Friday, May 31, 2013

Vampire Twins

I went through a brief Anne Rice period around the end of the '80s and early '90s. (1980s and 90s, that is.) Anne Rice makes her work easy to illustrate by lavishly describing her characters and scenes with old-fashioned purple prose. These pallid gals are the red-haired vampire twins from Anne Rice's books, VAMPIRE LESTAT and QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, Maharet and Mekare. Remember, in fantasy redheads rule. They are posed with a cascade of roses (they are inspired by models from a perfume ad) and a skull, from Grateful Dead imagery. You can read a synopsis of their tale in this rather badly written Wikipedia article. Thankfully, I have gotten away from Rice and her vampires, replacing them with Space Marines, which are not so lurid but still manage to splatter a lot of literary blood. 

"Maharet and Mekare" are watercolor on illustration board, 11" x 14", October 1990.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baroque Dragon

Naturally, my next step in making Baroque fantasy art is to add a dragon. They seem the perfect beasts to inhabit the seventeenth-century mixture of Roman paganism and Biblical apocalyptic. The more spiky and decorated dragons might even be camouflaged among the cut cornices and carved biomorphic ornaments. Is it the dragon of Revelation, or the visitor from a prehistoric alternate universe? Fantasy worlds like "Warhammer" blend Baroque design with futuristic space warriors.

When I was a surrealistic teenager I used to listen to a hilarious radio program called "DeKoven Presents." It was created by an erudite eccentric, known only as "DeKoven" to his fans. DeKoven played music from the Baroque and later Rococo periods, and he combined them into "Barococo." It had nothing to do with dragons, but inspired generations of listeners to pay attention to this musical heritage.

Gel pen ink on sketchbook page, 4" x 3", May 30, 2013.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Baroque Doodle

The Baroque cultural era flourished about 1600 CE in Europe. Inspired by the triumphant Catholic Church and the imagery of the Later Roman Empire, it produced loads of overblown, wildly elaborate, detail-massed art, architecture, sculpture, and theater, as well as mathematically perfect music that cranks along like the sound of gears and brass spheres. It's a great place to mine ideas for fantasy worlds. The recent "goth" movement as well as Steampunk go excellently with Baroque material. 

I spent a lot of my younger years in Rome, where Baroque style dominates. I never get tired of using these decadent 17th century detailfests as background for fantasy characters. This doodle, produced over a few days when I had time in my recent New England stay and finished in my studio, is a mashup of Baroque architectural features without any actual structure involved.

Pitt technical pen and marker on sketchbook page, about 8" x 2 1/4", May 2013.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I was a Teen-age Surrealist

I found old art from my youthful days in a garden shed on my parents' property that I had once used as a playhouse. The shed was full of not only my own student art but some of my mother's earlier art as well. All of the art had been carelessly stashed in there and subjected to bitter cold, summer heat, moisture, insects, and mice. Even so, this piece remained in surprisingly good shape. 

"Horror House," which is not the original title since I've long forgotten what that was, is dated December 7, 1968 and signed with my original name. It depicts a house front, or rather four different stories of different house fronts, each of which has surrealistic features. I find it fascinating that even when I was just a young thing I did architectural fantasy and house drawings. The date shows that I was 15 years old when I painted this. 

I still remember clearly what was in this painting. Starting from the top, white level: A cross-shaped telephone pole with "INRI" at the intersection. That is the inscription (I.N.R.I. stands for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, or "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews") on the Cross of Christ. Moving to the right are three elemental faces: Fire, with a cigarette, Earth, and Water, spitting out a cloudy wave. The small window to the right shows a baseball player character I was writing about at that time. 

The next level, in orange-yellow, shows a woman with a heart-shaped mask over her face, shaking out a rug from the window. The rug is actually a tiny piece of rustic, colorful weaving that I attached to the painting, making it multi-media. The rug is being sucked in by the Intestine Head Monster from the lower story. Moving right, you see a crazy hand stabbing the house with a dagger.

