Faith, Science and Imagination

Our outlook on life depends on what we let our mind see.

We live in this world as a species at war with itself. I don’t just mean the visible, battles for land, food, resources and power.  I mean in our way of looking at things, even within each of us individually. And then, it spills out without our even noticing.

We battle between creationism, science and imagination. Some people claim evolution is a science and creationism fantasy. Others object. This leads to conflict. I say ‘prove it or, for that matter, disprove it.’ That’s what science is supposed to do. Within a species you can prove evolution, for your various wild and tame breeds of canine, feline and equine are proof enough. But I’ve never seen anything to suggest solid proof man came from a monkey.  And the odds are astronomical against even a single cell coming to life without a guiding mind behind it. So it’s not like gravity, where you can drop something off a cliff and instantly prove it. If you want to teach science, you can’t claim all science is reproducible except this one thing! That makes it a scientific theory, not a fact. Whether I believe (or want to believe) the alternative theory is besides the point. I, for one, know I can’t really prove either.

The truth is the beginnings are so far back no-one knows for sure. They can claim they do, but to some extent it’s all belief. Why they can’t admit it, is beyond me. At the same time, are we so sure we want to prove everything?  Even bringing a child into the world is a perilous venture. And we’re trying for artificial intelligence. Who knows what will happen when the imperfect intelligence of humanity succeeds? It’s unlikely to create perfection. Many a sci fi movie is based on the robots rebelling against mankind. (Well, if mankind rebelled against God than I guess that would make us the robot’s god and turn about is fair play.)  And we’ve already seen ‘Planet of the Apes’. No, I definitely am not keen on that being proven. I’m pretty sure my alarm at the idea isn’t soley due to a belief in God.

On the other hand, the creation story is an account no doubt passed on for generations by storytellers before written. It seems to have lost some details along the way. For instance: if Eve came for Adam, where did Seth’s wife come from? Was she from his rib? Was she his sister? Was she a monkey? (I find that thought disturbing for a lot of reasons. No one said imagination is always a good thing.) And these children of the nephilim they mention, like the giants,-what did they look like? It says ‘giants’ came from them. And giant bones have been found. (Even now the human race seems to be getting taller all the time. Would we seem giants to our ancestors?) We know dinosaurs existed, was that before humans or a different part of the world? At least some of it does dovetail with science: there is plenty of evidence, both scientific and in world myth that there was a great flood for Noah. And the evolution with the animal kingdom could explain how he stuffed so many beasts into the arc. You don’t need every breed of feline, just a starter set. And of course, some creatures were born for life in the water anyway.

Young children seem to ask these questions automatically. Then as they grow older whether Christian, Atheist or any other, their curiosity gets squashed. ‘Don’t ask’, the adults say, we don’t have the answers and fear we wouldn’t like them. Why not, I don’t know. Okay, so you believe God wrote the Bible through man. That means for all humankind, not just the rocket scientists and biologists. He certainly didn’t write it with picking apart the DNA of dinosaurs in mind.

I for one, wonder if some of our ancient religions and myths aren’t connected. Science fiction is unafraid to confront such questions. Stargate dared think ‘what if the ancient gods’ were aliens. Well, what if they were these ‘children’ of nephilim or nephilim themselves? They don’t have to be actual ‘gods’ in a pantheon for there to be a Zeus or a Hera. Just someone bigger, more powerful and maybe more high tech than humanity at the time. Were there centaurs? Or was there someone with poor vision in a horseless society who was attacked? Perhaps all his colleagues, having heard it, then saw what they expected to see. Perhaps Pegasus sprang from ancient versions of the modern western: the legendary wild white stallion. As the ancient people saw it make a mighty leap away, perhaps on a high mountain, the sun and clouds contrived wings.

I believe we need the ability to dare to imagine, even if we don’t believe in others viewpoints. Myth and legend often starts with a grain of truth. That’s no surprise. There probably always were storytellers who’d master a stories ‘spin’ (now they work for politicians) and capitalized on the best features of a true story and expand.

Unicorn Tapestry #8 ; photo by nhyder 51 Photobucket
Unicorn Tapestry #8 photo by nhyder 51 Photobucket

Unicorns and dragons probably, in some form, did exist. Maybe they still do and we just don’t recognize them. Ancient tapestries show unicorns that looked like goats with one horn. Yet now we expect a magnificent horse like creature. A one horned goat would be a mere genetic mutation to us. Paintings show Sir George battling a dragon much smaller than he and the horse. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the ‘dragon’ of Revelation, the devil. If so, he’s smaller than expected. On the other hand, maybe dragons were lizards descended from dinosaurs and were (or even are) just unrecognized. Maybe it’s not that unicorns and dragons have gone, but our ability to see them. We’ve lost it either to science or faith, when we need imagination. A dragon is supposed to be terrifying by our ‘western’  standards (as opposed to the friendlier eastern dragons) . So as we become more confident and build better weapons, our imagined dragon must be bigger and scarier. He needs more than fangs to attack the children and a powerful body. He now needs a flame thrower gullet and giant wings to take to the skies.

Is your mind full of the mundane or is it full of wonder?

Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau
Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau, photo by mafiashaolin on Photobucket

But to some extent, we need them all. We need the faith (for even a belief there is no god can be considered ‘a faith’ for you can’t prove there is no god, either.) We need science. We need imagination. Perhaps imagination is the place where science meets faith and either creates a war or releases a sense of wonder. If our faith can answer the question science asks, it will be all the stronger. And if it can’t? Then we maybe we either need to think outside the box or we need a bigger box.  We have far too much war. We need far more wonder.

