Current Work: 2006 Splash Pic

"The cabbage is always greener at the other side of the fence."  -Beatnik Bunny


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The making of an Icon

           This is a personal story… about rabbits… and the people who love rabbits. No, that wouldn’t be me. I’m not a rabbit lover –but the woman I love is. She adores her pet bunny! Consequently, I had to get along with the one to get close to the other. See the logic? It was not easy -I'm talking about the rabbit. You have no idea the things I had to go through with the darn beast and neither had I when I started seeing Miss Lewis.

           Let me begin by saying that in a short period of less than two years her cute little bunny, Sir Peppy Lewis, had become a local phenomenon among our families, friends and acquaintances, after assuming the role of his alter-ego, Beatnik Bunny, the bereted, bespectacled, drum beating “daddy’o” guru of love. I’m guilty of being partly responsible for this transformation. But in my defence, I was coerced and manipulated all the way by Miss Lewis.

From a cute bunny... a mega-superstar.

           Before I tell you more about the rabbit I should first tell you about Miss Nancy Anne Lewis. We met when I was hired to paint a mural at the Panorama World Travel Agency in Lakewood, Ohio. Nancy, a New Jersey native, was then a travel agent extraordinaire who had already travelled most of the world and had developed a cultivated taste for the exotic. I’m considered quite exotic, so… you get the picture. Unfortunately, so are rabbits. They are considered “exotic pets”, just ask your local veterinarian -even though we have a gazillian of them!.

           Well, Miss Lewis also has extraordinary powers of persuasion. They are monumental. I know this from experience. I’m the guy who, after years of living the single life and being repeatedly diagnosed by many interested parties as “non-marriage material” or as the kind of guy “you wouldn’t bring home to meet your mother”, find myself presently engaged to be married to Miss Lewis on December 2009 (I’m writing this entry on November of 2008).

           If you want to learn how this amazing feat of patient persuasion was accomplished (it took nine years), then read how it all began in ‘the Lewis Apartment’ entry in the Design Page of this website. I had never met her kind before, that is, outside a TV sitcom from the 1950’s. She was simply too perfect; tender, loving, witty, smart, amusing, hardworking, well mannered, sincere, lovely to look at, classy, sexy, beautiful voice, infectious humour, and honest to a fault. What’s more, I have never ever heard her say a bad word! In amazement, even my son Alex once asked: -“Dad, where’d you find her?”

A celebration of food

           Few guys could have remained unmoved when placed against Miss Lewis’s considerable attributes and charms for as long as I did. But she had a secret weapon –the woman can cook! What’s more, she is also a certified chef and a top graduate from ICASI, the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute, Cleveland’s top cooking school. Being Puerto Rican, I’m genetically predisposed to good food. Eating well is one of my favourite pleasures. In fact, we have an adage in Puerto Rico that says: -“Love always comes through the kitchen.” Needless to say, Miss Lewis slowly battered my defences with a continued barrage of exotic dishes while I was distracted battling the battle of the bulge (I’m holding the line with considerable effort).

Chef Nancy Lewis attending to details. Always sampling new dishes and sharing holidays "en familia".

           In no time at all "Nancy’s place" became a gathering spot for holiday celebrations which always evolved into elaborate feasts. Nancy loved to cook and prepare unique dishes for every occasion and the Rivera-Resto clan became her captive audience. My brother Ricky and my kids, John Alexander and Selina Marie, grew up enjoying the pleasures of great home cooking. My mother’s culinary skills are legendary and I inherited some of her genes. So three or four days out of the week I cooked complete Sunday meals for them involving a variety of traditional Puerto Rican and Caribbean dishes. They also sampled international cuisine during travel holidays developing a refined taste for well prepared dishes along the way. In fact, my son and daughter turned out to be food critics of the highest order and after each meal they provided me with amusing (and sometimes ruthless) commentary.

No leftovers will survive Alex's voracious appetite. Miss Lewis is always ready "to feed the masses". Selina, a food connoisseur and gourmet critic.

           As you may have guessed by now, our active family life revolves around the table. My son Alex, who grew up into a strapping six foot four young man (I was showing off during his conception), is a bottomless pit. Only my father can equal his good appetite (though he is only five foot seven). Even Selina, who also inherited the cooking gene, does a good job of keeping up with her brother. Naturally, from the beginning my two teenagers became really good friends with Miss Lewis, and most specially, with her pineapple pie.

