Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Most Popular Digital Design: "The Orange Sail"

I was rummaging through the chaotic piles of papers that my mother had accumulated. She rarely filed anything, mostly keeping financial papers and check stubs going back more than 30 years. Other stuff, she threw in a pile. If I wanted Mother to see anything I had painted, I had to print it out for her because she never really learned to use a computer. I found this design in one of the piles. It is from 1991 and it comes from the first computer, printer, and graphics software I ever used. A cobbled-together PC, an HP PaintJet, and CorelDraw 2. I've upgraded a bit since I did this digital work. The HP PaintJet, as you can see, has a very rough, dot-matrix-style texture. 

I had forgotten that this design started out in these colors. It is much better known by my fans as the original design for "The Orange Sail," which is my most popular painting as measured by uses in graphic design, print editions, and sales. I re-colored the image and chose these summery, seaside colors:

And this digital version later became, in 2005, 14 years later, "The Orange Sail" painted in acrylic.

Everybody loves this picture. I had it nicely framed and I still own the original.

"The Orange Sail" is acrylic on illustration board, 22" x 18", October 2005.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Little Corner of Cambridge

There are plenty of nice things in New England, despite the decrepitude and infestation I have recently encountered. Older architecture of wood-frame houses is a sight I never get tired of. I love drawing these structures and they can be found in both city and suburbs. This little vertical pattern was in Cambridge, Mass. I especially liked the bits of daylily flower color against the white siding and grey shadows. I found this watercolor drawing in the chaotic piles of papers left in my parents' house. 

Ink and watercolor on watercolor paper,  3 1/2" x 6 1/2", early 1980s.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Returned from December tour of duty

The Blue Princess announces: Pyra is back. Back from my tour of duty in Massachusetts helping clear out the dismal house my parents lived in. By the time I and my helpers started unloading the hoarded clutter, the house was almost abandoned and infested with mice, spiders, insects, and mildew. The smell from mouse effluent and mildew was so bad it made me nauseated. With the help of a couple of tireless professional clearers, I started the job of cleaning this structure out so that it can be sold later next year. My mother's collected artworks remain in the house though I have given many of the smaller ones away. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts will take a few of them as donations. The rest need to find permanent homes. There are also shelves and shelves of books, only a few valuable, which need to be donated to library fund raising events or other charities. Weeks and weeks of work have still only cleared a couple of rooms, and there is more to come. Right now the work is on hold as my helpers are going to their winter residence in Florida next month until May. I don't have any sentimental or happy emotions about this house and I don't care what the next owners do to it, whether rebuilding or demolishing. 


I set up the Cintiq on the dining room table and poked away on it whenever I could. I must say that the "learning curve" (to use the biz-talk cliche for it) is quite difficult. It was harder than I thought. The drawing skills required by the stylus on screen are different from ink and pencil on paper. For instance, the cursor (the spot where the action on the screen is) is not directly under the stylus, but floats until you touch the stylus to the screen. And Windows draws a little circle round your stylus tip when you touch and press, which you need to do in your drawing. The circle blocks what is immediately at the point of drawing. Some of this is an advantage though as you can just press the "undo" button if you don't like what you drew. Other disadvantages come not from Cintiq or Windows but from Photoshop CC which is what I'm using here. Like so many big pieces of software upgrading, the designers never miss a chance to mess up what worked and add on what annoys. I looked for my usual "brush" controls for hours before finding that they had been re-named with inscrutable words and hidden behind panels and menus. The worst thing about Photoshop CC is the pop-up that appears when I am using the Brush Tools. Windows draws its little circle and then a large brush tool control pop-up shows, BLOCKING YOUR DRAWING. Grr is that annoying. I believe there is a way to disable this, or to draw around it. 

However the Cintiq is doing just what I bought it for, giving me a hand-to-screen instant image gratification in Photoshop not just a dinky iPad app. I get lots of drawing power with no delay, and I don't need to use any pencil or pen drawing to start an image. Once I figured out how to work Photoshop CC I just proceed using my previous experience. The Cintiq is lightweight though heavier than an iPad and I can set it up anywhere. The rubbery plastic stand provided for it, though, is unstable and you will want to get a portable desk easel for prolonged Cintiq use. I have one and it's just right. I expect to take the Cintiq out on the road for on-site work with my landscapes and wineries. It fits in my backpack. It can be used as a wi-fi connected laptop so you can read your gossip on Facebook, but you must switch in between web and art as there isn't enough room on the screen to show both.

The blue-clad princess you see above is my first character portrait done entirely on the Cintiq. I borrowed her image from a stock photograph which I imported to the Cintiq before I left for Massachusetts. Don't look too closely, it isn't that good and it's only a practice image but I finished it anyway. The lovely blonde Princess is based on a real person, a stunning young lady I met while she was working at the front desk of a hotel I stayed at on my previous journey north. I have the artist's vice, I look at everyone as if they were a model, or could be, with a beautiful fantasy costume and identity. 

So back to making art and art by-products, with and without the Cintiq. I am considering adding another program, the big-time "Painter 2016," for images that look more like "traditional" media, though it's wicked expensive as we say in Boston. I also will try to install my 2002 vintage CorelDraw though it may not run on the modern Windows. I don't know whether this machine will support Windows 10. There's a lot more to do.

