Tag Archives: halloween

Fandango de la Folk Tree: Retrato Familiar

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While I wasn’t able to make the annual pilgrimage down to Pasadena for the Folk Tree show’s final reception, I did hear from quite a few of my local folk-les that it was one of the best turnouts in years. It’s a testament to just how important the store has been during it’s glorious lifetime, and how much the efforts of Rocky, Gail, Victor and the whole “FT familia” affect the holiday’s culture, and people’s understanding of it.

It also reminds me as to why I’ve worked exclusively with them, in regards to crafting show pieces for the holidays. I’ve documented my issues with the local “import store” culture in previous postings, but that doesn’t account for the fact that even the best vendors up here in Seattle do little to actually honor the holiday and traditions that have proven to be so profitable for them, over the years. My sister and I made a sojourn to Milagros in Pike Place Market last week, while she was making her annual Halloween visit: the shop’s one of the more prominent purveyors of Oaxacan art and dia de los muertos-related collectibles, and its location gives it an unprecedented degree of tourist flow-through. As such, I naturally expected that they’d do their part to float the true roots of the holiday, or at least offer something in the way of an exhibition-quality ofrenda, or…

something...

… but no.

It was a day just like any other day, with the same stock, the same window dressings, the same general attitude. It’s not really that big an issue–Seattle’s appreciation of the Hispanic heritage that exists at the roots of calacas and Posada prints pretty much begins and ends with people who realize that it’s really easy to whip up some half-assed sugar skull makeup when they haven’t bothered to actually put together a real Halloween costume–but I wandered out of the shop again reminded just how fortunate I am to be able to ply my trade at the Folk Tree, and how fortunate the world is to have the store in the first place.

But all that aside: I had one last consignment at this year’s show, and I think it’s probably one of the best top-to-bottom constructs that I’ve made, this year.

... mi familia, su familia, la familia.

… mi familia, su familia, la familia.

The piece owes its genesis to the very cool “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (Photographs by Lourdes Grobet),” which I’ve been a proud owner of for about ten years. The book’s a fascinating study of “street-level” lucha culture, but–for me–the main attraction is the colorful portrait-style sittings that Grobet specialized in back in the 1970’s. In it, wrestlers like Solar are photographed with their families: the luchadores are, of course, sporting their masks and some ridiculously swag suits, but their wives and kids are simply dressed in their Sunday best, positioned politely alongside their paterfamilias and his superhero physique.

As I’ve blathered on about endlessly, I’m a fan of wrestling in every one of its 31 flavors: as such, it occurred to me that doing a portrait with all of the family members sporting their masks was a fun wrinkle on this, and it gave me the opportunity to dust off my old “Nippon Sports Mooks” from the early 2000’s as a basis for coming up with custom mascara designs. The pictures in the background are custom versions of Grobet’s actual portraits, which I figured would be a cool homage to a truly unique artist.

fam3

As of 11/1, the piece has sold: I couldn’t be happier, both in terms of the work that I put in for this year’s exhibition, as well as the fact that it brought in some well-deserved consignments for the hosts. Definitely a nice note on which to welcome the next seven months of winter malaise, up here the good ol’ PNW…

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Fandango de la Folk Tree: Destino Final

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In terms of show-friendly pieces, I’ve been making a concerted effort to begin balancing out my free-standing efforts with a diorama-style aesthetic. I’ve always had a fascination with building miniatures, ranging way back to my afternoons spent fuddling around with beeswax sculpture as a kid: the challenge of building a couch, pistol or chessboard in 1/25th scale is just one of those things that runs contrary to the simplistic tenets of bonesmithing (Discounting the work of the Linares family, traditional paper-mache’ artisans usually don’t incorporate such teensy-weensy touches), but that I can’t do without.

