Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meadowlark Gardens

The weather was splendid so I took myself to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA where I wandered around looking at birds and plants. I had my sketching stuff with me too and I did this little view of a pond and a fountain, while sitting on a park bench. It's all very controlled and planted and cared for, but there is still plenty of "Nature." This sketch is in colored pencils, about 7 inches wide.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Self Portrait Doodle as Fountain

It's my blog, and I can doodle if I want to. If you want High Quality Serious Art by me, then please go to "Quality Art Product" at There has to be a place and a notebook where I don't have to be a serious artist. Today I was virtuous and did a lot of tedious household tasks. It was rainy with lots of thunder. I have been sick of living where I am living for at least 10 years. I would like to have a place where I have my own laundry machines. I would like to live in a place which is somewhat less crowded. In order to have a place where I have my own laundry machines and more space, many conditions have to be fulfilled, most of them having to do with "having more money." As an artist, this is unlikely to happen. Artists who make good money from their art and who are not academic teachers (which I really don't want to do...) are as rare as pop musicians who make good money from their songs, or young street basketball guys who make it to the NBA. Since this is true, is it futile to even try? I am collecting work which I am going to try to offer to a gallery. At least I got it out of my closet and am looking at it, rather than hiding it. Quality Art Product was hidden in my closet. Now it's time to fold the laundry. Thank you for your support.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Electrobiotic Sketch

I have been trying to design this picture for more than a year. Until now I have not had any success. Maybe this is because I didn't want to do the design digitally. Actually I have not done any physical sketching, I just thought about it. Now that I need a physical sketch to follow, I think my printer just conked out, which it was on the way to doing anyway. I gave in to the siren song of Photoshop so here is my concept art for "Electrobiotics" which will be done in real live acrylic paint on real paper illustration board. I haven't done any of my abstractions in a green color scheme, so this will be my first one. It's a surrealistic landscape with space and sky elements. I think I will leave my orange Honda Element out of it, though. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Retro Fresh Fruit

You can buy fruit that's already peeled and cut at Trader Joe's, since your hectic crazy lifestyle doesn't even give you time to buy fruit in its original state and cut it up. I always wanted a hectic crazy lifestyle. It's a mark of honor in this American society. It means that your services are wanted and that you are not unemployed. The trouble is, a hectic crazy lifestyle is not good for your health, no matter how much fruit you eat. 

I always feel guilty about buying and consuming pre-made dinners and other prepared foods. Along with the need to be busy and productive every waking moment, there is a counter-pressure to make home-made, healthy, slow-cooked food out of natural, premium, vegetable and fiber-rich ingredients. I fail to do either. I am not busy every waking moment, since I spend way too much time looking at trivial things online. And I don't cook my own vegan all organic virtuous cuisine. I am not a vegetarian. I eat stuff that comes out of cans. I don't like cooking. Kind of ironic (if not iconic) for someone who works in a gourmet store. 

This colorful sign, about two feet wide, was my day's effort. It is shown against the rough cedar walls of the store before it was put up in the refrigerated section. It's the, uh, fruit of my labor.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Balticon Hotel Lobby

I sat in the lobby of the Hunt Valley Marriott the night before the convention, and drew this picture in my fancy Moleskine. The crowds hadn't come yet and there was only one person sitting in the lobby waiting for someone, and a hotel employee stationed at the doorway desk. This hotel is, by current standards, old and venerable. I have been going to events in it for more than 30 years. It has grown into a labyrinthine place where it is very easy to get lost. I also call it a "rabbit warren" and at one point during the weekend there was a baby rabbit stuck in an outdoor stairwell. The convention folk captured the cute critter and set it free in the lush lawns of the hotel grounds.

I may make fun of fans, but the truth is I am a true fan myself. I have a lot of the tribal mannerisms and preferences. After three decades of convention-going I consider these people family. The fannish community in the USA is aging and somewhat in decline. I would like to see the tribe persist. Some of them have children and are bringing them up in the faith. I am not as active in fandom as I used to be, but for me it's still home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hotel Grounds

I came early to the Balticon hotel to avoid Memorial Day weekend traffic. Thus I had some time to just sit and draw whatever was in front of me. Friday weather was idyllic so I was able to sit out on a bench in the protected courtyard of the Hunt Valley Marriott and sketch in my chic expensive Moleskine sketchbook. I don't use this sketchbook unless I am sure I am going to do a good drawing. This was a grassy area near the deserted tennis court. Birds were chirping and there was only one person in the place besides me, a fangirl sitting on another bench, reading some thick fantasy book, unaware of the outdoors. Fans don't go outdoors much. There have been conventions where I haven't left the hotel for the entire weekend, but not recently. My room was rather isolated from the rest of the hotel and I felt like I was somehow in a resort, at least until I returned to the main exhibit and event rooms which were packed with fans who had not seen the sun since 1998.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back from Balticon

