Emergency: Hand Laceration!

During my internship, my fellow interns and I were assigned a different service each month. It was part of a family practice residency, so we rotated through most of the basic things we would be expected to deal with. A few months of pediatrics, a few months of OB/GYN, a few months of internal medicine, etc. Four months out of the year, we were house docs, just staying in house (in the hospital) and taking care of whatever needed a doctor, or to be more accurate, a doctor’s signature. Mostly, this was just keeping things on an even keel. The patients were stable for the most part, with orders written already. We were there in case something came up; complaints of constipation, keeping blood sugars in check, talking with family member who wanted info if the attending wasn’t around, stuff like that.

Two of these months were the day shift, coming in at 6AM for morning report and working until 6PM. Two of those months were night shift, coming in at 6PM and leaving, usually, after morning report, around 7AM. The nights were quiet for the most part, but whoever was on was the only doctor in the hospital. That’s not entirely true; there was an ER doc on overnight, too, but, except for the most life threatening of emergencies, he was never seen. And while the hospital was not large, it consisted of a standard medical/post-surgical floor, an ER, a rehab unit (occupational/physical therapy rehab, not drug rehab), a geropsych lockdown unit and a 5 bed ICU. I loved working nights. I’m a night person, so I never slept when I was working nights and I made sure everything ran smoothly.

I would come in at 6PM and meet with whoever was on day shift and get the report. How many patients were in each unit, what needed to be done, what problems should be anticipated; that sort of thing. Then, and this is the important part, I would meet with the nurses on each unit. They are the boots on the ground and could usually tell me more about the patients than the doctors’ notes. If things were quiet, I’d go back to the residents’ break room and get some food in me. There was cable TV and internet, so I could occupy myself quite well, but I knew that an emergency could arise at any second. So I would round every 3-4 hours, visiting each unit, talking to the nurses, preemptively taking care of whatever I could. For the vast majority of the time, things worked great. Every now and again, however, I would get something story worthy.

One such night was going swimmingly. Quiet Med/Surg floor, empty ICU, empty rehab unit. I was happily surveying our empty ER when I saw two men standing at the admitting desk. Both swayed ever so slightly, one of whom was holding his arm up, a crimson towel wrapped around his right hand. I was slow to realize that the towel had originally been white. Once back in the ER, I learned that the gentleman in question had just recently been fired. He had been a cook at a local bar and, after getting his walking papers, decided a day of drinking would be in order. Evidently, he had drunk enough, with his companion, that it had seemed like a good idea to go back to the fine establishment he had been fired from, to continue his inebriation. Upon encountering the manager that had fired him, my patient had decided that it would be better to put his fist through a plate glass window, rather than his former manager’s face, leading to him now sitting before me.

Unwrapping the bloody towel, I found his hand to be a gory mess, oozing red, with a single, pulsing jet of arterial spray providing dramatic effect to the whole scene. I rewrapped the hand and excused myself, swiftly walking to find the ER doc. Explaining to him that I felt that this man needed more than what I could provide, that he needed an orthopedic hand surgeon, he groggily followed me to inspect the damage. He was nonplussed. Pointing to the spouting arterial, he said, “Tie that off first, then repair that tendon, and that one, and then sew him up. He can follow up with a specialist later.” With that, he wearily went back to bed.

Resigned to the task at hand, I set up my sterile field, gloved up and injected his hand with anesthetic. Luckily, both of the men were so inebriated that I don’t think either of them were feeling much of anything. It took me roughly 90 minutes to put his hand back together. After it was done, I was convinced that I had mutilated and crippled this man. I urged him to follow up with some doctor (any doctor, for the love of God!), fearing infection, fearing disability, and sent him on his way. It was one of the more trying experiences in my life and it remains vivid in my mind and I’m not sure I would be telling anyone any of this, if this were the ending I had. As they say in the infomercials, however, but, wait, there’s more.

Years later, after I had left medicine, I was working out at some gym (I don’t remember which one I was with at the time) and I heard someone say, “Excuse me.” I didn’t recognize the man, but he asked if I was a doctor. After a few more questions, we had determined that I was, indeed, the man that had sewed his hand up. I openly expressed how convinced I had been that I had ruined his hand. He showed me the appendage in question and there wasn’t a single scar upon it. His take on the night, though fuzzy, was very different. He felt very well cared for and said his hand healed better than he expected it would. I don’t live in a world of black and white, but his words allowed me to chalk this experience up to a win. The whole reason for me to go into medicine was to feel like I was helping people, and his thanks to me is an experience I will always cherish.

The Thirsty Carnivore

If anyone has been reading this blog, I apologize to you for being negligent in keeping up with it. The holidays really take it out of me and I’m just recently feeling up to getting back to work. In addition, the urge to create art has taken hold of me and I am deep in the process of completing multiple pieces. If you don’t believe me (and there’s no reason why you should, I could easily be lying to you), just check my gallery. I’ve added a few new pieces to it. I am working towards resuming my outreach to the public and further building this blog, my Instagram, etc. That being said, I haven’t yet finished a blog post to my own satisfaction. I don’t wish to leave anyone high and dry, however, so I’m going to put one of my older writings up and hope it entertains you. The Thirsty Carnivore is one of the blog posts I wrote as a freelancer, for a bar-focused blog. Enjoy!

