Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The old computer will find a new home

I gave my old computer away today. It had been sitting, abandoned in place, for about 2 years, replaced by my noble white iMac. It was a PC, a Dell 8300, which was well-equipped in 2003. I got plenty of use out of it in its active time with me, which extended from fall 2003 to spring 2007. This drawing shows it in my studio, with a cable modem on top of it, and two clip art reference books on either side of it.

 Just recently a knowledgeable friend helped me remove all my files from the Dell's hard drive and erase its memory. Then it went into my car for transport. It will be going to a school where a grateful student who can not afford a computer will adopt it. It will have no memory of its time with me, cranking out graphics files and blog entries. My iMac has the old memories now, wondering why he is thinking of CorelDraw and my bygone blog ELECTRON BLUE, and why he sometimes wants to run Word for Windows when there is no such thing in MacWorld. I would like to give a Mac the vapors sometime. See how it feels to run Windows. Yes, I realize there is an option to give this Mac the ability to run Windows operating system, but that would insult his dignity. Macs must be deferred to, they are not just workmen in the cybertrenches.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Appreciating the Customers

Trader Joe's appreciates their customers. After all, where would TJ's be without them? I made this sign to go behind the registers where the customers are waiting for their order to be tallied and bagged. Most of the "white" lettering is actually in tones of off white and light yellow but my photo, taken in low light, didn't pick those up. The "Thank You" really is written in white. There's some mid-20th century "retro" going on here, to match the graphics that I've done elsewhere in the store this year. I have three more of these behind-the-register signs to do, each with a friendly useful message. All graphics, no pictures for this series.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Through the winter window

This is from my 1998 journal, which I filled with a lavish amount of illustrations done in pen, markers, and colored pencil. The view here, dated February 2, 1998, is out my bedroom window. I was interested in how the leafless trees obscured the houses behind them but you could still see the basic structures as well as the cars in the driveway. The view is essentially the same as now, but in late March the maples have red blossoms. There are pockets of tangled forest here and there in this city area. I have looked at this same scene for 18 winters and even if it is trees and not a parking lot, I'm tired of it, but don't know how to get anything better given the current economic situation. 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Seaside Village of Darkover

Most of Darkover is (was?) covered in ice. There was not much humanoid-habitable zone on the planet, so the population was probably never numerous. Nevertheless there was open ocean in the temperate zones around the equator, and there were settlements on its shore. This is one of them, a fishing village built by the human settlers of Darkover, who chose to live a pre-industrial lifestyle on the world of the Red Sun. There were even a few deserts on Darkover, where harsh conditions prevailed and humans lived like Bedouins. M.Z. Bradley used those scenarios to tell her stories of women's misery and men's violence.

Acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 8", September 1989.

Friday, March 27, 2009

April Sandwich

April showers, folksy ornament, and the (iconic) famous Cherry Blossoms adorn my sandwich sign for "Bagels, Deli, and Donuts" this month. I am informed by Mena the proprietor, though, that the "Any Sandwich" deal excludes cheesesteaks, which are "subs" and thus larger and more expensive. I have to add the fine print the next time I revise the sign. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ambient Rain

Here's a preliminary draft of a CD album cover I'm doing for a friend's ambient piece. The title he suggested is "Counting Raindrops" so I've got a water/raindrop/rain theme going here. The electronic composition is in the "minimalist" repetitive style, sort of like the sound of rain on the roof. The title and the artist's name go at the top, but I haven't put them in yet. I love these blue tones as much as I love my more thematic Orange. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, 8" x 8".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Castle Storm

Meanwhile, back on Darkover, the World of the Red Sun, a weather-witch in a remote castle whips up an epic thunderstorm. I'm transcribing Darkover pictures from somewhat more recent times now, and they are getting better done and more professional in my opinion. This one was done in August of 1989, acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 12". I had moved to the DC area and was working for a company which did pictures of buildings (mostly houses) for the real estate market. I got a lot of good training there which I still use now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dark Dick

You can take this posting's title as you wish. It actually refers to the work of Philip K. Dick, one of the most influential science fiction authors of the 20th century. In 1979, when I was at the beginning of my modest career as a science fiction illustrator, I got a commission to do frontispiece illustrations (that is, opposite the title page) for hardcover versions of two series of novels by Philip Dick. As a dutiful illustrator, I went and read the books. I found them truly twisted and depressing, but I was determined to do a good job on the illustrations. Therefore I became twisted and depressed. 

