Inktober and Restrictions

Last year I tried doing Inktober, that online art challenge where you create an ink drawing every day in the month of October. I got about three days into it before something else claimed my time and I didn’t want to spend the time catching up. This year is different, in part, because I have a clearer focus than last time. Things (like paid work and deadlines) still claim my time and with less than half the month left to go, I’m still behind schedule. But this new focus keeps bringing me back.
What is so different from last year? First off, I now follow Jake Parker, the originator of Inktober, on Instagram and I got the official prompt list well in advance. If I had been a diligent monkey, I would have started conceptualizing back in September, but I didn’t. Secondly, I decided to go into the challenge with a goal in mind — improve my skills in drawing faces and hands.


My scattershot approach to subject matter is obvious in the first five days. But the portrait of Eric Idle as Sir Robin (day 5 – chicken) set me off in a new direction. Still focusing on faces, but not so much on hands, I realized that movies were a great source of reference material. I can work with the title, like Whale Rider (day 12 – whale), a scene, like from Tom Jones (day 6 – drooling), a character, like Bella Swan (upcoming day 15 – weak), an actor, like Andy Sirkis (day 9 – precious), etc.


Even though I have placed another restriction (movies) on top of my first (faces) which I added to the existing restrictions of the prompt list and working in ink, it is actually easier for me to come up with ideas. This is seeing restrictions as a container, like a mold, within which you create something. It’s not my concept and I don’t remember where I originally learned it, but I think it’s valuable. Some may balk at the word ‘restriction’ thinking it has negative connotations. If so, then think of setting strong parameters or guidelines instead. You should end up in the same place.
Above all, keep making art.


The Self-Imposed Deadline

Ideas simmer on the back burner like a pot of marinara. Concepts cook down to their essence. Images meld and mingle into new flavors. This all sounds better than “I haven’t gotten around to that project yet.” But it actually can be what happens if you let it.
I have an idea for a Large Project that fits in to my Celtic artwork and my esoteric interests rather nicely. It will eventually involve many pieces of art and I have been thinking of how to make it more manageable. One day this winter, as I was sitting in my big, comfy chair, all wrapped up and fighting off a fever, my mind got bored and started to wander. There are Celtic versions of the signs of the Zodiac that I knew would have to be part of the Large Project, but they had sat, simmering on the back burner for the last 5-6 years. And suddenly, in my bundled-up, fevered state, I saw what they were supposed to look like.
Once I knocked my fever down I went straight to the drawing board and cranked out these designs. It took me about three days. A bit more thinking, playing around with color, and gathering of opinions occurred. I needed to fit the work in between other jobs, so it sat for a while even though I knew I was starting to run up against the clock (I want these printed before a show in May).
There was then a sudden realization that I should paint each one of these while the moon is in the appropriate sign. I asked my wife where the moon was today and she told me it was in Aries until early evening. Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac. If there was a more auspicious place to start, I wasn’t going to wait for it.
I had already laid out the basic design on watercolor paper, so I did the calligraphy, traced the design elements unique to Aries, and inked it in. I didn’t get to the painting because I ran out of time before having to dash off to a meeting. But it’s underway.
The moon is moving into Taurus shortly after I write this, and it will only be there for two days. This pot is no longer simmering.

Even Gods Were Young Once

As promised, I’m writing about Herne the Hunter today. He is a deity with which I have a close affinity, so naturally I wanted to include him in my portraits of Death Deities. I decided to take another look at some of the information available and the effect it had on my work.

Herne is said to have been a royal hunter in the time of Edward II of England, the early 1300’s. While hunting in the woods around Windsor Castle, Edward was attacked by a stag and Herne threw himself in front of the king. None of Edwards other woodsmen would heal Herne out of jealousy. It was finally a dark rider who agreed to help and cut the horns off the stag and tied them to Herne’s head. He was healed, but lost all his prowess as a hunter. In despair at the loss of his skill, he ran into the forest, wearing the antlers and was later found hanging from an oak tree. When Edward’s retainers tried to recover the body, it had disappeared. The tree is known as Herne’s Oak and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that time, Herne the Hunter has reappeared in the Windsor Great Park many times, most recently in the 1970’s.


