Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do (a poem)







Must the coin have two sides?

...Hmmmm. What do I say about this... I was listening to the song Slide by The Ocean Blue and it tripped a switch in my brain and this little poem flowed out in about ten minutes. If it comes across as preachy. That's good because that's what I was doing. Preaching. Not religious dogma, but rather promoting an end to apathy. A call for an end to the destruction and the violence that has become a staple of the Nightly News. The violent senseless slaughter beamed into our homes as we gather with our families and eat our dinners. Or do people even do that anymore? We as a species are capable of such beauty and compassion when we choose. And this enriches the giver as well as the receiver. The human animal has created stunning works of art and ingenuity yet still wages endless war on our own children. We are consumed by severe degrees of long-term anger and harbor such dark blood-thirsty hatred toward others who perpetrate the same acts as we do. Each thinking "we'll behave better, as soon and they do". And the cycle continues on and on. How and why are we even capable of this dichotomy? How do we do the right thing? How do we even know what's right anymore? Whom do we trust to guide us? Granted the current forces of conflict are generations deep and socially complicated and determining the "right" thing is often contingent on which side of the razor-wire fence you call home. But when you strip away all the differences, all the barriers and dividers, we as a species all need the same thing to survive and thrive. And realizing these basic needs and affording them to others is the first step on the path to civilization. For all of us. We're not there yet, but we mustn't stop striving. Just a thought. Just a hope. From just one of us. - Darren Wheeling (6-24-2002)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cheetah. Cheetah. Cheetah.

I like this. World famous iconic brand logos and a little kid who has only experienced the world for 5 years. Interesting combo. It's amazing how much they absorb. (Question: Where do they STORE it all? I can't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday.)



My Sad Sketchpad (circa 1987)

"Good Book"


I recently went through some old artwork from 25 years ago and was somewhat surprised by how "emotionally distressed" some of my sketches were from my freshman year in college. I do remember it as an awkward time, full of more endings than beginnings. At least it felt that way to me at the time... which is obvious from these pieces. But these came as a shocking reminder of all that anguish I was apparently going through. Since I did not keep a written journal at least I have this visual record of that time in my life. (I guess this blog can somewhat serve that purpose now.) Not all of it was dark. But even the more colorful pieces (which I may post another time) illustrated a certain lonely emptiness. An uncomfortable isolation away from family and loved ones in a strange environment. i.e. Solitary figures in landscapes full of foreboding buildings tilting at odd angles (as if closing in) and rendered in garish color schemes. Shivering men in trench coats navigating dark rain-soaked city streets under "No Vacancy" signs. Even going so far as to visually represent the school as the proverbial "haunted castle on the hill". That sort of thing. Immature, certainly. Depressing, yep. Perhaps it was my not-so thinly veiled statement on how I felt about living in a high rise in dreary downtown Richmond, Virginia. (I guess dwelling a stone's throw from the Edgar Allen Poe Museum can have an effect on one's psyche.) The work I produced just a year before was entirely different.

Funny how emotions (happy or otherwise) flow out during open artistic expression, even when you don't try. You can't hide how you feel inside. You can't fool anyone, least of all yourself.

"He Follows Me Everywhere"

"Do We Have To Fall So Far"

"The Old Man in Me"

 "My Own Personal Prison"

 "I Don't Want To Hear It"

 "I've Had Better Days"

"Washed Ashore" (based on a 1953 Bill Brandt photo)

"He Was There, But Wasn't"

"What Was The Question Again"

"Don't Know Her"

"Wash Away The Day"

"Cracks Are Showing"

"The Dwindling Hours"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dreams In Shadow Play

I thought I'd take a moment to share this beautiful animation. Hard as it is these days to do, try to quiet the mind, relax and slowly absorb these short films to really truly appreciate them. Resist any urges to scan forward. Enjoy.


Snapshots from a recent visit to NCMA.

Stargate? No, Gyre.

Mona made of thread spools.

