AI Art Adventures: Thangka Lions

A thangka is a Tibetan religious panting depicting a Buddhist deity or concept. It’s usually done on fabric in bright pigments.

To my surprise, I generated a dozen of these using the following prompt:

Lion, human head of Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, who is credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet in the late Eighties. The character is very similar to that of Berserk, with red monks clothes, extremely detailed digital painting, vibrant colors, in the style of Alena Aenami and Ross Tran.

The first sentence came from a text generator, and the second, was the artistic elaboration of it when I entered that sentence into one of my favorite prompt extenders/art generators, Magic Diffusion.

Songsten Gampo turned out to be an ancient Tibetan king, and Berserk an anime series, but I’ve no idea who the two artists are. Whoever they were, Magic Diffusion made a lot of Buddhist lion entities.

It goes to show you how little I understand this stuff and how much of it, perhaps, is not able to be understood at all.


Elric: Acid, Goth, or Heavy Metal?

[Previous posting on Elric art here.]


A Goth Elric with black nail polish and lipstick. Artist: Jean Bastide

Another way portraits of Elric can classified is by the musical genre they evoke or were influenced by.

Elric was born in 1961 and matured over the decades since, which means his teenage years, the most musically-influenced period of a young person’s life, ran through the 1970s and 80s. These were the eras of, first, the blues-oriented rock of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, then death metal. Some artists have also viewed him through the lens of psychedelia, but IMO this was all wrong. Elric wasn’t about acid and free love and tripping. He was quite clear in his thinking and moral development, unfazed by sexual temptation, and too violently flawed to be a hippy. The 1960s were not his decade. As a character, he was a still a child and not a participant.

Continue reading

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/19/23: Shades of Green


PMS colors, for print ink calculation

Now that Spring is here, it’s entirely appropriate to talk about shades of green, and how they are named.

Pictured above is a set of green PMS colors, once the standard for the printing industry. Basic colors of ink were mixed together to create the colors in the squares, which were referred to by number. This was useful if you were running a two or three-color ink job on a small press. Let’s say it was a poster. The text might be in black, the light tones of the picture in PMS 394, and the darker ones, in PMS 3995. The black would be printed last to create outlines for the artwork. It required a lot of hand-eye coordination to cut gel screens for each ink color to burn the plates, and I’m glad that computerized printing innovations did away with all that.

The PMS colors made lovely artwork though. Printers would carry swatch strips fastened together on one end, so you could spread them out like a Chinese fan and admire the rainbow.

Historically, shades of green ran in cycles. Previous to the 20th century and its chemical advances these were based less on style and more on what was available. Scheele’s green, for example, was a pigment that yielded a rich emerald color in Victorian times that was all the rage, yet the shade fell out of the favor when the dye did, because it contained arsenic that tended to poison its users. (Another reason C. S. Lewis named his Green Witch as he did.)

For the 20th century shades changed more rapidly.

Depression-era pieced quilt

The 1930s were the age of Nile Green, as illustrated in the quilt above.  In the PMS color chart, it corresponds to a more grayed version of PMS 360. It was used in fabric, clothing, kitchen decor and household tools (like the handles of my grandmother’s rolling pin). It was the shade of jadeite glass and Art Decor kitsch.

In the 1940s, darker, muted greens predominated. Not army or military shades, but vegetable ones like kale and spinach. Lighter greens were shades of celery and sage. The mood was serious and subdued.

In the 1950s, with the economy booming again, sweet pastel greens and yellow-greens in clothing, decor, and kitchen appliances became fashionable. Green’s cousins aqua and turquoise proved popular as well.

The 1960s brought psychedelic and acid hues, not the least because of the chemical innovations I talked about previously (and also ones like LSD.) I owned an acid-green Nehru-collared mini-dress that passed from my older cousin to my sister and then to me, a prized possession for a kindergartner. It was the green shade in the middle square of the pic below.

Greens popular in the late 1960s

The 1970s brought Earth shades including the much-maligned Avocado, which was usually paired with Harvest Gold, a belligerent reddish-orange, and shades of brown in home decor. In the middle of the decade colors shifted toward primary hues, including a bright grass green which lasted for a while.

