Tag Archives: calvera

PWX: Confessions of a Lucha Mooch-ah

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Much like Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas,” I always held at least one distant dream dear when I was a wee lad: amidst these furtive, week-long obsessions with becoming a great three-point shooter, a mortician’s assistant, a children’s book illustrator and an actor were a few constants… following in my mother’s footsteps and becoming an opera singer, or parlaying my love of all things that went “va-va-vroom” into a career as a race car driver.

Likewise, I also—as long as I can remember—wanted to be a video game designer. One of my earliest recollections of discussing the more “serious” side of our bi-weekly trips to the video arcade with my old man was when I asked him outright how they got all of that stuff into a television screen. I’m sure his answer—which would have been shelved somewhere around 1984—was an educated guess about cathodes and computer coding, but it proves out a hindsight point about that lifetime obsession. Wherever I’ve gone and go, the grand-scape of gaming and my fascination with it continue to swagger along with the passing years in lockstep.

Of course, there’s also a minor point to add to this unedited daisy-chain of late-night thought (And one which I hope is moderately more interesting than another explanation as to why it’s been months since I’ve updated this sucker… that story lacks drama and nutritional value, if it’s any consolation), and it’s as follows: of all those haywire daydreams of mine, the only one that I really achieved did actually turn out to be the game design thing. In around 2002, a slippery slope of happenstance put me in touch with a guy named Dave Wishnowski, who had this insane notion of a homebrew pro wrestling game which would be released on the same basic tenets as an independent movie. In a pre-Steam, pre-wireless, pre-damn-near-everything-that-defines-contemporary-game-distribution-world, this cockamamie concept was as far-flung as it was far-sighted, and my involvement with the development gave me a chance to actually create an entire “diegetic” universe of pro wrestling characters from every corner of the globe. The satchel-full of memories that resulted—hazy afternoons in a stripped-down office space in Vancouver’s industrial quarter, piling around the show floor at e3 and holding meetings with publishers, doing “research” at low-fi independent wrestling card headlined by a then-unknown Bryan “The American Dragon” Danielsen—are some of my fondest recollections of what turned out to be a pretty otherwise-lost decade of twenty-something years… so when Dave asked me if I’d be interested in coming up with a few calacas as a “tier sweetener” for a Kickstarter initiative that he recently rolled out, I was only too happy to do a cannonball back into that particular swimming pool.

TD23

(See? There was a point to all that nostalgic daisy-cutting!)

Now, if I recall correctly, El Tirador was the first character that I came up with for the game. I think I sketched him out during a math class at Citrus College, on nothing more than a random whim about a wrestler with a Crusader-cross motif (Something that Rey Mysterio Jr. would ironically wind up featuring heavily on his ring gear about three or four years later). I didn’t intend for the guy to become anything more than a filler spot on the roster, but the design really took off with our slavishly devoted fan base, and he wound up also being the first character to feature in the Pro Wrestling X demo that we took to e3 in 2004. It seemed only natural that he’d also be the go-to for the Kickstarter tier, with two stalwart dona-teers ponying up the extra cash for their very own desktop “Shooter.”

 TD21

After some contemplation, I decided that I didn’t want to mold the same figure twice. I spend so much time rankling artistic repetition on this very blog that it’d read like a son of a bitch to admit that I’d done exactly that thing for the sake of ease: instead, I decided to put together two separate “looks” for Tirador. The first, as seen in the pictures above, is his “classic” design: brighter red and yellow, “Crusader Mask” t-shirt, EMLL national lightweight title on his shoulder.

puro macho.

puro macho.

The second is pretty much how I think a modern “reimagining” of the same character would look: darker red, different accents on the mask, and the EMLL’s “Triples Tag” title brandished in a similar pose.

nu-wavo.

nu-wavo.

The t-shirt he’s got on features the character originally intended to be his tag team partner—“Aztlan”—and the old “LPI/Los Perros Infiernos” logo on the front. I do realize that the amount of weird, insider-style detail that I wound up pouring into each design is a bit odd (I mean, seriously: nobody other than the readers of this blog or those who have been following the game since Day 1.7 would understand what the hell that’s referring to), but… as mentioned above, it was just a great chance to step out of the day-to-day shoes of the working stiff and slide into the slippers of what was.

