Good To Keep The Yang Up: for The Art Of Superstition

The Art Of Superstition is the name of Illustrators Ireland’s 2013 Annual Exhibition.

WARNING! This post contains illustrated male genitals…. Actually, most of my work does. Carry on….

EDIT: this print of for sale at The Copper House Gallery.


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Nearly 40 illustrators submitted works that were based on a superstition of some kind or another. It was a very open brief, and so i began to investigate further some superstitions that was aware of. Initially i thought of doing something pretty bizzarre i’d seen in a youtube video – Marina Abramović’s Balkan Erotic Epic. If you haven’t seen it, you should…. it’s a real eye opener 🙂

I began working on it, sketching out ideas, then began to put it together. I had decided on a landscape orientation, as it worked better for my idea and composition, but unfortunately when the template dimensions came through from the organisers, it appeared that the piece need to be portrait…. one thing lead to another, and i decided to start again on a different superstition, this time in portrait orientation (as an aside, it turned out  that i could have done landscape, but was far enough along, that i decided to just continue with the new one, and promised my self i’d get back and finish the other down the line… it will be made available to view when it’s done), so i went with something else i’d been thinking about doing for a while, that happened to fit the concept of the exhibition.

The Superstition that i decided scrutinise in this work is the belief of Chinese medicine practitioners, and presumably many people in Asia, that parts of tigers can be used to cure various ailments – more specifically, that Tiger penis can cure impotence, premature ejaculation, sexual dysfunction, and boost all round virility. Apparently it makes a lovely soup and is eagerly consumed by those stereotypically short changed in the trouser-snake department.

The title is a line from Eddie Murphy’s 1986 classic, The Golden Child. It was about Yak, but the gist is the same…

The initial idea was pretty simple – a naked Chinese man with a small but obvious erection, standing on a tiger-skin rug, eating a bowl of soup. I went looking for some text to go with it, and asked some friends to check that i had the phrases correct.

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(For anyone interested, 性功能障碍, 勃起功能障碍, 早泄, 阳痿, 阴茎延长 means: Sexual dysfunction, Erectile Dysfunction, Premature Ejaculation, Impotence, and Penis Extender.)

So the rendering began. I wasn’t completely sure where i was going with it, but knew that i needed to get the tiger looking pretty realistic to get the look i wanted, so after promising myself that, after the painstaking work of the Snum’s hair in “Sneelock’s Lament”, i would try not to go back down that avenue any time soon, i started back down that avenue.

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I decided that perhaps the man should have a magical glow around his groin, signifying the magical properties of the tiger penis soup, so worked it in, and started lighting the tiger to match. I wan’t really happy with the text being big as it was in the initial sketch, as incorporating text that way isn’t something i’m particularly comfortable with yet, so started thinking about what else i could be doing with it, and what sort of environment he might be in. I knew it needed to be dark, to emphasise the glow.

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Having the skinned carcass of the tiger would be a suitable way of showing more of the grotesque nature of the  practice. It has to be said that researching tiger-skinning and butchery was pretty revolting, and it was kinda difficult having to study the images to get the carcass looking correct.

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The I blocked in in a few men who would have been responsible for the skinning and butchering, looking fairly bored and indifferent with the whole thing – both of what they’d done, but also if the effect of the main guy.

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I began to be irked by the main character. He seemed out of proportion, and a little too cartoony still. I wasn’t happy with the face, and was worried that the hat would disappear into the shadows. Found a nice face reference, and began reworking him some more. I needed to try changing the body as well, as it was the face of an older man. The glow became a little more pronounced.

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I stared trying to get the look of an “internal glow” happening around his groin, thighs and a little in the chest- as if power of the soup was surging through him. I wasn’t completely convinced i would have time or inclination to finish the effect, so i left it and began some more background. Looking through the reference images of how and where they butcher the tigers – generally dirty alleys and street stall looking places – and began to work this into the back ground. It would need to be set at night too, to get the full effect of the glow. I also decided that I’d still like the text in there some how, so placed it on a sheet of paper taped to the wall behind the stall, as hand written advertising for their wares.

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The internal glow was discarded, as it just wan’t working for me, though not i had to work out a way of getting decent external glow. I began playing with some texture layers at this point, as well as some coloured fill layers, to quickly generate a deeper, darker mood. The foreground was feeling  little empty too, so i worked up a couple of interested street dogs eyeing off the meat.

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I became completely dissatisfied with the whole body – in particular how the hands were positioned, so began reworking it. This is why i love working digitally :). I found a better body reference, though had to trawl some fairly unsavoury sites to get the posture. You try googling “old naked man standing”, and see what you get. I think it was a fairly generic Nudism site that ended up having fairly non-homoerotic photographs, just so you know. Plenty of cycling too….

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Layered on some more texture and fills while i worked out the body some more.

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…and eventually got it back to a similar point  was at before i’d trashed the other body. While still not exactly as i’d like it, it was much better, so i could continue.

