Saturday, June 12, 2021

Aladdin's Castle

The inspiration for this project came about when I was invited to participate in Gallery 1988’s, “Shopping Malls” group show, dedicated to the shops of both past, and present. Thankfully, I was born on the cusp of the digital age, so I was still fortunate enough to have experienced the analog days of yore. My memory as a preteen consisted of weekends, and summers spent in the local shopping mall, either reading books on the floor (in B Dalton, Crown Books, or Waldenbooks), or sneaking into Rated R movies at the adjacent theater (which was easier than it should have been). I am very thankful for those days, and I think they were what kept me grounded among all those neon lights, retro carpeting, smoke, and the artificially flavored aromas coming from the food court.


Originally I decided early on I was going to illustrate a poster depicting one of the many bookstores I would squat in, while reading fantasy novels among the stacks. During the development of the image, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, in which the topic of an old arcade chain came up, ‘Aladdin’s Castle’. It was then I recalled how many countless hours, and quarters, I would spend in the locale at my neighborhood mall. I determined then, ‘Aladdin’s Castle’ was a much better subject to pay homage to than the previous one.


After choosing the new focus to center my project around, I set about brain storming how I could properly pay my respects to the long departed chain. The only image that came to mind was the ‘tokens’ you could acquire as a patron at the arcade with the company’s logo on it. I determined the best method to replicate this look was to create an enamel pin that looked like a ‘token’. It was a simple design that I quickly produced in Adobe Illustrator, using the now defunct company’s one time logo, and font as inspiration.


Once completed, I contacted my supplier Alchemy Merch who fabricated the ‘Wonka Bar’ pin I designed for Gallery 1988’s “50th Anniversary of Wonka” group show. Through my correspondence with Alchemy, I determined (with their aid), that antique gold was the most logical choice to replicate the same material and look I had in mind for the arcade ‘tokens’.



Having finished the ‘token’ in a manner of days (if not actual hours), I realized that I had the time to design a backer to accent it. For this, I drew inspiration from my memories of the location I would visit locally. I recall the atmosphere vividly; the smoky neon lights, and long mirrored hallway that created an almost looking celestial looking entrance. The sirens call of the various machines that echoed down the entryway was always too much to resist. It kind of reminded me of the beginning of ‘Space Mountain’ at Disneyland for some reason. At the end of this canal, was an almost cavernous looking brightly lit space filled with arcade games, and change machines. I would enter in anticipation that whatever new machine they had wasn’t taken by ‘campers’ or out of order. I wanted to keep the color scheme within a spectrum that spoke most to me as both nostalgic, and era specific. I also included a cabinet arcade machine centrally, like the beacon I recall. As a final touch I then added a little bit of background information about the business, who honestly had a fascinating run, along with my own shameless self promotional information.



In retrospect I should have proofed the backers, as the colors came out really dark when I received the final product. Even with that in mind, I was still really happy with how the pin, and backers turned out.



The main piece was developed primarily in Adobe Illustrator, where I vectored out the shapes of the font, and body of the coin. The backer was designed primarily in Procreate on my iPad, with some minor edits done in Adobe Photoshop, before sending both files off to my supplier Alchemy Merchandise.


A couple of weeks later I received the final product in the mail after getting a series of confirmations from Alchemy detailing the multiple steps involved in it’s manufacturing. Limited to a run of 50, the enamel pin is antique gold and measures roughly 1” x 1”, each with it’s own illustrated backer.


It was made specifically for Gallery 1988’s “Shopping Malls” group show, which ran from June 4th-18th, featuring my work, from this post, along with the rest of the show’s collaborative pieces.  My work as well as that of my peer is available for viewing or purchase, on the gallery’s website.


For more information, or to see a catalog of my other work, please visit my online store here. 

