The Ever War

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A "Bushwalk" is more than just a "hike"

Today we went on a Bushwalk. One thing that can be said about Australia is that only the toughest and hardiest of lifeforms can stay alive there. Today the Picton Rotary took us to a nearby national park and together we traversed some of the most inhospitable terrain I've ever had the privileged of stumbling through.

Very nearby to the spot where we parked there was a large gorge that housed The Mermaid Pool.

I was told that the reason it is called the Mermaid's Pool is because there is an Aboriginal tale about a mermaid that lived at the pool and would lure men to the water with her singing... and then she would drown them.

The temperature was in about the mid-80's (F), but I still ended up drinking about 2 1/2 liters of water, which did not prevent me from cramping up due to dehydration. The land was very unforgiving, making the pictures seem that much more valuable. We managed to traverse an area that most locals haven't tried to conquer.

To give you an idea of how difficult the terrain was... this was one of the easier parts of the trail as it was both less steep and more traveled than other sections:

From front to back this was Ellen, Adrianna, Heather, Sandra and Vlad. There were 14 of us all told.

Before heading back to the car site Alan and some of the team members decided to swim in the frigid (some would say numbingly cold) water. I was actually straddling the waterfall that Alan was swimming under in this picture:

While I have not yet seen a living kangaroo, I have seen an array of birds and this little fellow, which the locals call a "skink":

Amazingly after hike we went to King George's Pub, the oldest licensed pub in NSW. Their homebrew is known for being one of the best microbrews in Australia and I can attest for its tastiness. It's similar to a Sam Adams, though sweeter and more potent. I had a couple Scooners (larges) and half a minnow (small) of it and later in the day the team converged to do our GSE presentation, which went incredibly well for our first real overseas work. The audiance even got the baseball references.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vocational Day and Meeting the District Governor

Yesterday I took part in my first vocational day and was surprised by the extreme difference between the insurance industry here versus back home, despite having many of the same carriers, but I won't post the details here, which most people would find boring.

At the end of the day we visited the Narellan Rotary Club and we were present for a speech from their District Governor. Many of the points he made were similar to thoughts I've had about the Masonic Fraternity. While Masonry does not promote itself there is no reason that awareness of the organization cannot be increased (without depending upon the kindness of Third Party entities like Dan Brown or the National Treasure film series). More to the point, our notoriety has to be increased among younger people. Joint ventures with outside organizations should also be encouraged. A joint venture can allow smaller independent bodies to have a much larger impact. However, groups like Rotary and Masons working together does not solve the greatest threat to both groups... a disparity in the influx of youth.

To this end partnering with a college fraternity or sorority for fundraising efforts and charity events would provide a doorway to a more youthful face. However, the danger is that such a union would become an all too easily abused recruitment tool. Young men and women in college are often still trying to discover who they are and are not yet prepared for the kind of work that is involved with these organizations. As such partnering with a fraternity or sorority would have to be viewed purely as a way of increasing notoriety with a younger generation, so that when they are ready to make the kind of commitment these groups would need they are aware of them.

At the very least this has me thinking about things I'd like to bring up with my lodge upon my return.

Well, I need to get ready to head out on a Bushwalk. It should be interesting and I'm sure more pictures will follow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Australia and The Longest Flight Ever

Overall I would say that I'm expecting this trip to be amazing, even my packing was Fable approved. Above you can see him "helping". So far it has not disappointed. Our initial plan was to use a limo service to have a passenger van pick us up and schlep us to the airport. Unfortunately the vehicle was having battery issues so instead of the van they had to send us off in the vehicle below:

I must say that our driver, Joe, with Hy's Limo, was a lot of fun and he helped us circumvent a massive traffic jam in New Jersey. Sometimes, when I think about traffic in New Jersey I imagine that it's the highway Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are really talking about in Good Omens.

It turns out you need Visas to go visit Australia... not a big deal, but it would have been nice if our itinerary printouts from the airline didn't say exactly the opposite (and it's not the only detail their electronic communications had wrong - I'm looking at you info about how many bags we could check!). If anyone is planning on traveling with United any time soon I'd strongly suggest you do yourself a favor and weigh your bag before you leave your house. If you're over 50lbs you get hit with a $150 charge... but if you top 70 lbs it jumps up over $300.

The flight to San Francisco was an hour and a half quicker than normal because there was virtually no headwind! This allowed us to take some time between flights and eat a meal at a Mexican restaurant at the airport (surprisingly reasonably priced too, and with quite tasty food). We then boarded our second plane for a flight that now dwarfs the duration of every flight I've ever been on. I can best describe it as flying to London from NYC, and when you get there instantly deciding not to land and instead... flying back to NYC. Because of the time difference we boarded the flight at about midnight EST. With the help of a couple of Dramamine I also got in a full 8 hours sleep. The problem with that is that I then had to spend the next 8 hours cramped next to a stranger just waiting to get out of the cramped confines of the cabin with its stale air and raucous engines.

