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The Lizard Life

Craig on Art, Cigars, Florida Wildlife, and Sunshine City Living.


The Lizard and the Lionfish

February, 2020

Hey, everybody!

As "Dirty Harry" once said, "a man's got to know his limitations." I know  mine well. I have almost complete control of my work in pen and ink, marker, and graphite. That may be why I enjoy mixed medium work so much. It presents a challenge that is both immensely satisfying while being incredibly frustrating at times. 

This picture of a lionfish is something I started more than a decade ago. I can only assume that I was experimenting with the splatter technique I admired in the background of some of the well known illustrator Alex Maleev's black and white work. I say that I can "only assume" because I have no idea exactly where or when I began this piece, what references I used, or what medium it is in.

I have for whatever reason, no memory of this work, and only happened upon it while cleaning out a closet the other day. The illustration board I used is nicked, stained and peeling from years of being improperly stored, and I have no way of really repairing it.

So, here in the "Lizard and the Lionfish" series I am going to take you along with me through the process of recreating this work on canvas!

Check back frequently for updates, and please leave comments below! I want to hear from you!

The Lizard Lounge: Cigar of the Month

February 2020

One of the many joys of the Lizard Life here in Florida's Sunshine City, is the ability to hit downtown once or twice a month and enjoy a cigar with a friend. As you can imagine, life in a house with five teenagers and a grad student getting ready to stretch her wings, I don’t get nearly enough time with my wife, and even less with friends. So needless to say, when I get the opportunity to get out there in the world, I make the most of it, and the ‘Burg does not disappoint.

Located at 273 Central Avenue, Central Cigar and Ruby's Elixir has been the place to be for casual smokers and aficionados since 1997. In fact, Central Cigar is really the only game in town as far as cigar lounges go, but that doesn’t mean they rest on their laurels. Central has a kick ass selection of premium sticks, outstanding spirits, and some of the best live entertainment the Suncoast has to offer, so even if there were a dozen other cigar lounges located downtown St. Pete, there wouldn't be much competition anyway.

This visit, I made my way down the wall of humidors until I found the familiar initials “RP.” Most of my friends know I enjoy a variety of premium sticks, but my “go to” is generally a Rocky Patel. Behind the glass the blue and gold band on Rocky’s Tavicusca Toro caught my attention almost as much as the chocolaty hue, and mild sheen on the San Andres wrapper.

I brought my selection to the counter, where Hank was ready with the torch. When I have the option, I prefer the “V” cut, over a guillotine cut. No big reason really. When I first started to try cigars, I used a cheap cutter that often ended up with a poor cut, and a wrapper that began to unravel midway through the stick, and tobacco in my teeth. “V” cut, problem solved.

The first draw brought the familiar prickle I get on the end of my tongue when I dig into a strong cigar. It lasted less than an instant, and as the initial punch melted away. I found the flavor to be sweet, toasty, and pleasantly smooth.

I love the outdoor seating right at the storefront on Central Avenue. Here is where you get to feel the enthusiasm for the weekend build, as the city workers from the municipal services building one block over head home, and are replaced by couples in much more festive attire, suited for an evening of fine dining, drinking, and dancing. This is where I sat with my friend and fellow artist, Michael John Morgan as we discussed current and future projects, upcoming events, family, and of course our cigars.

I noted that my light had been a little uneven initially. But here we were a good twenty minutes into our conversation and the burn had settled into a nice even line of ash that clung tightly to the body of the cigar.

Look, I am no aficionado. I like what I like and that's about all there is to it. So, while I may not be able to tell you about what spices you can taste here, or how "earthy" or "floral" this cigar is, I can tell you that there is a sweet blend of flavors that as the smoke continued, gave way to a fuller flavor, and I was able to pick up hints of coffee, and something I can only describe as nutty.

Towards the last third of the cigar, it became increasingly difficult to keep lit. Twice I had to dip inside and ask Hank for a re-light. Here the flavors became a bit lighter, but the finish had remained creamy as the first puff.

Not being much of a bourbon or scotch drinker these days, I can’t make any recommendations here, but if you are looking for a medium to full flavored smoke with a good body that may pair well with a nice Merlot, you can try one of these. I do not recommend this for a new smoker either. By the time I left I could definitely feel the affects of the nicotine.