This one is the frontispiece to a tale called THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, summarized in its full incoherence in Wikipedia. The stoned-out characters of the story appear as well as a church steeple turned into a syringe, the planet Mars, and the reader's hands strangling a little girl (it happens in the book, but as I dimly recall, the little girl is not what she seems, or a hallucination, or something). The book was full of this kind of illusion within illusion, and reflected the drug-addled mind of its creator. As I recall, not wanting to take drugs, I used music as a drug (symphonies of Mahler, or Christian pop music hymns) until I felt almost suicidal, and then I did the art. This was in the spring and summer of 1979. I did 12 pictures in 2 series. I hated the art after I finished it, and when I got a chance a year or so later, I sold it all at a very low price to the guy who had re-published the books, and who really liked the art. 

So I can really do dark, twisted, depressing, and violent art if I am commissioned. I just don't like it. Perhaps I'm just a squeamish old biddy, who doesn't want to express what is really going on in the world. Does art have to be shocking, violent, brutal, and filled with nihilistic despair to be true to our era? There seems to be a need for that in art, because such things have been created ever since people started making art. Will I make this kind of art, too? I don't believe twaddle about "doing what's in your heart." I do art because I can solve an interesting problem, even if it's proposed in a drugged haze by Philip Dick.

Original drawing is about 7" x 10", ink on illustration board.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Forest Tourists

Longtime readers of this Weblog will remember my series of "Dodson Doodles," which were done with simple crayon pens. I am revisiting the concept of very fast design these days, sometimes out of necessity (Omigod I gotta have something half-decent to post on "Art By-Products!") and sometimes out of desire to get a design concept quickly without working too hard, i.e. art laziness. But I am also interested in what happens when I really do limit myself to a minute for a tiny sketch. And there's a way to color these things in Photoshop which is very quick and convenient, but is seriously uncouth by fancy Digital Art standards. It's OK for doodles though. (Photoshop geeks: Add color directly to the original drawing by clicking either the "Bucket Fill" or the "Magic Wand" on an enclosed space.) 

This one above took all of 3 minutes to draw and about 20 minutes to color. I wanted a design that was reminiscent of Paul Klee, that is, "Klee-ful." I found myself making a vaguely cute ecological statement about people and forests. These drawings are kind of fun to do. I am also interested in telling a "story" just with abstract shapes and frames and only one or two words. Stay tooned.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Darkover Country

This panorama was inspired by the dreamlike landscapes of Maxfield Parrish as well as by romantic visions of the American West and old cigarette commercials. It is in acrylic on thick illustration board and measures 16 inches by 6 1/2 inches, and it dates from March 1988, which makes it 21 years old. Old enough to drink. 

Here's what I have to do to bring each one of these vintage images to you. I take the old slide from its plastic holder (some of them are stuck to the holders and have to be carefully removed lest they rip apart). Most of the slides are faded and very dusty. I take a wide soft acrylic brush and try to brush off as much dust and tiny fibers as possible, then I set the slides in a plastic tray. Meanwhile, my faithful PC laptop is running Corel PhotoPaint, which processes the slide images. I push the slide tray through the transcription machine (yes, believe it or not, it came from the luxury novelty catalog Hammacher Schlemmer and was not ridiculously high-priced) and record each slide separately. The tray holds three slides. I used to use the slide scanner attachment on my flatbed scanner but this device is much better.