Always melodramatic Rodin.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What's in a Name?

The title of my blog, The Long Morrow, is borrowed from a Rod Serling-penned episode of The Twilight Zone (my favorite television show).

Originally aired in January of 1964, and inspired by The Gift of the Magi, Serling's story deals with a dedicated astronaut who embarks on a solitary 20-year journey through space to explore a foreign planet. To save him the ordeal of a round trip of forty years of loneliness, he is to be placed in suspended animation (a sort of hibernation sleep). He will have thoughts and vivid dreaming but no movement, thereby not needing a large spaceship.

Shortly before leaving Earth, he meets and becomes totally enchanted by a young female colleague. He is filled with remorse that he will not get to grow old with her as he will return still a young man and she will have aged 40 years. But the couple commit to each other that they will meet again upon his return.

His communication systems fail on route and he has only sporadic contact with Mission Control back on Earth. Yet forty years later, he does return from his completed mission. Tragically, the job he was sent to do was already accomplished using new satellite technology developed after he left, and thus he returns a forgotten pioneer and not a celebrated hero.

Shockingly, it is revealed upon his arrival that he voluntarily disabled the suspended animation system about six months into his journey so that he would be the same age as his love when he finally returned. He barely survives the trip by using emergency supplies.

Unbeknownst to him (and mirroring the O'Henry classic), during his absence his female colleague has placed herself in suspended animation on Earth so that she would stay young for his return in the hopes that they could live out their full lives together. She leaves instructions to be awoken upon his return.

In the tragic end, the aged astronaut meets his still-young love, and with heavy heart urges her to go live her new life without him.

As he leaves, his superior consoles him somewhat by saying, "Stansfield, you're really quite an incredible man. Maybe the one distinction of my entire life, that I knew you... that I knew a man who put such a premium, on love. Truly... quite a distinction, Stansfield."

We all face our long morrows.

The Boy in the Yard (Part 2 of 2)


Enormous threatening thunderclouds loomed overhead cracking at the seams with their leaden cargo.
Peter heard a rumbling and then the rustling of leaves, then the soft vibrations of millions of little shockwaves like tiny jack-hammers. The pounding increased.


He soon felt the icy trickle of water running around his body like the dull edges of hundreds of pocket knives tracing his arteries.


Peter was reminded of his thirst. He struggled to open his jaw but only succeeded in taking in a mouthful of mud. He sucked out some precious moisture but discovered it difficult to spit the dirt back out. He lay there breathing through his nose with ever increasing difficulty. He tried to move his hand but couldn't. It felt like something was biting it. He couldn't even turn his head to look. Peter's mounting fear was soundtracked by his own heartbeat thundering in his ears.
Suddenly the comfort of the ditch, the peaceful solitude, the intriguing secrecy, the connection with nature, all at once ceased to please him. He feebly attempted to struggle free, but Earth had too firm a hold.


His muscles exhausted, Peter was nothing more than another gravel in God's Sidewalk.

A tiny insect frozen in the Amber of Time.

Just then he heard a familiar voice, calmly speak his name.


At the restaurant, Billy gleefully hammered away at a game of 'Smack-a-Rodent' as Mom and Dad awaited service from a teenage waiter with bad skin. The animals popping up out of the holes suddenly reminded Billy of his absent brother. He put the mallet down and joined his parents in the booth. The meal finally came and consisted of Billy's most favorite things. French fries, Ketchup, and Pink Lemonade
"Who's the chef, Picasso?" joked Dad. His attempt at humor went unnoticed. Billy seemed oddly quiet. "What's the matter boy? Are you sad because your brother's not here?" Billy thought for a moment but didn't respond.
"Your sister will be home and she'll fix him something to eat. Don't worry too much about him, enjoy your Ketchup." 
Mom attempted to get some response with, "I like your banana-hat son". Billy checked the watch then hesitantly spoke.


"Dad, what happens to… people… after they get buried?"
Mom stopped mid-bite and looked at Dad.