So if you happen to be downtown some evening, and chance upon my bald noggin, chances are it will be somewhere in the vicinity of this spectacular little gem downtown. If you haven't been here, you owe it to yourself to stop. The staff here are more than capable of answering questions and delivering you a top shelf experience.

Until next time, remember to be nice.

We are all in this together.

Lizard Life: Where the Big Lizard Came From

January 2020

I was just a kid when I learned the most important lesson art can teach. My mentor was a wonderful and amazing artist named Kal Leavy, whose "Springbrook Academy of Fine Arts" was based out of her quiet home

outside of Seattle, back in the 70's and 80's. My parents had enrolled me in classes with her right out of kindergarten, and when I was with her, it felt like I could build anything.

The lesson came with my first airbrush piece. Kal had coached me through the creation of a little olive-colored dragon. The tiny dragon lay coiled and asleep in its cave, with wisps of smoke coming from its beak-like snout.  I was incredibly proud of this little accomplishment, and so was Kal. So much so, that she submitted the piece to be displayed at the Mercer Island art show, between Seattle and Bellevue, where it received the "juror's choice" award that year.

The show came and went. My parents and I didn't go (which was probably a good choice given my age), and so I waited for Kal to bring my little painting back to me during my next class. I was all smiles the following week when I proudly walked into Kal's basement studio. I inquired about the little fire breathing reptile I had created, and recall my stomach sinking when she told me the piece had been... sold.

I was crushed. It had never occurred to me that people actually bought art at these shows! I was heartbroken that after all my hard work, after all the effort I had put in making sure the individual scales were evenly spaced, I would never see my sleepy little dragon again. 

About a week later, I was returning home from running errands with my mother. She handed me an envelope as we walked up the driveway. I opened it to find a little "Tolkein-themed" card came in the mail. Inside was a "thank you" from my sleepy dragon's new owners. The piece had sold for something like thirty bucks--which was a lot of money to a kid my age back then. And I can't lie, that kind of bank certainly helped relieve some of the grief I felt at losing my masterpiece. While I was still a little bit sad, I was also a little bit wiser. Before I had even reached middle school I had come to understand that art does not belong to the artist. It belongs to everyone.

From that moment on, I no longer became attached to my work. I became attached to the process of working... the creation of something. I was in love with that! But the work itself was secondary to the creative process. This led to a pattern of continuously starting pieces and rarely finishing them. I had fun with them as long as they were fun, and put them aside when they became "work." This was noted by my dear friend Marc, who during my failed attempt at art school in 1991, would to rib me saying that this habit was my "signature."

"You could always tell something was a Craig Marks piece because it was never finished," he would say.

Always leave them wanting more, right?

Thankfully, I have gotten over that. These days I find a tremendous amount of satisfaction in creating and completing a project, but even more so in letting it go and letting the world have it. Each completed piece is like a child that has has grown and has become ready to start life on their own, and I am the parent who has the honor of letting them loose into the world to make their own statement.

"Big Lizard Studio" is my tribute to that little green dragon I made so many years ago. It is named for the first piece of art that someone else thought was cool enough to take home and make their own. The name also reminds me of the kid who painted it. Many years have gone by and his life has been marked and scarred by tragedy and loss. But in spite of it all, he has refused to give up... or is it grow up? The world may have evolved, but the joy I find in creation has not changed. If that little kid could say one thing to you, it would probably be "have fun, and be nice." 

We're all in this together.

The Jellyfish Experiment

December 2019

I wish I had taken the time to develop a better, longer video of this process. Definitely on my "to do list."

In December of 2019, I wanted to see what I could paint exclusively with gravity. So I took a fe small canvases, made them wet and set them up at various angles. I then began adding acrylic paint at various levels of consistency. As I continued to experiment with different thicknesses of paint and steepness of the grade, a jellyfish like shape began to form. 

I then began to add colors with eyedroppers in different spaces. As I continued the process, I developed a means to control the direction of the colors as they made their way to the bottom of the canvas simply by utilizing water tension. 

I have a few irons in the fire right now. Next time I get an afternoon free, I will do a "proper" video that highlights the technique I used to achieve this effect.

Of course I will. We're all in this together!

©2020 by Big Lizard Studio.