You can also find me on various social media platforms below doing a multitude of other artistic things that include hand lettering, and the occasional sculpting/crafting


Etsy: Stiles of Art

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LinkedIN: Michael Stiles

IG:  stiles1978

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Sunday, May 16, 2021


The inspiration for this project was nothing less than the spectacular Disney+, and MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) mini-series WandaVision.  I have long been a fan of Marvel Comics since I was teen reading them in the early 90’s, and while I never really got into one specific (major) franchise, I did enjoy reading about the characters and their profiles through a little known series called (literally) ‘Marvel Universe’.  I collected the entire series, including the issues dedicated to the ‘dead and inactive’, and while the information is a bit dated since the characters continue to evolve, it still retains some value.



For this piece in particular, I knew I wanted to utilize the hexagon theme that was so prevalent in the series to house imagery, and fill the negative space with the light patterns seen in the credits. Those were the most immediate pieces of the illustration I knew I wanted to use immediately.  I also planned on having the titular characters of ‘Wanda Maximoff’ (Elizabeth Olsen), and ‘Vision’ (Paul Bettany), placed centrally in the design. The remaining images would come much later.



In terms of design, I knew I also wanted to depict both ‘Wanda’, and ‘Vision’, in their original costumes from the comics while doing my best to replicate the likeness of both Olsen & Bettany. The most time consuming aspect of this design was the sketching process of the central figures, and the clean up process. I wanted to capture the tenderness of the lovers that evoked the passion they share, but also the sadness that constantly haunts them. 



Initially I created several hexagon shapes that would house my illustration vignettes, and placed them like satellites orbiting the central image. Once I was satisfied with their placements, I then set to work on designing what scenes or imagery I was going to place within. By the time I got to the sixth episode, I had all the reference imagery I needed, and I set to work on painting them on my iPad in Procreate. I also determined at this point in order to keep the flow of the work I wanted to break the borders of these hexagonal spaces, similar to how ‘Wanda’ exercises her abilities throughout this series.





As I progress through my illustration selections, I decided it would be best to depict each ‘era’ that the show progresses through respectively. While the parodies offered little to the actual overall plot, they were a delightful way to present the story memorably. I settled on a few key images from the radio in episode two where we discover something we already knew, that this ‘reality’ isn’t quite right, but how is still unclear.  I also included the ‘intruder’ who shows up at the end of (I believe) episode two as well.  I was going to include the toy helicopter that ‘Wanda’ intercepts, but seeing as I chose to already use the necklace ‘Monica Rambo’ (Teyonah Parris) wears in the show to represent S.W.O.R.D., it seemed redundant.  I then wanted to portray one of the more shocking plot points, without truly spoiling it in the image itself, the children. To show, and not tell, I settled on the nursery sequence with the butterflies, as well as the comical scene with the stork.




For my final image (and one I did not initially plan for), I added the surprise guest star and cameo of long lost twin brother ‘Pietro Maximoff’, who literally shows up at ‘Wanda’s’ doorstep.



In true ‘me’ fashion, there were still a few more final touches the piece needed before I could call it done.  Even though I did mention earlier that the last few episodes contained less content, there were still some elements to draw from.  I wanted to include some imagery to allude to our main antagonist, without providing too much evidence and spoiling it for those who may not be familiar with ‘Wanda’s’ history, or the Marvel Universe.  Personally, I knew the ‘who’ right away, just not the ‘why’, and I’d be upset if someone ruined that for me.  Anyhow, I chose some rather benign imagery to dot the landscape of the piece, and make them as subtle as possible.  First I included the pet of our nosy neighbor ‘Senor Scratchy’, who’s true nature we never really learn, but know, is not natural.  I then offset our furry familiar with the controversial fly whose fate is worse than speculated.  Finally, I added a handful of other ‘Easter eggs’ that pertain to the conclusion of our tale.

After finalizing the actual artwork, I needed to proof the image, which proved to be rather troublesome as my print supplier had changed their business model. This resulted in a slower than desired process of adjusting the image until I could adequately color calibrate the piece.  Thankfully, the work was a personal piece, so there was no deadline I needed to meet.


