gait at need. I did quite a bit of work on designing the individual segments, allowing for expansion joints and growth plates. This is one of the few that Dan asked for motion studies on. I haven’t included the sketches for those, since they are really stick figures, but I am including a few of the design sketches for mouth construction and some of the more specialized segments.

This one is unique so far, as it is the only alien for whom Dan has requested two illustrations, to show the 2-legged/4-legged postures.

More info can be found at the Epoch of Rysos website.

The TiYessin and Epoch of Rysos are © 2009 Dan Repperger, all rights reserved

TiYessin in both postures

Political Headslap! with Keith Curtis!

Welcome to Political Headslap! with Keith Curtis!

Each week, we invite political candidates to come and discuss issues on our show! The difference? If any one of them uses any of the buzz words or nonsense phrases on our list, Keith slaps them upside the head.
Remember, they can discuss issues, even attack their opponents. But everything they say has to be supportable and make a minimal amount of sense.

Last week’s phrase was “The Will of the American People!”
HEADSLAP!
Define the “American People”. How can you, Mr. Politician divine their collective will? If they disagree, which ones are not the Americans? You mean, “the Will of People Who Agree With Me!”

This week: “Special Interest Groups”
HEADSLAP!
All groups are special interest groups. That’s kind of how you define a “group”. What you mean is “Groups Who Don’t Think Like Me.”

Viewers (that’s you) are invited to submit their own favorite idiot buzzwords and nonsense phrases to be used on future episodes of Political Headslap! with Keith Curtis. Feel free to use the HEADSLAP! and give your translation.

Halloween Treat 2010 – The Tell-Tale Heart

Here’s this year’s Halloween Treat. This is my reading of The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe. This one’s a little long, about 17 1/2 minutes.

The Tell-Tale Heart

If you missed previous year’s offerings, here are links:

2009 Little Orphant Annie

2008 The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2010

We just returned from what we hope is the resumption of our yearly treks to Ahsland Oregon for the great Shakespeare Festival therein. These trips were interrupted by parenthood, but now that erin is of an age and inclination, we want to make this a regular pilgrimage once again.

It was amazingly gratifying to see Erin’s enjoyment in, understanding of, and thorough engagement with the plays. She sat on the edge of her seat, silently chanting for Sebastian to hurry up and turn restore sense and order to Illyria, laughed at Malvolio’s colorful attempts to woo Olivia, trembled as Antonio was nearly carved by Shylock, and laughed as Portia and Narissa tried their husbands’ faithfulness with disguises and rings. She’s eight years old, and this goes a long way toward dispelling the myth that Shakespeare is somehow fundamentally inscrutable or inaccessible to young people.

She also loved Pride and Prejudice, the non-bardic offering we saw.

As for the plays themselves, here are make “bound within a nutshell” reviews. We only had time (and money) for three offerings this year.

Twelfth Night

This was the second time we had seen this show performed at Ashland, and I have to say I much preferred the earlier offering. The production we saw a decade earlier was done in an arabesque style, with Middle Eastern screens and minarets. The costumes were inspired and the comical characters generally funnier. This production featured an excellent Malvolio, who went far beyond simple yellow cross-gartered stockings to an outrageous canary-yellow ensemble that was funny even with the actor just standing there. There were some very nice lighting effects and other bits of stagecraft. The set was minimalist, giving the impression of an extended garden party, but the actors used it to excellent advantage.

The twins were solidly played, as was Olivia, though her conversion from cold mourning to having the hots for Cesario/Viola was a trifle abrupt in its contrast.

Merchant of Venice

The performances in this production were all top notch; the actors showed good understanding of the nuances of their text all round. There were no standout parts here, with the possible exception of Lancelot Gobbo, who was probably more coherent than I have seen him elsewhere. The actor made excellent use of pantomime to bring out the meanings of his lines— acting on the lines, rather than between the lines. The failed suitors were very funny, particularly Aragon, whose servant followed him around with impromptu mandolin accompaniment. The most surprising alteration was the changing of Tubal to a deaf/mute. The actor signed his lines, while Shylock supplied the spoken word, paraphrased as if he were translating aloud.

The play was oddly staged though, beginning with about 30 seconds of the trial scene from Act IV. As soon as Portia/Balthazar asks how these events came to be, the big prop clock spun backwards and the previous events are related. Since no use is made of the clock afterward, and nothing in the scene really required a recap, nor showed any moment of dramatic interest (such as say, Shylocks knife against Antonio’s breast), one is left to wonder why the director chose such a storytelling conciet. It felt like a gimmick, and worse a gimmick without purpose. How much better it would have been to start with the knife, work backwards with a musical sting and then use the clock throughout the play as a horrible “doomsday clock”, ticking one minute closer to the moment of ultimate peril, as each even tin the play drives inexorably toward the removal of the pound of merchant flesh.