The next lower level, light green walls, shows the elemental Air Face extruding the Intestine Head Monster. There are three windows on this floor and each one shows the typical work of a Pop Artist of that era. The pin-up girl is from Tom Wesselmann, the blue and black road picture by Allen D'Arcangelo, and the "Eat/Die" picture is from Robert Indiana. I guess I was into Pop Art in those days, or maybe was making fun of it. A trash can sits on the porch roof, done in non-perspective. 

The ground floor with the porch shows a mysterious man at the door who was a character from my Noantri writing of the time (yes, I was creating the Noantri world even back then). A Hunchback, not from Notre Dame, sits on the porch with a dancing cat. Seen through the big window is a frowsy woman in a red dress and a sleazy guy with a drink and a cigarette. The woman appears to be yelling at the man. In another bit of multi-media, I covered part of the window with a tiny piece of real metal screen. Part of the lower left corner has been gnawed away by mice.

"Horror House" is gouache (opaque watercolor) on illustration board, covered over with a protective acrylic spray. That's how it survived the bad conditions in the shed. It's 20" x 30" and was painted at the same time as I was making electronic music on the Buchla synthesizer, fall 1968. Click on the image for a larger version.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dim Den

I didn't get much chance to do any drawing or sketching during my two weeks at the parental home. When I did it was well into the night when the only light was cast by the reddish, faded fluorescent bulbs in the old fixtures. There is nothing less than 20 years old in the house, and many places haven't been cleaned or dusted in more than those years. This iPad sketch shows one of these lights (the round dark thing is the housing) turned against the wall, illuminating a corner of one of my mother's paintings. The couch, covered with fake fur blankets, facing the TV, is where my father spent most of his last 20 years. Now that my father is gone I have begun dismantling his hoards, in which treasures and valuable documents and equipment are mixed in with a lot of worthless trash and dead plastic debris.

"Art Studio" for iPad, May 2013.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

R.I.P. Harold Shapero 1920-2013

 Harold Shapero in Rome, 1962

My father, composer Harold Shapero, died on May 17, 2013 of complications from pneumonia, dementia, and just plain old age. He was 93. There have been obituaries in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Gramophone Magazine and "Sequenza 21" online, and other blogs and publications. 

This is the obituary which will never appear in these prestigious publications, because it is too personal. But I grew up with him as his daughter and witnessed the struggles he went through.

The picture you see above (click on pic for larger view) was taken in 1962 when my father, mother, and I were living in Rome. This would make my father 42 years old at the time of this picture. We were arty American expatriates. There's my father, with his beret and wool coat and even a tie (he never wore a tie!), the composer and artist abroad, along with his cigarette (he smoked plenty before graduating to a professorial pipe) and his touristic binoculars in a brown leather case. I lived a privileged life, almost like a movie star's child, visiting ancient sites and exotic cities with mom and dad. But we were also like hippies, traveling and camping in a Volkswagen bus. 

We would make two more trips to Europe, in 1969 and 1970-71, Volkswagen bus and all. My father was a professor at Brandeis and the director of the electronic music studio, where I played the Buchla synthesizer and recorded numerous improvisations with my father on piano as well as with other instrumentalists. My father also served as consultant for an early version of an orchestral synthesizer. This "orchestron" was rendered obsolete by digital sampling and sound-morphing technology.

It was in the mid-70s that things started going wrong with my father. I had already noticed some of this in 1969. He had a genetic history of auto-immune problems and developed colitis, a debilitating intestinal disorder. He also had a tendency towards obsessive and compulsive behavior and what might be now thought of as mild Asperger's syndrome, as well as ongoing depression. Both the physical and mental problems intensified in the 70s and 80s as he grew older. Back then, there was no way of diagnosing or treating mental problems such as autism spectrum disorder or OCD. He would not consider any form of psychotherapy. My father was obsessed with saving money and finding bargains, and this theme came to dominate his life, even though we were always financially comfortable. There was also no good remedy for colitis, and modern anti-depressants hadn't been invented yet. He probably wouldn't have taken them anyway, even if they did exist. 

