Posts from Underground

– a zabel illustration production –

Las ilustraciones de Isla Saona

Paradise, I bid thee adieu; alas, I have returned to reality.

I recently spent two weeks (15 days) in the beautiful Dominican Republic, where the sun is always shining, the sea is always brilliant blue, and the locals are some of the happiest people on Earth.  While I was there, I was fortunate enough to take an excursion to the very isolated Isla Saona.  Here exists a small village with two streets, one small hospital, a sea turtle rescue project, and many other animals roaming freely around the neighborhood.  In fact, the residents of Saona village build fences not to keep the animals in, but rather to keep the animals out of their gardens.  An interesting notion to say the least.  There are obviously many other differences I could point out by comparison to life in the United States but one thing I found interesting was the prominence of paintings and sculpture in the Dominican Republic.  Of course, the resort I was staying at had a large collection (which I initially dismissed as everyday tourist shop fodder), but this artwork was also stacked up virtually everywhere I went outside the confines of the resort.  Isla Saona was definitely no exception.  Getting of the boat and walking up the beach to the village, the first sight one is bound to notice are paintings…canvas upon canvas of paintings.  While you must pay for the artwork, this isolated village has an important message that any given visitor can take for free.  On this lonely island, lacking the material possessions that we often stress over or gauge our success on, absolute happiness and creativity flourish.  Even more interesting, according to our guide that day, is the fact that heart disease and cancer are two things that flat out don’t occur on Isla Saona and life expectancy is considerably longer than ours in the United States.  Now that’s something to think about…

Saona Village Art

Saona Village Art Gallery

Casa del arte en Isla Saona

Casa del arte en Isla Saona

The Perks of Being a Guild Member

I was literally reading that the newest addition of the Handbook for Pricing & Ethical Guidelines had been released when an anonymous postal worker rang my doorbell and fled the scene with a friendly *knock-knock-knock.*  Not expecting any deliveries, I cautiously opened the front door expecting to see a young republican canvasing the neighborhood on the hunt for petition signatures.  Much to my surprise, there was no enthusiastic young man or woman on my porch that day, but rather a moderately sized parcel placed neatly at my feet.  I had a brief internal soliloquy (re-enacted here in rhyme for enhanced dramatic effect):

What could this strange bundle be,

So neatly placed addressed to me?

Ordered naught most recently,

Nay!  Thou cannot possibly…

I ripped and tore haphazardly,

A peek of wild colors freed.

Expanded breadth, updated scene,

Behold!  A Fresh P&EGs!

This book is hands-down the most crucial piece of information any creative professional can own, and being a member of the Graphic Artists Guild ensures that you always have the latest and greatest copy of this beastly tome.  I’ve already started my first read-through and I will go through a second run just as soon as I buy more post-its and highlighters.  I am also planning on beach-reading most of the Handbook on my upcoming vacation.  No need to worry for my sanity though, I’m balancing out some of the heavy business reading with the new Jim Henson biography and a volume of crossword puzzles that I’ve had my eye on for a while!

Handbook for Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

Handbook for Pricing & Ethical Guidelines camouflaged in its natural habitat…the artist’s studio.