I'm back from Balticon! I sold two pictures to my best collectors. I sold "Gold Wing," and also "Inequalities." These are visible on my "Quality Art Product" blog. It was great to see the real live fellow blogger Tristan Alexander along with the originals of some of the fine creatures he has posted on his "Weble." I also sold 4 copies of my Noantri architecture booklet, which you have seen images from here. Now I am inspired to do more art. Maybe some winged kittens, scantily clad babes, or perhaps a smiling dragon or two.
The drawing above shows a fan who has been adapted for life on a heavy gravity planet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Manna Toast in the Desert

I do these doodles every so often, in tiny moments of artistic freedom in my private journal. This one is about manna from heaven which wafts down into the desert to feed the wandering Israelites. In this concept the manna is in the form of slices of toasted bread. The "bread slice" shape kept repeating as I drew the doodle. Drawn quickly no more than 3 inches tall by 2 inches wide, colored quickly in Photoshop. 

I won't be posting to the By-Product this weekend as I hope to be at Balticon and maybe sell some art. Note the conditional mode of speaking: I never say I am going to definitely do something, because something else could always happen. I guess I wouldn't do well with the practice of positive thinking. I need a vacation, but Balticon is not it, that's work. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Deryni Knight

Katherine Kurtz' books are full of heroic blonde people. That's just the way she is. King Kelson is heroic and has black hair, so it's not everyone. But there is a whole family of blondness in the Camber books, that is, Camber and his kin. This is a portrait of Joram, Camber's knightly son. Joram is a military priest in the Order of St. Michael, not to be confused with my own religious order as I've said. Joram gets to do a lot of political intrigue but not much swashbuckling. This was a commission from a Deryni fan, a century ago in 1985. Painting is acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 11", done in July 1985. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fragmented Universe

This is a new painting in my "high-end gallery" line, so really it's an authentic Art Product, but I'm featuring it on the By-Product as well as on "Quality Art Product," my art blog at Its title is "Fragments of an Alternate Universe," and it is acrylic on primed Masonite, 12" x 16". It is an experiment in using bright yellow with dark blue and black. The idea here is that the dark blue, light blue, and black as well as the brown areas are all fragments of another universe, which can only be seen against the background of the bright yellow which would represent an energy field or the surface of a star or some other exotic physics phenomenon. There may be other universes, but they may be completely unreachable. In my concept, there is a connection, but the information about the other universe comes to the experimenter or viewer only in fragments, where all times of day and night, as well as landforms, atmosphere, and starry sky, are visible at the same time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Retro World

Here's another "billboard" in-store ad for Trader Joe's. I believe I've really got the retro-early 60s style happening here. There's a bit of inspiration from the 1964 World's Fair "Unisphere" in this one. Our future's in space, A-OK!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Passing of Cinhil

After her first set of Kelson books, Katherine Kurtz took her readers back about 300 years, to an earlier time in the Deryni world. The hero this time was Camber, a warrior, diplomat, and kingmaker. Cinhil (pronounced "Kin-hill") was the last descendant of the royal family, who wanted only to be a monk hidden away in a monastery. But Camber, for the good of the kingdom, brought him out of seclusion and persuaded (forced, perhaps) Cinhil to renounce his monastic vows and take the throne. He ruled for enough time to leave some heirs, and then died of tuberculosis. This shows Camber (in his disguised form, as the plot required) holding the dead King as colorful angels bring his soul into Heaven. 

I made this picture especially for Katherine Kurtz, who was my hostess in California after the World Science Fiction Convention in 1984. She still owns it after all these years. It is ink and watercolor on Fabriano watercolor paper, 11" x 14", done in January of 1985. Remember to click on the image for a larger version. In 1985 I didn't click on anything.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wandering Black Hole

Astronomical black holes are familiar to us now. These are places, collapsed stars, where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. They are usually situated in the centers of galaxies, where their intense force sucks in clouds of gas and even entire stars. Sometimes, though, black holes just wander through space, pulling in whatever they encounter, and distorting space around them. That's what's in this small concept study. I hope to show this and other astronomical and mathematical art at Balticon in a week or so.
Acrylic on black illustration board, 7" x 10". 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Deryni Coronation

This lavish illustration depicts the coronation of young King Kelson. The ceremony takes place after a lot of dramatic action involving swordfights and magical outbursts. Kelson, the teenage King, kneels before three archbishops who place the crown on his head. The spirit of the ancient hero Camber, another major Kurtz character, appears behind the young king to protect him. I depicted a number of characters from the book, DERYNI RISING, in the audience, including Kelson's tragic mother, dressed in white in the lower center of the picture. This kind of neo-medieval pageantry is one of the reasons why Kurtz' books are so fun to illustrate. 

