Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Photons of Pentecost

I have been working on this picture for months. And years, if you count the digital sketch for it, which I did in 2006. This is a fairly large picture for me, 30" x 15". And it's on canvas, which is not my preferred surface to work on. The painting hung around my studio for more than a year, with only its pencil outlines, and I finally started painting it in the spring of this year. Then I neglected it, mostly because of technical problems. Some of this picture is airbrushed, and airbrushed acrylic paint doesn't stick to the primed canvas surface very well. Painting by hand is not much better. So this was a struggle to work on. But I finally got it done, so I can show it this weekend at DarkoverCon. My show there will not really be appropriate to a fantasy convention, because I am displaying space abstractions. But I do want at least a few people to see this work. Eventually I hope to assemble it and other space abstractions into a gallery-ready collection. 

The title of this piece is "The Photons of Pentecost," which is one of those religious/physics combinations I like to explore. When I have my formal art weblog "Art Product" ready, I'll post this there and talk more about the theological speculation that inspired this picture. In the meantime, "Art By-Products" will not be updated until I return from the convention.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bloody Sun again

I am finding some old Darkover art of mine as DarkoverCon approaches. This one was done in 1979 for the frontispiece of a hardcover edition of M.Z. Bradley's works published by Gregg Press. If you notice, it is the same situation as my previously posted painting of the young thing with her lover and her angry brother. This time I did it in ink on board, 8 1/4 " x 6 1/2".
I would have loved to do a graphic novel interpretation of a Darkover tale, i.e. "Darkover Comics," but Marion Zimmer Bradley hated comics and so would not give her permission for the project.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The boss came to me about an hour and a half before I was to leave for the day and said, we need a big sign for our Panettone holiday breads right away, to advertise the successor to a display which frenzied buyers had depleted. I'm not even a panettone fan, you couldn't tempt me with the stuff. I obliged, being a pro after five years of working in retail signs, and dashed off this one in about an hour, leaving some time for putting equipment away. Done in opaque acrylic markers on a black-painted Masonite board. There may or may not be an economic depression, but people are buying gourmet food with great enthusiasm. I hesitate to say they're buying like there was no tomorrow, lest that be true. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Construction Site, Somerville 1986

I've been looking through my archives of old sketches and art bits from the '70s and '80s. In the '80s I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a life which now seems to me like a bohemian dream, although I was not too happy with it when I was there. I had plenty of time to wander around the neighborhood making sketches. I drew this construction site on May 1, 1986. I looked it up on Google Maps and Google street view and if you type in 244 Beacon St., Somerville, Mass. you will get an image of what this building looks like now, or at least recently when the Google PhotoVan went through there. The edge of Somerville was only a few blocks from my house. You will have to turn the picture around to get the building I drew. It appears to be empty and for sale. The wonders of modern technology never cease, but the economy goes on sinking into the abyss. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

K2 Yellow Background

When guys have gadgets, they refer to them not by their function (a camera, a synthesizer) but by the alphanumeric code for it (the PMC2000 or the RS4890). Women with gadgets are more likely to simply refer to it as "the scanner" or "the printer." I read this in NEW SCIENTIST magazine, so it must be true. Henceforth then, all these abstract geometric sketches that I do on the iMac in CS2 will be numbered K-(x) where (x) is the sequence number for the concept sketch. This one, K2 with a yellow background, is another essay into the 2009 color scheme. It also reminds me of  Wolverine's yellow and black costume. If you don't know who Wolverine is, you probably wouldn't be reading this anyway. 

Harvard Graduate Dorm Kitchen

I have been rooting around in my closets trying to find vintage art and also trying to reduce clutter. Vintage art is not clutter. In 1977 I was a graduate student at Harvard, studying Greek and Latin classics. I lived in a residence hall that had once been reserved for ritzy Radcliffe girls. It had a dining room, an elegant sitting room with a piano, and a garden courtyard. Upstairs, where the rooms were, was a kitchen and small dining room where we could make our own meals. This is my rendering of part of that upstairs kitchen. I did it in Pentel markers, which were the only type of colored markers I knew about back then. I used a ruler, which is unusual for my sketching. By 1979 I had left graduate school for good. It was a painful decision and I disappointed some people by leaving. But I was miserable in graduate school and the price of academic respectability became too high for me to continue.