The Thirsty Carnivore

Vegans be damned! I want meat! I’m such a carnivore that I consider fish to be a vegetable. Which is why it makes me happy when bartenders incorporate meat into their drinks. I can get drunk and get my meat on at the same time. This practice isn’t anything new. The first time I heard about this was when I was leafing through a cook- book from the 1950’s. It was the kind of time capsule throwback that presupposed that only women would be reading it, because what would a man be doing in the kitchen? Ah, those were the days. But I digress. This was the first cookbook I had seen that had an entire chapter dedicated to cocktails. I was looking over all of their concoctions when I came across the Bull Shot.

Rumored to be thought up by some mad chemists from Detroit’s Caucus Club sometime around 1952, the Bull Shot is basically one part vodka to two parts beef broth, with some Worchester and Tabasco thrown in to give it some panache. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and you’ve got a drink straight out of “Mad Men”. With the new found popularity of bone broth, I’m seeing this drink, and others like it, pop up in bars every- where. Right here in Portland, the bar, Three Degrees, has a creation called TD’s Bloody Mary, beef consommé being a main ingredient.

Now that I’ve become more ambitious and experimental in my drinking, I have discovered a myriad of distillers, bartenders and aficionados that have attempted to magically combine the realms of meat and booze. These can be placed into three categories.

The first, and most common, is the garnish. If you happen to be a fan of the bloody mary, you have no doubt noticed an increase in the garnishing flair applied to those drinks. It’s like they’re putting a goddamn flower arrangement on the freakin’ thing, so that you have to eat the equivalent of an entire salad to even take a sip. To have the occasional bacon strip or strip added to this mix is not unusual, but now the kid gloves are off, and I won’t be surprise when I get a rack of ribs on top of my glass. For a refreshing change, I’ll go to Hamlet, that capitalizes on its swine based theme with the Meat vs. Melon. In dramatic counterpoint to the heat of a good bloody, the Meat vs.
Melon combines chilled gin and melon juice, elegantly garnished with a strip of air dried prosciutto.

In the second category, I present to you the infusion. In Portland, where bacon is so revered that I’m surprised we haven’t founded a religion based on it, there’s no shortage of alcoholic bacon creations. Bacon infusion is so common place now, however, that it is almost main stream. The Betty Crocker website has a recipe for it (http:// www.bettycrocker.com/how-to/tipslibrary/ingredients/how-to-make-bacon-infused-vodka) for fucks sake! Take, for instance, Alaska Distillery and their Smoked Salmon Vodka. There are a number of establishments that are utilizing a practice called fat washing. To fat-wash an alcohol, a fat or an oil, such as truffle oil, is poured into a container of booze and allowed to sit for a while at room temperature. The container is then placed in a freezer and the fat content allowed to solidify. Once that happens, the solid layer is re- moved, but the alcohol will have absorbed some of its flavors. There is a recipe for a Duck Fat Sazerac that I’ll be making as soon as I get my hands on some duck fat.

Third is the most unholy of alchemy, making alcohol from meat itself. This isn’t usually done, because the process of fermentation needs sugar to work, not protein. If we’re not too caught up on using actual meat, there are several forms of alcohol that are made from the fermentation of animal products. It’s been conjectured that mead is the earliest alcoholic beverage, made from the fermentation of honey, and there are a number of cultures that have beverages made from fermented milk, such as the drink, Kumis. If we actually want to delve into booze from fermented meat, we can, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. You may wish to stop reading here if you have a weak stomach, or are planning on eating anytime soon.

A winemaker out of Minnesota, Ray Reigstad, has made Army Worm Wine. Also known as Tent Caterpillars, that are native to North America, and can infest and damage certain crops. So when several of them descended on Reigstad’s property, he figured he’d do something useful with them. Having made wine in his basement for over a decade, he had a process in mind. Collecting seven pounds of worms in a bucket, he first poured boiling water over them to kill them. Then he added sugar and yeast, along with a few other ingredients and let it sit. After 4 months, he had a crisp, white wine that has been likened to a pinot grigio.

So, rejoice paleo people! Our love of flesh doesn’t need to stop when we belly up to the bar. You can eat your protein and drink it, too. Next time you’re out drinking, ask your bartender what they do with their meat. Er, maybe not. That got me kicked out the last time I asked.

 

I Hate Christmas

 

I’m about to espouse a view so controversial, so unpopular, that I hesitate to even go on for fear of pitchforks and torch fires. I hate Christmas.

There, I’ve said it.

I know, I know, it has its flaws, it’s over-commercialized, there’s an increase in waste that’s bad for the environment; fuck all that, I HATE Christmas.

Now you’re getting the idea.