Likewise, there’s the consideration that a wall-hanging piece lends itself to display in a much more intuitive fashion than your typical free-standing sculpt. There’s a great deal of ironic evidence for this fact all over Casa del Comrade, as I can’t even fit most of my personal pieces on our numerous shelves or desktops: no such issues plague the various three-dimensional dioramas on our walls, where they enjoy a harmonious little give-and-get with the wife’s paintings. As such, I figured that I’d put this practice into play for my second submission to the Folk Tree’s exhibition, which is as follows:

... take only what you can carry.

… take only what you can carry.

I wish I could take sole credit for the concept, but it’s actually something that I basically bunkered from the great Sophie Crumb, daughter of comic-maestro emeritus Robert Crumb. Sophie did the illustrations for Enid Coleslaw’s sketchbook in the awesome 2001 filmic adaptation of Dan Clowes’ “Ghost World,” and a similar picture can be seen for about .034 seconds during one the scenes set in Enid’s art class. The illustration depicts a woman lugging her coffin across a desert wasteland (Complete with adorned vulture), which–even seen for the briefest of glimpses–is one of those pretty flippin’ cool (™) concepts that get into an artist’s head. I took that kernel and ran with it, resulting in the first “draft” of the piece.

And then later decided that our wayward traveler needed further evidence of where her mortal coil had taken her, during her years above ground. That was easy enough to supply, courtesy of some nifty clipart “trunk stickers,” that I scaled and applied with a coat of Mod Podge.

... oh, the places you'll go.

… oh, the places you’ll go.

the "road" is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

the “road” is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

The resulting sculpt–entitled “Destino Final’–has, as of 10/31/13, been sold. It’s always particularly awesome to see a piece that you really loved putting together not only be appreciated by so many of the show-goers at Folk Tree, but also taken home.

More to come, but–for now–a very sincere and enthusiastic “Happy All Saint’s Day” to you folks out there, in e-Land!

Fandango de la Folk Tree: El Diabolico

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So, with all due objectivity: this has to be just about the worst case of procrastination to hit this workspace since 2011. It’s one thing to let your bloggery go untended due to real-life issues or a lack of overall productivity, but–unfortunately–I’ve got absolutely nothing in the way of such excuses. I’ve been churning out commissions on a steady basis since August, I enjoyed an absolutely amazing trip to Phoenix, (where I had the pleasure of talking too-brief shop about Hispanic heritage arts with the one and only Aztec Smurf), and–perhaps most importantly, considering the state of the calendar–I was again invited to take part in the Folk Tree’s annual observations of dia de los muertos.

Before I get into that, I’ll take a moment and tip back a cup full of grain-alcohol gratitude to Gail Mishkin for her never-ending encouragement, especially in regards to my well-documented issues with structural stability and shipping woes from last year. I’ve worked hard over the course of the last six months to improve my technique and to get a proper grip on the nuances of paper clay: it’s been a game of tipsy hopscotch (“Two hops forward, one flop back!”) at times, but the end results are some of the best work that I’ve turned out. Period.

Without the support of the fine Folk Tree folks–who are still my only real “must-do” outlet for show pieces–I probably would have let the familiar old weeds of self-doubt set me back on the shelf, stemming from frustration over the previous construction issues: so there’s that.

And there’s this.

Piece number one is something I’ve actually had planned for quite some time, with the most recent go-around being charted for the FT’s “Angels and Demons” show from earlier this year. As I was still slowly killing myself and anybody within a square-mile radius with the judicious use of polymer clay at the time–and making little progress, in terms of getting it to set properly–I missed a chance to get onboard with that exhibition, and instead slated Ol’ Scratch for a future opportunity:

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

Latin culture has some of the finest depictions of El Satanico outside of the Middle Ages, and this piece draws its inspiration from a number of them: a sugar skull-style facial motif, cross-cultured with a touch of “El Pachuco” from Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit.

lil' evil 2

the split wallet chains aren’t entirely era-accurate, but hell (HA) if they don’t look cool.

