There's a single basic premise for the imagery in Invocation of the Seraph, which is that pain can guide us toward meaningful revelations in life. That theme began in the previous piece, Pillars of Affliction, and this is a direct extension of it here. So, I'll talk a bit about the pain part of the equation for this one and then talk about some of the meaningful revelations.
Side note: there's more info on the life circumstances that inspired this art in my post for Pillars of Affliction. I'll briefly recap by saying that a complex situation with my mouth and jaws involving facial reconstructive surgery and mountains of dental work spurred a deep existential crisis in my life, and since the summer of 2021 I have been motivated by a constant emotional awareness of just how brief and tenuous our lives and healthspan can be.
I began work on Invocation of the Seraph immediately after recovering from my first jaw surgery in 2022. Two specific things I want to touch on here are the symmetry of the piece and the inspiration for the central female figure, the seraph.
First, the symmetry.
Early on in this process I had discussions with doctors about leaving my teeth and jaws as they were instead of moving forward with the shockingly expensive and years-long process of surgeries etc. As I'd been told elsewhere, however, doing nothing would inevitably lead to debilitating jaw pain which would leave me with lifelong difficulties speaking and eating, as well as the loss of all my teeth. Also, because of the severe imbalance of my bite, doing full implant dentures to correct the misalignment of my jaws wasn't possible. So once my teeth fell out, I would simply be toothless and forced to endure chronic jaw pain.
So there really wasn't much of an option at all except to find a path forward with the surgeries, orthodontics etc., which honestly didn't sound much more appealing to me at the time. Plus, due to bone and gum loss around the roots of my teeth, it wasn't a guaranteed resolution either.
So the symmetry of this piece really represents the illusion of choice and the knowledge that either path was going to be difficult and painful. The fact that each of the seraph's outstretched hands hold a skull symbolizes how deeply these circumstances had brought my own mortality and health into focus for me.
This all sounds rather bleak, but I share this in order to emphasize that there has been a significant upside to all of this for me. In spite of – or perhaps just due to – the increasing difficulties I was experiencing in eating, speaking, and even sleeping without discomfort and awkwardness, I continued to find meaning in the fear and pain. I was pushing myself to read and learn each day and and implementing new, healthier habits in my life. I was developing a stronger sense of self-reliance and refining my ability to focus and be efficient. I'd dramatically changed my diet while shifting my lifelong love of weightlifting to a broader and healthier interest in overall fitness, and I continued to dig deeper into a meditation practice that was beginning to bear fruit in surprising and wonderful ways.
And most notably, at the time I made Invocation of the Seraph, I was also feeling the spark of spirituality for the first time in my life.
The seraph is therefore meant to bear semblance to a religious figure, an angel of sorts. She strides calmly forward with hands outstretched as if bringing peace or salvation, but does so in the form of visions of death. Her mouth is covered to reflect the uncertainty of the outcome of my surgeries.
I wanted there to be a sense of peace about her, as the visions of my own waning mortality I've experienced have truly been a blessing in my life.
Other imagery here is less specific but also a bit more obvious, for example the jawless figures on either side of the seraph and the row of heads along the bottom follow similar themes as I discussed in Pillars of Affliction, and represent the pain and discomfort of the various procedures I was moving through, as well as just general day-to-day living.
All this of course is wrapped up in the usual blend of visual influences from comic books, metal music, horror movies, and '90s era video games.
Side note: I'm a fan and follower of the Rich Roll podcast, and I've heard Rich say that pain is the only thing that ever motivated change or progress in his life. I believe that's true for most people, and for better or worse, it's certainly been true for me. The upswing of course is that the deeper the pain, the more profound the change.
I'm going to forego the usual description of the literal process for these pieces going forward, as they're essentially all the same: pencil>ink>Photoshop color, and I've covered that ground several times in past posts. Instead, I'll just chat briefly about specific things I wanted to focus on or tried to accomplish with each one.
Reflecting on pieces like Gaia and Unleashing the Cataclysm, I felt the art was too cartoonish with lots of friendly, rounded lines. On Pillars of Affliction I had started trying to make my lines more angular and jagged, but with mixed results. I felt it really started to come through on Invocation of the Seraph however, and I think it gives the art a more serious, gritty character.
It's hard to tell in digital photos, but there is also more detail per square inch packed into this one than on past drawings. I find that to be a really fascinating aspect of drawing, which is that the better a person gets, the smaller and tighter their drawings can become. If you look at really incredible pen and ink illustrators they're fitting an enormous amount of detail into drawings that are about the size of a napkin. I have a very long ways to go on that journey, but I can see the progression from something like Symbiotic to this one, and from this one to the art I'm currently doing pencils and inks for.
Another thing I pushed myself on with Invocation of the Seraph is adding more texture to the color. Instead of just using gradients and lassos to do 90 percent of the work, this one is predominately gradients and brushes (all still in Photoshop), often using the dodge and burn tools, which I had honestly never touched before. So if you look at details of this one the color has a granite-like texture instead of the completely smooth textures of past pieces. Still have a lot to learn and grow into with this approach, but I'm already much happier with the result.
Alright, that's all I have for this one. I've been quiet on this blog recently but I've still been chipping away at art consistently and have color finished for the next two art pieces after this one. Be on the lookout for those, I will be sharing posts about them in the near future.
Also, totally unrelated but fun side note: I recently learned that there's a name for the type of content I make in my art – cosmic horror. This particular type of horror embraces unknown worlds and creatures from other dimensions, focusing on a sense of intrigue over gore or shock value, and that feels much more fitting for the blend of sci-fi/fantasy/horror art I'm making than any other label I was aware or prior to now.
Cosmic horror apparently has its roots in Lovecraftian horror, which also makes sense for me. I've specifically been using tubes and wires as tentacle-like objects in these drawings and thinking of them as organic extensions of whatever they're attached to, like symbiotic organisms on alien lifeforms. And one other cool thing: I saw a list of cosmic horror movies and it listed the 1982 version of The Thing, which I adored as a kid (even though it scared the shit out of me) and I have often cited that movie as a big influence on my art.
So, there you go. Plenty more cosmic horror coming from me soon.