Wonder creates answers and solutions to problems the ‘wonderless’ accept as the status quo. It invented the wheel, encouraged someone to tame the first dog and ride that early horse. It created the car and the computer and sent satellites into space. It painted the Sistine Chapel and Cinderella’s castle. It creates problems, true, but also dares to dream of solutions. It dares challenge the possible. Wonder guarantees there is joy and beauty to be found round nearly any corner: if we only have the imagination and courage to look.

Cartoons were never just for kids.

For some peculiar reason, many an adult turns up their nose as if a cartoon  is unworthy for adults. I’ve never really understood why. A cartoon is just a story, told with artwork in sequence. It’s not guaranteed even to be rated for kids, some are actually rated mature. Even those with a kid friendly rating are not free of true storytelling excitement. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had a wicked queen trying to kill the beautiful girl. Those stories are very tame compared to their original counterparts.  The original fairy tales are a good deal more frightening.  But the timeless tale of good versus evil still is clearly represented.

Adults create these stories. They usually write the stories, do the artwork, and ‘act’ the voices. True, if the cartoon is for kids, they have to get inside a child’s viewpoint. But look at it from an adult one and there are things about the stories one rarely notices when one enjoys it as a child. They have meanings: for good or bad, even if they are unintentional.

I always identified more with Road Runner and Tweety as a kid when watching Looney Tunes: but they weren’t always nice. While I didn’t want the Wile E Coyote or Sylvester to win, now I see that they were dreamers chasing the impossible dream. One might – from a pessimists point of view – say they suffered greatly for their ambitions. They were dropped off cliffs and smacked with frying pans on a regular basis. Well, really can you blame them for just being what they are? They were predators and hungry.  And would you really want your kid to drop his adversary off a cliff? Or even develop Bugs Bunny’s sarcasm? I suppose he might encourage carrot eating. I’m not trying to bash Looney Tunes. They were great fun. But don’t tell me these were really written with kids in mind!

On a more modern basis, I’ve watched Ben Ten grow up. Ben found an awesome device called the omnitrix, which turns him into a variety of aliens.  These enable him to battle evil alien invaders, under guidance of his Grandpa ( a ‘plumber’ a code name for a secret group that defends earth against aliens) Aside from being impressed with how many imaginative aliens they invent, they also show Ben regularly learning (often the hard way) about cooperation, appreciation of family, and thinking ahead.

Ben 10
Ben 10, image from photobucket by anime001eater

Transformers have been recreated a few times. The impressive computer animation goes along with the timeless tale of friendship and loyalty between very different beings. My Little Ponies also have such tales for a younger set – but even adults have refused to give up their hopeful message.

As for Star Wars the Clone Wars, the tales are anything but dumbed down for kids. The original Star Wars tale dealt with Anakin’s fall – becoming Vader and his redemption by his son. Now we see him as the hero he was meant to be. But we also witness the trauma of warfare. It’s a confusing era in the Star Wars galaxy.  His apprentice wrestles with the responsibility of losing men in battle. Even the villain Ventress searches for a place to belong. But the timeless values of loyalty, honesty and friendship are there. But only for kids? There are episodes that might give some nightmares. The answers aren’t always so clear. Tell a lie to save lives? Sacrifice a few to save  many? These are not stories where what the right answer is comes easily. And since we know it ends where Revenge of the Sith begins we already know, to our dismay, that not all of our favorites survive the conflict.

Star Wars The Clone Wars
Star Wars The Clone Wars, image from photobucket by eduardorg100

As for style, there is something for everyone. We’ve come a long way from the hand drawn art of Snow White and early Mickey Mouse. Now we have computers to allow smoother animation and programs to make them appear almost three dimensional.  Where does ‘animation’ begin and live action end in stories where an alien being is created entirely on computer but yet still interacts with humans?

Cartoons for kids? I’d rather have those then much of what is passed off as adult programming. I want a story, I want characters that make me want to root for them and scrambling to tune in when they are in trouble. I want stories with heroes. I love the animation: it makes it complete. I want the cake, the icing and even the ice cream. And why not? If I have to go to a kids channel to get it, fine. Their stories are still often resonating with the messages of myth and legend, of heroism. Kids aren’t perfect – not pure innocence, for they can be greedy and bullies and violent too. But they are still learning and growing. And while the stories often come attached to toy promotions, at least those toys promote the same values. (Except perhaps, for encouraging greed.)

So down with this absurd notion that cartoons are for kids. Cartoons are for everyone. If you can’t find one you like, I’d bet you haven’t looked too far.

Colors and Creatures of Pride, Humility and Courage

 Color and Creatures of Sins

These are not set in stone, they change with the times, place and religion.


Pride is often shown as violet. Maybe it’s because it’s also related to purple which is a royal and regal color or something and when we are proud we think we are the center of the universe, king or queen of all. And we don’t like to concede we aren’t or that we need help. Everyone does, at one time or another. Purple was harder to find for pigment making so it makes sense it was used more rarely.

Pride doesn’t want us to admit we need help or accept it, even though everyone needs help at one time or another. What’s more it encourages us to assume those who do have done something wrong, or are lazy or deserve their problems. This isn’t necessarily true. People don’t choose disabilities or mental illness that may sideline them from working. It’s a ridiculous point of view. Most of us will have money troubles and even so, in the USA even the poorer among us are richer than in other countries. But we all need help. No one truly survives on their own.

It’s also the sin associated with horses. I guess that’s why Jesus rode a donkey instead of a horse into Jerusalem according to the Bible. He wanted to appear humble. Horses are magnificent animals although they can also be timid, shy and have their own families and pecking order. But as a species, yes they do look proud. Just watch a stallion prancing freely around, mane and tail held high and yes, proud and regal are the words.


