December 11, 2011

Astrella's art on a new CD

The second CD by the New England band, Deep 6, titled "2 DEEP" has finally been released and features my artwork on the front and back covers. I created the logo image on the front over a year ago which has a gravestone and a creepy-looking character I call "Red Skulleton" holding Jimmy D'Angelo's Jackson guitar and wrote about it here. I also had vinyl stickers made of RED for Dave Balcom's kick drums.

For the back cover, Jimmy asked me if he could use one of my paintings called "Moonbeam". I had given Jimmy a print of this painting and I was honored to let them place it on the back of their CD. They asked if I could make it black & white and I manipulated it a bit to conform to the size of the CD package.
Only since it's release did Jimmy point out to me that the beam of light from the moon creating the shadow on the foggy ocean actually forms the image of a "6", as in Deep 6.
Guess it was meant to be.

Hear the music of Deep 6 here.

November 18, 2011

Lighting "Kulanihako'i: Living Waters" -Part 3

The premier of the hula drama, “Kulanihako’i: Living Waters”, at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center was very successful. The performance and the water effects created by my lighting went off without a hitch. Soon after, I had to pack up the effects units to take on the road. I managed to get everything into two suitcases which had to be less than the 50 pound airline baggage weight limit to avoid additional charges. They weighed in at 49.8 and 49.6 pounds. My carry-on bag was probably another forty. Socks and shirts served as protective packing material. As I expected, TSA officers did some dusting on the motorized units and I had to try to explain what they were used for. At least I made sure my underwear was kept separate. I didn’t want them pulling those out in front of everybody!

I was grateful to have a fine local crew at the Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey for several shows that followed the premier on Maui. A week later, we were on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Kahilu Theater and by then I realized which lights were proving essential in my lighting plot and which ones I could probably cut if I had to.

I explained in Part 2 of this series how I created the acetate images to project onto the cyclorama as background to the scenes. The drawback to these low-cost gobos is that they will burn up if the intensity of the light goes up higher than about 40%.

Well, I’ve figured a way to increase the intensity a little bit by decreasing the amount of heat from the lamp. I did this by bolting two template holders together separated by a plastic bushing.  The acetate image gets mounted in the template furthest from the lamp and I placed a cut of GAM Heat Shield in the other. The bushing gives the two templates just enough separation to allow the heat shield to slide into the gobo slot while the gobo image fits into the iris slot of any Source IV lighting instrument. By adding the heat shield and having an air gap between the two, I’m able to get another 10-20% intensity out of the light. Not a lot, but a welcome improvement. Profile lights with LEDs will no doubt replace the need for a contraption like mine in the very near future.

You can also see in the previous post, the acetate image of a waterfall in a Hawaiian forest that I projected onto the cyc during a particular scene. A GAM Film/FX unit was focussed onto the waterfall and run at slow speed. Below is a video of that segment where the waterfall is used for a hula. It’s a little hard to see from the angle but there is also what looks like a shallow stream that moves away from the waterfall across the stage and soft, blue swirling gobos on the hula dancers as they move.

In contrast to this, there are scenes that are bright and sunny with a burning sun and rainbow in the background. These visuals only serve to help tell the story presented on stage and enhance the audience experience of live theater. More pics and videos to follow...

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

October 02, 2011

Lighting "Kulanihako’i: Living Waters" -Part 2

The premier of the show is October 15th and I received the shipment of new lighting gadgets that I’ll be using to create all the nature scenery for this “hula drama” just last week.

After opening all the boxes and spending a few solid days setting up the lighting plot, I think I’ve made the right choice in choosing this particular equipment. The Kumu came in and saw the effects I was able to produce and I think they were encouraged with the results. I even impressed myself on the waterfall. Using only lights, water pours off the cyclorama onto the stage floor and runs across the stage.

Here's your basic breakup gobo which I’m using to produce the effect of sunlight as it’s filtered through the trees. The metal patterns literally break up the light when inserted into a theatrical light between the lamp and the lens. Add yellow gel filter and haze the stage with a DF50 and you have a sunny forest.

To add a sun, I used a dual pattern rotator pointed at the cyclorama. When the motor is turned on, the two metal sun gobos rotate slowly in opposite directions.
The light passes through the hole and when the sun's rays line up, it looks as though the sun is burning hot as the rays oscillate around the sun. To look more realistic, I adjust the lens to a soft focus and add a light frost filter to the yellow gel. Of course, the cyclorama is also lit with blue cyc lights for sky. It also has clouds that move across the sky which I made using two GAM Film/FX units but I’ll explain how those work later.

My sunlight gobos are shooting from stage left to stage right from the upper corner lights referred to as the "high-sides".

