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On Inspiration & The Consequences of Our Actions

My e-conversation with Mike Kaluta continued, fellow fans of art and life, when Michael sent me this quote:

“Einstein said the arrow of time flies in only one direction. Faulkner, being from Mississippi, understood the matter differently. He said the past is never dead; it’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long ago before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose provenance dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequences echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always.

And who among us, offered the chance, would not relive the day or hour in which we first knew love, or ecstasy, or made a choice that forever altered our future, negating a life we might have had? Such chances are rarely granted. Memory and grief prove Faulkner right enough, but Einstein knew the finality of action. If I cannot change what I had for lunch yesterday, I certainly cannot unmake a marriage, erase the betrayal of a friend, or board a ship that left port twenty years ago.”

— Greg Iles

That’s a keeper (which I guess is why Michael had it). It discusses a frustration I have that I try not to let dominate my thinking as much as it does (I sure wish I could go back in time or in some other way undo the speeding ticket I just got on Saturday trying to be on time for my San Diego Natural History Museum lecture). It also explains the gigantic popularity that People Search has, which I’ll bet is dominated by guys trying to find old lovers and girlfriends.

I responded to Mike’s quote with another quotation I like, reflecting on related turf (via the liner notes to “Scott 4”, one of my favorite albums by my favorite singer, Scott Walker):

“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
—Albert Camus

As the Cowardly Lion said, “Ain’t it da truth!”

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On Geniuses and Creativity

This Journal entry was prompted by an e-mail from my friend, the talented artist Michael Kaluta. We briefly traded humorous reflections on the disadvantages of aging and what was going on with our work and then I suddenly got all serious about it all, especially in regards to the creative process. What follows is an edited version of what I just sent Michael.

The whole Process of creating art is a never ending mystery. I’m finding now that the more playful I get with it, the more “fun” it is, the more access I have to my creativity.

Like last month: I had done a very slick oil portrait of blues great Robert Johnson. It was based on a smaller ink & watercolor portrait I had done a year and a half ago. I had a looming deadline for my California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition entry and knew I could knock the oil version out in time. Even though it was better drawn the second time around, the slick oil version did not rise to the quality and feeling of the original version. I knew this but didn’t know why — or how I could fix it.

I was moving a bunch of work in my van. The Johnson oil portrait was on top of a stack of framed pieces. I had to hit the brakes at a light and everything slid forward. Framed works fell on top of the unframed Johnson portrait, putting a small gash through the unprotected canvas.

I was sick (and at that time, momentarily broke, too). I called around and found a reasonably priced (but still expensive) archival painting restorer. I took the painting over to her and left it with her. She said she could get to mending it in two weeks. Fine.

During the following week I began to think about the painting and what bothered me about it (primarily, its slickness). I went back to the restorer and retrieved the picture before she could repair it. Then I beat the hell out of the painting; more rips, more tears. Then I coated one of my tires with black oil paint and drove over the lower left portion of the canvas, leaving a nice tire tread on the picture.

The result was a treatment and surface condition much more befitting and reflective of this hard scrabble bluesman. The damage wasn’t the problem — it was the solution to my problem. Take a minus and make it a plus.

My good friend Overton Loyd and I were discussing this. He and I are at the age in our lives, our career and the level of success in our career when it is time to play. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there are still some dues to pay — there always will be, I assume (Sir Doug Sahm said it well in his great song title: “You Never Get So Big and You Sure Don’t Get So Heavy That You Don’t have to Keep Paying Some Dues Sometimes”).

Overton had already determined that our playfulness now will be the key that continues to unlock the doors of creativity for us.

I rarely use the word “genius” to describe people, mainly because I’ve been lucky enough to have met and worked with two real ones. A true genius is a person rarely encountered; it is a humbling (yet, for me, a truly inspiring) experience. The aforementioned two geniuses I befriended and worked with are Ron Cobb and Jean (Moebius) Giraud. They share some things in common. They are both like fountains that gush great ideas all day long. They are both very childlike (not childish) in their delight with the world. They don’t prejudge. By not prejudging anything their creative flow is completely unblocked.

I initially observed this connection to creativity on my maiden trip to Antarctica (I first went there as a tourist in 1989). Also on board our cruise ship was the talented Atlantic Monthly cartoonist Guy Billout. Guy was constantly drawing (which was great; it shamed me into producing more work). In our conversations Guy delicately confronted me with my prejudices towards some of the other guests on board. It was a deeply needed observation and wake-up call on my part and I’ve strived ever since not to prejudge. I’ve found that attitude extremely helpful in unlocking my creativity. The more you play without preconceived notions, the more you leap off the edge, leaving your fears and preconditioned anxieties behind, the more you discover new and uncharted artistic realms and territories.

