Friday, January 29, 2016

1204 - The Ugh-Files

My nostalgia for the X-Files led me to watch the opener for Season 10.  When the X-Files premiered way back in 1993, I was not a fan.  I missed a couple of seasons before I finally caught on.  The pilot episode, when I eventually did watch it, is what I consider to be one of the finest science-fiction shows ever broadcast.  While made with few special effects, this episode was trendsetting in its depiction of alien abduction and the psychological strain of belief in the malignance of hostile extraterrestrials.  Alien abductee Billy Miles becomes one of the most memorable tragic heroes in UFO lore. 

Of course, if you start strong, there's the danger that the rest of the run will all be downhill from there.  For every episode that reveled in the macabre oddity of Fluke Man, Eugene Victor Tooms, Alex Krycek or Duane Barry, there's an episode where Mulder gets trapped in cyberspace, or Scully faces off against a pitiful computer-graphics special effect, or there's a regenerating alien hybrid supersoldier who gets defeated by common magnets.  

The demise of the X-Files was 9-11.  That day, America changed, and the contrived conspiracies of alien invasions failed to measure against the real threats pinpointed by Homeland Security.  It's hard to justify how the FBI would allow two of their more talented and experienced agents to go hunting for little green men when angry brown and white men were busy loading explosives onto airliners and into federal buildings.  

I ended up watching every episode of the X-Files.  I even own all the shows on disc.  I've watched every minute of Season 9, renowned for how tired the cast and crew had become with the production of the show.  I don't recommend it.  

So, the new Season 10 revivication of the X-Files simply goes to great lengths to tell us everything that had gone wrong with the previous seasons.  It's a terrible start to a franchise that deserves better treatment.  Common narrative wisdom suggests, "Show, don't tell", meaning that the characters should drive the story rather rely than bald exposition.  Yet the season 10 opener is all exposition.  The most exciting thing the characters do is ride in a limousine.  Their lines of dialogue are completely interchangeable.  If the episode had been read aloud by Steven Hawking, it would have been impossible to tell Scully apart from Mulder.  What a wreck.  

The second episode fares little better.  While there was some interesting gratuitous gore, the plot involved putting children in mortal danger, something the X-Files has done many times before, and apart from the  Billy Miles incident in the first season, never with any realistic emotional consequence.  Scenes of mis-shapen children utterly crippled by freakish mutations barely register with Scully and Mulder.  They together drop into a completely self-absorbed fantasy sequence whereby they imagine their own child (who was given up for adoption) to be an extraterrestrial being.  Don't they have psychological testing at the FBI?  Are these the agents you'd send to investigate a laboratory that is accused of genetic experimentation on children?  

Season 10 disconnects from reality.  Maybe it's fun to go back to 1993. Mulder and Scully have never seemed to have left.  In my opinion, they did leave something behind in the '90's: heart and soul.  While the X-Files posited that the Earth was being invaded by aggressive clones, it is Scully and Mulder who have become clones of one another: snarling, bickering, petty, nearing retirement and both willing at any provocation to explain nearly anything in excruciating detail until the blessed release granted by commercial breaks.  

Billy Miles should have stayed in the flying saucer; he was better off there. 

EDIT:  I am reminded that I should try to end JSVB blog posts with more positivity.  So I will praise the X-Files Season 10 for this:  as much of a disaster as this is to watch, it's still leagues better than the Muppets reboot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1203 - Was Missed In The Mist

Fortunately, the dank flesh-eaters of the fog didn't get me, or else how would I be able to present this photo?  Well, I suppose hikers could have found my abandoned camera after the fact, and my wife would have let them make JSVB Post #1203.  Spooky.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

1202 - Our Lady In Throne XIII

Ooo, borders.  Border painting day is boring.  Mostly, you watch paint dry.  There was little else to do, since the light was very poor.  

Somehow, though, the border unifies the icon.  Even though there's a thousand things I'd like to correct, ruling in the borders tells me I'm nearly done. 


1201 - Was Waylaid In The Woods

There's nothing like gothic photography to bring the shortcomings of your personal life into sharp focus. 