I briefly toyed with giving this fella a loteria number of “666,” but–as we’re still working our way through the first 25 “cards”–I figured I’d do the right thing and stick with some loose chronology. As of 10/30, this piece has sold, which is great: nothing stokes the coals of latent creativity like having one of your calaveras find a good home.
More to come!

diabolico2

 

The Bonesmith’s Union: Melanie’s Menagerie and the Danse Macabre of the DEADutante’s Ball

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As we slide neatly across the waist of the halfway point of dia de los muertos observances and prepare to pull the curtain on The Folk Tree’s seasonal exhibit, I’m reminded once again of just how fortunate I’ve been over the last few months. In addition to the explosive promotional gains that the Comrade’s Calacas FB Group has been making, there’s the fact that this blog’s resurrection has put me in touch with an entire cadre of fascinating artists and editors, the inspiration from which has helped tremendously in terms of dealing with the inevitable “off-season” that the muerte arts typically take throughout the winter months.

One such fellow bonesmith is Melanie Nord-Monsees, or–as she’s known in her Etsy circles–Melanie’s Menagerie. I was unfamiliar with Melanie’s work before firing myself back into the blogosphere in August, but I’ve become quite a fan of her style in the time since: as I’ve mumbled on about before, calacas and calaveras are an artistic genre that’s easy to pick up, but extremely difficult to personalize in any profound or intriguing fashion. There’s only so much that a sculptor or painter can do with a human skeleton, which means that a considerable amount of “day of the dead” artisans are content to simply slap some candy-skull detailing on their work and call it qualified; it fits the bare minimum requirement to compel the observer or buyer to acknowledge what it’s supposed to be, but not much else.

la bella morte.

Melanie’s work, on the other hand, is completely unique and truly elegant. Much like a Clay Lindo diorama, there’s no mistaking the deft touch of the creator when canvassing her offerings: her characters are meticulously sculpted and beautifully dressed, with equal attention paid to both the delicate build of her calaveras and their shelf-ready aesthetic. Like the best bonesmiths, she maneuvers effortlessly between the gleeful and the ghoulish, and is seldom content to painting herself into just one corner of the genre.

la diabolita.

I would wholeheartedly invite you to check out Melanie’s Etsy offerings here, and to give her blog a due read-over, if you’re in the market for some entertaining insights into her process. Good stuff abounds.

Loteria Number Twenty-Eight: El Bolidor

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Now, that was a hell of a thing.

This time of year is seldom merciful to me and mine, as the combination of Halloween (practically a religious undertaking in this household) and dia de los muertos makes for flaming pu-pu platter of creative breakdowns, headcolds, and a metric crap-ton of other grandiose, art-related suffering. This year didn’t disappoint, and was exacerbated in particularly masochistic fashion by my decision to—in the middle of the mess—pry up my roots and head on down to Los Angeles for observations, ofrendas, and some too-short quality time with friends and loved ones.

I’m planning some sort of “maybe this will work and not come off like a thumbheaded moron trying to make magic happen with his smartphone’s video function”-type recap that I’m hoping to have put together by the weekend, but—barring that—it seems almost mildly blasphemous to let this occasion pass without at least ONE bit of calaca-related bloggadoccio.

So, the subject of today’s overwrought ranting is: 28.

28 happens to be  the age that I decided to go back to college. It’s sometimes the number of days in February. It’s a multiple of seven, which I think everybody can agree is a pretty damn cool number. It also happens to be the number of years that I’ve known the recipient of today’s featured sculpture, which I’ve opted to overreachingly entitle “El Bolidor.”

 

BA BOOM BOOM VA-ROOM

The piece represents Capital D, who I’ve known since I was about six years old. CD’s somebody who I’ve been blessed to grow up and around with, who’s always been a bonafide, true-blooded bud in every sense of the word. We came up on a steady diet of weird movies, video games, bleary-eyed sleepovers and were hardcore car-culture mutts well before we even got anywhere near our learner’s permits, which was where the genesis of this particular piece came from.

