The Hermit

2015 watercolor and pen

I conceived the basic concepts of what would become my Hermit illustration long before I began the tarot project. I assume the Hermit is an immediately identifiable aspect of each person, not so much mired in symbolism and cryptic mythology as so many of the other cards. We've all felt the pull of self-reflection, the loneliness of quarantine, the self-preservation in exile. I felt it quite a bit in my youth but I attached a melodramatic importance to it.

Often when I'd feel a teenage romance was unrequited, I'd reach a point of acceptance and then a strange sort of sexless arrogance, like I was some earthbound angel or spaceman meant to only appreciate the beauties of the human race from afar but never to actually touch it.

I feel like a lot of teenagers rationalize rejection in similar ways to keep from looking in the mirror and feeling the naked accusation that they just aren't good enough in someone else's standards. But as I'd imagine myself walking isolated shores on distant planets, a lone cold figure in a sprawling glittering universe of wonders, I felt special for not being chosen. 


As I got older I would experience a similar feeling, though far less valiant, in times of deep overwhelm. When daily life avalanched around me, I wanted to pull leaves, bushes, grass and twigs over myself like a blanket, hiding from boogie man banks and the looming haunted house of adult responsibilities. In my adult life, when faced with romantic rejections or responsibilities I didn't want to accept, I found myself identifying with bog men.

Bog men, darling National Geographic centerfolds, are people whose corpses were mummified by the peaty swamps, preserved in a mixture of water and earth matter. I no longer saw myself as the charming angel or sexless alien but as the insulated bog man, a decaying wonder preserved by the natural world against the rotting laws of men. I would close my eyes and imagine sinking into hundreds of years of hibernation in that cool, all-encompassing mud. 


I explored themes of isolation in a more romantic aspect of my life as I began to write lyrics for music. In the early 2000s, I flirted with the idea of calling my band (which had more names than songs) Mannequin On Moon, the symbol for isolation in its purest form. Imagining a mute, plastic motionless effigy on the moon's surface encapsulated the romantic feelings of isolation I harbored.

I'd even fantasize about myself on a space station, visible to the voyeuristic eyes of planet earth through a one way camera. I'd leave video messages to earth updating the world on my life on the moon but I'd never hear a word back. Eventually, the moon seemed too populated in my head and the concept of the mannequin on the moon became Mannequin On Mars, a much colder atmosphere.

My illustration of the Hermit depicts this beacon of pure isolation, the plastic Mannequin on Mars. She is positioned with one hand pointing down to the concealed, potentially prehistoric bog man astronaut beneath the Martian soil. Her other hand points skyward to the stars somewhere beyond the cocoon of red sky. This speaks of the optimistic focus of the Hermit, almost a blind faith in the greatness beyond the world seen with our eyes.

This is paralleled in the hermit's catatonic eyes - his right eye lights up with the clearly visible star that the mannequin points to beyond the red skies. The mannequin serves to further divorce the prehistoric astronaut from human connection, instead offering painted-on eyes, cold plastic skin, synthetic hair, and a half-hearted gesture of anatomy. 

The traditional Hermit depicts a gray old man while my hermit is actually a prehistoric time travelling astronaut, literally frozen in a catatonic trance. Of course my hermit needed to be an astronaut to continue my romance with feelings of isolation and my honoring of the heroic qualities offered in those times in our life when we are lucky enough to get to know ourselves.

I believe that this astronaut is beneath the Martian soil voluntarily. The space is less his tomb and more his womb, evidenced by his fetal position. Eventually, my hermit will reach the understanding that he needs and his story will continue beyond the confines of the red soil. But it is through silence and self-imposed isolation that the hermit learns the valuable lessons he needs to continue on his path.

To further indicate this, I depicted the hermit with bare feet, easing his connection to the source. He is plugged directly into the matter around him though he remains disconnected from the world that we know. Such achievements are similarly possibly through quiet meditation and self-reflection. 

The clocks in the borders simply reinforce a common theme of the Hermit card: the passage of time. Likewise, the astronaut helmets in the borders are supportive of the theme of isolation.


The Moon

My rendition of the Moon card grows from a happy coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. I had been wanting to do an illustration based on a dream that I had when I was in my early teens about a girl I simply referred to as the Lunar Witch.

The Lunar Witch was a strangely powerful figure in my dreamscapes, especially considering she was not part of a recurring dream but only visited me once. I awoke from the dream with an intense, burning passion for her which was confusing at that age as her actions in the dreams undoubtedly painted her as a villainous girl.

But despite her sinister actions, she showed a love for me that commanded my passions and I found myself blinded to her crimes, instead swooning at her mysterious beauty. Somewhere in Florida, I have a dream journal that tells the full detailed story of the Lunar Witch and all the ways she made my heart hurt so gloriously but for today I only have faded memories of the dream to draw connections to the Moon card.

From what little I can recall of the dream, I was waiting for a bus in the backyard of the home in which I grew up in Southwest Florida, in the darkness of the early morning. A glowing white fog was rolling in over the darkness soon illuminated by the hazy glow of the headlights of an ivory bus. The bus seemed to have been built from the bones of ancient creatures and was punctuated by futuristic round black windows that hid the passengers from sight.

I believe there may have been some controversy as to who was actually allowed to board the bus and a lot of this was orchestrated by a controlling force on the bus, a seductive girl from outer space who practiced black magic. I didn't approve of her actions that, at the very least, treated people unfairly but at the worst may have endangered their lives.

There was the sense in the dream that I knew the Lunar Witch well and that we were well known to be romantically involved despite our moral differences. When I'd voice disapproval of her villainous plans, she'd laugh me off as naive but regard it as cute. While she saw my attempts to dissuade her from evil as ridiculous, she also found it charming.

And though I recognized the deep darkness in her actions, her elitist acceptance of me seduced me. I felt special that someone as dark and lovely as the Lunar Witch found value in me and her rejection of the rest of humanity made her love so much more intoxicating. As I sat in the interior of the bus soon to depart for the moon, I kissed the Lunar Witch and felt the darkness in her cold lips that made my heart flutter. 


So how does the dream of the Lunar Witch parallel the messages of the Moon card? The Lunar Witch was as mysterious as she was powerful. The mechanics she'd set in motion in the dream always remained hidden from me but at face value exhibited supervillainous levels of ambition.

Though she seemed to be only a teenager herself, she already exhibited an advanced knowledge of magical arts but again her history with magic was unclear as was her strong connection to the moon. Her propensity for dark deeds also alludes, in fragment, to the moon's symbol as the unconscious manifested in an erratic, uncontrollable manner.

Though she was, for lack of a better term, my girlfriend in this dream, the Lunar Witch was wild and unrestrained and her love for me never tempered her teenage tyranny. The lunar bus itself stood as a artifact of the unknown in motion.

The driver was never revealed, the windows were opaque, and it appeared with the spectral smoothness of a ghost on clouds of fog that obscured visibility. Also, the Moon card often signifies a connection between the conscious and unconscious world and who better to usher in such a concept than a girl from my dreams who instilled in me a terrible pain of longing upon waking. 

There are further connections to the tarot's symbolism of the Moon and the Lunar Witch that, again, were not preconceived. Her body suit of pearl silk is reminiscent of a cocoon which obviously points to the change that so often accompanies stepping forward into the unknown. When I was trying to put together a Batcave goth band in Florida in the early 2000s, I'd contemplated dressing up as my rendition of the somnambulist Cesar in the classic silent German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

My rendition of Cesar was to wear a white bandage body stocking similar in appearance to that of the otherworldly clothing the Lunar Witch wore when she appeared to me in my dream many years before. Again, this draws parallels to dreams as Cesar committed all of his crimes in a state of sleepwalking. Also, the Lunar Witch is depicted looking back over her shoulder, leading us into the unknown with the finger-to-mouth gesture of secrecy. Like the moon, half of her face is illuminated while the other half is in shadow. 

Typically, the Moon card features some sort of crustacean rising from the waters to indicate an ignored or repressed fear but I chose an animal I relate to more on a personal level in the gharial. Gharials are large, intimidating crocodiles with narrow snouts and needle-like teeth. But unlike most species of crocodiles, gharials are rarely dangerous to humans as their mouths are equipped for dealing with fish.

Since the gharial doesn't devour humans, it represents a baseless fear in the context of this card. The gharial's head is emerging from the black, murky waters of the river Styx where memories are lost. In this case, the gharial is a memory of unfounded fear that is re-emerging for potential confrontation although we can rest assured that its appearance is far more fearsome than its actions. 

The lunar bus is entering between two towers constructed from the fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. These towers represent illusions of security as they are built from bones, nature's biological structural supports. Yet, these are the bones of ancient animals who died due to unhealthy attachments to perishing worlds.

The towers stand as reminders of the casualties of an old world and cautions those of us who refuse to change. These creatures that relied on the security of old ways now decorate the gates to the land of the dead with their fossilized remains. The unobscured totem presents three dire wolf skulls in tribute to Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian of the underworld. The dire wolves also reference pure natural lunacy in the wolf's attachment to the moon.

This too echoes a connection to the primal energy that permeates the shadows of the Moon card. Again, the movement of the bus between these markers symbolizes movement between the conscious and unconscious worlds. 

Finally, the borders of the card depict the cycles of the moon as well as keyholes that remind us of the locked doors of mystery. The locked door may seem cruel but this is another message to the Moon card; a sense of waiting as the mysteries beyond us work their magic.

In my dream, the lunar bus never departed. Though I boarded it, we continued waiting and there was never an explanation for this. But rather than try to figure it out, I lost myself in the moment with the Lunar Witch, kissing her icy lips while I patiently waited for the mystery to unfold. 



Strength is possibly my favorite illustration I've completed for the tarot series thus far, coming very close to the vision of my initial concept and delving heavily into my own mythology to convey both the cards meaning and its feeling for me personally. Though the card was orchestrated only somewhat directly in the concept stages, I later noticed a song I'd written several years earlier for my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin seemed to reference the events of my Strength illustration specifically. 


The card focuses on the mythological entity of the Cosmic Colossus wrestling a black lion, another creature with previous appearances within my mythology. The Strength card seemed to fill in the blanks between these two myths to something coherent and linear.

The black lions may have been referenced as early as the early 2000s when I was practicing weekly in my apartment in Florida with my girlfriend and friend in a band called Designer Genes. Some Designer Genes songs would drastically mutate into ideas that made it onto Peppermint Pumpkin's record including two twin songs called "Black Lions in the Court of King Nero" and "Black Lions on the Serengeti."

While the music of these tracks served as a loose basis for the Peppermint Pumpkin track "Mannequin Museum", lyrics in the song "A Safari Without Death" pointed much closer to the story presented in the "Black Lions…" tracks. The lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" seem to not only refer strongly to the black lion at the center of this illustration's conflict but also the hyenas in the borders as evidenced in the following excerpts:

"My hyenas laugh at their fears and comfort with leers"

"I see their silhouettes infecting the red light of the corridor and through laughter

The black lions have left their dens to rid the world of constellations

The titans have risen from the sea and hyena laughter brings you no elation"

"And we'll sleep in the ruins of the temple of stars"

From these lines, it may be deduced that the space hyenas in the border are a symbol of laughing off fears. The star at the center of their foreheads may indicate an overcoming of instinctual cowardice to a third eye path to the light of the astral plane. 

A slightly less cosmic colossus...

As the Strength card progressed and I started noticing the similarities between my lyrics and the images in the illustration, I determined that black lions are incarnations of nightmares at war with the light of the astral plane. As the lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" indicate (and the lyrics to another song "The Degenerate" echo) they kill the stars which they see as related to dreams. The black lions can be viewed as representative of ego-based fears, using ego resistance to actually strengthen the ego and further their reflexively dark designs. 