Coincidentally (or not), it makes the creation of art more fun and exciting….and in some ways easier (we can all use easier).

That’s pretty much what I sent to Michael. I thought it was well worth sharing with you guys, too.

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StellarCon & Coraline

I had a great time in High Point, North Carolina last weekend with my friends and fans (if they’re one and the same, are they “frans” or “fends”?) at StellarCon, a show that’s been going on for more than thirty years(!).

During the StellarCon Artists vs. Authors Pictionary challenge I learned a few new words, like “larping” and “ent” (I thought they’d misspelled “ant”). For folks like me who apparently don’t get out enough, “larping” is “live action role playing.” An “ent” is one of those tree guys from “Lord of the Rings” (I call them “tree guys”).

Thanks to the kind loan of an umbrella, I wandered and found a cool little Mexican eatery about half a mile from the hotel. Walking into Taco Corner (on South Main Street) was like going back in time to a little East Los Angeles combo market/carneceria (butcher)/taco joint. The carne asada alambres I had for dinner was so good that I came back for breakfast the next day. I asked if they made a favorite traditional Mexican breakfast I love, chilaquiles, that wasn’t listed on their menu. My server’s eyes lit up; she disappeared briefly into the kitchen and came out asking me if I’d like my chilaquiles with steak (carne asada) or with eggs. I chose eggs.

OK: Chilaquiles (pronounced CHEE-lah-KEE-lace). This is a popular breakfast in Mexican homes (Mexico has the best breakfast foods in the world) because it involves the use of leftovers. The main ingredient is leftover tortillas from the night before which are cut and fried into crispy tortilla chips, then used to line a casserole dish. More leftovers (like last night’s carne asada cut-into-bits) are added. Chilaquiles typically consists of tortilla chips, eggs, shredded chicken, spicy peppers, onions, queso fresca (Mexican white cheese; the not-quite-as-good-but-easier-to-find Monterey Jack will substitute in a pinch), thick, heavy cream and some green tomatillo salsa. If there is time, it is baked. If not (like in the place I was in), the ingredients are piled on top of the tortilla chips and then heated (at least enough so that the cheese melts, nacho style).

Taco Corner delivered a big, heaping plate of fabulous made-from-scratch chilaquiles. I was in heaven — a great way to start the day!

My rusty Spanish got a workout there; that’s all I spoke (and all that was spoken to me) while inside Taco Corner. The folks there were very patient. It felt good.

If you get a chance, don’t miss StellarCon. Nice people, very organized — and Taco Corner is down the street!

The Other Object of My Affection: I finally got to a theater to see Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick’s beautiful 3-D stop motion fantasy “Coraline.” I wanted to see this film in a movie theater and I wanted to see it in 3-D before it disappeared. I am so happy I did. “Coraline” is a cinematic visual buffet — with the bonus of having a wonderful Gaiman story to boot! In the film’s first minutes I began to glow. I leaned over and whispered to my wife, “I just LOVE stop motion animation!”

Especially when it is as meticulous and as visually dazzling and stunningly inventive as Selick’s work. I delighted in every throwaway detail as I tried to notice and absorb every square inch of the screen. The rewards were constant and the 3-D was incredibly well-used. The tunnel tube to Coraline’s Other Parents positively engulfs you in 3-D. Seeing this film in a theater and in 3-D is worth every penny. Even in this economy, it’s money extremely well spent. See it before it disappears! Don’t wait for DVD!

If this were 1970 I’d go back right away and see it on acid or ‘shrooms; if only to see that fabulous garden again while tripping! The delicate, intriguing and mysterious score by Bruno Coulais and They Might Be Giants perfectly complements the visuals.

Selick’s previous films include “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I liked “Coraline” even better than those two visual gems.

SAN DIEGO AREA FRIENDS, FAMILY & FANS: There’s a big William Stout – Prehistoric Life Murals book signing this Saturday after my lecture (which begins at noon). A free sketch in every murals book purchased!

VALLEY FRIENDS, FAMILY & FANS: I’m doing it all again (except for the lecture) the next day (Sunday) in Burbank at Dark Delicacies. See the Appearances section of my website for details.

I hope to see you at one (or both) of these events!

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Just a quick note to thank all my fans, new and old, who showed up for my appearance at Sac-Con in Sacramento. I made the six hour drive by car so that I could bring more of my stuff to display. It was great to see my publisher, John Fleskes, there. Bud Plant was on hand, too, as well as my dear friend Sam Holmes. My brother Dave even showed up!

Sac-Con is a very well run annual comic book convention. They even still sell comics there (that’s becoming a rarity at the bigger shows)!

I’m looking forward to seeing my fans in the North Carolina region this coming weekend at StellarCon. I’ll be bringing lots of copies of my new murals book, both the trade edition and the Deluxe Edition. You get a free sketch in the book with your purchase.