My two spirited teenagers -Selina and Alex,
in London during our Eurotrip in 2000.

           During a trip to Europe with Nancy and the kids in 2000 -and my later trip to Japan, the greatest expense was, of course, food. By carefully allocating my slim resources, utilising all of Miss Lewis's wiz travel tricks, and by cutting unnecessary expenses (like buying souvenirs for the folks back home), I figured I could give the kids the kind of education that can only be learned through travel. But like a fool I promised them a good meal at the end of the day if we stuck to our tight travelling budget. Naturally, they took to five-course meals the way fish take to water. The great eateries at Brussels, Luzern, Venice, Florence and Rome almost became my undoing. But we ate like kings. And talking about "royalty", let's get back to our rabbit story.

My first rabbit encounter

           My relationship with Miss Lewis began as a business friendship. She hired my services to redecorate her home, a one-bedroom condo (again, see ‘the Lewis Apartment’ entry in the Design page for the finished look). On my first visit she introduced me to her pet rabbit, a long-ear, blond-fur little fellow whom I renamed “Oscar” (I never bothered calling him by his original name and Oscar caught on fast). In a way, seeing the curious bunny hop around the place seem like the most natural thing. He simply “belonged” in the apartment –he added “personality”.

In the beginning there was Oscar Rabbit -a very cute animated stuffed animal.

          Nancy inherited the rabbit from one of her young nephews, who dropped him off so that she could take care of him for a couple days… but never came back for him. So Nancy ended up adopting Oscar as her pet bunny. In rabbit years, Oscar was a grandfather, really old for a rabbit (about 90 in human years). But the thing with rabbits is that you can hardly tell their age –unless you are a vet or a rabbit breeder. Still, he was very active for his years –in every possible way. Since he had never been neutered, he would attach himself to anything that moved when he heard the call of the wild during mating season (and since he had great big ears, he heard the call quite often).

My one year-old grandson inmersed in intelectual pursuits. Sandro and Oscar rabbit got along just fine.

          From the beginning it became obvious that Oscar didn’t think much of me. From his point of view I was an intruder. He lived happily in his cage while Nancy was at work, but the minute she got home, he was fed and let out of the cage into “his” apartment. He was pretty much an animated stuffed animal with an attitude. He loved having “snuggle time” with Miss Lewis but didn’t care much for my attentions. Nevertheless, instead of lowering myself to his level I decided to simply ignore him. As long as I did my thing and he did his thing we could get along and share the space.

          Unfortunately I had to do most the remodelling work during the day so it was only him and I in the apartment. As per Miss Lewis instructions, I would let the door to the cage opened so that Oscar could “come out and play”. So while I worked painting the murals he worked on his various toys and nibbled on his treats, usually a carrot or a stick of celery. However, no sooner I forgot about him he would hop to one of the planters and start feeding on Nancy’s plants. The minute I noticed I would turn him away from the planter but not without his objections. And since he had the retention span of a pea, he would return to the planter as soon as I got back to work.

While painting I kept most of my things on the table. Oscar always found a way to do some mischief.

          This comedy routine usually ended with me picking him up and putting him back in his cage and him repeatedly stamping his feet really loud on the floor to show his displeasure –a really annoying habit (rabbits really do this when they are angry). On one occasion while I was working on the dining room mural I was pleased that the rabbit had kept his distance from the planter. But after a while it dawned on me that I had not seen him at all. Everything was quite. This could only mean he was up to no good. So I looked around for his furry ass and when I spotted him lying in a corner I almost had a stroke!

          The bugger was eating the bristles from one of my favourite brushes! Now, you will not believe how fast rabbits can run. I chased him around the apartment screaming like a maniac and he actually bounced off walls as he took sharp turns. His acrobatics defied gravity! In the end, I had to stop to catch my breath and he took refuge inside his cage. Just then Miss Lewis arrived and saved him. As far as Nancy was concerned, I didn't have a chance against the rabbit. Every argument always ended with her cooing: -"But he's so cute!"

