Sunday 4 July 2021

Symbolism: Slaying Raptors, Gods, and Our Most Cherished Delusions


Raptor Slayer

You may have noticed that there are a lot of symbols in my pictures. I also tend to stick with certain themes, though I do make the occasional deviation.

Let's have a look at two recent storyboards, and decode some of the symbols in them. We'll start with Raptor Slayer above.

At first glance, what you see is probable something like nude woman stabbing over-sized parrot with teeth. That is certainly one way to look at it, but there is a little bit more to it:

I see a woman mastering her fear, and despite her vulnerability, that's the nudity, fighting very hard to accomplish the almost impossible, i.e. killing a raptor with a bone knife.

I find that never-give-up-even-in-the-face-of-great-difficulty attitude both admirable and attractive, so yes, the nudity makes symbolic double duty.

Of course, as an observer, you will have your own way of interpreting the picture, based on your values, your experience, your knowledge of the Lost World genre of literature, movies, and art, your social context (i.e. the opinions of your friends, and other people who influence you).

Nubian Queen I: The Death of Sobek

The Death of Sobek is about the importance of critically evaluating our own beliefs, and, when those beliefs do not hold up to scrutiny, killing them off and replacing them with something new and better.

Unexamined beliefs, beliefs that are unsubstantiated by evidence, and who do not hold up to even cursory scrutiny, tend to rule our lives.

For example, you might believe that the best way to boost the economy, is cutting taxes for the rich, so they can invest more, and thus create more and better jobs. Well, according to research on tax cuts in 18 OECD countries, that is not how it works. All that happens when you lower taxes for the rich, is that they get richer:

“Our findings on the effects of growth and unemployment provide evidence against supply side theories that suggest lower taxes on the rich will induce labour supply responses from high-income individuals (more hours of work, more effort etc.) that boost economic activity. They are, in fact, more in line with recent empirical research showing that income tax holidays and windfall gains do not lead individuals to significantly alter the amount they work.”
-The Economic Consequences of Major Tax Cuts for the Rich, by David Hope, Julian Limberg

Feel free to disagree, but if you do, bring research that support your views.

The supply side economics scam has kept political parties alive, and sometimes in power, for decades, to the detriment of all of us, except the very rich people who benefit from the tax cuts.

There are plenty of other common beliefs that do not stand up to scrutiny:

For example the idea that a company can maximize its profits by having everyone work as much as possible all the time. This is an idea from Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management. The problem with it, is that if everyone works at full capacity all the time, you get enormous queues of unfinished material, so-called Work In Process (WIP), in your processes. In extreme cases, you get so much WIP, that nothing ever gets finished. This sometimes happens in software development, but it can, and does, happen in other areas too.

There are plenty of ways to reduce, or eliminate, the problem. In management, you can use Lean, Theory of Constraints, agile software development methods, the Deming Knowledge System, IOHAI, and other methods.

Most companies who implement these methods and frameworks do so, not because they understand how they can help alleviate the problems, but because it has become a fad. When you do that, you will almost certainly do things that short-circuit the new way of doing things, so that you go through the motions, but never get the benefits.

For example, agile methods, mentioned above, rely on something called vertical slicing to create work packages that can be implemented with an optimal balance between capacity cost and queueing cost. Over the past 20 years, nearly every company I have seen, has fallen into the trap of doing horizontal slicing, i.e. requirements are functional, rather than representations of something that has economic value on its own.

As a result, lead times can explode. I have seen lead times go up by a factor of 50, and more, because of this. That means you would have to wait for two years to get something that could be built and delivered in two weeks. Thus, you loose the money you could have made by using that functionality for two years.

Another favourite: You want to implement one of the methods mentioned above, and realize you need new processes, so you decide to invest in a tool for creating the new processes. Looking around for a good, safe, alternative, you decide to go with something like IBM Blueworks. Nobody gets blamed for buying from IBM!

What you do not realize, is that all of these new methods and frameworks, separate process material flow from the flow of directives, and that the flow of directives go in the opposite direction from the material flow. The reason for this, is that it is much easier to reduce the amount of WIP, and thus queueing costs, that way.

