Sunday, March 16, 2014

Making Cartoons from Photographs - Aikido Manual

Draft Figure of Aikido Poses 

Aikido Student Manual - Figure Making

This post describes how we (Mushinkan Dojo members under Sensei Domaschko) are using photographs to make cartoon-like figures for an Aikido student manual. The process can be readily applied to any project in which figures are needed.  The key is to remove distracting backgrounds and features in the people so that future viewers can focus on the topic.In this example the Uke (aggressor) grabs both wrists of Nage (Sensei Domaschko): this is called "Ryotetori." 

The Process

  • Pose and take photo. 
  • Open the photo in Photoshop
  • Adjust brightness levels and hue in Photoshop 
  • Select background (hold shift key while using wand & lasso tools; use Refine Edge option)
  • Click “Mask” button to remove background (a green layer was made underneath to highlight removed areas)

  • Save *.PSD and "Place" it into Adobe Illustrator (this will make it a Smart Object that will update everytime you tweak in Photoshop)
  • With both PS and AI open, adjust the mask and colors in PS....and "Save" to update AI
  • Open the Tracing Workspace in AI
    • It is especially important to limit the color pallette to ~12 colors to impart a cartoon look
    • Also increase the noise option (this eliminates small "objects")
    • Save Trace presets to reapply settings on other subsequent figures

  • Select "Save for Web" from the file menu, choose JPG

Cincinnati locals are always invited to stop by the Dojo to learn a self defence that enables you to protect yourself without inflicting harm on the attacker. We meet Mon and Wed nights.  Visit the website for more information (link). 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris - Review by S.E. Lindberg

Beyond SanctuaryBeyond Sanctuary by Janet E. Morris
S. E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: This January I interviewed Janet Morris on the Topic of "Art & Beauty in Fantasy Fiction."  Click here for that!

Janet E. Morris' Beyond Sanctuary is a splendid mashup of Dark Fantasy and ancient grandeur. Read this and you'll be transported into the Baroque masterpiece cover, joining the battlefield alongside gods and champions: Life to you, Reader, and everlasting glory!

The Cover: This Author's Cut version features Peter Paul Rubens' 1618 painting "The Death of Decius Mus in Battle"(translated title); this extends Perseid Press' cover art approach. This represents the book very well; it promises to drag you into epic, divine combat rooted in history. It delivers. Expect fantastic magic, doses of horror, stealth military sorties, and mature themes.

Tempus and Niko: The book follows many characters, but focuses on Tempus and Niko; the story arc leans toward Niko's plight, though Tempus is ever present. Tempus begins living a curse in which those who love him get hurt, and Niko recovers from losing his sacred partner (only to have his mind vied for by a god and sorceress). These are deeply motivated characters who parley directly with gods as contemporary immortals .

A Mature Read: Having not read the Thieve's World Series from which this novel evolved, I entered this with a blank slate. This is ostensibly the best starting point to delve into the Tempus & Niko series (see the reading list below). Here is what you can expect:

History-Informed Magic & Culture: Foremost, Beyond Sanctuary blends fantasy with historical elements so seamlessly, that history-deficient-folk like myself cannot easily differentiate pure-fiction from history-informed fantasy. Whether it's Niko's attraction to young women (which creeped me out despite being common in many cultures long ago and even today) , the intimate pairing of elite warriors (~the Sacred Band of Thebes), or the landscape of Nisibis and Mygdonia (those were real territories)... heck, even the gods and spiritual concepts are informed from ancient beliefs (i.e. Enil, Maat). The immortal characters and magic are presumably fiction. This mashup of fantasy/history yields a rich world for the characters to navigate. An informative Wikipedia posting on the Sacred Band of Stepsons explains more.

Mature Scenes: Adult-appropriate sexual scenes are abundant, though not gratuitous (they reflect the milieu informed by history).

Style: Expect intricate sentences with a panoply of vocabulary (and even parenthetical asides).

Names/Forms: Each character has multiple names (Stealth/Niko...Riddler/Tempus… Datan/Osprey … Roxanne/Cybele; and these folk assume various forms (they use illusions to become imposters, they shape shift into animals...)

Factions: There is a large portfolio of guilds, states, and cultures (Stepsons, Sacred Banders, Successors, Gods, Hazard Class Wizards, Wizard Wall Wizards, Rankans, ...); the characters each have multiple allegiances (to men and gods, or just men, or just men of certain region, or men and wizards…).