Writing music was always difficult  for my father and he claimed that while writing music he experienced many painful physical problems including worsening auto-immune symptoms, probably intensified by stress. It got to the point where he simply didn't want to go through the ordeal. 

My father is gone now and the best of his life is now preserved in his music. The music will take on an existence of its own and memories of the person will eventually fade away, leaving only stories and quotes. What I will say is that my father's music was created despite all these obstacles, and that behind the neo-classical elegance and musical erudition was a lot of pain.

I have spent the last two weeks in Boston dealing with family stuff, and I haven't made any new art in a long time. I need to return to my "normal" life and so it's back to work. Blogging resumes now and I hope I have some brighter things to share with you soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Queen of Coffee

This weekend is Mother's Day Weekend and Trader Joe's offers ways to be nice to Mother. An American tradition is "breakfast in bed," where the family brings Mom a lavish breakfast while she lies in her bed in queenly repose. Now I don't know how this tradition evolved but I think it's a bad idea. You have to get out of bed to pee and brush your teeth, after all, and then get back into bed while sticky crumby food is placed right on your sleeping area. You're bound to spill that precious Hawaiian coffee since everything is placed on unstable cushions and a tray board over your legs. However this doesn't mean that on Mother's Day you should not treat your Mom like a queen. You should because she deserves it for bringing you up, if she really did that. The rare Kona coffee, Danish pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice, and tiny roses should be served on a beautifully arranged, stable surface at which the Queen Mother should sit in courtly splendor. 

I don't often do outright cartoons but this ad for Trader Joe's is one of them. Slightly frowzy Mom looks like many of the ladies who shop at my workplace. I also did an ad for TJ's fancy Hawaiian Kona coffee on the other side of the ad placard, which goes in the pastry and coffee section, naturally. Kona is rare and prized; it's the only coffee commercially grown in the United States, and the price reflects that. But your Mother is worth it.

I will be going up to my home place near Boston for Mother's Day. But it is a somber situation because my father is dying, and may expire during my visit. He is 93, and basically succumbing to old age after suffering with many long-term health problems. He has been declining in the last few years and things really started to deteriorate after he took ill with pneumonia in late November. You may remember that I was not able to post here for three weeks while I was stuck at my parents' house during that crisis.

Now it is just a matter of time and I will be there for my mother as long as I can. I probably won't be blogging here, at least on a regular basis, for a week or two. Before you send me messages of condolence, please note that my relationship with my father was difficult and that I have mixed feelings about his demise. More than that I don't want to say in any public place. But thanks for your good thoughts.

Trader Joe's cartoon ads are markers on cardstock, first one about 9" x 7", second one about 7" x 7", May 7, 2013.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Alien Hedge

On an alien world, the semi-sentient vegetation whispers at you and wriggles its sprout tentacles. A hedge on this world really does offer protection. I am not referring to hedge funds, which are also alien. There are animals and people on this world, too, all of them derived from this vegetable evolution. I'm not sure this place is safe to visit, unless you are a purely mechanical robot, and maybe not even then. The atmosphere is loaded with carbon dioxide and chlorine, exhalations and inhalations of this non-Earthly vegetation. Hedge your bets if you explore this place. This picture was not done on-site.

Photoshop, about an hour's toil, about 10" x 4" print size, May 7, 2013. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Never Enough Azaleas

This house is about a mile from mine, in an older neighborhood behind a large shopping center. In mid-spring the entire neighborhood is swamped with brilliant azalea blossoms, and this household leads the way with more azaleas than anyone else. They tend them and prune them for maximum blossom density. I guess their sentiment is, you can never have enough azaleas. 

I drew this sketch on site many years ago. I was enjoying a big new set of colored pencils. Most sets of colored pencils come with all sorts of brilliant colors, especially pinks and reds, and usually I never have the opportunity to use all the bright colors. (I would love to have a colored pencil set composed entirely of earth tones; I created one by buying individual pencils and stashing them in a separate pencil holder.) But this time I got to use all those pink colors in a "reality" drawing. 

This year, 15 years after the drawing, the azaleas at this house are still going strong. Here's a photograph I took just a few days ago.