Blueworks does not allow you to design processes like that. It does not separate material flow from flow of directives. Topping it off, the economic simulation in Blueworks takes only capacity cost into account, which means you are liable to design processes with sky-high queueing costs.

Suddenly, your unexamined beliefs about tax cuts, how to write requirements, or which tool to use, has become your Sobek, your crocodile god demanding human sacrifice.

It's not just about whether you can slay it, you probably do not even know that you should, and you live in a society of Sobek worshipers that will punish you if you try.

I bet you did not think of Nubian Queen I: The Death of Sobek in those terms. Symbolism is tricky, and symbols can be open to an infinite variety of interpretations.

Because of this, the symbolism in a picture is liable to misfire if we do not talk about what it represents. Often, a picture is just a cool image, without deeper connotations, but we won't know that either, unless we talk, or write, about the picture.

So, lets talk about the pictures we see, and the pictures we create. Otherwise, their meaning can all too easily get lost.

Be seeing you!

Saturday 29 May 2021

Learning from Julie Bell and Jamie Chase


Thanks to Julie Bell and Jamie Chase, both great Fantasy artists, I can show you how to draw inspiration from masters, to improve your own creativity and skill.

Both Julie Bell and Jamie chase publish their art on Facebook. 

Julie Bell: 
Jamie Chase:


Getting Covid-19 in the beginning of April hit me pretty hard. I am recovering though, and I am starting to take interest in things again: Starting a new job on Monday, working on a picture or two, occasionally working on a book, working on getting my photo sessions going again... I am still a bit careful where and when I spend energy though. I expect to recover fully, but it may take quite some time.

The upshot is that I'll probably blog a bit less frequently than usual. In a few months, maybe, I'll pick up speed again.

Fortunately for me, while being sick, and throughout recovery, I've had great support from my family. It has made everything so much easier. Speaking from experience, you really do not want to get Covid-19, and you really, really, do not want to infect relatives and friends, so please be careful out there.

Monday 22 February 2021

Surrounded! - Further adventures in storyboarding


I have wanted to make a picture with lizard men for several years. The project isn't finished yet, but I have a storyboard. In the video above, I talk a bit about my sources of inspiration for the picture.

Surrounded! - Storyboard version

Here is the storyboard. I'll do a photo session when the pandemic has subsided. 

Thursday 11 February 2021

Art, Misogyny, and Weasels


Jungle Pickup, a.k.a. Catch of the Day

The picture above, Jungle Pickup, caused a stir when I published in in an art group on Facebook. Here is an example of the comments I got:

Well, at least one sword and sorcery trope was fulfilled: weasily, weak men using cheap shots to attack their betters.

There was plenty more like that, and several suggestions that I ought to leave the group. So, what had I done that so offended people? When I posted the picture, I wrote the following:

Jungle Pickup, a.k.a. Catch of the Day 

Much as I love Fantasy illustrations from the 60's, 70's, and 80's, there are some things I find a bit annoying.

One of those things is the trope of a huge warrior, sometimes a skulking ape-man, walking with a terrified woman slung over his shoulder. 

I do not like it because the narrative is one of horrific abuse instead of adventure, and causing pain and degradation, rather than triumphing over dangerous obstacles.

So, I decided to flip the story around. Note that who carries whom, is not the only thing I flipped.

The response for the picture was mostly positive. There were more than 70 likes, which is good for one of my pictures in that particular group.

I'd like to stress that most comments were either positive, or straightforward questions about the picture. I appreciate those a lot!

There were also several negative comments, and I found them both revealing and disturbing. Not one negative comment was about flaws in the picture itself. Instead, the comments were about misogyny, and the commenters attacked me for being against it.

Let's have a look:

The first sentence is a good example of a well known logical fallacy, the Straw Man Fallacy. I stated that I find one particular Fantasy trope annoying because it is misogynous. The commenter narrowed that down from disliking a trope to one particular artist, Frank Frazetta, and then broadened it to encompass all of Frazetta's work, and the entire Sword&Sorcery genre. He also eliminated the key part about misogyny. For good measure, he also changed "a bit annoying" to "hate".

It is clear from the second sentence that the writer believes disliking misogyny, abusive behavior towards women, to be "left wing politics", which the writer is not fond of.

