Book Cover, Art, and All Things Fencing Considered.

Since my last entry, I've been a bit busy trying to catch up to things so bear with me for this is a bit of a long one. To start off, I wanted to bring up news on my book cover on "Welcome To The Apocalypse" by Cullen Nolan, or should I say Phoenix Tree Publishing. His graphic designer Russ Mcintosh managed to complete the layout design for the front cover and made some interesting additions to complement my work. It can be seen at Cullen's recent blog entry.

His book should be made available for Amazon Kindle as an e-book as well as paperback via print by demand. So for those who are into post-apocalyptic tales such as 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, and so on, should be encouraged to look into it. I think it's great that he's got his second book published and will probably be looking to do more of it in the future.

Last month, I travelled to my home town in Cleveland, Ohio for a little vacation ( which was long overdue ) to catch up with family and other people, as well as places. I managed to drive through from Vermont to Ohio away from hurricane Sandy and stayed in Pepper Pike on the east side of town, just in time. I was grateful for the hospitality from my friend Allan and his girlfriend who lives there letting me stay there for a week.

The first thing I did was to tour around at the Cleveland Institute of Art where I studied years ago and due to the fact they were undergoing major renovations in the Joseph McCullough building ( aka The Factory ). Some of the classrooms got moved around especially the Illustration department which surprised me. There were some updates to certain offices and changes in the floor plans which was like a maze in the McCullough building.

The University Circle area really changed much to the fact that there is now a new MOCA Gallery right by the school instead of downtown. MOCA Cleveland now has a brand new building which is a large gem-stone like construct which information can be found in the link relating to their building on their website. Very impressive, I must say. I did'nt have a chance to go inside, though because of time constraints due to the tour and that I needed a lunch break at the University Circle Coffeehouse, formerly known as Arabica Coffee. That place is such a classic and a gem, having used to hang there for years since it's a two floor cafe with plenty of space to sit around at. Although, there was plenty of rain that week.

I did drive past the Cleveland Museum of Art's renovated space but did'nt go in, either. Although, one can find information in the admissions and hours section and view photos of the new look. It's beautiful and finally has an indoor atrium for the food court, where in contrast to the old days, it was an outdoor garden court to eat at. A lot of the places have undergone some construction changes besides that building and they added a new shopping plaza near the art school with the Uptown Project. It's very interesting.

For a long time, I've wondered about a Dr. Sketchy's, founded by prominent illustrator Molly Crabapple and A.V. Phibes, and how it was like, compared to a standard life drawing classes with live models that I've attended over the years. I know Vermont has one branch in the White River Junction area but it was far off over the other side of the mountains which would be a pain to get to, considering where I'm located at. Oddly, I had the idea of doing this first BEFORE they did that, although I can see why they chose White River Junction, VT due to being close to the New Hampshire border and that the Center for Cartoon Studies is right there for better exposure to a large body of artists. I would have to say there is a better location for it, but I'd rather keep mum about it.

And it so happens that when I stumbled across a Cleveland branch of Dr. Sketchy's on Facebook, it was run by at least two artists, one whom was an alumni of the Cleveland Institute of Art by the name of Jason Tilk. I figured I'd join the group in advance prior to my trip so that I could attend it. I introduced myself to the group and got information where to go. It was fortunate timing that when I got there, it fell on the night after I arrived in town. It turned out to be at Beachland Ballroom where in the empty ballroom before the stage sits a large raised square shaped platform with props and a chair for the model. Chairs surrounded the platform where some artists have begun to arrive. I knew none of them except for Jason who I recognized and introduced myself to. It turned out that he has travelled around Vermont with his motorcycle which was an interesting revelation.

The Dr Sketchy's session which took about two hours was fascinating and a lot of fun, giving me valuable insight in how it actually works, especially now I understand what goes on in the Vermont branch. It was a pretty good sized group of creatives sketching away and drinking. Drinking and drawing, that is. It was a good time.

Then, I did a bit of catching up with some family and also my old martial arts instructor whom I have'nt seen in almost twenty years ( he actually fenced in the old days in Hungary before he taught Jiu Jitsu ). His class taught the application of self defense when a person ends up in a bad situation in the streets relating to physical confrontations or de-escalating conflicts with increased awareness around you. And no matter how much of a "paradise" your city is, where-ever it may be, you can never afford to be complacent with your guard down. Even if it's a small town or out in the woods. And that becomes a reality when one travels in a downtown area where you may end up in a dangerous situation. No matter how "safe" the city is, never let your guard down and hope that you never ever have to experience encounters in the streets. Or anywhere.

Entering the dojo, it was all silent with no one inside, with some rain outside pelting away at the windows, except for one elderly man in the far corner at his desk working away. He glanced up, somewhat recognizing me as I did the customary dojo japanese bow as we've done years ago. It was my old sensei/instructor Frank Kovacs. Walking towards him, I sat down and we started chatting away.

But then, with the corner of my eye, I noticed the masks and fencing blades hung up on the wall and it hit me that I really never thought much of this before until now. But these days, now that I've been taking up fencing, it occured to me that my transition from Jiu Jitsu to Fencing was natural and that within the shadows of my mind over the years, that image of the fencing mask and blade in that dojo, provided a sense of hint and direction of what I was to do, had I moved on from my days in martial arts. Such affirmation.