The Cosmic Colossus in the illustration is one of a race of guardians of the astral plane (a realm of dreams and higher light frequencies) created from the energy of constellations. The stars connecting the joints of the Cosmic Colossus aren't just an allusion to the constellation but also represent the Cosmic Colossus' attunement with the astral plane. As a guardian of the astral plane, the Cosmic Colossus exists at a higher frequency than those who dwell in the egoic 3rd dimension.

The black lions are able to access the 4th dimension (the astral plane) but their actions (or more specifically the reactions to them) can viciously drag beings back into the 3rd dimension. The message as portrayed by the image of the Cosmic Colossus successfully wrestling the furious black lion is one of overcoming fear as well and likewise stunting the strengthening of ego through fear. The Cosmic Colossus gazes past the struggling lion, focusing on something we can't see, symbolic of putting faith in something beyond the physical illusions of ego. 

The Cosmic Colossus wrestles the black lion at the edge of a black hole which could easily be interpreted as a tragic end to the Cosmic Colossus but this wasn't my intention. Rather I wanted the black hole to represent a potent form of ego death as well as the Cosmic Colossus' conscious acceptance of ego death. 

The reasoning behind the pink lipstick on the Cosmic Colossus wasn't immediately clear to me but I came to the conclusion that it represents the brute strength of the primitive ego being pulled into the feminine through the higher mind.


Pentacles, Oz, and Economics

NOTE: Since the illustrations in this particular post are not complete yet, color prints aren't available in the store but should be soon. In the meantime, you can always ease on down the Yellowbrick Road and share some of that gold by buying prints of my other work!


You may not know it by looking at the site but I've actually been very busy with my Tarot series. While I have the Moon and Strength cards completed and waiting in the wings to share with you, I thought I'd take the opportunity of Jupiter going forward tomorrow (good for money) to share the early stirrings of my take on the Pentacles suit.

These are really rough shots I snapped just moments ago, not even straightened up in Photoshop because I don't want to spend too much time detracting from the creation process just yet. Eventually, I'll have some nice black-and-white as well as color shots of these cards to share but this is more of just a raw glimpse at what's been going on in the Seth Styles studio. 


When I first showed these to some close friends, they mentioned that they had a very Wizard of Oz vibe to them. Surprisingly, this was unintentional though I totally see it. We've got a dark mystic from outer space bringing to life scarecrow agricultural workers to augment an already toiling force of robot farmhands. I love The Wizard of Oz so I'm not going to say a subconscious influence isn't possible.

However, I think that L. Frank Baum and I may have just been drinking from the same cup. The Pentacles Suit is all about economic flow and eventual prosperity and abundance. Numerous articles have been written explaining theories of how L. Frank Baum's writing is actually a fairy tale on economics. Here's a great one from The Money Masters that summarizes several theories:

When these cards are finished and looking a bit prettier, I'll delve into all of my own symbolism and how it ties into this particular facet of the tarot. In the meantime, here's wishing you wealth, fortune, prosperity, and abundance as Jupiter finally comes out of retrograde!

The Hobby Horse Cowboy

As some people in varying degrees of closeness to me know, I've been "writing" a novel since early 2014. While this has amounted up to 30 pages in various states of re-write, the outline of the story itself has evolved dramatically and the novel itself will likely debut as a graphic novel in installments.

I've poured so many of my concepts, beliefs, and emotions into the stories encompassed in this work that I feel it may actually collect an overview not so much of the meaning of life but the meaning of my life. And somewhere in the sure-to-be many pages of this (graphic) novel readers will eventually encounter the bizarre subject of today's illustration: the Hobby Horse Cowboy



He's actually called the Hobby Horse Cowboy because I've yet to think of his real name and thus the name of the character (and title of the illustration) will change in time. I don't want to betray too much of my work-in-progress, so today I'll actually be focusing on the general concept of the Hobby Horse Cowboy outside of his specific context within my writing. 

I wasn't all that drawn to Westerns growing up, nor could I understand the romance of the frontier. I simply saw grizzled men who looked the same and talked the same, stoically and silently drifting through a wasteland that mirrored their lack of variety.

Dusty, earthy sepia tones reminded me of what I called "boredom nightmares"; dreams in which I was trapped in horrifyingly dull situations, like finding myself stood on a rustic wooden porch looking over vast fields of dust and nondescript crops and a feeling of isolation as if nothing worth mentioning existed out in that world anywhere.

It was like Special K of the brain - a frozen dreamscape that looked, sounded, and tasted like nothing. This seemed to be the world of the cowboy to me. Unforgiving boredom and eventually a bullet in the head from someone who looked, talked, and walked just like you. 

I'm not sure when I shook this impression. I still find the history of the North American West alien and detached but through certain cinematic ventures, I've finally become comfortable to witness cowboys in my role as a detached spectator. I greatly enjoyed the movie Django Unchained and the TV series Deadwood.  Cinematic cowboys and Western characters definitely figured into the eventual manifestation of the Hobby Horse Cowboy in his own personal desert somewhere in my mind.

There was the rugged, callous, criminal sleaze of Deadwood's Cy Tolliver. The mesh-shirt-clad shadowy villain (in a movie without a hero) Wes from Urban Cowboy. Several characters from one of my favorite films (and possibly the film, if one can be credited, that softened me to Westerns) El Topo.

But no story informed my own cowboy creation more than Stephen King's horror fantasy Western The Dark Tower series, particularly the 4th book Wizard and Glass and one of its antagonists, Eldred Jonas. Despite King's description of Jonas, I imagined him throughout the book wearing red pants with white polka dots.


The Hobby Horse Cowboy was originally conceived as a Halloween costume. Unlike another example of my art that began as a Halloween costume, Prototype 0, the Hobby Horse Cowboy became too daunting and expensive to do properly so he only exists at this point in scribbled notes, conversations with friends, the deserts of my dreams, and the illustration you see here. The polka dot pants were extremely important to me but I can't quite put into words why.

The closest I can get is saying they somehow unnerve through their mixed insinuations of mania and something that may pass as confidence. This isn't a deep security, rather it's an expectation that the winds blow in his favor. It was also important to me that the cowboy have the lower half of his face red and the upper half white with the exception of red bordering his eyes.

At times, I wondered if this was indicative of the cowboy actually being an android but I no longer feel that's the case. I'd say that his face is simply painted, but I don't know why. However, the red around his eyes may be a natural discoloration from sleep deprivation or some sort of physical reaction to being dead. This may sound mysterious at this point but if you're curious and find yourself reading my graphic novel in the future, this assessment will probably make more sense.

Even if I were not holding some cards regarding the Hobby Horse Cowboy close to my chest, I wouldn't be able to divulge much that wasn't vague for two reasons: 1.) a lot of the truth of the Hobby Horse Cowboy that will need to be revealed to me prior to completing the graphic novel has yet to be revealed to me and 2.) the Hobby Horse Cowboy is clearly insane.

The hobby horse itself may be the clearest sign of this. If there's any doubt, I assure you that he truly believes that the hobby horse is a living, breathing creature that makes his trek across the wastes easier. However, that is a very real gun in the cowboy's hand and an equally real Sheriff's star badge, purposely pinned upside down in reverence to Satan.

This is one of those areas I don't know much background on but the Hobby Horse Cowboy worships Satan for whatever that's worth. You may also notice the inverted pentagram adorning his pistol's holster. The white effeminate hair of the Hobby Horse Cowboy was somewhat informed by my imagining of Stephen King's description of his Eldred Jonas character and may be the closest thing to a similarity in appearance the two characters actually have. 

The landscape of this illustration is admittedly simple though perfectly in line with my vision of the cowboy's jurisdiction. This was somewhat influenced by Moebius' art on the Western comic, Blueberry, which I've never actually read. I only became aware of it in the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune and the brief mention and images from Blueberry in the film were enough to leave inspiration. 

Unlike a lot of my other works, I actually questioned this illustration, attempting to find meaning in this character that presented himself to me with so much mystery. I took my own impressions of the classic cowboy, seeing them as a symbol that can be at once respected in its adherence to a code of honor, and simultaneously derided for being archaic in its immutable masculinity.

In the Hobby Horse Cowboy the pressures of that rigid masculinity give way to insanity. Here I saw the societal pressure to "be a man", the suppressions of emotions, the symbolic gritting of teeth as the whiskey burns its healing burn over a figurative bullet wound. Those stone faces crack and the Hobby Horse Cowboy is underneath. Those pressures drive him to an infantile state, a Peter Pan of the frontier land.

He's the self-appointed sheriff of his own Western fantasy, enforcing laws with no basis; a mirror to some of the out-of-balance officers of the law who stand as both villain and victim in the pages of our newspapers, smashing the world around them while caught in the thick-walled prisons of their own skins. The world demands manhood so violently but instead receives echoes of children in tantrums.     

But beyond that obvious exploration of the Hobby Horse Cowboy, there is a less violent, almost bittersweet quality in the themes of masculinity explored and perhaps this is more on a personal level. While I may not have been drawn to Westerns through most of my life, my father loved the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I never made the initiative to watch this movie with my father nor was I ever invited to join him but I still remember him watching it on rare occasions and seeing the VHS among our rather erratic family collection, the title handwritten on the paper label adorning the plastic spine. This was an artifact of my father's world and I was almost blind to it in my disinterest. But on occasions when I'd find myself trying to connect with my father in some way, my mind would at times drift to this film (which I still haven't seen though plan to someday).

I feel that, on some deep level that can't be fully explained, the Hobby Horse Cowboy also speaks to me of the relationship between sons and fathers, the artifacts the youth tries to comprehend before passing over in boredom, but remembers like a Holy Grail in the painful light of passing time. In Django Unchained, there is a montage where Django is somewhat haunted by longing for his wife to the sounds of Jim Croce's brilliant and beautifully depressing "I Got a Name".

This single, released just after Croce's death in an airplane crash, speaks of a father's unrealized dreams for his son and optimistically addresses those dreams while expressing a warm gratitude and respect for the father. In this, we find hope that the son can take a different path than the father and still earn the father's pride and respect ultimately. On a societal level, it may even express hope that the gender expectations shackled to our fathers may be loosened by the actions of the sons.

But there is a twin theme here and perhaps this is only insinuated in "I Got a Name" but illustrated much more blatantly in the life events surrounding the song: the passing of time and the inevitability of death. There's something intensely beautiful and sad in Croce's lyrics in the chorus: "Movin' me down the highway/Rollin' me down the highway/Movin' ahead so life won't pass me by."

This is magnified by Croce's unexpected death. While the Hobby Horse Cowboy exists in a sort of afterlife, on a much less literal level he is the father and son, the pressures of expectation, manhood, responsibility, the ultimate death, and the promise of a frontier beyond death.  


Jonquil on the Outskirts of the October Country

I don't typically like to take such long breaks from my blog but I had the somewhat unexpected and spontaneous pleasure of joining Carisa Bianca Mellado for a show in Brighton, UK (I play guitar for her solo project). I've been plagued with computer problems since my return from the UK so it's been much more of a challenge to keep my blog updated. Now, I've got this backlog of work I'd really love to share but while I cross the final technological hurdles I'm choosing to revisit a piece from early 2014 entitled Jonquil on the Outskirts of the October Country.



This was a sort of unofficial portrait of my dear friend Stephi Duckula, one of the first people I met upon moving to Los Angeles and the gateway through who I met so many friends. The Echo Park Ornithology Club over which she presides was instrumental in my meeting my wife. I could go on and on about how much Stephi means to me but it's a bit inappropriate since this isn't exactly a portrait of Stephi.