Friday, November 21, 2008

K-Speed Kandinskification

I'll call this a "K-Speed" image, with the "K" standing for Kandinsky. It's a "speed-paint" in Photoshop which is created in a half hour or less. Preferably less. Wassily Kandinsky, with his geometric abstractions, is one of my biggest influences, at least in this style. K. would have loved Photoshop. At its best, CS2 is an endless set of Colorforms, those plastic stick-on shapes which I loved so much in my childhood. 

I talked to my father on Thursday night, or rather I tried to. He wasn't making any sense. My mother says he sits at the dinner table for four hours, from around 8 PM to midnight, serving out his compulsive eating rituals. He falls asleep at the table, then wakes up and continues the food ritual. He was able to drive around by day for a couple of hours and do errands, but most of his life now seems to be spent in an incoherent twilight. My mother seemed disturbed and probably was, but there's nothing I can do to help them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Cosmic Cloister

I did this picture in May of 2003. It depicts a cloister whose ceiling is a virtual representation of the galaxy, kind of like the Hogwarts ceiling in the Harry Potter books. The fountain contains liquid energy rather than water. The figure standing at the fountain contemplating it all is one of my own characters, Tanheu the techno-mage. Maybe I'll post more about him someday. Painting is acrylic watercolor on illustration board, 13" x 19". Perhaps I should apologize for posting so many archival images...but I've been majorly busy with holiday sign jobs all week.

My iMac, which bears the Byzantine name of "MACarios," is working perfectly tonight, with no huffing or puffing. (I'm Ravenclaw, not Hufflepuff, for you Rowling fans.) Perhaps it was going through some pre-programmed self-correction routine, or some sort of arcane maintenance operation. Or perhaps MACarios was annoyed that I was paying attention to my PC. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twelve Years Autumn Past

I can see lots of urban trees out my window, and every year I do sketches of them. This is a view of particularly nice autumn colors in 1996. It is done in gouache (opaque watercolor) on brown paper. I very rarely use gouache because it is so fragile and fade-able. There was similar tree color this year, but I figured, why paint an image of it, because I already painted it in 1996.

I will be having my 2004-vintage Dell laptop serviced soon. Meanwhile, my iMac, lord of all it surveys, has suddenly gotten the vapors and its fan is running full blast, for no reason that I can see. I haven't blocked its air intake. I haven't insulted it or overloaded it. Or have I? I better post this before it explodes. What? Macs are PERFECT! There must be some good reason for this behavior that this user is too stupid to understand.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Revisiting CorelDraw

More on my ongoing saga of the possibility of buying a new PC laptop. I went to a store and took a "test drive" on the new Dell machine. I found the Windows interface to be no better or worse than the Macintosh interface I've had to get used to. I remember Windows as being a rather boring screen arrangement and the new screen is more active and colorful. They've also borrowed some features from the Mac, which I could live without. I also liked the glossy bright glass screen.

What I found slightly disturbing (NO ONE else will notice this but me) is that the bright colored laptop case, the one that would be orange (the store didn't have orange but had a vile citrus green) has a kind of weird rubbery texture to it. It is not smooth like metal. I felt as though a strong hit might scrape it off. And dust would stick to it.

So I went back and looked again at my neglected PC laptop vintage 2004. I know that's old in computer years, but it's still quite functional, especially if I give it some attention. It runs Windows XP, which would need to be updated if necessary, but not the much-maligned Vista. It isn't very powerful, so that I would forfeit the use of
music software synthesizers on it. But it still runs CorelDraw 12 (which is 3 years out of date, but again still functional). And that's what I really need it to do.

The image above will show you why I love CorelDraw. It was done in about 30 minutes "speedpaint" time. The starry background was done in Corel PhotoPaint. The texture boxes were then added in CorelDraw. CorelDraw has this wonderful set of multicolored textures which you can add to any shape. You can change the colors in the textures any way you want. I'm sure you can do this in Photoshop too but it is much more work. In order to maintain the industry standard, I could then import my Corel work into Photoshop and re-save it, thus giving it the proper professional graphics cachet.