"Blue Princess" is Photoshop on Cintiq, December 2015. Click for sort-of-larger view.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Traveling to Etna

It's almost winter and Etna is erupting again. Just recently my favorite volcano, the ever-erupting Etna, put forth a blast of fire that could be seen from the Italian mainland. You may remember that during the 2000s I worked on a graphic novel set on an alternative Earth where psychic powers and modern-technological classical civilization were the norm. This is one panel from it showing the red utility car of my geologist characters with them riding in an expedition to Etna to study its latest eruption. Due to many many circumstances I have not been able to work on this project and maybe some clever friend will come up with a scheme that would allow me to work on it again. The yellowish box at lower right contains narrative text in the original. 

Ink and watercolor with added text on illustration board, 10" x 4", about 2000. Click for larger view.

Note to readers: I am on my way back to the old family house to continue the job of clearing out the place. I'll have computers and connectivity there, I hope. I estimate I'll be spending about three weeks there and return for the New Year. I will try to blogify while I am there but not every day.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Swashbucklin' Social Comment

Marion Zimmer Bradley, despite her serious flaws as a person and a writer, played a very important part in the evolution of fantasy and science fiction in America and the English-speaking world. In the 1960s and 1970s, when other writers were writing mostly for entertainment in the genre fields, Bradley introduced serious social comment into the tales of humans and magic and swordplay set on her world of the red sun, Darkover. She was especially aware of social and class roles, sexism, and the prejudice and oppression suffered by gay people and gender-non-conforming women. Many gay fans felt that finally their story was being told in the context of the fantasy fiction that they loved. Nowadays it is common to see these fundamental issues being themed in fantasy and science fiction but even now there is resistance among conservative fans (who caused a major disruption in the community last year) to the inclusion of writers and stories about people of different races, sexual orientation, gender identification, and class. The conservatives would rather have their fiction only as swashbuckling entertainment rather than something with a social conscience. That battle is ongoing.

Lew Alton, the character depicted here, was not gay but played a part in a Bradley book, "The Heritage of Hastur," where the main character was gay and the plot centered around his awareness of his orientation and difference.

Darkover fan art. Black ink on illustration board, 3" x 6", summer 1983. The model reference for this was a "character dancer" in a ballet.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Berlin Dome

This is a study of details in the dome of Berlin Cathedral, a late 19th-early 20th century German pile that was built in the age of empires. It was designed to look like a Renaissance building and it does have the inspiration of earlier heroic edifices like St. Peter's dome in Rome. It also resembles Renaissance theater sets as there has always been a connection between imperial politics and theater. This building was severely damaged during World War II but is still standing, unlike the empires which built it.

Brown ink with a bit of Photoshoppery, about 4" x 3 1/2", December 4, 2015.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Industrial Patterns 15

I just can't get enough of these structures. Built purely for practical industrial uses, they are fabulous sculptural complexities which also are lit up at night. The refineries and mills are gleaming day and night and that intensifies the nest of shadows that surrounds them. I also love the catwalks and access walks whose railings provide an iron tracery to the bigger shapes in the background. Note the fanlike structure of metal beams radiating out from the center (although the fan-like shape is an illusion of perspective.) The architects of the "industrial modernist" buildings of the 1970s such as Paris' "Centre Pompidou" knew what they were doing but I would have dropped the colorful accents and kept it an aggressive factory grey. Maybe I would have added a "steam fountain" at the top illuminated in orange light, but that's just me. They don't build'em like they used to. This one is not a cultural center, but an oil refinery. Because you, the audience, are so culturally refined.

Industrial brown ink on sketchbook page, 3 1/2" x 3", December 2-3, 2015.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Treasure Boxes

This is quite an old picture but the things depicted in it are just now as they were then. The boxes you see against the wall are fine wood modular shelves in an Art Deco style, which are in my aunt's house. They are from the 1930s and belonged to her parents, my great-grandparents. In these boxes are treasures from all over the world, some rare books, and a candelabra you see at the top. My aunt and her husband were antique collectors and at one point specialty antique dealers so they had access to precious pieces, some of which found their way into my parents' house. My aunt is in her 90s now and hopefully she has designated where all the treasures should go or whether they will be sold. I will be dealing with this issue with my own parents' stuff later this month.

The beige-yellow background color you see here is faded sketchbook paper, but I think it looks nice. Black ink on sketchbook page, July 4, 1984.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Michael the Space Jesuit

A while back you saw my cover for the electronic edition of Christopher Stasheff's "The Warlock Heretical." I also do at least one character portrait for the edition so this is the one for "Heretical." It depicts Father McGee, a spacefaring Jesuit who is the head of the science-fictional religious order, "Saint Vidicon of Cathode." I used a real person as the model here. This is one of the Three Michaels who I know read this Blog. This Michael is a real Jesuit currently posted to the Boston area. He is a science fiction fan and would love to go into space as a Space Jesuit. At least I think so. Many years ago I made up a spacefaring religious order based on the Jesuits but their membership had both males and females. Here you see the Stasheff character pointing to the schismatics and bringing them back into the mainstream. He has the Engineer's Pocket Tools in his coverall pocket, and brings with him the Holy iPad with the Sacred Text Message.

Ink on illustration board, about 3 1/2" x 7", November 30, 2015. Stasheff Editors Please don't use this image in the book, it's too low resolution. I shalt e-maileth thee the proper depictment.