"Well, where did that come from? Uh, like Grandma, well she's gone on to a better place. She's happy and peaceful and now she can be with Grandpa and Uncle Claude. It's just a necessary thing, not really good or bad, just necessary. It's happens to everybody. Young and old. I'm sure Grandma is much happier than before. She was very sick and no one could help her anymore. Now come on, finish your fries, so we can order…d-e-s-s-e-r-t".
Dad's words seemed to comfort Billy. He no longer felt the pangs of guilt and confusion.


"Dad, can I go play some more video games?" 
"Of course, that's why we're here." 
"But don't go too far. The dessert's coming soon," cautioned Mom. 
Later the dessert arrived and they all really enjoyed their cheesecake, to the sounds of circus music and recorded monkey screams.


Once inside, they never let you forget you're eating at Monkey Meal Emporium.

Time passed. Too much time.


They arrived home to find a note stuck to the refrigerator door.
Dad read it aloud. "Dear Mom or Dad, Gone to a movie, be back late. Jen". 
"That girl needs to be put on a leash," Dad moaned.

"It is Saturday and it's not past her curfew. Besides at least she's spending her own money and not ours," Mom defended.
Billy plopped down on the couch and turned on the television.
Mom went upstairs and after a few minutes returned.

"Honey I can't find Peter. I took the dinner leftovers up to his room and he's not there. Jen's note didn't mention him either. I'm starting to worry."

Dad said, "Hmmm, if he's still out playing this late, he's gonna be grounded for a week when I get my hands on him. That boy knows no responsibility."
Mom pleaded, "Doesn't he know he makes us worry so?" Her face was wrinkled with concern. Dad's was red with anger. He stormed out into the front yard.
Mom pulled a notebook from a drawer and began calling neighbors.

Billy sunk deeper into his pillows. He checked his brother's watch.

7:43 Then he checked the clock on the kitchen wall. He never could read that kitchen clock. It had pictures of fruits and vegetables instead of numbers. He decided if Peter didn't come back right now then they both would be in big trouble
He snuck into the basement and grabbed a flashlight. He shined it out the window onto the muddy mound. "Still there," he thought to himself.

He dashed across the wet grass and grabbed the shovel leaning against the shed. It seemed not as heavy as before. He ran to the mound.

He began whispering to his brother as he pushed the shovel into the soft Earth. "We went to Monkey Meal Emporium and we brought you back some fries and a fish burger and a hat. Dad told 'em it was my birthday so I could get a free ice cream banana barge. They believed him! We had cheesecake too. Mom saved you a piece of hers 'cause she couldn't finish it. I didn't tell Mom and Dad where you were I promise." 
The more Billy dug, the more mud poured back into the hole. The far-off sound of Dad's voice could be heard barking Peter's name. Billy dropped to his knees and started pulling out handfuls of mud and rocks.

"I didn't break your watch neither. Dad says it's fine." Billy, panic stricken, dug frantically with all his strength. Like a machine he dug the Earth. 
"Mom and Dad are looking for you and if you don't come out Dad says you'll be…" Just then the flashlight rolled down into the pit with a thud. 

It's beam illuminated a small crinkled piece of paper. It was a note. Written in a scratchy handwriting Billy did not recognize at first.

It read:


The idea for this story came to me on April 24th (1998) as I lay in bed trying to sleep. Most of my creative ideas come either during this relaxing time or in the shower or driving for some reason. My bedroom window overlooks a field and a wall of trees (scanned photos of these trees were used in the story) (I did not yet own a digital camera at this time) and I suddenly had the strange desire to know what it would feel like to be lying out in the field that night. Then I thought it would've been more comfortable to be under a "blanket" of dirt. Then the whole weird story of a boy who enjoys this sort of thing just came together...a boy  prematurely seeking the welcome comfort of Mother Nature's Womb. I actually went out, sat in the field with a notebook and wrote the whole story the next day. I've been looking for some way, through my art, to deal with the loss of my mother since her death almost four years ago. I don't think this story is it, but that desire is obviously evident in "The Boy in the Yard". It was originally titled "The Boy Who Lies in Ditches" (doesn't exactly roll off the tongue).