Book Review: David Gilbertson’s Wine Bar Theory

David Gilbertson's Wine Bar Theory

David Gilbertson’s Wine Bar Theory

For those that are “too busy” to read a book once in a while, that excuse will not hold water (or wine for that matter) when it comes to David Gilbertson’s Wine Bar Theory.  An hour, at most, is all you will need to peruse though this one.  Although I strongly recommend reading through it a second time to really get a handle on the 28 rules presented in this brief but illuminating manifesto.  A notable aspect of Wine Bar Theory, curious title notwithstanding, is that the philosophy can be applicable to various businesses regardless of size.  Aside from the handful of points regarding the acquisition of other companies, this is book provides a solid guideline of how to conduct a respectable small business or sole-proprietorship.  That’s not to say, however, that those rules on acquisition won’t come into play later.  The basic message that runs throughout this book is one of laid-back common sense thinking that can admittedly get lost when things become more complicated in business.  Take a step back once in a while to objectively evaluate your own work and where it’s heading.  Much like wine, and the grapes used to make it, a healthy business should maintain an organic type of growth, progressively getting better with age.  Organic in the sense that no decision should be forced but rather patiently steered towards the natural, or logical next step, thus never compromising the quality of the product and the people that make up the business itself.  The most important tenet this book offers is that trust, sincerity and humility, attributes often manufactured and regurgitated in many a company policy, are never to be artificial nor neglected.  Basically be a good person (business) and good things will happen as per the golden rule, karma or whatever you wish to call it.  My advice…grab a glass of wine and kick back with this book for an evening.  It is well worth the time.

Ramblings from the final frontier…

Once in a while something will come along that completely shatters all preconceived notions I might have on a particular topic.  Until about two days ago, and this may shock some of you out there, I always thought of Star Trek, the original television program, as a just another campy portrayal of the sci-fi from that era.  On top of this  (let’s just call it unjust for argument sake) opinion, the cult following that the show has generated over the years has inadvertently left me with some deep-seeded resentment towards the show in that I would never be able to truly appreciate its journey since I’ve blindly opposed it for so long.  Let me just restate that…I’ve blatantly renounced Star Trek my entire life and I’ve never even watched it!  Sorry to all you Trekkies out there, but it doesn’t make any sense to me either.  Getting back to the point, mind changers and what to do when you are confronted with one…

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz

This book stopped me dead in my tracks.  Upon a quick flip through I was hooked and had to look at every piece, cover to cover.  While lost in these pages I subconsciously released any bitterness; all my discontent and cynicism dissolved in a transporter accident.   Acrimony vanished in dematerialization, never to be seen or heard from again (I hope I got that right).  Through these posters, Juan Ortiz has warped my opinion for the better.  His art has made me curious for exploration, ready to step out of this world into the vast frontier of outer space and its infinite threshold, to find out the meaning of each and every one of these posters.

So moving forward, what I really would like to say is that I think I’m finally ready to accept Star Trek into my life thanks to the little push from these beautifully crafted posters.  That is, of course, if the Trekkie community will accept my application to join their ranks on the Starship Enterprise.  Then all I will need is some spare time to watch them all…

Finding a Muse

In a dilapidated cardboard box marked clearance a very unlikely participant, deep blue and giant, sat among the other unwanted of and discarded books.  Books were haphazardly picked over looking as though the gravitational force of this one monolithic tome was recruiting the remnants to join its orbit.  As luck would have it, everything on clearance was reduced to a mere two dollars and since this particular book of interest was normally 40 times that amount, I found it hard to believe that nobody else had jumped on such a deal.  The book was none other than a beautifully printed edition of John James Audubon‘s Birds of America (pictured below) complete with a sturdy protective cover:

The Birds of America by John James Audubon

The Birds of America by John James Audubon

Obviously the decision to buy this book was a no-brainer (after, of course, I double checked that it was indeed only two bucks).  I spent that afternoon savoring the complete collection; carefully examining the beautifully crafted illustrations that Audubon executed with great accuracy and aesthetic detail nearly two hundred years ago.  This got me thinking about the importance the proverbial muse or, to a less dramatic extent, creatively exploring a topic that the artist is personally acquainted and excited with.  A healthy obsession filtered into self-initiated projects is a major contributor to the development and growth of personal style.  For John James Audubon (naturalist, ornithologist, painter) the plentiful species avifauna throughout North America inspired him to produce hundreds of drawings and paintings which were later translated into life size aquatint prints.  Hundreds of years later, the unmistakeable style of Audubon continues to be the standard of avian field guides and in some cases the best documentation of a few extinct bird species.