Amazingly, after 26 hours of travel (including the limo ride) we arrived in Sydney and the ladies on my team still managed to look this good getting off the plane:

After arriving at my Host's house (for week 1) I found our Itinerary for this week. It stands as the following:

Monday: Jetlag Day. Landing in Australia and getting situated.
Tuesday: Vocational Day/Rotary Presentation.
Wednesday: National Park (Bushawalking is to be expected).
Thursday: Recreational Training Facility (A nature walk including local artifacts and culture).
Friday: Visiting Canberra and seeing the American Embassy.
Saturday: Visiting Camden and possibly going into the Blue Mountains.
Sunday: Swapping over to our next hosts.

When I'm not doing presentations, learning, or running about and exploring the locale I will be staying with my hosts Peter and Debbie for this week in their lovely home:

What struck a lot of us was how much this little neighborhood in Camden (Narellan) happened to remind us of houses in California. One thing I can say that does feel different is that since landing I don't think I've seen any clouds. The sky just seems to go on forever. Ok, enough settling in. Time for some exploring!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Inspiration of Art

For the last few years I've been working to build up as much additional free content for the books as I can produce. One of the things I've done is scanned and posted the sketches from my personal notebook. I've never been happy with this being the only content, and while I'm searching for contributions from other artists that can be posted I have decided to teach myself to paint in Photoshop Creative Suite. I've been using that to update my photos: crop, clean, paint and post. The creative heat from this process kindled a furnace of desire to produce new work, even whilst I was updating my older sketches.

I often enjoy an homage to a well known painting, though some of them are overused by pop-culture (BSG and Watchmen both recently used the iconic image of Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper). I wanted something unique as a starting point, but I also wanted it to capture the maelstrom of action that I intersperse throughout the books. I turned to the art-world for some direct inspiration and I found this:

I, unfortunately, have not been able locate the name of the artist nor the name of the painting, but it depicts a massive confrontation between Greek and Roman forces and more importantly has a woman as the focal point of the picture. I was instantly inspired by this image to depict a scene of chaos surrounding Julienna. My first step was to print out a copy of the picture and sketch a foundation of the image. Once I had my outline down I placed a sheet of white paper over the foundation sheet, back lit the two papers and retraced my sketch on a clean sheet of paper in pencil. Then I inked the image in black and white and used my watercolor painting style in Photoshop to color and shade it. Here is the final product:

For me this image manages to do a few things. First, it sets a color tone for Normand and allows diversity among its citizens (the multi-colored coats are an indication that they are not a dedicated military or para-military force while the unified design sets a cultural precedent). Secondly it has a sense of motion; it isn't overwhelmed with gore, but it adequately conveys the violence of the moment. Lastly it tells a story. For someone who has never read the books there is a clear vision of conflict and for people who have read the books the scene is instantly identifiable.

I'm hoping to have all the black and white images replaced by color images by the end of this next year. Since nearly all have been updated I don't see this as an unreasonable expectation. I will also keep putting up additional new pieces and of course... keep you all informed of my progress.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Greetings and Salutations

While I had planned on starting this blog with a post on some of the recent artwork updates I've been producing for the main site I have found that a different item of interest has taken hold of my concentration and imagination like a shiny bauble to a kitten. It infests my brain... but in a really positive way.

Recently I was accepted as a member of a Vocational Group Study Exchange (GSE) sponsored by the Rotary. For this trip I will be heading to Australia (in just under a week). I am fighting off the overwhelming waves of excitement in order to make sure that I accomplish all that I need to do in the short time left before heading out. I will be staying with different families during my travails and travels, and hopefully the trip will give me the final inspiration I need to complete Flight of the Torrah Fonn, one of the short stories relating to The Ever War that I'm hoping to release in a compilation next year.

I have designed special gifts for the families I'll be staying with in Australia and they finally arrived:

It's a single volume hardcover edition of the entire trilogy! Having received it the first thing I did, of course, was get the feel for it in my hands and flip through it. It is an odd thing to see in one single place something that represents so much time and work. Even the cover is an image I painted rather than a commissioned work like the covers of the soft-cover editions, thus making it that much more of an emotional impact. I was so impressed with the overall quality of the product that I will now strongly consider working to make a variation of this edition available for regular purchase.

In the mean time, I have a lot of things to prepare before my voyage. I promise I will work to get another posting up soon, specifically the one that was usurped by this very special post.