Old Forest

Old Forest

We spent our Thanksgiving holiday deep in the woods. Taiwanese forests differ from those in the Western Hemisphere, but they are just as evocative. We spent two days hiking the trails in Shanlinxi, reveling in the company of ancient cedars and colorful metasequoias. To me, the most amazing trees in these woods are the Taiwanese rhododendrons, which grow to such scale that one would think they were oaks.

It has been said that Nature is optimistic, and these woods are proof: whatever can grow, will; whatever fails, fails; but nothing stops the next growth. Nothing. I need to remember that, and emulate it.

I drew this duotone from memory as we rested in our room on Wednesday.

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“Shanlinxi Memory” – Taiwan – Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper – 15×21 cm

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Stay Happy or Die

Stay Happy or Die

One of the fun things about writing a novel is exploring ideas. Fantasy settings like the one in The Valenblade allow all kinds of room for that. Here’s an interesting question:

What if every minute must be a party…or you all die?

Magic comes at a cost. The architects of a great spell put something at risk to make the magic work. That risk was mitigated by another spell, but that spell endangered something else. That risk had to be balanced by yet another spell that endangered something different. In time, everything became dependent on everything else, and the element that keeps all this in balance is happiness.

For the magic to continue working, everyone involved has to join the party. Happiness is mandatory. There can be no confusion, no questions, no sorrow or grief. Any departure from the revelry risks the collapse of the entire structure and the end of everything. So it has been for centuries.

Imagine what happens when someone shows up whom the spell does not ensnare. What if this person doesn’t join the party like everyone else? The whole house of cards could collapse. Now what?

To find out, read THE VALENBLADE by Mark Ivan Cole (me!), available worldwide as an e-book or in paperback on amazon.com.

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Cloud Studies

Cloud Studies

I was going to be on my own for an hour while waiting for an event. I didn’t know what I’d find in this recently opened park but I was prepared to paint plein air, even though the weather seemed iffy. The park itself is essentially a series of city-block-sized, flat-topped artificial “hills” on whose cambered sides is planted what they’re calling a “sea of flowers.” On top are a few bits of sports-themed topiary and some cartoon characters. The current blooms were muted, and the square hills looked more like bunkers to me. I walked the perimeter. I climbed up top again and looked around. Really? Was my imagination so dull that I could find nothing to paint?

Ten kilometers away, however, winds from the northeast were driving heavy clouds across the Tatun Group, a cluster of volcanic peaks that tops out at 1,120 meters (3,675 feet). Glad to be in the rain shadow, I sat on the grass and watched great curls of mist roll down from the summits. After awhile, I pulled out my DIY Inktense Plein Air kit for a couple of small studies. The Arches rough  watercolor paper doesn’t like to be scrubbed, so I worked it as little as possible. Quick though they were, these are among my more successful attempts at painting this kind of weather with the Derwent Inktense ink blocks.

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Early Stage: “Somebody’s Home”

Early Stage: “Somebody’s Home”

During #Inktober 2017, I stretched out quite a bit, trying new things. I found that many of the skills I’ve been using for my pencil sketches translated surprisingly well to pen and ink. When I first started using drafting pens back in the 1980’s, I was mimicking the amazing engravings of Albrecht Dürer (as best I could!) and trying to get every scratch to line up perfectly. What I discovered this last month was that I’m more expressive when I stay loose. The first gray stage of this forest interior, “Somebody’s Home,” is a good example of what I mean.

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Early gray value block-in for “Somebody’s Home.”

In the past, I would have planned all of this out ahead of time, and painstakingly drawn every leaf. While it’s all well and good to do that, I’ve discovered that my style is actually less meticulous now, and I’m having lots of fun letting things direct themselves more.

Note that the tree trunks are mostly denoted by directional curved lines. I find that if work from the bottom of the page to the top, I can use the heel of my hand as resistance, which helps me to make relatively evenly spaced marks, but I don’t try to make them exactly the same curve or distance apart. I don’t even try to make them fit precisely within the faint pencil marks that delineate the trunks. Everything else is about “flow,” how the textures will lead the eye.

The bracken on the forest floor is done in patches. Later on, I use some of the gaps or overlapping marks as inspiration for where sticks and pits might go.

Here’s the final result. (More discussion below the picture.)

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“Somebody’s Home” – Pen and Ink – 10.5×7.5″/20.5×18 cm

You can probably pick out some of the new things I’ve added, and some bits I actually “removed.” With ink, everything is additive: there is no undoing a mark, no chance to erase. If it’s going to be removed, it’s got to be morphed into something else or obliterated in shadow!

I have it easy, though. Back in the 1500’s, Dürer was making grooves in metal with a “burin” or “graver.” Every stroke counted. I’ve always been intrigued by this bit of “The Knight, Death and the Devil,” below, in which the master seems to have corrected a mistake. Look at the light “swoosh” shape that mimics the base of the hoof, and the two bright lines that might have been the initial position of the horse’s shank.

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Yeah, I think we can let that bit pass for a twig or blade of grass. Amazing.

The Making of “Old Unreliable”

The Making of “Old Unreliable”

During #Inktober 2017, I drew an imaginary motorcycle in pen and ink. When I draw from my imagination, the details develop as I go. Here’s a good example of how I work.

Since I can erase the pencil lines out from under the dry ink, the initial sketch goes directly on the final surface. I used to use 2B lead, but I’ve switched to the harder 2H lead since it leaves a fainter line from the start.

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Initial idea sketch using 2H lead in an 0.5 mm mechanical pencil on Da-Han watercolor paper

I don’t always outline everything, but I did in this case because the structural elements were critical. I used to use the larger (0.5 mm) pens first, years ago, but I’ve realized that I prefer to keep the lines small as long as possible. I can always thicken a line later.

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Basic outline using the 0.3 mm pen, to ensure all the shapes are defined

After that, it’s all about the middle values and the textures. On this motorcycle, I align my strokes with the direction of the form. I may or may not do that with a landscape; it all depends on the effect or “look” I want. One of the things I love about this kind of drawing is that the details simply suggest themselves as I go. Sometimes, it’s the random overlapping of adjacent shades that appears to show some new form or structure. All of the final details are based on that discovery process.

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All basic gray values blocked in using the 0.3 mm pen; some texture begun

In some cases, as I did here, I’ll go over certain outlines with the larger 0.5 mm pen. That pen is also good for solid black areas. For the heavier textures, I’ll overlap the 0.3 mm lines and/or go at it with the 0.4 mm pen.

So there, it is: “Old Unreliable” – Pen and Ink – 11×7.5″/28×19 cm.  (Available for sale)

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Final version

Inktober 2017 Recap

It all started with a friend’s innocent question: “Are you going to do #Inktober this year?” I’ve done ink of various kinds for years, but I’ve not focused on pen and ink for a long time. With Hi-Tec’s wonderful technical pens, I got a lot more experience. Inktober is, essentially, a challenge to do 31 ink drawings in 31 days.

Here are mine from 2017, pretty much in chronological order: