Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lady Iris

Today I hope to go to Costumecon, in the Baltimore environs. I'll have a couple of costumes (or rather, interesting unique garments) that I'll wear, but I'm there to enjoy other people's costumes. I'll have my sketching stuff with me and my camera too. I love looking at costumes and designing them as well. I hope to re-connect with my costumer friends. This concept drawing probably dates from the late 1980s or early 90s, and is ink and watercolor, about 7" x 10". I was fascinated by irises in those years, and I wanted to make a lady's dress inspired by the petal forms of an iris. The costume was never made, though I showed it to some of my costumer friends. 

I probably will not post anything to "By-Products" until I return on Sunday night, so please be patient.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pondside Retreat

This is a colored pencil sketch I did of one of the ponds at the retreat place I was at. I didn't have much time to do sketching, so this was about twenty minutes worth of work. The leaves were just coming in and were a brilliant shade of spring green in the sunlight. Two geese swim on the pond near a park bench. There was goose poop all over the grass. The sisters and staff consider them a nuisance and while I was there the maintenance people had to destroy a goose nest, with much noisy protest from the flock. Otherwise the place would be overrun with Canada geese. The domestic swan pair's nest, however, was cherished and protected, and the residents eagerly awaited the hatching of cygnets. 

I'll be away at Costumecon this weekend, so again I may not post anything till I come back.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Retreat Convent

I'm back from my spiritual retreat with my religious group. We were at a retreat house near Reading, PA, "Mariawald." This building here is not the retreat house, but the convent of the Sisters who host the retreat house. I drew it sitting on a bench near one of the two ponds, where ducks and geese glide on the water and domestic swans are raising a family. It was peaceful there and there were lots of birds to watch. The retreat was full of activity though, so it was perhaps not as restful as I would like. I am going away next weekend too, to a quite different event: "Costumecon" which is a convention for people who make, wear, and design fantasy costumes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Circle

It was "Earth Day" yesterday (April 22) but then, I think that every day should be Earth Day. I did this Earth about a year ago, in April 2008. It is one of my mathematical abstractions, where I meditate with color and shape upon some basic math concept. In this one, I place the trigonometric "Unit Circle" on the sphere of the Earth. The Unit Circle is used to demonstrate trigonometric functions, and its radius is one unit. I also mark the arc of a radian, which is a fractional measure of a circle used in calculus. This painting is 10" x 10", acrylic and markers on black-coated paper.

"Art By-Products" will be on a short hiatus while I am out of town, on religious retreat with my fellow members of the Order of St. Michael. Posting will resume next week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Illustrating DeryniWorld

I met Katherine Kurtz in 1978, at one of the first DarkoverCons in Queens, NY. She had come all the way from California and was seated decorously on the floor, surrounded by fans. At that point I hadn't read any of her books. After that, I got the first Deryni trilogy and read it, folding down page corners at places I thought would make good illustrations. This above image is one of the first storyline illustrations I did from the Deryni tales, rather than a character portrait. It shows the teenage king Kelson, accompanied by his advisers, riding to a battlefield "parley" or discussion of terms with the enemy. Katherine, being one of the earliest members of the medieval recreation group "Society for Creative Anachronism," knew a vast amount of medieval culture and included lots of details from the Middle Ages in her books, which seemed to be set in the early 1300s.

I borrowed my Deryni illustration style from an artist I had loved for years, namely H.J. Ford who illustrated the multicolored fairytale books collected by Andrew Lang, such as the "Blue Fairy Book," the "Green Fairy Book," etc. He had a lovely Art Nouveau-ish style but his depictions of figures, costumes, and armor were just what I needed for Deryni inspiration. This ink drawing, tinted with watercolor, is about 11" x 8" and was done in the fall of 1980. If all goes well, I'll be meeting with Katherine Kurtz this weekend, almost 29 years later.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mid-Century Frozen Vegetables and No Middleman

Mid-Century roadside signs, especially for motels and restaurants, continue to inspire my Trader Joe's signage. I am greatly helped by the many amateur photographers and design enthusiasts who upload their photographs of remaining examples of this style to Flickr and other photo display sites. Here in the urban East, mid-century signs have been almost completely eradicated, except in the happy haven of "doo-wop" Wildwood on the Jersey shore. Someday I will make a pilgrimage there. 

