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November 2008

November 2008 -- Ice



  • Behind the Art:
    Painting with Ink
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Pauline Baynes (1922 - 2008):
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Interior Decorating for the Artist
  • EMG News:
    November News


  • Xenolinguistics: Making It Up As You Go Along
  • Inking Ice Spiders


  • Poem: Icy Arrival


  • Falheria: Ice
  • Tomb of the King: Kelsar, Part 4

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  • Inking Ice Spiders
    by Ellen Million and Elizabeth Barrette

    The Tell Me a Story project was an idea that I had to combine creative written material with story-telling artwork. I invited writers and creators to share in this process, soliciting their stories, poems, or general ideas as jumping off points for highly-detailed, multi-scene illustrations. Elizabeth Barrette shared her poem, "String of Beads."

    I liked the idea of spider creatures (waaaay outside of my comfort-zone), and the challenge of doing ice and diamonds. It is ironic that I draw a lot more fantasy than science fiction, yet I read and watch a lot more science fiction than fantasy. So, it felt good to do something a bit sci-fi in flavor.

    This particular stage, done lightly with mechanical pencil on bristol, is not one that I would generally share publicly - these are my scribbly where-things-go stage. I often refine it further before I show it to a client, find some references, rethink any awkward compositional bits that I don't like... before the client could like it, and I'd be stuck with it. In this case, I consulted with Elizabeth here - to see if I was even close. She quite liked it, but suggested longer-limbed spiders, less-Hollywood horror-esque, and provided useful links to some naturalist photograph sites.

    At this stage, I showed it again to Elizabeth, to see if it matched her vision. She said:

    You nailed the spiders! Okay, this picture is giving me the shivers now -- not because of the spiders, but because you've managed to capture the sense of impending doom. The fractured effect really carries... I love looping inspiration back-and-forth between writing and art and what-all else. I actually got my inspiration for the poem from an Archon panel about space oddities. From science fact to science fiction poetry to science fiction art -- whee! Usually ekphrasis works in the other direction, picture to poetry, so this is extra cool.

    Once I am content that the pencils are the way I want, I start going over things with a Copic thinliner, the smallest size they make. I go over important areas at least twice, so that the line thickness is varied.

    At this stage, I am pleased with most of it, but not happy with the inking on the gems - it's something I haven't tried before, and so far I'm not thrilled. I may experiment a little and do something different as I go further. The nice thing about this being a collaborative project, and not a commission, is that I feel free to experiment, and if it doesn't exactly work, oh well.

    What you can't see at this size is that I've added 'AMWAY' down the side of the briefcase being carried by the figure on the right. I'm easily entertained.

    Here, I am in the slog stage. That horrible, tedious point of a piece where I'm questioning the need to space every single damn teeny little scratch of the pen so perfectly apart and the temptation to get sloppy is extreme. Enough has been inked in that I can't really brainstorm new ideas, so it doesn't feel very creative anymore. I'm sure that I'll never get that detail to look quite right anyway, and what was I thinking tackling something with transparency and WHY SPIDERS. I hate spiders...

    At this stage, a little nice feedback from the client is very useful for the inking engine. Fortunately, I got some!

    The radial lines from the cracked ice-planet ... oh wow. The hairs on the back of my neck give it a standing ovation.

    To keep myself going for the finish line, I like to look at what's working and break things down:


    ~Radial shading. Total fluke - one of the experiments I wasn't sure about when I started - but I love the results. It takes a great deal of concentration and care - usually you can be a little more haphazard about hatching, but not so, in this case.
    ~Spiders. Creepy, but they work!
    ~Cracking ice. I wish I'd made it look deeper (shell of the world type thing), but it still totally works.
    ~Cracking planet. I had no faith in making this work, but I think I did!
    ~Overall Composition. Sometimes it all just comes together.


    ~Diamonds. I need remedial jewel-inking lessons. I had some references, but translating them to something I can ink has proven beyond me. As linework goes, it's okay, but adding hatching, it just all fell apart. I decided here to erase it digitally and stick with basic linework and REALLY minimal hatching on just a few facets.


    ~I drew the moon lumpy! Hate hate hate lumpy moons! But I saved that, digitally, by deleting the upper rim so it fades to white, which was even better than it would have been.

    Above, the jewels have been deleted out in prep for re-drawing, which is done digitally below:

    And, with gracious permission, here is the poem that sparked it:

    The String of Beads
    Elizabeth Barrette

    They were rich and never knew it.

    To them, all the world was ice -
    substance to be tunneled away,
    clear cold brick for their houses - so how
    could it be precious?

    When the aliens came
    with their queer two legs
    and so-simple eyes,
    the ice spiders laughed
    and sold the world
    for a string of beads - for who
    could take a world away?

    But the warm-blooded monkeys
    burrowed deep in the world's frozen flesh,
    carved out its icy heart and
    drank away its essence.

    At last the world could take no more
    and began to crack. A great groaning
    and grinding arose from within.
    The ice spiders wept crystal tears
    and tried to mend the fissures with silk,
    squeezing themselves empty,
    but all to no avail.

    They sucked the blood of monkeys
    and spit it into scarlet bridges
    that frayed away in the icequakes.

    In the end, the world shattered
    down to dust and fog,
    leaving the monkeys no wealthier
    and the ice spiders without a world
    to call their own.

    It didn't matter that the beads
    were diamonds the size of eyes,
    for She-Who-Spun-the-World
    had only ever made one
    all the way of ice

    and there was no replacing it.

    Ellen Million has always had a passion for projects. Visit her site for prints and embarrassing archives.

    Elizabeth Barrette writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in the fields of speculative fiction, gender studies, and alternative spirituality. Recent publications include the short story "Clouds in the Morning" in Torn World and poem "The Forest of Infinity" in Star*Line. She serves on the Canon Board, editing and selecting material at Torn World. She hosts a monthly Poetry Fishbowl on her blog, The Wordsmith’s Forge (, writing poems based on audience prompts. She enjoys suspension-of-disbelief bungee-jumping and spelunking in other people's reality tunnels.

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