The 1980s brought fluorescent and neon greens and a bright yellowish green like the interior of an avocado rather than its shell. In the 1990s these were joined by shades of kiwi and honeydew and dark industrial greens from the grunge era.

As for the 21st century, I can’t say, since I stopped following trends at that point. But I think 80s and 90s colors are still circulating, if not in the brilliant shades they once had. A grayish, pearly mint green has also become popular.

Shades of paint also vary with the decades, particularly their names. Groovy Green might have been popular in 1969, but in 2023, Jade Apple carries more panache.

A paint name doesn’t necessarily have to describe the color exactly, however. Jade Apple brings to mind a bright but not too bright green shading to the green-yellow side of the spectrum; yet, Goblin’s Eye does the same thing, even though goblins aren’t real. Goblins do, however, conjure up images of Halloween and its bright yellow-green shades, and also of Spiderman’s enemy The Green Goblin, popular in movies from the 2000s and 2010s. So Goblin’s Eye is actually pretty accurate for a certain shade.

I came up with a randomgenned list of shades below, some of which could be only used as paint chip colors (Sporting Landscape) while others could be worked into some picturesque writing ( “… the pale green of a silken chrysalis.” )


Shades of Green

Goblin’s Eye

Sporting Landscape

Russian Sage

Misty Palms

Spanish Islet

Lush Smoothie

French Peridot

Tempered Envy

Electric Emerald

Crushed Spearmint


Chartreuse Bottle

Sapling Essence

Whispering Jade

Touch of Seafoam

Lapping Nile

Elf Green

Jade Apple

Balkan Olive

Bamboo Chalk

Pistachio Whisper

Bottle Lime

Egyptian Spa

Herbal Homestead

Wasabi Glass

Silken Chrysalis

Nori Green

Mint Pesto

Jade Jealousy

Lime Acid

Prairie Spring

Cactus Juicer

Military Cottage

Lunar Dynasty

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/12/23: Dark Acadamia
xxxx(Secret Societies)

The rituals of the secret student society in the movie The Skulls (2000) include dueling with antique pistols in a marble pavilion built especially for that purpose.

 Now let’s get down to what makes a Dark Acadamia setting truly dark: the secret societies!

There are for students, and in the Ivy League schools, for the elitist of the elite. Dartmouth has its Sphinx Society, Princeton its 21 Club, and Yale, the most notorious one of all: The Skull and Bones, thrust into the public eye in the 1980s when it was revealed President George H. W. Bush had been a member and they performed esoteric rituals with, variously, Geronimo’s,  Martin Van Buren’s, or Pancho Villa’s skull. Since then, the society, and others like it, have been tied into conspiracy theories and the Illuminati, generally around the idea that “they” are the ones really in power and don’t want the lowly  “you” to know the truth of that.

The organization, recruitment, activities, and members of these societies vary by school, and their activities and rituals are… well, secret. Many of the oldest, however (we’re talking early 1800s) revolve around death and mortality, with Gothic imagery and even, in the case of Skull and Bones, a clubhouse shaped like an Egyptian tomb. Therefore, it isn’t too hard to speculate they had Freemason roots. It also isn’t too hard, also,  to speculate on connections to the occult.

But, there’s a more mundane, though no less fascinating, explanation. Many of the earliest ones grew out of debate and rhetoric clubs, which relied on the teachings of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato — ancient Greece. Socrates, the first great philosopher, offed himself with hemlock after being accused of corrupting the (male) youth of Athens with his teachings, which his accusers thought showed impiety to the gods: Athens 1, Socrates 0. So naturally, the debating clubs were associated with death, and also rebirth, as the Neoclassical movements were in full swing at the times these first clubs were founded. In a way, Socrates and students were the first college. Debate, philosophy, and rhetoric were given more weight in schools of the 19th century, as they were considered the first steps toward intellectual enlightenment.

A long list of schools and their clubs has been compiled by Wikipedia, and is here.