Revisiting CorelDraw I felt this warm familiarity that I have not felt with a graphic program since I had to switch to Photoshop CS2. I don't have to fight and argue with it and push it around to get stuff done. So for now I am going to stay with existing equipment and not buy anything new, except maybe another drawing tablet. I must then clear up a certain ethical problem in that I promised the laptop to a friend, when I thought I was going to buy a new one. I'm sure that people will understand. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Golden Cereal

I design decorative price tags for my Trader Joe's. These are always seen by the customer, though not often remarked upon. They are part of the general appeal of the store. A couple of years ago, I did them on a computer in a pseudo-Victorian style, but current policy forbids digital media and wants only hand-done art. I still use the computer to color the drawings in. This one is for the cereal section. I drew the original (2.25 inches by 7.25 inches) in brown ink, then scanned it into Photoshop and added color. There must always be a bit of "Hawaiiana" in the designs, hence the "driftwood," the carvings, and the leaves of tropical foliage.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Darkover, World of the Red Sun

It's getting to that time of year again, when I go to DarkoverCon in Timonium, Maryland just north of Baltimore, on Thanksgiving weekend. This will be, believe it or not, the 31st DarkoverCon. It started in 1977 as just a one-day meeting in July in Brooklyn, and reached its height in the 80s and 90s in Wilmington, Delaware and then in the Baltimore northern suburbs. Now it has declined to a three-day party for a group of friends, crafters, gamers, musicians, and fantasy fans. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley was the focus of the convention, which was started by fans of her popular Darkover series. While she was still active and writing, the convention thrived. I was, during the '80s, kind of the "house artist" for Darkover fans. I also did four professional book covers for Darkover books published from 1981-1984. The image posted here, painted in 1980, is not a book cover, though it is the shape of a book cover and I thought perhaps I could sell it as one (but didn't). 

Darkover as Marion conceived of it was a world rather like the fantasy of 19th century Scotland, as visualized by Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau artists and racy Victorian novel-writers. It was full of heroic tartan-clad warriors and bodice-straining wind-tossed babes. There was plenty of swordplay and lots of magic and glowing special effects. Red-haired people had the most magical gift; flame-red hair was an obsessive motif in the books, hence the heavy use of hair dye among Darkover fans (myself included).

There was plenty of sex, too. Marion's plots usually included young hotties who were somehow prevented from consummating their passionate loves, whether in straight or gay relationships. The girl in my painting looks underage, and is probably 16 in the story, although Marion described her as looking even younger than her age, due to evil magical sex-retarding techniques (I am not making this up). This does not prevent her from eloping with the red-haired hero. Eventually she ends up in a "marriage for four," a polyamorous paradise which was tried many times among the fans with almost always disastrous results. The knife-wielding disaster about to happen in the picture is the girl's brother, who doesn't approve of her forbidden liaison. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley (often referred to as MZB) lost her health in the 90s and was barely able to make it to her own convention. In her later years she was a sad sight, unable to walk or even eat comfortably, but her fans stayed with her to the end. She died in 1999, but her convention lives on, specializing in fantasy writing exclusively by women authors.

Image: "The Bloody Sun," painted in 1980, acrylic on masonite, 10" x 18".

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gold Wing

This isn't really an "Art By-Product," it's an official Art Product. But since my official art blog "Quality Art Product" isn't quite ready yet, I am posting it here first. All five of my regular readers will remember that I posted a Photoshop sketch in these colors last month, and speculated that I would make art or graphics in these colors. Well here's my first attempt. It's called "Gold Wing" and it's acrylic on coated board, 12" x 16". I'll be showing it at my usual show at DarkoverCon convention, this Thanksgiving weekend. Some of my collectors may be there. Anyway, it is a finished piece, something I haven't been able to get done in many months. When Quality Art Product is ready, I'll post it there too. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Am A Good American Consumer

I went on a caffeine-fueled shopping spree at my local mall, Tysons Corner. I drew this little sketch while drinking a Starbucks iced grande americano. I came into the mall wanting some things, which I found and got: fancy soap, illustration books, and mini and RCA plug connector cables. That list probably says a lot about me right there. I also found clothing in purple or orange which was left over from fall offerings and was now heavily discounted, so I bought that. I really wanted a pair of "Uggs," the very popular sheepskin boots worn by chic young ladies all over the country. This is the fashion standard for winter wear. They wear their skin-tight jeans tucked into the Uggs. I saw plenty of imitation boots for less, but for proper fashion identity it must be the original "Ugg" brand from Australia. I was willing to pay the price nevertheless. I have always wanted to be in fashion and wear visibly labeled status symbol items. But then I realized that I cannot wear skin-tight jeans, because I do not have the figure to wear anything skin-tight. Sticking my baggy jeans into Uggs would just be a waste of time and money. Instead, I use a status symbol computer (iMac) despite the fact that nothing I can load on it will read my hundreds of CorelDraw files.