Rather aspects of Stephi's physical image were highly influential on my imagining of the character of Jonquil, a ranger scout android in service to the Galactic Academy Flight School for Girls. This all ties heavily into a novel/graphic novel that I'm writing and, since I don't want to give too much away, I'm going to be erring in favor of disclosing too little as opposed to too much. 

Being an android in service to the Galactic Academy, Jonquil needed some indicators of the occult secret societies behind the scenes of the academy. The one-eyed golden Christmas trees and merit badges and patches featuring rabbits popping out of top hats, Easter eggs, and synthesizers are simply allusions to these secret societies as well as Jonquil's talents. The synthesizer is actually a reference to my friend, Stephi, since she's a synth enthusiast and even repairs them for a living.

The robotic owl was also somewhat of a hint at Stephi since her other true passion is ornithology. But the mechanical owl also delves a bit into the mythology of the rangers in an alternate future I've imagined which may or may not factor into the novel I'm writing. In this mythology, rangers are androids that safely patrol the outskirts of cities. Pets have been outlawed and there are roving packs of vicious dogs, cats and other animals that were domesticated but have reverted to feral behavior.

If Jonquil were one of these rangers, she would more than likely be using the mechanical owl as a sort of surveillance device. The ranger concept was originally developed for the story behind the second album I was working on for my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin but I have since decided that the second album won't adhere so strongly to a story as originally planned. 

Though I'm pleased with how this painting turned out, I must admit that I feel the colors of Jonquil's uniform aren't quite right. In my head things looked much more frosted or pastel - not quite Easter colors but something closer to those lines than the strong forest green, yellow, and somewhat rustic gold. I also don't think that Jonquil would wear a red neckerchief in retrospect but thankfully this painting was more of a demo for the proper Jonquil appearance.

Her skin tone is pretty much exactly as I imagined it as is her orange hair. I wonder if this color combination is somehow influenced by a Masters of the Universe toy I had as a child. I loved Masters of the Universe enough to be blinded to the cost-cutting factory-style production of the toys.

So, when the Masters of the Universe toy line re-painted the figure of the lead protagonist He-Man in a sky blue with orange hair and told children that this was Fakor, an evil android created in He-Man's image, I scrounged together $5.00 and bought it. It was a fucking bizarre idea. But could this be why I always imagine androids to have a light blue skin tone? 

The October Country referenced in the title is a territory central to the novel I'm writing. A couple of years ago, my friend Justin Foulkes recommended that I read Ray Bradbury's short story collection The October Country. I was somewhat surprised when the stories didn't quite match the seasonal tone I had expected.

But there was so much magic in that title and I instantly assigned it to the golden late afternoons at Griffith Park as the heat of the summer stretched onward despite a strange tint to the sunshine that betrayed the oncoming autumn. I feel power in the fall, in memories of reconnecting with crushes upon returning to school in September, on the awkward faces of jack-o'-lanterns and the taste of name brand nougat or cheap pumpkin-shaped bubblegum. As

I felt the excitement of the imminent return of my favorite season, I looked out upon the scorched foliage of Griffith Park and saw in it my October Country - a sprawling countryside alternating between golden late afternoons, passionate twilights, and eerie darkness - a district in perpetual autumn in all of its romance, celebration, and horror. I felt that the true human spirit, at least as I understood it, was most tangible in the October Country.

Perhaps this is somehow represented in the kites flying in the golden void behind Jonquil. This painting only offers a minimal representation of the October Country as I imagined it but I can still feel its energy in the details of the leaves or in that jaundiced sky.


Portraits of Carisa Bianca Mellado

Some artists can paint portraits of their paramours on an endless loop, devoting their lives to the beauty of those that captured their hearts. But painting a portrait of the one I love has always been a surprisingly daunting task.

This is because the beauty I see in the features and details of the object of my affection far exceed my talent. It may be cliche, but just as words often fail even poets when trying to capture that constantly fleeting focus of their desires, colors and shapes often elude me or end up in a slightly skewed order when I attempt to capture my wife, Carisa, in my art.

I always feel I fall short of the enchantment of what I see daily. That being said, my portraits of Carisa are still very precious to me and though they seem primitive in the light of a human being over whom I'd embark on fairy tale epics, I feel they still, in their best moments, point to the essence I struggle to capture.

Velvet Stars Collide - Portrait of Carisa Bianca Mellado - 2013 - acrylic on canvas


The first portrait of Carisa was completed in 2013 shortly before her birthday in mid-November. This was the second painting I'd attempted following a long hiatus I mentioned in previous blogs. Unlike a lot of my work, I didn't have a clear concept of an end result in mind when I started painting. Instead, I just went with the flow and hoped for the best.

The image was somewhat inspired by a band that Carisa created for her solo compositions, Velvet Stars Collide, in which I played keyboards. This short-lived band still means a lot to me as it gave me my first opportunity to perform music in front of an audience. The name "Velvet Stars Collide" came to Carisa spontaneously and when I thought about it, I felt this purple expanse of space raining black velvet stars bordered in light baby pink glow.

The look of Carisa in this portrait was unintentionally inspired by the Great Tyrant from Barbarella although this also incorporates a lot of Carisa's style which is coincidentally similar. In the early days of my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin, I had contemplated how the band member's individual styles might evolve as we progressed into spacier territory and I always imagined Carisa as this sort of galactic mystic wearing a gown that looked like the blackest reaches of space and all of the stars that punctuated it had been wrapped around her.

I tried to incorporate this loosely into the design of Carisa's dress in this particular portrait. Her hand is extended, presenting a light pink hedgehog, but there's really no deep meaning in this. She just likes hedgehogs and the color pink. Over Carisa's left shoulder, there is a bright burst of white and pink light meant to symbolize Sirius (one of Carisa's obsessions).

On the other side is a spaceship; an allusion to a character loosely based on Carisa who appears in the novel I'm writing. I recall struggling with the spaceship design a lot. Creating the spaceship was reminiscent of an assignment in my 5th grade class in which we had to design our own space colonies including spacecraft. I ended up piecing together approximately 30 pieces of loose-leaf paper, creating an enormous space craft that needed volunteers from the class to help hold it up for proper presentation.

However, the next presenter, a friend of mine, held up one piece of paper with a sleek, simple design that filled me with envy. My whale of a spaceship could easily be destroyed by his miniature piranha-like space fighters. Ever since then, designing vehicles has been a bit of a daunting experience for me, despite lots of great influence (like Chris Foss's designs for Jodorowsky's Dune). In the end, the spaceship in this portrait didn't quite exude the vibe I was looking for, but it at least hints at the intentions.

According to my diary, I had a lot more challenges with this portrait than I'd had with the Dorian Gray painting I'd completed right before it. However, my final diary notes indicate I was satisfied with the end results. 

For Christmas this year, I wanted to create a new portrait of Carisa based on some concepts she'd told me about much earlier in the year. I had been playing guitar for her solo work and we'd been focused on songs for her nearly completed record Kore when she described to me some ideas she had for cover art. She mentioned orcas, the color pink, and space, all of which I distinctly felt in the music she'd written. Instead of trying to do a portrait from the torso up, I instead focused on Carisa's face.

I knew early on that I would be incorporating pink Amazon river dolphins due to my fascination with their wild, almost primitive appearance when compared to their seafaring cousins. I should mention that Carisa has a deep psychological terror of cetaceans. It's not a fear that they will harm her as far as I can tell.

It's a much more abstract fear. When she sees a cetacean unexpectedly, it's as if she's looking into a void and watching everything unravel. It may seem cruel that I'd choose to include Amazon river dolphins, an orca, and even the humpback whale in the lower left border corner, but cetaceans figure strongly into Carisa's mythology. She often considers orcas her favorite animal, even though they terrify her immensely.

Orcas feature in her latest music videos and one is prominently displayed on the cover of her latest album. So, while this portrait did strike a momentary fear in her, even though I'd prepared her somewhat for what she was about to see, she wasn't offended by the presence of cetaceans as she seems to consider them holy, otherworldly beings.

Carisa has no more affinity for Amazon river dolphins than the more common variety, but my attraction to their strange appearance and light pink skin color made them perfect choices for the primary guardians of the portrait. The orca rising from a pool superimposed over a checkerboard marble floor references a beautiful dream that I had prior to meeting Carisa in which I was wandering the crumbling ruins of a beautiful castle.

I walked across a wet checkered floor to a hole in the castle's facade and found myself looking down a steep cliff edge overlooking the ocean, tousled violently by a storm. Waves crashed against the cliff face far below me and I saw the unmistakable fins of a pod of orcas swimming in the turbulence directly below me. 

Kore - Portrait of Carisa Bianca Mellado - 2014 - watercolor and pen on paper


This second portrait of Carisa was titled Kore due to its inclusions of the elements Carisa had discussed with me during the albums final stages (the color pink, orcas, space). I also incorporated four animals into the border with which Carisa has at some time or another expressed an affinity. In the lower left, we have the humpback whale (we actually went on a tour for Carisa's birthday in which we saw humpback whales.

The scorpion presides over the upper left corner, referencing Carisa's zodiac sign of Scorpio. In the upper right corner, we find the raven, the messenger of magic in Native American beliefs. Finally, the snake, a symbol of transcendence, guards the lower right corner. There's so much that goes into this portrait that can't be explained in words.

Rather it is a visual reverence and pride I feel for the woman I love and a gesture of gratitude to the universe that created such an indescribably beautiful creature. The portrait may only capture the hint of a reflection of light shining from one of her myriad facets but I am thankful to have the talent to capture even that.  


Spirit Guide Portrait - Jan. 15, 2015

The following is the result of a channeling I did for a specific person:

Spirit Guide of Playfulness and Ritual

This Spirit Guide may appear intimidating to say the least, especially when spirit guides and light beings are so often imagined as ethereal angels or soft-focus light beings (a preconception I've found to be inaccurate in the majority of cases). However, this spirit guide actually comes from a place of intense innocence and her severity is actually just the exaggeration of that innocence. 



When I first called upon this particular Spirit Guide, I felt a lot of resistance. Perhaps this could be contributed to her shyness or possibly I hadn't played along with her game long enough to earn her presence. On my second attempt, after incorporating reiki symbols and going into a meditative state, I found myself walking beneath the arching, triangular entrance to a gray stone temple carved out of what I assume was granite. I could hear _____'s singing voice from far away. It was almost as if I was in ____'s head or that elements of her voice were somehow transcending into this dimension.

However, the Spirit Guide still refused to reveal herself. I calmly strolled into the stone structure and very quickly found myself standing at the edge of a steep cliff. I vaguely recall that I heard water or at least felt the essence of flowing water far below in the darkness. I contemplated jumping into the abyss, wondering if the Spirit Guide would show herself if I did. I wondered if she were possibly at the bottom of the cliff. Several times I nearly came out of my meditative state, feeling I was possibly out of my depth. 

Luckily, I didn't give up. Just as suddenly as the granite temple had appeared before me, I was in a nocturnal forest with the Spirit Guide leaning against a tree somewhat in the distance. She knew I was there yet she didn't look at me. Rather she slowly raised her head looking past me and to my left, ribbons whipping dramatically from her majestic antlers in the wind. There was a grace and strength that I instantly identified as feminine.

Somehow, I couldn't tell whether she was bald or draped in long, silky, straight dark hair. There was something almost elven about her. She solemnly surveyed the forest before her with calm, light green eyes that peered from a face painted like a skull. Perhaps this wasn't face paint but rather her natural skin pattern. She had four arms; two that ended in six fingers that extended into tree branches connected by Japanese fans. The other two hands may have had six fingers but more than likely had five. These fingers were humanoid and bore no fans. Standing still, she still exuded pure elegance in her towering nobility.