I’m going to use the stage RIGHT high-sides for moonlight in the same fashion. There will be a moon projected onto the cyc using an iris to adjust its size with a light blue gel.  I’ll add two more lights with gobos that will represent stars. These will be simple home-made gobos; black aluminum foil with holes poked through it with a thumb tack -cheap, but effective.

The light blue gel for the moonlight streaming out of the hi-side lights will also serve a second purpose. Instead of loading them with static breakup gobos, I’ll be using  6 more dual gobo rotators.  These are GAM "Twin Spins" that have a spiral gobo matched with a large breakup gobo which will produce a swirling water effect on the stage. So in one scene, it’s moonlight. In another scene with the gobos moving, it’s swirling waters.

To produce another look of moving water on the cyc, I’m using a GAM "Prismo". This unit is different as it mounts into the gel frame slot.

The 3-facet prism glass rotates and projects three images that overlap and rotate around each other. After experimenting with different gobos, I decided to use a fire gobo that has flame shapes cut out of it. When I taped different colors of blue gel to the glass and moved the lens out of focus, the moving wavy shapes look like the way light moves when you’re underwater. To make it interesting, I’ve mounted the Prismo light on a floor base and placed it downstage left on the front edge of the stage. This means if someone walks in front of the light their shadow will appear on the cyc. Since we haven’t rehearsed the show yet with lighting, I’m not sure if it will play into the show or not. I just wanted the creative team to have this option as they work out their scenes. I can always relocate it above if it doesn’t work for them.
The most notable effect I’ve concocted is the waterfall. The few who have seen it have said “Wow!”
This is a GAM “Film/FX” unit. You can choose the loop you want from their online catalog. I’m using two of these babies loaded with moving clouds mounted horizontally into lights. The motors are flipped so the clouds move toward each other. This is so I can have clouds moving in either direction, but also because the script calls for heavy clouds colliding. Flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder and then it RAINS onstage!  This is done using a rain loop mounted vertically in another GAM gadget called the SX4. It works the same way as the Film/FX unit but it’s made to withstand heavier usage. The unit shown above has a loop that could be used for fire with orange gel or moving water with blue gel. That’s what I’m using this one for -the river that runs away from the waterfall. The waterfall effect is another Film/FX with a special waterfall loop in it and focused on the cyc.  My waterfall has to look like it’s in a lush Hawaiian forest so I made an image in Photoshop where I took a photo of a Maui waterfall and added some ferns and greenery from other photos into the scene. I sized it for the standard gobo holder which is about 3 inches in diameter and printed several samples on transparent acetate film which you can buy in most office supply stores.

I have a method of creating these that seems to work. I cut out three of the same image, overlap them on a light box so they line up perfectly and tape them together. Using a laser printer is fine but if you use only one, the colors aren’t saturated enough. By overlapping three, the colors become vibrant. One problem is that the temperature from the light is too hot and the plastic film will begin to melt when you raise the intensity level to about 40% using a 575watt lamp in a standard ETC Source Four fixture. So you have to be careful when you turn it on or your image begins to smoke and melt. I make plenty of backup images just in case.

My waterfall is going to be a jaw-dropper and I’ll hopefully be posting video of it soon so you can see the result. I hope to chronicle this lighting design as it evolves through the run of the show as an example of the creative process involved.
See Part 1 here.
See Part 3 here.

September 25, 2011

BIG Lighting Design challenge: Kulanihako'i -Part 1

I’m very excited about a new touring show that I am designing lights for called “Kulanihakoi: Living Waters.” It’s a hula drama for the stage that will illustrate just how deep the Hawaiian culture runs.

Created by a consortium of Kumu Hula (Hula Masters), the show is bringing Hawaiian myths to life. The ancient people of Hawaii saw gods and goddesses all around them in these beautiful islands, in the sky, clouds, mountains, forests, and in the ocean, the streams, and even in the gentle mists. Their gods assumed the forms of living beings. These deities are instilled in the hearts of Hawaiians today. Their love for the land becomes evident in these stories. How they viewed the waters that formed the islands is fascinating when told in such a unique way, through the eyes of a noble culture that embraced the land and revered the waters that generated so much life.

The thrill of this show for me is that it calls for a host of lighting effects that will need to reproduce nature on a live stage. This is going to be quite a challenge, and I really need to get creative to pull it off.

After reading the script and discussing the scenes with the director, I found I’ll need to simulate swirling waters on the stage floor, a running stream and a reflective pool of water.  That’s just for starters...  A white muslin backdrop (cyclorama) will be hung upstage that will need images projected onto it as background for the scenes. They’ll consist of a moon and stars, a glowing sun, a forest, a field of Ohia trees, a mountain, a cave, a rainbow, skies ranging from morning to dusk and red clouds streaked across the sky.
Eh, no problem, I can do all that!