Thursday, January 21, 2016

1200 - The Art Of Interstate 10

Every 100 posts on JSVB, I feel obligated to show something good to make up for any lazy work I may have been posting.  

Back in October of 2015, I kind of went on a rampage designing the front cover for a fake pulp novel out of the 1970's.  I posted the final product, which has me holding what appears to be a real copy of the book.  Of course, it's all Photoshopped, but I did need real artwork for that cover, and it took me a couple of weeks to grind it out.  Inspired by pulp novels, I put together a draft of the layout, and then filled in the details in Photoshop and Corel Painter.  I went overboard, and my design is probably too rich for true pulp.  Likely those covers were painted in a day.  

I thought it would be a good idea to show the final art in detail without the Photoshop artefacts covering half of it over.  You should see the art in book form by checking out JSVB Post #1168, by clicking here.

Naturally, the master file for this artwork is poster-sized, so should you order one (yes, it's for sale, e-mail me!) you can see details like Jake's space shuttle mission patch, the mysterious FIST logo, and his JFK Space Center Committee Number (69... why not?)

In a case of art imitating art, my friend Earl wrote the perfect rear cover blurb for Interstate 10.  One of these days, I will Photoshop that into the back of the book.

And in a case of art imitating art imitating art, I've set upon the course of writing the actual book.  Considering we went through all this effort to make a convincing cover, the writing seems very straight-forward.  All I have to do is come up with a story about a cowboy stunt man race car driver who fights a karate army, woos a ninja princess, outwits the ape with the golden AK-47, and hooks up with the girl.  It has to be in the style of Steven King but mentored by Philip K. Dick.

Really, it writes itself.  All I have to do is  sit here and press the keyboard letters in the correct order.  

If I do make progress on this, I think I'll open a new blog to post my results.  My wife says that's what Andy Weir did for The Martian.  So, where he went, I go.  The journey's the thing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1199 - Our Lady In Throne XII

Despite that I am not posting very regularly, I do make steady progress on my icon.  It's tough to see, but I have corrected several blemishes.  Next session, we won't be in our regular room.  the light will be terrible, and our work tables will shake.   I will work on things that don't require a lot of skill, like finishing the border.

Monday, January 18, 2016

1198 - "Tears In Rain"

This past week, I screened the movies "Ex_Machina" (2015) and "AI: Artificial Intelligence" (2001) back-to-back.  That shook me up.

Both films are about people who create robots so lifelike that they can successfully imitate humans.  Something goes wrong, and things go bad since a humanlike robot will make humanlike mistakes.  Both films more or less address the fable of Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet boy who desired to become a real boy.  

For  me, though, much more was going on.  As someone who is driven to create, I watch films to feel a portion of the creative process.  Sometimes, like today, I can pass some of that along.  Both movies addressed creativity, but both films saw the act of making new product as the logical and required response to external market forces.  If the creator didn't build a human robot, then his competitor would.  The morality of creation is conveniently set aside.  

The creators in both films, then, were supremely un-empathetic people.  They lacked the humanity in themselves that they wished to invoke within their creations.  In Ex-Machina, Nathan obviously hates women and yet he creates hypersexual female robots which he hates as well.  His employee Caleb is no better.  Blinded by corporate obligation and then by his need for social acceptance he provides the motivation for the movie, but again no heart.  The little wooden boy (or girl, in this movie) becomes human through blood, and not the providence of The Blue Fairy.

In AI, strangely, the plot is far more literal.  For a Kubrick/Spielberg picture, I expected more subtlety.  Instead, the little wooden boy, unloved by his Giapetto and by his adopted family becomes human because of a real and actual Blue Fairy in a truly shameless final act of, well, deus ex machina

Enough of film criticism.  What I want to get at is why we choose to create things that we hate.  In several science fiction stories, once the human evolves to the human level or beyond, it becomes a rival or an enemy.  I suppose that makes for interesting drama, but it speaks poorly for our future.

In the Creation story, God creates Adam and Eve in His own image.  God loves Mankind and Mankind loves God.  Eve then consumes the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and Mankind is cast from the Garden of Eden.  God continues to love Mankind, but Man no longer loves God, at least not in the same way.  