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At this point i had an inexplicable and catastrophic corruption of the current file, and was unable to open the psd. I had the previous version (incremental saves are invaluable…), but it basically meant redoing the main man again, using the actual screenshot from above as a low resolution base. I also lost the work i’d done on the pots above the stove and some of the details around there, but sometimes it helps see things with new eyes. Eyes that make you say, nup, can’t be arsed redoing that….

I was talking to an old mate of mine who now lives and works in Indonesia after showing him the piece to get a gauge on the seedy asian side of the piece, and he suggested that (he was vaguely aware that) back ally sex shops could often (not that he’d know, really, but they might) sell some form of traditional aphrodisiac nearby, and why not add that aspect to the image. So the woman in the doorway behind a beaded curtain was added, as was the photographs of some of the attractive girls on offer inside. To make it all fit, and balance properly, i need to flip the kitchen around, make it smaller and shuffle it to the side a little.

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Some hours later i had fixed the man, and added textures and mouldy grime to the image, really trying to get the dirt in there. The pool of blood around the carcass was worked in a little more, and the lighting was refined further. Steam and smog helped close it in.

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So began the glowing genitalia. I found some great free glow brushes online, and played around with them a little until they started to behave in a way that worked for me. I knew at this point that i’d probably be able to get the look i wanted, and was pretty relieved….

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With that in mind, i continued with the lighting, adding some orange, yellow and red to the ambient light, as well as casting the direct light across the main man. Though it’s a little hard to pick up in this screen shot, i added a little rat to the foreground too…. they’re bound to be around.

Finally being fairly happy with how 90% of the image was looking, i revisited the glow and sparkles, and tried to really boost up the magic. Between the  ‘glow’ layers in the actual file, and the smart objects on those layers, them selves consisting of up to 10 layers, there could have ended up being about 150 layers just of glow in the final. Some have been blurred with varying opacity, but they’re still there….

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All in all, i am pretty happy with how it turned out. As happens with any large work like this, i get sick of working on it, but also feel like I could keep tweaking for another several days to get it better – but as always, deadlines loom.

I was pretty disturbed in the course of working on this one, as the issues concerning this trade, and the survival of the tiger were all there to be seen. It is not just ignorance or superstition that is to blame: The use of endangered Tiger products and their medicines is also seen as a symbol or high status and wealth, and the recent increase in the standard of living in China and southeast Asia, had contributed to the demand for these products.

Indeed, China has almost eradicated it’s own Tiger population, and now sources Tigers from Bangladesh and Nepal. China is not alone in the mass slaughter of this endagerd animal – in Russia, poaching one Tiger can provide 10 years income on the black market. It’s estimated that in 1991, one third of the Siberian Tigers were killed to meet demand for Chinese medicine supplies.

As mentioned, it is not just the penis that is used in Chinese medicine: In Taiwan, a bowl of Tiger penis soup goes for US$320, and a pair of eyes (to fight epilepsy and malaria) for US$170. Powdered Tiger humerus bone (for treating ulcers rheumatism and typhoid) brings up to US$1,450 lb. in Seoul. As few as 3,200 Tigers exist in the wild today. It is fair to say that this superstition, pandering to the sexual insecurities of men across the patriarchal societies of asia, is complete fantasy, horribly and unnecessarily destructive, and well deserving of, not only being completely eradicated, but also of our utter contempt.



Paperback Writer: Illustrated Beatles submission

Illustrators Ireland’s upcoming exhibition is the Illustrated Beatles. 40 of the illustrators were give a random song title from the Beatles catalog. The song i was asked to illustrate was “Paperback Writer”. I need to admit to not being the biggest Beatles nerd in the world, though i was familiar with the tune from a slightly different arrangement, so needed to go and listen to the original, and track down a copy of the lyrics. I decided that rather than focus on the story of the narrator in the song, that of a wanna be writer almost begging a publishing house to publish his novel, i would focus on the story he had written, as he gave  a vague and intriguing outline of the plot: “It’s a dirty story about a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn’t understand“. Being a little perverse naturally , this instantly appealed and got me thinking. The narrator also goes onto say that it was “based on a book by Lear“, who was Edward Lear, who in 1846 had “A Book Of Nonsense” published, a volume of limericks he wrote and illustrated. I browsed these images and rhymes, looking for something that might tie in, until I found the wonderful image below…

Well, when i saw this and knew that i need to do an image about dirty man, i recalled an odd “marital aid” i had seen on some *cough* …somewhere *cough*… can’t really remember, that was essentially a dildo that was strapped to ones face, though i cant imagine why. The similarities gave me a giggle. I did a quick sketch (below) to nut out the idea and see how it might work… I decided the mask alone wasn’t really dirty enough, so threw in the woman on the bed.

