books released a novel last year called, Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. The easiest way to describe it would be the way Charlie Stross did for the cover quote: 

“Lesbian necromancers in space!”

I was asked to do the b/w icons for the chapter headings throughout the book, so skulls became an obsession for awhile in my studio. Human skulls used to creep me out when I was a kid, from watching movies like House on Haunted Hill. I was certain my bedroom closet was haunted and, when I wasn’t staying vigil late at night, skeletons would pour outta there, hunting for little kids.

Years later when I became a painter I gained a new appreciation for the shapes in a skull. Fascinated by how it protects the two most important organs for an artist: the eyes and the brain. Holding a skull gives one an odd sensation of the life story of the person who had owned it once…which could bring back that creepy feeling.


Like last year when I took a self-guided tour of the catacombs under Paris. Yeah. Millions of skulls, stacked in the tunnels that run for miles under the city. Even more leg bones and ribs and…well, every other bone a body owns.

There were so many bodies piling up in Parisian cemeteries around the city in the 1780’s that it was causing some gawd-awful stench and is said that even milk curdled and wine went bad from the thick atmosphere around the burial grounds.

Well, they weren’t really burial grounds because after awhile they weren’t even burying them. Just piling the coffins up until they ran out of coffins, and started throwing bodies onto piles.  So an enterprising young fellow came up with the idea of putting the bones in the limestone tunnels five stories below the city streets. And yeah, even he’s down there…somewhere.

Gideon the Ninth is a fun novel with skulls and skeletons galore. The world is divided between Houses whose emblems are each a different design. I thought it might be fun to use the designs as a guide and an excuse to paint 10 skulls in multiple angles and under multiple lighting conditions.

I shot reference of a model skull under sunlight. Some items, like the scrolls, greenery, and the rose I used, were real and attached to it. Other things, like the gems, I had to research.

These are all 6×6 inches. It’s a great size to paint a face and so painting a skull should be a little easier, right? Well, I screwed that up by getting out the dang palette knife again and going in.

But a few days later, ten of them were drying in the studio.

Though, to be honest, I still don’t trust that skeletons aren’t pouring out of that closet back home.