There are 20 slides to an album page. When I've collected 20 raw images in JPEG (or sometimes TIFF) format, I transfer them to my main system via a portable hard drive. These images are then processed in Photoshop. First I straighten them out with the "rotate" command. This is painstaking because all my old images were taken without a tripod and they are all tilted one way or another. Sometimes I have to use the "Lens Distort Corrector" which is conveniently part of Photoshop.

Then I crop the picture to a reasonable edge. After that, I try to remember what the piece looked like back then, and I use the color, brightness, and contrast modification tools to restore the old image to what I remember. Photoshop has some automatic color-restore programs, but they often deliver false color, so I do the job myself. Then I work on eliminating the dust specks, using the "clone" tool, which changes the dust speck to the color of its background so it is eliminated. Once the picture is suitably restored, I make a smaller copy if I want to display it on the Web (such as this one) and save it.

This is, as you can see, quite a lot of work and this is what I go through every time I transcribe an old slide. I have at least 40 more Darkover pictures to transcribe, let alone the thousands in the rest of my collection. So the project will be going on for ages, but I think it's worth it. While doing so I recall where I was when I did the picture and what was going on in my life. For instance, this one was done when I was still living in Cambridge, Mass. but was just about to decide to move down to the Washington, DC area. I am continually glad that I no longer live in Massachusetts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Square Moon of Saturn

They keep discovering new moons of Saturn. Did you know that Saturn has a square red moon? Well, I drew it, so it's there. Let's not get into that ontological subject again. I took an inspiration from a fellow blogger who does real quick doodles and posts them. Maybe I could do five minute doodles too, and color them in, and thus get new art without all the hard work. And then I could do them in sequential frames, like a comic strip, which I like anyway. Lazy artist me, or perhaps taking advantage of the circumstances. Original drawing is about 7" x 2".

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vintage Mango Chunks

I started working at Trader Joe's in October of 2003. It sounds like yesterday, but it is five and a half years ago, and feels like a long time, even though perhaps it shouldn't, if you know what I mean.

Back in those days there was room and time enough to make small pictorial signs advertising single products, without even having to add the price. I worked in smeary water-based markers (now I never use them, only waterproof dye or acrylic markers) and I had a lot more leeway in what I said and how I used pictorial elements. My "Mango Chunks" was one of my first of these ads, and is still one of my favorites. I created an ideal, peaceful, sunlit beach-resort atmosphere, kind of like the original concept for Trader Joe's itself. Original is about 8" x 5".

Speaking of time spans, today March 19th is the first anniversary of this Blog. That is sometimes known cutely as a "blogiversary." I have tried to put up a picture every day and will continue to do so, though I may miss a day here and there. I'm glad people are now leaving comments. 

Darkover Melodrama

On Darkover, the leader of psychic power work groups was known as a "Keeper." She (it was always a female) had a lot of power and connecting ability, so she could psychically join the group to multiply the amount of energy they could wield. There was an order of Keepers who were trained to work in tower rooms overlooking towns or castles. They wore red robes and were sworn to celibacy like nuns, since according to Bradley, sex drained psychic energy, and vice versa. But of course, in Bradley's world (and most other literary stories) anyone sworn to celibacy would have to fall in love and break their vows. This melodramatic illustration was not written for a specific story, but could illustrate any number of Bradley or fan-written moments. The wayward Keeper, having escaped the Tower by a ruse, meets her nobleman lover in a secluded alley, with only a cat as witness.

The title of this piece is "The Keeper's Vice." Ink and watercolor on illustration board, 9" x 13", November 1985. 

I admit that I borrowed some elements of Bradley's Darkover for my NoantriWorld, except for the red robes and the sex stuff. Or perhaps there is a common transuniversal story reality that both MZ Bradley and I are dipping into. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Iconic Perfect Storm of a Poster Child Nuts and Berries Mix

Oh, don't worry about the posting title, I just wanted to make sure you got your buzzwords for the day. Here's another sign for Trader Joe's. Munch those berries, which are so attractive to squirrels. The "mid-century retro" style continues to give me nice sign results. This one also has a kind of "kiddie" look to it, and I would recommend giving this nut mix to kids, just like my mother rewarded me in my youth with walnuts, cashews, and dried apricots. I'm feeling squirrelly. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Interior of a Copy Machine

