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.  


Prototype 0

Painted in January 2014 but conceived sometime in the fall of 2006, Prototype 0 is sort of a product of circumstance. My ex-girlfriend/roommate was throwing a Halloween party full of people I didn't know. While the rational reaction would be to talk to these people and get to know them, I was going through a pretty intense bout of social awkwardness, so instead I started working on a costume that would effectively prevent me from speaking to anyone at all. The result was an effeminate android version of myself called Prototype 0.

Prototype 0 was to be an android in progress and his mouth would still be under construction This was meant to allow me to spend the night walking around with a white piece of tape over my mouth with pink lips drawn on it, incapable of communicating except with a notepad. Not awkward at all.


The painting turned out to be a fairly accurate representation of how I looked that Halloween night, with the exception of the pale blue skin. All of the androids I've painted or drawn recently have had this pale blue skin but I can't really explain why. It could have been a seed planted when I was a kid.

I was pretty hard into the Masters of the Universe toy line and there was a character named Fakor who was supposed to be an evil android replica of He-Man. He had blue skin, yet the people of Eternia still somehow mistook him for He-Man. I think my original Prototype 0 costume had silver cheeks and the blue strip across the eyes (almost definitely influenced by Pris from Bladerunner although I feel like this style has gotten bigger than the origin) but otherwise kept my skin tone.

Prototype 0 wears a polka dot dress for reasons I can't explain and he's wrapped in red caution tape that reads "DANGER". I suppose this could be an indicator of his unfinished state. Versions of the costume have incorporated tin foil safety-pinned to the dress and wrapped around the exposed arm (in the painting, Prototype 0's right arm is supposed to be partially wrapped in tin foil).  

But the underlying theme explored by the character of Prototype 0 is a longing for romance. The dress actually featured a jagged heart on the chest made from red caution tape and black masking tape. The costume was supposed to include stiff wires extending from my hair ending in plastic hearts cut from the red caution tape.

While this design is incorporated into the painting, I didn't have the time (or more likely will) to execute it as part of the costume. The painting depicts Prototype 0 longingly stroking the lips of a porcelain mask, lips that he longs to kiss with lips that he longs to have. 

The Prototype 0 costume also made use of children's hair barrettes that featured smiling cartoonish cat faces. This just illustrates the colorful innocence (and disconnect) of Prototype 0. The painting also portrays the android in a gloomy factory streaked with pink paint. I imagined this as a toy factory but can't really say why.

It's worth mentioning that when I originally started the Prototype 0 painting, it was disastrous, but I was lucky enough to turn it around to a perfect representation of what I was trying to achieve. There have actually been radically different versions of this android (including a ballerina version with a light pink bow around the mouth area) and possibly other versions will make it into my work at some point. 


The Mondrian Robot

I think the Mondrian Robot first came to me as a vision early in the morning when I was walking to the Metro station (on August 20, 2013 according to my diary). Mondrian color schemes started to appeal to me about 7 - 8 years ago when I was watching a lot of Godard films. I found something both nostalgic and highly clean and forward-thinking about Mondrian color schemes; sort of like the '60s concepts of the future but maybe less innocent. That's not really the right word but it's about as close as I can get. 

Mondrian Robot.jpg


The Mondrian robot is to appear in a novel I'm writing, possibly as part of a trilogy. Without giving too much away, I'll simply include an excerpt from the novel in hopes of better describing what he means to me.

"The effervescing buzz of insects intensifies losing its shape and combining with the brightness and heat of the sun into an inundating, maddening, enveloping wave that would overwhelm human ears, but the Mondrian Robot stands amidst the long grass of the plains of the Forever Veldt, impervious, unmoving, unphased. Two yellow bulbous sensors like eyes stare at a light blue sky smeared with the remnants of clouds, fixed expectantly on the great beyond.

With back arched slightly, the forgotten soldier remains like a white statue, contours defined in black lines, deflecting heat from its frame infused with a metal alloy carved with the symbols of the Arkadian mystics. Stories told of the Mondrian Robot that haunts the vast grasslands, but it would always know itself as #3-90-09455. While robots on phantom patrols are a common hazard of the veldt, #3-90-09455 stands out because of its striking colors, earning its nickname from its resemblance to a Mondrian painting."

The Marabou stork also makes an appearance in this painting simply because I've found them to be fascinating birds ever since one made a brief cameo in Fellini's Satyricon. When I was living in Tampa, Florida, a small group of Marabou storks that had presumably escaped from the local zoo (Busch Gardens) used to stalk through my apartment complex, looking rather prehistoric in their bizarre hunched prowl. 

I'd also like to take a second to thank Joel Westendorf who helped me immensely in photographing my paintings so that I could present them on this site as well as Carisa Mellado who helped with the editing process.