Look, I was raised Catholic, so I am well versed in the Christian view of the “Reason for the Season”, and I get that an increased emphasis on the material has diluted the religious nature of the holiday. While I do mourn the loss of this spiritual aspect of the celebration, I’m not overly religious, so, while unfortunate, this is not a major issue for me. I am a believer in climate change and do recognize the stress that periods of increased consumerism puts on the environment, so, yeah, that’s a point against Christmas, but it still doesn’t get to the visceral loathing I have for this holiday.

Since lists seem to be the shit on the interwebs, I will literally count the frickin’ ways that I despise this holiday.

The Music – Oh, good God, the music! I believe that most Christmas music should be considered a war crime. I’m sure it is used by unscrupulous interrogators when waterboarding fails. It’s sappy, capitalizing on myths of a perfect home and loving family. Some of it is a bit rapey. But, the worst part of Christmas music is that it’s been meticulously crafted by the pop music gods to become weaponized earworms. If a virulent insinuation into generations of popular culture can be considered a form of immortality, then Burl Ives has attained a sort of godhood. His velvet smooth baritone instantly triggers unwanted olfactory illusions of Christmas trees and peppermint. My brain will be fucking playing these song, again and again, well into June and they make me want to puncture my eardrums with an ice pick.

The Colors – If you know my art, then you know that I am not one to shy away from color. I would completely own the title garish. But Christmas, with its red and green, its silver and gold? Holy fuck, this entire season is as soothing to the eyes as being peppermint pepper sprayed by angry elves. I mean, I have to give props to the fact that the colors harken back to the holiday’s pagan origins, but then the Christians had to make it way too metal. According to holyfamily.org, the points of the holly leaf represents the thorns of Jesus’ crown and the red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Totally badass, but does it have to be everywhere? Must we suffer, as well?

Presents – Hear me out here, because I recognise that presents are the biggest selling point for this holiday.Full disclosure: I’m not so much into material things. So take what I say with that in mind. I’ve never felt entirely financially comfortable, so the added expense that comes with gift giving is a bit stressful. A birthday coming around is one thing, but every freaking person I know? And there is the second stressor. Who do I give a gift to? Do I give a present to my boss? My mailman? How much do I spend on my wife vs. my bartender? Then there’s the what to get. Do they already have it? Will they ever use it?

Elf on a shelf – Okay, this is a newer one. No childhood trauma involved. I’ve actually just recently heard about this. WFT? I’ve already got enough paranoia. I’ve already believe in the surveillance state. Now, a children’s story
is telling 10 year olds (I have no idea what age group would be reading this book) is purporting that an inanimate doll is watching, judging their every move? How fucked up is that?

Santacon – Again, not a childhood generated manifestation. Let it be known that I am a drinker. I drink beer. I like beer. I still like beer. No, seriously, I enjoy drinking. That being said, what I’ve seen of Santacon is a walking disaster. I’ve already said that I am a drinker. I have no issue about someone drinking to excess. And, as we are only human, some of us will be total assholes when we are in our cups. Santacon takes this to the next level. As a drinker, New Year’s Eve is a celebration that I avoid, preferring to eschew the company of amateurs. Santacon, on the other hand, is an event I avoid, because they drink competitively and I’m just a hobbyist.

I’m not big on holidays overall. Other than International Nachos Day, I have no personal connection with any holidays. In fact, it doesn’t take much for me to celebrate. Arbor Day. Joe Hill Day. If we get to eat, drink and be merry, then I’m all for it. But Christmas is a holiday societal pressure and existential depression for me. That being said, Merry Christmas everyone. And Happy Holidays! Have fun!

I Love Cooking

 

I love to cook. To be fair, I am a hedonist, with food being a major area of enjoyment. If I had to go out to eat every time I wanted a nice steak, or stir fry or BBQ or anything else, I’d go broke. Not to mention that, there is something special about being able to prepare food “just the way you like it”. Even more hedonistic, I just enjoy the very act of cooking. It is the perfect intersection between science and art, between order and chaos, controlled conditions and crazy randomness.

I credit this love for cooking to my family. I was brought up to believe that a man’s place is in the kitchen. My grandfather was, in addition to being a drill sergeant, a cook in the army. My uncle held a number of food service jobs in his time and their guidance gave me my start in the culinary pursuits. Not to leave out people like my grandmother and my aunt Pat, both have (or had in my grandmother’s case) some mad skills, but, ultimately, I consider cooking to be an essential manly art. Normally, when one talks about food and family, it tends to be a discussion of cultural or ethnic roots, but we just liked food. We were equally happy spending hours layering phillo dough to make baklava as we were wrapping little sausages in Pillsbury croissant rolls out of a tube to make pigs in a blanket. Growing up with the Irish side of my family, we had our share of potatoes and pot roasts and stew, but we made everything from spanakopita to fried chicken to refried beans. When I was a teenager, my aunt Pat married a man from a Lebanese family, and I have made dishes like tabouli, hummus and baba ganoush ever since.