How did I get so enthralled with this style? Well, first of all I'm old enough to have lived with it when it was new and fresh. I loved the playful colors and chrome of 50s cars. I loved the fantasy architecture of the 1964 World's Fair. But more than that I loved what was then futuristic, whether it was the TV Jetsons or the comic book worlds of Krypton or space adventurer Adam Strange. I like this design so much better than the "grunge," zombie, goth, and hard-edged stuff which dominates the popular graphics world nowadays.

I would like to know, if any one of you out there plays video games, is there a game which is not horrifically violent, brutal, and morally ambiguous? Is there a fully rendered videogame which is not just an arcade rack-up-points game or pixel puzzle, but another world full of things which are uplifting, harmless, beautiful, but at the same time fascinating? Where you don't have to kill anyone? Just a question. Now back to frozen vegetables.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue Passage

Here's an "impressionistic" composition in Photoshop, inspired by the space landscapes of the digital artists I admire. Some of these spacescapes start as purely abstract blobs or smudges on a background, and then the artists add structure to it. I tried to do this, and I have only partially succeeded, because I would like the "architecture" to be more realistic, even if things are floating in zero-G. I'll keep doing these every so often. To see what a really good version of this type of art looks like, check this image out. It's by "Sparth," a renowned fantasy artist and concept designer for movies and videogames. I would like to do work this good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Dragon Lord's Portrait

Adrienne Martine-Barnes was associated with Marion Zimmer Bradley's circle of authors in the early 80s. In 1982 she published "The Dragon Rises" which was a combination of romance novel, fantasy, and science fiction. One of the characters was Guilherme, a Dragon Lord warrior general and love object (I think.). It's been a millennium since I read this book. 

I used to do miniature portraits which were used as decorative nametags at science fiction conventions. I have a costumer friend who has created and worn costumes for the role of Martine-Barnes' Guilherme. I did a nametag miniature for him many years ago, but recently he did another Guilherme costume and asked for another portrait in the new get-up. This is the updated portrait. He's somewhat older than the earlier one but I think it makes him a better fit for the role. (He can see out both eyes, by the way, the eye patch is for the costume.) The black area on the bottom is where the name is lettered. I have removed the name for this display.

Nametag miniature is ink and watercolor on watercolor paper, 3 1/2" x 2 1/4".

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Heroic Deryni Knight

My media recovery program now moves into another body of work, that is, pieces inspired by the Deryni books of Katherine Kurtz. The stories are set in the Middle Ages on an alternate Earth (with our own yellow sun and single moon), where the geography is different and nationalities are re-named but recognizable. Two races of humans inhabit the earth: ordinary humans, who have no psychic/magical ability, and the Deryni, who have psychic/magical ability. They are not two species, though, and they often interbreed, producing hybrids who may or may not have magic powers. The ordinary humans (a medieval version of Rowling's "muggles," perhaps) are mostly superstitious, ignorant, and prejudiced against the magical Deryni who live among them. Every so often a war breaks out and Deryni are burned at the stake for being witches. 

Katherine Kurtz' books are filled with swashbuckling, intrigue, magical rituals, clerical and theological complications, and plenty of blood 'n' guts. Unlike in Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, Christianity (or a Gnostic, alternate-universe form of it) is important to the characters as well as the author. And the Deryni books do not have the heavy-breathing eroticism that permeates the Darkover books; sex takes place offstage, though there are plenty of "romantic" elements. 

The chivalric character depicted here is Duke Alaric Morgan, the dominant character in many of Kurtz' books. He is the ideal knight: brave, skilled, enduring, gracious, and loyal to his king. He also has magical powers including the ability to heal wounds instantly, even though he is only half Deryni. He's tall, blond, and heroic, clad in chain mail with his green and black heraldic design. In the back is the golden lion on red which is the heraldic device of his king, the youthful Kelson. 

I painted this in the summer of 1980. It's acrylic on Masonite, 10" x 18". I exhibited it and sold it at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, August 1980.