 

A little of that, a little of this, a little from here…

Occasional visitors of this bloghole might recall “Sibling Revelry,” from a few months ago: it’s an essential homage to a consistent theme of weird, go-kart related fascination that probably started with Mario Kart and has carried itself steadily through the decades that followed. Initially, I thought it would be awesome to somehow incorporate Bolidor into that diorama, somehow—a concept that likely stemmed from those old die-cast Kenner Star Wars deals that locked together to form awesome little playscapes  of Bespin and Hoth—but the realization that this would require us somehow all converging on a predetermined meeting spot with our calacas in hand was…. somehow offensively sobering.  It also resulted in Bolidor’s kart getting bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER. And somewhere in the mix, turning from a simple road-beast into some bizarre smash-up of Big Daddy Roth and the 1955 Chevy that D and I used to burn rubber around Pasadena in, during our misspent youth.

 

bolidor, con (badaduhduhduhduhdubbaduhduh) base.

Sharp and nerdy eyes will probably note the fact that the fender detailing resembles a Bullet Bill, and—rather randomly—the engine (and the artist’s complete lack of insight into what the hell one actually looks like, aside from when he’s filling up his wiper fluid) has somehow wound up incorporating pieces of the Ghostbuster’s proto-packs.

 

fwoosh.

You KNOW something’s on point when your geekish tendencies are on autopilot. Fortunately, Bolidor survived the trip to California and was presented lovingly during an ofrenda celebration for a mutual and dearly departed pal of ours, which somehow split the clouds of a frantic weekend and put a dovetail on the stresses surrounding the holiday. There was also a lot to love at The Folk Tree’s magnificent celebracion’ (Adios, El Organillero and La Revolucionaria: you’ve sold, and I couldn’t wish you better in your new home!), as well as during our daytrip to Olvera Street, which I hope to spill some virtual ink on in a future post.

In the interim—and while I’m shrugging off this migraine—here’s some assorted ephemera from the building process for this piece. A couple of folks have asked (both at the show and via FB) how I put these things together, to which I reply: “CAREFULLY AND OFTEN INCORRECTLY.”

 

to the side, to the side.

 

the goggles: a good excuse to try and use the rest of my Testor’s window-building epoxy.

 

also, a fine case in point: the first sculpt of this guy’s head somehow made him look like a tiki mask, once the goggles and hat were in place. I have NO idea how the hell I messed this up so poorly, but I’m also embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even notice until the arms and primer were on.
“Wait a second…”

 

q: what do colonel sanders and comrade have in common?
a: we’re both working on an eighteen-piece bucket.
(ohhhhwuh)

 

 

 

 

Loteria Number Two: La Mascara (The Mask)

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As the dia de los destinos continues to get closer and closer—and I get my bags packed for my impending California foray—my thoughts have naturally been cranking into a winter-wise direction, particularly in terms of contemplating what the heck I’m going to do after November 1st in terms of calaca-related creations. The September-October window is really the bone harvest for anybody in this line of work, as the macabre trappings and pagany celebrations of the Halloween season give way to the warmth of Christmas in a truly rapid-fire fashion. One day, an ofrenda seems like a profound reminder of those we’ve lost, and a beautiful expression of chthonic artistic traditions: the following morning, that same altar suddenly looks jarringly creepy, back-dropped against cornucopia cut-outs and daisy-chains of colored lights.

Winter just isn’t kind to skeletons, be they crafted from clay or otherwise. It’s likely that mortality—even festive, joyous recognition of the fact that we’re all giving up the minutes until we become dust—is just too heavy to labor on when the entire natural world is becoming threadbare and covered in snow, which means that I usually wind up hanging up my tools until the thaw. To date, I have yet to sell a SINGLE calaca between the months of December and April: it’s a soft market for the online casual buyer to begin with, but things get real thin around this time of year.