I feel at peace when I am in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or stirring a sauce, just waiting for the moment it takes on the right consistency. My bedtime reading regimen will occasionally include cookbooks and I will often scour the internet for new recipes to try. My favorites are complex, long, drawn out affairs, involving ingredients that must be searched for at specialty shops. Bonus points for ingredients that bring a look of confusion to a shopkeeper’s face when I ask for it. I love toasting and grinding my own chilis for chili powder. There’s something so visceral about touching and smelling and seeing all the different parts that will combine to make something glorious. There have been several times when I don’t even care about eating; the process of creating is the goal unto itself. That being said, I’m usually starving by the time whatever I’m making is finally done.

I’m always surprised that more people don’t cook. I consider it to be an essential life skill. Particularly for anyone with a special diet. I have a friend (I’m looking at you, King Biscuit) who is a strict vegetarian, but does not cook. He is constantly complaining about how hard it is for him to find good food. Of course, it’s going to be hard. There are countless places to get food in most urban areas, but how many of these are actually good? From this group, one must take away any of those that don’t match one’s diet profile, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, etc. Then, one’s personal tastes must be taken into consideration. For instance, I can (and have) eaten Ethiopian food, but I just don’t like it. I have a thing about texture and I find most Ethiopian food to be too mushy for my tastes. This leaves a very finite number of restaurants to choose from and even these are going to get boring after a while. When one cooks, they are limited by only budget, time and effort.

So, favorite foods. Ceviche, BBQ, almost any meat, sushi. I don’t like sweets, other than a weakness for pie.I love chili, Irish stew, shepherd’s pie. Not a huge pasta fan. Not really into carbs at all mostly, though I do appreciate a good nan. I like heat, spicy food. Not ghost pepper, painful hot, but the complex, numbing type of hot. Kim chee, Sichuan fermented chili-garlic sauce. I love sour. I’ll sip on vinegar, pickle juice and eat limes whole. I hate eggplant, but love baba ganoush. I hate avocado, but love guacamole. Goat is probably my favorite meat, and I’ve had a wide selection. I’ve eaten beef, pork, chicken, rabbit, squirrel, alligator, rattlesnake, bear, elk, venison, boar, buffalo, and those are the ones I can remember. Oh, yes, I’ve even eaten donkey sausage.

Why am I saying all this? Well, I’m hoping to talk about some of the more complex and entertaining recipes I do. I know this is only peripherally related to my work as an artist, but it is such a quintessential part of who I am, that I’m going to be talking about cooking. Figured I might as well lay some groundwork. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and I will come back with some recipes soon.

Anatomy

I love human anatomy. I think that we are one of the most beautiful things in the world, particularly the female of our species. It’s one of the first things that got me into art, but it’s led me down many other paths. Early on, I got the book The Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck and drew from that obsessively. Then something else happened to reinforce this love. I began taking martial arts classes. Suddenly, anatomy wasn’t just something pretty to look at, it was a weapon, a tool, a construct to be strengthened with a whole host of weaknesses. Pressure points, nerve centers, how a joint moves and how to lock one up; new avenues of study opened up before me and I was in heaven. In addition to the structure of the human body, now I also had reason to learn about physiology, the workings of the various organs. I studied diet, exercise, breathing techniques, stretching, even starting some basic yoga poses and meditation. You may already have logically concluded that this path is what led me to medical school, and you’d be part right, but it’s not quite that simple.

I studied Kenpo karate for about 8 years, earning a black belt and working as an instructor for 2 of those. But I travelled out of state for some of my college and stopped training for a while. The next time I studied, it was a school that taught tai chi and qi gong. I loved these disciplines just as much as I did my former hard style art. Mandatory reading was The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou, Tsung Hwa, which is excellent. He has a series of three books, the one on tai chi, another on meditation and a third on the I-Ching and I would recommend all of them. While taking classes, I also began learning about tui na, a form of Chinese bodywork, the chakras, the meridians, herbal remedies, etc. I never intended to be a doctor, I was working to enter an acupuncture school.

As fate would have it, the schools I was looking at required MCAT scores as a prerequisite for admission. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember much about the MCAT, AKA the Medical College Admissions Test, but I seem to recall it consisted of two 3-4 hour sessions, with four parts. The physical sciences, biologic sciences and verbal reasoning parts were multiple choice and then there was a written essay part. I don’t remember my score either, but, evidently, it was good enough that a few medical schools sent me information packets for their schools. One of these was the University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, while I never intended to be a doctor, this school allowed for far more financial aid than any of the acupuncture schools and was located much closer to my family and, to be frank, graduating with a medical degree did seem to offer a more reliable future. I went to medical school and I loved that, too.

One of the first classes was anatomy. I had had anatomy class in college and the lab had a cadaver, but we never got to touch it. It had been pre-dissected. Now in medical school, four medical students were assigned a cadaver and were responsible for its dissection. We even got a box of human bones we could check out of the library and take home to study with. That lab was challenging. I don’t mind saying that I was horrible at dissection when I first began. Nonetheless, we persevered and passed the course and continued with the rest of the curriculum. Most doctors never set foot in the lab again, but I have rarely followed the common path. I was awarded an anatomy teaching fellowship while at the school and spent a year helping to teach and dissect in the cadaver lab. Even this wasn’t enough for me, however.