The figure of Cernunos on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

The figure of Cernunos on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

What is interesting though is the possibility that the story goes back even further. H and C are interchangeable between the Indo-European languages and therefore Hern can become Cern and applied to Cernunnos, a horned deity depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, dated between 200 BC and 300 AD. So here we have a horned deity sharing Herne’s name a thousand years before the reign of Edward II.

Jesus on the Cross, by Albrecht Dürer, Wodin Hanging, by Franz Stassen, and Herne's Oak, from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Jesus on the Cross, by Albrecht Dürer, Wodin Hanging, by Franz Stassen, and Herne’s Oak, from the Folger Shakespeare Library

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Death Deities? Well, obviously Herne symbolizes sacrifice. He first put himself in harms way to protect his king, and then hung himself on the oak. (Parallels abound with Odin and Jesus.) After Herne’s disappearance, he was seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt, a spectral phenomenon throughout Northern Europe usually occurring in winter and presaging some sort of disaster. Herne and Cernunnos are seen as the Holly King and Oak King respectively, by modern pagans, and they symbolize the cycle of death and rebirth in nature. If we link Herne with Odin (who was widely revered in Anglo-Saxon Britain) we see a god who escorts the dead to the afterlife. And I’m just skimming over the surface. A great resource is Eric L. Fitch’s book: ‘In Search of Herne the Hunter’. If you’re interested in this mythical figure at all, I highly recommend it.

Herne the Wild Hunter, from

Herne the Wild Hunter, from

And finally, we come to the drawing I did for the show. A friend was surprised when she saw how young Herne is. Traditionally he is depicted as an older man, middle aged at least. His beard is long and his hair longer. But in the story of Herne, he is human and eventually becomes the ghostly, horned hunter. So he was young once, maybe even at his death. There is also the fact that this telling of the tale is one of the more recent versions (in a historical context) and therefore younger.

The Young Herne

The Young Herne

However one chooses to look at it, the image in the drawing is what I saw in my mind’s eye. And perhaps that is how Herne wished to appear. This time.

Can We See A Pattern Here?

August was busy. Get the new web-site operational. Create art and a story for a small show. Get prints and framing for another small show. Both of those flew by. Sorry for not announcing them. Oh yes. There’s also the next show at Avanti, a printmaking extravaganza. “Would you like to be in it?” they asked. “Sure! Why not.” I replied.

I’ve done printmaking in the past, mumbldy-mumble years ago, and I remember it being very freeing as a technique, but not without its challenges. And because I seem to be genetically disinclined to do things the easy way, I decided to go back to my Norse roots and take a look at the myths and legends from that side of my family.

First up were Hugin and Munin, Odin’s ravens. He would send them out across the land (and worlds) and they would report back to him what all they had seen. I laid the designs down quickly enough, but there they sat.

And now for a change of perspective…

Hello to all reading this blog, I’m Levi Cain; Kevin’s son & a recent graduate of high school. For all ya’ll wondering why I’m writing the remainder of his blogpost, it’s kinda simple; the art opening my dad mentioned previously is in less than twelve days, and he doesn’t have any finished pieces for it… yet. (Lets not mention the fact that they will need to be framed as well, shall we?)

As I sit here writing this he is calmly working away at solving this current issue and panicking as well. A little bit of an oxymoron, I know, but it’s the truth. The work itself, despite a certain lack of completion, is coming along quite nicely.

Here’s the WIP of the print block for Munin:


The show opening for Avanti will be on Friday the 12th of this month at 6:00 PM.

One More Thing…

My dad has finally gotten his website (with store!) up and running. Granted, it’s still in the beta phase right now, so feel free to contact him should you be encountering any problems with it.
The Link:

A Novel Diet #5 and Art!

