Is it Science Fiction or Fantasy (from my Patreon page)

As I have noted before, I don’t have a problem mixing non traditional/traditional fantasy ideas with science or science fiction.  My previous examples were of mixing religious views with scientific theories; now I want to mention the trilogy of short stories with the group title of “Dragon Dreams”.

These stories combined many traditional fantasy elements; dragons, magic, and monsters, along with Star Wars level science fiction tropes such as; space ships, aliens, and technology.  However, that is not all.  There is a strong underlying nod to a real scientific theory of parallel universes and extra dimensions.

I know there are many purists out there that do not like their fantasy mixed with their science fiction.  Believe me, I used to be one, but I have over time changed my mind after reading several good examples.  Yeah, I have seen some bad examples; unfortunately, that is part of any genre.  So, later this year when I start uploading the “Dragon Dreams” stories to my Patreon page, I hope you will consider reading my science fiction fantasy series.

P.S.  Anne McCaffery’s “Dragon Riders of Pern” series and Tracy Hickman’s and Margaret Weis’s “Death Gate” series are good examples of genre mixes.

Villainy or How to be Bad Without Really Trying (from my Patreon page)

Well, … huh.  I will admit that I tripped when approaching this subject.  I was going to say that I try to avoid making cardboard cut out villains, but then I remembered using the devil in several stories.  I also remembered that I don’t normally focus on the villain all that much because I usually delve into my character’s reaction to the villain, which may in some ways be a uniqueness to my stories that I did not intentionally strive for.

My characters universally fit into what I view as my reality.  They are people or aliens dealing with situations outside of their control where the villains are not clear-cut.  The villains most often were created beyond their knowledge base.  For instance, King Hadrian in “Sanity” was a manipulative leader used to being one step ahead of his opponents, maybe a little arrogant and foolhardy because of it.  He felt there was no one that could best him.  Unfortunately, he learns the hard way that the villains of this story can destroy his faith in his own abilities.  However, the story also shines a light on a another villain we all fall prey to, fear.  The Thrall, our bad guys in this one, reach into his mind and play with the fears at the core of his being.

In “Sorrow and Remembrance”, the novel I hope to pull together, the villains are the forces set into motion by overly proud and self-righteous people.  Forces that reach out far beyond the immediate area of conflict to engulf innocent bystanders.  Here the forces spread beyond defeating enemies in a war to steal years of life from some and to force others to destroy beauty to protect those they love.  For me this idea is very personal because of my interest in history.  How many of the problems we face today have been created by the choices of others?  How many decisions that we had no say in have become issues that we cannot afford to ignore?

Another enemy I have written about is ourselves.  I wrote a story for my collection called “Stubborn” which details the hellish world the protagonist becomes trapped in that is an externalization of the darker recesses of his mind.  Through the course of traveling this world, without memory, the character must confront the demons he thought he had overcome.  Demons of self loathing, weakness, and guilt.

Finally, in “The Devil’s in the Code”, the obvious villain, the devil, is actually not the villain.  The true villain of the story is human hubris.  Beelzebub is only the catalyst for our penchant for trouble making.  He leads people where they are so willing to go, such as playing with genetics for profit, and lets them hang themselves.  Hell is full of people who thought they were immune to the consequences of their actions, including a pair of investment bankers now living as crows among more powerful hell spawn.  So, yes some of my villains are not very developed in terms of personality, but they are different from the run of the mill.

World Creation (from my Patreon page)

One of the fun aspects of writing any story is creating the world or universe your characters live in.  For example, in “Sensu Learns a Lesson”, while I did not go in-depth into the politics and players of this story, I had to think about a universe that was full of aliens and political intrigue.  Also, I made a beginning into the living and social structures of the Altharians, they lived underground and looked like transparent blue slugs.  The Altharians live in underground structures carved out over millennia by the passage of their ancestors.  They are master spies (their society is completely focused on spying) because of their ability to shape change.  I also began to create a class structure through the mention of royal blood.  If I ever manage to expand this story, I will have to vigorously expand on all these choices.

Another example comes from my story “Lepidoptera” coming up next month.  By the way, for anyone that does not know, lepidoptera is the order name for butterflies (technically moths and butterflies).  I began the world by creating a society of elves similar to Tad William’s Sithi in the series “Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow”.  I wanted that mix of age, wisdom, and magic which his Sithi had.  I also wanted to give the sense that when you entered the lands of my Sindains, you entered a world separate from the rest of the world.  In their lands, the forests move and living spaces are made from the living plants around them.  When Sindains enter the Woods of Calling, the outside world disappears and time runs differently.  Basically, they live constantly with magic.

My final example comes from my story “Sanity”.  In this story I focused on a single world with lots of political intrigue between kingdoms and a powerful outside race that dabbles in this plotting for their own unfathomable reasons.  All the players know something about this race, but none have hard evidence of their goals or methods of achieving them only that they are powerful.  The race is non human, which leaves you wandering if they are part of the world or come from another.  The world in general is a metaphor for our political nature of playing for power where each dog thinks they are at the peak until some bigger dog takes them down.

