Sunday, August 31, 2014

Young Grapevines at Winding Road

I visited "Winding Road Cellars" again on Saturday and did this drawing of one of their new vineyards. The Winding Road folks have optimistically planted acres of new grapevines which will not bear wine-able grapes for 5 years. Some of these grape saplings will not survive, whether killed by harsh weather or eaten by deer or other animals. I hope to document the progress of this new vineyard in sketches. Meanwhile, Winding Road Cellars continues to sell copies of my "Earthly Paradise" winery art book, and I delivered more of them to the vineyard today.

You don't see too many artistic landscapes in overcast light. Especially in August when the trees and grasses have a lot of yellow color, cloudy light either turns green tree colors to a muddy brown or a faded grey. During my drawing session, the clouds thinned and revealed a few sunbeams, which lit up the grassy slope with a brilliant yellow-green that I've tried to capture here.

Colored pencil on sketchbook page, 6" x 5", August 30, 2014.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vonage at Tysons Mall

"Vonage" is an internet telephone service that makes it easier and cheaper for people to call their families and friends overseas. I drew this Vonage sales booth while I sat in the mall sipping my iced coffee. Friday afternoon and evening is a big crowd scene at the mall and I enjoyed seeing people from every country on earth wandering around shopping and socializing. There were many Arabs, especially women in Islamic hijab and richly embellished garb from their own nations. Whole families shopped together, and there were plenty of children in this international gathering. I have never seen so many Middle Eastern people in this mall in the suburbs of Washington, DC. They all seemed very well off. I am guessing that these are the very affluent elite of various Middle Eastern places who have gathered up their riches and fled the turmoil in their area to stay in America safely. A similar movement brought millions of the Iranian upper class and elite to America in 1979 and 1980 when the Shah was deposed in the revolution. Most of these Iranians never went back home, and settled in the USA and raised the next generation in exile. I wonder whether these new emigrants will ever get home again. At least they can call home with Vonage.

Sociology and international politics aside, I am pleased with my mall drawing and since orange is my favorite color and also the theme color of Vonage, I've added an accent area.

Pitt black technical pen on sketchbook page, 5" x 8", color added in Photoshop, August 29, 2014.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Olde" Lantern

In order to keep my drawing skills happening and provide you with the best art and art by-products, I must find interesting things to draw. Since I don't find a parking lot full of cars very interesting, I must turn to things I find inside my dwelling, the way the "Sustainably Creative" artist Michael Nobbs does. Fortunately I have all sorts of interesting things in my home, which other people might call "clutter." This imitation railroad lantern is one of them. It sits on my windowsill and is silver in color. I love these railroad lanterns and have two more, one in red and one in green, in honor of the comic book superhero "Green Lantern." They are one of my ways of reminding myself of the historical industrial and rural world outside the new city where I live. The lanterns, though, are all made in China.

This one, branded as the "Olde Brooklyn Lantern," was widely marketed on television and my father, in his later days, bought a lot of them because the TV offered bargains on them that he couldn't resist. The "bargains" turned out to include a lot of defective Brooklyn Lanterns that would not light up. This one I have here is one of the ones that worked. Unlike the traditional kerosene and wick lantern, this one works on batteries and LED mini-bulbs and emits a pale purplish light. Despite its mainly decorative quality, it is not completely useless. When I was stranded in a hotel in New Jersey without electric power or lights during Hurricane Sandy, my Brooklyn Lantern was quite useful to light my way around the room.

Pitt technical pen black ink on sketchbook page, 4" x 6", August 28, 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Morgaine or Elric

This picture could be either C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine or Michael Moorcock's Elric, though I meant it to be Morgaine. Just a little photoshoppery on the sword and on the character's chest and you'd get Elric. The character is riding the "Universal Horse" (that is, no matter what fantasy world you're on, the horses are all standard Earth species equines.) In fact everything in this picture can be found as a cliche on the wonderful website "" which enumerates "Mystical White Hair" and "Automaton Horse," not to mention "Magical Sword" which probably covers everything.