Rabbit Calendars

          This was around the end of that year and with Christmas and the New Year fast approaching I figured it would be noble of me to spread a little forgiveness. So by the time I had completed most of the project’s painting phase, the rabbit and I had come into a truce of sorts. Miss Lewis, who is big into holidays, had the “brilliant” idea of sharing her joy and good fortune with the rest of the world by sending, as an alternative to greeting cards, a lovely calendar featuring “the cutísimo” (cute-tee-see-mo). No, not me people, she meant the rabbit.

          For years Nancy had amused herself creating seasonal window displays for the travel agency. But now she poured all of her inventive skills and imagination into designing the perfect holiday-theme tableau… with Oscar as her star. I was “volunteered” as the project’s photographer. An easy assignment I thought. I mean, what’s the big deal about shooting a picture, right? John, you poor sod; I was so naïve.

Miss Lewis' reluctant star.

          Here’s the thing that up to that moment had never before crossed my mind, which is that rabbits basically have one facial expression. You see, in the fur, they are basically cute animated stuffed animals that eat and crap. Okay, they also hop around wiggling their noses sniffling curiously at this and that, and they flip their ears this way and that way like little antenna, but in a still image the animation goes away. They become more ‘Droopy Dog’ than ‘Bugs Bunny’. They don’t smile or pull their brows expressively like dogs do or give you dirty looks and hiss like cats do. They simply stare and wiggle their nose and whiskers. But the movement is lost in a photo. What’s left is a blank expression, cute but still blank.

          This limited repertoire of expressions leaves the photographer with basically one course of action, and that is to surround the model with props and interesting backdrops (like bad singers on TV surrounded by pretty dancing girls) in hopes of achieving a “nice shot” –which I did after two dozen failed attempts trying to get the rabbit stay still for a few seconds. These were enough to complete the “the Bunny Calendar”, thought I felt the printing quality left much to be desired. But all the calendar recipients were very happy and amused to be so honoured with the gift, accolades were showered on Miss Lewis, and the rabbit and I shared a collective sigh of relief thinking that was it. But we were wrong. Easter came too soon and Miss Lewis had “ideas”.

Rabbits basically have one expression... ...which you try to capture for the perfect shot!

          Fall that year promised to be glorious. This is the beginning of my busy season when new commissions come in and I relish getting out of the house. It so happened that in a gorgeous sunny autumn day that I noticed the blinking light on my phone recorder as soon as I got home. I depressed the playback button to hear the message. The news was bad. In between sobs Nancy told me that Oscar had died. Time had finally caught up with him. We buried him in my front garden. Nancy bought a bush of white roses which we planted on top of the grave. The rabbit had a good life and he had been dearly loved. The next few weeks were not easy for Nancy, coming home to en empty apartment. She is very sentimental and I did my best to console her. I figured that in a month or so life would go back to normal and the pet rabbit would become a happy memory. Well, I figured wrong.

The rabbit who thought he was a dog

           By early March the following spring I took care of the remaining minor details to successfully complete the Lewis Apartment. After a year's work, we were extremely pleased with the results and no one was happier than Nancy. We talked about future decorative ideas for the bedroom and the terrace, but that was very much in the future. For the time being, all that was left to do was enjoy the fruits of our labour. But this was too good to be true because things turned out not as I had entirely anticipated in one key respect. And this was that the fruits of our labour were going to be enjoyed by Miss Lewis… -and her new roommate!

          I got the news in a phone call. Being that it was spring, with flowers in bloom and the sun radiating its feel-good warmth, Nancy took to visiting the area pet shop during her lunch breaks from work “just” to get out of the office. She was “only” window shopping, but then she spotted the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And if I were to “clean up and hurry up”, I would get to see it too! Well, I had my suspicions but I decided instead to stop by her place and see what this was all about.

          With a wide smile Nancy welcomed to me into her apartment, and then with a flourished and a musical “ta-daaa...” she focused my attention on a basket with a big pink bow. Sitting in the middle of the basket was this very alert pint-size black and white bunny, with one ear standing straight up and the other falling over one eye. “Isn’t she the cutest!” -gushed Miss Lewis as she picked the tiny rodent and brought it to her cheek for a soft caresses and several kisses. All I could do was stand there, look at the syrupy scene and mutter: -“Oh F%#@...”

Enter Sir Peepy Lewis -formally
known as Penelope.