Need a secret society for your Dark Academia setting?


Dark Academia, Secret Societies

The Plume and Pen Brotherhood

Order of the Lamb’s Mouth

Gold & Ivory Society

The Black Veil

Olde Thunderfellow Club

Fellowship of Providence

Hell’s Alliance

The Stone Wasps

Crown & Bone Covenant

Crookstalk Club

Forancy Club

Pipesmith Gladiators

Belt and Brass Club

Sheath and Stalk Society

League of the Golden Harp

Order of Horn and Fog

The Adder and Amity Archives

The Marchfooters

1959 [Reading Challenge 2023]


by Fred Kaplan
John Wilwy & Sons, Inc., 2009

[ #14  — Article free in ’23: Read a book whose title doesn’t contain “a” “an” or “the.” ]


1959 by Fred Kaplan is a sociopolitical history book about various events of that year that “broke the barriers” and opened up new frontiers in music, media, politics, and even sex. It was an eye-opener to me because I had never heard of any of this stuff, which occurred a few years before I was born.

The birth control pill, for example, came to be because of the efforts of two women, both independently wealthy, who saw their work only come to fruition in their old age. Margaret Sanger and Kathleen McCormick were both women’s rights activists; Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was the genesis of the idea, McCormick the financial backer and supporter. I didn’t think I would enjoy this chapter as much as the others, but I did, because it ran so counter to the narrative I thought I knew – of Big Pharma inventing a drug because there was a demand for it, not two women supporting research into artificial female hormones on their own dime, doing the legwork until the industry giants took an interest in it. (At first, the Pill was marketed as a relief for menstrual miseries.) This chapter was the only one to focus on the achievements of women while all the rest, usual for 1950s America, were about the accomplishments of men.

This isn’t to say, though, that women were entirely absent. The accomplishments of Peggy Guggenheim and Hilla Rebay in getting the Guggenheim Museum built are touched on as well, and in fact they did more to get it built than the man it was named after.

The bulk of the book was, in fact, about the intersection of the music and art worlds, not surprising as the writer is also a jazz blogger. It’s too easy to relate the free-form innovations in jazz music to the wild spatters of Jackson Pollock’s drip canvases; yet the boundary-breaking scales of structures of 1950s jazz also had equivalents in literature (Norman Mailer, the Beat poets) and cinema (John Cassavetes.) Kaplan speckles the chapters with anecdotes of artists, writers, and musicians moving between these worlds, hanging out in coffeehouses together, attending the same parties. The book was perhaps too heavy on jazz music (the author’s specialty) but I didn’t mind, it was interesting to me.

The book is also helped by the structure of its chapters, in which each pivotal event is presented chronologically, in the order it appeared in the year, though within each chapter time hopscotched back and forth from the event’s lead-up to its later impact. Each chapter built on the next, so, by the end when President John F. Kennedy makes his declaration to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, the reader feels that all this has been a narrative buildup to making the impossible, possible, and taking the idea of a new frontier as far as it can go.

I wonder, though, if that narrative is dated already. The book was published in 2009, still a heady, optimistic time, when boundary-smashing was seen as right and good, and still to be expected. From today’s viewpoint of 2023 I wonder if it set off an era that has gone too far, devolving into chaos, violence, and authoritarianism. Perhaps in a few years historians will look at the 1960s in a different light.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/5/23: Dark Acadamia (Schools)

Typical student of Columbia University, 1903

 For some reason, there aren’t as many fictional colleges around as there are cities, states, and countries. Of them, Miskatonic University, H. P. Lovecraft’s creation and the setting for many of his stories, is the best known and detailed, even having a map. (I’d call those stories Dark Academia before the term existed, even though Lovecraft wrote them as contemporary to his time.) C. S. Lewis created a Oxford stand-in called the University of Edgestow for his novel That Hideous Strength, and of course there’s Hogwarts and its more adult cousin, Brakebill University, from the Harry Potter and Magicians magic-learning school series, respectively. I’d say the time is ripe for some more, especially the Ivy League variety.