 Color and Creatures of Virtue


Donkey, laying downHumility is often brown.  Earth is brown too. Perhaps it symbolizes a willingness to work with your hands. Sometimes red is used too. This surprises me a bit, since I think of red as blood and wrath and pain. (Anyone else find too much gives them a headache?) But apparently the blood is that of the martyrs and maybe the wrath is for those who hurt them. The humble are, I imagine, those who put themselves into other people’s shoes. They realize that they too, might easily be the ones who need help. Yesterday it might have been them, or tomorrow. So they give, sometimes quietly. Christmas 2011 saw people paying off other people’s layaway toys so children could have a Christmas. Others contribute to funds to help those having trouble with bills.  Okay, only some donkeys are brown. I don’t know what other creature would be associated with humility. Long eared and gentle enough to carry a pregnant mother a long way. Perhaps a lamb or sheep would be humble.

 But there is another virtue here:


It’s hard to pin a color on courage. Some say orange or red. I guess that makes sense, it takes some energy to be brave and those are energetic colors. It takes courage to say yes,  I need help. But it’s important because rarely do our actions or inactions hurt only us. If one can’t find courage to say ‘yes, I need help’ for oneself, what about ‘yes, I need help because my family will suffer if I don’t at least ask? It takes courage to offer help to, because people who are proud may be offended.

You also need courage to offer help. When you give help, it’s either a loan or a gift. Offer a gift of help to a stranger, homeless perhaps, and you have to wonder if they will spend it on food, lodging or a bottle of alcohol or drugs. You can’t know. But you’ll know – and your reason for giving it is at least as important as who receives it and how they use it.

I don’t know that I’d associate any species of animal as courageous. It’s too individual a thing. Any individual of many a species can be courageous if it faces a fear for any reason. But in spite of the association with pride, horses are a decent example. The term War Horse is out there due to the movie. A horse that has confidence in it’s rider charges into situations in spite of it’s fears. Whereas the ‘average’ horse may run in fear at the sight of an oddly shaped pile of hay!



The layaway angels


The Virtue of Television

There are those people out there who live without TV. Who thinks it’s a waste of time and money. They’d rather be active or socializing. Well, if they can live without it, I suppose that’s good for them. But for some of us who are not blessed with the gift of socializing or those without the health for exercise or the attention span of reading, or the price for multiple video games and their systems, TV is a great blessing.

But in our stressful world, some of us do need escape at times. Times to unwind and look at problems that aren’t real, aren’t are own – or maybe they are, but we have a chance to see them from another point of view, an outsiders point of view. A good TV show inspires one to care about the characters and want to know what happens to them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the ‘real’ world of cops and robbers in New York city, a reality show (where reality itself is rather fictionalized for the camera) or a fantasy world of dinosaurs like Terra Nova and fairy tales like Happily Ever After or spaceships like Firefly.

And sometimes the TV is our means and reason for socialization. Like a book club, a good TV show can be a conversation starter and an ongoing topic. For those of us who weren’t born with an easy starter kit for conversations it’s absolutely priceless.

What’s more, it can inspire us – or destroy us, depending on one’s choice. We can take comfort from the fact that our real life family (hopefully) isn’t as bad as the one on the sit com. We can laugh at odd moments. Or we can pause and consider what and why do we care so much about the fictional character, invest so much in them when we can’t do that with our own family. It’s like an unrequited love. We give it and ask for little in return except they show up the same time next week.

Then again, maybe that’s more than our family does. Show up? Do families do that? Well some do. Others just leave members adrift, as if family was just a loose title and not a bond at all. It’s not uncommon these days for every member of the family to be in their own little room watching a different show on TV or computer. But that’s just a difference in taste. There is little reason to think without the TV the family would be more compatible.

The TV can be educational too and not always for obvious reasons.

My personal favorites: White Collar and the USA channel in general. Scary to think what one can learn from a con man and an FBI agent. How to fleece (or avoid being fleeced, one hopes) But also very inspiring in the art history department. I was so inspired I drew these guys for fun and came up with these greeting card ideas. It’s tricky to put a teddy bear in a Neal Caffrey style hat!

Fedora Bear St. Patrick's Day Greeting Card  Boss Birthday Bear

And on another end of the spectrum: Star Wars the Clone Wars. Okay, I’m biased.  I’ve loved Star Wars most of my life, yes even the prequels. The whole redemption thing has me hooked. But the sheer scope of the imagination takes my breath away too. I bounce with joy when I see stuff from the comic books suddenly come to life on the TV screen and all the different styles that characters can be drawn as. I’ve been amazed at the ways they’ve been able to interweave new stories into the already established ones from the comics, especially given the time line difference. (In the comic Anakin is an apprentice for much longer. In the series, he is almost immediately knighted.) I’ve learned so much from them. And it applies to real life too, inspiring creative problem solving.

And what about the nature programs? I don’t see them much these days. But Cloud, Wild Stallion of the Rockies on PBS Nature has alerted many in the world to the plight of the Wild Mustang and the behavior of the Bureau of Land Management. (No predators? What’s that giant paw print from? And what killed that foal?)

It’s just a shame that greed has such control over television. There may have been a time when a few channels was enough. But I for one, am tired of free network channels dropping the shows I like and putting up junk in return. Or they stick the stuff I like on at the worst hours, like right after sports and then expect it to survive when no-one knows when it will come on. Cable has it’s uses, especially if you live where you can’t get anything else. But the greed thing is full blown there too: They – and I don’t know who they really are – stockholders? management? –  try and bleed people dry for a couple of hundred channels. Personally I use less than ten. I don’t need a hundred. But I do need to want to be able to select the few I do watch.  Satellite has the same issues. Internet TV needs the internet and a computer meeting the requirements.