"The Coronation of Kelson" is ink and acrylic watercolor on board, 17" x 11", June 1983, and was a commission from Doug Zimmerman, a Deryni fan of that era. As always, click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Organic Food Lovers Welcome

We sign makers at Trader Joe's Tysons are being instructed to make "message" signs with a minimum of graphic embellishment. This one here is probably a bit too decorated, but I did it anyway. The bottom quarter is empty because that part of the sign will be hidden behind stacks of goods.

My work for Trader Joe's is quite different from the usual sign fare at other TJ's such as this one. Perhaps I am too sober and sedate and need to put more childlike "fun" kiddie lettering into my work. I am not a "fun" person, though, just a graphic designer. Meanwhile, there's plenty of organic food to munch virtuously.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Mediterranean Terraces

Here's another study of the set-back rooftop terraces on a hotel in Marina della Corricella, near Capri in Italy. The floor of each terrace is the ceiling of the room below it. Note that the terraces are partitioned by curving part-walls so that each guest room has a private space. I would really like to go here, but it won't happen any time soon. I collect pictures and books about fantasy luxury architecture, places that I would never be able to go to myself. Or perhaps there is a way to get there...I just haven't thought of it, or I don't have the determination, or I'm too lazy. I'm not asking to own the place, I just want to visit...and draw it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deryni Knights

The Deryni, as described by Katherine Kurtz in her books, were often blonde or red-headed with fair skin. They also had light, luminous eyes, sometimes in unusual colors like gold or violet. In a way, they were somewhat like elves, though without the pointed ears. As a reader, I wondered whether they might have had an alien origin, though author Kurtz never explained how they came to be. They were close enough to mainstream humans to intermarry and have children with humans, and the half-breeds could inherit Deryni psychic powers. There's a lot about that in the books. Half-Deryni looked more like ordinary humans, with darker hair and skin; in one of the books there is even a Black Deryni from North Africa, who evidently was the result of a Deryni adventurer mingling with a native.

These are "pure" Deryni, youths and older men in a knightly religious order called the "Michaelines." The real-world order I belong to is also called the "Michaelines" or "Order of St. Michael," and it was inspired originally by the fictional order of Katherine K's books. The real-world Michaelines carefully explain, though, that it is not a Deryni fan organization, but an ecumenical Christian prayer and fellowship group. Nevertheless, imagination plays a major role in our spirituality.

I painted this one in gouache (opaque watercolor) a medium I was experimenting with at the time. I later switched to acrylic, as gouache was fragile and fadeable. This was painted in fall of 1982, gouache on illustration board, 7" x 11".

Monday, May 11, 2009

Private Labels

A Trader Joe's advert gets a fanciful, "biomorphic" mid-century look in this message board. "Private labels" are goods that are produced specially for Trader Joe's. Everything from walnuts to frozen vegetables to wines get the TJ imprint. Sometimes "name" makers produce private label stuff for TJ, as long as it meets the standard. Free samples (including private label wines) do wonders for employee morale.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Virtual Italian Sketch

I drew this to test out some spiffy new Japanese drawing pens which are loaded with brown gel ink, rather than messy conventional ink. I chose to draw a section of an Italian island village near Capri called "Marina della Corricella." I love Mediterranean architecture, especially the closely fitted together towns on steep hills where the terrace of one apartment is the rooftop of another. This was drawn from a photograph in a glossy tourist book, so it is inauthentic. I would love to visit Marina della Corricella in person to do some "authentic" on-site drawings, but I don't have the funds or any other logistical resources to get me there for a decent drawing stay. Maybe someday, I can dream. My neighborhood's architecture is so boring and banal that I don't want to draw it. There is not a rooftop terrace in sight. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Young King Kelson

Kelson, the youthful King, is the major character in a number of series of Deryni books by Katherine Kurtz. His father, King Brion, was bumped off by a wicked conspiracy early in the story, and Kelson inherited the throne of the kingdom of Gwynedd when he was only fourteen. He has to learn to rule and grow up at the same time, helped by his stalwart advisors and plotted against by the evil Deryni conspirators and corrupt churchmen. I depict him here as a royal teenager, with some Norman-style shields in the background. I went through a lot of medieval references and periods before deciding that the Kelson story took place later than the Norman era; I now set it in about 1300.
This character portrait is ink and watercolor on paper, 5" x 7", and was done in spring 1982.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother's Day at the Sandwich Shop