The image is originally formatted 8” x 10”, and was developed almost exclusively in Procreate on my iPad with any editing or calibration done in Adobe Photoshop.  I also used a program called Graphic to create the hexagonal shapes housing all the imagery.


To purchase this image, or to see a catalog of my other work, please visit my online store here.

You can also find me on various social media platforms below doing a multitude of other artistic things that include hand lettering, and the occasional sculpting/crafting


Etsy: Stiles of Art

Threadless: mistiles

LinkedIN: Michael Stiles

IG:  stiles1978

Pinterest: Michael Stiles

Tumblr:  stiles1978

Twitter:  paragonofpuns



Sunday, February 28, 2021


The inspiration for this project came about when I was invited to participate in Gallery 1988’s, “NES One Sheet” group show, dedicated to games from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

I was ecstatic. 

I had the incredible good fortune to grow up during this era, so this show really spoke to me.

The only issue was what one game was I going to pick? 


The gallery requested that it be a game from the original console, so while there were plenty of games to pick, only a few of the franchises survived that generation. 

Also, my memory of the games from the period is pretty scattered.  There are only a few games I recall clearly, and those are the ones I played a multitude of times.


I mean I could do ANOTHER Zelda image, but I’m guessing that’s going to get some serious love already. I had also already done a Graphic Design project years ago based on ‘Super Mario Brothers’, and wasn’t really feeling inspired by it.  Also, I was sure it was going to be another popular choice.


The only other contenders were ‘Kid Icarus’, or maybe even ‘Mega Man’.


While I had almost narrowed it down to one of the previous mentioned games, I instead decided it might be a better opportunity to revisit a piece I did years ago dedicated to the franchise ‘Metroid’.

The work in question is not something I am particularly proud of, but it was also only done in a week’s time as part of a social media art community I was participating in at the time.

In all honestly though, the real reason I wanted a ‘redo’ on my ‘Metroid’ piece, was because it reminded me of my childhood, and was one of my first experiences playing the NES.


The game itself follows Samus Aran a bounty hunter who encounters hostile space pirates on the planet Zebes, and attempts to foil their nefarious plot to harness the parasitic life forms known as metroids.

Along her journey she encounters a few other major players, and the identity of our hero is finally revealed.

The game itself began a legacy that has a rather rabid fan base even today, spanning across most of Nintendo’s platforms in one form or another.


In addition to the subject matter, the gallery mentioned that this particular show was going to be prints only, in addition to some dimensional suggestions.

I began to do some image research for inspiration, and collected imagery from off the internet for reference.

Initially, I wanted to create new box art for the game, and set about sketching some concepts for my layout, occasionally seeking another set of eyes for feedback (thank you Kimber).

Once I was settled on my layout (pictured above), I set to work.

I knew I wanted a large title given my dimensions (16” x 20”), but also something different.

During my research I discovered that ‘Metroid’ was originally on another system of Nintendo’s in Japan, under a completely different name (Family Computer Disk System). 

I even uncovered the original box art complete with Japanese title!! 

I decided I’d use the original Japanese title for my piece with an English subtitle, as I felt it lent the image more credibility, and I always did like the original Japanese packaging over the stark American designs anyways.


I started by vectoring the title out in Adobe Illustrator, before transferring it into Photoshop, and finally into Procreate/Corel Painter.

I was initially going for an authentic vintage 1980’s movie poster feel, but eventually the piece evolved a bit beyond that, and I even found some other modern posters to inspire my direction as well.


I knew I wanted a large title at the top, and dabbled with including Samus’ visor on a very stark black background.

I also wanted to include Samus' ship somewhere on the image, as it was part of the original concept.  It thankfully worked as a way to present the English subtitle nicely, as I used the rocket boost/jetstream to hold it.