Conflict: Given so many characters with allied & competing factions, there are as many conflicts as there are combinations (Tempus vs. his sister, Cyme; Cyme vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Gods, Tempus vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Roxanne, Niko vs. Gods, free Nisibis vs. Wizards, Mygdonia vs. Tyse vs Nisibis…)

Series Reading List: Such depth requires more books! This first installment prepares readers for the series. Any fan of the Thieve's World would no doubt devour this novel; in fact, any fan of alternate histories or epic fantasy would enjoy it. For me, it's on to Beyond the Veil, and I can't wait to get to the later books that repackage the original short stories presented in Thieves World:

The Author Cut Versions, in strict chronology (as of 2014, noting that more books may be published ):

1) Beyond Sanctuary
2) Beyond the Veil
3) Beyond Wizardwall
4) Tempus with His Right-Side Companion Niko  (this contains flashbacks and the five original Janet Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons tales presented in the original Thieves World anthologies)
5) The Sacred Band
6) The Fish the Fighters and the Song-Girl(this contains a new novelette and frame story, with flashbacks and the six original Janet Morris, Janet and Chris Morris, and Chris Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons tales presented in the original Thieves World anthologies)

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Mar-Apr Groupread Topics - Whelan Cover Art and Female Authors

Groupreads Mar-Apr 2014: 

Two months, two topics...please join the Sword & Sorcery Group to discuss:

Topic 1) Any book with Michael Whelan Coverart : Discussion Link to Whelan-Cover Art
These links will help identify books:

Topic 2) Any Female Author: Link to Discussion on Female Fantasy Writers
...I wonder how many female Sword & Sorcery authors are "hidden" out there due to the past stereotypes (readers and publishers expected Male Authors for the specualtive fiction genres). For example, Catherine Moore used her initials (C.L. Moore), or husband's name (Henry Kuttner) ... and several pseudonyms (C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Lewis Padgett). 

The Masthead Banner features three Whelan paintings made for Female Authors:
The Dreaming Tree for C.J. Cherryh
Crown of Shadows for C.S. Friedman
All the Weyrs of Pern for Anne McCaffrey

The Dreaming Tree (Arafel, #1-2) Crown of Shadows (The Coldfire Trilogy, #3) All the Weyrs of Pern (Pern, #11)

From the illustrator's website:
WEYRWORLD (1990) Pern#11: Acrylic on Watercolor Board - 27" x 36" This cover art for ALL THE WEYRS OF PERN by Anne McCaffrey is a wonderful dragon image for both the story and the dragon fan who hasn't read the book. After the huge success of THE WHITE DRAGON the Pern series was growing, but when it was time for Book 7 Michael had a scheduling conflict. He had to base his painting on Anne's notes since she hadn't finished the manuscript. They both planned on him showing the dragon in the cargo hold of the abandoned spaceship, but Michael told her about this image that came to him in a dream. She liked it so much, she wrote it into her story. This was to be his last cover for the Pern series, but in 2013 Michael was able to use his and Anne's "cargo hold" idea in his cover painting for DRAGONWRITER, A TRIBUTE TO ANNE MCCAFFREY AND PERN.

TREE OF JEWELS AND SWORDS (1983) Acrylic on Illustration Board - 30" x 22" A very popular Whelan cover for C. J. Cherryh from the 1980's and recently reissued for the cover of her 1997 compilation called THE DREAMING TREE.

CROWN OF SHADOWS (1995) Acrylic on Panel - 28" x 22" Cover art for the third book in the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. Gerald Tarrant, the tragic anti-hero whose prolonged life dominates the storyline, is prominently featured in the foreground of this stunning illustration. The power of Whelan's palette dominates, from the striking acidic greens to the regal black and gold, and once again he framed the main character with trees.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lords of Dyscrasia Continues to Scare Readers

Rebecca from reviews Lords of Dyscrasia (review link) (Feb 2014):

"Lords of Dyscrasia reads like a descent into a mania induced visionary night terror. Superficially presented under the 'Sword and Sorcery' umbrella fans of the genre will be taken on a gloriously twisted ride. Whilst the main narrative is one of traditionally breathless action, the underlying psychological back-drop weaves it's way into the reader's imagination. It is a novel that will stay with you, whether you like it or not.