TD11

TD13

And hey: we’re on the short road to October, again. Expect some life to be breathed into this spot, as the sun finally starts to shine over Seattle, and the annual show pieces start to come together. The shop’s tided up, I’ve got time to burn, and my fingers are itching to get crusty-coated with paperclay. Stay tuned.

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Next Up: Disney seeks IP rights for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Whacking Day.

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Far be it from the Anglo geek to go sounding off on the finer points of culture-gutting, but… really, Mouse House? Really?

REALLY?

http://www.fronterasdesk.org/news/2013/may/07/disney-wants-trademark-dia-de-los-muertos/

 

Paging Mr. Lou. Mr. Lou, you have a call to arms at the front desk.

La Galleria: couchtime.

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Well, fancy meeting you here.

It occurred to me while I was laboring about in the shop earlier that my last actual blog update wasn’t only months ago, but that it also had that flat, resonant smack-thud that one expects to hear after a particularly painful belly-flop… the sort of sound that suggests pain on a number of levels, and which has a knack for hanging heavily on the air long after the cause has sunk out of sight.

In artistic circles , this sound often has a bit of a tinny, mortal resonance to it, as well. It’s like a death rattle: the push started by a setback takes hold, and real-life rot “sets in.” It’s a dirty little reality when it comes to the online life cycle of the creative spirit, and one that I’ve admittedly been felled by on too many occasions over the years to properly count.

But not this time.

Actually, I’m happy to report that the last two months have been anything but maudlin. Despite the crushing setbacks of the Valentine’s Day face-plant, I’ve actually found new footing and have been—shockingly enough—teaching myself how to dabble in real papier mache’, stumbling along clumsily in the footfalls of Mexico’s real bonesmiths and their traditional techniques. It hasn’t hardened into anything that I’d claim to be proud of as of yet, but making a mess and slathering bandages onto tinfoil molds while liberally applying layers and layers of thickening paper-caulk is shockingly… therapeutic.

I also managed to make it down to Mexico proper for the first time in 24 years, courtesy of Princess Cruises. The sum of that insanity can be seen here, and while it was hardly an opportunity to simmer in the rich stew of the national culture, it did steel my resolve to get back down to Cozumel for a real trip in the coming year.

And, to finally get down to something resembling brass tacks, I’ve actually been putting the pedal down with new work. The thinnest threads of Spring are starting to take hold up here in Seattle, which means that the sun’s out again: after the dulled and deadened half-days of winter, seeing this makes Jack one hell of a happy lad. So much so that I pulled duty on a celebratory project for mi novia, in recognition of her recently being hired as an EAP queenpin for one of the local Native tribal offices: one that I simply find myself referring to as “couchtime.”

AT3

Now, for an admission: prior to this piece, I had never sculpted Frida. I had never wanted to sculpt Frida. I had pretty much resigned myself to openly refusing to ever sculpt Frida, based on the simple precept that—for most Anglo artists looking to flounder around in the pool of muerte arts—Frida representations are like the shortest and laziest line between two distinct points. Typically, the transaction which commences from Frida art in these circles resembles the following formula:

(A)rtist recognizes the identifiability of Frida

(B)asic product is conceived, typically involving a t-shirt or postcard.

(C)ustomer sees Frida, draws vague connections from the Salma Hayek movie or something they might have read, and makes purchase accordingly.

A + B + C = 0. It’s like having a Che poster in your dormroom; save for a very choice slice of society which actually knows its shit and can tell you something legitimate about the subject matter, it’s just a corn-fried stab at marketing the exotic on its own merits… or, more accurately, the most base and shallow versions of them.

(Christ: I’m back for five minutes, and already ruthlessly pontificating. Anyways. Back to magnetic north, here…)

i know, i know. sorry.

i know, i know. sorry.

 

So, there’s all that. But when I asked my wife what she’d want to adorn her new office with, the answer was immediate:

“Me, counseling Frida Kahlo. (beat) No. No, no. Frida, counseling ME.”

AT4

ms. comrade’s, mi gloria.

ports

comrade and comrade’s sister, ever-looming over any and all efforts to have a normal day.

shoes

and THESE. my god, these.
http://whatamistilldoingincancun.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Frida-Kahlo-shoes.jpg

Never one to question too fine a notion, that’s exactly what she got. It wasn’t until I’d finished putting the last decorative touches on it that I realized just how much the end result resembled this gem, but that’s also hardly the first time that I’ve found myself tango-ing along with Tamra’s own catalogue of master works: when you’re tuned into it, muerte art tends to manifest itself in an oddly uniform fashion.

