Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons

Dragon 1 - Graphite and White Charcoal on Colored Paper, Digitally ProcessedOver the years, I’ve done hundreds of drawings as inspiration and exploration for my epic fantasy novel “THE VALENBLADE.” This is one from a few years ago. My fascination with dragons started way back when I was a child, so “The Valenblade” had to have at least one. (Spoiler alert! It does.)

You can buy “THE VALENBLADE” on Amazon as either an e-book or a paperback!

 

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The Portal

The Portal

Ruined_Portal_1_Duotone_297x210_Web“Ruined Portal” – 297x210mm
Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper

The approach was long and difficult. Once we got to the rope-up point, we decided to take a rest day before starting the climb. We were prepared, but that didn’t make it any easier. Some of the pitches were 5.11-5.12, so it was pretty much at the limit of my skills. I could hardly imagine how the ancients ever made it up here without decent climbing gear.

It was even harder to imagine how they had crafted the stairs we found once we reached the saddle that led to the ridge. The entire spine was set with stone steps, some of which probably weighed a thousand pounds, fitted together perfectly without mortar. The traverse of that exposed, jagged spine turned out to be the easiest part of the climb. The steps ended unexpectedly. A notch 100 feet deep and 40 feet wide separated us from the main peak. We could rappel down and climb up the other side easily enough, but, again, we wondered how the ancients had managed it.

From here, though, we could see our objective clearly for the first time: a circular shape carved into the mountain.

“There’s the ruined portal we’ve been looking for,” I said.

James sat down and stared at it across the little chasm. “Sure looks like a portal, doesn’t it,” he said. “Strange design.”

“The stories say it’s reached by a bridge,” I said. “Guess that’s crumbled away by now.”

“Maybe,” said James; “but I bet if it was built by the same guys who laid these steps, it would still be standing.”

“We can make it,” I said, eyeing a possible route. “It’s just a scramble, really.”

“You hear that hum?” asked James.

“Yeah, when did that start?” I could feel it in my chest.

“It’s getting louder,” said James.

Definitely louder. The stones all around us seemed to be vibrating. Within a few seconds, we had to shout to hear each other.

“Sit tight!” hollered James. “No safer anywhere else!”

We hunkered down on hands and knees. The hum grew more intense every second. At first, it was a single low note. Then a second note joined it, a fifth above. Then a third note began, an octave above the first: the perfect power chord.

The rocks beneath us started to move! We scuttled further away from the notch, but we had nowhere to go.

As the chord grew stronger, the first three notes were joined by a series of complex harmonics, changing the tone and adding a richness unlike anything I had ever heard before. Everything in my body was vibrating with the same frequencies.

“Look!” yelled James.

The stones were arranging themselves on both sides of the notch, reaching across thin air toward the center. The sound seemed to be creating some sort of structure.

“The bridge!” I shouted.

By the time I’d said that, the two sides had connected. The sound did not diminish; it only became clearer.

James yelled something. I couldn’t hear him. He tied his harness to one end of the rope. Then he measured off 40 feet and looped that part a few times around the most secure looking spiky bit nearby. He handed the other end to me. I quickly got on belay. Then he started walking. He was crossing the bridge! I would have been crawling. James fairly ran it. In seconds, he was on the other side.

He secured a belay on his side and motioned to me to come over. I checked my knot twice and unwound the belay anchor on this side. It would be a 45′ fall if the bridge collapsed.

I didn’t crawl like I thought I would. Before I could change my mind, I was with James on the other side.

The humming shifted and the bridge disassembled itself, each stone going back to its original position. Now there was just a notch again. Everything stopped

“Maybe the portal isn’t ruined after all,” I said.

“Let’s find out,” said James.

The Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks

 

MonticelloRocks_Img_Napa_Duotone

They didn’t look like this, really.

 

I saw the marking for the Monticello Rocks on Google Maps and traced the route from where we are staying. It just sounded cool. “Monticello Rocks.” Ever the adventurer, Ping was game. Thus, we set forth.