While I was waiting for copies to be made at the copy center of a well-known office supply store, I saw this machine opened up for servicing. Its complex sculptural details fascinated me and I did this sketch. The plastic door opens to the left and the works slide out, including the four circular (cylindrical) toner packs which you see at the center. They are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. In my opinion the color copy machine is one of the triumphant inventions of modern technology. A large amount of my work depends on color copies. If the machine didn't cost a fortune (more than a car) and if it were smaller, I'd probably buy one. There are smaller laser color copiers that don't cost too much but they do not print on thick paper, which is necessary for quality prints. I am in the market for a new high-quality printer which can handle all my printing needs in the home studio, but am not ready to commit the bucks to it. The economists tell us to spend money to end the recession, but I'm not willing to do my civic duty just yet.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trader Joe's goes Steampunk

Every couple of months, Trader Joe's puts out a booklet full of charming ads for various goodies, called the "Fearless Flyer." Each edition of the Flyer has a different theme. This month, some unnamed trendy genius in the California-based central graphics department has given the Flyer a "steampunk" theme. For those of you who have no idea what "steampunk" is, it's a rather recent science fiction/fantasy genre which mixes Victorian design, history, costuming, and technology with futuristic sci-fi. It tends to be written in a kind of pseudo-florid language, reminiscent of Victorian writers. Think gentlemen in waistcoats and top hats riding electric-powered airships and calculating on brass engines. The Flyer cover even has an octopus, which is a recurring "theme creature" in Steampunk. 

Each store must come up with "flyer indicators" to point out the goodies that are featured in the booklet. This is what I created as our Steampunk flyer indicator, complete with airship and sea monster. Original drawing is 5" x 5", embellished in the Transcendental Lantern of Colors (otherwise known as Photoshop).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Industrial Winter

Another Photoshop effort, using straight-line and circle drawing tools plus some texture "brushes." I create custom brushes (pixel applicators) in Photoshop but every so often, Photoshop CS2 reverts to its "default" state and forgets all my customized tools so I have to remember to save them as preset files. I was trying for a grim "industrial" look here. Seems like wherever I look in the media world artists are making grim, dark, brutal, horrific statements, whether in film, images, music, theater, even fashion. I am wondering whether I have to make my art "dark" as well. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Indonesian Coffee Designs Starbucks

Indonesian batik and weaving designs adorn a Spring 2009 Starbucks coffee board I did Friday. I currently decorate 2 Starbuckses in my area, receiving "free" coffee and food as payment as usual. Tonight I had a Vanilla Red Rooibos Tea latte, which was sweet and creamy and welcome on a raw, cold night.

Acrylic "chalk ink" markers on coated metal board, decaffeinated.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

American Vernacular

This is the real thing. Urban sketching at its purest. Done on site, while parked in a church parking lot sitting in the driver's seat. The only way it would be more pure would be if I had walked there, stood out in the cold air and drawn while wearing fingerless gloves. In freezing rain. That's how they do it on "Urban Sketchers." OK, there's a little more impurity in this drawing...I admit to having used "digital white-out" to erase some stray lines and dots. 

We (as in, the residents of the DC-Metro area) are promised snow showers tonight and tomorrow. We want spring, though we haven't had enough "real winter" weather to earn the desire for spring. You're not supposed to complain about anything because there's always someone worse off than you. Right? That means about work, food, health, job status, etc. Every time I read the paper I get so depressed that I want to go read comic books. And then when I read the comic books I get really depressed. What ever happened to the cheerful heroes in colorful tights who saved children and animals and fought super-villains? Now all our comic book "heroes" are brutal killer thugs in black leather. What's with that? 

OK, that was a bit of a rant. Back to the drawing. It's a house near Washington, DC, done in an intriguingly irregular and somewhat bleak interpretation of "American vernacular" residential architecture. There are two rocking chairs on the porch. One for you, and one for me.