Azalea drawing is ink and colored pencil on sketchbook page, about 7 1/2" x 5", May 1998.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Vampire Lestat

The mid to late 1980s was a time of questionable taste and blonde-haired rock idols. People voluntarily listened to songs and went to concerts of "hair bands," showy acts featuring lots of bushy hairdos and tacky costumes. Anne Rice's famous "Vampire Lestat" series ("The Vampire Lestat" book was published in 1985) featured her beloved blonde vampire boy becoming a 1980s rock star. So when I did some character portraits from the Anne Rice vampire series, I borrowed the image of a then-well-known rock performer whose stage name was the musically blasphemous "Sebastian Bach." This very pretty youth was the lead singer for a band named "Skid Row." I gave him a black vampire cape embellished with a moon with eyes, which was a reference to the Grateful Dead's "Picasso Moon," a brilliant song first performed in 1989. 

Fast forward to 2013, where hairy rock is relegated to nostalgia acts and grainy old videos. My Grateful Dead cassettes and Anne Rice books gather a layer of dust in my cyber-cave. Vampires live forever, but styles don't. Even so, "Sebastian Bach" is still performing, living the cultural equivalent of the vampire life.

"Vampire Lestat, Superstar" is watercolor and acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", March 1991.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Owl Griffin

There are owls in my backyard. I hear them at night, since I keep their schedule. They are Barred Owls and they make a lot of noise in the spring when they are nesting and raising young. I never see them, since it's, uh, dark when they are out. 

A Griffin is usually a combination of an Eagle and a Lion, but what if it were an Owl Griffin instead? An "Owliffin" or a "Griffinowl" would prowl by night on noiseless fuzzy wings. My kind of creature indeed.

"Owl Griffin" is ink on sketchbook page with a bit of digital inking, 4 1/2" x 4", May 4, 2013.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pin-up Amazon

Finally...! I finished my latest attempt at a pin-up Amazon, that persistent cliche of fantasy illustration that depicts girl warriors in tiny bikinis with improbable, un-liftable weapons. This ain't perfect, but it's a lot better than my previous attempts at this type of thing. The hands aren't quite right, and I could have given her more substantial stairsteps to pose on. The proportions are not "real girl" proportions, they are elongated fashion drawing proportions. Of course the bikini strips could not actually be worn without a lot of glue to stick to skin, but this is fantasy. The face, though, is that of a real girl who works at my workplace. 

It's all done in Photoshop from an original pencil scribble that I posted here last year. I warn you that I am not going to stop making these digital character portraits, whether they are cliche's or not. Click on the pic for a larger view.

Photoshop, a lot of work over a long time, finished May 3, 2013.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Marvel's Black Knight

The character didn't interest me much, but the costume was kind of spiffy for its time, a mixture of medieval with modern. There isn't a lot of black on the Knight's outfit at all, just the boots, gloves, and surcoat. The blue cape doesn't match, but a cape is always good for a swashbuckling hero. Or a swashbuckling villain, as some of the versions of this character are evil. The one portrayed here is the good guy, who rode a winged horse and even was a member of the mighty Avengers for a while. His magical black sword is a tame version of Michael Moorcock's "Stormbringer," the soul-eating black demon-blade that later makes an appearance in the epic "Conan the Barbarian Meets Elric" series of the early 1970s. Elric, the albino king/adventurer created by British author Michael Moorcock, was the ultimate Black Knight. I am planning to re-visit Elric at some point. But not at the point of the Black Sword.

"Black Knight" is acrylic on illustration board, 3" x 7", fall 1985.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dead City

It's been a dark time for me in the last month of 2012 and the first half of 2013. This iPad fantasy environment sketch seemed to sum up both my mood and the weather of the day. I did it surprisingly quickly, in about 10 or 15 minutes, while I sipped an espresso on my work break in the neighboring coffeehouse. Outdoors a cold drizzle kept everything dim and dank. I will be doing a lot more of these little environment sketches, which are part of the training necessary to do "concept art." 

ArtStudio on the iPad, April 30, 2013.