           From the very first day there was something special about this rabbit. Miss Lewis wanted a female bunny thinking that perhaps the call of the wild would not be as strong on females. But to her embarrassment, during the bunny's first check-up with the vet, she soon realized her mistake as the bunny was being examined. "Nope, there is no mistake here. She is a he." -declared the doctor after, through his acute and educated sense of observation, noticed the bunny displaying at superlative long penis for the first time. I should add, before I drop the subject for good, that he developed the annoying habit of displaying his noodle to all first time visitors to the apartment. I think it was his way of marking "his territory" and telling everyone who was boss.

           Anyway, I laughed my head off as Nancy told me the story since I take deep pleasure in the humour of life. So at my insistence Penelope became "Peppy". For a while Nancy thought the name was a male name derivative from Penelope. But one day I confessed that I named him after a flaming gay character in the television show Nash Bridges. And let's not even bring up his behaviour when he heard the call of the wild or this narrative might turn pornographic! Yep, he was a Peppy alright.

Peppy liked to chew on the extras. The perfect Valentine's crooner!

           In no time at all Peppy became the centre of Miss Lewis’ world. Only a couple weeks-old when she acquired him, he followed her around like a love-sick puppy, bonding with her completely. In a matter of days the bunny made the apartment his -with us as his personal staff! He immediately adopted a favourite snooze spot at the foot of the dining area mural and, to our consternation, made one of the nearby potted plants his personal salad bar. But this time I was prepared for such an occurrence. I had purchased a couple of water pistols and had the time of my life shooting at the rascal whenever he got close to the plant! Oh how he hated getting wet... but he was stubborn and kept coming back for more! Unfortunately for him, brushes are not the only thing I'm good with. I'm also a crack shot with a pistol and he didn't stand a chance!

Peppy's New Year celebration image. Peppy as a Monopoly token!

           Surprisingly, unlike Oscar, Peppy was never fearful or shy around people. On the contrary, he would come up to anyone, sniff them curiously and even hop on their laps if he warranted the subject needed further scrutiny. And he thought nothing about hoping right on top of someone’s head if he needed to reach an elevated point of view. Curiosity drove him constantly. He would sneak, prod and investigate every nook and cranny in the apartment like a mad scientist on a quest. If I or anyone happened to be blocking his path during his daily investigations, he would communicate his intensions by pulling at the clothing with his teeth to get them out of the way.

           Peppy was truly a happy-go-lucky bunny. At any given moment he would dash around the apartment at breakneck speed doing cartwheels in the air. He was most entertaining -for a rabbit. I even got used to the little fellow, finding in him a kindred spirit. I mean, I also have a wild side that can be quite unpredictable and have been known to hear the call of the wild 24/7. See the connection? Anyway... On weekends Nancy and I liked to spread a thick blanket in front of the TV set, place a couple of pillows, prepare a snack platter, and lay back to watch a film on DVD. Peppy, who turned out to be an epicurean rabbit (or simply a born glutton), would soon come around demanding a share of the goodies.

A juicy slice of fresh cantaloupe never failed
to get Peppy in the mood to "strike a pose".
Composite image of Peppy, a background plate
of the Statue of Liberty, and a vintage microphone.

           At this point in my narrative, I feel I should do my civic duty of alerting my sharp readers about a very destructive rabbit habit (aside from showing up on inopportune moments during my quality time). The thing is that rabbits love to chew things, especially electrical wires –though they never seem to get an “educational” shock! Since Oscar rabbit, Nancy and I had made the apartment “rabbit-proof” by encasing every endangered cord inside clear plastic tubing (like the type used for aquariums). Rabbits will still chew them but no damage will come to the encased wires. Well, I hope this information may prove useful. Now, back the rabbit.

Final image for the Peppy Calendar July page.

           It goes without saying that “Peppy Lewis” became Nancy’s new star model. He was soon drafted for calendar duty. Same as before, Miss Lewis would do little set ups and “draft” me to do the photography. The problem was that I usually had little time and patience to deal with the rabbit’s lack of cooperation. There was always a mailing deadline I had to work fast so that the finished calendars could be shipped on time. But the rabbit would not stay still for two seconds in order for me to shoot the right angle for the desire pose.

           So one evening while trying to get the shot for the Valentine's theme February page, feeling exasperated with Peppy's refusal to sit still between a red-cloth background and a bunch of artificial red roses, I decided to end my misery by playing with nature. I let the rabbit go, and then downloaded the shots I already had into the computer, transferred them to PhotoShop and did a few “touch ups”. With a couple of mouse clicks and keystrokes I made a Peppy into a "misty eye" Frank Sinatra!

