Art, the Plethodon, and NaNoWriMo’s Coming Dystopian Cyberpunk Future

Digital art in general is still very new to me, as are technical skills with things like perspective and the sharp, rigid geometry of cityscapes. To practice, rather than continuing to collage skylines and cityscapes and buildings in general from other art, which can be frustrating and make me feel like a copycat, I’ve started drawing from photos I’m taking in the area where I live.

For right now, I’m not editorializing a huge amount, just doing things like adding mountains to images in places where you can’t actually see the mountains (to still give the feeling of being surrounded by all these huge, towering peaks,) turning ugly architecture into colorful murals and signage, and getting rid of things that, while fine in real life, make for too much visual noise in a simple image or simple animation.

a street view I drew in RiNo, an art district in Denver

In tandem with my learning animation efforts, I’ve been planning out my project for this year’s NaNoWriMo. My friends in my writing group have been egging me on to do this cyberpunk dystopia magical girl story I’ve been toying around with. It would be set in a post-apocalyptic and re-settled-by-space-humans version of Denver, so I’ve begun trying to visualize a version of this place that’s fairly recognizable, but that I can play with creatively and see how I’d change it and how I’d have the re-settling humans interpret the leftovers of our society. What would last, what would fade away, and what would be wildly misinterpreted?

In doing this, I’ve started looking around where I live for things that space humans re-settling the area might find interesting, valuable, or worthy of note. The first place my mind jumped to was the first place that made me feel like Denver might be worth living in—Convergence Station. It’s this incredible immersive art museum that depicts a multidimensional transit station and is one of the few places in this city that—bizarre as it may sound—feel like home to me.

Meow Wolf Denver: Convergence Station

There’s this marvelous statue out front, by the car park. They call it The Plethodon.

Plethodon statue in front of Meow Wolf Denver: Convergence Station

Every time I see it, I think that Quetzalcoatl was possibly not, in fact, meant to be a literal feathered snake, but an exalted, deified form of the Mexican axolotl—and that the statue is exactly what a cute, anime version of one of his kind would look like. And while I know this strangely elegant statue is probably not built to last through the centuries, I decided that it’s too cool to get rid of, and it—or at least an homage to it—needs to be featured in my fictional cyberpunk version of Denver, and that I need to draw it.

I haven’t finished the Plethodon piece I started yesterday, but here’s where it’s up to so far:

WIP animation of rainbow Plethodon against the changing sky

Unfortunately, due to the workout all this animation practice has been giving it, my hand/arm/shoulder is so irritated and sore today that I can’t hold the pencil for more than 2 or so minutes before it starts to ache and go stingingly numb, so I guess I’m not finishing this piece tonight! But I did at least get the Plethodon’s eye and shine spots colored in so there’s no more entirely-blank areas. Tomorrow, please, hand, could you let me get back to work? Ideally, I wanna extend the timeframe a bit, as well as add things like clouds, cars, and birds. But like…ow, hand. Ow.

Anyway, that’s where I’m up to in this whole “teaching myself animation by feel” thing so far! While there’s definitely a lot of frustration involved, I’m really enjoying having something to work on that doesn’t require me to berate myself or feel like a failure if it doesn’t turn out right. Pre-stroke Alena had no experience or ability with digital art or animation, so there’s nothing to compare myself to and kick myself for not living up to, and there’s no sellable product I’m supposed to be achieving and worrying about whether or not people will like. I’m just…doing something for me. It’s a new and nice feeling; sort of fluttery and hopeful. Even if I hit a dead end with the animation stuff, I think the feeling of that lack of pressure is important to note and remember to try and return to when I’m feeling stuck. 💖

The Plethodon, illuminated in rainbow colors

Bonus: I didn’t even know this until after I started this animation—in fact, until I started writing this post and found photos of it at night—but the statue is actually sometimes illuminated in rainbow colors in real life, too! I am delighted by this development, and the funny little symmetry of having animated it that way just because I thought it would be cool! 😆