The ribbons tied to this Spirit Guide's antlers were the first indicator as to her nature. Juxtaposed with the skull pattern on her face, I felt a sense of joy in decorating the somber. This Spirit Guide reminds us that everything in life, including the most menial tasks and mundane responsibilities, can be made entertaining. She finds a parade in the DMV line or a carnival in the traffic jam.

I sometimes got the impression that she had somehow tied the ribbons to her antlers herself but at other times I felt that other playful spirits had tied the ribbons to her. Perhaps they were laughing at her…but even if they were the joke was on them as she turned their tricks into regal ceremony. Because on the other hand, this Spirit Guide also has a gift for finding matters of crucial importance in games and adds serious ritual to play, often presiding over the affairs. In this way, she elevates childish merrymaking to a beautiful and refined observance. This is mirrored in the decorative fans that span across her twig fingers in that the fans are at once sprightly and dignified. 

The antlers may also reference the elk, often used as a symbol in Native American culture of the benefits and joy of seeking counsel or camaraderie with members of the same sex. 

This Spirit Guide's gown seems to almost grow from the earth itself while her ribbons seem to be in a constant state of excited motion from the wind. This could be yet another dichotomy of this innocent creature, indicating that she is at once grounded yet equally prone to daydream (feet on the ground and head in the clouds). 

I was taken by the sombreness of the Spirit Guide's skull pattern and felt it indicated that she knew great depths. I'm not sure if this was through a literal encounter with tragedy or more of a symbolic journey into the underworld. Regardless, whatever events familiarised this Spirit Guide with those subterranean reaches happened at an early enough age that they didn't cost the Spirit Guide her innocence. Rather, she absorbed it into her youth and it became a part of her rites. Jewelry glimmers slightly from her forehead, an ornate decoration that further reminds us of the opulent ceremony that holds her games aloft.  

This Spirit Guide may be helping you to find color in the mundane or take the initiative to decorate the drab. Likewise, she may also be a reminder of the importance of play and taking time to honor your own rituals.


Disney Orphan - Matterhorn

Until February of 2014, I had never been on Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds, writing it off in the back of my mind as a gently roaring no-man's-land that was probably far too scary for someone like me. When I'd visit Disneyland, my eyes would pass its peak without hesitation, a briefly illuminated thought of sleds dropping from it's craggy peak in the back of my mind. It didn't threaten me because there was no chance I'd ever face it.

But that fateful day in February, riding high on a free trip courtesy of a friend, I was finally goaded into taking my place in the bobsled. But as the little girls in the line promised my wife and me, the Matterhorn wasn't scary.  That evening, it was reborn in a gentler light, especially when compared to the mystifying freak-out of Space Mountain or the horrifying frigid free-falls of the nightmarish Matterhorn of my mind's creation.

Followers of this blog know that last year, I embarked on my own personal Mountain Challenge in which I rode all four of Disneyland's mountain-themed roller coasters in one day. While this feat may seem ridiculous to most of the world, it was actually a major point of facing fear for me. In this portrait of the Disney Orphan that reigns over the Matterhorn, I tried to capture a hint of that fear with the gentler, wintry beauty that the Matterhorn Bobsleds eventually revealed to me.


As mentioned in my previous Disney Orphan blog, the Disney Orphans are a Lord of the Flies-style tribe of feral children that inhabit an alternate reality post-apocalypse Disneyland. Disney Orphan - Space mountain was my definite first choice as Space Mountain is so unlike the other 3 mountains in its futuristic design.

After some deliberation, I chose to take on the Matterhorn as the second mountain for a few reasons: 1. the novelty of the Matterhorn Bobsleds since it was the last of the mountains for me to ride, 2. the history in the Matterhorn since it was the first of the Disneyland mountains to be built, and 3. the seasonal weather (I started the illustration right before Christmas 2014).

Also right before Christmas, I watched Disney's animated film Frozen, made curious by the hype of 10-year-olds and disdain of their parents. Despite most of my peers being either ignorant of the film or outright disliking it, my inner child was entertained and some of that energy poured into this illustration, probably contributing to the soft, gentle aspects. 

In between sips of mint hot chocolate, I poured a lot of energy into capturing details of the Matterhorn, trying to recreate its natural rocky, snow-covered veneer. I experimented with negative space in attempts to sketch the waterfalls and the snowy peak. Unlike most of my illustrations, I chose not to ink the details of the Matterhorn, wanting a soft, natural look.

However, I had always imagined the Matterhorn as looking cold with lots of grays, blues, and whites (much like the color template of the tiles that the Disney Orphan is walking upon). So, as I tried to recreate the Matterhorn, I was surprised at how rustic and earthy the rock facade of the Matterhorn actually looked. Though grays and blues are subtly incorporated into the facade, that earthy brown is the base color.

At times, this bothered me during the painting process but in the end, I feel it is a reverent portrait of the Matterhorn and still captures its arctic majesty and ominous iciness. I also had trouble referencing the actual look of the area where patrons line up. Though this is an alternate reality Disneyland, I still wanted to capture some semblance of the traditional look of the Matterhorn Bobsleds including the split line experience.

I completely fabricated the colors of the line and its weird ticket house structure to reinforce the chilly vibe of the illustration. I also alluded to the Disney Orphan influence with some of the Matterhorn ticket house's plaques missing, the window blinds torn out revealing dark space, and a graffiti Mickey Mouse skull insignia.

The Mickey mouse skull insignia is one of two important differences in symbols between the Disney Orphan who presides over the Space Mountain district and this Disney Orphan who presides over the Matterhorn district. The Space Mountain Disney Orphan incorporates a stitch-mouthed Mickey Mouse design as his icon and makes use of a cryptic symbol of a red crescent moon punctuated mysteriously by a red star.

This symbol is often used to form the ears of his Mickey Mouse icon. However, the Matterhorn's Disney Orphan makes use of a simple Mickey Mouse skull icon and a symbol showing an eye with a hypnotic spiral iris that spins out into another spiral design outside of the eye. The meaning of these occult symbols are known only to the Disney Orphans themselves.

It can be assumed that the orphans presiding over Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain make use of equally cryptic yet different symbols and Mickey Mouse icons. 

Finally, the state of the vegetation surrounding the Matterhorn is simply a reminder that the Disney Orphans are survivors of the apocalypse. Even the evergreens have taken on a polluted yellow with the bushes around them succumbing to a diseased gray. They're not quite dead but possibly mutated, unable to continue as they were prior to the apocalypse.


Spirit Guide Portrait - Jan. 5, 2015

Just for a bit of context, the following is the result of channeling spirit guides for people. I have recently started offering a service in which I meditate on a photo of a person and this allows me to pick up a visual of his/her spirit guide.


Guide of Divine Inspiration

I am first aware of the spirit's gaunt, towering figure, a silhouette against the light. Yet, even in this first impression I notice its elegance and relaxed grace. It moves slowly, yet confidently out of the light, seeming to almost float…

Every person receives special messages from source. These messages may relate directly to our life's work or reason for being. This creature can transcend dimensions and exists as a sort of translator. Messages coming from higher frequencies and dimensions may be indecipherable at our dimensional frequency, but this being brings clarity.

You can think of this sexless entity as a sort of wizard emerging from the void, a spirit of mirrors, prisms, and the dark potential of deep space. It uses crystals to take the secret messages that come to you, specific secret messages from divinity, and translate them through prisms that break the messages into simpler, digestible ideas and concepts that we can then use to do our work on this plane.

You can look into this majestic being's mirrored face and see the source reflected in your own image. This being uses its crystal prisms to project a face that we can comprehend, a face that can communicate with us, that can whisper those secret messages from the source in our own language. If you look at the lower half of this spirit, you'll notice that its border becomes less-defined, blurring into different colors and shapes.

That is because this creature can exist in several dimensions at once. It may have one ear in a higher dimension, "listening" to messages of complex light while its holograph mouth whispers the translation into your ear a few dimensions away. 

In having this Spirit come forward at this time, it is crucial that you notices what signals, messages, ideas and inspirations you are receiving as they are coming from a higher dimensional space right now and directly relate to your higher purpose in this life. There are ideas whispering to you now from on high and you must be silent, listen and take action based on the messages you are receiving.

This is a time of great cosmic assistance, synchronicity and divine inspiration. Listen to your inspiration now as it is communicating great ideas that with your love, nurturance and loving action, can become great gifts for humanity too.

Don't be afraid to take risks for as you bring the new forward, it may not be familiar or comfortable to others but you must honor the ideas and revelations received and you will pioneer a new time for yourself as well as gifting new ideas, concepts, healing, liberation and progress to others. 

Use this portrait to establish a personal connection with the higher realms so that you can live your divine inspiration with clarity of purpose. Stay in tune with this spirit being to receive ideas and revelations in your life's path and a deeper understanding of your significance.  With the aid of this regal guide, you can expect great ideas, divine inspiration as well as solutions to obstacles, and heightened focus in matters of your life's mission.


The Knight of Pentacles

Money and wealth have been both glamorized and demonized in Western society so much that it is often hard to get a clear concept of abundance and how one relates to it. This was a huge struggle for me even before I began work on the Knight of Pentacles. I'd been meditating on money for years, trying to deprogram myself so that I could accept without guilt.

I've loved money but not as much as I've feared a lack of money and even in moments of financial security (and outright excess when compared to the majority of the world), I'd feared poverty to a point that could easily be considered an addiction to fear. My efforts to overcome my flaws found me thinking about wealth often, sometimes with faith, other times with terror. And so the Knight of Pentacles has become a very important figure in my mythology, often appearing to me in meditations. 


As with any knight card, the Knight of Pentacles deals with movement but specifically in matters of work and money. It's common to find descriptions of the Knight of Pentacles as a simple. humble, yet patient character, bonded to nature and content with plodding through the menial tasks and tedious hard work to get his rewards.

Admittedly, my Knight of Pentacles is quite different than his predecessors, but this has a lot to do with my own metaphysical beliefs. I can translate a facet of these beliefs most simply into the concept that working hard is not necessarily better than working smart. My Knight of Pentacles can be seen as humble as much as glamorous, he is tied to nature quite strongly, and his ingenuity and gift for strategy gain him prosperity and abundance. 

I've always assumed my Knight of Pentacles would wear red primarily. When doing chakra meditations, I often concentrated on images of red money and red tribal warriors brandishing sharpened red blades when working on my base (red) chakra. These tribal warriors evolved into masked beings that could only be described as red ninjas, protecting their clan.

Anyone who has done chakra work will know that the base chakra incorporates matters of stability (which often translates to financial stability in my mind) and tribal/familial/societal/cultural beliefs. Therefore, the color red was heavily incorporated into my concept of the Knight of Pentacles. Likewise, green is often the color of abundance, prosperity, and in American culture, money.

Therefore, the color green was used liberally throughout my illustration. Even the green candles are simply an allusion to a popular component of spells for money. Gold was also incorporated for its obvious correlation with wealth. 

I depicted the Knight of Pentacles as a samurai and this was one of those lovely intuitive flourishes that came from somewhere beyond my conscious mind. If I were to try to make sense of divine inspiration, I'd assume that my Knight of Pentacles uses a lot more tactic and strategy than the other knights in my tarot as economic matters often require thought and, at times, stealth.

When I say stealth, I am referring to pure skill and thinking on one's feet as opposed to any sort of dishonorable activity. Like the mythic samurai, my Knight of Pentacles serves with honor, fully aware that there is enough abundance in the world for all. He simply loves money and uses his mind to acquire it. A samurai often served as a warrior for the noble class, again linking my Knight of Pentacles to wealth. 