I am a good American consumer and want to look like a good upscale urbanite mall shopper. My fashion options, though, seem less and less as I walk through the mall looking at clothes that I wouldn't fit into. I am now in the proper consumer position of perpetually wanting stuff that I am not able to have, while having too much stuff that I don't use. I didn't buy Uggs, either, since I already have plenty of totally un-chic but useful boots from status-negative places like Lands End, which sells durable, in fact probably immortal clothes untouched by any whisper of chicness or urbanity.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Autumn Harvest

More from my ad campaign welcoming customers home to a mythic harvest of good foods. These signs go in the produce department. They are 2 of 12, each one the front or back of a painted foamboard sign, 6 signs altogether. These two are among the better ones of the series. They are not two sides of the same board. I started with spray paint, then had to bring the job inside due to rain and continue by hand rather than spraying. Acrylic markers and spray paint on different colored foamboards, approximately 30 inches wide and 14 inches tall. The "Thanksgiving harvest" inscription is written on a piece of shiny metallic thick paper. I did the whole 6-sign job in one day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A quick improvisation in Photoshop. I work with Photoshop because I have to, but I would really like to also work with CorelDraw, a program which has many features I don't find in Photoshop. CorelDraw is only for PC, not Mac. I have an old PC laptop which has CorelDraw 12, but I would like to get an updated version. Dell is offering "Studio" laptops, which seem to be aimed at artistic types, for a fair price. However everyone I know tells me not to get any PC, let alone a Dell, and that Windows Vista is universally poisonous. "Once you go MAC, you'll never go BACK." But...I am not as insanely devoted to the Mac system as its advocates are. And since I am a superficial arty type, I will admit that I am attracted to this Dell "Studio" laptop because it comes in orange, my favorite color. If Macintoshes came in orange instead of milky white, I'd probably buy one of those. I am not referring to the candy-colored iMacs of some years ago, which looked like sticky lollipops.

I am told that this majestic iMac has an option of running lowly twisted Windows if you do something to its innards. Then I could switch over to this pseudo-Windows to do work in CorelDraw. And then this Mac would seize even more than it already does with Photoshop/Illustrator CS2. Oh, sorry, Macs don't seize. That would be my fault for insulting it. I am tempted to get my can of spray orange paint and just vandalize it. But of course I won't.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brilliant Sugar

In keeping with the porch-and-fall-leaves theme I have been doing at work, here is one of its precursors: an ink and watercolor picture from my 1984 sketchbook, dated October 11. This is a grand old house on Garfield Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In those days, the house was not in such good repair (it has been renovated now) but the architectural details were very sketchworthy. And in the fall the sugar maples on this street put on an eye-blasting display of color. I did not enhance the colors here, I tried to make them as accurate as I could. 

Back in Massachusetts my father seems to be recovering, though his mental state is still "iffy." He was able to hold a lucid conversation with me though after a while he started to ramble. I don't know how to care for an old person and what is "normal" and what is not. I hope he gets some sort of professional care. My mother is looking into it but cost, and my father's resistance, is an ongoing problem.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Come Home to Advertisement

Here's the announcement I made for the Thanksgiving promo booklet, the "Pilgrimager Flyer." The theme as I conceived it for this ad campaign is "Home for the Holidays," with the white carved wood porch railings and ornaments as the visual identification. There are now signs with these logos up all over the store indicating "flyer items." 

The white porch and the autumn leaves are part of my attempt to market comfort food to the already eager customers of Trader Joe's. Affluent or not, they have seen their finances go "splat" in the last half of this year, and even with the election madness over, their lives are uncertain. They can't buy any luxuries, but they can at least buy good food.

The "Home for the Holidays" ad campaign once again illustrates my belief that much of what we see and think is made-up. Not "fake," but mythic and story-like. Even though those small towns where everyone helps each other do exist, it is the idea and the story which really move us. Very few of us urban folk really venture into the country for rugged outdoor adventures, and yet we wear clothes and carry gear originally created for mountaineers and explorers. When I look outdoors at a beautiful autumn gold tree against dark clouds, I see a calendar scene, in which a country road leads to the porch of the home where an imaginary unreal family - who are NOT orcs - waits to welcome me.                   