Marion Zimmer Bradley is gone, but Katherine Kurtz is alive and well and still writing Deryni books. Marion was only an acquaintance (and patron) of mine, but Katherine is a longtime friend. I met her and her husband Scott in the early 1980s and we have been friends ever since. She's also the leader of my religious group, the "Order of St. Michael." My relationship with the Deryni world, then, is ongoing to this day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tree Flowers

My studio occupies what would be the living room of my apartment. The living room space has a big window out onto the terrace, and this is what I see out the window. I am lucky to have trees and an uphill road rather than a parking lot and the other apartment buildings. Every year I make drawings and photographs of the scene. I did this one for the first time in Photoshop on my studio laptop, while looking out the window. It looks deceptively like autumn but the red clusters are maple flowers, along with the opening buds of new leaves. It is finally spring.

Botanical postscript, added later: Those red clusters are not maple flowers, but bunches of winged seeds and bright new leaf shoots.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Colorful Azaleas of Spring

Here's a colored pencil drawing I did on April 16, 1998. A friend of mine visited my house and brought along a lavish bouquet of azalea blossoms. Her house was surrounded by azaleas, some of them unusual specimens. I placed the cut azaleas in two glass vases, one of them an iridescent blue art glass, and I drew them. The azalea bloom happened earlier that year than this year. Due to cold damp weather the bushes have not yet bloomed this year. This was a rare occasion when I got to use the bright pink colors of my colored pencil set in a "realistic" drawing. Original size is about 10" x 8 1/2".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Iconic Wine is Trader Joe Icon

We're re-doing the decor for the wine and beer section at my Trader Joe's. While this is being done, the management requested a new sign to replace the old one at the stand where Charles Shaw wines are featured. "Charles Shaw" is the house wine at Trader Joe's, selling for 3.29 a bottle in Virginia but for about two dollars in California, hence the nickname "Two-Buck Chuck." Charles Shaw wines vary in quality. A couple of years ago, one of their efforts managed to win a prize at a prestigious wine competition - because the origins were concealed and no one knew what brand of wine they were tasting. This "mid-century" retro-styled billboard will only be up for a few weeks, before the Shaw is moved to a new location in the store.
Acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite, about 40" x 30".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cats of the Finger Lakes

I am a cat lover. I don't have cats of my own, because I'm allergic to them and also do not want the responsibility of caring for a cat. But I love other people's cats. I have friends who raise and show cats, especially Maine Coons, and they are judges at cat shows. My cat pro friends have often commissioned me to make logos and designs for various cat shows and for their cat club. They were based in Ithaca, New York and so they called their New York State cat club "Cats of the Finger Lakes." This is the logo I designed for the club in summer of 2002. They asked me to incorporate specific things in the design. The map outline of New York State is behind the cat. There is a wine glass and grapes to signify the vineyard and wine industry of that part of the state. They also asked me to include the "Finger Lakes" of that area into the cat as well as the map. I enlarged them slightly and the mapped lakes became part of the striped markings of the cat. The red heart of the cat is roughly where Ithaca is on the map. A New Yorker pointed out that this puts the backside of the cat in the Buffalo area. I couldn't quite get the paw of the cat to step on New York City, but you get the idea. The original ink drawing is about 7" x 5", colored on CorelDraw. I didn't work with Photoshop till 2007.

My cat professionals are in the process of moving to Delaware (for non-cat job reasons) so I don't know what will happen to the Cats of the Finger Lakes. Will they become Cats of Delaware? I will probably make more designs for them once they are settled. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Evil Sorcerer's Workshop

In 1983 I did a series of illustrations for a role-playing game called "The Evil Ruins." It involved a selection of stock characters exploring and finding bad stuff in the ruins of a castle. One thing they find is the workshop of an evil sorcerer or alchemist. I took my inspiration from the famous "Prisons" illustrations of Piranesi in doing this piece. You (or the game player) can see evidence not only of vivisection but of grave-robbing or even human sacrifice. It's just not a nice place. But in the lower left corner, you see a bottle of glowing substance sitting on a table. Your job in the game was to steal this bottle without alerting the evil sorcerer. The game was published by Mayfair Games at the end of 1983. Back then: no personal computers. No cell phones. No Internet except for a privileged few. No handheld computer gadgets. No iPods. No CDs. No DVD's. You played this game on pieces of paper, with dice, calculating by writing with pencils. Some gamers still play this way, I've heard. 