American Flamingo

American Flamingo

One Word App Review

Adobe® Kuler app for iPhone

Adobe® Kuler app for iPhone

in • val • u • a • ble   |ĭn-văl’yōō-ə-bəl|


1. Having great value; priceless.

2. Indispensable; much appreciated: an invaluable service.

–in • val’u • a • bly,  adverb

definition supplied by The American Heritage Dictionary: Second College Edition

Loathsome Dove

Sonoran desert.  Height of summer.  Monsoons and haboobs.  Hell on earth.

The Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert

Before setting off on my recent adventure to Phoenix, Arizona I ceaselessly checked the weather report during the week leading up to it hoping that the mid-summer desert fever would break to provide a more comfortable existence for the few days  I would be exposed to the relentless “dry-heat.”  Let me just say, dry or otherwise, 110 degrees is h-o-t.  As luck would have it, half of my journey kept me occupied in northern Arizona where, thanks to the higher elevation, temperatures were much more comfortable.  In Flagstaff I was able to sketch a bit outside without drenching the page with my own sweat.  Aside from this, I also came across some artworks in Flagstaff that were not desert landscapes, unauthentic Native American patterns, or Georgia O’Keefe hack jobs that are so prevalent in Sedona and Phoenix galleries – Sedona being the vortex (as prominently advertised throughout the town) that sucks in tourists while simultaneously doing the same to the money in their wallets.  Sadly, the natural beauty surrounding the area can only be seen in the aforementioned galleries.  To see anything even remotely inspiring, a short drive out of town to a designated “viewpoint” or a hiking trial is necessary and even here you will encounter so many tourists that it will prove a challenge to snap a decent photo that doesn’t include a golf polo shirt or a sun visor in your frame.

Now before (before?) this post fully digresses into a loathsome rant, there were indeed many enjoyable aspects Arizona.  Primarily I had the privilege of staying at the Arizona Biltmore, a resort designed by Albert Chase McArthur – not Frank Lloyd Wright as some Phoenicians like to believe.  Wright, however, did play a part in coordinating some of the decorative elements as a consultant architect during construction of this swanky establishment.  Beautifully incorporated in the landscape, the design for the Arizona Biltmore frames the surrounding mountain vistas that look down on the grounds; guardians of a lost temple in the hidden oasis.  The decorative relief carvings of Emry Kopta are utilized throughout the entire space to invoke the distinct style and history of the Native Hopi tribes of the region.

Emry Kopta's Hopi motif is prominent throughout the Arizona Biltmore.

Emry Kopta’s Hopi motif is prominent throughout the Arizona Biltmore.

Moving back in time, I also had a chance to explore some ancient Pueblo architecture at Wupatki National Monument.  This still active archaeological site is home to a very well preserved Pueblo ruins of the Sinagua, Cohonina and Anasazi tribes that inhabited the region nearly 1000 years ago.  A true testament to the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the buildings is the sheer fact that they have survived, unmaintained through natural forces and human interaction, so that today we can get a take a small glimpse into the past and speculate what life may have been like for these ancient people.  From providing the necessary functional shelters from the harsh elements to the creative and decorative innovations of tools, pottery and weapons for hunting, were they really so different from us today?

An ancient Pueblo ruin at Wupatki National Monument.

An ancient Pueblo ruin at Wupatki National Monument.

Even further we travel, now into the uncomprehending realm of geologic time and the massive natural sculpture that is the Grand Canyon.  Attributed to the painstakingly patient Colorado River as its sculptor (assist to tectonic uplift) the vast chasm is still being carved out and formed to this day.  Nearly a mile deep already it’s hard to grasp the amount of time it took to craft such an incredible sight.  This display of organic force gave me a humbling perspective on the patience a creative mind needs to live by every day, microcosmically etching our own path with each and every stroke of the brush, mark of the pencil or click of the mouse, careening forward into an ever-changing and unpredictable future.  The question one must ask themselves pertains to legacy.  When you are through with what you have to say, will it continue to inspire after you are gone?  The responsibility to uphold significance is in our hands, individually accountable as a piece of a larger ideology.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Maxfield and Me

Nothing too profound to say this week aside from always keep your eyes open.  During my travels last weekend, while contemplating some thoughts around a humble campfire, I beheld a blazing sunset unlike any I have ever personally experienced in nature.  After snapping a few photos of this brilliant display I continued to explore it visually, watching it change shape and color, going from adolescence to adulthood and finally sedately succumbing to the skulking twilight.  I half expected to turn around and witness the ghost of Maxfield Parrish feverishly mixing paint, attempting to capture the intensity before us.