In other words, the commenter defends abusive behavior towards women in Fantasy art and literature, and tries to hide what he is doing by first misrepresenting my original statement, and then associating it with political views he believes are disliked by many in the group.

There was another person who jumped in to question the above statement. I'll leave his comment out, but I will include the above commenter's reply:

Again, the straw man attack, followed by an Ad Hominem, i.e. a personal, attack.

I stated that I dislike a Fantasy art trope because the narrative is about abuse towards women. There is no attempt in the first, or the second, comment to refute the argument itself.

Let's move on.

This is a better disguised straw man attack. At first glance, it looks like there is a reasonable argument here, but it is still an argument based on the false assumption that I attacked Frazetta's art. It is still an argument that attacks my dislike of a misogynic trope, even though it is an attack in disguise. The comment is intended to obfuscate, not to present a relevant argument.

It is a bit ironic that if you really look at Frazetta's art, there are plenty of strong female characters in it. A few examples:
Frazetta had a very wide range as an artist, so you can find just about any type of human relationship in his work. The presence of strong female characters is one of the things that I have always liked about Frazetta.

Judging by the comments, the Frazetta defenders I have quoted in this post, would actually be quite upset if they saw the strong and capable women Frazetta drew and painted.

Speaking of irony, I'll include one more comment:

Frazetta is one of the greatest narrative painters ever. Not everything he did was narrative art, but if you look at his greatest works, most of them are narrative art.

If posting narrative art is a reason for leaving the group, then the Frazetta family would not be welcome to post Frazetta's narrative art in a group for Frazetta-inspired art.

The question is, why these attempts to defend a trope showing kidnapped, abused women?

I checked the home pages of some of the commenters. The first page looked fairly normal. The first post of the second page was a recommendation to see an action movie that featured two rapes at the beginning.

I really did not want to check any further.

From time to time I work with female models, and they see and hear, and experience, a lot worse things than the above. They have to be very careful when meeting an artist they haven't worked with before. When the work they have contributed to is published, they are often subjected to denigrating comments. Misogyny is quite common in the art world, both among artists, and audience.

I am very well aware that a blog post like this does very little to reduce the misogyny that exists in the art world, and our society at large. Still, it is important to talk about it, to recognize it for what it is, even though arguments are disguised, or so silly they are difficult to take seriously.

The idea that men and women have equal rights, which includes the right to be respected by, and well treated by others, has not yet taken hold as strongly as it should have.

We still need major changes in our social systems and our attitudes, but I do believe small changes matter too. Misogynists should be opposed, in small matters, as well as large.

Be seeing you!

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Fishing Trip, and other Storyboarding Adventures


Fishing Trip

I haven't blogged regularly in awhile, so I have quite a backlog of storyboards I haven't published here. The reason for not blogging is simply that, since I can't do any photo sessions during the pandemic, I haven't had any finished pictures to show.

On the upside, once I can start shooting again, I have storyboards enough to last for years. I have included just a few of them in this post. I do hope you find them interesting. I have lots more material, so I'll try to catch up over the next few weeks...or months.

About Fishing Trip:

It is Lost World genre picture of course. I never get tired of them. It is the combination of storytelling, extreme drama, and the connections to a rich lore of literature and movies, I think, that makes them so compelling to me.

I'm going with layered storytelling here:

We see the end of a fishing trip. It was almost certainly a dramatic one, because of the size of the fish the protagonist caught.

Then there is the matter of the attacking spinosaur. That story is unresolved, with our protagonist in immediate, mortal peril. Will she die? No, at least not in my imagination. She will probably loose the fish though. 

There is also the possibility of a deux ex machina resolution, where a mosasaur or megalodon emerges from the depths and makes a quick meal of the spinosaur. I prefer stories where the protagonist survives because of her own wit, strength, and skill though, so, if I wrote the story down, I probably would not go that route.

Since I started shooting in a makeshift studio, I have avoided camera angles that make composition with 3D elements more complicated. I am deliberately trying to get away from my comfort zone, because, with just a little camera tilt here and an odd angle there, I can add more drama, and make the pictures more interesting. There is a limit to what I can do in the studio, mainly because it has a ceiling that is quite low, but I should be able to push it a little bit.