So what do we do? We who have little income are going up against the giants as if we were either A: a sheep to be sheered and left shivering or B. Goliath. At least with the latter we have faith, although some stones for the slingshot come in handy. Goliath is more inclined to listen when you warn him their is another giant in the area more reasonable! That’s a big stone. Patience and stubborn determination are two more. Somehow one needs to remind the Goliaths that little people matter and that without their customers they’d be out of business. If they treat us like they would want to be treated then all is well. If they treat us like we are the dinner then they need a reality check. They can’t exist without us either.

Right now I’m looking for a way to pay for both internet and cable in an area with comparatively few ‘other’ giants to compete with the local ones. Ouch. Anyone out there know where I can get a few stones?


Take a Stand for Honor, Horses and History in 2012

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by life. So many issues, who has time to research them all? It’s so easy to just ‘believe’ what we want to believe or what we are told by the government, corporation, boss, coworker, friends or family.

But sometimes the little issues we ignore are the small stones preceding an avalanche. And sometimes the politicians and big corporations are using some issues to direct us from others, so that we don’t consider the danger: if they will lie and sell out in small areas, who is to say they aren’t selling out in others.

Sometimes you just have to speak out.  Some of us use our voice. Some use bumper stickers, or hats or t-shirts. Some even use graffiti. Our art is our voice and when we ignore the signs it’s the first thing that has funding cut. Teach the kids math they think not art, as if creative problem solving and expression isn’t just as important in life.

We’d rather go for pop culture thought. So try this one:  Take a look at the history of the Star Wars galaxy. A great Republic is deceived by one man from within and destroyed. That’s not just fiction. It’s the history of our world too. It’s a case of misdirection. We get busy looking at the ‘big’ issues that the ‘big’ news covers and we miss that issue over on the side that is evidence of the corruption within.

Assumption is a dangerous thing. It can cost us money. It can cost us time, or our dreams and hopes. It can also cost our ethics. You can be as loyal as you like to political parties or your favorite corporations. But if you love something, you don’t ignore it’s flaws, you try and correct them. And it takes a lot of money and influence for these people to get elected. Easy for them to forget what it’s like for those of us without it or to swing the other way and assume we won’t care what they sell out.

My personal issues to go to war over (metaphorically speaking)? Well, naturally the biggest ones involve horses.

But lest you think I’m just deciding based on my love for them, here is my decision making for who to believe and side with on issues:

  1.  Facts. Prove it, don’t just tell me and expect me to believe.
  2. Listen to both sides.
  3. Follow the money and the motives. Who stands to gain on either side?
  4. Is it really my business at all?

My first war is this:

The Bureau of Land Management’s management of wild mustangs, which they are charged under the 1971 act protecting free roaming horses and burros as American symbols of the west. I for one, wanted to believe they were doing just that, from the time I first read “Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West” by Marguerite Henry.

1. Congress asked them for proof of their decision making process and how many horses were left. They could not provide it.

2. They ask for huge funding to roundup and warehouse them even though they still have not proved the need.

3. They are trying to keep journalists out. Their is currently a lawsuit about it. But photo and video of horses literally being hit by helicopters has been captured. This behavior would get any other pilot in trouble.

The horses injured in the roundups are so high in number that any civilian would be arrested for animal cruelty.

4. Fact: In spite of the law, the places the horses have been allowed has been whittled down. When they are removed due to ‘too many for the land to support’ (again, they have shown no proof) cattle move in. Millions of cattle can fit but a few hundred horses can’t? I’m no math expert but something doesn’t compute.

The BLM’s conclusion: round them all up, geld the stallions and just have show herds.

Their reason: they are overgrazing and horses non native and never mind the law.

My Conclusion:

  • That isn’t ‘free roaming’ it’s slow extinction. No stallions = no foals = death of the wild  mustang.
  • They can’t prove the overgrazing.
  • The horses originated here before dying out, so it’s a native species returning. But the cattle were never native.
  • They can’t prove the horses numbers. But even their claimed ‘goal’ of how many horses left takes us to a level too low for them to survive given the genetics involved. That can be proven.
  • It’s MY LAND and YOUR LAND, yet the Bureau of Land Management and the local states and ranchers act as if it’s all ‘THEIR’ land. It’s the land of American citizens. All of us, not just them.
  • And it’s MY MONEY and YOUR MONEY. So our government claims it’s out of money yet they can supply the BLM with millions of this money for roundups and holding of mustangs without any proof.

Why? What is the Bureau of Land Management and Department Interior’s Motive for this?

  • The head of the BLM is a rancher and the board tends to elect those with like minds.
  • Some have tried to get the BLM to combine with the Office of Surface Mining.
  • The Dept of Interior has come under fire for being too closely aligned with mining interests. The BLM is closely aligned with Ranching

What do the opponents, those who resist the roundups have to gain?

  • Big bills as they drive to the roundups and try and witness them. Bills for land, rooms, and transportation and meanwhile time off from other jobs.
  • More bills as they fund lawyers who are going against other lawyers who are paid by the deep pockets of our own government.

The final warning on the BLM though is their response to criticism. They repeat the same old line without answering any scientific challenge, ignore all protests in meetings, keep the rounded up horses on private land so no one can witness their treatment and just try protesting on their website. They flat refuse to take emails in objection. Sometimes they say it but others it just doesn’t work. Normally I’d think that was just a glitch. But not now.

The worst part  they claim they keep journalists out for their own safety. Right. Journalists with horse experience.Journalists are embedded in war zones with the military and going out in hurricanes and disasters. But they can’t watch a roundup? They might spook the horses. More than the helicopter hitting them spooks them?

These design ideas hit me whenever I get…MAD! I expect they’ll keep coming. It’s an odd form of inspiration born of fury. Fury that my country is being corrupted.