There’s been a bit of editing since the last post, as well as other commitments taking me away from the keyboard. I did notice, however, that editing doesn’t hold the same creative drive that writing does, even if the editing requires sizable chunks of rewriting. To scratch the creative itch, as it were, I decided to work on a drawing of my main character. It also didn’t hurt that I could use an extra piece for our local SCBWI chapter sample show. (About a dozen of us brought in postcards, tearsheets, and other printed samples for display before and after the meeting.)

I’ve been fussing around with doing black and white illustration using black Prismacolor pencils, with perhaps a black watercolor wash underneath. I love the technique but for one thing. It is so blasted slow. Layers upon layers of shading looks lovely, but takes forever, and then is very picky about scanning and reproduction. So I thought, ‘why not go back to pen and ink? That’s fast. Right?’



The original sketch, about 1.5″ x 2.5″

I started with a small drawing of my hero out of my sketch book, scanned it, then blew it up to match the size of the original sketch of the wolf.


Resized and layered in Photoshop.

I blew them up again so the image was about 5”x8”, then printed it out and reworked it with black Prismacolor, correcting anatomy and shading. On a piece of tracing paper I did a rough ink, basically to see where to stop drawing.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

Once I was reasonably confident, I put the reworked printout on my light table with a piece of Arches 90# hotpress on top, and went to town.

Overall, I like the way it turned out. The difficulty has proven to be in trying to repeat this success. I have tried twice, with another character, and neither one works as far as I’m concerned. It may simply be a matter of refining my technique, or accepting that I’m using the wrong technique. Either way, it’s worth the effort.



The final on Arches 90# hotpress watercolor paper. Crowquill with Calli black calligraphy ink.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I did do some editing. I’m maybe a quarter or a third of the way through the manuscript, and my critique group just gave me some wonderful feedback which might actually make the book shorter. Here’s hoping.

128,999 words

Let’s Put On a Show!


The Western Washington chapter of the SCBWI has a wealth of amazing illustrators. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself at the Washington State Convention Center. The show went up on October 10th and one of my pieces (this one) is included. Please go see it if you have the chance.

And speaking of shows, I had seven pieces at the Avanti gallery during the month of September, and one of them (this one) sold before the show even opened!

Thanks to everyone that put these two shows together and to everyone reading and liking this blog. It doesn’t matter if you are in Seattle or halfway around the world. Go Out. See Art. Be Enriched.

A Novel Diet

For the past long while, I have been writing a young adult novel. (It was referenced in an earlier post here.) About two years ago I finished the first draft. If you were to read it straight through, it wouldn’t make any sense, but that is what I am told first drafts are for. Over the course of the last two years, I dragged the tale, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of narrative cohesion. The first weekend of October was spent grabbing the last chunks and shaking out the inconsistencies.

There was just one problem. That revised draft came in at over 135,000 words. A nice sized chunk was removed when I found a scene had been duplicated twice. (All for the sake of changing one sentence.) Another lengthy scene was great fun to read, but alas, it had nothing to do with the plot and didn’t move the characters forward either. Whack! So after rough cutting this gristle, I got the beast down to 129,718 words. Still way too much, but enough of a change for me to realize this is possible.

I read somewhere that a YA novel should be between 50,000 and 80,000 words. If I ever wrote a YA novel in 50,000 words, my son would disown me. He prefers books that double as exercise equipment. And that’s in paperback. 80,000 words seems like it would give me enough room, but I’m not convinced this story can be told that quickly. So I’m not setting a final word count goal. It would be nice to be in the neighborhood of 100,000. It would be nicer, I think, to tell the story beautifully and efficiently, to let the story dictate what it needs. And if that takes 115,000 words then so be it.

I will try to post word counts regularly. I’m not just cutting, though. I’m editing too. There are several areas where my critique group has asked for more, and they shall get it. The result, as is the way of all diets, is that there will be days when the weight won’t come off. Yesterday yielded a net gain of 69 words. But I think they are better words than the ones that came before. So I will not despair, but hone, and trim, and tighten until the story says I’m done.