More recently, I taught anatomy at the National College of Natural Medicine, though now, it’s the National University of Natural Medicine, and was in charge of the cadaver lab. The lab had 6 cadavers, all of which needed to be dissected. I usually had between 4-8 students that assisted me in dissection, but that still left a lot of work for me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy dissection. There’s a meditative quality to the act that focuses and relaxes me at the same time. And then, through everything I’ve learned and experienced, I still love anatomy. That has stayed with me throughout my entire life. I still refer back to my Netter’s (one of the most commonly used anatomy atlases), I still go life drawing sessions, the human body still fascinates me. Even if it doesn’t seem like that love is reflected in my art.

The Hummingbird is my Spirit Animal

My spirit animal is a hummingbird. This is not an easy admission for me to make. Quite the contrary. I take no pride in having a hummingbird as my spirit animal, or even having a spirit animal at all, but that’s just the way is it. The hummingbird isn’t exactly the paragon of masculinity, nor are they symbolic of wisdom, or generosity, or bravery or many admirable qualities at all for that matter. Would Richard the Hummingbird have been taken as seriously as Richard the Lionhearted? Even more important to my fragile ego, the very notion of having a spirit animal suggests that I adhere to some new agey, woo-woo concepts. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. That being said, there are some facts you just have to accept when they’re staring you in the face and the hummingbird being my spirit animal is one of them.

I consider myself a skeptic, someone with an open mind, but requiring proof to accept some outre ideas. I believe that the evidence supports the beneficial effects of massage therapy, meditation and mirror therapy, but that the science behind homeopathy, astrology and anything that describes itself as “energy medicine” is sorely lacking. I could potentially accept spirit animals as a metaphor, but their actual existence seems ludicrous to me. Until I had a dream.

I remember being in a forest, but you know how dreams go. It was vague, shifting, archetypal primordial forest one moment, claustrophobic, but desolate, city the next. In all of it, I was lost. Every now and then, I would encounter some fantastical, woodland creature or faceless passerby, and they would speak to me, always the same question. “What is your animal? What is your spirit animal?” I was wound tight, I can tell you that. I mean, how the fuck was I supposed to know? I was lost and these dream creatures were hounding me. I sure as shit knew, with that crazy dream logic, that none of this would end until I found the answer. My anxiety reached nightmarish proportions as the questions came quicker and quicker and the landscape became more mazelike.

As dreams usually go, there are no specifics, only an uncertain sense of the details. The one thing that stuck with me was cold sweat and a gut wrenching fear. As I wandered and wandered through the confusing, narrow pathways, a collection of hummingbirds gathered around me, buzzing my head occasionally, some alighting on nearby branches to chirp their discontent. I was so focused on my search that they barely registered, but their numbers grew and grew until I could no longer ignore them. Looking up at the multitude above my head, a voice rose up in unison, a thunderous chorus that shook me violently awake.

“It’s a hummingbird, stupid!”

There are times I have forgotten my own birthday, yet, I remember those words to this day. Those exact words. Could it simply have been a dream, signifying nothing? Perhaps, but it sure didn’t feel that way. To be perfectly honest, it’s those adorable freakin birds giving me sass like a bratty teenager that sold it to me. Their contempt for me was palpable and still ringing in my ears as I sat up in bed. I shit you not. So, while I never wanted a hummingbird as a spirit animal, I never wanted a spirit animal at all, I suppose I’m not really in charge of those decisions. I’m just going to flit away now and find some nectar to drink.

The Process

My first painting was on a piece of wood I found. I had a handful of acrylic paints that I had been carting around with me for years. During a period of unplanned unemployment, I needed things to do that didn’t cost me anything. The paints were a present from some well meaning person in my life and, even though I hadn’t the slightest idea how to use them, I felt guilty throwing them away. I’m not sure where I got brushes from, but I commandeered one of my pot lids as a palette and started painting. Through a combination of trial and error, library books and YouTube videos, I have learned a lot, but there’s still so much I don’t know. Which is why anytime I go to look at art, I’m always interested in hearing about an artist’s technique and process. Mainly because I’m looking for any clue I can as to how to properly do art. I mean, I’m just slapping paint on a surface until it kinda looks like I want it to. I’ve been gessoing my surfaces for a while now, but I just learned about surface levelling gel. Who knew? So, I figured that I would share my process, such that it is right now.

The Sketch

It all starts with a sketch. I have a sketch pad with me at all times and I will be working on it every chance I get. To be honest, it’s my favorite part of art. Creating something new, just drawing lines and letting my unconsciousness take the steering wheel. This is true joy. When I’m staring at the blank page, I rarely have some idea of what I want to draw; I just sketch what is pleasurable. They’re just doodles at first and 90% of the time, they never go beyond this. I have sketchbook after sketchbook filled with pure crap. Seriously, most of it, absolute drek. Every once in a while, though, one of my drawings grabs me. It demands more of my time. I go back to it time and time again, reworking it, refining it. And, if this happens enough, it demands to be painted.