Photoshop Darkover

A Photoshop speed-paint of a vista on Darkover, the land of the red sun. Why not? Photoshop can do stuff easily that I struggled with in acrylic, namely how to get those red light highlights. Marion Z. Bradley wasn't very scientific so she never quite explained how a life-bearing planet could orbit a red giant star. Presumably a red giant would have already erased all life from the surface of its planets. But you never know, it's a big universe and there are a lot of planets out there. What do you mean, Darkover isn't in this universe or any other? I illustrate it, so it must exist. What, you say "bad philosophy?" Oh, bummer. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Nuts and Dried Fruit

Here's the side sign that goes with the larger "Nuts and Dried Fruit" sign at Trader Joe's. Customers were always asking where these goodies were, since we had no easily visible sign for them. Ever since my sign went up, no one has needed to ask where the nuts and dried fruit are. This leads to fewer moments of verbal embarrassment among the crew. 
Sign is 1 foot by 2 feet, masonite with painted foamboard layers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Architect as Mage

Here's another portrait of our friend Mereth Kahn, with a little light manifestation. Doctor Strange he's not...alas, my Noantri have no contact with the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. The "book" he holds is called a "Datasefer" and contains the "blueprints" for the entire Theophoric Institute of Surakosai, as well as a number of theophoric programs. This image is one of my first attempts in making a "painting-like" piece in Photoshop.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Boys of Darkover

Oh, no, not another Darkover picture!? I painted scads of them during the '80s. This one was for a Gay friend who loved Darkover and commissioned me to paint numerous pictures of his favorite pair of gay lover characters, Regis Hastur and Danilo. I painted them in various decorous or dramatic (but not X-rated) poses, all in the romantic red light of Darkover. Note that Regis, the red-haired boy, has six fingers. This was a feature of a few Darkovan characters, and was the result of interbreeding between humanoid six-fingered native Darkovans and the human settlers. The native Darkovans had lots of psychic powers and so did the Celtic-descended human immigrants, so that's where the psi elements came from. Back in the 80s everything Celtic was the coolest thing in fantasy, just like everything Japanese nowadays. 

"The Boys of Hastur," acrylic on illustration board, 14" x 15", fall 1985. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme

I've been a Marvel Comics fan for most of my life. Doctor Strange is my favorite Marvel character. In my earliest years, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I never actually did that (it is a very difficult job with no security or benefits) but I love to draw comic book characters and superheroes. In the mid-80s I did illustrations of Marvel characters for a friend's fanzine, and Doctor Strange was one of them. Who doesn't love the Flames of Faltine, the Seven Rings of Raggador, and the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto?

Doctor Strange, ink on board, 9" x 12", May 1987

Friday, March 6, 2009

Salon Scenes

Whenever I get my hair done, I take my sketchbook and I pass the time waiting for the hair dye to "cook" by drawing people and things in the salon. Here we see a stylist, a lady in the dryer, and 2 ladies getting their hair washed. The young daughter of one of them looks on as Mom sits in the hair chair. Now I have freshly re-charged hair color and style. 

Pseudo-Irish Bagels and Deli

The relentless clockwork of the year brings us to St. Patrick's day, and the time of "Irish" marketing. I decorated the specials board at Mena's "Bagels, Deli, and Donuts"
in a proper pseudo-Irish design, with a bird in the left corner and a stylized dog in the lower right corner. Putting a "Celtic" design on a food advertisement made me consider how many cultures we have assimilated in America and turned into commercial enticements. There can be no such thing as "authentic" cultural material here. But is "authenticity" really desirable? I can think of some moments (in Europe) where I encountered something "authentic," that is, performed or made by the people who created it, in the place it was created. Those moments are rare and probably irretrievable now. As an artist I always work with fake stuff. At least the food is real.

