Sandboxes 2

As I mentioned in a previous post, Tim and I had a lot of sandboxes, or fictional places filled with character and stories. One idea and set of characters were ever-present though. This was a story I really wanted to make into something someday. I concepted the main character when I was 17. We considered graphic novels, a comic book, a video game or most likely, a sort of graphic novel / website hybrid. We even came really close to starting on it about 6 to 7 years ago. This was something we actually had piles and piles of character sketches, plot outlines, scene write-ups, and historical accuracy notes for. And my friend was a huge help in all of that. But something always held us up.


One problem is the scope of the thing. But more often than not, it was just life stuff. Jobs, job changes, moving, break-ups, bouts of creative block, an ongoing sketch blog we shared, marriage, more moving, etc. It didn’t help that I had an 8 year long addiction to riding bicycles every chance I had.

My wife and I moving into our new place in October, 2018

My wife and I moving into our new place in October, 2018

About four years ago, it really seemed like producing something was becoming a reality. Then I got a call from Tim’s sister telling me that he had collapsed and a body scan found that he had cancer again (he also had it when he was only three years old). Despite that, he still wanted to be a part working on this thing.


Now that my friend has passed away, it seems a little empty to pursue it further despite having poured so much into it. But then I imagine him wanting to slap me upside the head for walking away from it just because he’s gone. Besides, no matter how many times I have tried, I’ve never been able to get those characters to leave me alone. I suppose stories are just how some people make sense of life or the world.


So I’m at a little bit of a crossroads. Delve deeper into this world of characters for good or bad? Or do I follow my new idea of becoming a portrait artist for the fitness crowd? That at least seems like something that could be lucrative. Plus, I do love illustrating fit people in action.


I know… how terrible to have options in life.


Desert Mystery Woman by Michael Hay based off a sketch by Timothy Keller

The late Tim Keller and I wanted to make a place where we, and some artists we liked could post our art. That was Illustrators Social Club. Now that it is over, I still wanted a place to occasionally post whatever I was working on somewhere besides social media. I wanted something connected to my portfolio site. Hence the new blog. I had a couple posts in line about some artists I wanted to chat about. But then I found a drawing in one of Tim’s sketchbooks that put me in a trance.

Tim’s original sketch

For almost 30 years Tim and I made sandboxes, meaning that as a sort of fictional universe. We had futuristic-noir detectives alongside genetically augmented soldiers caught up in corporate conspiracies. A splintered family at the heart of a world-wide shadow government set during the first Crusades. People rebuilding society after a failed alien invasion left part of the population with superpowers. A western that explored the genre’s tropes. The story of a failing P.I. who lost his family to substance abuse. On and on. They were just fun, creative exercises for us to keep our creativity nimble, and to better understand the process of storytelling.

Tim’s desert woman sketch stuck with me. A woman with a gas mask and sophisticated body armor wearing a desert pith helmet with goggles? What is the story there? Who is she? What has she done and seen? Maybe it was going to be the start of another sandbox? I couldn’t stop trying to recreate, in my own way, one of Tim’s final sketches. One of his final possible sandbox ideas. I knew I couldn’t post about anything else for the first post here.

Is that some weird catharsis? A way to feel as though he’s still with us in some manner? Am I just nostalgic for the times when we would hang out and just draw for hours? After hours of recreating that sketch and then making a final color piece, it did become a catharsis, a way to feel he was still with us, albeit briefly. And yes, I am very nostalgic for the times when Tim and I would just hang out and draw for hours.