Weather permitting, I should have another two or three new entries in the Loterias line finished by the end of the month: the Etsy store is looking particularly drab and cobwebby these days, which means it’s a damn good time to deck the shelves anew.

Flores, Corazones y Angustia

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I’d had it in my head to put off this update until January 26th, which—as luck and love and all things related to the artistic divide—marked the beginning of The Folk Tree’s annual “Hearts and Flowers” exhibit. Following the well-documented demolition derby that had occurred with my showings back in October, I’d effectively spent the last six weeks working my way through a brand new bag of workbench tricks: the great polymer clay disaster of 2012, the gradual exchange of conventional modeling glues for the molecular bonding power of E6000 epoxy, and figuring out a way to fend off the damp miseries of the Seattle winter-spring stretch for the sake of sealing and priming pieces-in-progress.

Ultimately, it was time well spent. The constant start-stop was sometimes agonizing (with our townhome playing host to a toxic soup of plasticky stenches on an almost weekly basis), and I wound up paring down my list of potential submissions to H+F from three candidates to one single, focal diorama; I busted out my jigsaw and wood-forms for the first time in a good seven years. It was by far and away the slowest preparation of a show-quality calaca that I’ve ever engaged in, but—when the fumes cleared and the paint dried—I was really proud of the end result.

tunel1

tunel3

tunel4

tunel2

 

Or, I was. Or would have been. Riding a wingding high of accomplishment—and receiving news that our coffin-riding love-monkeys had arrived in California with a minimum of USPS-provoked damage—I took a week off, cracked that ’26 Krug and began to entertain notions of the next deluxe undertaking, back-patting like my name had been legally changed to Barry Horowitz and fencing off sugarplum visions of what I’d be banging out for an encore.

Or, again, was. Or, again, would have been. Up until the point wherein I got an e-mail from the lovely Gail Mishkin—show-runner and linchpin of The Folk Tree’s exhibition schedule—which regretted to inform me that the Tunel del Amor Eterno had apparently begun to spontaneously disintegrate while being kept in pre-exhibition storage.  Whether by some unforeseen cocktail of disagreeing chemicals or the presence of a goddamned pissed-off poltergeist, the piece’s paint had actually started to lift off of its polymer clay bones, and a bunch of cracks were now visible in the characters’ limbs and the coffin construction.

Why? How? I have absolutely no clue. Which is ultimately why the whole thing is so heartsickening. I can deal with the postman using a box for punting practice or a calaca losing its head due to poor packing techniques, but to go so far and to fall so fast for no apparent reason at all… man-oh-man.

Despite six weeks of meticulous attention and experimentation, despite apparently making it to Pasadena without having imploded in transit, and despite the bloody vow I made after witnessing the totally crap state of the submissions that I turned into the Dia de los Muertos exhibit three-some months ago, it wound up being totally junked. So much so that I just tossed in the rag and informed Gail that my sister would be coming by to pick up the piece; an essential mercy-killing of the ego, and an effort to spare her and her awesome compatriots from having to show off another high-concept, shit-execution mess of a show piece.

So, what’s following now is the usual six-chamber routine that we artists tend to go through, at times like these:

Boom! Anger. Because it’s not fair.

Pow! Humiliation. Because this sucks.

Zap! Self-Loathing. Because I suck.

Bort! Phony optimism. Because tomorrow is another day!!!!!!!!!!

Shablow! Blogging about it. Because my wife and sister are awesome at talking me down off of the ledge, but sometimes a man needs to run naked and furious around his own e-yard.

I wouldn’t qualify this as being a swandive into steely resolve just yet, but as the day winds down and the knots starts to untie themselves, I’m at least at a point where I can mask the frustration with a bit of bush-league philosophy: to boot, that being that one of the greatest trespasses that an artist can make against themselves is the notion that one’s ever really in control of their art.

Buying into that undermines the whole purpose, really. We do this because it’s irrational and chaotic: we thrive on taking two steps forward, then promptly face-planting the next time we’re given a chance to push at our own edges and boundaries. It’s that thrill of spitting mud and blood and then trumping what tripped us that makes us—kettle drum roll, please—artists.

