Make Your Own Action Figures

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time wishing I had a long skinny monkey tail like the Pink Panther.  I  imagined how I’d use it to help perform everyday tasks.   I still think it would be useful, although I’d opt in for a pointy devil tail these days, which is good for spearing circus peanuts.

When I was a kid, I got in really bad trouble for playing with matches.  I had a lot of army men, which I thought were kind of boring. I decided they needed to undergo genetic anthropomorphic mutation to become more interesting/useful. So, in my basement laboratory, with my assistant little-boy-from-next-door, I set out to create better toys. The trouble was, little-boy-from-next-door burned himself with a match, which brought a world of parent trouble down on me and my genetic anthropomorphic mutation toy laboratory. If I’d had a tail, I wouldn’t have needed an assistant in the first place and wouldn’t have lost my laboratory.

Some of my creations were awesome – a three armed ax wielding warrior with no head, a two headed cowboy, a barrel chested headless monster…etc.

Being an adult is awesome because I don’t have to worry about parents shutting down my lab.  I only have to worry about the fumes from melting plastic. NOTE: KIDS – DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT PARENTAL SUPERVISION.

I’ll be back – there’s some pretty interesting action happening in the backyard right now.

On Circus Peanuts

I got a call a couple of weeks back from ArtScape wanting to know how I actually intend to build an 8′ to 12′ circus peanut. I was notified today that my proposal has been accepted.

So, now, I get to build an 8′ to 12′ circus peanut. It’s going to be a fabulous spring, ya?

Circus peanuts were invented sometime in the 1800’s. They taste like bananas, although Wikipedia says that they were initially orange flavored. I suppose the original maker intended to “out weird” the creator of cotton candy.  Four of the major candy manufactures still make circus peanuts, though no one seems to hold a patent. I read somewhere that they aren’t easy to make, either, because they are molded instead of extruded like other shaped candy. And they are solid marshmallow.

I remember getting these around Easter as a kid. They used to inspire the sensation of motion sickness, and I’d just let them petrify long after the good candy had vanished into my gullet. The very last memory I have of these involved a great aunt who was having some sort of diabetic fit. She pleaded with my mom for  something sweet, and you guessed it – all we had for her gullet were petrified circus peanuts.

I have another childhood memory I’d like to share with you. Our house came with a really old refrigerator in the back of the basement. It had rounded corners, kind of like a giant tombstone. One summer, my parents put something in there – maybe a cucumber or zucchini or half a snake or something from our garden.  It was forgotten until one day, I looked in the fridge and found the blackened mummified remains of whatever it was. It just sat there, haunting the cold, tombstone shaped fridge, like a forgotten petrified turd. I was obsessed with it, and, I’ll admit, a little afraid of it.

Back to the present day, I bought a bag of circus peanuts for research purposes last week. The guy in line behind me said, “I’m glad SOMEONE likes those things. I’ve never seen anyone buy them.”

“I don’t actually like them,” I replied. And then I had to explain this project. I’m going to be doing a lot of that in the next several months.

In the years since my diabetic great  aunt and mummified frozen remains of my childhood, I’ve often stopped in the store and wondered at circus peanuts. They are strangely beautiful and yet slightly horrifying, like some orange, forgotten, mummified remnant in the tombstone refrigerator of life. It is worthwhile to think about them.

Family Art Night

In an attempt to balance my kids’ urges to practice corporate accounting, financial law and quantitative decision making for business, we make art together. For the second year in a row, we participated in the National Arts Program Exhibit at Johns Hopkins (December ’09).

Lily made this painting specifically for the event. She started off painting pictures of Coraline and arrived at the Solar System. It has shooting stars.

Cocoa entered her Oscilloscope, which usually hangs in my studio. I LOVE this painting.

My friend and colleague RJ entered a photo, too. It’s the one of himself, taken alone with an old, manual camera. We haven’t worked out how he did it.

To my astonishment, I took home a first place prize. Dr. Ed Miller, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and Dean of the School of Medicine handed me an envelope.

Here’s me and the drawer…

Finally, a better photograph of  the Mystery of the Loaves and Fishes, an  impossible-to-photograph-well piece. Click the one below for larger.

Thanks to Fred Dubs for the last three pics here.

The Joy of Process

I began the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in October, knowing the deadline for the National Arts Program Exhibit was in early December.  I chose the title and started putting ideas down in a sketchbook.  I made a lot of sketches, did a lot of thinking and eventually settled on the idea of a triptych.  I’ve been experimenting with the old school nibs and India ink  which I loved as a kid. I find they are difficult to use, though, and tend to bleed big blobs of ink.

Nibs, ink bottle

Still, little that’s worth doing is easy, and I continue to practice with them. They offer great possibility.

In October and November (especially over Thanksgiving break), I had a lot of  ideas, and the piece kept shifting focus. But when the actual day started to approach, my thinking solidified and I was “forced” to make decisions about the piece and execute them. I realize that without the deadline, I would have continued to develop ideas…forever.

This is the joy of process – getting lost in exploration and discovery and practice. I am a master of  JOP. To a fault, perhaps.

Joy of process sketches

When I noticed the deadline approaching (it tried to sneak up on me, but thankfully I glanced up and saw it coming), I heard an audible “click” in my head. The pressure increased, decisions were made and the piece was assembled. Mr. JOP stepped aside and Mr. Assembly-line-worker took the plans got down to business.  This guy is the person who likes to make lists and accomplish things – a very good partner for Mr. JOP.


I used to do this with music – I’d write songs and record little  ideas and fill notebooks and tapes – I have gigs and gigs of this stuff – some of it is quite good, too. What was missing was a partner to work with, or a show to play or an album to finish.

Deadlines are good. Pressure is good. They add a dimension of purpose in what we do. They bring JOP together with Mr. Assembly-line-worker, the two halves of a whole.

Even more joy of process sketches

It’s very tempting to remain Mr. JOP. I think being him is more comfortable, and certainly more fun. He’s the mad scientist, loose on new frontier of possibility and wonder.  Do many other artists feel this way? I know a lot of my fellow developers do. And, I should add that these rough sketches in this post lead to other things – they all came from Mr. JOP’s efforts.

There are levels of deadline  pressure, too. A professional illustrator may be given guidelines, such as “Dead Fish Smoking a Pipe” or “Ruttabaggit” needed by next Tuesday. Open ended projects, on the other hand, may offer a little too much creative freedom, thus becoming a JOP trap. This can be especially daunting to non-professional creatives who are developing their own inspiration engines. Luckily, we live on a web with things like Illustration Friday, Spark and a bazillion other outlets to help us develop a JOP-creative output balance.

Alas, there’s work to do. Back to the drawing board.

Mystery of the Loaves and Fishes

I am hesitant to post these photos – I can’t seem to capture this thing properly. It will be hanging in the National Arts Program exhibit next week at Hopkins, and I’ll take the Nikon and see if I can get some visual traction.

Anyway, I’ve been working on this (idea) for weeks, and it turned out. This  triptych is another effort to extrude drawings and bring them into the “real” world.

Full Size View

The top panel is made of layers of drawings on illustration board, cut out and glued together. This fisherman makes an appearance.


For the center panel, I tried something new – I used pen and ink on canvas (below).  I’ve drawn this beast before – it’s a bit younger here, and to scale with the fisherman in the boat. I drew every single tentacle, one at a time. That might not be obvious from the image, but there’s a beginning and an end to each one.

Middle Panel

The bottom panel contains…fish.

Bottom Panel

And here’s a couple of work in progress pictures. The frame is made from an old drawer. The handles are still intact (not shown) which made carrying this on the subway a snap.

Behind the canvas in the center panel:

Behind the sail

And some fish.


This piece doesn’t have moving parts (aside from the fish on the lines) – but future ones will (the fisherman). Please note – there are no dead things in this art.

Night Fishing

I just looked at the clock and it’s 1:16 AM. I thought it was 10:00 PM. I love getting lost while making something. Here’s a peek at part of a triptych I’m making for an upcoming show. I’ll post the rest this week.

The top part is comprised of drawing(s) that I cut out and inserted into the frame.

On the sea

Close up

It’s too soon to say if this one will work out exactly like I’ve envisioned, but in making changes, I’ve came up with enough ideas to do an entire series.

Now, to bed. Goodnight.

The Dead Man and the Sea

A large black bird once explained that in order  to escape the Land of the Dead, one must drain the Dead Sea, one swallow at a time. Then, one can walk across the ocean floor to the Land of the Living.
Dead Man and the Sea

Our protagonist sits on a reef, just off the coast of the Land of the Dead with a bottle. Acrylic paint on canvas board, 5″ X 7″.