This is a minor quibble, though and easily overlooked in what I feel to be the main flaw. The play left a bad taste in my mouth. Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays to stage in a post-Holocaust world. I think there are two definite wrong ways to play it, and these lie at opposite extremes. The first wrong way to play it is the way that it was almost certainly originally performed, with Shylock as a monstrous villain. While it is true that Shakespeare gives Shylock more humanity and motive for vengeance beyond that in say, Marlowe’s Barabas in the Jew of Malta, he was almost certainly played as a Jewish stereotype, and the audiences at the time would likely have seen his enforced conversion as a fitting end.

This production went to the other extreme, and in my opinion, the second “wrong way” to stage it. In this Shylock is almost thoroughly the victim. The Christians are rarely portrayed with any positive qualities, and Shylock’s suggestion for a pound of flesh to secure the loan is treated as if the request were a lighthearted joke. They laugh as they shake hands. Shylock’s hatred of Christians is downplayed and understated, and it is only as indignities are heaped upon him that we get the feeling that Shylock is being forced into becoming a villain against his will. Up until the minute when Portia cries for him to hold (and her halting performance in the courtroom really fails to show off the intellect of one of Shakespeare’s smartest female characters), you are given the impression that Shylock really does no want the pound of flesh and might not actually be able to force his shaking hands to do the deed. The judgement against him comes off as much harsher than need be. Shylock is a total victim.

This would work if the play were the Tragedy of Shylock the Jew. Unfortunately, given the resolution of Act V, wherein happiness reigns at Belmont with brandy and cigars all round, one is left with a resounding impression that the real villains have won. The text is comedic and triumphant, and the audience is unable to identify with the characters, like being forced to endure an interminable uncomfortable party.

Once again, the play is a difficult and delicate one to produce, and going too far in either direction (Shylock as monster, which betrays modern sensibilities, or Shylock as victim, which betrays textual and dramatic intent) is unsatisfying. This one went too far toward the latter for comfort. I still enjoyed the performances, which were funny, sad and suspenseful, but disagreed with the overall vision.

Pride and Prejudice

This was undoubtedly my favorite of the festival, despite being the non-Shakespeare offering. The play almost did away with the concept of time, sweeping us from scene to scene by merely shifting a few chairs and rotating actors in and out, keeping the action flowing and never letting us feel like there was a drag. The pace was good and the writing cunning enough to express the underlying motivations and overall changes of time and space without ever requiring narration. There were several standout performances, particularly the outrageous Mrs. Bennet and the unctuous Mr. Collins. Even the reserved and proper Mr. Darcy never pulled a scene down, and was even played for wonderfully juxtaposed comic effect. This was thoroughly enjoyable.

Wage Slave

I have re-joined the ranks of the proletariat. That means I got a regular job. Monday through Friday, I am now a graphic artist at the Peninsula Daily News, our local newspaper. For those of you concerned about Susan’s “End of the World” post, this is what she was talking about. Her husband won’t be cooking and cleaning all the time anymore. :)

Me? I’m just happy to have a regular paycheck. I still have my freelance graphic art business and am working out of the home: that won’t change. But from 7 to 4, I am owned by the PDN.

Featured Art: The Tembian

Next alien from Dan Repperger’s Epoch of Rysos © universe.

This is a Tembian, an air-breathing aquatic alien race.

The Tembian spends most of its time floating on the surface, being able to fill the septa of it’s shell structures with air or water, like ballast tanks. It can move on land but only slowly and with great effort.

It filters its food from the water with the flagella structures on the underside. These also provide minor locomotive power. The forward tentacles are arranged so that four “thumbs” surround a single “finger”. Each tentacle can be used with precision against the central finger, but is fairly clumsy when used in conjunction with any other thumb.

There is no internal skeletal structure, though there is a cartilaginous system. The Tembian language is mostly whistles, grunts and clicks, vocalized through the dorsal blowhole (not shown). The Tembian does not have a conventional mouth.

The next in this series should be the Ipp, a symbiotic sapient race that feeds by cleaning the Tembian’s feeding flagella of a barnacle-like parasite. Dan gave me very little art direction on this one, only stressing that he wanted it to be “unusual”.