I suddenly experienced an upsurge in my ‘Don’t let the Wild Horses fade away’ designs at Zazzle. Not surprised, its’ bumper stickers. Think I’m the only one whose concerned at the deception?

Fading Away Wild Horses

I’ve also sold several: “Mustangs are an American Heritage, Don’t You Dare Sell out My Share’ featuring a buckskin charging.

Mustangs an American Heritage  Mustangs: Stand up for their Freedom

I’ve got one whole Cafepress shop devoted to a bay stallion battling a mountain lion. T- shirts, mugs and more. That idea would be easier than battling humans. At least the lion just wants dinner. No, humans are a worse predator. We take more than we need and show little little at the long term damage.

Don’t take what I say at face value. Research it yourself, just for a few minutes a day if you can. If you won’t or can’t buy my t-shirts or bumper stickers, at least speak out and spread the word. Sign the petitions. Let your political leaders know that it’s your money and land and you want accountability in how it’s used.

Oh, and regarding creativity: nothing against cows, but when is the last time you were inspired by one? But the sweeping beauty of the west, the galloping wild horse have inspired true history and fiction, art and beauty, called out to tourists who are shocked to arrive and find the same horses are being wiped out. The Mustang is a symbol of freedom as surely as the American flag and bald eagle. It symbolizes the hard working cowboy, the native american battling for his land, it even has a car named after it.

What is it worth to me? Will I ever get to see a wild Mustang? I don’t know. I live in the East. But they are mine too, not the local western states. And I have seen the wild Chincoteague ponies during the annual roundup. One sight of how packed that town is and the idea that horses aren’t a tourist attraction gets blown out of the water. What about the people who claim they are cockroaches? Hm. Funny. I’ve never heard of a cockroach being a cow pony, or inspiring movies or winning Dressage championships like Pedro.  And a horse only foals once a year and a wild one has no guarantees of survival. As far as I can see, the only similarity to a cockroach is that a horse is a life form.

One thing I guarantee you. I don’t come up with these designs just because I’m looking up for a sale. The inspiration has to go somewhere. It may as well be into the art.


The Bureau of Land Management

Wild Horse Freedom Foundation

Dressage Mustangs 



Do you Judge a Book by it’s Cover?

I do. I admit it. Let’s face reality, even the most avid reader can’t read all the books, or even their covers. So if you aren’t familiar with an author or series, and don’t have anyone advising you then what do you go by?
Personally, I still enjoy real paper books. I know e books are becoming more popular, but I dislike the notion of the books all vanishing if the device failed. You can’t even back them up, or if you can it doesn’t do you any good if it’s in a one brand format. I like even less the idea that they aren’t transferable to different devices i.e. a Nookbook to Kindle to laptop etc. I grant you, if you could do those things they’d be great and much more portable. But I can’t help but note, online at least, they still have a cover shown.

Clockwork Teddy coverThe most obvious lure I ever got from a book cover was the image of a murdered teddy bear. Yes, a teddy bear, stabbed in the back. I had no time to browse in the late, lamented book store, Borders, and had gone in for one thing only. I was hurrying out when I saw the book cover and froze, mid stride. What the….? I rarely looked in the mystery aisle, being more a sci fi and fantasy fan. But I had to. It turned out to be a robot, but treachery and murder were involved. I ended up with the whole series, all because I was grabbed by that cover. Obviously it helped that it was showing the cover and not just crammed into the bookshelf with only the spine showing. Sadly they’ve since switched to more photographic versions even for this series. I guarantee it wouldn’t have grabbed me the way that illustration did.

I often find myself studying cover illustrations for my favorite books and even the different versions of newer covers. You can sometimes see the changes in the companies preferences right on the front. Pure illustration gives way to photos and adds into digital combinations of the two. Impressive. How do they do that? More importantly, how does one find time to learn that? Once upon a time you just had to learn art skills. Now with digital art so common one not only has to learn the time consuming art skills, one has to keep learning all the changes between programs and the software updates and changes to computers. And money. I wrestle with how to afford the art supplies I already use, never mind the ones I want to learn. And that’s not counting keeping up on the computer which is nearly is demanding on upkeep as a car.

As an artist, I already knew I could learn a lot from book covers. I used to trace and try and copy those old horse book covers like art students did the old masters. At least I got the horses down. Now though if it isn’t a photo cover it’s much, much more.

I stare at the Star Wars books like the Jedi Apprentice series and wonder at Cliff Nielson’s designs mixing models with background art and textures. The cool art of Drew Struzan that first had me salivating at the “Heir to the Empire” heralding the return of Star Wars books and fascinated by the coloring. There are so many artists rotating through the Star Wars books I admire I can’t keep track. The Dinotopia books have me awestruck at their imagination and use of color and light. So much so that I just bought Gurney’s Color and Light, a Guide for the Realist Painter.

I still love the illustrations and wonder why in the world so many people are abandoning it for straight photography. Sure you can Photoshop them in and all but still. There is a creative imagination to illustrated covers I rarely see in the straight photo covers. The same holds true for posters: I have the Star Wars poster book and it’s astounding to see the difference. Some early posters for the original trilogy are unrecognizable as being related to the movie. On the other end the prequels are pretty homogenous. I think that’s sad. I can understand the desire for consistency but the differences in style on those early ones were fascinating.

That’s the advantage of science fiction and fantasy in regard to cover art: they can’t go all photo unless they are made into a movie, TV or a video game. You have to make them up because they aren’t real. You can look at animals and bring them together to make a dragon or an alien. But you can’t just take a photo of a real fire breathing dragon. But while a professional photographer might get some emotion from a scene, I can’t help believe it’s being over used. Part of the joy of books is imagining the characters and scenes in your own mind. When you see a ‘photo cover’ you already have a template in your head before you read a word.