Maxfield Parrish clouds in real life!

Maxfield Parrish clouds in real life!

More Maxfield Parrish clouds!

More Maxfield Parrish clouds!

Another unadulterated photo, straight from the camera.

Tao’s it goin’ ?

Last month I attended a presentation in which speaker Jim Krause, author of the ever useful index books, brought up an interesting ideology rooted to the ancient philosopher Laozi.  The basic notion is that your mind is like a clay pot and its most useful when the pot is empty.  The actual quote goes something like this:

We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.

— Laozi Tao Te Ching 11

This got me thinking about the different ways we as creatives go about emptying our own “clay pot” so that we can maximize our creative output and, more importantly, be open to the creation that naturally occurs around us.  As we hustle through our daily grind, it is equally important to decompress and reset so the brain is both prepared to take on the the next challenge and be susceptible to the ideas that will come to us.  An absence of meditative exercise will ultimately lead to burn-out and more than likely depression because you just won’t feel like using the energy you have left for creating anything.

There are many ways to go about clearing your head and the trick is to find what works for you.  For example, if I find myself dragging through a task, I like to go for a run outside for 30 minutes.  The physical exertion is a nice way to break up the monotony of sitting at a drawing table or computer for most of the day.  It also gives my head a quick power nap while I only have to move my legs and breathe.  Reading a book is also a great way to recharge.  Some well written fiction is never a bad choice, just make sure it’s enjoyable enough to get lost in for a little while.  Some people like to do yoga or actually meditate, others prefer taking a walk or a bike ride.  As I said before it’s up to you to find something that works for you.  Just try to stay away from things like drugs or alcohol as the idea is to empty your mind so you can fill it back up coherently, not to fog it up with substances that will obstruct efficiency and just make you forget.  Be responsible and save the craft brews for the weekend or celebrations!

This weekend I am actually taking a mini-vacation; a camping trip in foothills of Mt Rainier.  I’m looking forward to being surrounded by something other than city lights and city noises.  Putting some more miles on my hiking boots will be a great way to recharge for the upcoming weeks.  Until then I will leave you with one more thought (because you know how much I enjoy quotations):

“Be totally empty,
embrace the tranquility of peace.
Watch the workings of all creation,
observe how endings become beginnings.”

Dreaming in Code

Having spent the better part of last weekend and this week diving into the deep end of the JavaScript pond, my mind has begun to think in functions, variables, arrays, booleans and logical operators.  Yesterday, I continued my quest for JS fluency with a wonderful tutorial on   It only ran about three hours long, but with me furiously taking down notes and trying out some practice examples on my own, the course actually took up about four hours of my time.  Not bad for some fresh brain wrinkles.  My one mistake was wrapping up the training session so close to bed time that I actually didn’t take the time to decompress, resulting in a night of JavaScript syntax racing through my mind in an infinite loop capable of crashing any modern day web browser.  We’re talking full out conversations and simple tasks manifesting as JavaScript operations in dreamland.  Illustrated below are a couple instances that I could recall:

var kitchenSink = window.prompt ( "full, empty" );
if (kitchenSink == "full" )  {
          return ( 'load the dishwasher' ); 

}  else if  ( kitchenSink == "empty" )  {
          return ( 'unload the dishwasher' ); 

}  else  {
          return ( 'where the hell are all of my dishes?' ); 

document.write ( "rent check" );