So, there’s that. I’m reneging on my earlier pledges to never set my hands to sculpting (nobody was around to hear it—though with the profanity cleaned up, it really wasn’t much of a sentence or coherent vow), and will be back at the bench by tomorrow afternoon: not because I want to be—at least not at the moment—but because it’s where I gotta be.

Comrade’s Loterias Number Twenty-Two: El Dualismo

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As I’ve touched on through the course of my recent bloggeral, there are few things more ridiculously corrosive to the creative spirit than a Seattle winter. It’s a time of year for recoiling inward, spelled out by an occasional “death would be pretty favorable to this good shit”-class of migraine and the annual rusting of my joints, wherein every injury I’ve stacked up over years of athletics and working for UPS announce, quite proudly, that they’ll be staying over until mid-May.

The cold and the lack of light also put a cramp in your brain, as well as the logistics of all those artisan-related routines that you take for granted: something as simple as figuring out how to apply a generous slop-dollop of e6000 without giving yourself leukemia (Seriously: have you ever SEEN the label on this thing?! How is it even legal to sell in this country? I have a feeling that yellow cake uranium would register with less alarming rhetoric on the “hazmat warning” scale than this crud…) or finding a spot that can be used to dry out primer without asphyxiating everybody in our complex suddenly provides the basis for enough folly to fill an entire afternoon.

Case in point: the foolhardy foray into polymer clay that I outlined in my last blog entry. For those with weary thumbs and short attention spans, the fruits of said labor were a townhome that wound up reeking like a disaster at the local Dupont factory and the following:

 

clackclackclack i have no legs clackclackclack

clackclackclack i have no legs clackclackclack

Of course, my compulsive refusal to waste materials wouldn’t simply let things lay in state, though I had a hell of a time figuring out what I was going to do with a half-burned armature that could barely stand up on its own two feet.

Or not.

I mean, I am—above all things relating to love, life, and the pursuit of happiness—a proud and furious member of the nerd culture. And after the Sculpey fumes cleared and my eyesight returned, the answer really sort of wrapped itself up neatly in a two-toned bow, and there was only one damn thing to do with the result:

harvey4

“At last we meet… face. To face. To face.” 

 

I’ve been saving a long-germinating editorial on the problem with relying too heavily on pop-themed sculpts for a rainy day, but the basic crib-notes version is as follows: they’re something that people absolutely love, which gains web hits and DeviantArt adulation and Etsy “Circles,” but which hardly ever sell. I love making them for the fun of it, but do so while fighting with this notion about it being a cheap “gimme” in terms of actually furthering the state of the muerte arts: the appeal isn’t based on the quality of the work or its authenticity in regards to calavera culture, but rather on the “HEY, I COMBINED THIS STUFF WITH SOMETHING THAT YOU ALREADY LIKE!” snakeoil method.

 

harvey2

to the left to the left to the left

harvey3

to the right to the right to the right 

But I also can’t help myself. I know what I like, and—at times as dreary and lifeless as December in the Steel Sky City—I have to indulge myself accordingly, and with the balls-smacked-firmly-and-flatly-to-the-wall detail and adoration that the subject matter merits. I don’t know if this one’s going to wind up being sold or is destined to join Kazuo Kiriyama and Scott Pilgrim on the shelf I’ve reserved for my “much-loved and impossible to even freakin’ GIVE away” works, but… it’s nice to feel that warm grace of inspiration, even during the shortest and darkest days of the year.

The law? Here's the only law, the law of averages. The great equalizer.

The law? Here’s the only law, the law of averages. The great equalizer.

Even if that feeling is technically on layaway, at the moment.

Dia de los Perros: Back in the Lab

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With the cliff in full effect–and the readership for both this blog and the CCFBHQ effectively dropping somewhere in the collective neighborhood of 98.9% in the last four days–I’m getting my shoulder back into the ol’ grindstone, and fighting of the murky malaise of Seattle’s impending winter by going full-tilt boogie into a new set of sculpts. The short-term is to keep my hands busy and my brain in some state of forward movement, while the big picture motives stem from the fact that I’ve been invited to take part in The Folk Tree’s “Hearts and Flowers” show, coming up in February. I really couldn’t have asked for a better kick in the ol’ culo proper than being included in another of their exhibitions, though it once again puts the impetus on hitting the ol’ slab and going back to work on improving the tensile strengths of my materials.