"Morgaine at Exiles' Gate" is watercolor on illustration board, 8" x 11", November 1989. Rescued from a bad photograph by the magic of Photoshop. Klik for a larger view.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oley Valley, PA, August 2006

Once upon a time, not even 10 years ago, I had more money at my disposal and was able to take time off from work to travel around the countryside drawing things. These two colored pencil drawings come from that pre-Crash era, when I was touring through eastern and central Pennsylvania in Amish country. The location is Oley Valley, Pennsylvania, which appeared in a poem by modernist 20th century American poet Wallace Stevens, who was born and raised there and had strong historical family ties to that region.

"One of the limits of reality
Presents itself in Oley when the hay,
Baked through long days, is piled in mows…"

(From "Credences of Summer," part IV)

Stevens is one of my favorite poets, despite his expectation that the reader will be as sophisticated and well-informed as he is in order to get the density of references he writes about. He also writes from a position of social privilege which is hard to take in the politically edged culture of our current time. 

Literary Criticism aside, these are the colored pencil landscape studies which morphed into my winery drawings a couple of years later, when I traded traveling in other U.S. states to visiting wineries in Virginia. 

Colored pencil on sketchbook page, 8 1/2" x 11", August 14, 2006. Some Photoshop restoration in the sky area. Cliquez for larger view.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Magical Amazon

Sometime back in the sultry August of 1983 I got two fan friends of mine to pose for me, an athletic, well-endowed woman and her skinny boyfriend. They dressed in minimal attire and posed in my Cambridge, Massachusetts back yard. I paid them money and possibly a bit of art as well. They took just the kind of action poses I wanted for my fantasy pictures. She had the required red hair and large chest and though she was not trained or a "real" fighter she could wield her props in an entertaining fantasy way. This is the origin of the picture for today, "Magical Amazon." There is no story to this piece, only a figure study with some nice colors and special effects. It's one of my better figure pieces, which perhaps is not saying much but she looks better than my usual awkward attempts. Somewhere in my crammed studio are the photos I took of this helpful couple. I wonder where they are now. 

"Magical Amazon" is acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 16", August 1983. It was shown, and sold, at the World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore, Md. later that month. Click for larger view.

Monday, August 25, 2014


A Starcat plays with planet Earth. Your cat would, too, if he got the chance. This piece is an attempt at a more "graphic" style, that is, flatter and more stylized. The nebula background is done with an airbrush. Cat lovers and astrophysics lovers often go together, because cats challenge the laws of physics and cosmology. They have variable mass, and often absorb or bend light like a black hole. Watch the galactic cat leap through space-time! If you look closely, you can see the dimensions of the cosmic Paw...

"Starcat" is acrylic on black illustration board, 10" x 7", January 1987.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chaos Castle

British fantasy author Michael Moorcock, who is still turning out the fantasy in the 21st century, evidently had quite a time in the 1960s and 1970s. His fantastic worlds and descriptions might give one the idea that he was smoking and/or dropping some interesting biochemicals, but this is a longstanding tradition in British writing anyway. He also represented one of the basic philosophical themes of midcentury fantasy writing, that is, the perpetual war between Order and Chaos, or the Lords of Law and the Lords of Chaos. Chaos definitely has the better lines and the better designs in Moorcock's work. This castle, in the 1970 story "The Singing Citadel," was created by a jester at the Court of Chaos in order to invade Earth's dimension with wacky chaotic games. Elric, Moorcock's albino exiled king/adventurer, must confront the jester with even more Chaotic firepower. 

