25 September 2022

Monsoon Agavix

Monsoon in the Dragoons

The Century Plant (living 20 to 30 years) is a low thick leaved agave found throughout the Sonoran Desert and bordering areas. As a desert plant, it's a significant landmark 6-10 feet around, and at the end of its life, putting forth a heroic asparagus-like stalk that branches and flowers to a height of 20-30 feet. This one iss in the backyard of my friend Richard Spelker and is vast and inspiring. 

I wanted a dramatic, rocky background, so I journeyed to the Dragoon Mountains, known for this sort of thing. I've never been to this area during the summer monsoon months, usually driving through on my way to Mt. Graham, where being outdoors in the shadow of pines is more tolerable. The area was bursting with life from more than 18 inches of summer rain filling ponds that dry up in the summer and growing grasses above your waist by the end of the season. Insect and reptile life was abounding as well as birds migrating by.

"Just add water" should be the tagline of this summer Eden. The grass dries out with a blonder cast to the landscape for the rest of the year. My framer recently saw a resemblance to William Wiley's work, which I first spotted at the Indianapolis Museum, making enough of an impression that I researched him. His checkered patterns and black lines resonated with my etching work, and I thought it appropriate to credit him in this piece. NASA's latest moonshot test rocket has these registration markers included, and it is a fitting metaphor for something that takes decades to charge up before blasting up and away.

Monsoon in the Dragoons

16 February 2022

Events and Accolades

 Tucson is awakening from winter slumber, and the coming few months will see desert people enjoying the weather and activities that all get crammed into a short window of time before the sun turns up again. I know I'll be busy.

My book Codex Sonora, published by Polytropos Press, is chosen by Margie Trujillo-Farmer as one of the "Top Picks" for Southwest Books of the Year 2022. This competition involves nominations from Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico, and West Texas having a Southwest theme. I'm honored (surprised!) to have my book of art and obscured writing included among a group traditionally known for literary works.

As a consequence, I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books 2022, March 12-13, in the Pima County Public Library tent. I'll be presenting in an interview-style presentation with the author, academic, and Emmy Award-winning media representative of the desert David Yetman. Moderating will be the New York Times best-selling author, academic, and journalist Tom Zoellner. The event titled Two Views of the Sonoran Desert is Saturday, March 12th, 11:30 am in the UArizona Student Union Tucson Room with a sales and signing event immediately after.

Codex Sonora in the Welcome Gallery of Tohono Chul - a show of all my desert prints runs February 11 – April 27, 2022, in tandem with the Roy J. Kurtz Collection of American Indian Art show in the main gallery. Both have a reception on Thursday, February 24, at 5:30 pm. I saw some of the American Indian Art during installation. It is an IMPRESSIVE donation and undertaking for donor Roy Kurtz, Director of Education and Exhibitions James Schaub, and Nicole George, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions & Collections Manager.

08 January 2022

O. Apachex


Illustrating a freshwater fish in its natural habitat, in a natural pose other than the usual water splash caught in mid-air from the muscle-arched body lunging toward a mayfly, mouth agape; the fisherman's wet dream of a perfect strike. This pose presented an exciting challenge of depicting above and below water landscapes in the same piece.

Small canyons with streams and cool blue-green pools do exist in the Sonoran Desert. The endangered Apache Trout thrived here, but interspecies competition with the Spotted Trout, stocked by humans, has reduced its domain to 25 miles of the Gila River, smaller tributaries, and adjacent parts of New Mexico. A fly fisherman in my past life, I like to spend time with good fishing spots, although these days it's with a sketchbook and camera. I try to spot what I can through the ripples, but the real telltale signs of trout are tiny fly lures and the glisten of fishing line in unreachable branches of trees around.

The trout is a notoriously difficult catch for a fisherman due to the miracle of its vision. The trout eye is engineered to deal with light refraction through the water's surface and is sensitive enough to see insects above water by the dim light of the stars. The trout can also see you unless you are crafty enough to be outside of its wide cone of vision.

Although the Apache Trout is not a current resident of the Sonoran Desert, I felt it appropriate to include it in my series considering the conservation efforts to restock this rare and wonderful inhabitant of our desert.

Prints for sale at patterntology.com

11 September 2021



Ah, crystals. I know what you think when you see crystals. New Age guru was not my intention, though. I wanted to depict something mineral, if only one subject, to make a footnote in my work that the Sonoran Desert is a wellspring of gems, precious metals, and beautiful minerals. Given that, yearly, I'm steps from giant tents of vendors and prospectors selling their gems and minerals at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, I've become a fan. I also like following posts at the Mineral Database, considering I know very little about the field. I do know there are hidden treasures in hard-to-find places here.

Walking along the surface of the desert in hilly or mountainous areas, the possibilities below your feet are reality. Chambers of water, fault lines ever moving, cavities filled with mineral formations, and spelunkers are still discovering immense cave systems. It was hard to pick one thing from the ground that symbolized it for me. Copper, turquoise, and silver are actively mined here. Meteorite finds are commonplace, given visible craters and the ease of spying them in bare earth areas, so the extraterrestrial angle was interesting. In the end, I settled on Amethyst.

As volcanic lava cools, it traps pockets of gas and silica-rich liquid to form Quartz crystals. If the liquid has trace amounts of iron and you wait millions of years, you get the purple-hued Amethyst. There is a background overlay in my piece of a sequential nonrepeating pattern echoing quartz's hexagonal base structure and organic growth. (Also, somewhere in there are some coordinates.)