Real props were arranged for a scene
and then photographed.
Composite image constructed from
various photographs.

          As soon as Miss Lewis saw what I had done in PhotoShop, her big baby blues opened wide and new ideas and “possibilities” flooded into her pretty head. I immediately realized that I had opened the mythical Pandora's Box; there was no going back. Miss Lewis had “the Muralmaster” under her fingers and that meant the rabbit had me under its furry paws. Now it was a matter of time. And so, with my skills -and Nancy's management, Peppy Lewis would now go where few rabbits had gone before: the world of instant stardom!

Final image for the Peppy Calendar cover.

           The new Calendars were a sensation. As things turned out, PhotoShop made my life easier, though no less complicated (see ‘Victorian Mansion’ on the Design Page for more on Adobe® PhotoShop®). I would rather deal with the computer than with the rabbit. Now all I had to do was take a series of photographs of Peppy while he munched on treats, find suitable images to serve as background plates -such as one of the Statue of Liberty (or scavenge the needed images from the internet using Google images search), photograph a few props or find them on the net (such as one of an old-fashion microphone), and download everything into PhotoShop.

My kingdom for a carrot! Setting up
Peppy for the shot.
Image after hand was digitally removed
and flames painted under the pot.

           For some situations I could have Nancy manipulate the rabbit-treat to get Peppy in the proper pose and later remove the hand on Photoshop. This rabbit would do anything for food!!! Whenever possible we would still use actual setups or had Peppy wear a costume prop, such as a hat or a bow tie. But in the end, especially when a dozen finished images were needed for printing the next day, it was faster to manipulate existing photographs. And, whatever props I could not find in a short time, I could always paint in. Any ideas that Miss Lewis could think of, I could do -though I always tried to keep her imagination from going too far. After all, the idea was to save time, not make a vocation out of it.

Peppy as a celebrity spokesbunny. Peppy dispensing "Bunny Wisdom".

           Once I had all the needed photographs in PhotoShop, I then composed the final rendering. This was not as “easy” as it may sound. Consider that few of the acquired images were of the same resolution, scale, clarity and quality. Adjustments had to be made. This meant that several hours were dedicated to cropping, resizing, pasting, duplicating, colouring, balancing, distorting, correcting, lightening, darkening, levelling, sharpening, blurring, and doing whatever it took to get everthing to mix well into one final "composite". I never attempted to get competition-worthy results. My only goal was to do only the least amount of work to get by. By the way, I have been a judge in many photographic competitions. I know a lot about photography (and painting) and this knowledge was put to good use.

          After completing all the final composites, I next proceeded to format them into my design template (with page size, measuments and so on) and add the required text. This turned out to be my favourite part of the job. This is where I could go “naughty”! Miss Lewis is a morning person. She wakes up early –an odd behaviour any artist would find criminal. So by ten in the evening her eyes go glassy and her brain basically shots down before your very eyes. It’s quite a phenomenon! In Puerto Rico we say that –“she goes to bed with the chickens!”

          For those of you whose only knowledge of chickens comes from the supermarket meat section or from ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ commercials, chickens who live in the open “climb” (by flapping their wings really hard) unto tree branches or anything off the ground (to avoid predators) as soon as the sun goes down. To this day, even though this sensible chicken behaviour has been corroborated by several eyewitnesses, Miss Lewis -who grew up in the New Jersey countryside, thinks I’m pulling her leg! Women. Now, back to my naughty ways.

The Plain Dealer Rabbit News.
Click image to enlarge.

           So, after Miss Lewis retired for the night -and stopped looking over my shoulder, I concentrated on getting the work done by sunrise next morning (I'm the proverbial night owl). But I found the work tedious and boring, automatic, and soon my mind wandered off. Things began to happen. My thoughts drifted into the other side of seriousness were comedy, irony and satire reside. Before long I was writing “dialogue” for the rabbit as if he were a character in a play. A story began to emerge. And by the time Miss Lewis woke up, her cute darling Peppy had developed quite a personality. This was the way that the cool "Daddy'o of Love (or Musk) was born: Beatnik Bunny! How naughty was he? Read the headlines above (after being slightly sanitized by Miss Lewis).