"Evil Sorcerer's Workshop" is ink on Bristol board, 11" x 7", fall 1983.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pastoral Commercial

I was gonna bring you some more modernist doodlings but it didn't look good enough so here's another piece of nostalgic history from my early days at Trader Joe's. Back in those days, dairy products were brought to the store on horse carts, and the farmers of the local Pimmit Hills brought vegetables directly from their gardens. Everyone lived together in peace in a little village and we all took care of each other. OK, this isn't true. But in my signs, it would be. My price tags (reproduced by anachronistic laser printing) were miniature pictorial scenes from an idealized rural world where you could hear chickens clucking in the yard and momma rang a bell to call you in for dinner. The soft sky would be the background on which I would write the price of eggs. 

This mini sign is made with markers on plain paper, 5 1/2 inches by 2 1/4 inches. Done in fall of 2003.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rampart Village of Darkover

I used to imagine that Darkover, at least the habitable parts, was like Italy, with its rugged hills and ancient stone castles and villages, but under the ruddy glow of the Darkovan red sun. I spent three of my younger years in Italy and have never forgotten it. I have not been back there for more than 30 years, and I'm not sure how I could get back there given my finances. I know what I'd do if I were there though, I'd spend my waking hours dining and drawing, under the real yellow Earthly sun. 

This piece is called "Rampart Village of Darkover" and it's in mixed media on brown paper, 7" x 10", done in the fall of 1996. I have almost finished digitizing and recording my Darkover color pictures. There are more than a hundred of them, and fortunately you've only seen the better ones.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Modernist Doodle

As most of my five readers know, I love "mid-century modernist" design, whether in art, architecture, graphics, or interior decorating. After years of obscurity and derision, this style from the 1950s and early 1960s is now chic again. So if I lay down some hip doodles, man, this is my art riff. I grew up with art like this, though the "fine" artists of that era would never admit that they were doing something fashionable. Cool man Photoshop cool, with a pink moon.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maple Leaf Cookies

One of my latest efforts for Trader Joe's advertises the indulgently rich and irresistibly delicious Maple Leaf Cookies. These are shortbread sandwiches in the shape of a leaf, filled with buttercream maple flavor frosting. They remind me of the maple sugar candies of my New England youth. I can only properly eat one at any sitting though if left alone with the box I would eat them all. My life in Gourmetland is a constant battle between buttery temptation and vegetable virtue. But I don't think "Spinach Leaf" cookies would be so popular.

The "Maple Leaf Cookies" ad is done on painted foamboard, carved and stuck together with all-powerful doublestick tape.

This sign is an "Art By-Product," as it is a commercial effort not created for gallery, show, or collectors; an ephemeral thing here today gone tomorrow. To see real Art Product, please go to my "Quality Art Product" Weblog where you can see my latest Serious Art Work. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Silverthorn the elf prince

This one's for you, Tristan. I drew "Silverthorn the Elf Prince" as part of an illustration series for a role-playing game, now long forgotten. He was a "non-player character," meaning that he was part of the story and could not be played by a participant in the game.

My media recovery efforts extend to black and white pictures that are now stuck inside plastic portfolio pages. I mean literally stuck. The black toner on these old copies has melted into the plastic and you cannot get them out without destroying them. So I scanned this through the plastic, which is why the solid black doesn't look solid, but otherwise I think the image looks all right. The original ink drawing was done in January 1983 (that's right, more than 26 years ago) and is 5" x 7". 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Falls Church Wyeth

I've done a number of architectural studies of the older buildings of Falls Church. These are places that were built and used before Falls Church became "developed," when it was still a semi-rural outlying suburb of Washington DC. They are small industrial and commercial buildings which are still used, but not for what they were originally used for. For instance, this building used to belong to a lumberyard and construction supply company called "Dale Lumber." It is now owned by the City of Falls Church and houses administration and public works such as snow plowing and digging equipment. I did this study in the fall of 2006, and it is my homage to Andrew Wyeth. I tried to get the rustic textures of weathered wood and siding, the way the famous New Englander did, and I tried to get that poetic mood. The picture was in my "Buildings of Falls Church" show in June 2007. It is watercolor on paper, about 12" x 9". 

Monday, April 6, 2009

The building in back

This building may look rather shanty-like but it is actually in the middle of a fairly affluent town: Falls Church, Virginia. I drew it looking out the window of a doctor's office while I was waiting for an appointment. I will draw anywhere, as long as I have a sketchbook, no matter how drab or dull the subject matter. 