What may be less obvious about my Knight of Pentacles is that he is actually a scarecrow. If you look beyond the golden mask, you can see the blank burlap sack that covers his gourd head, falling down into a moth-eaten cape. Scarecrows are tasked with watching over the land and protecting the abundance. Within this context, it makes perfect sense that my Knight of Pentacles would be a samurai scarecrow.

But the Pentacles Suite is also tied to the element of earth just as the scarecrow is born of the land, like an earth golem made of gourd, straw, and dust. The farmer finds value in waste, using manure to fertilize the land. So too is this scarecrow a protector made from waste, a golem conjured from the earth to protect the earth. The waste becomes assimilated into the prosperity.

As a scarecrow, the Knight of Pentacles can be seen still mounted upon his wooden cross. This is simply further reinforcement of the concept of stability that can come through the work of the Knight of Pentacles and therefore a balancing of the base chakra. Though the Knight of Pentacles wears some traditional samurai armor, he is not as ensconced in armor as the other knights in my tarot deck. This again goes back to his tact and strategy.

His body is made of enchanted straw so traditional attacks pass through him. In this natural simplicity, he finds an advantage. Strategy over brute force often brings this knight his rewards. Most incarnations of the Knight of Pentacles depict him with a pentacle coin in his hand. It may not be obvious due to the amount of detail, but the knight is rolling his coin across the twig fingers of his left hand. This again reinforces his tendency for strategy, walking the coin as a distraction while he blocks using the golden kitana in his right hand. 

The harvest moon rises above an orchard of pomegranate trees in the background. The golden harvest moon references abundance in that it signals the opportune time for collection of the crops; the point when the work, ideas, and strategies come to fruition. I really wanted to use pomegranates as the crop that the knight stood over.

I later read that the Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. The knight is skewering a pomegranate with his golden kitana, spilling the seeds in a symbolic gesture for further abundance to come. The hilt of the kitana offers another blade showing the abundance of resources at the knight's disposal. Golden diamonds accentuate the hilt as an obvious nod to riches and wealth. 

The scarecrow that is the Knight of Pentacles wears a golden youth face mask with decadent baroque curls. It represents the beauty and youth that prosperity offers. The samurai helmet extends into a set of horns vaguely alluding to the bull (Taurus, an earth sign) and a golden leaf crowning the helmet as a reminder of the knight's bond with the natural world. 

The Knight of Pentacles' steed is a horse of pure gold with golden pentacle coins entwined in its fancy curls. Vines, representative of the abundance of nature (and, again, the knight's ties to this), cling to the proud golden horse. It bares a coin slot indicating a willingness to receive abundance.  


The Knight of Cups

The image of the Knight of Cups came to me several months ago albeit he looked pretty different. Originally, the colors for the piece would have been predominately gold and blue with the knight himself being a cyborg composed of golden machinery, tubes of water, and tanks of sea life. The main shift in colors was one of the few times when I've allowed thought to trump feeling and it surprisingly worked in my favor.

I doubt I'd be nearly as happy with the outcome of the Knight of Cups had I gone with my first idea. Of course, the first idea was almost a reflex to a concept that was yet to be fully formed. The Knight of Cups is about movement forward in romance, art, and higher goals of the heart in general. In order to properly express these themes, I needed colors that set the mood. Since the Cups are representative of the element of water, I designed the Knight of Cups standing before the sea (or more likely rising from it).

Around the time that it came to color the illustration, I had been listening to a lot of new romantic groups like Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, and Fashion. The song I was most listening to by Fashion, "You Only Left Your Picture", was used in a season 1 episode of Miami Vice and I somehow found myself looking at promo shots from the show. One shot featured a moody and gorgeous twilight sky reflected in a Miami bay and I thought the look of it was perfect for the mood I wanted to achieve.

The watercolor offered a bit of a challenge in mimicking what I saw in the Miami Vice promo photo, but I was still ecstatic over the results. At its heart, the image in the Knight of Cups of the twilit sea beneath the melodramatic sky perfectly represented the emotion I wanted in this card. I don't need to spell out that making an octopus-headed entity seem romantic has its hurdles. 


While almost all of my illustrations have built-in allusions, references, and symbols, my tarot illustrations obviously demand a lot more symbolism. Luckily, ideas for symbolism typically come to me a lot more quickly when doing tarot illustrations probably because of the tarot's built-in universal symbols.

Often the Cups refer to the Holy Grail which itself is often considered a symbol of the vagina. The vagina seemed like an apt symbol to incorporate as much as possible into the Knight of Cups for obvious reasons: as a heterosexual male, successful romantic conquests for me are ultimately determined through my obtainment of "the Holy Grail."

But remember that the Knight of Cups isn't just about love and all that comes with it but also movement forward in art, often expressed as the birth of an idea. And birth comes through a vagina. So, it's not just my libido talking here.

The Knight of Cups before all of the romance...

The vaginal imagery has been worked into several points of the Knight of Cups portrait. The knight's skirt of armor is fashioned to look like a metallic tapestry of roses and vaginas giving way to eyes. Again, the knight's left shoulder is protected by armor fashioned into the shape of a vagina giving away to a sparkling eye.

The Holy Grail itself, entangled in the knight's hand with metal rose stems, features jewelled eyes above vaginas and the stem of the Holy Grail itself emerges from a metal vagina. The pairing of vaginas and eyes is an intentional theme of the Knight of Cups, stemming from the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "eyes are the window to the soul."

Taking the eyes as a symbol of romance, I additionally worked them into the binding of the armor on the knight's right arm (bordered by puckered lips), protecting the knight's right shoulder, and staring from the center of a rose in the handle of the knight's trident sword. Even in the border, the chalices depict an eye crying a heart, a motif that is repeated in the detail of his belt.

There's an entire spider web effect of symbols happening here. Eyelids look like vaginas which look like puckered lips which look like eyelids. Romance exudes from eyes, it exudes from puckered lips, and it exudes from vaginas. Also, the Holy Grail is said to have collected the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the Knight of Cups illustration, a subtle red glow in the centre of the cups may allude to blood just as the hearts (full of blood) drip from crying eyes. Likewise, vaginas (Holy Grail) menstruate. Perhaps I'm lost in the incestuousness of my own symbolism but the connections seemed too strong to ignore. 

This may be considered a rather primal perspective of love and romance but there are plenty of allusions to less biologically-based symbols of passion. The pink candles standing proudly from their cup bases are a reference to the color of candles traditionally used in love spells.

Roses, the flower most popularly use to express feelings of love, are engraved in the knight's chest plate armor, the knight's armored skirt, the center of his trident sword's handle, and even in the candle smoke. Of course, there is something obviously vaginal about a rose, but that association has been dulled with time.

The rune of "wunjo", often used to express joy or love, is used liberally throughout the portrait. Wunjo appears on the sides and center (solar plexus) of the knight's armored torso, on the knight's upper left arm plate, on the larger candle holder cups, on the rim of the Holy Grail, on the steed, and in the center of the eyes of the cups in the borders. The knight is even colored using primarily the colors associated with St. Valentine's Day: red, pink, lavender, and white.

But the most obvious and popular symbol of romance in this illustration is the cartoonish heart. These hearts punctuate the knight's flowing romantic scarf, the rim of the Holy Grail, the left lower arm plate, stand proudly from the armband on his left arm, accentuate the hilt of his sword, cry forth from the eyes of the border cups, and decorate the center of the serpentine starfish in the sky.

A heart plate stands out on his chest with a tube of the knight's blood protruding from it. Hearts are caught in the sticky arms of the octopus. A heart even stands as the head of love's swift arrow, piercing the knight's right forearm. 

High romance!


On a more personal level, I felt that the knight's championing of love could be lost if there was too much emphasis put on the fighter over the lover. The knight-in-shining-armor is therefore accentuated with dandyish accentuations of his romantic nature; his white gloves with passionate red trim and his flowing scarf.

His glass eye cries an emotionally charged tear of condensation. Even the qualities of war are filtered through innocent feelings of love, as seen in Cupid's piercing arrow. 

As mentioned before, the Cups are representative of the water element and therefore also emotion, intuition, sensitivity, and relationships. I also see water as the fluid world of dreams. A lot of basic water symbols were incorporated into this illustration, mostly just to reinforce the knight's connection to the water element.

Perhaps most prominent of these symbols is that the knight's steed is a seahorse with the rune of wunjo emblazoned on it. The seahorse theme carries over into the knight's stomach, an aquarium where two seahorses are kissing in romantic red lighting. The knight's head is comprised of a metallic cup and a glass dome housing an octopus.

The octopus was chosen as the brain of the Knight of Cups mostly for reasons beyond me but there's the obvious suckered grip of the octopus (love's sticky grip). You could even reference Veruca Salt's Eight Arms to Hold You album which may not make it into my Top 10 Make-Out Albums but it is noteworthy as the only other piece of art I know to romanticize an octopus.

Associating water with dreams, I wanted to incorporate a starry sky prior to deciding on a twilight scene. During that point, I came up with the idea of using starfish instead of actual celestial stars. Starfish were worked into the borders but I also used serpentine starfish as representatives of the stars in the dreamy sky. Serpentine starfish may have a less obvious star shape than the majority of their cousins but it allowed me to show them linking arms in a gesture of longing.

A trident is the weapon of choice of the god of the sea in Greek mythology (Poseidon) and Roman mythology (Neptune) so I thought it fitting that the Knight of Cups's sword be fashioned in a similar style. In addition, his weapon features fish tails as handles. 

Finally, I wanted to express the movement associated with knight cards through a concept that came to me with the initial images that came to my mind. Tubes of water protrude and surround the knight, facilitating the movement of water and, in the case of the heart plate section, blood. These water tubes stand as the initial strands of a spider web of symbolism both universal and personal that creates a picture of a charged moment of love, passion, and dreams. 


Disney Orphan - Space Mountain

The idea of the Disney Orphans in my mythology grows from childhood contemplations blown into dark terrain through currents of fear that have probably existed in the universal consciousness for as long as history documents. In the '80s, there was a recurring threat of apocalypse just as had existed in the decades before and followed the decades after.

There's always been a Mayan Calendar or Y2K looming in our futures. Growing up in Southwest Florida with occasional rumours of Cuban missiles pointed at my living room, I found myself more than once contemplating my apocalypse survival plan. Naturally, this plan meant walking through the post-apocalyptic wastes to Disney World in Orlando. 

What's in that bag, young man?


The look of the typical Disney Orphan came to me in a last-minute attempt to throw together a Halloween costume. I was living with my ex-girlfriend at the time and one of us had made a joke about bootleg Disney merchandise.

At this point, the look wasn't meant to tie into the Disney Orphan mythos, largely because there really wasn't much of a mythos in existence. The whole thing was pretty much glued together by a dumb joke about using my ex-girlfriend's black bra as bootleg Mickey Mouse ears. While this was the joke that motivated the costume, it was the only part that I can remember didn't actually work.

I made my own creepily distorted Mickey Mouse t-shirt, my own Mickey Mouse tights, generic Mickey Mouse pins, etc. but in the end I had to use a genuine pair of Disney-issued Mickey Mouse ears because, despite my best efforts, my ex's bra just couldn't be moulded into a convincing hat.

However, I really loved the look of the costume in its final result and began affectionately calling it the Disney Orphan. It's as if the story behind the Disney Orphan mythology was slowly being remembered the more I looked at myself in that attire. It was such an easy and visually-appealing costume for me that I found myself returning to it for several consecutive Halloweens. 