Still not dirty enough… “how about a gerbil in her hand?”, i wondered, thinking back to the old Richard Gere legend, but realised the connotations of such an act were biologically tricky. I imagine the average value of the circumference of any given anus, and the resulting writhing rodent bulk to said value’s ratio would require assistance. Enter the vaginal specula.

At this point i reckoned i was about as dirty is i needed to get to really get the point across subtly… The next bit was to try and capture something of the classic pulp fiction book covers of the 1960’s. I focused on some of the colour, detail, and importantly the parts where there was no detail, just splashes of colour suggesting the room and environments, and on the typography and layouts of these books. I quickly blocked it all in.

Made a couple of adjustments to the layout of the weird little elements these books have – tag lines and prices etc, and fiddled with what it might take to make the book look old and ratty looking, while still trying to work out the layout of the whole piece. After all, this was the cover of the book – a standard small paperback size – the end image in the show was to be a 45cm square. There was more thought needed…

Taking a bit of time to correct the posture of the man to better support the weight of the mask and birds in a realistic fashion, the birds themselves and work up the wife in the back ground a little more, i also decided to set it shot from above on a table top of some sort – still wasn’t sure what, but I chucked in a couple of props to set another scene.

I decided that the table should me a moldy nasty thing, so went looking online for such an item and found this:

The colours were a perfect reference for the kind of disgusting grime i wanted, and so i began working up a similar surface behind the book cup and cigarette butt, which honestly, took quite a bit of time…

I also began to wonder about the person who lived in this room, and had been sitting at this moldy desk reading this book, drinking a coffee and smoking a cigarette and began playing with other details that might explain the nature of the environment, and possibly the eventual frame of mind of the person who wrote the book. Was this the same person?

Then it was onto fixing up the women, and working out what was really happening there. Once done, i still wasn’t completely happy with the woman on the bed, but decided she could wait a little longer.

I started experimenting again layering textures some more to really give the book cover a worn down book, like it had been bought and sold several times over the years, and treated poorly the whole time. I also began to place some shadows in the room to support the lighting seen in the coffee cup.

Happy enough for now with the texture layers, i returned focus to the typography and the layout of the book cover. The throw away tagline “thirteen birds, two women and a gerbil” originally used needed to go, and it was replaced with another line form the song, and i finally got around to finishing the birds. Having just returned form a trip to Australia, I’d decided to throw in a few Australian natives, for a bit of colour and interest.

Not happy with the woman’s face, and the angle of the head, i decided to work her over a bit too. The coffee cup also got a bit a reworking to deepen the shadow in the room, and create a slightly more sinister tone in there. I had been thinking the book cover seemed a little off balance, to in the darker shadows behind the man, painted the tassels of another marital aid that might also take his debauchery to a slightly higher level. In needing to finish his hand, i realised the tumbler of whiskey he’d been holding – a prop common in images form this era – was completely redundant given his complete inability to drink while wearing the mask, so i painted the hand with out the glass, and considered my options…

I had fun creating the publisher label, Nasty Partridge, and decided on a couple more layout changes to fit it in properly. Building on the previous texture layers, combines with a couple of gradient fills began to create more depth in the room, to help gel all the objects in the environment. The addition of the feather duster balanced the colours on the cover a little more, and well as helping direct the eye around the scene.

Making the bra and knickers slightly more transparent heightened the seduction, and final part was just adding some colour to the reclining woman’s hair, and also some cascading curls to help the seductive look.

And a few people have been looking for a clever explanation behind the authors name, Gona Schlint. With a bit of backwards engineering, I’ll say it’s an anagram of “glint on cash”.

So all in all, there was a fair amount of work in evolved, and if i add up the sporadic hours i was working , there was probably about a week in it, but I am pretty happy with the results, even if it does contribute to the solidification of my reputation as a bit of a dirty man….

Can’t wait for the exhibition.


Submitted for Illustration Friday topic “Beneath”.

I had worked through a few idea for this one, intending to go with the main gist that something would be partly submerged, one thing on the top, and beneath it turns out to be something else, eg, an island that is actually the shell of a turtle, sort of thing….

I had a sketch of an ‘island’ and the water line, then moved down and it ended up looking a bit like a body floating backside up. Then it got tied up in ropes. The i added a weight to it. Then going back to the ‘island’, i drew a palm tree, coconuts and a monkey…. it all got a bit stupid  – looked like the tree was sticking outta the date –  so i pulled back to just the body completely submerged.

Decided to try a new ‘medium’ of Painter 11 that i haven’t used, the Airbrush. I quite like it , but it’ll take some getting used to! Might need to look at getting one of these if i want to keep using it….

Girl And Bear

Saw some pencil work recently that reminded me of how wonderful pencil work can be. I particularly like pencil for soft toys and children so, in an attempt to get away from using Painter’s Artist Oils brushes and have ago at the Pencil brushes, I went with doing a bit of both.

But as i have been doing a lot of fairly straight ahead nice work, I couldn’t help adding a little bit of blood to this one…

Update: Submitted this for Illustration Friday topic: Trail.