Anticipation gripped us like a cheap pair of shorts that had shrunk in the dryer. Every turn in the road brought us closer, closer, closer…WAIT! I think those are the rocks! YES! Rocks, they are! Ah, the excitement, the THRILL of seeing the Monticello Rocks for the very first time! I’ll never for-…

Hold on.

That’s it? It’s over? No, there are some more!

Oh, the ecstasy, the glory, the–! Okay, now it’s over.

We couldn’t get to them. We couldn’t even turn around on that road. There was nothing left but to continue forward. We did.

Neither of us saw any more rocks. Okay, that’s not entirely true, there was the “Old Man Rock” a bit later that did, indeed, have a nose larger than my own. So, that’s something.

We laughed and laughed about the Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks.

“What did you do?”

“We SAW them.”

“Really?”

“YES!”

 

Under the Bridge

Bay Bridge From Pier 24 SFO Inktense 22x15cmWe’re spending some time in San Francisco with a good friend. The first day, we walked along the waterfront. I noticed a nice spot with a particular view of the Bay Bridge. When I had a chance, I went back down there with the newest iteration of my Inktense plein-air kit and found a seat on a big block of concrete, just to one side of Pier 24.

I was just starting to sketch in the basic layout on my Taiwanese “Fuang” watercolor paper when an Indian gentleman took an interest and sat down beside me to watch. I said hello, and we chatted while I was sketching.

“They just took your picture,” he told me, indicating a couple that had just passed by. “You’re world famous now!”

He was still with me when the sketch was done. As I brought out the Inktense kit and started painting with it, he told me proudly that his son does design work on computers. I enjoyed our chat.

“Okay, sir,” he said, as he stood up. “You have a good day.”

I definitely did. I hope he did, too.

 

New Clipboard Sketching Setup

SketchbookNew1Sketchbooks keep everything together in a book form, but I found them to be generally too thick and heavy. For a firm surface, I wanted a stiff backing sheet and cover (more weight). When the pages shifted, the graphite rubbed off. To save weight and preserve the artwork, I tore out completed drawings as soon as I got home. Then I had to trim off the ragged bits before scanning. If I was going to be on the road awhile, I might start a new sketchbook because the one I’m not-quite-finished-with may not have enough pages for the trip.  I sometimes reused the covers of an empty sketchbook, but more often I just recycled them.

SketchbookNew2After using up dozens of sketchbooks, I decided to try something a bit more “green”: a covered clipboard. This one is A5 size (half a sheet of letter-size paper), so it’s easily portable. I fold the cover all the way around to the back, so it’s no bigger than a normal sketchbook, and it’s plenty stiff. To keep the pencil digging into the paper below, I clip a thin, firm sheet of plastic under the current work-in-progress.

I’ve been using this setup for about a year now. The clipboard turned out to be even easier to hold than the old sketchbook, in either landscape or portrait orientation. It’s light, comfortable and unobtrusive. My 2mm/6B drafting pencil and .5mm/2B mechanical pencil work for everything from rough textures and dark shading to fine details. I use a small kneaded eraser to clean up smudges and pull out highlights. Sometimes I’ll use white charcoal for duotones. I’m considering ditching my retractable eraser, since I rarely use it. Maybe I can find a smaller pencil case.

SketchbookNew3Finished drawings are now put away inside a folded sheet of copy paper clipped in behind the paper stash. When I get home, I take them out, ready to scan. The clip holds everything firmly, so there is less shifting during transport. Very little graphite or white charcoal rubs off. These days, I carry a mix of loose sheets in a variety of colors and textures–just enough to give me options, and only as much as I need for the day. If I’m heading out on a longer trip, I keep an extra assortment in the suitcase. Finished work is removed from the clipboard and stored with the extra stash, and new sheets are added to the clipboard to replace the used ones.

This setup allows for more flexibility and it’s turned out to be less expensive (since I can buy loose sheets), thinner, lighter, and easier to use than a sketchbook. What about longevity? Well, back in 1995, I bought a covered clipboard for my legal pad at work. The “hinge” has split a few inches, but I still use it for writing. That’s a pretty good track record, I think.