Category Archives: Best Works

Turning Tumbleweeds: Coming Soon

Promo Poster

Here is the promo poster I created for my group’s Western Murder Mystery, “Turning Tumbleweeds”.

A major part of the work that went into this poster was primarily finding a working title for the show itself. I had colored and edited the images and worked out the wording of everything else the day before my group had settled on a title for the show. Once the title was chosen, I had to rearrange the phrases and titles to make it look appealing at all angles. I put special focus into making sure there was enough balance in the color as well as the wording so that the important parts stuck out from a distance, but the whole poster was legible and easy to follow up close.

Personally I’m very excited for the prospect of making this radio show come to life, but we still have lots to work out. The title and poster is only the beginning!

Quote the Raven

This is a westernized reading of “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe in accordance with this assignment, which asks us to read something with this accent. Hopefully I don’t sound too southern in the mix. Sometimes I get carried away.

Putting this together was an adventure. I had to reread this a lot of times and cut it down significantly while editing so it wouldn’t run for more than a couple minutes. I only took three stanzas of the whole poem to read aloud. After I finally got a good reading into Audacity, I downloaded some sounds from Freesound and mixed it in to give more of an ambiance behind the reading.

Overall I think it worked out nicely. I love this poem, and I wouldn’t have associated it with western themes of any kind, so changing it up like this was a cool way to alter a classic.

Brown Eyes in a Dusty Dawn

Vision

This photo came out of an assignment that encouraged you to show what someone saw through the reflection of their eye. I used the prompt to work my character Danny Keys into this assignment. He likes to sit outside and look out at the little town in which he now resides. It’s a dusty little place, but not without its charm.

This assignment was fairly easy, despite its four star rating. The photos were quick to find, since I already had a good idea of what I wanted out of it. I used my favorite photo editing software, Paint.NET, to place the image of a western town into the eye. I wish I could have pulled out more of the actual color of the eye behind the image, but I wanted to make sure that the town was visible enough to spot easily.

Oceans Away

Color Change

This assignment prompted you to change the hue of a photo to make a new world. This photo came out surprisingly well when I altered the hue. The original colors were so clearly defined that the new ones blended in as though they were natural to the scene. So, once I chose this color scheme to use, I decided it looked something like the skies of another planet, the shores of an island millions of miles away. Perhaps the greenish-yellow waters erode away rocks that eventually grow pale upon their exposure to their home star. The purple trees on this island are just a part of the vegetation that feeds the lives that thrive on the planet. It’s a surreal world.

In order to create this image, I took an old photo of my own and changed the hue level in paint.NET. Here’s the original:

blue skies over a little rocky harbor

This activity was fairly simple and quite enjoyable. Once you’ve found a picture that has a smooth color transition in the hue change, you can find something truly beautiful. I took some time figuring out what hue I wanted; they ranged from red waters and blue rocks to green rocks and orange waters. I didn’t want it to look too eerie, so I went with a milder purple and yellow-green color scheme. It reminds me of what a world might look like with a different atmosphere, and so I thought it might look better than a suspiciously red sea.

I love how the colors turned out, and again, I am deeply surprised by how smoothly the hue changed overall. With such a simple tweak, I managed to create a whole different island.

A Southern Key

I’ve never seen bluer skies than when I went south to Virginia. As soon as I stepped off the train into that hot summer evening, I saw a matted jewel surrounding this earth, glorious and bright, just short of glimmering. Even as we entered the car and even our hotel, I couldn’t stop gazing at it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shade of blue that brilliant before in my life. And as the sun receded into the horizon, the colors only blossomed into still more incredible shades and hues. I admit, I was smitten.

In the dark, my concert mates and I spent an awfully long time drinking expensive variations of wines that I couldn’t name if I wanted to. I prefer a heartier drink myself, but of course we didn’t venture to find anything less than the forty dollar bottles offered to us by the richest hotel in the state. I drank a bit, sitting alone and gazing at the quiet, mute sky. I wondered what other colors painted the skies of the South.

One of my dear friends Ethan Caldwell, a violinist, sat beside me after he noticed my solitude. “More wine?” He offered the bottle to me, grinning. “This one came off of Thomas Jefferson’s own Monticello. Can you believe that? A drink practically from our founding fathers!”

I did my best to look like I had more interest in the wine than I actually did, taking the bottle and looking idly at the label. “Really?” I asked, but probably not in the right tone of pure wonder.

Ethan took the bottle back and poured some into my still-half-full glass. “Yes, really. It’s an excellent quality. Smell it – you’re practically sitting beside Jefferson, accompanying his own violin when you do.”

The wine smelled exactly like what I find other wines to smell like. Fruity, bitter, watery. “Did Jefferson play the violin?” I asked, looking at him sideways as I took a sip. It tasted like it smelled.

“Every self-respecting gentleman played the violin back then,” he replied, waving off the question as though it were a trivial matter. “Anyway, come and join us at the table. You look miserable.”