Fortunately, there’s at least some silver scrim on the off-season, this time around: I recently had the opportunity to touch base with an old buddy from my four-year foray into independent game design—Mr. Dave Wish—and amidst the topics we wound up hashing on was the possibility of creating branded lucha calacas for the impending release of his long-gestating PC pro wrestling opus, Pro Wrestling X. The offer was a timely one, since I’d just wrapped up the finishing touches on this fine fellow:

 

UNA CHIASO!

Next to dia de los muertos and spaghetti western serapes, lucha libre is probably the most single, immediately-identifiable iconic symbol in Mexican culture. Even a person who doesn’t know Santo from Hurican Ramirez can immediately tell you what a luchadore mask looks like, and the fact that you’re bound to find at least a ripoff of a Rey Mysterio Jr. cowl at anywhere from your local temp-class Halloween costume shop to the booths at the Puyallup State Fair (Pravda!) says a lot about the degree to which that symbol has stretched itself across the American cultural landscape. The fact that your average wrestling fan only has a passing appreciation for what “la mascara” actually means to its native culture is an interesting proxy when it comes to calaveras: on a skin-deep level, there isn’t much difference between the workaday appreciation of, say, Psicosis’ old 90’s-era WCW mask and what most people think of a sugar skull. It’s exotic, it’s interesting, and it looks badass on a t-shirt… but to stop there doesn’t really give just how truly profound that aesthetic and cultural “coolness” really is.

Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of virtual ink spilled on the tradition of the lucha mask, so I’ll spare the sharing of my own watered-down Cliff’s Notes version of that summary: instead, I’ll just use this opportunity to comment on how the pursuit of authenticity is problematic when it comes to actually selling a piece like this, since—to the lay person, anyway—it comes off as being really damn confusing.

 

Uno… dos… tres… PALMADAS!

For a lucha aficionado, the  basic premise is fairly self-evident: with the mask of a conquered foe firmly in fist, El Payaso Gigante, here, enjoys a moment of violent victory. For some reason, I remember seeing tons of images in this vein when I was a kid, taken from such venerable Mexican wrestling venues as Arena Naucalpan (on postcards, even!): a pair of bloodied, barely-conscious man-hulks trying to rip the eyeholes out of each other’s sacred mascaras, with both fans and officials staring on in bloodthirsty amusement. In the traditional trenches of lucha libre, few things are more serious than a wrestler putting his mask up against another wrestler’s (The variations of this stipulation—hair versus hair, belt versus mask, and so forth—have similar gravitas, but nothing’s quite as potentially ruinous for a combatant’s career than the loss of their cowl, and the identity that it provides), and so—bingo, bango, bongo—we have the basis of the second in the loteria series.

 

Sustantivos, sustantivos, sustantivos.

La Mascara. Not a mask. The mask.

But, as noted above, something gets lost in translation, in terms of the depiction. People wonder why the guy’s got two masks; they don’t get why he’s missing a piece of his own. The iterative of “mascara” leads to assumptions that there’s eye makeup involved, which really shoots the works. Compared to the relative simplicity of this piece…

 

El Capitan.

… the efforts to really capture an essential aspect of something that I’ve loved the stuffing out of since I was a wee geek really works against it’s commercial appeal. The piece above, which was entitled Capitan Chiapas is—in hindsight, anyway—a less detailed and sophisticated piece of work (I had a hell of a time figuring out how to model a set of relatively anatomically-correct ribs, and getting them to stay put), with as generic a base as I’ve ever committed to a piece, but it sold—literally—within an hour of being put up on Etsy.

Ol’ EPG, on the other hand, has been sitting patiently at The Folk Tree for two weeks now, and was collecting dust on that same Etsy tip for at least a month and a half prior. It’s a classic case of how even the most seemingly infinitesimal differences in a basic premise can have a blunt-ended impact on a piece’s commercial prospects… but it also reminds me just how important it is to do what you want in this artistic arena, rather than trying to figure out what the heck people are actually going to be falling all over themselves to buy.