"Chaos Castle" is ink and markers on sketchbook page with a little Photoshop, 4 1/2" x 7", August 20, 2014. There is a baseball sticker on the lower left corner of this image. Klik for larger view. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

August Twilight

Around this time of year the tree colors become muted and grey, especially at twilight. The sky becomes a grayish orange, the colors of the environment fade. I've done many studies of this evening moment and this is my latest version done digitally on Photoshop. These are the trees I see out my window. Photoshop has got some great leaf-texture "brushes" and I'm using them here to my sketching advantage. 

Photoshop, about 9" x 6", August 22, 2014.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Umbrellic Geometry

Is this a spiderweb with a spider in it? Or a steampunk satellite dish? No, it's a little umbrella, which kept most of the rain off me while we waited for the weather to clear at the ballpark. It's another example of my sketching in the "geometry of ordinary things" theme. The metallic supports of the umbrella fabric resemble a spider with eight legs. In this view, the umbrella is only partly opened so that you can see the pattern made by the metal frame and rods. This marvel of "umbrellic" architecture is sitting upside down as it dries after its use in the rain.

Pitt black technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 5" x 8", August 21, 2014.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

McKillip sample cover

This fantasy image is pretty much rubbish by today's standards, but I am posting it anyway. In the mid-70s, Patricia McKillip wrote a fantasy trilogy, the "Riddle-Master" series, based on Celtic mythology and motifs (like every other fantasy in those days). I had a copy of the first book of the series, "The Riddle-Master of Hed," and once I had read it I decided to make a sample book cover for it. I didn't expect to get it published; I just wanted to do what is known as a "cover format" which means an image with a lot of empty space at the top to put the writing on, as "professional practice." I also wanted to create something which met the requirements of the illustration business at the time: characters posing with some of the stuff you find in the books, rather than any specific moment in the book. The  hero and heroine stand in an "underwater" setting filled with ghosts, seamonsters, and the crows that the heroes transform into. Naturally the female character has bright red hair and the male character has special marks (three stars on his forehead) which mean that he is the hidden heir to the throne, or something like that.

My figure drawing and character rendering in this piece is mediocre at most and I disliked it from the time I finished it. It got bought by a fan and mercifully disappeared from the world, until now when it briefly surfaces as a blog entry. 

The "Riddle-master" cover attempt is acrylic on illustration board, 13" x 22", October-November 1987.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tiny Landscape Images

It is possible to do landscapes from memory, especially since many terrains have large stretches of similar features and colors. You won't duplicate the exact contours of a "real" landscape but you will, if lucky, create something which is the "ideal" version of it, which you probably would do even if you were sitting out there looking at the real thing and trying to make a picture of it.

These are images of the Virginia landscape done from memory after I got home from my short vacation. They are tiny, almost business card sized, which also helps when you are doing things quickly.

These two images are originally markers on sketchbook page. Then I worked on the lower one with colored pencils, and then I did stuff to both of them in Photoshop. So, mixed media. Size of the upper one is about 2" x 2 1/2", lower one is about 2 1/2" square, August 17-18, 2014.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Honah Lee Timbers

Last year I visited Honah Lee Vineyards near Orange, Virginia. I did a drawing page there which was incorporated into my wine picture book, "The Earthly Paradise." This year I drew details of woodwork from inside their wine tasting cabin, while sipping wines by "guest" winemakers represented at Honah Lee. Up until now, Honah Lee has not made wines of its own but has grown plenty of grapes. But just recently they received their license to produce wine so they will be starting Honah Lee Winery. 

The square structure in the center of the drawing looks like a primitive loudspeaker or some sort of industrial device but it is just an antique grape press. Inside the cabin, "Berrywood Crafters," the owners' business, display and sell handmade jewelry as well as a good selection of locally grown produce, and baked goods. 