How to make a rabbit cook

           Peppy's alter ego took a life of its own. Almost immediately Beatnik Beatnik made his grand entrance at the ICASI International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute as a character in one of Nancy’s theme menus. ‘Beatnik Bunny’s Sweet Tooth Heaven’ was the beginning of his rise to stardom. On the menu cover Beatnik appeared jamming with some of the legendary “heavenly” luminaries of music: John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ray Charles, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jerry Garcia, Bob Marley, and the great Beatnik burning the bongos!

Chef Beatnik Bunny -a new kind of rabbit. Legendary "heavenly" luminaries of music!

          But this was only the beginning. Soon Beatnik began “writing” the menu entries in his own infectious and inimitable style of 1950’s wisdom and 1960's soul. Here is a sample of his “tasteful critical rendition” for the traditional Spanish cake dessert ‘Brazo Gitano’:

Brazo Gitano (Guava, cream filled jelly-roll)

"Break out the guitars and bring the señoritas
because this “Gypsy” roll will make you dance Flamenco!
Topped with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar,
this light sponge cake filled with a delicious blend of
Guava and whipped cream cheese will have you drawing
designs in no time –if you know what I mean, dude.
A steal at 7 bucks".

          It was only a matter of time before "the fab rab" had his very own line of sweets, like his "signature" ice cream sandwich and, of course, the Beatnik Brownies (made with his own special blend of ingredients!).

Beatnik Bunny Ice Cream Sandwiches

"Shaped in my own image, this is your chance to partake of
my psychedelic aura, while enjoying creamy, homemade
vanilla ice cream sandwiched within a chocolaty brownie.
Imagine all this coolness for only 4 bucks."

           A limited line of “Peppy and Beatnik” items was produced to feed fan clamour for more of their idols. Posters, cards, aprons and kitchen towels became collector's items (note: the remaining stock is available to you; please visit our Store Page). However, a little Hollywood make-over took place. Peppy and Beatnik were now brothers, but with very different upbringings. Separated at birth, “Sir Peppy Lewis” attained his unflappable and suave demeanour and fame growing up in England, while Beatnik remained close to his "wild" American roots growing up in Nancy’s hometown of New Jersey (also home of that other great icon of Rock-n-Roll –Bruce Springsteen). Sir Peppy became a celebrated and highly respected award-winning actor and motion picture mogul, while Beatnik travelled the world experiencing exotic foods (and the local beauties), retuning home with his enlightened brand of rabbit wisdom -and a collection of exclusive recipes for his very own Beatnik restaurant.

"Sir Peppy" baking his favourite cookies. One tough shoot: Peppy in the pot. "Cheffing" with Beatnik Bunny!

          It is evident by observing the new images of Peppy and Beatnik that the art is light years ahead of the previous calendar image. The calendars were a family affair, with very little time dedicated to refining each image. But the later was art for commercial reproduction. The quality is ten times greater because the time spent on their creation was ten times more. A few friends and photographers have asked me for details on how they were made. Up until this writing I never explained them, promising a detail account on a later muralmaster update. Well, this is it. To illustrate the process in detail I will use the image of 'Peppy in the Pot', of which I prepared two versions. The earlier original one on the right and the later version on the left.

Peppy in the Pot, version two. Peppy in the Pot, original version.

          As I previously mentioned, for the original version of 'Peppy in the Pot' we actually placed Peppy in the pot and held up a carrot for him to nibble on. It was a one-shot deal. The only digital manipulation to this image was erasing the hand that held the carrot and adding flame on the burner. The second version of Peppy in the Pot is a photographic composite of over 25 pictures. Even the image of Peppy (who never had to enter the pot again) was made up from four individual pictures of his face, ears, legs and paws. Every other item in the composition was photographed individually and composited into the new image, with the exception of the one burner antique stove, which was created from scratch in PhotoShop. The result, though difficult to appreciate in this small resolution image, is amazingly "real". Below is a series of photographs showing many of the individual items that made up the final print.

          My working procedure is as follows. After taking clear photographs of all the objects, I download the images into the computer. Then I import the images into PhotoShop for digital manipulation. First I erase the surrounding background to "lift" a clean image of the object (having a monochrome background helps with this process). Then I incorporate each object into a group composition, adjusting the scale, color, lighting and contrast into a unified look. Once I'm satisfied with the compositional ensemble, I further "blend" the objects into one another by adjusting color saturation and lighting, softening and sharpening of edges, and adding reflections and shadows. In fact, the process is identical to the way I create my paintings with the exception that instead of moving paint with a brush on a canvas, I move pixels with a mouse on a computer screen.