A consequence is probably that I'll make more pictures where the protagonist is kneeling, sitting, or laying down. It is an example of how constraints in the world around us, shapes the solutions we create.

Here are a couple more pictures:

Werewolves of London

I got the idea for Werewolves of London from the song of the same name, by Warren Zevon.

Even though the storyboard turned out well, I am not certain I will make a finished photo composite out of this one. The reason is that the protagonist is a bit too sad and dejected for my taste. I like pictures with an active protagonist, fighting on, no matter what the situation.

One option would be to create a series of pictures showing scenes from the same storyline. Then I am perfectly fine with showing both dramatics up and downs.


Shai-Hulud is of course based on Frank Herbert's book Dune. I intended it as a storyboard, but the way it turned out, I do not know if there is anything to gain by making a photo-composite version.

Kermit the Conqueror

Kermit the Conqueror is a spoof on old Conan movie posters from the 80's.

Kermit the Conquered

I wasn't happy with the woman at Kermit's feet, so I had to reverse the roles in Kermit the Conquered.

Much more to my tastes.

A Plague of Demons

A Plague of Demons borrows its title from a book by Keith Laumer. Laumer's book is a Science-Fiction novel, and a very good one. Except for the title, my picture and the book have little in common.

That is it for now! Be seeing you!

Wednesday 20 January 2021

An Interview with Régis Moulun


Fantasy artist Régis Moulun and I talked about one of his paintings recently. This particular painting has had an effect on my own style, and how I think about making pictures.

In the video, Régis talks about the painting, and how he designed it to create maximum dramatic tension.

If you want to see more of Régis art, check out his art page on Facebook.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Sources of Inspiration

 The video is about some of my sources of inspiration.

A special thank you to:

  • Frazetta Girls, for allowing me to use a picture of Frank Frazetta's painting Winged Terror
  • Régis Moulun, for allowing me to use his painting Sauve qui peut! 

Saturday 2 January 2021

2020 Dreams of Light and Darkness

Better late than never! I had planned to release a video retrospective about what I did in 2020, things that went well, and, shall we say...some learning experiences, on New Years Eve.

I was strapped for time, and came up with the bright idea of making a Keynote presentation on my iPad, exporting it as a movie, and touching it up in iMovie. That, I believed, would allow me to sneak away to work on the presentation, a couple of minutes here, and a couple of minutes there, without hiding away from family and friends. I always feel guilty when hiding away to create pictures, write a book, or edit the occasional video, but if I stopped doing that, I would not be me anymore.

Using the iPad was a big mistake! It turns out, you can record video clips in Keynote, but when you try to export them, Keynote hangs or crashes. I came up with a workaround, hide the video clips, and export slides with pictures only, then combine everything in iMovie instead.

That worked...until I discovered that every time I made a cut in iMovie, iMovie changed the color toning of one of the resulting video clips. On top of that, I discovered that when recording video in Keyonote, the sound is okay, but when recording sound only, the recording is noisy and the overall quality is pretty bad.

Eventually, I gave up, moved all video clips to my PC, and edited everything with DaVinci Resolve instead. As it turned out, DaVinci's noise filter also made a decent job of rescuing the sound recordings.

If I had used DaVinci from the start, I probably would have been ready on time. I hope I remember that lesson next time.

Enough about my video creation misadventures! What's on the video clip? Is it worth your time? If you are interested in Fantasy, Horror, and Science-Fiction art, it might be.

2020 wasn't a good year for photography, but it gave me the opportunity to think, to come up with new ideas, and to storyboard them. On the video you will find material from the one photo session I had in 2020, with the model and actress Eliza Sica. You will also find plenty of storyboards, and you will be able to compare some of the storyboards with finished photo composites.

While working on the video, it became rather obvious that my pictures changed quite a bit over the course of the year. For the better, I think. I have built connections with a number of very good artists on Facebook in 2020. That, combined with diving head first into art books by Régis Moulun, James Gurney, Frank Frazetta (well, a book with his art, not a book by him), Patrick J. Jones, and others, and practicing 3D storyboarding a lot, has made a difference.

I wish you a great 2021! The odds are pretty good that it will be better than 2020.