This may seem contrary to my love for, say, Star Wars books. After all, I know what the characters looked like. But then again, knowing what they looked like in the movies isn’t quite the same thing. One has to imagine the whole aging process of Luke, Leia and Han, or how Anakin looked between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. One has to imagine ships and worlds one has never seen. In fact, in the newer Star Wars one is influencing the other. The name ‘Coruscant’ for the city planet came from the books. And some of the latest ‘Clone Wars’ episodes were originally from the Dark Horse comics series. Yes…they were illustrated first. And going backward the whole saga might have been still born were it not for Ralph McQuarrie’s convincing illustrations.

Star Wars Heir to the Empire cover by Struzan  Jedi Trial cover art by Steven D. Anderson  Star Wars New Jedi Order cover art by Cliff Nielson

Images Left to Right: Heir to the Empire cover by Drew Struzan – the same artist who did so many  movie covers.  Jedi Trial cover by Steven D. Anderson – note the creative license with Anakin: though set before he became a full Knight he doesn’t have the short padawan haircut of episode 2, and Ventress bears only superficial resemblance to TV or comic versions. Vector Prime cover by Cliff Nielson – it’s not pretty but Luke is aged and that bizarre alien give a hint of ugly things ahead.

So if a juggernaut like Star Wars needed the art to take off, what gives? Where is the illustration, the artwork or even the photography combined with artwork in modern book covers, posters and the like? I don’t know, but I miss it. Some of it was cheesy. But now I can go online and find modern illustrations that are downright spectacular. Yet they don’t end up on book covers or movie posters. Those just get photos. Some are great, don’t get me wrong. But there is just something missing. Maybe it’s just the sense that if the illustration is that creative, the story must be too.

Christmas Inspirations

Getting Them and Giving Them

When it comes to Christmas, one almost get’s overloaded on Inspiration. Christmas carols, symbols and holiday lights are all around. Snowmen pop up where there is no snow, usually in plastic of inflatable form. And I’ve yet to encounter a retail store without some version of a Christmas Teddy Bear. For me, having a Christmas tree is one of the big things. It needn’t be a big tree. But there is something about the smell and the lights and pretty decorations that says “Christmas”. It somehow reminds me of the beauty of a star filled sky and a winter landscape with snowy trees even if it’s 60 degrees outside and the tree is on a table in the house.

I love the challenge of coming up with holiday horses and teddy bear designs. And I love admiring the ones I see, special made from Breyer Animal Creations, The Trail of the Painted Ponies, Vermont teddy bears, artist teddy bears and all sorts of others. I can’t often afford to buy, but I can admire them nonetheless.

But the greatest challenge of the season comes from wondering how to give that gift of inspiration to others. The relatives with doom and gloom in their hearts due to bills threaten to dampen my own spirit. In fact, however many bills we have and however difficult it is with a new job and limited funds to pay them, we are well off. Some people have nothing but a cardboard box. Some people don’t even have their freedom or their health.

And I  must say I do get mad at people who stomp on the spirit. Not the ones who are just feeling low and worried, mind you.  It’s why I don’t like black Friday or shopping Christmas Eve. It has nothing to do with how I feel about sales, or the commercial apsects. It’s because instead of inspiring the spirit of giving, it inspires greed. People trample each other just to buy a toy. They rob each other. They block traffic intersections even though they can’t go anywhere and gridlock a whole neighborhood. No. To me that is not what Christmas is about. That takes a sacred holiday (and I mean sacred to most of us, even non Christians) about giving and turns it into a ‘who got the most gifts cheapest and fastest’ festival.

Now for me, I believe in the Christmas story. The whole miracle of God’s son coming down as a tiny baby and being born in a stable is wonderful. Maybe it appeals to me more because it was a stable. Animals are somehow more open and honest than people. I’ve sure never had one lie to me. So it doesn’t seem like a bad place to be born. I would think it would be a quiet place. It’s the theme of the undeserved, unexpected and easily taken for granted special gift. A gift that arrived unlooked for. t’s easy to overlook such things in our modern world. We are busier, noisier and needier than ever before. Face it. Back then they didn’t need cars, or computers. But the modern American economy wish crash flat if they all ceased to function, and a sizable chunk of the rest of the world would too. Of course, I doubt Mary and Joseph thought of it as peaceful to begin with. Traveling by donkey and finding noisy crowds,  then realizing she was about to give birth probably seemed pretty chaotic to them. Imagine Joseph’s reaction when she said the baby was coming. I can imagine him holding the donkey’s rope and going “NOW?” in dismay, whilst looking frantically around for somewhere, anywhere, for her to have the child. He was probably silently pleading with the promised ‘Son of God’ in her womb to stay there for just awhile longer.

Others may just enjoy Christmas as a time of giving gifts and being with family. I believe in Santa Claus too. Look him up you’ll find there really was a Santa Claus. Legend often starts as a grain of truth. It’s often seen in cheesy holiday movies these days that the kid realizes the Santa in the suit at the mall isn’t the ‘real’ Santa. But I’m not so sure of that. He may not be the original Santa. But I think Santa Claus comes back to the purest most basic form of the Christmas story: a giver of gifts, which contrary to the naughty and nice idea may not even be deserved or asked for. If they hold a generous heart every mall Santa is Santa. And so is every Dad assembling a new bike at two AM.  Every Mom is Santa or Mrs. Santa even if she’s a single mom juggling two jobs trying desperately to feed the kid, let alone give them a gift.

Now for  me, money is kind of tight. New job, old bills and the usual woes. But I know there are many people far worse off and this is my prayer: That they should all be given that gift of the unexpected kindness this Christmas. An unexpected dinner from a friend, a bill paid they weren’t sure how to cover, the hug of true friendship and an unexpected bonus of a special toy or music or other inspirational gift.