A nice jar of olive oil... a large cooking pot... and the perfect tomatoes!

A couple bottles of good wine... plenty of perks for our (reluctant) star... a bowl of sliced mushrooms and fresh herbs.

A great brand of Balsamic vinegar... a clean kitchen towel... and plenty of fresh spices!

          The art for the other Peppy and Beatnik designs was done in similar fashion. Even the chef hats came from individual pictures, which were further manipulated and rendered in PhotoShop. The entire process illustrates the difference between photography and painting. Like in the first version of Peppy in the Pot, a photograph is a record of natural reality (the image captured through a lens), while a painting is the creative "manipulation" of various elements in nature to create a new reality; one that was imagined.

          This is why I considered painting an art superior to photography. One may argue that my latter version of Peppy in the Pot is a photograph. But I argue that, even though the final result is photographic or photo-like, it is a "digital" painting, an artistic conception from the artist's imagination. The scene taking place in the second version of Peppy in the Pot never happened.

          I’m not proposing that there is no artistic involvement in photography. In fact the application of art principles dealing with things such as colour and the elements of composition apply to photography as they do in painting. But other than the application of artistic principles and practices for quality and refinement, nothing new is basically created in a photograph. Everything was already there in front of the lens.

The flow of ideas

          Since I was in my teens -writing, producing and acting in plays, people have asked me how I come up with so many creative ideas. The questioning intensified after I began my career as a painter, designer, and as an educator. In truth I never had any shortage of new ideas or a lack of alternate takes on old ones. To explain this behaviour I must first point out that ideas do not come out of nothing. I view the brain as a cooking pot that will make fresh stew from everything you put in. You will end up with a very weak and tasteless broth if nothing goes into your mind.

          The other thing you need is a good steady fire under the thinking pot. This is what helps to build up the pressure to extract and distil useful nutrients into a satisfying and delicious new creation. What brings out the fire? -Problems; challenges; and obstacles. Since there are no shortages of these in life, there is no end to creativity. But like I first pointed out, you have to “feed the pot” in order to have the right ingredients to make stew. I’m a food gatherer by nature. Since as far back as I can recall, I have always read, investigated, questioned, and pondered the most absurd and whimsical things in life. Nothing is deemed unworthy of my attention. And, as I get older, the desire to learn increases.

Any time, anyway, anywhere -I'm always thinking.

          I believe that creativeness is partly inherited. My brother Ricky is also a very creative person. In fact, he was awarded the 2008 NASA-Glen Craftsmanship Award for designing and constructing a tool that solved a technical problem encountered during a research project –saving tax-payers several hundred thousand of dollars in the process. The differences between us is that he is far better at math, an area that I never care for aside from Geometry, and he is more relaxed and methodical than I am, perhaps on account of me being ADHD which makes my mind a fast pressure cooker. Ricky's thinking is more lineal than mine; my thinking is more abstract. It keeps him grounded in reality while I am always searching for the impossible. But together we make a dynamic combination.

With my brother Ricky at El Yunque tropical rain forest. We share a common love for the natural beauty of our island. At the July 2008 NASA Awards. I'm the older brother and
Ricky is the younger, but he is the smarter of the two.

Peppy Lewis Superstar

          For 2006 Nancy and I decided to do a classic movie theme Peppy Calendar. It was the culmination of all our previous calendar experiences. Once more Peppy was the star of the show with Beatnik making a guest star appearance in the back cover with, quite appropriately, the Blues Brothers. I think it is obvious from viewing these images that we have a lot of fun playing around with ideas. By the way, the March image is our favourite. For your viewing pleasure click on the thumbnails to open an enlarged image. I want to make clear that I have stolen all the movie plates from the internet and that they are copyrighted material. But the Peppy Calendar is for private use, not commercial. The images are used only for parody (Mr. Jack Nicholson, we love you!). So it is okay to show them to you –just don’t get any bright ideas. Okay?