I can't ignore the labeling of crystals with spiritual significance. It exists for many people. I can't ignore the monetary value put on them either, but I do. To me, unseen secrets below the ground flesh out the detail of the terrain, mimicking the rarity of natural life on the surface. It makes perfect sense to me.

Prints for sale at patterntology.com.

Codex Sonora Printed


The whole process of inking prints and putting them up for sale to ultimately end up in a book is like releasing movie trailers until the movie comes out; only in my case, it was six years of trailers, including a pandemic. There's an elegance to this process that includes a pace keeping me interested and always working toward a final product.

The text is off-putting to some who either discount the whole book as nonsense or are discouraged by not reading it immediately. The other group finds an enchanting mystery in the document and even focuses enough to read it right away. It's funny to me that people are brutally honest about their opinion of something in book form. Still, if presented with something indecipherable in an art gallery, they walk away humbled, thinking they lack the sophistication or expertise. A psychological principle at work here about reactions to new things? I lack the sophistication or expertise to explain that principle!

I could create text that looks like a written language to suggest cipher code to be cracked (or not), but I do have thoughts about each piece while I build each piece. Text usually comes in list form derived from my observations and research I put into the subjects. The font I chose is of my creation called Quotasoon. I'm not sure if you would call this writing poetry or prose comprised of list-like terms or phrase snippets pulled from science writing that formed my understanding of the subject or phrases that encapsulate the subject's feeling and place. Maybe this is something akin to what an AI would do if using object-oriented philosophy. I read it off internally, as you might read:

"...doctors skilled in the treatment of diseases dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, gathering virulence in the white blood of eyeless worms feeling slowly to the surface and the human host, maladies of the ocean floor and the stratosphere, maladies of the laboratory and atomic war... A place where the unknown past and the emergent future meet in a vibrating soundless hum... Larval entities waiting for a Live One..."

― William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

10 July 2021

Codex Sonora on the press.


Codex Sonora on the press.
2020 was a considerable delay in life for most of us. My book project was one of the casualties. Books take financing, and although print sales were building a substantial nest egg for the book, this depleted during the Covid pandemic. I took advantage of the time to do the months of inking required for the book's text and the careful setup of the files in printable form. In all, the project had about a year delay.
I work for AlphaGraphics Commercial Printing Services in Tucson and am pleased to get one of my projects on the big press. Ours is a beauty. Walking by, I'll sometimes hear German accents through the computer interface troubleshooting an issue live with the pressman. I asked if it was like the BMW of printers, the answer was, "It's like the Bugatti of printers." It's a Heidelberg CD102, 6-color perfecting press with closed-loop color control and inline aqueous coater. Color balancing is controlled through what looks like a soundboard for ink, scanning each piece and adjusting for corrections. I was called from my office for each press check to approve the color and quality. I wanted the cover to have a special coating called "Soft-touch," and the printer did that final coat just like one of the ink coats. Anyway, I get excited about the offset printing process and love the perfect fine line you get with it. This is something you never see on a monitor screen. The book is 9x12, so my artwork is reduced, and the lines are extra crispy!

I'm delighted with this and can't wait till I get the final product bound and in my hands. I'll have this for sale by the end of July or August.

17 May 2020

Codex Sonora Volume 1 - Book Cover

It's been a childhood dream of mine to make an illustrated book. Pouring over Richard Scarry, Rien Poortvliet's gnomes, Moebius, and the older books; the ones that had talented illustrators doing etched plates, I thought to myself, "Drawing is a job, these people do this as a job, I want to be one of those people."

I've been producing prints for the last 5yrs, selling online and locally in tourist stores and galleries. It's an experiment that pays for itself. I make $20 a piece on them. I've sold nearly a thousand and I've made second editions of the earlier ones that have sold out. My art biz has it's own bank account. I've used this money to travel to the Getty Museum in L.A. for a 3 day workshop and to Colfax Washington for a week to attend a book making seminar, both put on by my artist hero Timothy Ely. Ink on paper sent me to learn, hang, and drink beers with him! I also put the money into printing new pieces. Now I will put the money into producing a book.

Since the illustrations for the inside are done, I thought I'd set the tone with the cover. There is only one of my prints that has a tiny sliver of the Gulf of California in it, so I pictured that on the back cover. The seaside desert landscape is pretty surreal. Cactus in the sand leading down to beaches with tidal pools and dolphin pods riding by every 30 minutes. I'll never forget the image of a bleached out whale skull sitting on the beach.

The book will contain writing in my custom font "Quotasoon". Most spreads will have a page of illustration and a page of descriptive writing. I'm trying to psyche myself for that writing. I think this last step might take me through the summer to complete.

See Tom's work at patterntology.com

Sonoran Deserex

I am no expert on the Sonoran Desert; although I live here, and considering a majority of it exists inside of Mexico, which I have camped in about ten times, I'm familiar with the terrain. A few years ago, I did this 3d map of the PineleƱo Mountains. Then there was the paleogeographic project I teamed up with a geologist to render the creation of the Gulf of California back to 10 million years. This time, I revisit the map as an art print and an essential part of my upcoming book.

There were a lot of decisions to make during this piece. How much texture, color, include roads, walls, cities, vegetation. Maps aren't maps without bathymetry, which tells the whole story IMO, especially in the gulf where the peninsula has peeled away from the mainland and is on it's way to Alaska. My spacecraft crashed here, and my information screen was on the fritz, and the power supply was waning, so I made some paper and ink and started tracing the screen to save the information.