I've actually seen worse bootleg Mickey Mouses (Mickey Mice?) since moving to LA...

These were the seeds of the Disney Orphan mythology. So what is a Disney Orphan? Like much of my artistic work, the definition is fluid and hard to pin down, so it's easiest to site the Disney Orphans appearances in my work. At their most basic, the Disney Orphans form a tribe of feral children who live in an alternate reality post-apocalyptic Disneyland/Disney World.

While this Disneyland has many similarities to both of the American theme parks, there are very obvious differences, such as a recurring crocodile display where the Disney Orphans execute adults, other outsiders, or Disney Orphans that are found guilty of some crime against the tribe. 

Early works - Disney Orphan Detainee...

The first painting I did after moving to Los Angeles, Disney Orphan Detainee, has a lot of stylistic difference from my other work. I had never excelled at painting in school so I always avoided it in favor of drawing, but at some point around 2006, I decided to give it a shot for the creative mistakes that the challenge was sure to offer. The 2 or 3 paintings I completed that year aren't in my possession.

I went on a hiatus afterward and it wasn't until sometime in 2008 or 2009 that I started work on Disney Orphan Detainee. It was to depict the execution of an unfortunate adult to the crocodiles. I worked on this painting sporadically for several years, never fully immersing myself in it and once it was completed in 2012, I hung it on my wall and went on another painting hiatus until October 2013. While Disney Orphan Detainee is primitive compared to my other work, it still managed to color the world of the Disney Orphans and further reinforce their place in my mythology.

My goth-psychedelic-new-wave-glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin recorded a song originally titled "Disney Orphan Detainee" but eventually shortened to "Disney Orphans" that further explains the concept of the Disney Orphans while blurring the lines of reality since the lyrics make references to Disney World attractions (EPCOT) as well as Florida-specific geography (the Everglades).

This maybe would just prove that the Disney Orphans reside in Florida, but an upcoming illustration of a Disney Orphan with the Matterhorn Bobsleds in the background confound this. This simply reiterates that the Disney Orphans reside in an alternate dimension where the theme parks are merged as well as the geographies and attractions of Florida and California (Califlordia?). 

Disney Orphan - Space Mountain: post-apocalypse, pre-color...

A lot of my inspiration for the Disney Orphans comes from a recurring interest in feral children in pop culture that I absorbed as a child growing up in the '80s and '90s. There were the classic marooned school children from Lord of the Flies, the post-apocalyptic desert-dwelling children from the Mad Max series (particularly the character of Scrooloose from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), vicious children of sci-fi films and literature such as Logan's Run and Barbarella, and even the character of Gau from the video game Final Fantasy III

Disney Orphan - Space Mountain


My latest illustration, Disney Orphan - Space Mountain is the first in a series that will depict Disney Orphans standing before each of the iconic mountain rides. Space Mountain is aesthetically my favorite of the mountains but also in a lot of ways the most severe so it was only natural that I started with it.

This is not the first time that Space Mountain has appeared in my artwork as I often use it as a twin symbol of the optimism of adventure and conquering fears. I won't even pretend to expound on any symbolism within this particular illustration because I feel the image says it all as straightforward as possible. This is just a window into a post-apocalyptic alternate dimension: plain and simple. 


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Having been born a Gemini, I'm well-acquainted with the duality that permeates life, seeing 2-sides of the coin spinning before me as it somersaults through the air before landing with one side up while I violently take my place in defense of the other. But both sides exist within me just as they exist within everyone.

I'm guilty of painting situations in black-and-white but what's truly astounding is how easily I can fall into extremities on either side. Even the most balanced human suffers from a slight touch of this and it's in this weakness that the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is universally sympathetic. 

The transformation of Jekyll & Hyde...


As I mentioned in my analysis of my Dorian Gray illustration, each of the nine portraits in my Classic Monsters series is a self-portrait, like it or not. Like Dorian Gray, Jekyll and Hyde also draws a strong parallel to my own life experiences and is somewhat similar to Dorian Gray or even the werewolf in the juxtaposition of his nature.

Where Dorian Gray's vices tainted his hidden portrait, Jekyll's vices bleed through in the visage of his alter ego, Hyde. However, I always saw Dorian Gray's sins as primarily sexual and romantically sadistic with physical violence as an undercurrent. While I think there is a sexual nature to Hyde, I feel it is all secondary to a sense of manic violence. It's very similar to the werewolf as a cautionary tale of suppression.

Here we have the good Dr. Jekyll, an upstanding citizen, good samaritan, intelligent, sophisticated, a pillar of society. His longings, urges, and natural instincts have long been sacrificed to honor this perfect shining veneer. In Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is through a serum that our monster finds his window into our world. But it's easy to conclude that Jekyll's suppression is the active ingredient.

Jekyll & Hyde pre-coloring...

I opted out of massive amounts of symbolism in my portrait of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because this concentrated creature of dual-personality is such a strong symbol in himself. The backdrop is a nightmare imagining of Victorian London with mucky tainted smog hanging heavy in the atmosphere cut only by twisted and warped beacons of red illumination; hellish lamp posts bearing razor crowns that cut through the murky night.

Mirrors framed in ornate flourishes of black metal depict five reflections of Dr. Jekyll, searching his own reflection for truths too horrid to acknowledge, yet on some hastily suppressed frequency he is fully aware. For the most part, these reflections amidst an alarming red backdrop show Jekyll in various stages of shock and horror.

While the lower right image shows the doctor with determination, I feel it still indicates a shaky resolve - a slight hint of doubt in the eyes. The upper central reflection is the final face of Jekyll: accepting the man on the other side and daring to look him in the eye, using the last vestiges of his control to suppress what he knows is true.

Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in "colorful" Victorian London...


Mr. Hyde has often been portrayed as hulking, menacing, and brutish but the original novella clearly states that he is smaller than Jekyll as a result of being stunted through suppression. In my portrait of Mr. Hyde, this quality manifests as a sad sort of vulnerability giving way to wild paranoia.

Make no mistake, I wanted my Hyde to be villainous to a homicidal degree, but I wanted him to be shaken by an insecurity that gives way to snarling viciousness and psychotic fits of rage. While Jekyll is clothed in benign light pink and lavender with a dull, plain gray coat, Hyde is swathed in garish hot pink and deep nocturnal black-and-blue.

Here we find him lost in the hostile London night, snarling and recoiling like a wounded animal. His hair is dishevelled and his tacky dandyish clothing is tattered and ripped from nocturnal episodes of sexual extremity eclipsed by erratic brutal violence. Hyde is mentally stunted by years of rejection and an imbalance that has left him critically severed from the source that could have, many years before, made him manageable.

In the end, it's hard to see the personalities of Jekyll and Hyde as black-and-white since the rampaging monster is actually a product of the respectable doctor. And as the story reveals (and as is the case with so many seeming dichotomies) Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same. 



The vampire is arguably the most explored and societally-saturated monster of the Classic Monster series and that posed a huge problem when trying to connect to my personal translation of the essence of Count Dracula. I've read so many books and seen so many movies about vampires that I can't begin to recount them all and yet, in most cases, I absorbed this material without specifically seeking it out.

This is a monster who's casually strolled the spectrum from demonification to romanticization.  Vampires have been depicted as primitive and maniacal and, just as often, angelic supermen. Sometimes their hideous atrocities, other times seductive Adonises (or would that be Adoni?). A pick-and-choose mythology is presented and it all rolls up in our collective consciousness. So, when deciding what Dracula (and vampires in general) meant to me, I had to do a lot of listening through the static to pick out the voices that meant the most to what I considered the true vampiric essence.

The Count before and after....


I'd ignored vampires for most of my childhood and been somewhat amused by the surge in vampire-related media that happened around the time of shows like True Blood and movies like Twilight. Sure, there were a few pioneers in the dark that caught my attention before the flood like Interview With the Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the latter of which I didn't truly realise the brilliance of until some years later.

But it wasn't until the mania over vampires was already getting stagnant that I actually began to question why it still felt the perfect nerve had yet to be struck. Though I really enjoy the film The Lost Boys, I felt it was missing a vital emotional component and perhaps here I'm speaking more from the standpoint of my ego as opposed to a universal demand. 

The Lost Boys presented us with vampires who were very comfortable in their own skins as creatures of the night alongside vampires who still had one foot in their humanity. However, this internal struggle in some played against the celebratory narcissist wasn't illustrated nearly as artfully in The Lost Boys as in Interview With the Vampire.

I wanted to take the adolescent contemporary (potential) angst of The Lost Boys and combine that with the contemplative drama of Interview With the Vampire and write a screenplay for a movie that I was calling This Low. It started to come together around the idea of a teenage vampire, bummed out, sitting on a beach at night smoking a cigarette and watching the waves as well as a soundtrack of Iggy Pop, Suede, and the Velvet Underground. I eventually lost interest in it but not before developing some definition to my personal associations to the vampire mythology.

Dracula pre-coloring....

Bram Stoker's novel originally explained a deformed, animalistic demonic creature almost visible beneath the surface of the vampire; a putrid stench underlying the perfume. While certain films and television shows portrayed this dichotomy swimmingly, I had never absorbed such a strong disgust in the vampire as in Bram Stoker's writing. I wanted to capture the superhuman beauty prevalent in some interpretations as well as the subhuman viciousness in other portrayals.

So came about my Dracula, a youthful dandy (not too unlike Dorian Gray) who, I feel, also exudes a disgusting quality that's difficult to immediately place. He's effeminate with animal grace, wearing black vinyl pants like a rock star, holding up a wineglass of blood elegantly, and even mocking preconceived notions with a silver crucifix necklace.

Yet, his chest and chin are stained with blood, an indicator of his debilitating lust. The ears, fingernails, and even a hint of the fangs reveal a bit of the demon within. Dracula is ancient, allowing him to come to terms with his vices and see them as part of his nature. The human and the demon are perfectly blended in Dracula, allowing him clinical control, yet he understands the importance of losing himself in the lust of the moment and allows this. 

Sometime in the '80s, I was watching a rerun of a Halloween episode of The Monkees in which Davy Jones (who, despite the fact that I was probably about 5-years-old, I identified with) is seduced by Dracula's daughter. I recognized that vampires sucked the blood from humans, yet someone I idolized was not only kissing one, he was becoming obsessed with one. The strangeness of Davy Jones's behavior merged with my own strange attraction to Dracula's daughter and, possibly for the first time, the concept of sexual attraction dawned on me.

It was either that or Prince's video for "Kiss" and a trading card I'd found by a drainage ditch of a woman in spandex. But with Davy Jones's allegiance to Dracula's daughter, I also felt a deep sense of betrayal. This wasn't just one of the good guys, this was the best guy, and this girl was giving him something tempting enough for him to sell that all out. And this was also possibly the first time I linked a feeling of betrayal to vampires; a feeling integral to vampire mythology.

In almost all vampire stories, the vampire was seduced into a life of addiction or obsession, giving up his/her values and virtues in a desperate attempt to satisfy his/her newfound lust. Vampires are fundamentally corrupted beings but in a way that is disturbingly conscious. They aren't zombies; they remember who they were with guilt or disdain but it rarely changes their course.

At the end of the day, they still find themselves fang-deep in their next conquest. I wanted this blend of seduction and betrayal to emanate from the two most recent brides of Dracula, gyrating and writhing to his left and right. I wanted their faces to show a giving in to orgasmic pleasure and desperate horror simultaneously.