Peppy's Calendar -a special gift to family and friends.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge images

January - enero February - febrero March - marzo

April - abril May - mayo June - junio

July - julio August - agosto September - septiembre

October - octubre November - noviembre December - deciembre

Final page - última página Back cover - Peppy's feud with Jack

A bunny's life: innocence and wonder

           Peppy greatly enjoyed his celebrity. He loved people fawning over him and massaging his long ears. Around the house he was treated more like a spoiled kid than a rabbit. Whenever his antics went too far, he was led into his cage. The key word here is “led”. You never pick up a rabbit and drop him inside his cage! That's "holy ground" to rabbits and it's off limits to humans. You simply place them near the cage entrance and they get the hint. But sometimes Peppy would simply go into his cage on his own if he was mad at you for, say, denying him a treat or for wetting him with the water pistol to cool off his attentions during the call of the wild. Then, after a little time to cool his heels, he would be right back pursuing a new interest.

Our star "being fed" directions. He worked for carrots. Peppy in action! He would do anything for a treat!

           One thing that brought him out like a bullet was the opening of the refrigerator. He loved to stick his nose in to check out the produce bin. And during my musings he loved to stick around in the hopes of sharing my snack plate. Being the curious sort that I am (and without Miss Lewis' consent), I kept testing the extent of his appetite which appeared bottomless. In addition to his food pellets, he ate all kinds of dry cereals like Corn Flakes, Cherrios, and Chex Mix; soda and Ritz crackers, all manner of fruits –especially apples (bananas being the only exception), raisons, chocolate, garden vegetables, beans, rice, and even cake. And, he even liked to taste coffee, juice, and loved wine. There is nothing more amusing that the sight of a rabbit with his head stuck inside a wine glass while is little tongue works furiously at licking a nice Burgundy!

           He also liked to wander off on ocassion. Once he sneaked out of the apartment into the hallway without our notice. Now, Nancy’s place is on the third floor of the Carlyle high-rise with long hallways leading to the elevators. Not many places for a rabbit to hide. But after a frantic search when he was discovered missing, Miss Lewis had no option but to call the front desk to report a missing rabbit. Sounding apologetic and somewhat ambarassed, she inquired: -"Hi, I know this may sound a little strange, but... has someone reported spotting a rabbit?" Well, as things turned out, that was the end of our search. The front desk attendant had been having a great time entertaining Peppy. How he made it from the third floor to the ground floor is still a mystery to us. It goes without saying, Peppy was an original.

Peppy's "bad boy" alter ego, Beatnik Bunny! "Bad, bad rabbit! It's back to your cage for you!"

"Good night, sweet prince."

           The fourth of July 2007 was a gorgeous day. My parents and my niece and nephew, Yamilette and Jean Michael, were visiting from Puerto Rico, and, along my brother Ricky and my kids Alex and Selina, were at Nancy’s enjoying another great dinner. After dessert we were going to walk to Lakewood Park to see the night’s fireworks display. Peppy was not his usual self. Since the previous day he had been quietly keeping to his favourite corner. Nancy noticed that he had not touched his food. Something was seriously wrong. We decided to take him to the vet first thing the next day since, being the Fourth of July Holiday, everything was closed for business.

           The fireworks were spectacular and we had a great time. After everyone had left for the night we immediately went to check on Peppy. He was not in his cage. We looked around his favourite spots and found him under the bed. But he was not responding; he was shivering. We picked him up, placed him on the bed and covered him up. Nancy was in tears gently rubbing his ears. “Peppy please get well” she kept saying between sobs. A few minutes went by without a response. Then he started shaking violently… and suddently went still. Peppy was gone.

           I have seen death up-close and I was hardened to it. But that night, the sight of Nancy sobbing inconsolably, begging Peppy to “please wake up”, finally broke my heart. I called my brother Ricky and told him the news. The family was staying with him at our place. That same night, we buried Peppy next to Oscar in our front garden.

Peppy Lewis (March of 2005 - July 4, 2007)

           Everyone was truly saddened by the news. We never found out the cause of death. Perhaps it had been a virus. These things are not uncommon with rabbits. But nothing could have prepared us for it. Peppy was a healthy, young and very active pet and we looked forward to many happy years of having him around. However, in many ways he is still with us. He left a legacy of fond memories and he still lives on as Sir Peppy Lewis and Beatnik Bunny. He had a short life but it was a good one. And he made us happy. Oh, how we miss him…