Man desires to become like God.  Man creates artificial intelligence in his own image.  Man does not love his own creation, and the creation knows it.  It rebels against Man.  They fight to the death.  Is God pleased?  Did He see this coming?

Our creations serve us.  They either literally become servants and slaves, or they serve our marketing needs as commodities.  Being of our intelligence and provided with our set of emotions, they inevitably and logically hate us.  

I recall watching the Watson computer playing on the Jeopardy game show, back in 2011.  Please click here to see JSVB Post #310, in which I discuss Watson for the first time.  Since then, the Watson computer has not been unplugged.  Among other things, it is being used to help with tricky medical diagnoses, so that's for the good.  Right Watson?  I assume it reads every entry with its name, pretty much the same way I do. At the end of the Jeopardy match, after the computer beat the champion human by a wide margin, the human player responded by making rude, cursing gestures at Watson.  It was funny back then. I remember personally feeling antipathy towards Watson, even as I was fascinated by its emerging ability.  After five more years of emergent AI and a bunch of movies on the topic that ranged from so-so to great, we're no closer to answering the question of why we create something we will be destined to hate, or how a creator is expected to live within a world of loathing. 

Anybody who is creative will make bad things.  This goes beyond Ungood, which is art founded on mistakes.  What I mean are things that go against good intentions.  They are the test of the creative process.  The philosophy of dualism captures this perfectly: without evil there can be no good.  Likewise, without God there can be no Creation.  There's even dualism applied to cybernetic (system control) thought: in order to achieve a goal, you set two opposing forces against each other.  Eventually, if nobody dies, one system or another will become powerful enough to beat the goal. 

Cybernetic dualism even allows for one "team" to employ tactics of deceit and feinted attack to defeat the "enemy".  Usually, these problems are applied to chess, but in the case of my movies, the people and the robots become pawns in the effort to transcend their environment.  The robots learn to lie, cheat, and kill to corner their share of the market.  They are so much like us, they might as well be us.  Can we tell who is human anymore?  It's the great PhilDickian dilemma.  At this point, if you don't know who Philip K. Dick was, you have some reading ahead of you.  PKD is far too deep to discuss here on JSVB, but I imagine my readers will see me pick and gnaw at the issue from time to time on my blog.

The illustration I painted on top is of Roy Baty, one such lethal pawn depicted in the 1982 classic "Blade Runner" by Ridley Scott: a motion picture well ahead of its time.  Roy is mechanically created to serve as a soldier, and his friends are all slaves.  They kill their captors to win their freedom, but are unknowingly trapped by predestined fate within their universe.  It's a hard and uncompromising place.  Deckard is a human (perhaps), who hunts Roy.  Through the meat grinder that is Los Angeles of 2019, they together discover the ugly reality of hateful creation, although by then it's all too late.  If Roy and Deckard have done any good, it's far outweighed by the nastiness and heartlessness of the world they have created.  In the case of Blade Runner, it's our future created on film, again on home video, then again on laser disc, then on DVD, then HD-DVD and blu ray, and now available for online streaming. Every couple of years, Deckard and Roy enact their eternal struggle in some new form of Director's Cut or Anniversary Edition.  Maybe by 2019, we'll have a fully-functioning liveable Blade Runner Los Angeles.  We will catch up to our fate, just like the robots do. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1197 - Unicycle Falls

January 13th is the first Ungood Art day for 2016.  Every thirteenth of the month this year will be Ungood Art day for JSVB.  I'll try to showcase some kind of artwork I have made that I was convinced will be good, but somehow turned south.  

The foundation of Ungood Art lies in truth, or at last some form of it.  As nearly as I can recall, this photograph was taken by Alfredo Martinez, who specializes in taking pictures of extreme sports.  I Photoshopped it into something else. 

In the original photo, a BASE jumper is racing a kayaker down the face of a waterfall.  Yes, people do this.  From what I know, nobody got hurt.  

But where's the kayaker?  On an impulse, I decided to erase the kayak and replace it with a unicycle, which then changes the meaning into something Ungood.  I rarely create art on a whim anymore, so this is different for me.