And I will believe, I have to, both on Christmas and off that we have to have faith in more than just our own little selves. If I only had that, I’d be a wreck. How could I hope to pay these bills? To earn enough money? On my own, I couldn’t. Because it takes more than one person to support one person. It takes an employer to hire, customers who want whatever your offering, family and friends to support when your low or when the first two aren’t available. It takes agencies to help with bills, or job seeking. It takes doctors and nurses to help one stay healthy. Not a one of us really truly functions alone. And when you see someone homeless on the street, they may not have gotten there alone either. Are they really too lazy to work, or do they have health or mental issues? Do they have family? Would they take help if it was offered? Sometimes it only takes one act of kindness to make a difference. And to give that you have to have that Christmas faith that it will help, even if you can’t see the results in the short term or perhaps ever at all. Call it ‘Do unto others’ or even Karma, but in the end the kindness comes back in unexpected ways.

The most important thing about Christmas inspirations is, it has to hold for more than just a day. The power of giving an unexpected kindness is just as strong throughout the year. It has to be because the rest of the year there are no Christmas trees or bright holiday lights to remind us.

New Online Advent Calendar

Get in the Christmas Spirit!

Check here: each day for new surprises behind the doors. Freebies, Inspirational items, stuff I made and things I found to be of interest. But don’t wait too long…it won’t be there forever!

Also keep watching the my Zazzle pages. New items are being added all the time and Zazzle has sales on every day this month! Remember most designs are customizable! That means you can add the recipient’s name or a special message to the design. Check out the ornaments that you can add a ‘to and from’ on the back. They make great gifts or will even double as gift tags.

Cafepress also has items on sale, including Christmas stockings.

Finally, don’t forget your Christmas Cards. For your horse loving friends or for those who love teddy bear, remember my  store at Greeting Card Universe . Expect sales there too. You can also customize the message in these cards. If you want special customizations – a name on front or like a design and would like to see it with a specific message or customization on front,  contact me. It can probably be done. There is a button right in each card page for contacting the artist (namely  me!)

Christmas Teddy Bear and Horse



Ethics and Dinosaurs

What can a dinosaur teach about ethics?

Do not steal has been around at least since the ten commandments and that’s just when it was set in stone.

I recently happened across an interesting blog post by James Gurney, creator of Dinatopia about his encounter with the designers of the TV show ‘Terra Nova‘. It was entitled ‘Wish you weren’t here’.

Apparently, they had been using his art in their design mock ups and decided to contact him and ask him to collaborate. At this stage of the game, he was not pleased. They are paid to design after all and should’ve asked him before using any of his art, not after. His flat out ‘no’ was not surprising. Asking beforehand might’ve been a compliment. He could’ve said yes or no. Asking afterward is treating him like he’s an afterthought. It’s neither professional nor polite.

Having seen a piece of promotional artwork about Terra Nova some time after the show premiered, I found this story solved a puzzle. I’d seen Terra Nova. I’ve got one of the Dinotopia books and seen the mini series. Outside of them both having dinosaurs, the style of the TV show has no resemblance to the artwork, which did seem rather familiar. Now I know why.

Dinotopia, the Original Book, photo by chubbzazz, Photobucket

What I find saddest about this is not just that the bigwigs behind Terra Nova were willing to rip him off. It’s that some of the designers probably never realized they were doing anything unethical.


This brings me to the whole Internet regulation debate in congress.  Personally, I suspect it would just shift the ethical issues from the many individual to the few individuals in charge of big corporation if the government tries to regulate it.. I find that alarming. I don’t have any reason to think those few have higher ethics than the rest of us.

Learning Internet and Media Ethics

What they should consider is whether this is an issue under the heading of education. Most morals are learned from parents. But the internet isn’t a family activity. In order to find out the parents morals, the kid has to be watching said parent on the internet.

Now there are two reasons that won’t happen. One is, the internet is a dull spectator sport. Fun to surf, not fun to watch someone else. Two is, the older the adult the less likely they are to know anything about computers. No offense to any age group, I’ve just found the older generations grew up without it and are less likely to think they need it. Nor is the parent likely to be watching the kid surf. If they don’t know much about computers, they won’t know what they are watching anyway. So a kid downloading for free an entire music library can happen right before their eyes and how would they know?

The result is that there really are people who don’t realize the ethical implications. I still encounter people who, when you tell them that images on the internet are copyrighted, are dumbfounded. Honestly, the thought that taking the image and using it on their own commercial items is wrong, has never crossed their mind!

If it’s online, someone still had to create it, draw it, build it, sing it or act it. Someone put time and energy and money into it.

Then there is the whole justification that music studios make tons of money and stick it to consumers for regarding downloading songs for free. This may or may not be true, but like it or not, they pay the artist. The same is true for movie and television studios I for one, do not want to find my favorite music artist or actor had to abandon their art to wait tables, because they weren’t getting paid. And that’s not to mention all the background people that go into making movie or music magic happen.  It’s not like when you record off the radio and TV with the old cassettes or VHS and only get part of the song or show in dubious quality. That’s more of a placeholder and reminder that when you have the money you intend to buy. An artist might offer a song or two for free as a promotion, the same for the TV shows, but if you can grab the lot for nothing, there is no incentive to buy a quality copy short of your own honor. Is your honor stronger than temptation?