Things came full circle as I conversed with Soke ( or sensei ) Frank Kovacs, 10th Dan black belt for a while. He may be elderly these days but he's got some good people running the classes for him. He's still standing strong. There's a bit of info on his history with Minna Jiu Jitsu he founded. Nothing but respect.

Near the end of that week, on a Friday night, after checking out the alumni art show at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I drove to the west side to Loren Naji Gallery. Having known about this show in advance on their home page, it was called "Life & Death in Black & White" illustration show curated by Marty Geramita and James "Human Furnace" Bulloch.

The second I walked in the gallery, I was "home". Literally.

That show was bad ass with such fantastic black and white illustrations in ink. It's a form of Dark Art that relates to the concept of Life and Death but also some of the artists in the show had done illustrations for heavy metal bands or magazines of that genre. One of the best shows I've seen in a long time. It resonated with me.

HomeFront of Loren Naji GalleryCrowd is gathering. The girl in the mohawk was the model for one of the pieces by Bulloch from our small conversation.

One of the CIA alumni, whom I'm acquainted with online and met for the first time in person was Steve Knerem, who had a piece in there on the wall. He did some work for GoMedia and other clientele, especially Lamb of God, which he did a piece for. It was great to talk to him.

I even came across an old familiar face by the name of Derek Hess, a prominent local artist, who was followed around by his dog Jose. We chatted for a bit as I managed to take pics of the dog and him. Jose always goes to every art show he attends.

Derek Hess and Jose

I then bumped into Marty Geramita, who was the curator of the show and we spoke for a bit and whom I have'nt seen in almost ten years since his days at the defunct 1300 Gallery besides Hess. Another piece of revelation came up that he used to do a show with JDK Design of Burlington, VT about a decade ago, to my surprise. Small world, indeed. After we concluded our chat, I bought a limited print of the show's poster which was on very thick paper for a great deal.

Life & Death in Black & White show poster

It is actually beautifully done. To my understanding, that show is supposedly touring around the USA and Boston is apparently one of the cities nearby. So those in the area, check it out!

And lastly, to cap off my vacation, the night after I had an excellent time at Loren Naji Gallery and La Cave Du Vin, I finally had the chance to check out Hooked On Fencing that weekend. Two years ago, I did'nt have that opportunity due to a tight schedule. This time, however, by advance notice of emailing the maestro Walt Dragonetti, a veteran to the sport, I got an invite and permission to drop by for open fencing for about two hours. I found my way to the west side or North Royalton, to be precise with my GPS and lo and behold, there it was. Even my cousin dropped by to watch me fence. Hooked on Fencing is strictly an Epee only salle which means it specializes only that particular weapon of choice.

Fencing masks and jackets neatly organized

Hooked on Fencing with metal strips on the floor

And here is a photo ( seen above ) showing the interior of HOF where one can see a few strips in metal and some with tape. It was sophisicated that it had electronic scoring machines on both sides of the wall facing each fencer with wired reels suspended from the ceiling to hook up to the weapons. It was a very enlightening experience and especially fencing on metal strip was a revelation to me. Now I understood what it was like for fencers to compete on such elaborate metal strips in professional level tournaments in the Nationals or higher. Most of the local tournaments I competed in mostly had strips done with tape on the gym floor. In Vermont, we don't have an actual salle like HOF due to budget constraints, unfortunately.

I enjoyed fencing some of his students ranging from teenagers to adult veterans older than me. One guy, in particular, with such irony, used to live in my old neighborhood, graduating from Brush High School in 1988. One of the assistant coaches/instructors said to me that if I ever travel back to Cleveland, I'd be welcome to drop by there again. A class act. It was good thing it was free when it came to open fencing on that day and it was always like that, although most of the time it's paid course. It's even more interesting to note that at least two people from HOF actually travelled to Fort Ticonderoga, next to Vermont a few years ago for an outdoor Epee tournament.

Then of course, after all that was done, I headed back to the house to freshen up to see my old classmates for a couple hours at a restaurant. Then, I managed to meet Erin, another fencer living in my hometown, who is from Vermont and fenced under my coach/instructor some years back.

Small world, indeed, once again.

We met up at an excellent place called Bier Markt which serves wonderful belgian beer, along with her friends. She kept clamoring when I was to be in Cleveland for some time and so, there I was. They had Bar Centro in the front and Bier Markt was the centrifuge of it all, but coolest of all was the Speakeasy bar downstairs in the basement level which we went into. It was swank and beautifully constructed, but the theme of Prohibition Era was true because Al Capone ran business in Cleveland back in the old days of La Costra Nostra. And so, that was the idea behind the Speakeasy bar.

Classy with plenty of space to go around.

I'm sure, someday, we'll both be crossing blades. We all had a nice time at Bier Markt chatting away for a while. It was a good vacation to be had.

And since having returned back to Vermont, I'm currently working on a private commission for a good friend of mine who knows a bass guitarist for a local band as a gift. That is expected to be completed soon this month and framed. This one is going to be a fun piece to do to play a bit with some mythology. I can't say much about it but will have pictures of it in the near future. I also have some more ideas for other projects to explore on which I'll touch on as well.

Until then, en guarde!