Surface Preparation

The first step for any of my paintings is choosing and preparing the painting surface. I’m partial to wood, I like the firm, unyielding surface, but canvas is cheap and available. Not to mention that wood is heavy; I have some paintings that are so heavy that hanging them is a challenge. While canvas is easy, I hate the course tooth of the surface, so I apply between 4-5 coats of gesso and sand it down to as smooth as I can get it. I am anxious to try the surface levelling gel, but I’m not quite there yet. Once the surface is ready, I used to lay down the basic composition in pencil. It’s just something I’m comfortable with. I played around adding another layer of gesso over that to hide the lines, before putting paint to canvas, but it just smeared the lines and made the surface grey. Now, I spray the pencil with fixative before gessoing it over, but I’m moving away from pencil all together.

Underpainting

I’ve recently started playing around with an underpainting. For now, it’s a monochrome wash, followed by a similar color that is slightly more opaque, to map out the composition. After that, it’s time to lay down some dots. Lots and lots of dots. I’ll lay done a few lines to demarcate general forms, but I really want to forms in the painting to be built up by layer upon layer of dots. When I’m painting a particular area, I will determine a range of colors that I want that area to be. For sky, it’s usually a range of blues. For flesh, a range of yellows, browns and oranges. I start with the lightest color in the group and cover the widest area of that area with dots. Then, I’ll use a color darker and use that to start creating definition.

Television

This is tedious, methodical work and I get bored easily. So, how do have the patience? I watch a lot of TV. Or, to more precise, a lot of streaming online video. I only mention this now, because I will be devoting some of my blog posts to some of the aspects of shows that I find interesting. Consider yourself warned.

The Painting

The least number of layers that I’ve used is around three, the most being six. When is it done? Someone posed this question to me directly not so long ago and the answer isn’t obvious. There’s a certain weight, a solidity that I want my forms to have and I just keep building it up until it’s there. I can see it coming, the development of the shapes, but the exact end usually catches me by surprise. I’ll look at the canvas, palette in one hand, brush poised in the other, seeking the areas I need to build up and I’ll realize that anything more is as likely to ruin the painting, as it is to make it better.


It’s a slow process, but now that I’m doing art full-time, I’m getting faster. My largest piece, a 3’x4’ peacock, took me around 6 months, but I didn’t work on it everyday in those 6 months, and when I did work on it, some days an hour was all I could put in. Now, I have three paintings going at once, as well as various pen and ink/watercolor marker pieces. My latest piece, the one featured in this post, Mine Eye Hath Seen the Glory, took me about a month. It’s really what inspired this post, since it’s the first piece that I have photographed at various stages of development. As boring and basic as it is, there’s my process. I fully expect it to change in a year or so, as I continue to learn, so I’ll have to remember to do a follow up post after a while. Until then, I had better get back to painting.

Nachos!

Nachos aren’t just a delicious snack, they are a part of my heritage, which is why I’ll be celebrating National Nacho Day on Nov. 6th. Per Wikipedia, the first plate of nachos was created in the city of Peidras Negras, Coahulia, Mexico, which is right along the Texas border, by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a distant relative of mine. As the story goes, he was the maitre d’hotel at a restaurant that had just closed, when a group of hungry patrons came in. Not wanting to turn them away, he took what little they had in the kitchen and turned those humble ingredients into a dish that has not only endured the test of time, but spawned a butt load of variations. Nachos have become so popular that there is not only a National Nacho Day, but also an International Nacho Festival that is held between Oct. 13th and 15th, in Peidras Negras. Now that’s a snack!

According to the lore, “Nacho” Anaya scavenged the meager stores of his kitchen and, finding only tortillas and cheese, manifested the glorious food that are nachos. This part of the story resonates so strongly with me. One of my particular joys is to enter a kitchen, the more foreign to me the better, and, using only what I find, create a delicious meal. The creativity that such a challenge poses is a total rush and, if I’m actually successful at making something tasty and nutritious, I feel like a true artist. I have considered creating an Iron Chef style event just among my circle of friends, several of who like to cook and all of who love to eat. But I digress.

Nachos are basically tortilla chips and cheese, but what’s the fun in that? Talk about a palette that is begging for color. Traditional additions are things like black beans, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, meat (too many to list here), tomatoes, olives and the like. I like meat, like I’m pretty much a carnivore, but nachos are one of the few dishes that I don’t think do well with meat. Ground beef with taco seasoning is common, but I think it makes the dish too greasy. Chicken is usually shredded and the pieces are so large that they break the already overburdened tortilla chips. Pulled pork? WTF? This isn’t BBQ! And, for the love of God, please don’t ever tell me about the abomination that are tachos, nachos made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips. The secret to the best nachos is crunchy chips baked to sublime crispiness, cemented together with gooey cheese, slightly burnt at the edges to give it its own unique crispiness as well.

A word needs to be said about cheese. This may be an unpopular, but I feel that cheddar is a completely unsuitable cheese for melting. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheddar, but the oil separates too easily upon melting creating an unsavory consistency. For my palette, a combination of colby and jack cheeses will provide the perfect flavor and viscosity combination. Am I thinking about cheese too much? Damn, I really want some nachos now. Well, until next time, stay gooey.