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Portrait of the Artist

Most of the people who read this Blog know what I look like, but for the people who happen by this place and don't, here is a fairly accurate self-portrait. I am an orc. Most orcs are fighters, but I am stuck being an artist instead of a maker of mayhem. Instead, I turn to cheap wine and mind-numbing artwork about pastries and pretty landscapes. Don't believe those game illustrations showing sexy female orcs. Every female in fantasy is young, half-naked, and always sexy. Real female orcs look like me. Don't bother me in my studio. You won't like my orc-ish reaction. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Iconic Pastries

This is the last of the four signs I am doing for "Natalia's Elegant Creations." It will go in the window of the shop in not-so-elegant downtown Falls Church. When the world is in distress, there will still be mini-cheesecakes and marzipan apricot bars and double chocolate cupcakes. 

I didn't call the parents on Friday and didn't get a call, so perhaps no news is good news. I will be checking them again Saturday. I hope my mother can get some sort of professional care for my father, but I doubt whether it will happen given my father's attitude. The normal rational things of the "real world" don't connect with the world my parents live in. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Italian Hillside Memories

I did this watercolor in 1975, while I was in Italy. I was the guest of some rich friends who were renting a villa in Port'Ercole, a resort town on the central west coast of the peninsula. I had my art materials with me then as I do now, and I remember sitting on the terrace of their villa doing this view. I did a drawing in water-soluble pencil first and then put watercolor over it. Over the years the paper has turned yellow. You can see the Mediterranean in the upper right of the picture, but I didn't color it blue, because I was called away for some other activity and never finished the picture. I also did the same view in colored pencils and that sketch is still in my archives somewhere. 

My father is home from the hospital and on antibiotics. My mother is trying to take care of him as best she can but he is still too weak to move around and he really needs to be in a convalescent home. He is angry and nasty (as always), and with treatment and rest he seems to be more coherent and alert. There's not much I can say to him, though I still try. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Monument to Something

There's a spherical monument to something, placed on a planetary wasteland somewhere in the galaxy. Who built it? What does it commemorate? How old is it? No one knows. It shows no sign of age or wear, and so far has not been seen to move, despite its apparent lack of anchoring to the ground surface. Speculations are that it is an atom from an alternate universe, even though it is three meters in diameter. Image created in almighty Photoshop on a pretentious iMac.

My father is home from the hospital and my mother has to take care of him. But he is so weak he can hardly get out of his chair. He snarls at my mother and refuses her help. He continues to be mentally confused. My mother spent a morning attempting to arrange some in-house help from service agencies. They are not poor enough to get state services for free. But father refuses any service that has to be paid for. The story is ongoing. Thanks commenters for your kind remarks. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Home for the Holidays

It's "flyer" time at Trader Joe's again, where we distribute a leaflet with written paragraphs about our featured goods. The sign crew designs a "flyer indicator" which is placed all over the store where the flyer items are. We put the number of the page where it is written, in the area in the lower right corner. My theme for this indicator is taken from the porch woodwork of an historic house in the center of Falls Church.

I went home for a holiday (Halloween) but my father's condition deteriorated after I left. He is in the hospital now, with what the doctors say is pneumonia. I called him at the hospital and he wasn't doing well mentally. He needs home care when they release him, but he won't pay for it. I am wondering whether I will have to make a quick return to Boston should there be more serious developments.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back from the old country

I'm back from Massachusetts and ready to go back to work doing day job and all sorts of projects. My parents are not doing well and I really wish they could have help in their house, but my 88-year-old father, who lives a diminished existence with numerous physical and (untreated) mental problems, refuses to pay for it, even though our family is not poor and has enough money. The house is full of dust and clutter. My father hoards the clutter and will not tolerate any of it being moved let alone thrown away. He used to be "Mr. Fix-It" because he would not pay for any specialists to do the work if he could manage it himself. All the debris from 30 years of "fix-it" jobs is still collected in parts of the house, including many shelves of old and possibly dried-up paint. Father still believes that he will go back to all these jobs and so he needs the (important materials) debris, which has not been touched for 10 years and sometimes 20 or more. This drawing of clutter in what was once an art studio is from 2000, but the view is more or less the same now. Everything is covered with dust. My father is so devoid of energy that he spends most of his time sitting on the couch dozing in front of the TV, day and night. If he manages to do some work, he will not be able to do anything for a day afterward.

It is possible that my father is suffering from side-effects of the many prescriptions he is taking for his auto-immune disorder and heart/blood pressure problems, but he won't go to the doctor, because my father believes that doctors can't help him. I don't know whether it is just old age that has turned Father into a zombie. He is also seriously deaf and won't get a hearing aid because it costs money. I found it very hard to communicate with my father when I was at home, mostly because he is too deaf to hear me and sometimes I wonder whether he is "confused."