Pitt technical pen black ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 8", August 14, 2014.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cross Keys Winery Court

I visited Cross Keys Vineyards during my recent mini-vacation in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I blundered around a semi-rural area for more than an hour before I finally found the wine palace on its vine-covered hill. I made the original of this drawing on the elegant courtyard of Cross Keys. You can see the Blue Ridge in the distance. This time I made sure to ask my hosts whether I could make a drawing on their site. Earlier in the day I perturbed the elderly proprietor of a country store when I spent too much time parked drawing in their parking lot; she thought I was in distress or doing something nefarious. One rule of on-site drawing: always ask permission to be there for a while if there are people there. Most of the time unless you are doing your outdoor art way off in the wilderness, someone is there watching you.

I admit that this image is a composite. I made a lot of alteration to the original ink and colored pencil drawing and added color to the sky and foliage to the shrub at right. I know that in the ideal world of on-site art, everything is supposed to be done right the first time and you shouldn't have to take it back into the studio and fix it, but sometimes you have to. If you're good enough with the Photoshop, no one will know.

Pitt technical pen brown ink and colored pencil on sketchbook page,  9" x 6 1/2", August 16, 2014. Click for somewhat larger view.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Agricultural Geometry

These structures, silos and feed bins and mixers, are a common sight in rural America, something no one notices except for work. But for city folk like myself they are an agricultural masterpiece of solid geometry, with cylinders, spheres, cones, wedges, prisms, and cubes built large in the green world of farming. I can only see things this way because I have never worked on a farm. Since I probably never will, I can tour through rural areas celebrating the way farm buildings look as art. 

I'm back from my too-short vacation in green and lovely central Virginia, with a few drawings to bring to the By-Product.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 8" x 3", August 16, 2014.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

TJ's Chicago Popcorn

There really is such a thing as "Chicago Popcorn." It is an over-the-top mix of caramel AND cheese-coated popcorn, a loaded blend of sweet and salty. I've been to the Windy City and have been offered the hot dog version of it, a "Chicago Hot Dog" covered with everything, and luckily I refused it. I've only tasted a little bit of this Trader Joe's tribute mixture, and I think that's enough. I like my popcorn very lightly seasoned. I toiled on this billboard all afternoon and didn't think it was very good, but on second glance it doesn't suck, since I added in the red baseball uniform-style lettering and the baseball in the lower left corner. (Cubs win! Cubs win!) The "Chicago" lettering also has a slight resemblance to the ornate logo of the famous pop group "Chicago." I didn't have time to throw in Frank Lloyd Wright or the skyscrapers, but my graphics are readable and that's what counts.

Popcorn billboard is acrylic markers on black-painted hardboard, 6 ft. x 2 ft., August 12, 2014.

No By-Product for the next few days as I am going on a short vacation to places green and lovely and winey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Little Dreidel in August

I found a little dreidel on the pavement of the parking lot at Whole Foods. It was no bigger than two inches long, made of bright orange plastic. I guess it had been dropped by a child on a family shopping moment. Since it was abandoned and orange, I collected it. The dreidel, for those readers who don't know much about Jewish ethnic traditions, is a spinning top toy which can be used either as an educational mnemonic, a gambling game, or both. The dreidel has four sides and lands on one when it stops. Each side has a Hebrew letter which stands for a word in the sentence "A miracle happened there." This refers to the miracle of the long-lasting lamp oil in the Temple, celebrated at Hanukkah, which is usually in December. You can read about the dreidel significance and game here. It was odd to find a dreidel in the middle of the summer but you could consider it one of those "Winter In Summer" paradoxical events.

This drawing is really small, just about life-size for the dreidel. Above is an enlarged view of it. Ink and markers on sketchbook page, August 6, 2014.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Power of the Goddess

Here's another private commission from an author. It is a scene from her unpublished story, THE RAM'S SHADOW. Set in a mythical ancient Near-Eastern society changing from
matriarchy to patriarchy, it features a priestess from an order of women priest/warriors (of course, she has red hair) who must undertake a thankless mission to restore Goddess worship in the city of Men. The picture illustrates the defiant young priestess facing the
ancient head priestess, sitting under the statue of the Goddess.A friendly snake sits near the head priestess (viewed from the back) and incense rises from a bowl burner on the floor. The decor is taken from ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, and Persian sources and the Goddess is borrowed from the Cretan Snake Goddess statue in the Boston Museum. The model for the
younger priestess character is another author associate. This picture, as I remember, was a tough job and I was never fully satisfied with it. Both authors, writer and model, have passed beyond my horizon.