Notice I’m only referring to the individual end, not the web site. I love going on Youtube and browsing music videos. I encounter music I’d never have heard otherwise. I get to enjoy funny clips of my favorite shows. And yes, if my connection is causing the video to continually stop midstream I may download out of desperation. But I don’t strip the music out. I know it’s doable, but I don’t feel like it’s ethical. It’s too tempting to keep that as the ‘final’ copy of the music instead of paying the actual artist. And I don’t plan on re uploading them under my own name either. The music videos are usually a form of fan art, meant for fun.  It gives the movie or TV show or music artist a free promotion and the creator has fun and gets to learn skills in making and cutting together videos and music. But I can see why some would object: the free promotion is only beneficial if people don’t steal the goodies, but are encouraged to go out and buy them. Whatever the web site owners thoughts on the subject, in the end it’s up to the individual as to whether they’ll ‘cheat’.  No matter how often they change the computer code, someone will find a way around it.

I’ve only once found any of my art somewhere I didn’t put it and it was in a Halloween music video. I was actually took it as a compliment. It’s not like they were profiting off it, and as far as I know they really did purchase the item. If they didn’t they’d only find a low res or watermarked version. Free advertising, I will happily accept.

In the end, ethics come down to the individual.

So what happens if the government and big corporations step in and decide to regulate the internet? We have to trust ‘their’ individual ethics. What if they decide Youtube is altogether too abused and shut it down? Or the fan fiction sites? Maybe they’ll find reasons to block their competitors sites or competing web hosts. And would it really stop the piracy? I doubt it. The worst offenders probably aren’t in the US. In all probability, even if they are they’d just get more creative about how to cover their tracks. Meanwhile the little people get pounded. Fan art encourages creativity. It helps develop skills and the confidence to create ones own art, video and music in ones own style. I fear government regulation would be the equivalent of a sledge hammer: it would pound the people who put up websites with the sole purpose of profiting off others content or stealing. But everyone in the immediate vicinity, those who create websites to share their creative fandom, may get flattened too. The fine line between fandom and copyright violation is just too close.

A good example of dealing with it on an individual basis is  They have a list of fan fiction material they won’t accept because the author requested it. They take any fan fiction not rated mature and not on that list. Fan fiction is non profit in any case, but they accept the authors preference. No need for an army of lawyers or police descending o them.  Another example is how the whole issue played out for Star Wars and Lucasfilm: there was a time they seriously considered going after the sites offering fan fiction and the like. The outrage of the fans caused them to rethink the issue. Now if you sell unofficial knock offs of Star Wars you can expect an army of lawyers as surely as the rebels could expect an army of stormtroopers if discovered. But at times their own web site has supported and encouraged fan videos, artwork and other such uploads. Even now they link to it. They recognize the fine line: they want to stop piracy and theft, but they don’t want to alienate fans or discourage their creativity. After all, today’s employees were the ones doing the fan art ten years ago!

Short Term Temptations have Long Term Consequences.

As for the individual it’s naturally tempting to turn to free downloads and ‘borrowing’ others work when money is so tight, whether personally or in business. But the people who created the art and music and video , whether they are the musician, artist or star, or some background cameraman, also need to eat. We won’t help our own job situation by stealing their product. We just may put one more person teetering on the edge out of business. Being famous or popular doesn’t necessarily equate to being rich. Neither the money or the fame will last forever.

There are a whole lot of things out there I want too.  I have a backlog of songs, books and videos on my wish list (including a few by the aforementioned James Gurney and more than a few of Star Wars). I struggle with other bills (internet, cable – the only place one can see my beloved White Collar in a timely fashion.) In fact, my computer seems determined to keep demanding money (right now it’s a battery) which I can’t spare. I’ve only just gotten a job. I’m playing catch up. My priorities have been basic necessities including computer repair and the internet, since that’s the field I’m going in.

Pinched for cash I may be, but I don’t want to cheat to get the extras. And it’s my very love for the stuff that is the strongest thing holding me back. I want more. I want it to keep coming out. I want to be able to buy it, not have it cease to exist because it wasn’t turning enough profit to pay for the highly expensive creation and or  production! Even if it’s ‘just’ a piece of artwork, I’m an artist and I know how much art supplies cost. And if it’s music or movie, I know it took more than just the artist: it took producers, directors, sound engineers, special effects, filming permits and more to bring it to life.

Terra Nova Concept Art
Terra Nova Concept Art, Photo by JADFlores, Photobucket

As for Terra Nova, I like the show okay, although whoever was responsible for the design department needs a remedial course in ethics. But I figure there is no point in getting to like Terra Nova too much. It’s on regular network, meaning big corporation types control the content. Sci Fi and fantasy are niche markets and rarely do those shows survive the network bigwigs for long. Even if they are popular (like Joss Wheldan’s Firefly) they get dropped by the fickle bigwigs.  Forget about the show that needs to build an audience. It has as much hope as a snowball in a volcano. So if you want to check it out, you’d better hurry. It may not be there for long.

On a final note: I do think copyright laws were designed in part to give jobs to lawyers. Sometimes all you want to do is use a picture or song in a small video for fandom or non profit. Who do you ask? Have they got a plan to allow for that? It would help if they did, I’m sure. Because people who just want to use it for ‘fair use’ and would like to ask seldom are given an option.  This is an issue these big networks and producers should address with something besides a blanket NO or simply ignoring them. They seem to figure ‘no use’ is fair use.  Giving fans an option like that would build good will. It would probably take less time to develop a plan than run around stomping on the fans who upload just to share their fandom. And it would win over people like me…who would never have known the music artist, TV show or what have you existed without it. And if I don’t know it exists I sure can’t buy it!

New Online Advent Calendar!

My new advent calendar is up and run. It is still located on my old website: . I may yet add it over here. But due to being busy and  it just plain ‘out of sight out of mind’ I didn’t start adding to it until the last minute.

But please check it out each day for free wallpaper, encouraging videos and anything I can create or find to feed your holiday spirit!