Diagnosis of my back and leg pain was sciatica, which is an occupational hazard of artists and those who sit bent over to do their work. I will be doing stretching exercises for it (this isn't the first time I've had it) and I have plenty of muscle relaxant and hi-power ibuprofen so I will be feeling no pain. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Forbidden Tower of Darkover

Marion Zimmer Bradley published "The Forbidden Tower" in 1977, at the height of her writing career and popularity. This long book was in her tradition of melodramatic fantasy tales of forbidden romance and magical powers. The story culminates in a four-way sex scene, enhanced by euphoric drugs. I was commissioned to illustrate this by a romantic Darkover fan. This kind of "polyamory" almost always seems to work better in books than in real life. I created an ideal multi-love scene, using my (clothed) friends as models. It had to be, uh, not X rated, as I was going to show it at conventions. So the action is symbolic and portrayed in glowing soft tones. Marion Z. Bradley believed that sex was salvation, as many people do today, so I tried to create a kind of mystical magical glow for the scene. 

The painting is acrylic on Masonite, 14" x 22", finished in January 1994.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Indonesia Starbucks

Batik designs from Indonesia adorn my latest coffee board for my local Starbucks. After all, Indonesia exports lots of coffee, right? There's a stylized peacock and a jungley plant, from the land of endangered tigers. Sumatra coffee is one of my favorites. I had conversations while I was drawing this and photographing it, with people from India, Mongolia, and Iran. I also consumed a chai latte, whose original inspiration is a mixture of Central Asian tea and European milk. I am so globalized that I am in danger of becoming spherical, especially if I eat too many Starbucks cookies. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Golden Winged Disc of Persia

When I opened the retrieved files from my old computer, I found a set of designs I had done some years ago for a Persian gentleman who sold Persian-themed commemorative plates and collectibles. He had a well-stocked image library of ancient Persian motifs and decorative elements. He gave these to me and I scanned and colored them, then assembled them into designs for ceramic plates. In those days I used CorelDraw, which had excellent, adjustable background textures, one of the things I miss in Photoshop. This plate design is one of the ones I did for my Persian patron.

It features the Winged Disc of Persepolis in the center. This figure was borrowed from Assyrian and Egyptian models and adapted for the glorification of the ancient Persian King. Older scholarly studies thought it represented the Zoroastrian monotheistic God, Ahura Mazda, but more recent interpretations believe it is the Glory and the spirit of the King, who must behave righteously according to the precepts of the prophet Zarathushtra. In Persian, it's known as the faravahar, and has become, since the late 19th century, the symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. The motto that appears above the Faravahar, "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds," is the central moral belief of Zoroastrianism. Every Zoroastrian knows at least this about their religion. 

My Persian friend may or may not have made any plates with my designs; I lost contact with him when he moved away to California. I don't connect with my old Zoroastrian friends as much as I used to. But the religion of Zarathushtra remains a major influence on my life and art.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Castle of the Copper Towers

By the late 80s and early 90s, I was still producing Darkover pictures but I had stopped illustrating specific characters and moments from stories. Instead I produced "genre" and architectural paintings set in that world, which could be the backdrops for fantasies but which were not from any book or text. Many of my images were imitations of old Italian "capricci" or fantasy scenes, which were popular among rich aristocratic collectors in the 18th century. By this time, Marion Zimmer Bradley was in failing health and was producing books only with collaborators. The fan convention, "DarkoverCon," still went on, though, and I dutifully prepared handfuls of these paintings every year for the collectors who attended this event. They were not eighteenth-century nobles, however, except perhaps in their past-life memories.

"Castle of the Copper Towers," acrylic on illustration board. 11" x14", November 1992.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

You Could Work Here

These are two more of the "message" signs that I've been doing for the register area at Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's is always looking for good people. Even in this lousy economy, they are hiring. No matter how bad the economy gets, people still need food, and even more if it's got some cheerful cuteness along with it. The red oval is meant to look like the Trader Joe's name badge that all the "crew" wears.

Need a gift for someone really picky? Someone who has everything? Someone whose house doesn't need any more cluttery items? Get them a Trader Joe's gift card. Maybe they'll share some goodies with you.

As with the other signs I've been doing this year, these are in a Late 50s-early 60s style that says "Retro-Sophistication!" It's fab.