"Power of the Goddess" is acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 16", August 1983. Click for larger view.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rogers Ford Winery

Mustn't miss a day you know, even if I have to wedge August 10th's entry into a small piece of time before I have to tend to August 11. These sketches are from a delightful idyllic summer afternoon drinking wine and eating snacks at Rogers Ford Farm Winery, which is located in central Virginia in a place appropriately called "Sumerduck." Their farm has all sorts of weathered old little buildings scattered around, each one of which is worth a drawing. They also have modern barns, the winery buildings, and a beautifully restored old house which is used as the tasting room. You can sit out on their porch and drink wine and have conversations with the other guests. It is just the best.

Pitt technical pen brown ink and colored pencils, 10" x 7", August 9, 2014.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rhiannon Griffin Goddess

This is a weird one, truly. It was a commission from a Pagan fan who called herself "Dilan Tuatha de Danaan." The improbably named Dilan Tuatha ordered a rendering of a vision
which she had had as an initiatory requirement for her neo-pagan coven. The vision was of Rhiannon, the Welsh goddess of the Underworld, visualized as a skull-headed (or masked) griffin, surrounded by various types of animals including a leopard, wolf, beaver, rat, raccoon, snake, hawk, eagle, lioness, domestic cats, and leaping fish. 

"Rhiannon" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, 13" x 17", July 1987. Click for a bit larger image.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Art Table

The new art table which I purchased at Michaels last week is now assembled and ready for action. A friend of mine and her 20-year-old mathematician son came over and we all worked to put it together. MathYouth did all the hard work of fitting pieces and bolting and dragging, while Mom and I sorted pieces and removed sticky labels. We then moved the table into place and adjusted its height to my specifications. Now I can return to doing "conventional" art in pencil, pen, and paint. I'm doing plenty of re-arranging the studio and looking over the materials I've collected there over the years. I sure have a lot of stuff. 

Drawing of art table is Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 4 1/2", August 7, 2014.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Punk Elric

Michael Moorcock's doomed sorceror-knight Elric was a creation of the psychedelic 1960s but he could easily be adapted to the styles of other eras. I re-imaged him as a punk rocker in the early 1980s, and it worked fine. My model for this little portrait was "Sting," who achieved stardom in his career with a punk - ish group, "The Police." I collected magazine pictures of rock performers so that I could use them as models for fantasy characters. 

Elric was an albino but neither Moorcock nor other illustrators portrayed him as a true albino. In the books the author describes his skin as "bone-white" but real albinos have very light bright pink skin since they have no dark pigment to make it less transparent. And although Elric's eyes are famously described as scarlet red, the albinos I've seen have pink or purplish eyes which is weird enough for me. They do have pure white hair as I've depicted here: Sting as an albino.

I designed the quillons and hilt work of the sword to reflect its horrific soul-drinking nature. The quillons are formed figures of men and women entwined together, with a screaming face in the center and a glowing eye.

"Punk Elric" is acrylic on illustration board, 5" x 8", fall 1982. Click for larger view.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Paint Drip Bird Creature

I was using spray paint outdoors in back of my workplace and tested my sky-blue spray on some discarded cardboard boxes. The paint dripped down in four even streams, which I found interesting. When it had taken its final position and dried, I photographed the result. I imported the paint spray image into Photoshop and created a bird-creature with digital brushwork, over the original. The bird looks like a chicken, but it has functional wings and also has attributes of a pigeon. I matched the general colors to my original random paint blot. The only thing different from a typical bird creature was that, according to the paint drips, it has four legs rather than two. Though the lettering says "Fragile," it isn't, since the box was dumped upside down by me and then the photo was digitized.