But wait...

I’ll also need to create what will look like a flowing waterfall in a lush forest, clouds that don’t just move across the sky, but at one point they need to collide with each other.  OK, now it’s getting tough. Oh, and then there will be thunder and lightning and it has to look like it’s raining on stage!

Hmmm...okay, I'll have to think on that one.

Here's a sample of a page from the script. It seems dry and vague when it's on paper but after speaking with the Kumu who each have their scenes to choreograph, I asked about the moods of the scenes, the times of day, the colors they envisioned, and the colors of the costumes.

There are many options with modern lighting these days. I could accomplish much of this using a video projector for all the scenic elements on the cyclorama and moving lights to produce swirling waters. 

Oh, but there’s one more stipulation...if I bring any equipment with me on tour it needs to fit in our flight luggage!

Well, that's gunna be a toughie...

But I think I've found a unique solution!
I had used a certain special effects unit on the Kahekili tour last year which produced sleepy clouds that moved slowly across the cyclorama.  I really liked the fact that it did NOT look like video. This unit is called the SX4 and is basically a motorized ribbon of lightweight metal with clouds cutout of it that is placed into a common lighting fixture between the lamp and the lens. The SX4 is manufactured by an innovative company called GAM Products Inc.  Researching some of GAM's other little contraptions, I figured I could probably create most of the effects I need AND they would ALL fit in my suitcase!
I've already ordered the gear and will report on what happens next week after I've received these little gadgets and have tried them out. The premier of this show is right here on Maui and it's in only 3 weeks!
If I succeed, I just may become the God of Stage Weather!
See Part 2 here
See Part 3 here.

September 08, 2011

Cool Objects

Here’s some of the objects that I’ve been living with, because I just think they’re cool.

I saw this vase in a shop and had to have it. It’s a basic ceramic flower vase shape, but it’s got this metal covering over it.  It's both feminine and masculine at the same time. See how perfectly the metal had been contoured over the vase. There are imperfections, and they give it that hand made look that I like.

I had to buy this teapot after seeing the classic shape and design. Hey, I’m a coffee drinker, but this needed to be on my shelf.

Once again, the combination of ceramic and metal intrigued me and the painted floral design and ballet pose of the handle and spout made it irresistible. I bought it with the idea that I could use it as an object in a still life painting someday.
A poised leopard stands guard over my television.

And a black cougar crouches near the bookshelf. He’s just keeping an eye on the books and the teapot.

There's a commotion over on a table in the corner. Two eagles are fighting with each other over who guards my wall paintings.

But they don't need to fight because the wall is protected by a large, metal warrior's shield with intricate details of lions and parrots.

I believe I am well protected!

August 24, 2011

The Hand Lettering of a Master Sign Painter

Here's an amazing example of the lost art of sign painting. I came upon this old sign in a rental shop and stared at it to see if it was really hand lettered. Estimating it to be at least 40 years old, back then all signs were painted by hand. Computers weren't around to make cookie-cut vinyl letters.

Consider the "O" and how his stroke made a relatively perfect circle each time. Look at how his "A"s and "E"s all look the same! Unbelievable consistency here and on top of that, his lettering shows personal style. Its just beautiful!
Compare the actual Brush Script font here to the sign. It is so true to the font that I had a difficult time believing it wasn't vinyl. It's not! It's just incredible how he made those strokes perfectly and with flare.

When I was young, I had the privilege of being tutored by such a master sign painter as this. The method is to dip the paintbrush into the heavy enamel sign paint, then work it on a palette to get just the right amount of paint on the squirrel hair lettering brush, while mixing in just the right amount of turpentine in order to achieve the right consistency that makes the paint flow onto the metal sign. Too much turp and the paint drips. Not enough turp and the paint skips and gets gummy. The brush must be loaded with just enough of this mixture to perform each stroke with one pass and without stopping. The artist has to watch both edges of the stroke at the same time and move with the same consistent timing. His hand has to stay the right distance from the sign. Move the hand closer and the stroke gets wider. Move the hand away and the stroke gets thinner.

This was an art, and THIS guy, whoever he was, was truly an expert. I can tell by the flawlessness of the thin letters. Every stroke of every letter was done with one pass. A master doesn't need to go over the stroke a second time. Like many things, this art has been eliminated by technology. 'Faster, cheaper' has moved it aside and another piece of soul has been lost. What a shame!