Waiting

Being a doctor makes one very good at waiting. Well, maybe not good, but it gives one a lot of practice. Waiting for lab results. Waiting for patients to get out of surgery. Waiting to get authorization for insurance companies. Waiting for specialists and consultants to get back to you. In medicine, there was a phrase we used to use; the tincture of time. It often referred to seeing a patient with uncertain symptomatology. Many times, the best one can do is nothing, just have the patient come back a few weeks later. Often, the symptoms will resolve on their own, or become something more defined. Without a clear path ahead, sometimes the best one can do is wait.

There is a parable of sorts about this. There were two physicians travelling together, long, long ago. Master and student, wandering together and helping who they could. They came across a man who travelled with them for a ways. Learning that they were doctors, he freely discussed several of his aches and pains, his myriad of symptoms becoming a topic of conversation for miles of the journey. The younger doctor, wishing to prove his knowledge, expounded on the therapies and treatments that he felt would help many of the man’s problems. The man barely seemed to hear. During the day’s journey, the older physician talked freely as well, but about anything but medicine. Family, the weather, the best fishing spots in the region; simple conversation that passed the time, every topic seemingly inconsequential. That night, around the campfire, they all continued their discussions, but the older doctor finally decided the time was right to discuss medical matters. Now, in the flickering firelight, the man listened in rapt attention to the elder physician, duly noting every bit of advice that fell from the old man’s lips. The younger doctor listened, as well, noting that the advice was identical to what he had told the man earlier that day, but now the man acted as if he were hearing the wisdom of the gods.

The next day, the man bid the two doctors farewell and they went on their way. Once again in each others company, the younger asked his mentor why the man had ignored his own advice, yet listened so readily to the older physician. The wise doctor said to the younger physician, “there was nothing wrong with the advice you gave to the man, but there was one ingredient that you left out of your prescription. Time. He needed time to hear what was being said. Time to say the things he needed to say. For him to hear you, he first needed to feel that you were hearing him.”

Now I’m learning that being an artist makes one very good at waiting, too. Waiting for gesso to dry. Waiting for inspiration to hit. Waiting for my paint to be the right consistency. Waiting for a customer to get back to me. Waiting. I suppose every profession has its waiting. And I don’t mind it so much anymore. I much prefer waiting for my prints to be ready to waiting for my patient to die. Also, I usually have three different pieces going, not to mention writing blog posts and having a piece of meat brining in the fridge, so there’s that. That’s for listening and I hope you have as little waiting in your life as possible.

Top 10 Comic Book Artists (according to me)

First of all, let me make it very clear that this list is only my opinion. I don’t mean to say others artists are bad or that I’m even some sort of expert on the subject. I’m just another starry eyed fan boy gushing to the masses. It nearly killed me trying to pick a top ten and to fudge it a little, I’ve dumped a bunch of names into an “honorable mention” category. This is a very personal list, with inclusion determined by not only artistic talent, but by how deeply their art affected me as I was developing my own style. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Juan Jose Ryp

My first peek at Juan Jose Ryp’s art was the Warren Ellis comic, Black Summer. This was followed up by No Hero, also by Warren Ellis and just as dark. His art was perfect for these stories. So detailed you don’t know where to look first and filled with an intense energy that makes one feel that everything on the page is in constant motion. He’s one of the few artists that could make me overlook bad writing in a comic, though I have yet to put that to the test. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers and, though I have read very little of Charlie Huston’s work, I thought that the limited series, Wolverine: The Best There Is, is excellent.

Alex Ross

The first time I saw Alex Ross’s work, I never would have considered him a comic book artist. His style is so painterly that I just thought his superhero pieces were fan art, a side line to what he normally produces. Then, Kingdom Come proved me wrong. Quite simply, his art is gorgeous. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, then go, right now, and look at his art.

Robert Crumb

Probably one of the earliest of my influences, Robert Crumb attained fame from his work in the underground comix realm, with characters like Fritz the Cat and titles like American Splendor. His work was immediately accessible to me, mostly simple black and white pen and ink drawings. He is a master of cross hatching and I did my best to emulate him in my teenage years. His penchant for drawing rubenesque women was also a factor in my appreciation of his work. I won’t go on about Crumb; so much has already been written about him (he’s even got a freakin’ documentary for frickin’ sakes!) and I just wanted to share my love.

John Byrne

Another early influence, I became acquainted with Byrne’s work when he was drawing the X-Men. Part of my love for his art was because of the Dark Phoenix saga, but I followed him onto Alpha Flight, as well. Alpha Flight never garnered much attention, but there’s something I love about the idea of a Canadian superhero team. It always struck me as odd how American centric superhero comics are. Some titles have included superheroes from other countries, heck, Captain Britain had his own comic for a while, but, overall, the scene has been North American dominated.

I’ll include a link to John Byrne’s website, but let me warn you in advance, it’s nearly overwhelming in how busy it is and just how much art and information is amassed there.