You can visit "Bagels, Deli, and Donuts" on their web site, where you can see the people and the fare. Mena (or "Meena") is on the right in the home page photo. If you're ever in Falls Church, please visit! 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Iconic Nuts and Dried Fruit

This tropical-flavored sign (they grow nuts and fruits in the tropics, right?) is the last in my series of "retro" style signs for Trader Joe's. Note that the underlying roundish beige background is made to look like a giant peanut (or peanuts). The dots on the "i's" in "Dried Fruit" (you can't see them so well here) are shaped like almonds. This was the most elaborate sign of the series since there were four words to carve out as well as the decorative elements. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Library of Eridu

Here you go, LauraJ, a palm tree. This is a side view of the Great Library of Eridu, which was one of the first Noantri places I ever "visited." There's a lot more to be seen in Eridu, which is located where Iraq is in our world. This drawing is part of a series of Noantri images which will eventually find their way into a graphics and text compilation. I am touched and honored that some people do read this Blog. Even more gladdened that someone actually is interested in NoantriWorld. It is my fond hope that someday I will create something that people will remember and "visit" for themselves through my work. Thanks for reading and appreciating.

As for larger pictures: the big sign images that I put up on this Blog are taken on my digital camera, a tiny Casio Exilim. The images are then downloaded and processed in Photoshop. For art which is smaller but cannot fit on the scanner, I will scan the art in sections and then "stitch" them together using the "Photomerge" program in Photoshop. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


There was a snowfall in my neighborhood and all over the East Coast on March 2. This was the first real storm of this winter though even without storms it has seemed like a long, cold, dreary season. I did this study of an earlier snowfall in my 2005 sketch journal. Done with markers in the journal, about 3" x 4". I liked how the snow-filled air made all the colors pale and greyish. I am lucky to be inside in a warm place tonight.

I haven't had any comments on this blog for a long time. I hope that someone is still out there looking at it. It is almost a year now since I started "Art By-Products" and I want to continue it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Best Darkover Picture

I have been scanning in my entire collection of Darkover-related art from the old slides, and this one came up tonight. It is "Hawkmistress," which I painted in 1982 for the DAW Books publication. (Acrylic on illustration board, 12 1/2" x 22".) You can see how the picture was used for two different covers in the Wikipedia entry for the book. A friend posed for the figure, and I drew direct from the (clothed) model without the use of photographs. I borrowed the flying hawk from a Buick ad of the time. It's a composite bird, because the markings and size are more like a Peregrine Falcon. The main character depicted here is a girl who escapes a detestable arranged marriage by running away dressed as a boy. 

I sold a lot of prints of "Hawkmistress" before the image was retired in the 1990s. For a while this was my most popular painting. I only did one subsequent cover for DAW. The four Darkover covers for DAW that I did in the early '80s were the most success I ever got as a professional fantasy artist. The whole illustration world is very different now. 

I feel very ambivalent about my fantasy art. On the one hand I regard it as wonderful stuff I'd love to go back to, but I know that there isn't much of a market for stuff like this any more at conventions or even for book covers or other illustrations, unless I were willing to totally re-train myself to work in digital media as a game artist. On the other hand, I was trained to make "serious" fine art and fantasy art has always been regarded as trivial kitsch by the fine art types, even in post-modern now. If I want to show art in a "fine art" gallery I have to make non-fantasy or at best "surrealistic" art. It is a constant issue in my artistic life which I have never resolved, not even in 30 years of work. Meanwhile I am almost ready to self-publish my Mereth Kahn architecture booklet, which is quite far removed from Darkovan heroic girls and flying hawks.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Darkover Fantasy Portrait

Here's a fantasy portrait of a real person from my Darkover days, in 1982. She had herself portrayed as a (male) Darkover character, complete with weird magical talisman and the four moons of the alien planet in the sky beyond. She owned most of the costume she is wearing in this depiction, and I made up the rest. My portrait client was also a musician, performing folk and Celtic music under the name "Peregrynne Windrider." I was good friends with her and we used to have fun together at conventions, drinking liqueur and having theological discussions. She married a devout Episcopalian and once they had children, they stopped coming to conventions. I haven't seen her for many, many years now. 

Portrait is acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 10", Spring 1982.