Featured Art: Wicked Harvest Logo

Here’s a not-quite-new piece. I did this before Halloween, but by agreement, have refrained from posting it until the beginning of the year, since the client had a number of events planned for it. The client is Paradigm Concepts, the creators of Arcanis, and of course Witch Hunter, in which players take on the personae of 17th-century vanquishers of supernatural evil. This is for an annual event called Wicked Harvest, which as I understand it, is some sort of tournament event. This piece went through about half a dozen iterations on the pumpkin head, from a traditional jack-o-lantern face, to a flaming interior, to a more human-like expression, to the current green glow.

Featured Art, The Mordeth

This is another alien concept for Dan Repperger’s Epoch of Rysos role-playing game and fiction setting. This alien is called a Mordeth.

At the start of the project, I was given a description: Continue reading Featured Art, The Mordeth

Painting the alien: A Digital Painting Tutorial

I picked up a demo copy of a really sweet video desktop capture program. To test it out, I used it while painting my latest commission. A lot of people ask me: “How do you paint on the computer?” Hopefully this answers a lot of questions.

The subject is an Asta, a member of an alien race from the Epoch of Rysos, ©Daniel Repperger.
I’ve linked to the first video in the series (there are 12, plus a conclusion). The whole series can be found here.

De-stressing Christmas

… Or any of the major family holidays.

This post is for suggestions on how to reduce the stress that many of us feel around this time of year, and perhaps re-capture an appreciation of the things that are good about it. I’m using Christmas in my examples, but feel free to apply this to other holidays which cause you or someone you know stress. If you have more solutions, please post them as comments.

1) Christmas is not a calendar date.
We were being really dragged down by the amount of traveling we were doing on what is ostensibly a day of celebration and enjoyment. One of the best solutions we have found is to make the day AFTER Christmas (Boxing Day) the day for visiting family. We don’t have to rush out the door, the child[ren] get to play with their toys or just play and be with immediate family.
We did not opt for the day before, because our daughter needs her sleep, which is hard enough on Christmas Eve without adding in hours in the car and getting excited by playing with cousins all day.

2) Spread out the presents
This is for families with children.
Some families have a rule about presents only being opened on Christmas morning, others allow one present to be opened on CHristmas Eve. My suggestion is to spread the presents out, particularly if you have lots of adult relatives mailing in kids’ gifts. If you are a parent, or around small children, you have probably witnessed Present Shock, the sensory overload that comes from opening too many presents too fast. Tags get mixed up, the child only remembers the last present opened, and then is faced with too many choices about what to do next. For a week before and a week after (or some other time period) open a present a day. Make a little ritual of it, doing it at the same time of day if possible.
The child gets to really appreciate the gift, and if you have them write a thank you card the same day, that task is spread out as well, and the child does not have to be reminded who gave them what.
Save the big family or Santa present(s) for Christmas morning (you know, the bicycle or video game system or what have you), as well as the stocking. But that board game from Uncle Max might actually be played and a cogent thank you note written if that is the only present for the day. Even the smallest present gets appreciated.

3) Stockings
This may not be for everyone, but it helped in our house growing up. Stockings are kid-distractors for parents who want to sleep late or cook breakfast before the morning rituals. A stocking is a “gift from Santa” whether your family embraces the tradition as “real” or not. Parents do not need to be present. Put in toys, puzzles, dexterity games, Rubik’s cubes, etc. in there to give you time to have a leisurely morning.

4) Commercialization
Do your shopping early, throughout the year if possible, or on-line even. Unless going to the mall and listening to Muzak Christmas carols and seeing Christmas displays is what you need to get your Christmas Spirit moving.
Mail out Seasonal cards. If you do this early enough, and regularly, far-flung relatives will realize that you are not getting them an expensive gift, and they don’t need to get you one. Christmas presents are for kids, really. Adults can buy the things they want. Closer family members can get simple gifts. Communicate this honestly and early and you might be able to reduce a sense of dreaded obligation. Hopefully, you don’t have a Christmas Zealot in your family to deal with, but coordinated action from the rest of the family might be able to reduce even this.

5) Married couples: Compromise
Be understanding that your spouse is different from you inside and probably has a different list of what they need to make the holiday enjoyable. Give them space if they need it, or follow them on some of their Christmas rituals. Give and take, and be honest with each other. Don’t make ultimatums or use guilt as a weapon. If you have a strong marriage, you probably already know this one, however.

6) Reducing the Gimme instinct in children
Organize some sort of community-benefiting activity. Helping with a charity drive, donating old toys and books, helping at church, anything that isn’t about getting. Make it just as normal, regular and important as the rest of the Christmas traditions. With any luck, regular exposure to this sort of attitude will instill good habits in later life and build a new young person with a good civic attitude. At the very least, you’ll be helping some folks who don’t have all the opportunities for happiness that you do.