"Mother" gets roses of ketchup red and mayonnaise cream for the sandwich shop. Spring flowers are always appropriate. But would a hot sandwich make you think of Mom? Is your mom hot? Is she in Washington? Some mothers are just unpleasable, even with good things to eat. Mena, the proprietor, asked me to add earrings to the face in the center so that it would be more feminine. Mother's disembodied face looks down on the snackers in the shop. I'll probably erase her after the holiday is over.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The grocery market field is very competitive, especially in rough economic times. No matter how big or widespread their organization is, food store chains have to fight for every bit of business. This is true at Trader Joe's, too. The current dictates for our signs are that they must constantly emphasize what a good value Trader Joe's goods are. It's true that Trader Joe's stuff is often less expensive than the competitors', but that and gourmet goodness isn't the whole reason why people love Trader Joe's. They come to TJ's rather than other places because TJ's is fun. It's a mixture of shopping and entertainment, or "shop-u-tainment." As a signmaker I want to keep that experience going. As regular readers of this Blog know, I've been making signs for TJ's in a "mid-century pop" style, inspired by the roadside signs of the 1950s and early 60s. This style combines garish hard-sell with the playful attitude of candy-colored cars with big fins, and neon diners. Our customers, weary of the threats of the current world, can be entertained by colorful retro-chic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Electronic Noise Album Cover from 1969

Believe it or not, I am about to release an album of electronic noise/music. Or rather, it is going to be released on my behalf, because all I did was provide the ancient relic of a tape it is made from. As some of you know, I am a member of an online electronic music "community" called "Stillstream." You can hear and participate in this group at this address. Long ago, I made electronic music at my father's Brandeis University electronic music studio, from 1968 to 1970. This album is a compilation of some of the sounds I made in '68 and '69. 

Last year, this 40-year-old tape was transcribed to digital files and was passed along to Mark "Mystahr" Stolk, in the Netherlands, who runs an online-only "record label" called "Just Not Normal." Mark decided to publish this compilation, and did the editing and production work for it. Today, it will be released to the world on the "Just Not Normal" imprint. It is a free download, and if you have the bandwidth, not to mention the desire to hear my 40-year-old electronic sounds, here's your chance.

The tape box photocollage you see above is the original box from 1968, that the tape came in. I drew the figure and lettered it back then, but the other type about the recording and the green tape logo was added in for the cover composition. The caricature ("Marietta Cashman") depicts a certain type of earnest, liberal-Utopian political campaigner. If you look closely, you can see that she wears a political button that says "GENE." That was Eugene McCarthy, who ran for President in 1968 on a strong anti-war program. Such dedicated, somewhat dogmatic, and rather frumpy types still exist today. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Purple and Black

I drew this sketch of a costumer at Costumecon and colored it in Photoshop later on. I think she is wearing a costume re-created from a Japanese anime cartoon. There were a lot of anime devotees at the convention wearing get-ups from their favorite anime's. This is called cosplay, rather than just plain costuming, because there's some element of role-playing in it, more than just showing off your craft skills. Seeing all these anime fans in their character roles made me aware of just how little I know about this extremely influential field of pop culture. In fact I know very little about pop culture in any form, whether movies, TV, music, or games. I suppose it's a result of my own ivory tower lifestyle. If I felt I needed to know this, I suppose I could learn, in my own pedantic way, whatever I needed to know. There are guides to anime both in book and video form. I am very good at remembering details, and I could turn myself into a total pedantic otaku (anime devotee) if I had the determination to do it. I could recite from memory storylines, characters, controversies, and descriptions...I could dress up as my favorite anime character...I could even learn Japanese, as the real hardcore devotees do. But life is too goddamn short for that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Costumecon Sketches

I'm back from CostumeCon in the Baltimore area, where I spent three days sketching and photographing fabulous costumes. There was everything from "neo-Inca" (see above upper left) to historical re-creations to elaborate and entertaining Steampunk fantasies. The lobby was often filled with a bevy of Ladies in enormous eighteenth-century court dresses, fanning themselves, gossiping and giggling as if they were in Versailles. Next to them might be a couple of anime cartoon babes come to life, and then walking down the hall towards the bar would be a wizard with a glowing crystal.
I wasn't there to show costumes of my own, so most of the time I was sitting in a place where the costumers passed by, drawing whoever stood still long enough. I renewed friendships with a number of old friends whom I've known for decades, and I might have the opportunity to design costumes for them. As always, click on the picture to see a larger view.

Now it's back to work on my own art for my next show, which I hope will be at Balticon later this month.