I planned on using the visor to tell part of the game’s story in the reflection for a more dramatic look.  However, as I progressed through the sketches, I realized that approach wasn’t going to work, and I needed more imagery to fill the negative space.

I was using the original Alien movie poster as a source of inspiration, as I wanted to portray the isolation, and desolate feel of the game’s atmosphere.

Eventually I decided to use the planet Zebes as my main focal point, and include it into my composition with the title looming over it.

I did a little research and found some image reference from various installments of the game, and used the to design the planet, including it’s two satellites.

I then created an atmospheric background to simulate space, and a strong contrast with a bright star cresting between the orbs.


In terms of mood or color, I felt a strong connection to warm tones, as opposed to the perhaps clichéd cooler colors associated with space.

With the strong contrast I had established, I could use the interior of the planet to house some other images, including Samus, and perhaps the metroids.


I was about 75% done with the illustration when I had to take a step back, because it just wasn’t working.

I reassessed, the layout, and made a few adjustments.

In all honesty, it wasn’t a complete tear down, and it continued to evolve in a manner I was truly happy with.


I first ditched the interior illustrations inside the planet, reduced its size (along with the moons), and reshaped ‘Zebes’ into a ‘Metroid’.

I now had a silhouette so to speak to work with and the interior of ‘Zebes’ still contained a lot of space that I could use.

I settled on depicting one more character from the game, the infamous ‘Mother Brain’.

I did some image research and then began delicately painting ‘Mother Brain’ into the planets interior, taking care to blend and connect the planet’s ridges with her.  While I wanted to remain to true to the design of the original game, I decided to take some liberties with her.  I added an eye, and turned a few of her technical components into ‘Doc Ock’ style tentacles to make her appear more menacing.

I wanted her subtle, but to have enough contrast that she was visible, without overpowering the entire illustration.


Finally I added the reflection of ‘Samus’ in her eye, as the main character is a constant target, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add more detail somewhere.

Upon completing this last part of the illustration, I began to reassess the layout a bit, moving some images around, and FINALLY settled on a satisfactory design.

The last touches it needed were credits if I wanted it to look like an actual or mock, movie poster.

I had some experience with this process, when I made my “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, for a show dedicated to movie of the same name.

Once I found the right font, and color, the image was almost complete.  I had to tweak the English subtitle a bit, and added a little bit of teal to contrast with all the warm colors in the piece.  I also wanted the subtitle to have some variations to look more like a rocket's jets propelling it across space.  I then took a bit of that same color and added it to the Japanese title to create a gradient effect.

The last task was to color proof it, before I could get a final set printed for the gallery.

I also had one more issue, and it called for expediency.

The entire aforementioned process was happening quickly, and probably would have been more focused if it wasn’t for the time constraints (hence the constant changes as inspiration shows up when it wants).


My printer was going to be closing their physical location in a manner of days, and since most of my artwork is digital in nature, obtaining proofs to color correct is a crucial step.

Luckily I was able to complete the image in time after several trips to my vendor, before they shuttered.

However, I will need either plan ahead to have my proofs mailed to me, or find a new location to use.


As mentioned above, this project was done partially in Adobe Illustrator, and then painted in Procreate, and Corel Painter.  Finally it was adjusted in Adobe Photoshop, until I was able to get a proof that was satisfactory. The image was originally designed to be printed at 16” x 20”, and was limited to a set of 35.


The show originally ran at Gallery 1988 from March 12th- 27th, featuring my work from this post, along with the rest of the shows collaborative pieces, which are available for viewing, and purchase on the gallery’s website.


For more information, or to see a catalog of my other work, please visit my online store here.

You can also find me on various social media platforms below doing a multitude of other artistic things that include hand lettering, and the occasional sculpting/crafting.

Etsy: Stiles of Art

Threadless: mistiles

LinkedIN: Michael Stiles

IG:  stiles1978

Pinterest: Michael Stiles

Tumblr:  stiles1978

Twitter:  paragonofpuns