Half the fun of writing a story is deciding what the underling facts of the universe is then seeing how these affect the interactions of the characters.  An example of world building that affects the actions of the characters is Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born novels.  The principals set down for the universe are consistent and interesting.  Also, the world is not static as his new books in the series show, meaning that he introduces growth in the society with the introduction of technology.  However, the underlying magic still exists.  Mr. Sanderson seems to enjoy seeing how the invention of technology changes how society looks at those with magic.  How fun is that?

Color Pencil Study (New $5 reward on my Patreon Page)

This is the explanation of the image I attached for my $5 patrons.

Here is a drawing I did some time ago when I was trying to figure out color pencils over large areas.  This is one of the few color pencil drawings I worked on until completion.  Considering how long ago I made this piece, some parts actually hold up pretty well to what I am doing now, while others fall flat.

The image is from a magazine photo, don’t remember which, of a small bird grasping a branch.  The bird was the focal point with the background being out of focus.  I believe that the bird and branch turned out well, but trying to create the rest of the background over the remaining paper proved to be too challenging for me.

Working on this particular drawing, using the techniques I had learned with lead pencils, was not happening and is the reason so many of my color pencil drawings are left unfinished.  On small detail areas I am good but large areas stump me.  I have since seen many artists use color pencils to great results, but I am not one of them.  However, all in all, this is not a bad picture.  Unfortunately, it is also not a great picture.

Lighting the Scene (from my Patreon page)

I will admit that I am jealous of artists who can depict sources of light credibly in their artwork.  I am not talking about the sun, although this is challenging too, but mechanical forms of light.  Light strips, dial illumination, or screens are examples of what I am talking about.  Strong sources of light in situations where there are lots of reflections and/or atmospheric effects.  I remember many Michael Whelan paintings where the light source had a well-defined shape and yet still depicted the softness associated with the glow most light sources have.

I still work hard to achieve such effects in my paintings.  The easiest way of creating a bright light source is to take a light color and surround it with a very dark source.  But what do you do when you have a strong enough artificial light source to still be seen in a daylight situation?  I haven’t tried that yet, but I have been amazed by artists that can pull off such complex lighting.

I will share one trick that I have learned from using Gimp 2.8.  In my painting “Juliette and Josephus” the diffuse halo of light around the sun was achieved by painting the light color of the sun on a transparent layer above all the layers and then using the smudge tool to thin the color.  If you looked at the layer with a white background, you would hardly see anything.  However, if you put it against a very dark background like I did, you see a soft wash of bright color or a halo around the more solid image of the sun.  The contrast brings out the light color.  I hope to further explore using light washes on layers over different backgrounds after seeing how well this worked.

Y Wing Update (from my Patreon page)

y-wing-painting-b

 

Here is where I am with the Y Wing part of my Carrie Fisher tribute.  I have had to back track a few times and undo parts I was not happy with.  I finally decided to work from the cockpit backwards, which seems to be working better for me; however, this will never be an honest reproduction.  My goal is to create a strong enough image that at a smaller size will not be off so far that it is jarring.  I am glad I was able to finally add the R2 unit and I think the cockpit module looks good although I have to place the forward guns yet.

Speaking of Star Wars vehicles, I tried to make my own Imperial Walker out of cardboard from a picture in my vinyl soundtrack slip cover.  I never got further than the head but it wasn’t too bad for the time, given I was in junior high.  They are the coolest vehicles in the series.

Building a Painting (from my Patreon page)

There are certain processes I have come to follow when creating a digital painting.  First and foremost for me is to draw the individual elements.  At one time I would have tried to set them on the same piece of paper and worked with them where they were, not allowing myself the freedom to rethink the layout of the final image.  Because I struggled so much to find time to draw or paint, I had a bad habit of giving up on ideas if they did not work out right away.  I am now thankful for Gimp allowing me to correct parts of an image without affecting the larger painting, much as word-processor allows a two finger typist to complete a large number of short stories.  Another thought on drawing the initial images is that mine are always drawn freehand.  Even if I struggle to get the image right, I still use my drawing.  It is an integrity issue for me.

Once I have the drawings done, I scan them into the computer as a jpegs.  As I have gotten more comfortable using Gimp, I have learned to keep the elements separate until I am ready to place them into the final picture.  I take each image and make the drawings sit on a transparent background.  Then I create a transparent layer above or below the drawing layer, depending on where I think I will have trouble working on the image.  This is where I will paint the actual artwork.  In addition, I will add another layer below these, which will become a temporary background that can be changed as needed to better see the painting I am working on.

Next comes the under painting.  This is where I just put the basic colors on the image such as skin tone, hair color, or fabric color.  I don’t work on details at this point; I just want to completely fill in the areas I intend to work on with their basic colors.  After the under painting is done, I will begin the true creation of the individual pieces.  The detail work is the longest part of any painting for me.

When I have the parts done as much as I can or want, I will copy them into a larger final image as different layers.  I like to keep them in layers until the very end in case I need to adjust their position without affecting anything I have done on the background piece I placed them on.  However, there comes a point in most images where I have to combine the layers into one to help with connecting them into one coherent picture.  My current habit is to hold off as long as I can.  At this point it is all about making adjustments around the parts to make them fit the larger image.  Then I tinker with the painting until I am done.