Their eyes are hidden, perhaps as a way to strip them of their identities or even their souls if you're to believe eyes are the window to the soul. Each is bound to Dracula in one of his animal forms: bat or wolf. The binding around the neck is an allusion to guilt in the hiding of the bite wounds as well as a means to tie the brides to an animalistic nature. This bondage can also be used to express a slavery to an addiction or a vice as well as, on a more surface level, sexual asphyxiation.

Death goes to the disco....


Finally, this particular chamber of Dracula's castle features a disco ball and walls crawling with dry ice or mist. While on the obvious level, this shows Dracula's party spirit and ties him to a time at least somewhat modern, it works on another level that I unfortunately fall short of explaining.

The disco ball was one of the last aspects added to this illustration but I immediately knew it was vital. It still somehow provides the adhesive for my concepts of Dracula and vampires in general and attempting to explain it would only drag us further from the truth. 


The Mummy

As an avid fan of '80s and '90s goth rock, I've found myself exposed to a lot of surface-level Egyptian images (I feel like every '90s goth group had a black-and-gold album cover emblazoned with an ankh) but, as you can imagine, I had no idea what any of it meant.

Likewise, I'd never seen a mummy until just a few years ago when I went to the California Science Center to see a mummies exhibit and most of those mummies seemed to be South American. Despite my ignorance, Egyptian history always appeared rich and exotic at face value and, whether naive or not, I wanted this essence in my version of the mummy. 

The Mummy is actually the first illustration I began in my Classic Monsters series, initiated by a recent viewing of the 1932 Universal filmThe Mummy. To be honest, I hadn't watched the film since around 2004 when I first bought the DVD and I couldn't really recall anything beyond the most basic elements of the premise.

I was somewhat surprised to find that, like so many of his brethren in the classic Universal Monsters gallery, his actions are often motivated by romantic impulses. In fact, it is arguably the driving force of his resurrection. 

The Mummy through the ages....


As much as I love the generic bleached-bandaged, nameless, faceless mummies, I didn't feel that such a creature would be honoring the source of this monster's mythology so I tried to recreate my mummy from memories of the slowly decaying mummies I'd seen in National Geographic magazines and, in recent years, trips to museums.

I wanted something to allude to this timeless romantic as beautiful and effeminate in his fully restored form, so I gave him a full head of only slightly dishevelled hair, cut in the iconic Egyptian style I had seen in pop culture growing up. I wanted the bandages to be giving way, only loosely holding on to the resurrected corpse as he rises to murder his way back to his lithe grace and youthful beauty before searching for his reincarnated lover. 

The Mummy pre-coloring....

I believe less in coincidence with every passing day so it comes as no surprise that the evening after I had completed the sketch of my rendition of the mummy (including the background) I came across a National Geographic documentary on Nile crocodiles.

Perhaps I should have been less surprised when the documentary focused on an ancient Egyptian city known by the Greeks as Crocodilipolis inhabited by the cult of Sobek (the crocodile-headed god depicted in two golden statues behind the mummy). This cult worshipped crocodiles, mummifying them as sacrifices (as seen in the bound, mummified crocodiles creating the illustration's upper border). 

The crocodile-headed deity, Sobek, was considered erratic and hypersexual in nature which, in my mind, made him a perfect patron for a creature who so longed for his lover as to defy death and the sacred bonds of life in a murderous path of rebirth. Some scholars have hypothesised that Sobek's name derives from an ancient Egyptian word meaning "to impregnate."

Again, we are met with the themes of birth (or in this case re-birth) through sexual desire. A golden scarab crowns the portrait linking the kiss of the mummified crocodiles. Scarabs are often cited as symbols of re-birth and eternity, adding additional emphasis on these obvious themes of the mummy.

The Mummy looking for love....


The columns framing this portrait are engraved with glowing blue hieroglyphs repeating the words "love/desire", "life", "death", "crocodile", "Sobek" and "Set". Set (also referred to as Seth) is a chaotic ancient Egyptian god of many things, including violence. In merging Set's energy with Sobek's erratic hypersexuality, I felt the mummy's true romantic mania and murderous disdain for anything outside of his own lustful scope would be reinforced.  

Finally, the piranhas are an integral aspect of my subconscious concepts of Egypt, defying science and logic. I understand that piranhas are Amazonian fish and that, even if it were to be argued that this was a South American mummy, the Egyptian imagery would be nonsensical. Sometimes it's these nonsensical elements that create the higher truth in an image because they go beyond our concepts into that same realm where aspects of dreams make sense to us despite being nonsense in the waking world.

Sometimes, these messages just aren't strong enough to warrant action. For example, I initially conceived of my mummy standing before an enormous blue glowing etching of the eye of Ra. The eye of Ra symbolises the sun which is a bit too distant from the symbolism I was going for with the mummy. In addition, it would have been difficult for the eye to be visible from its place behind the mummy. However, the mummified piranhas on strings make perfect sense in my mythology based on a dream I had as a child.

I was crawling through a pyramid, lit with the same earth tones you see in this illustration. There was am area of water below me and I was crawling across a narrow sort of sandbox lining the ceiling of the chamber that I was crawling through. As my hands passed through the sand, I felt a pricking sensation. From the loose sand, I pulled the sharp, spiny carcass of a piranha and noticed the sand was littered with their jagged, barbed rib cages and mummified faces.

Since then, these barbed-boned, mummified piranhas have often been a vital connection to my thoughts of ancient Egypt through a truth greater than I could ever communicate. 


The Headless Horseman

With immense credit going to Disney's animated The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman was easily one of my favorite monsters as a child. This puts me in a bit of chicken-or-egg quandary though because I may have been drawn to the animated Headless Horseman through an obsession I've had with jack-o'-lanterns for as long as I can remember.

When I was a baby, my parents decorated my room with glowing jack-o'-lantern lamps including a scarecrow lamp with a grinning jack-o'-lantern face. Around the time I turned 2-years-old, my family moved to Florida and decided to give away these lamps prior to the move.

One of my earliest memories is watching (with bitter contempt) these lamps be given away to a family friend. Perhaps I was too young to have friends but I watched those grinning gourds leave like they were trusted and true comrades. Maybe I couldn't help but see the faces of those friends in the villainous grin of the Headless Horseman several years later. 

The legend before and after....


It wasn't until recently that I realized I was remembering The Legend of Sleepy Hollow incorrectly and the pumpkin head was only used as a ruse by a local trying to scare Ichabod Crane. My disappointment was odd in its severity but I guess I felt somehow betrayed by my own memory. I didn't lose sleep over it or anything but to me, the Headless Horseman will always carry a jack-o-lantern head, despite how little that makes sense to the story.

I could say that my Headless Horseman smashes a seemingly endless supply of jagged-mawed gourds across his victims or holds the jack-o'-lantern head like a security blanket, traumatized by the loss of his own human head but I feel like the true answer defies explanation. It's an answer that only the ghosts can understand.

I was actually taken aback by how nefarious my rendition of the Headless Horseman turned out and, of the nine Classic Monsters illustrations, I consider this one to be the most disturbing. Perhaps it is colored by those bitter feelings I had as a 2-year-old, a dark emotional response clouding the innocent thoughts of a child.

The initial concept for my Headless Horseman illustration almost worried me with its lack of villainy. Upon looking up the traditional uniform of a Hessian artilleryman, I was actually excited by its lack of menace. I immediately thought of a cream-colored sky broken up by the limbs of dead trees. Against the blue jacket with red trim and that globular orange pumpkin, this would have no chance to be anything other than the most psychedelic and autumnal of my Classic Monsters series.

I think this shifted when, in a sort of trance, I sketched the Horseman's sword across the throat of his own horse. This not only alluded to the decapitation that made this spectre so notable but also showed his lack of allegiance. While I don't imagine that my Headless Horseman carries out the despicable deed of murdering his own horse, the insinuation disturbs me greatly, especially since the horse reacts with such complacence.

However, I feel that the horse itself is not a horse as you and I would know it. Rather, I think it is a droning entity from the phantom realms that resurrected the Headless Horseman, some sort of zombie steed with no soul in its abysmal eyes. 

Pretty grim even without the fall colors....

The Horseman's blade is rusted with a handle adorned with corroded metallic dead tree limbs and an equally corrupted metallic autumn leaf. Glimpses of the his dead skin visible between his black gloves and red cuffs exude a violet glow that also emanates from his neck and violently grinning jack-o'-lantern face.

I interpret this glow as his essence or possibly whatever passes as his soul. A pumpkin vine reaches into that essence creating some sort of brittle connection between head and body. While medals adorn his sash, they are unlike those of any army in our world. Instead, the cryptic symbols of crescent moon and dead leaf indicate some sort of merit in realms of the nocturnal and autumnal. But again, the sword crossing over the Horseman's own steed shatter any illusions of loyalty.

Anthropomorphic trees with hollow ghostly faces stretch from gray vapors to border the illustration. These loosely allude to McDonald's Happy Meal commercials from the '70s and '80s. I recall eating at McDonald's on Halloween sometime in the '80s in the Parkshore Shopping Center in Naples, Florida. This shopping center had a store that sold wicker furniture; it smelled like cinnamon and reminded me of witches. I imagine these trees smell like that store; cinnamon, wicker, and the smell of burning leaves. 

The grotesque ghost in full autumnal glory....


The cannons flanking the horse are simply a reference to the cannons that took the Headless Horseman's head back when he was a Hessian artilleryman. The dynamic purposely recreates the Knight cards from tarot decks. A rainbow of autumn colors flanking the horse as well as the autumn colors worked into the canons aren't meant to indicate the Headless Horseman as a knight of the autumn. Rather, they're meant to create the fall atmosphere that incubates the Horseman's energy.

The peach skies and symbols create a tarot card-like collage invoking simpler times and the celebratory nature of the rustic harvest juxtaposed with the otherworldly horror of the Headless Horseman made clearer through the thinning boundary between our world and his.       



Dorian Gray

Even before I took on the Classic Monsters project, I understood that all of the paintings would be self-portraits. Still, I feel that the flourishes and flaws of Dorian Gray draw some of the most obvious parallels to my own experiences.

Perhaps I'm deceiving myself when I imagine that everyone goes through a point in his/her life when s/he can relate to Dorian Gray and his glamorous Faustian tale. If you subscribe to the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, public opinion falls away and whether you're loved or loathed, you can still see the face of a god in the mirror. On one level, this is actually healthy.

But with Dorian Gray it's a veneer and the true self-loathing, guilt, and shame are sneering just beneath the reflective surface, betrayed by ugly actions. 

Dorian Gray puts his face on...


Unlike a lot of the classic monsters, I have no childhood associations to Dorian Gray. In fact, I was ignorant to his existence until a rather dull late afternoon when I was 19 or 20, sitting in a small, stagnant university classroom before a memorably boring history professor who looked like a soul-sucked Oliver Hardy.

The fact that I can't even recall the focus of this class (other than the broad term "history") is a testament to how little I retained of the horribly presented course material but like a glimmering diamond crowning a pile of shit, the man with no soul inexplicably assigned us to read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, possibly the best piece of literature I've ever had the honor to read.

If Dorian Gray hadn't been portrayed so effeminately, I'd maybe not have drawn the connection. Instead, he was like the evil twin to the archetype with which I most identified. But it rapidly became clear that this wasn't some twisted Gemini to my adored archetype but rather a different shade on the same spectrum. I understood that not only was I capable of this narcissism but there was actually a side of me that longed for it and felt a wounded pride in it.

In darker moments, I wanted to watch the world choke on my perfume. This wasn't a personality shift or anything of the sort; I had been exploring these fantasies and absurd love letters to myself for as long as I could remember. The difference is that I was now conscious of how selfish many of my conceits could be and I actually enjoyed this awareness with an arrogance that overshadowed guilt.