August 22, 2011

Art Photos

Here's a few random art photographs I've taken over the years. I love to shoot but I am completely clueless when it comes to settings on my camera. My general method is to blindly fumble through various settings until it looks decent.
I would say that I'm technically inept at cameras but I am a tech guy, so I have no excuse other than I don't shoot enough to remember settings that work and settings that don't.  But I know what I don't like and I don't like flash.  It's all about the lighting and a flash just destroys the image, -it's like being presented with a nice meal and then having a fly land in the mashed potatoes.
I did lighting for the Dalai Lama some years ago and had a limited opportunity to snap some close-ups as he walked by. All I got was blurry waves of orange. So I photo-sewed some of them together in this image.
It's actually kind of cool because it gives him a ghostly spiritual feel.

A spookier image is this carousel horse taken at night when nobody was around. I think I took this at the beach park in Santa Cruz. Funny how such a kid friendly image can become so scary under different lighting conditions.

Then there's this old fallout shelter door below that I happened by one night in Honolulu. So emotionally cold is the image and yet it's fiery hot yellow from the single incandescent bulb overhead. I think it's the peephole that made me pause and imagine what it would be like being inside... and then stuck outside pounding on the door to get in... Creepy!

Lastly, I'll end with a lovely fish pond image showing the colorful Koi frolicking about. Not so thought provoking but decorative and rather calming.  I'll post more random favs in the future. Until then, if you see a guy swearing at his camera, that'd be me.

July 25, 2011

My Reggae lights could be seen from space!

On Saturday I ran lights for the Reggae in the Valley 2011 show here on Maui at the Yokouchi Pavilion and got to use my favorite lights thanks to Bruce at Village Audio.  Using 4 of these 2500 watt architectural wash lights I got to blast the entire pavilion with color.  These babies crank!  I also had 8 Elation Design Washes and Spots.

I focused some of the lights on the glass roof, the support columns and side grills and even the surrounding buildings and palm trees.

The backdrop is made of 5 white screens which deploy out of the roof above. Their motors are controlled by a computer installed in one of the pavilion columns.
I used the Elation moving lights to focus gobos onto the screen, overlap them and rotate them.

It made for some funky looks.
I had to program positions for the moving lights the night before, but it took a couple days before that just to get the lights into this new ETC Ion console.  As I found out later, there's a glitch in the software that makes it difficult to record submaster faders with only moving light attributes.  I prefer to run lights manually instead of using canned looks.  This is what makes lighting fun, playing it like an instrument.

July 19, 2011

Bright idea?

I printed my theatrical lighting plot onto a T-shirt.  That way when I'm working on the lighting rig, I can just refer to it.  Better yet, I can point out certain lights or circuits to the other lighting techs I'm working with.  But I must admit that the old lamp doesn't shine as bright as it's aged so in those moments when you stop to try to remember what the hell it was you were working on, it pays to have the plan within view.

July 13, 2011

I KNOW you like it...

A little over a year ago I had an idea for a custom bass guitar in the shape of a shovel.  I created a couple of images in Photoshop and posted them on this blog here.
I called it the Gravedigger and followed this image with another of some guy playing it.  Of course, I didn't actually build it but I'm hoping somebody actually gives it a shot.

What I noticed from my blog stats was that a lot of people were looking at the shovel bass, mostly from Europe.  Musicians discussed its paint, pickups and design on a few guitar forums, like this one, and some people were actually questioning if it was real or Photoshopped, which gave me a chuckle.  As the post received more and more hits I began to occasionally search for "custom bass guitar" in Google Images and recently found it had actually climbed to reach the #1 spot.

Currently, the two images I posted are #2 and #3.  Not bad!  Shows you're interested.. Now will somebody please make it!?

June 27, 2011


Well, I've been busy with a project of my own the past 6 months or so and I'm ready to share.  Turns out I ended up playing drums in a rock band.  Three old farts and one hotshot guitarist.  Of course at my age I don't take it too seriously.  In fact, everything about it has been completely contrary to the norm.  Oddly, not caring and doing everything the opposite of "the right way" has made things fall into place perfectly!  Fortunately for me, I get to utilize all my skills on this project.  I give you the band called, SLACKER.

I'm drumming on the video immersed in smoke but I'm also running the light show from the drum riser.  I spent 2 weeks setting the lights up and another week programming them, which I cued remotely.

Now, if you really want to see something strange, you've gotta check out the band website, which... um... strangely looks like this one.  The band and the site are run by the band's personal troll... a fat, grumpy, red troll with gas, named Guano.
Guano even has a Facebook page.  How can you not love that grisly face? The band rehearses in his cave and Guano deals with all of the band's affairs.  You can meet the troll at
A CD is out and is available on iTunes, CD Baby and all the other usual music download sites.