 The landscape created for you to endure along with the characters is one of acrid putridity and horrendous suffering. You have been warned. However, there is a transcendent quality to the writing which is rare. There is imagery here that borders on the ecstatically religious. This is juxtaposed with an old-fashioned yarn so joyously told that at several moments I had to grin with the sheer gusto of it all.

I'd recommend this to fantasy and horror fans who are interested in extremes of behaviour and the subconscious. There is a lot of blood, guts and gore here also. When I say a lot, I mean oodles. The reader is plunged into a world created with flesh and rancid fluids. I was reminded of Clive Barker, and even the body horror of David Cronenberg.
Lords of Dyscrasia is worth taking a risk on. There is a lot more going on here than shock and awe. Several images are extremely memorable and I feel I will revisit this book in the future. All in all, hugely intriguing and revelatory."

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Bladewitch - Review by S. E. Lindberg

The Bladewitch (The Bladewitch, #1)The Bladewitch by Jason E. Thummel
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Outcast, Beautiful Necromancer Duels A Champion Swordsman
“Instruments of death are often beautiful,” Kayla (the last necromancer and priestess of Naith)

The Bladewitch is entertaining Sword & Sorcery, a stand alone extension of Jason E. Thummel's library of fine adventure (labeled Vol#1 we can expect more). Here, a greater conflict (the Danaen culture versus the Zyrian) is shown through the lenses of two lonely, underappreciated champions. On the one hand, representing the "Sword," we have Captain Jumar of Danae, who expertly conquers the Zyrian city of Tekla so efficiently that he must sustain and manage the occupation at length; and on the opposing "Sorcery" side, we have Kayla, last priestess of Naith and sworn Protector of Zyrians, herself an abject heroine; she is "a lone acolyte in a country that had all but forgotten, but though she was a servant to Death, she did not revel in it—least of all for her people. They had forgotten her, but her duty to protect them still remained....She alone was charged with the duty to protect Naith’s children." Now she is the last Blade of Naith (the titular Bladewitch), willing to sacrifice herself to save the placid Zyrians, who have long worshipped a different God (one that fails to protect them).

There are many memorable scenes in this fast read, which manages to squeeze in more depth than most would expect from the genre. Thummel keeps the action fun with creative duels (beyond just sword play , you'll get several trippy sequences), unique magical artifacts (The Blade of Sealing, the Seven-strand Ropes of Seeing and the Inner Temple cube), and omnipresent/alien sorcery (reminiscent of that from K. E. Wagner's Kane series). Highly recommend for anyone seeking fantasy adventure.

Excerpts: In this book, Death is beautiful. Here is a dose of what to expect:

Forgotten Landscapes: "Fallen and shattered shells of buildings twisted along the ground like colossal skeletons of extinct creatures, slowly being devoured by grass and time. A city of gigantic proportions—perhaps dating back to when the gods still walked the earth—had once filled this dale, but now like all things made by human hands it was lost to time and forgotten."

Epic Battles: "The expectant‑laden peace of the surroundings shattered with sudden cries of conflict: steel clashing; the heavy, dull sound of colliding bodies, of flesh violently hammering against flesh; the screams and prayers of warriors conjuring strength against fear and death. And cutting through it all was a sharp, grunting exhale of breath as the soldier on the ridge brought his arm snapping forward and released the spear toward her."

Vivid Necromancy:"The smell of fetid breath and death wafted to him. Jumar’s stomach clenched. He fought an urge to void his bladder as his bowels became warm, rolled and threatened to loosen. Here was a terror that no amount of experience or preparation could overcome.

Their heads were bowed, chins on chests, shoulders stretched and in some cases dislocated against the hanging weight. But it was not these familiar trappings of death that filled Jumar with dread. It was the sound. The corpses’ jaws moved in unison, each voice adding a note to the grisly chorus. And although the whisper could seemingly be heard throughout the square, only now that he was within arm’s length could Jumar hear the words the dead spoke."

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Glass Eyes - Inspirational Crafts - Spawn of Dyscrasia

Doni Hatz crafts inspirational glass eyes for Spawn of Dyscrasia

Consistent with Lords of Dyscrasia, its sequel Spawn of Dyscrasia (due out in 2014) has a lot of artisan themes.  Several human characters are glass-workers; others will require a glass-eye to see the Otherworld (souls, memories, ghosts, etc.).  A previous post details some hands-on research at a glass studio (link).