The big Official Debut of my murals book will be on the following Saturday at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The copies at that signing will have an extra plate I designed specifically to be included only in the copies sold at the museum. Of course, while you are there, come upstairs and see the original murals in person!

A signing at Dark Delicacies, the coolest shop in Burbank and the greatest place to get your monster/goth/horror/Halloween fix, follows on Sunday.

See you there!

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I re-attacked that Smithereens back cover yesterday and completed it. I think it came out better than the one I lost (see yesterday’s ever so sad Journal entry). Having already been colored once, it certainly was colored much faster the second time around! So, for you fans out there, the CD to watch for will be “The Smithereens Play ‘Tommy’!” — Front and back EC comics style covers by Yours Truly.

One beautiful book I forgot to plug the other day: “L’Univers des Dragons – Deuxieme Souffle” from Galerie Daniel Maghen in Paris. Like all of their publications this is a sumptuous tome just packed with all kinds of artistic interpretations of dragons. I created a new dragon piece especially for this book. The printing and paper are incredible; it’s well worth tracking this French baby down.

OK; I gotta pack for Sacramento…

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New Stout Stuff!

I can’t stand it anymore, I JUST GOTTA BLOG!

Lotsa new Stout stuff out there.

First things first: My new book, William Stout – Prehistoric Life Murals, has hit the streets (and is available on my website catalogue). It’s a stunning book; John Fleskes of Flesk Publications (known for his many fine art books) has really outdone himself with this one: Great paper, gorgeous printing and an attention to detail that is John’s hallmark. The book includes all seventeen of my murals plus all of the sketches, drawings, studies and preliminary paintings that went into making them. If you order from my website I draw a dinosaur sketch in your book. Cool deal! Until I can figure out how to change the settings, shipping costs me well over twice what I charge for it — so another cool deal! How can you miss?

FYI: If you’re considering getting the Deluxe Edition, buy it now. It’s outselling the regular (trade) edition 3-to-1 and looks like it will sell out pretty quickly. I sold all of my copies the weekend it came out; I’m restocking, getting more Deluxes this Sunday. For you San Diego fans, the San Diego Natural History Museum copies have a different extra plate from the other Deluxes…

Also just out: “Aptos”, the new CD by The Moore Brothers has a front & back color cover (and the rest of the packaging, too!) by Yours Truly. It’s a great pop CD from these two talented singer-songwriters. I’m really proud of my designs for this baby. And, Hey! The great Joanna Newsom is on the CD, too.

And: Dark Horse has just reprinted the first six issues of Turok – Son of Stone as a nice hardcover book. I wrote the intro to that one. Indians & dinosaurs — what more could you want?!

2009 looks like it’s going to be The Year of the Book(s) for me. I’ve got another book with John coming out in the fall and I recently finished two different music-related books.

I’m doing a lot of promotion for my murals book, so I’ll probably be coming to an area near you. Check out the “Appearances” section of my website.

Last weekend I was a guest at MegaCon, the South’s biggest comic book convention. I got to hang with Frank Cho (for only just a little bit), Billy Tucci and my new Best Bud, Darwyn Cooke (I’m a huge fan of his New Frontier books). Darwyn’s got a great new full color book out that collects a lot of his little seen rarities. Billy has been doing an unbelievable job on Sgt. Rock, and Frank continues to dazzle us with both outrageous quantity AND quality. I’d been grabbing his Jungle Girl covers but until I talked to him I had no idea that he’d been doing so many covers and stories for Marvel (currently drawing the Red Hulk). It’s fun to watch Frank’s luscious style evolve and just get better and better.

I spent the day coloring the back cover to the new Smithereens CD (The Smithereens Play “Tommy”!) and went to save it. The computer froze and I lost everything. I’ll start all over again as soon as I’m done writing here. Aaaargh! When it’s finished, it’ll be a nice package, though. Pat DiNizio asked me to draw it in a classic EC comic book style, which I did. Way fun!

Besides the new U2 CD, I really like the Fleet Foxes CD and the latest CD from Animal Collective. And I am still CRAZY about the Duffy CD (every track is a gem), now available in a deluxe edition with an extra disc of songs.

This Sunday I’ll be up in Sacramento for Sac-Con; next weekend I’ll be in High Point, North Carolina for StellarCon. I’ve got a big signing down in San Diego at the San Diego Natural History Museum on Saturday, March 21 (Family Day). This will be the Official Public Debut of the murals book. The next day I’m back up here in in Burbank for a signing at that great Goth shop, Dark Delicacies.

OK; enough procrastinating; I’ve got to redo that Smithereens back cover.

Se ya in the funny papers!