The American Ivy League schools are a group of eight of the oldest, most respected, and most elite colleges, and to graduate from them means you are truly a part of upper crust and belonging to something larger than yourself. The very names speak of Bluebloods: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth. Why were they called ivy league schools? You’d think it was from the amount of ivy climbing up the centuries-old campus buildings, but there’s another explanation:  the 19th century custom of soon-to-graduates planting ivy around a designated campus building, a ceremony that included speeches given.  The actual term “Ivy League” wasn’t used until the 1930s. The Dark Acadamia aesthetic is mostly based around these schools, with influences from Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinbourgh on the other side of the Atlantic.

Alexander Hall on Princeton University campus. Built in 1894, it’s more Romanesque than Gothic.

I’ve had to good fortune to visit several of these prestigious schools: Oxford, Yale, and Princeton; one  Christmas, I attended the Princeton Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker at Alexander Hall, above. One of my father’s most prized photographs was one of Albert Einstein in his alumni cap and robe in procession to a graduation ceremony, a year or so before he died. Whenever we drove past the campus, family members always pointed out to be his (rather modest) clapboard house, while telling me it belonged to the smartest man in the world. Fun family factoid: one of my maternal aunts, who was then employed as a nurse in NYC, gave Albert Einstein a sponge bath when he was hospitalized for some illness.

Need a college for your Dark Academia setting? Here’s a few.


Dark Academia, Colleges and Universities

Anedyne Medical School

Barvane College

College of Candier Major

College of Pounchestor

Daunton School of Business

Emerling College

Glenbury College

Grendel University

University of Kessington

King’s College of Richpike

Ludfields Medical School

Mircestor School for Business Science

Morin University

Mystington University

Pelmont Law School

Peranier University

Pildam University

University of Pontishead

Queenslocke University

University of Questwich

Saffborne College

Tellmont College

University of Thursthead

Vanderstrad University

Vineborough University

Worsett Institute of Technology

Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/29/23: Dark Academia
xxxx(Campus Locations)

Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The quintessential Dark Academia setting. (The rounded hexagonal stars at the top are windows, not occult symbols.)

Dark Academia is one of those -punk subgenres/aesthetic styles, but without the punk in its name. It deals with, basically, anything you’d see at the site of a old, respectable university in Europe or the U.S. — a library full of weighty tomes and classic literature, old money, gothic architecture, dark wood, leather seats, well-kept secrets. I would call it Hogwarts + Goth, as the aesthetic came into its own during the heyday of the Harry Potter movies, shortly before that cinematic universe drewto  ts close. Also like Harry Potter, it leans into the years 1930 – 1959, before the social and intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, which “ruined” it forever.

In fantasy literature, it truly blossomed with Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House urban fantasy thriller, but it’s been hanging around, if unnamed, for decades: Donna Tartt’s  novel The Secret History (1992) and the movie Dead Poets Society (1989) being two examples. Of late, the monied private school for monstrous offspring that Wednesday Addams attends in Wednesday (Netflix, 2023) is Dark Academia at its finest.

Of course, a Dark Academia setting means dark-sounding names, of which these are but a few.


Dark Academia, Locations on Campus

Thomas Joast Memorial Drive

Yeever Cultural Center

Svorof Observatory

Falkendon West

Chelsius Hall

Teasweep Gardens

Sylvanus Chank Memorial Wing

Wisdoror Cafeteria

Tundyne Health Sciences Center

Ringsalter Library

Devray Pavilion

Lockendon Garden

Ubretto Playhouse

Esther Burn Square

Gracielle Moorcock Student Center

Fornheart African Art Gallery

Edeltroud Lawn

Purity Verneeve Science Hall

Drylands Avionics Research Center

Schlussglot Lab

Myrtle Herrit Faculty Building

Spunglunt West

Raknieves Quad

Dallestorm Archive

Sylvanus Chank Science Building

Ever Granger Art Gallery

Sophia Boscomb Student Union Building

Carthrot Lecture Hall

Wicked Fairy

Art created in AI. Arthur Rackham-like, no?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/22/23: States of Confusion
xxxx(The Wild West)

cowboy with a small horse

One of the major problems with generating AI pictures of cowboys is that, no matter which artist you use for reference, both horse and rider are usually out of proportion with each other. This cowboy’s mount is more of a pony than a horse. (The artist was Frederic Remington who A) is dead, so I’m not ripping anybody off and B) knew his cowboys.)