I don’t like to argue, and I was especially not in the mood for it just then. The wine was not helping, either; I admit I like to get more drunk with less of a headache the day before a show. So I joined them around the tables as they chatted and laughed and drank. After a few minutes of that, I abandoned my drink in favor of setting myself at the grand piano in the restaurant. It was beautiful, old, just a bit dusty and out of tune. Without a word I started playing a few simple tunes to warm up. The others continued their banter, paying no mind.

After a few minutes, I was halfway through one of our pieces. “Ethan,” I called, gesturing for him to come over and listen. He made his way around the table and leaned against the piano, grinning. He knew what I was up to. “Listen to this. I’ve been practicing something new—“

“A new trick?” he asked, still with that knowing grin.

“Just listen.” I began playing, taking one of my pieces and cutting its timing a bit. I liked the feel of a quicker beat, one that went a bit against the grain for a concert pianist. Once I finished, I paused and looked at him. “What do you think?”

He took a thoughtful gulp of his drink. “I think,” he started finally, “if you played like that tomorrow then we’d be chased out of town before you could finish.”

“It’s just a small change. It sounds more modern, don’t you think?” I protested.

“Our itinerary has classics, Daniel, not silly jives. People want to listen to a concert, not get up and dance around to it.”

I didn’t argue any further. He was right, after all; no one who would step into our concert hall tomorrow evening would want to hear anything that they haven’t already heard. That would be blasphemous, surely.

*          *          *

The next night, after our concert was a roaring success, after it moved the crowd in ways that were unimaginable, I went out alone to find a bar or something, somewhere to appreciate a bit of peace. The sky was alight with hues of pink and orange, even as the sun had ducked away. I wandered until it was nearly dark and I found a small bar hidden away in the middle of the street. Inside were men laughing and drinking and singing – working men who had just finished a long day. At the piano sat a stout, older man, with sleeves rolled up and a hat set askew, hammering away at the keys in a manner I didn’t think was possible.

I bought a drink and watched the bar pianist play away. He had so much energy, so much style. I couldn’t believe it sounded any better than the discordant smashing of keys, with the way his hands moved. He didn’t miss a beat, and as soon as he finished one song someone called for him to play another, and no matter what the request was, he was at it again, giving them what they wanted to hear. Even if it was the same song four times in a row.

After a while I made my way over to the piano, eventually leaning against it a bit. The pianist was taking a break, drinking a beer that someone had bought for him. He smiled and winked at me. “You’ve been real stuck in this piano,” he said with a low, gravelly voice. “You play yourself?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, not really sure what to say. After hearing that man play, I felt like I was six again, hearing my teacher explain to me what the different chords were for the first time.

He slid to one side of the bench and gestured for me to join him, smiling with the enthusiasm and kindness of a grandfather. Hesitantly, I joined him, setting my drink on top of the worn out little piano. He took another long drink and watched me expectantly. “Go ahead and play a tune for us, son,” he prompted gently.

I shifted uncomfortably. “I’m afraid I only know classical tunes,” I murmured. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of music any of you folks would care to hear.”

“Well, what’s say I accompany you, then?” he offered, beaming with a look I couldn’t possibly describe, though I suppose something similar to encouragement was in his eyes.

Again, I hesitated. I’d been playing all evening for a crowd of thousands, yet I felt like I knew nothing, couldn’t get a tune out if you tried to choke it out of me. But I didn’t want to disappoint this man. I sat up and placed my hands on the keys. “Uh, do you know Pachabel’s Canon in D?” I asked, though I felt foolish doing so.

He shrugged and smiled. “Go ahead,” he replied, settling on the keys further down the board.

I began playing, and not four bars in he joined me with a ragtime accompaniment that sounded like he’d known the song backwards and forwards. Every note I hit had another sound beneath it, one that my instincts said would ruin such a classic, but which sounded too good to resist enjoying. I hadn’t enjoyed playing music that much since I’d played the piece for the first time. Once it was over, I just looked at the man in awe.

Someone shouted the name of a song I’d never heard of before. The pianist started on it immediately and that group of men cheered for it.

“How long have you been playin’, son?” he asked me.

“Oh, since I was six,” I replied timidly. Didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment next to this guy. “What about you?”

“I can’t remember not playing,” he said with a grin of pure pride. “We had an old keyboard like this one in my home. The only one in the neighborhood. I played for the church and here and there once I got old enough.”

“What are you doing in a place like this, if you have so much experience?” It sounded rude, putting it out there like that, but I couldn’t figure out how this old pianist wasn’t touring Europe with his skill.

He shrugged and smiled. “I took some lessons a while back, probably when I was your age,” he explained slowly, his fingers dancing across the keys, “but I couldn’t deal with all those rules you boys up in the concert hall have. ‘Sides, who would play this poor old thing if every guy like me was working like you do?”

I was baffled. How could someone who played so well be satisfied sitting in a bar like this, playing to a bunch of shouting drunks? Surely he didn’t get paid a fraction of what his skill was worth.

But then, I felt as though I knew exactly what the reason really was. He had what I wanted, what every musician or artist wanted.