Another posts revealed the Cover (with illustration from Ken Kelly) that features the key character Helen, a sorceress with one special eye.  For inspiration, I touched based with a local glass maker, Doni Hatz, who created some fantastic example eyes (more info. on her below).  Thanks Doni for showing how glass eyes can be made!  Two of her eyes are featured here under different lighting conditions:
  • The top row is front-lit 
  • The bottom row have the same eyes, back-lit.  
The red-eye is particularly creepy.  The blue one was made from a striped cane of dichroic glass (multicolored, sparkles), which can see best from reflected lighting.

Glass Eyes from Doni Hatz  - Spawn of Dyscrasia

A red and blue eye, lit from front and behind (bottom)

Doni Hatz is an expert glass worker.  For decades she has created industrial-scientific works in the day hours...and all sorts of fine art by night. "Marcie Davis interviews Doni Hatz, scientific glassblower who has risen to the top of a field that is generally dominated by male glassblowers. Doni shares her background preparation at the Salem Community College, her work at Proctor & Gamble, and her venture into creating works of art in glass.  This article was originally published on page 34 of the Winter 2011 issue of The Flow."

Doni pointed me toward a great DVD made by that shows how glass eyes are made professionally (produced by Firelady Productions):
"Walter Hellbach is a third generation glass eye maker in Lauscha, Germany. Using specialized glass tubing and rods, he creates human eyes for prosthetic use. In this demo you'll get a "short and sweet" version of this complex and fascinating process. This is an excerpt from our newest DVD by the same name. (In "The Eyes Have It" DVD you can see the entire exciting process from beginning to end!) And while it takes years of training to make eyes for human use, you'll be able to apply the techniques you see here to your own work with great results. It all starts with white Kryolith tubing, which opacifies as it is worked. As you watch, Walter meticulously adds a variety of multicolored canes, and in just a few minutes an eye of startling realism comes into view."

Spawn of Dyscrasia Cover

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ken Kelly Cover Art - Spawn of Dyscrasia (3 of 3)

Spawn of Dyscrasia Cover
Spawn of Dyscrasia is due out this year (2014), and this is the last of three posts detailing the evolution of its cover:
  1. Cover Concept (link): The first post covers the goal & concept art
  2. Cover Art (link): The second post chronicles the interactions with master fantasy artist Ken Kelly (from rough sketches to final painting) to yield the key illustration
  3. Cover Design (you are here): This covers the actual design (title placing, masking of the illustration, and overlaid fire).  We have to take the illustration (left) and dress it up for the book (lead design below, on right).

Ken Kelly's portrait reflects a scene from the book and features many important elements that make implicit promises to readers (i.e. expect magic, undead characters); key accessories from the flag to Lysis's sword are accurately presented too.  With that firm foundation in place, we turn to making a cover out of it.  My wife Heidi Lindberg (a trained Interior Designer with a critical eye for all things, and a knack for brutally honest feedback) stepped in to advise on Font & Word placement.  Thanks to her and the folks over in the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads who provided input on some initial compositions (Comp A & B).  Most liked the title being on the bottom (Comp B), and the idea of  the characters standing on a hill of debris resonated with the piece.

Applying some masking layers in Photoshop made (a) the spirit cat easier to see, (b) the edges of the flame more clear, and (c) the rebalancing of the composition (the green flames of the cat tail stretch down into the title to compensate for its "top-heavy" head).  Helen's red-tattoo and the red-blood on Lysis's sword are amplified to match the red in the title and fire.   This is not the final cover design for Spawn of Dyscrasia, but it is fairly close since it covers the below success criteria:
  • Sword & Sorcery:  It promises to deliver "swords/action" and "magic" while revealing a scene from the book
  • Character Focus: The portraiture promises to develop a sorceress and skeletal warrior
  • Internet Appeal: It is easy to recognize as a small icon (as shown via Goodreads or Amazon)
  • Dyscrasia Fiction Look: It continues the look of the first novel, Lords of Dyscrasia (see below side-by-side).  This is important to build the brand of Dyscrasia Fiction.

Small version discernable

Lords and Spawn of Dyscrasia Covers
Consistent with Colors/Composition for Dyscrasia Fiction
Lead Cover Design for Spawn of Dyscrasia (due out in 2014)