Photoshop over a photograph. Digital painting is about 6 1/2" x 7". August 5, 2014.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sunlit Portico

I sat on a metal bench in the afternoon sunlight, with my sketchbook and a cup of iced tea, and turned out this drawing of the portico in front of the coffeehouse, the cleaners, and the bank. I have about 20 minutes during my work break to do a drawing, when I make the attempt. It's either sipping, walking, or drawing. I managed all of them today, in small segments. This is "urban sketching." 

Pitt black ink technical pen on sketchbook page, 5" x 5", August 4, 2014.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Elric and Sword

Here's another mythic sword bearer - the much more well-known Elric of Melnibone, created in the mid-20th century by British author Michael Moorcock. Elric was an albino, his genetic weakness supported by sorcerous spells and drugs. He carried the terrible magic sword "Stormbringer," which ate the souls of its victims. He exiled himself from the empire he was supposed to rule, and had all sorts of adventures with various companions human or magical or monstrous.

Elric had a fantastic suit of black armor which I have drawn many times. This rendering uses details from Renaissance parade armor, which is decorative and not meant to be worn into battle. The model for Elric is Russian ballet dancer and movie player Alexander Godunov, whose rugged blonde looks were perfect for any number of fantasy heroes. 

I never thought I'd be able to rescue this image, which was poorly photographed and faded. But the sorcery of Photoshop came to my aid and Elric poses again. It's one of my own favorites.

Original art is ink, pencil, and acrylic on grey paper, 7" x 10", June 1994. Klik for larger image.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Old Swordsman

Marion Zimmer Bradley had a brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer. He was also a writer and turned out long fantasy tales which dealt mostly with warfare. He was also a chain-smoking eccentric who always wore a kilt in public even though he wasn't Scottish. The Wikipedia article that I linked to has a satisfying level of detail about Zimmer and his world, which was much less socially conscious and feminist than Marion's. He lived in Marion's California compound which was the home of many refugees from the 1960s as well as Pagans, fantasy writers, and hangers-on.

This portrait is of Paul's main character, Istvan diVega, a master swordsman who bore a magic sword which could detect and destroy monsters of the Darkness. In Zimmer's "Lost Prince" series, Istvan is aging but still masterful, and he is tired of a lifetime of warfare but knows he must continue as long as he can. The sword he holds is modeled on the famous Japanese katana sword, which has become ubiquitous in fantasy literature and images the world over. If the character looks familiar, it's because I modeled his face on my favorite actor, Alec Guinness.

Ink and watercolor on illustration board, 7" x 9", November 1985.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Today's By-Product is different from the usual. It is a photograph. Now for me on this venue photos are a no-no, I want it to be all handmade or digital art. But I didn't see the point in copying this image into a drawing.

This used to be a plywood sign. It was nailed to the utility pole many years ago but any lettering or color on its surface has long been washed away by the elements. Hot sun and freezing ice have separated the layers of the plywood until they look sort of like petals or peeling tree bark. It stands in a parking lot in downtown Falls Church, Virginia, a relic of an older time. It is part of my "Country within the City" theme. No one notices it but me.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Country in the City

It takes a bit of editing, well, a whole lot of editing, but you can sketch bits of countryside in the middle of the city. This row of trees is actually between my workplace's shopping center and an apartment complex. I see it every day and sometimes sketch it. This sketch began as an ArtStudio app experiment on my iPhone. Can I do any meaningful art on a screen that small? Maybe little sketches work just fine. If it was good enough for famous artist David Hockney it's good enough for me. I then imported it into Photoshop and made it into a more elaborate treatment. If I work with ArtStudio on the iPhone more often I will take the stylus with me for more precise work.

ArtStudio app and Photoshop, July 31, 2014.