June 16, 2011

Who gives a Flying Flink?

She claimed it was a unique opportunity to globally promote the work of artists by submitting graphic icons to be used as status updates by Flinkers.

Flink12 is a tiny social networking site that launched in December to try to shave off a piece of Facebook by exploiting the fears of FB’s privacy issues.  Unfortunately, they’re making mistakes right out of the gate.  I received an email last month from Brenda McEwan who wanted me, and readers of my blog, to know about Flink’s “Global Icon Art Competition”. 

As a graphic designer who was a part of the brainstorming sessions from which the No Spec site was born, which warns designers of the pitfalls of crowd sourcing and art “competitions”, I immediately saw red flags.

I responded to Brenda McEwan’s email by pointing her to the NoSpec site and several other sites which explain why it is better to review professional artist portfolios and choose one who displays a style that fits the need.  I explained that to ask people to spend their time creating original artwork and submit it for free with the chance that they may be lucky enough to be chosen, is demeaning to our profession.  You don’t hold a competition to have plumbers install pipes in your house and then pay only one of them that you choose out of them all.  The result is wasted time by everyone else, the profession is belittled and... a more important point, you probably won’t get the quality art you seek, because most people who join in on crowd sourced art competitions are not professionals.  Some people, to their credit, have learned this the hard way.

Brenda says that, if chosen, Flink will commission you on a “work-for-hire contract” (another red flag).  She has contacted many design bloggers with her offer, obviously meant to spread the Flinking name around.  I warned her that there may be negative press in Flink’s future and told her to pass my response on to CEO Anne Crowley and CTO Darren Inksetter.  Recently, I came across Matt Bors blog who also had an exchange with Brenda.  So my warning was ignored and my prediction correct.

So why would I join, submit to, or recommend a new “social network platform” when it’s obviously run by people who just don’t seem to have any respect for me or my profession?  Weeks later, they continue to run their spec work competition and snub the graphic design professionals they sought to participate and spread the word about their “send us free art” scam.  And they don’t care if they get amateur work and they don’t care if people spend hours doing work for nothing. 
Well, I don’t give a flink about them either. I’ll stick with Facebook.

Rant over!

May 26, 2011

Old and Worn is Sometimes Chic

Some things laying around my studio that have developed a nice aged patina.

The Hawaii weather, especially right here next to the ocean, can be ruthless to objects left out in the elements, as the paint job on my Xterra proves.  But sometimes things will seem to look better over time.
Wish I could say the same for humans...  These jugs already had a cracked finish when they were new.  Now they've got a cracked, peeled and chipped finish.

It's odd to see a old time-worn cherub.

I probably should have put this old children's book from 1895 in plastic years ago.
My personal brooding gargoyle figurine was given by a good friend many years ago and he's been perched next to my desk ever since.

May 04, 2011

A couple old cartoons I did years ago turned up on Facebook. These were of the band "August" that I was doing lighting for back in the early 80's. As a road crew member, I had drawn 5 cartoons in 5 years starting in 1979 to be used to market the band.
August rocked the Boston area and the tumbling Marshall cabinets behind them were to illustrate the band's power.

The members changed a bit over the years. Guitarist Dave Amato shown in these first two cartoons moved on after the 1980 cartoon above and now plays for REO Speedwagon. The band was carrying on as a trio in the 1981 cartoon below. I gave drummer Louie Santoro a couple of "morning star" clubs to pound his drums with.

The late great bassist Jamie Pease is in all 5 cartoons as well as front-man guitarist Jimmy D'angelo.

Jimmy D is a living legend in the Boston area and in the 1982 cartoon they had picked up guitarist Scott Hanley.

The 1983 cartoon shows Jeff Houck on guitar and Dave Balcom on drums. Jimmy and Dave are still together in a band.

That same year, I had my first published cartoon in an international magazine. It was a cartoon for Elliot Easton of The Cars who had been writing a column for Guitar World magazine. It showed Elliot playing chess with his guitar. These early published pieces led me to realize how much fun it would be to make a living doing art and cartoons.
The energy of these musician friends was so inspirational to me and I love them for that. There were wild times, lots of laughing and, yes, hefty doses of debauchery, but there was also creativity, risk-taking and the thrill that came from the anticipation of potentially reaching success, wealth and fame.

Here's a watercolor drawing of Jimmy D'angelo from around 1980 that I may have gone a little over the top with. But to his credit Jimmy has a great sense of humor and still has it framed on his wall. Jimmy D is still the quintessential rocker.

I think I even found the photos of Jimmy that I used as reference. Keep on rockin', JD!