Tag Archives: Artwork

Blood, Bones, and Brushstrokes: A Review of Daniele Serra’s Veins and Skulls

Veins and Skulls, Daniele Serra’s beautiful, dark, and hauntingly surreal study on the complex layers of the human condition, is both a visual and emotional masterpiece. From cover to cover, this book is a stunning display—a gorgeous publication in which one could easily be lost for hours upon hours, again and again, finding threads and ties that bind each theme to its respective imagery.

As Jeff Mariotte says in the introduction, Serra “opens our hearts to the suffering of others… By showing us his dark side, he makes us feel better about our own. Precious humanity is his gift, and we, viewing his art, are the lucky recipients.”

Serra’s graceful artwork translates seamlessly onto the page. The watercolor feel and texture from his canvas is captured in consistent somber hues that lure the viewer in by becoming, for lack of a better word, familiar. Perhaps this lends itself to Serra’s evident connection to us all; as humans, as artists, as lovers of dark beauty and concepts and imagery which might be deemed taboo by others who do not share our fascination with grimness and morbidity. Or rather, it might be his innate ability to understand what it takes to truly draw us into his art: finding a way to connect—to make us want to keep searching, feeling, dreaming—losing ourselves in these portraits and landscapes to interact with and imagine what lies beyond with infinite possibilities left unsaid by his brushstrokes. These are not still-lifes, sculptures, or conceptual art forms we are seeing here—they are essences, ideas, specters and shadows—they are places to which we are transported and presences we need to understand more about on a profound and unsettling level.

Yet in all its macabre gloom, Serra’s artwork is delicate, elegant, and strangely comforting. His lines are soft and fluid, lending themselves to the feminine forms and erotic undertones he showcases in the first two parts of the book. The depth Serra creates on an artistic level is exquisite; particularly in Part One, where many of the figures are set against a backdrop of some sort and successfully convey varying layers of perception. But the depth is also one which transcends space and reaches an intimate, emotive level where the figures and images have no borders, no boundaries—no definitive meanings or messages, nothing blatant to be gleaned. They are black veiled allusions to the most organic of elements—Water, Breath, Seeds—to arcane notions such as Love and Goodbye.

Serra’s erotic pieces in Part Two are reverent and tender tributes to the female form in keeping with those which precede them; yet these are void of the colors, textures, and structures present in the others and direct all attention to the innate but elusive dichotomy of the female body—and perhaps its very essence. The ability to create life, which is inherently sexual—for one does not exist without the other—and the somewhat alluring, intriguing inevitability of death, as we see portrayed here in Serra’s sensual relationships between voluptuous women and lifeless skulls.

The breathtaking scenic landscapes in Part Three are a perfect way to close. However melancholy, these depictions give way to a rebirth of sorts—a renewed sense of hope—for the viewer. We have seen veins and skulls, blood and dust, life, death, and many unspoken things in between. But Serra leaves us with Light…a sun rising in the distance. This says a great deal not just about the intended journey and evolution of the story told in the illustrations, but perhaps that of the artist himself.

Click for larger images

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Evolution of a Book Cover

Most artists live in the shadows of their work—and few see them.

We have sold thousands of copies of Shock Totem, and one thing we’re consistently complimented on is our cover art. This happens all the time. Think about that. We get complimented for something we did not create. All the time. The artist, for the most part, is ignored.

Sure, someone from Taiwan got on his back a tattoo of a slightly altered version of the cover art for issue #1—which is flippin’ brilliant—but that’s an extreme compliment. How many people have just e-mailed our artists to tell them how great their work is? Few, if any. I’d bet a lot of money on that.

But they tell us. Again, all the time.

Much like the fact that most people don’t understand how much time and effort an author puts into creating his work, I don’t think people understand or appreciate how much goes into creating cover art—or album art, a painting, a cartoon, etc.

On our Facebook page, we have a photo collection called Resonance. In it you’ll find a series of photos that includes numerous drafts of ideas for cover art we didn’t use, as well as early/alternate versions of the cover art we eventually did use. We want people to see part of the process, because it’s a long one that takes a lot of time and hard work.

As mentioned recently, we will soon reissue James Newman’s ode to 80s horror, The Wicked. We commissioned new artwork from Jesse David Young, as well as numerous interior illustrations. This process began back on September 16, 2011. Over six months ago. To give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, I’ve put together a little slideshow which begins with the very first sketch idea and ends with the final product.

(All the artwork was done by Jesse David Young, but the layouts for final three covers shown were done Mikio Murakami, Rex Zachary, and Yannick Bouchard, respectively.)

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Scroll down this page a bit, and on the right sidebar you’ll see a section labeled Artists of the Totem. Below it, links to all the artists that have helped make Shock Totem great. Check them out, hire them—or, at least, if you like their work, let them know.

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The Slushin’ for Nothin’ Blues

“Delay is preferable to error” —Thomas Jefferson

I used that quote in the editorial for issue #2. I should have seen then that I might one day have to quote it again.

Our second issue was delayed. When January of 2010 came around, we found ourselves short of content. Specifically fiction. We finally filled the issue around the end of March, at which point I made the decision to further delay its release until July, so from there we could continue our July/January release schedule.

And we did, for a while. Issue #3 came out in January of 2011, and issue #4 came out in July, right on schedule. And then we hit a wall. The slush pile stopped producing gold. And here we are, once again without enough content for our next issue.

So I’ve made the decision to delay issue #5 until July of 2012. But this time I’m going to be smarter about it.

By the time our belated second issue came out, we were well on our way to filling the next issue, and in the following months we accepted a lot of stories—all of which we put into that third issue, nearly doubling its size. In hindsight, we should have saved a few of those tales for the fourth issue.

But you know what they say about hindsight.

Going back to that second issue, I thought we’d had a hard time finding content because we were still a new publication, that authors weren’t sending us their best work—or any work, for that matter—because they were still unsure about Shock Totem. I see things differently now. Sometimes four months just isn’t long enough to find the right content, at least if we want to keep releasing a magazine that is up to the standards we’ve set with our previous issues.

So hopefully by delaying our next issue, we’ll be finalizing issue #6 when issue #5 comes out next July. That’s the goal, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I just wish I’d figured this out back in July of 2010.

With that said, we do have some content ready for our next issue, and soon we’ll be announcing the overall winning story from this year’s flash fiction contests, which will be featured in issue #5 as well. And how about a peek at the cover?

Can you dig that? I hope so! And how about this…

Before our fifth issue is released, we will be releasing something else: our first non-magazine release. It’ll be a novel, slated for publication in March 2012. We’ll run a contest soon that’ll reveal the name of this novel, but it’ll require some detective work on your part. It should be fun.

Hopefully this will hold everyone over until issue #5 comes out.

You guys have always been great to us, so I thank you for your anticipated patience and understanding. It is very much appreciated.

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Issue #4 Cover Art

Here is the cover art for issue #4.

Please note that this is a low-res version with font added by me and my decidedly unskilled Photoshopping. The final version will of course be much crisper.

Issue #4 should be out very soon! Click here for the table of contents.

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