Of and by themselves, the sculpts are built solid enough: my armatures have give, but aren’t too flexible. The figures generally stay put, even years after being run off the line. They’re showroom safe, but–as proven by the USPS’s absolute demolition of my submissions for the FT show in October–are prone to cracks, bending and other unpleasantries while in any kind of extended transit. To frame it with fuzzy math: the more detailed, the more likely they are to get busted up. And as I’m planning some double-wide deluxe stuff for the V-Day jamboree, this is definitely priority one for the foreseeable future.

So, today was all about trying my hand at using polymer clay. Traditionally, I’ve avoided the stuff: it smells, it’s unwieldy, and the prohibitive curing process busts up my sculpting rhythm and “keep both hands a-movin’!” working aesthetic. However, as the work of some of my contemporary bonesmiths can attest to, it’s also fifty times stronger than even the sturdiest air-dry fare, which brings us to… this.

One part Premo Sculpey. One part Sculpey Original. Wended and mashed together with a pasta presser, applied to a standard CC-custom armature and baked for the prerequisite 15 minutes at 275 degrees, proper:

um.

 

So, aside from this being my initial reaction…

… it appears that I’m going to have a busy weekend NOT burning the flippin’ house down. The one upside is that I intended for this body to be nothing but a glorified test case, but–after this little happenstance–I think I know exactly what I’m going to turn it into. Inspiration, even amidst the asphyxiating napalm-stink of fried plastic fibers!

 

How I Spent My Day of the Dead: ddlm ’12.

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If there’s one great tragedy to my life as an artist, then it would have to be the fact that I was born and raised in the quiet shadows that preceded today’s digital filmmaking revolution. I don’t languish too heavily on what never was, but coming from a family of hearty industry folks was a primo motivator to delve awkwardly into the world of film at an early age: an enthusiastic full-bore charge that was squashed neatly by the dueling realities of cost and the steep learning curve that came with fumbling over yards and yards of 8mm celluloid.

In the consequent years, I hopped in and out of the medium through film school, scriptwriting projects and the occasional embarrassing no-budget gambit, but always wound up getting ram-rodded into the same sticking points and hurdles. Cost. Time. Energy. A dyed-in-the-black-wool case of chronic misanthropy that made recruiting actors and ruthless self-promotion a constant uphill battle. In the end, the biggest problem with making a genuine go as a filmmaker was entirely personal in nature—I’m a viciously inhibited person, and that just doesn’t click with the required vernacular—but I still find myself lapsing into the soggy arena of the “what-wouldas,” from time to time.

Anyway, the whole point of this unspooling confessional does have something to do with calacas, though that connection requires six steps back before actually pushing forward. The short of it is that in my civilian life, I teach video production and visual narrative to high schoolers, among other academic dalliances; as such, I’m blessed with a constant whit of inspiration from seeing these kids taking flight with their own creative compulsions, while being frequently laid flat on my ass by how worthless and antiquated my years of “technical experience” are, in comparison to what sort of weapons these students have at their disposal.

For a sobering—if not entirely self-indicting—idea of how this dynamic has worked: I’ve been teaching this stuff for three years, and wound up making my first all-digital short six weeks ago. It took a Herculean effort on the part of my new class (and plenty of verbal noosing, courtesy of how often I’m prone to prattling on about how “good they’ve got it, what with their HD and their smartyphones and their whatnots…”) to get me to even give it a shot, but the end result was… educational, on quite a few levels.

So: when it came to summarizing the three days I spent circulating between muertos-related events in California, I decided to throw my back out with another swing at the same fences. The practicum for this month’s exercise was “motion,” which—as the film below demonstrates—I did what I could with.

 

 

The second half of the video was spent at the ofrenda and birthday celebration for my dearly departed and always-remembered compatriot, Nick Michael Papac. It’s been seven years since his untimely passing, and his parents have held this event dutifully ever since; my sister and I—who were closest to Nick in our pre-teen and teenage years, and who only kept in spotty contact afterward—have been intending to go for quite some time, and finally decided that it was “here and now or never,” in making the trip.

I can’t really convey how happy I am that we were able to attend. To see someone celebrated not only by the people they knew at the time of their unexpected passing—but to also have those in attendance from five, ten, twenty years prior—puts a lot into perspective. This was the first time that I’ve ever contributed to the ofrenda of someone that I knew personally, but it really meant more than simple words can do justice to.

It’s also tough to type about, at the moment. So I’ll leave it here, and spell out the rest on a sunnier day.