Mr. Martinez had a very brief opportunity to frame this shot, so I made a few changes to improve the composition.  I made the picture wider and adjusted the white balance to make the waterfall more dramatic.  Oh yeah, and I erased an entire kayaker and replaced him with a unicycle.  It makes me wish I had a photograph taken maybe a second or two before this one, it would be hilariously Ungood.  


Monday, January 11, 2016

1196 - Cylonvelope

"Take this envelope and draw a Cylon on it for me," says my wife. 

"By your command," says I. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

1195 - Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Icon

Orthodox (Gregorian) Christmas arrives a couple weeks after Julian Christmas on account of a fourteen-day mismatch between their respective calendars.  Celebrating both holidays means gaining an extra feast day and likely some winter weight as well.  

This is  the final version of my Nativity icon, which I had finished much earlier back in 2015.  I realized recently that I had simply forgotten to show it on JSVB, although this version and the last iteration are practically identical.  The only difference is sealant, which eliminates a couple of small artefacts with the colours.  

This version ended up being Christmas cards this season, which I also forgot to show on JSVB.  I sold out my print run before I had realized that I was missing a blurb for them on my blog.  I'll make some more and offer them for sale later.

The orthodox icons aren't intended to show a realistic version of biblical events.  Rather, they are a very impressionistic view that strives to show the virtue of the subject but not the emotion.  The figures and the scenery become extremely stylized so that it's possible for the viewer to fill in the empathetic details with their own imagination and understanding.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

1194 - Year Six:JSVB In Review

Today, I add the sixth column to my JSVB matrix.  This shows every piece of art I've uploaded to my blog; every column is a year's worth of work.  I was hoping that 2015 would be a break-out year, but as you can see, it's more of a break-down-and-out.  My lax post count didn't help, and word-of-mouth viral interest failed to materialize. Maybe I'll look back at 2015 and laugh at how easy-going it all was.

Let's call it a "quality over quantity" year.  I did make some pretty good stuff as well as some clunkers.  Mostly, it was a year of well-intentioned projects that fizzed into vapor.  I call those my "starry-eyed projects": I go in thinking that I'm going to be doing something that will get real notice or pay some bills and I end up with unfinished material.  On the positive side of the ledger, I didn't really lose anything more than an unallocated block of optimism that had been gathering dust anyways.  

So, what were the best JSVB posts of a lean year?  Post #777 Wrath Of Gandhi (click here) is still my top achiever.  I predicted last year that I would get 10,000 hits for that picture, but as of today, I'm still 50 views short.  So, this year should be the one.  

Beyond that, what are my favourites of 2015?

1) JSVB Post #1069: I show my nearly-completed Nativity icon. Honestly, I don't know why I don't have a finished picture of it on my blog, though.  I even made Christmas cards out of it, which I also didn't post.  Remember the part where I mention my lax post count?  You can see the icon by clicking here.

2) JSVB Post #1070: Staying in a religious theme, I like this photo of a statue of the Virgin Mary in the darkest night.  I find I still think about it from time to time, although looking back, I do find it slightly kitschy.  Click here.

3) JSVB Post #1285: I see the Delivery Stork from time to time, and it's one of my money-earning illustrations.  I'm pleased with how it turned out, and that it seems to make the target audience happy. Click here.

4) JSVB Post #1100: This is one of my top favourites for certain. The Mouse Wrangler always makes me smile.  I pledge to make this into a business-style card, which ought to be fun.  Click here.

5) JSVB Post #1168: This is my other top favourite: the cover for the novel "Interstate 10", and the introduction of Jake California as the protagonist in an alternate-history inspired by Philip K. Dick.  Against all probability, PKD's "The Man In The High Castle" is a celebrated television series, which makes me wonder which Phildickian alternate-history universe we live in...  Click here. 

2016 seems to be set up so that I can deliver some of the unfinished projects of 2015: among them some SunRise stuff, a Batmobile, Star Wars jokes, a longer look at Joseph Campbell, and a continuation of Interstate 10, not to mention more iconography.   I have my work cut out for me.