October 8th: 129,787 wordsJeand'YvelWeb

Here’s a newish version of the first scene. (The first version was back in that other post.) It has a watercolor wash for the under-painting, and then black colored pencil on top. I got midway through the trees in the background and realized they were too dark in the wrong places. So I erased all the colored pencil off the trees and started over. It made the lighter areas sort of muted. An interesting effect, but not one I would like to rely on.

Celtic Doodles


‘A’ with animal head and simple spirals, and key pattern background.

A while ago I needed a small sketchbook for a specific purpose. The small Moleskine book was the perfect size, and it came in a 3-pack. This meant I had two extra Moleskine journals that were just begging to be filled. So as a way to keep my knot work skills up to date I decided to do a Celtic alphabet. The top of each page is a continuation of one long knot panel that will, once I get to ‘Z’, be formed by one line. The tops of the letter panels will also be even with each other. Those three horizontal lines are the only ones that I’m measuring or using a straightedge on. Also, because I’m doing my layout directly in the sketchbook, I have to erase a lot and some of the pen lines need to be cleaned up in Photoshop, along with correcting any mistakes I make. But for the most part, I’m trying not to do too much digital touch-up.


‘B’ with spirals inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels.

This is meant to be a fun exercise for myself, so I’m not slavishly following a particular manuscript or exemplar. I’m picking letter-forms that I like and that I think will make interesting little pieces of art. I’ll try to post the letters as they get done. Perhaps one day I might color them too.


The Glories of Antiquated Technology

As the result of a fabulous consultation with Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster last April, I have been, oh so slowly, coming up with more black and white samples aimed at interior illustration for children’s books. Not picture books, as those are usually in full color, but middle-grade to young adult novels. Ms. Cummins also suggested that I concentrate on animals. No problem, says I, and off I went to create new, amazing samples in glorious black and white.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The first scan @ 600 dpi on the HP. This probably has not had any tweaking in Photoshop.

In my first few posts I made mention of the difficulty of scanning black colored pencil. My scanner (an HP Photosmart All-in-One thingy) simply refused to see the lighter grays, so a lot of the subtlety of my drawings got blown out. My wife’s scanner is a newer version of mine and even though it can see more gray tones, it still knocks out the lighter stuff. And to make matters worse, my art work is often on paper larger than 8.5×11. Look at your scanner. See how the glass is lower than frame? Imagine trying to get a good scan from a 9×12 piece of stiff watercolor paper.

Now the solution to all of this is very simple. Get a good, legal sized, flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, my budget will not allow that.

So what’s a boy to do? Call on his geeky friends.

That’s what.

One such friend of mine used to run a large format digital print shop. When I told him of my problem, he said “I probably can’t help you. The scanner I’ve got has a SCSI cable. It won’t hook up to your new machine.”

Ah, but I have an old G4 Macintosh that I was thinking of scrapping. Not any more. The new (old) scanner was easy to install. The AGFA website still had downloadable drivers and manuals. In minutes I was up and running. And the results? Holy dpi, Batman! That thing works! And it’s flat. I’ve draped 12×14 art work over that thing and stitched it up in Photoshop. No problem.

The scan on the left is from the HP scanner at 600 dpi. I think I went back into the original art and darkened things up and boosted the contrast in Photoshop. The one on the right is from the AGFA scanner. It’s a 16 bit file at 450 dpi. It is HUGE. I don’t remember if I bumped the contrast on this one or not.

A close-up from the second HP scan. Note all the blown out white areas.

The same close-up from the AGFA scan. Hopefully you can see some sketchy lines in the light area under his jaw line. That’s my under drawing. My original layout scribbles.

I’m sure there are scanners out there now that will hold this kind of detail, and there’s no way I could have afforded the AGFA when it was new. But that can’t stop me from singing the praises of a piece of antiquated technology that not only works, but rocks.