The biggest trouble was finding a suitable ending. I wanted to stay away from a heavy-handed morality tale yet include elements of one. I wanted it to be fantasy and yet be rooted in real life events and familiar characters. I wanted the visuals to begin with open blue skies and comfortable settings and then slowly get creepier and end at night with a panic-stricken child clawing through the wet mud with a failing flashlight. (Maybe I'm sick but that's what I wanted.) I certainly don't think anyone reading my story is going to go out in their backyard, dig a hole and jump in, but at the same time I didn't want to over glamorize this behavior. I wanted to have Peter, who to be fair is not an entirerly likable person yet not completely cold-hearted either, to go through an unpleasant experience when the dire consequences of his actions become apparent. Yet in the end, surreal and ambiguous as it is and as our own "endings" may prove to be, you get the feeling that he's happy and content, wherever he "is".My older brother used to "mummify" me as a kid (that's what I called it anyway, laying in bed with arms tight at my sides and legs together, he would push my blanket tight around my body tucking it under my sides so I could not move), and later I did ask my mom to do it and she thought it was kinda weird but would do it anyway. I researched the names and discovered that the name I first chose, Peter, means "rock" (perfect for a boy who lies in the dirt) and Billy means "guardian" (also ironically appropriate). The name Dutch actually means "ditch" but I didn't want to go that far. 

The visual style of using clay models for the basis of the images was an early decision based on my interest and admiration for Tim Burton and Henry Selick's stop-motion animation work. The character design of Peter in particular is very reminiscent of "Nightmare Before Christmas". I created only one body for the two boys since they are so similar anyway. I used a modeling clay called Plastalina. It's cheap, never hardens and comes in a variety of nice colors. I used only ivory though, deciding to do all the coloring digitally.

I sculpted one head for each boy and first placed Peter's head on the body and took some shots from different angles, then I switched heads and did the same for Billy.

Since the puppet had no skeleton, the tiny clay legs could not support the weight on the large body and head so they had to be later added digitally. The whole model stood, if it could, about 6 inches tall. I photographed the clay puppet with a macro lens outside in sunlight on a deck. Just as I was nearing completion a gust of wind came along and blew the puppet off the deck railing, ending my photo session with a thud and a sour mood.
Nearly all the posing of arms and facial expressions was done digitally, because it was simply easier than constantly remodeling the puppet then taking a single shot. Background photos were taken of dirt and sky and, of course, a shovel. I cannibalized a few furniture catalogs to get some of the background elements as well. Each image took anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to complete in Adobe Photoshop. I used oval-shaped windows for the images simply because I liked the idea and I don't see it done often.

 To force depth into the images, you'll notice that in most images I placed objects in the "background", the "middle ground" and the "foreground" and used varying degrees of motion or Gaussian blur. 

I consciously hid the faces of the parents from view because I wanted to truly focus the story on the two boys and keep the parents 'generic'. I kinda like how the image of Billy standing with the shovel as his brother comes up out of the ground (pearing through his hands - from Peter's POV) almost looks like he has large angel wings sprouting from his back. I guess you have to look at it a "certain way" to see that though.

At the end of the day, I'd say the comic turned out about as well as it could given my schedule. Sometimes (usually) the visual style of a work changes from conception to finished product and this one was no exception. Originally I envisioned the images to be more painterly and rough around the edges, still computer composites but more 'dirty' and abstract. However, the more I played with them the 'cleaner' they became. They now almost look like stills from a Rankin and Bass holiday special. The first line in the story is taken from a song called Nature Boy written by Eden Ahbez. I'm fairly happy with the final product and hope you got something out of it and will come back to see my other work. Thanks. 
- Darren Wheeling (May 29, 1998)