Again, I feel this must be something that everyone goes through when trying to find him/herself but perhaps I'm deluding myself for comfort. In most cases these were simply unhinged internal dramas amplified to create a self-importance that the world wasn't giving me. 

Dorian Gray devoid of color...

Dorian Gray not only explores every vice under the sun but also every vice that the sun's never touched. With my illustration, I was most interested in exploring sexual vices. The juxtaposition of Dorian Gray's angelic beauty and internal perversions creates the perfect blend for heartbreak.

It's terrifying and simultaneously exhilarating to imagine a face that's so easy to love masking a mind that delights in emotional torture. The idea that you could be the sacrifice of the night on the satin sheet altar to a god that worships himself far more than you ever could. This is the true horror of Dorian Gray and it screams in the hot blood of anyone who's ever been poisoned by betrayal and felt the strange addiction to that disease.

In my illustration, Dorian Gray is in a state of vulnerability; the chamber that displays the insidious portrait that takes on his darkness as he remains forever young and beautiful. To reinforce this vulnerability, I wanted to frame the portrait in rejection. Amidst the metal roses and thorns, lesbian faces touch tongues in a symbol of rejection. This is the coldness that Dorian Gray drives into everyone he meets but the same frigidness to which he is impervious.

None of the women are actually kissing as I didn't want true love to be anywhere in the world of Dorian Gray. Instead, he is surrounded by animalistic lust, damaged souls licking each other's wounds with poison tongues.

The women seduce each other, corrupting innocence with the same perversion that Dorian Gray uses to corrode the people he preys upon. But as these metallic women get lost in one another, they are oblivious to Dorian, unable to see his supernatural beauty, blinded by sexual longing.

A false sense of warm radiates from their physical beauty, creating enough romantic longing for Dorian to feel the thorns of rejection. While I see lesbianism as something completely natural, the women portrayed in the frame of Dorian's portrait are simply the personification of rejection on a sexual and emotional level.

Their symbolic preference of lust for one another over the crippling emotional longing Dorian invokes in the world around him doesn't derail Dorian by any means but rather serves as an unnerving reminder that in some dimension, his weakness is conceivable.  

Dorian Gray in all his floral beauty...


To Dorian's left, we see a statue of nude lesbians touching tongues. One woman's hand transforms into a barbed, dead tree while the other woman's arm transforms into a barbed root system. A metal snake twists through the branches, poised before a single golden apple.

The allusion to Eve and the snake are further reinforcement of sexual corruption and shame as well as a reminder of Dorian's misogyny. Likewise, the forbidden fruit here is another indicator of rejection, but here it is the gold rejecting the cold, dark, twisted iron, the soul rejecting the flesh, the love that will always be out of reach for Dorian Gray, lost in a world of vice and deluded narcissism.  

The portrait itself recreates the first painting I did since a long hiatus. The painting, also titled "Dorian Gray" was actually put together for a Halloween costume. I went as the glittering, eternally youthful version of Dorian while holding the corroded painting under my arm the whole night. In the book, Dorian Gray's portrait is hideous.

As much as that makes sense on a symbolic level, I felt it was much more painful to have a beauty still obvious in the portrait but to have that beauty tarnished by the growing darkness in his actions. His icy, narrowed eyes are framed with a deep red, his lips stained and soaked with black poison, and traces of blood linger on his hands as he stands in proud reverence of his base crimes against the soul. Crying feminine masks vomit forth purple drapes from swollen red lips.

By contrast, the physical Dorian is casually poised, refusing to let his veneer of arrogance down enough for the symbols of his downward spiral and weakness to penetrate him. His thorns artfully tucked behind the ruffles of his ever-alluring rose, he stares out with eyes equal to the iciness in his portrait, yet somehow made safe with eyeshadow and mascara. He wears benign pink and lavender colors with playful polka dots, hiding the wounded and crazed demon just beneath the surface. 


The painting that started it all...


I've never been much of a fan of the look of the Wolf Man so it came as a bit of a relief when I discovered somewhat early on in the Classic Monsters project that the Wolf Man is not public domain. It's important that I clarify that I define the Wolf Man as distinctly different than a werewolf in that I see the Wolf Man, in appearance, as more man than wolf whereas I consider a werewolf to be a somewhat evenly distributed hybrid.

It's my own definition that's left me dissatisfied with movies and shows in which the werewolf quickly shifts from man to common wolf. Where's the supernatural alarm in a common wolf stalking you through the forest?

Sure, it's terrifying in its own way, but that way isn't other-worldly. My definition of werewolf demands bipedalism. While I initially considered the legal barring to the Wolf Man a wrench in the gears of this project, I quickly felt relief that I could instead focus my attentions on a related monster for which I felt much more affinity. Still, the Wolf Man's influence was definitely felt and pondered during the course of this illustration.

Werewolf before and after his dye job...


There was a distinct period of childhood when I felt more of a connection to werewolves than any of the other common monsters like vampires or mummies. It's difficult to trace where this started but I vividly remember a werewolf clad in jeans and a plaid shirt (lumberjack attire) making a brief appearance in a short story I had to write for my 3rd grade class entitled The Monster-Lurking Woods.

Granted, the protagonist is plagued by all manner of monster including a ghost, a phantom, a skeleton, and a zombie, but I specifically remember the werewolf, rendered in crayon, ravenously tearing through the woods in search of our hero. Luckily, the werewolf is effortlessly dispatched with a hand grenade.

Around this time, I was tuning in every Saturday morning to a cartoon called Ghostbustersthat had no relation to the Ghostbusters movie that had come out a few years earlier. One of the recurring villains of this cartoon was a futuristic werewolf with an insane underbite bearing the unfortunate name of Fangster. While I don't remember much about Fangster, I do recall feeling he was a sort of kindred spirit. 

While I was drawing the random werewolf in the margins of my notes at school, I started to believe that one day, I would actually become a werewolf. In fact, I recall pacing around my backyard, trying to figure out how to transform. It felt as though all of my problems would be solved if I could only make the shift.

I would look at my lower canines in the mirror with excitement, certain that their sharpness indicated that I'd soon have a vicious jutting underbite as I transformed into a primal creature of the night. Had I known then that I was just a human, I would have been crushed.

Just as I had years earlier dreamed of becoming best friends with Count Duckula, I now knew that everything in my life was building up to that glorious moment when I'd be neither man nor wolf but something in between. But again, this expectation was short-lived and soon my interests had drifted away from werewolves. 

Every once in a while, I would touch upon my lycanthropy fixation, but it wasn't limited to werewolves. Despite damning evidence that indicated my parents were the Easter Bunny, I harbored a suspicion that a wererabbit stalked the dew-kissed yards in springtime.

Years later, as I burned through almost all of Stephen King's books, I found myself perplexed by Silver Bullet in ways that I can't quite put into words. Maybe it felt too straightforward but anything less would be anti-climactic. Perhaps this was my first indicator that I didn't really know what I wanted from the werewolf mythology: an issue that even lingered through the beginning stages of this illustration.

The werewolf pre-coloring...

I'm not blaming Silver Bullet (and let me clarify that I actually enjoyed the book) but as I became a teenager, I only thought of werewolves as an interesting exploration of the Big Bad Wolf that stalked through so many fairy tales (fairy tales were often the subject of my high school art projects).

It wasn't until sometime in the mid-2000s when I revisited a lot of the classic monsters (as anyone who follows this blog already knows by now) that I gave any more attention to werewolves. The Wolf Man remains one of the most popular of the classic Universal horror films and it's well-deserved. In many ways, it's the funniest of the early horror films in my opinion but admittedly I have a strange sense of humor.

Combining the laughs with the fact that the story is actually decent makes it an easy film to fall into. While I'm partial to say that werewolf films are disappointing more often than not, I have enjoyed the creativity that went into many lycanthropy-based films. 

An American Werewolf in London was far too enjoyable for me to really care about the quadruped wolf and the recent television series Hemlock Grove features a werwolf character that fits into the mythology perfectly as well as one of the best transformation scenes on celluloid. I also enjoyed The Howling but this is also where one of my greatest annoyances with the modern werewolf comes into play: the werewolf as rustic hillbilly which hits peak levels of annoyance on the once-great TV series True Blood.

Not to say that True Blood really did so much for vampires or witches, but werewolves were consistently shown to be redneck biker subservients to annoying vampires. True Blood is allowed to have its own mythology but it definitely fell short of my expectations of werewolves. And again there's that whole annoying quick shift from man to common wolf. 

But where some artists degrade the werewolf mythology into something so simple, other artists take werewolves further than the confines of popularised mythology. Bret Easton Ellis briefly mentions a werewolf rampaging through Bel Air in Less Than Zero, a particularly creepy idea for those of us who have driven through the bizarrely empty-feeling Bel Air night.

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by author Trini Dalton in which she took a moment to show a photo of a severed werewolf head growing clusters of crystals; an image I found inexplicably inspiring. I've even found the phrase "electric werewolves" creeping into my own mythology; neon, hyperactive, charged and crackling teenage beasts. But this particular illustration explores my idea of the werewolf in a classic sense. 

The werewolf by the light of the full moon...


I wanted my werewolf to be a hulking, top-heavy behemoth, dragged into a hunched form by its own bulk and muscle. I initially began by drawing the central figure but I felt it didn't quite express the chaos of the werewolf. Therefore, I added the image of the howling wolf and the other profile.

While I feel the central figure expresses the stalking werewolf, watching its prey with confidence and poised before the final burst of mania, the howling profile of the werewolf is used to convey literal "lunacy" - a loss of control through a sort of hypnosis brought on by the pregnant full moon. The human aspects of the werewolf are gone from its eyes in each illustration, but it is this howling wolf that shows just how in thrall the werewolf is to its supernatural calling.

I say "supernatural" despite my belief that the werewolf myth often delves into man's repressed sexuality and animal rage; aspects of man as an animal that are actually quite natural. But in referring to this as "supernatural" in the werewolf mythology reinforces the strength of the pull, the maddening need that actually transforms the man into another physical form.

Finally, the open-mouthed profile of the werewolf was drafted spontaneously and is possibly my favorite depiction of the werewolf; betrayed by maddening senses, crazed and consuming.

The moon is vital in the werewolf mythology and is one of the defining factors in pretty much every decent werewolf story or film. That importance is highlighted in the fact that the moon nearly overtakes the entirety of the world around the werewolf in this illustration.

To this day, when I gaze up at the full moon from anywhere even remotely forested, my mind goes to the werewolf and I feel the magic in its mythology. When the full moon peers behind the clouds in The Wolf Moon, the horror is secondary to the beauty. 

The flowers in the foreground are wolf's bane which is simply a reference to the poem recited in The Wolf Man: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf's bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." The glowing pentagram on the werewolf's hand is also a reference to a telltale sign in The Wolf Man of the survivor of a werewolf bite (and thus a carrier of the curse). 

The collapsed wooden fence posts bordering the foreground were a less specific but still somehow important part of the mythology. They're indicative of faulty barriers or boundaries and indicate a rustic, maybe ill-maintained or even abandoned farm. It's in this isolation that the man loses himself and the werewolf comes to the surface. The swollen allure of the autumn moon, the sexual bloom of the venomous wolf's bane, the deteriorated boundaries all give way to the silence and remoteness that demands the most primal of howling. 

The world around the werewolf makes no sense with red bullet streaks passing behind the werewolf but before the ground he stands upon. These bullets are the werewolf's death/rebirth, the conclusion and salvation only deliverable through someone who loves him, hence the hearts emblazoned on the silver.

Here, love delivers the beast away from savage confusion, sexual shame, and the guilt of animalistic urges.