Tempest Huckstep, also known as the Angel of Death, is an expert sharpshooter who lives as a gun for hire in the American west. Her weapon of choice is the Spencer repeater rifle. She is also known as Hell’s Belle, for rumors claim she also has otherworldly abilities that could only be the result of witchcraft. She rarely stays in one town for long because she is constantly hounded by lawmen of a federal agency called the “Secret Service” who seem more concerned with any books she may have in her possession than with any crimes she may have committed.
Tempest was born in Illiopolis, Illinois in 1855. The “City of Illinois,” virtually the exact geographic center of the state, was at first a small collection of log cabins which were destroyed by fire and remained little more than abandoned grassland for nearly twenty years until the railroad came through in 1853. This sudden link to the state capitol of Springfield, twenty-five miles directly to the west, spurred the town’s rebirth. Tempest’s father Abner, known as an ingenious inventor by the general public and a talented sorcerer and occultist to a few close friends (including a Springfield lawyer named Abraham Lincoln) owned several hundred acres outside of the town. It was here he designed specialized steam-powered engines and experimented with electricity over twenty years before Edison and Tesla would.
By the time Tempest was seven years old, the war between the states was shaping up to be a drawn out conflict, and Abner’s old friend, now President of the United States, called upon him to improve upon artillery range and accuracy. Few people in the future would know that it was no coincidence that Abner’s property would be part of what would become the Sangamon Ordinance Plant in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for Lincoln had also directed Abner to secretly use his other talents to design weaponry unlike anything the world had ever known.
Despite her young age, Tempest acted as her father’s apprentice in all of his works, both occult and mundane, as had been the custom among sorcerers for over a thousand years.
Abner’s exotic weaponry, such as an armored steam-wagon that could shoot controlled bolts of lightning, were never manufactured because he did not turn over his designs and diaries to the government. The civil war had claimed too many lives, and he feared his weapons would contribute to such carnage across the world. Upon Lincoln’s assassination and hints of deeper conspiracy, Abner set fire to his own laboratories in an attempt to convince the world that all of his work was destroyed in a tragic accident.
The ruse seemed to have worked for years, until he learned of unknown parties making discrete inquiries about him. Fearing the worst, he hid his diaries among his now young teenage daughter’s text books and sent her off to a private school in Texas. The last time Tempest saw her father alive was at the train station, where instead of loving words of encouragement and promises of reunion, her father told her to remember all that she had learned from him, to keep these things secret, and to trust no one.
May 13, 2016
Artwork, characters and story: copyright, Louis Eliopoulos
Ah, what can I say. The inspiration for this piece is a photo by Annette Kerstin (Annette Kerstin Photography) of a friend of mine back in 2015. I loved the lighting and the pose, and there was something about the look on her face that every time I would look away and back, the expression seemed to read differently… mild happiness, amusement, smugness, boredom… it was sort of “Mona Lisa smile-ish”… so I thought one way to lock down a look of “I’m a badass” was to add guns, lol.
As I had bought a new computer since the last paints I did, I had to reinstall and set up the various paint and tablet software and in doing so stumbled across obvious brush settings I simply never looked at before, and to save a lot of techno babble, avoided traps I had constantly fallen into previously. I played movie soundtracks on Youtube for background music, mostly Star Trek I (majestic vibe) and II (courage under conflict vibe) and at the end tried out Conan the Barbarian (yes, Arnold’s movie) which turned out to be ridiculously great, with sections reminiscent of Verdi and others of Bolero. Truly epic fantasy music.
In the end, this paint went rather smoothly though there are at least fifty layers of drawn elements in this thing. I also did it at a large size and resolution, so you can zoom in really close and it still is detailed and can be printed in large format. For example, you can see the individual threads of the scraped up knee of her jeans, or the engraving on the rifle, and the stitching on her bags and corset. I still use the “burn” tool a lot though other artists say to avoid it… I just love the way it adds texture to fabrics and skin instead of having to overlay textures on separate layers.
The piece perhaps took 8 hours of drawing time spread across five or six sessions. Its hard to say, because in between sessions, and often in the middle of them, I did a lot of internet searches both for historical accuracy and source photos. Searches involved history of rifles (settling on the Spencer, the one I created is a combo of 3 different rifles I found), Victorian clothing and patterns, saddle bags, steam engines, trains, peacock feathers, Civil War history, Abraham Lincoln, Illiopolis, Illinois, and more.
At first I had intended on full-blown steampunk, but the engineer in me has a problem with how SP fans have turned the characters into steam powered people as opposed to Victorian era people using steam engines and contraptions. I was going to replace some body parts with robotics in my earliest sketches, and even designed cable/gear/pulley systems to replace tendons in the hand and forearm, but kept thinking that though it would work mechanically, how would this connect biologically? And if things are steam powered, who the hell wants to carry a burning furnace and boiler on their back? This is the issue I have with a lot of steampunk creations… either its overdone and impossible, or people simply glue a bunch of gears to their costume for aesthetics. As if a vampire would wear a shirt with a bunch of batman logos all over it to make him look more vampy.
When the drawing was looking more Western than Steampunk though, I decided to come up with a story or character bio to maybe inspire me or direct me in which way to go, or at least let me trick myself into satisfying the need for steam. I knew the general time period, I just needed a location, and that’s when I found Illiopolis, which was too good to pass up as it is almost identically pronounced as my last name (Eliopoulos). The tiny town had, as a local historian put it, “narrowly missed” history on several occasions… it’s geographical location and name was meant to set it up as the state capitol (as Indianapolis is to Indiana), but the capitol wound up 25 miles west. The Lincolns likely came into Illinois through here, and Abe himself likely slept here a few times as he had friends here, and ever the Donner Party (who’s hungry?) had ties to the area.
Overall I’m pretty happy with this, though I could add on a few more trinkets and gadgets, and I learned a little bit of history to boot.