As the great Joel Hodgson once put it: “(We) never ask ourselves who’s going to get it… we always tell ourselves that the right people will get it.”

Words to live by; words to craft by.

Loteria Number Nineteen: La Pirata (The Pirate)

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(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following post starts out with one of those weird-ass tangents about something that may or may not speak to the whole bonesmithing process, specifically the importance of numbers. As someone who hates math with a kerosene-burning passion, I won’t be all creaky or weepy if you just bump down to where the rest of the pictures are. Seriously, now.)

One of the biggest design-related pratfalls that I’ve had to contend with during my shift into making “commercial-caliber calacas” was coming up with some sort of uniform concept for the bases. I use the same standard three-by-five, off-the-shelf craft plaques that artists like Jerry Vigil and Clay Lindo do, but I’ve also bumped up against fundamental design issues when figuring out what the heck to do with them: is it enough to have a character standing on a street? Does it screw up the basic aesthetic (or hedge on offensiveness) if I use a flag motif? Should I try to incorporate some basic impression of a setting (i.e. floorboards, a carpet, a hopscotch game) or just try to separate it from the design of the figure, itself?

As I touched on during my meandering write-up about the La Revolucionaria piece, a lot of this was alleviated the moment that I came up with the loteria concept. This didn’t just give me a solid, brand-style “go-to” in terms of differentiating my work from that of my talented contemporaries (Much like Jerry’s preference for using a striking cobalt blue on his calaveras, there’s no mistaking a “Tamra Kohl skull” or a Nee “micro-sculpt.” In a medium where you’re basically all playing with the same half-dozen bones, having something that separates you from being just another person messing around with another culture’s tradition is pretty damn important, all said), but provided for another unexpected benefit: raw, unalloyed inspiration.

I can’t claim to know much about numerology, but I do know that numbers are sewn right into the fabric of who we are. The whirligig of life only stops occasionally for birthdays, anniversaries, death-dates and other points of interest, the majority of which are stapled firmly into our consciousness through the indelible presence of a number: I may not remember what color my shirt was on the night of my first kiss with the woman who would eventually become my wife, but I can tell you that it happened thirteen years ago, on November the 16th. Memories slip, feelings fade, but numbers—once committed—do not slide.

That being the case, the use of a number—simple as it seems—has become something to strike sparks off of. For example, this piece: originally intended to just be a “lady pirate” (Inspired from the Anne Bonney frescos that were once in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride queue at Disneyland) it instead turned itself into a gift for a longtime friend, based on little more than the question of what its designated numero would be.

“A dolly? The surprise is a dolly?”

Sequentially, it would have been number five, in the series. But in terms of impressing a specific point—that being the fact that I had known the person in question for nearly twenty years—it suddenly seemed more appropriate to brand it as number nineteen. At this point, I’m still clinging to the silly vanity that I’ll be able to make it to the century mark with these suckers, someday: as such, each number should only wind up being used, once.

19.

Nineteen won’t get a better or more-deserving shake, which sealed it: as a result, I completely changed the character’s design and shifted gears from it being a generic conversation piece to a tailor-made token of my appreciation for a nearly life-long friendship. As a new mom, “Captain TEC” wound up cameo-ing her lovely baby daughter, along with another earmark of our mutual, geeky interest: a copy of the same Guybrush Threepwood voodoo doll that Ghost Pirate LeChuck is brandishing on the cover of the original Monkey Island 2 game box. The simple inclination of changing a number breathed an entirely new degree of life into what would have been just another skeleton in search of someone to love it, which—as I’ve rambled on about before—is one of those things that keeps you going, as an artist. Ebb or flow, you can at least count on the gratitude of the people you care about to keep your levels of inspiration on the up-and-up.

Another bonus: making these for friends means that they probably won’t send them back. On some days, that’s a cause worth fighting for.