Frank Frazetta

I feel a little guilty about including Frazetta on this list, because my experience with his art was not through comics. So, while, technically he is considered a comic book artist, I will forever associate him with Molly Hatchet. Frazetta did the art for their first three albums, all of them featuring bad-ass barbarian dudes.

As a comic book fan, whose art is usually rendered in inks, it’s always striking to me when I see a painter in the mix. Frank Frazetta trained at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, while there, trained under a celebrated, Italian painter, Michele Falanga. Falanga was so impressed with Frazetta’s talent, he was going to send him to Italy, on his own dime, for further study, but he died before that could happen. He began drawing for comics when he was 16 and later worked with both movie studios and book publishers doing posters and covers. He did one animated feature called Fire & Ice, with Ralph Bakshi, which was released in 1983. There’s nothing overly original about the story itself (IMO), but the art is gorgeous. In later life, he suffered a series of strokes that affected his ability to do art, forcing him to switch to his left hand. He died of a stroke in 2010.

Frank Quitely (AKA Vincent Deighan)

Words cannot express how much I love Frank Quietly’s work (I say as I write these words). The first time I saw his work was in a comic called, Gangland, a crime-themed rag of short stories that was dark enough to scratch my itch. He has worked on The Authority, Flex Mentallo, Jupiter’s Legacy and All-Star Superman. His art is gloriously detailed and intricate. He won the “Best Artist” Harvey Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The is one of the few artists I am envious of. There are many, many artists whose work I appreciate, but, being an artist myself, which brings a certain amount of arrogance about one’s own art, I don’t usually consider them better than myself. Their styles are either so different from mine that there is no way to compare, or the artist has a style that I enjoy, but would never want to do myself. You hear stories such as the tales about blues singer, Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to become the greatest blues musician. If the devil asked for my soul in exchange for Mr. Quitely’s level of talent, I’d say ‘no’, but there would be one hell of a long pause before I did.

Rick Griffin

A true child of the 60’s, Griffin was in the heart of San Francisco during the summer of love. He was part of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test and created a number of posters for psychedelic bands. His first art exhibition was at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street. In the early 70’s, he started doing some work for Zap comix. I’m not sure where I got them, but I have a number of “underground” comix, which, incidentally, is where I also got into Robert Crumb, and I would literally study the pages illustrated by Griffin. I consider his style to be quintessential 60’s psychedelia.
He died at the age of 47 in a motorcycle accident. Prior to his death, he found God and became a christian. I have seen a few articles that commented on how this entirely changed his style, but I did not find this to be true. His illustrations of biblical scenes seem just as trippy to me as his drug-centered work, but then some consider religion a drug itself, so that doesn’t really seem that strange to me.

Richard Corben

I don’t know how he gets the look he does in his art, but the first word that comes to mind, to describe his work, is lush. There is almost a 3D look to it. One can practically feel the flesh of his characters, smell the hot, foul breath of the fanged maws of the creatures he draws. The very first piece I saw by him was the album cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, but he also had numerous contributions to the magazine, Heavy Metal. His art does not shy away from some rather extreme sex and violence, which I confess a slight weakness for.

Bill Sienkiewicz

In the late 80’s, I got my hands on a four issue series called, Stray Toasters. It was an incredibly surreal piece that I fell completely in love with. Without giving any spoilers, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The story was certainly strange and convoluted, but I don’t believe it would have had the effect it did on me without the art of Bill Sienkiewicz. Rendered in subdued pastels, the art is phrenetic, having no respect for the neat boxes that usually make up the panels of a comic book, the sequential nature of the story delightfully uncertain and bound only by the page itself. Oh, and he wrote the comic, too.
I’ve read those comics time and time again, and I still consider the work to be one of the finest stories I’ve ever read. This sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I have a rather unusual taste in the stories I like and they’re not easy to find. Stray Toasters checked all the boxes for me. After more than 30 years, he is still very active in the comics scene, drawing for titles such as Batman, The Hulk, 30 Days of Night and the like. He has also done album art for RZA, Roger Waters and Kid Cudi, and even illustrated cards for Magic the Gathering.

Will Eisner

You don’t claim to be a comic books fan without knowing Will Eisner. Born the child of Jewish immigrants, he began drawing illustrations for pulp magazines in the 30’s. His most famous creation, The Spirit, an urban crime-fighting comic, ran from 1940 to 1952 and profoundly influenced comic book artists for years to come. He did work for the U.S. Army during WW2, his illustrations used for educational purposes, training soldiers in vehicle maintenance and ordinance usage.
His career spanned about 40 years and he even formally taught comic book creation, writing two books on the subject, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Truly one of the greats!

Honorable Mention

As I said earlier, I can’t really realistically only name the top 10 artists. There are so many awesome inkers and painters and illustrators, that to ignore them would be criminal. The likes of Frank Miller, Steve Dillon, Bruce Timm, Dave Mack, Mobeus, Mike Mignola, Milo Manara, Jim Lee and countless others have inspired me to be a better artist. In building my technique and style, I have borrowed much from them and I am eternally grateful for their art.