On to the second part of the Western states! As promised, I am puncturing some cowboy myths.

  • Cowboys didn’t always ride horses.
  • They likely weren’t white. It was a career that attracted the outcasts of society, so many were black, Hispanic, mestizo, Native American, or of mixed race.
  • It was not considered a fun or respectable job, being associated with dirt, drunkeness, and coarseness.
  • Cowboys and steam-powered inventions crossed paths in American media way before there was any kind of punk-related aesthetics around.

I’m talking, here, about the inimitable Frank Reade Jr. dime novels.

Frank Reade, and then his son, Frank Reade Jr., were all-American dime novel adventurers who specialized in inventing steam, and later electricity, powered vehicles. Frank Reade set the template in the late 19th century with his exploits involving a robot, but for some reason, he was supplanted as a character by his son, Frank Reade Jr., who proved more popular. The boy genius inspired dozens, hundreds, of technologically marvelous tales, most of them based on Jules Vernes novels like Master of the World and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, along with a hefty dose of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard for the adventure part.

These novels were serialized and published in the years 1884 – 1904 . They were intended for teenage boy readership. Many, but not all, were set in the American West which back then was still as exotic as the depths of the Amazon or the Mongolian plateau. Promises of high adventure tempted readers for their cash (all of five cents) along with the engravings of exotic vehicles: robot horses, a trackless locomotive, the schooner-railcar hybrid above, armored tanks based on Conestoga stagecoaches, and many exotic breeds of dirigibles and airships, which were actually on the drawing boards at the time.

As with most of the dime novels, the writing was considered atrocious. They were also very non-PC, with Frank and his crew beset by “savage hordes” of rampaging Indians, desert Bedouins, or Mexican banditos, in which the Whites, with their superior technology, inevitably triumphed. Occasionally, those of color shared in the glory.

I suppose it’s a credit to the author that this Negro character handles his streetcar/tank vehicle skillfully,  even though he’s called a slur.

If these novels were reviled — and they certainly were — it was for being bad literature and not for their awful stereotypes. In the context of their time, they were science fiction pioneers. The combination of futuristic vehicles with high adventure was visited again in the 1960s, with the TV shows of Gerry Anderson and Eiji Tsuburaya, and on into the 2000s with the Transformers series of movies produced by Michael Bay.

Setting them in the context of their time, the novels were science fiction pioneers, reviled for being bad literature and not for their awful stereotypes. If you want to read them, they’re available here, at the University of South Florida archival collections.

In some other timeline, Frank Reade Jr. might have patrolled the US states and territories with names like these.


Alternate Names for Wild West States




























Ties That Bind
[Reading Challenge 2023]

Ties that Bind
Stories of Love & Gratitude from the First Ten Years of Story Corps

by Dave Isay
Penguin Books, 2013

[ #27 — Bits and pieces: An anthology (poetry, short stories, whatever). ]


Ties That Bind, edited by David Isay is a collection of personal anecdotes from people who participated in the Storycorps Project. This project was a series of oral histories from everyday people in the form of a dialogue between two of them, with one being “the most important person” in the other’s life. Isay founded the project in 2003 and it has been ongoing ever since. Copies of the participants’ interviews are preserved at the Library of Congress and certain of them, with the interviewee’s permission, have been broadcast on NPR and even turned into animations.

This book is a collection of those interviews and highlights human spirit and resiliency: stories are told of the relationships between parents and children, bosses and employees, teachers and students, even between the mother of a murdered man and his murderer. Really diverse and eye-opening stuff. One of my former tenants and her mom even participated in this project (but they aren’t in this book.)

Recommended, and so are the podcasts.