“Could- could you possibly show me how to play like that?” I asked, nervous and anxious about his response. “Not right now, of course. But if I –“

“Sure, we could play a little right now,” he replied, moving effortlessly down a couple octaves without interrupting the music for a moment. “No one’s gonna mind a bit more music. Here, just follow my lead.”

I could barely keep track of his hands, let alone follow his lead. There was no sheet music, no guidance whatsoever. “What are you doing, exactly?” My heart was pounding; I couldn’t keep up if I tried. He was everywhere.

“Just listen, son,” he said, once again in that grandfatherly way. “Play along until it feels right and sounds good. It’s all right if you go about it slow.”

I played for hours that night. No guidance, no rules. He would play a song and I would imitate him, counter him, go against his beat. And if it sounded good, he would smile and praise me. If it sounded bad, he would tell me what key to hit instead. All my years of classical training didn’t come close to the amount of music I learned on that piano.

*          *          *

I quit my job after that concert series ended, decided to learn more about the piano on my own. I travelled around the South for a couple of years, meeting the best pianists around, playing with them for a while and then moving on. I didn’t stick around for too long, since being a “damn Yankee” made it hard to find some real work, especially on a piano. I still had a lot to learn.

I went out West after that to see if I could find some new teachers in some other towns. I didn’t expect to go as far as I did, but once I settled into Heatherton I opted to stay for good. I would have liked to learn more from the South than I did before leaving, but I have yet to use another sheet of music to learn a song out here. I’m not the best, but just as long as I get to play it doesn’t matter. I’ve got years to improve.

__________

So here’s the “origin story” of Danny Keys. I took this prompt in order to explore his character more, since he’s still brand new. I thought doing a background story could be a great way to round him out more. Danny is kind of a narrative character, so he doesn’t mind telling the tale himself. He likes to talk about himself.

This story ran a bit long for just background, but I really enjoyed the writing process. I’m a bit of a sucker for narratives, especially when I get to be the character I’m writing about for a brief moment. I didn’t have much time to revise any of its content, since I was in a bit of a rush to get it posted, but hopefully there aren’t any glaring errors.

It’ll be exciting to see where Danny ends up next.

Paper Riders

Sticky Note Animation

Welcome to a tiny bull chase, featuring two inked-in cowboys and a round little bull. This GIF assignment, which has you draw an animation sticky note style and convert it into a GIF, gave room for plenty of creativity. In my own version, I wanted to capture something like the cowboy’s biggest issue in the Wild West — keeping the cattle calm and in line with one another. Moving them across the wide regions of the southwest to the railroads up north was dangerous, and the effort and risk necessary to do it made for great stories. Chasing down the loose cattle and making sure nothing else went wrong was a real struggle. I made an effort to capture a simplified version of this kind of scene in my sticky note animation, which was a lot of fun to create! It was also a lot of editing, picture-taking, and GIF-creating which my computer admittedly did not enjoy as much.

The assignment prompt’s request was simple, and despite my limited understanding of GIFs and photo editing, I really wanted to try it out. After putting together this simple little western-inspired scene on my sticky notes, I had to take pictures. The sticky notes were all too happy to curl up at the bottom, hence the pencil in each shot (sorry, I know it looks a little messy). Once I got the notes under control and the camera settings just right, I had to switch out the scenes shot-by-shot without moving the camera around too much. Almost everything shifted between each picture.

So, once I uploaded all of the photos, I had to adjust and crop them so that they aligned better. This probably took the longest — mostly because my computer was not happy with me trying to move and save photos all within the same Paint.Net document. Once all of that was complete, I had to switch over to a GIF-making program. After extensive research, I used GIMP according to the how-to guide this course’s handbook graciously provided. It was a long and confusing process, but I came out knowing a lot more about GIFs than I thought I ever could.

This process was a great learning experience, and aside from trying to navigate programs for the first time, it was a great deal of fun.

Clint Pixelwood

Pixelwood

Everyone, meet Clint Pixelwood, a pixel rendition of one of Clint Eastwood’s most famous Western images. I made Mr. Pixelwood during the completion of an assignment that encouraged the making of a pixel image with only a 16×16 resolution. Since I’ve never made pixel art before, this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I don’t know much about shading and colors in such limited space, but I think Pixelwood came out pretty well. I used Paint.Net, which is a free drawing program that allows the use of layers and editing tools, though its brush functions are limited. I had to resize it in MS Paint in order to prevent it from getting fuzzy around the edges of the pixels.

In order to create my image, I referenced this photo of Clint Eastwood:

Eastwood

This photo is iconic to me, and since the assignment prompt encourages you to put as much detail in the limited space as possible, I figured what better way to test the limits of my abilities than to use an actual photo, background and all? Despite not being able to recreate his facial expression, I’m pretty proud of what came out of the assignment. I learned that pixel art has everything to do with colors, less so with shapes and lines.

Clint Eastwood had a big impact on Western film (and on film in general). I admire the work he’s done as an actor and director, and his older films are still incredibly enticing to watch. The image that I attempted to pixelate is from his iconic role in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The image alone speaks volumes of his character and of how Western film is remembered — rugged, rough, dirty, and quiet. The very essence of this image is difficult to describe, but it is certainly fun to rework.