Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer at Starbucks

"Oriental" Art Deco is the style for my latest Starbucks coffee advertising board. Cool colors and a nocturnal theme, with the bright pink fruit drink in the center. I've been doing selected Starbucks boards for six years now. That's a lot of coffee consumed.

The iconic death of the pop icon has unleashed a pandemic of journobabble in which the words "icon" and "iconic" are used every other paragraph if not more often. Evidently no one sees this but me. But that seems to be my usual state of affairs when it comes to media.

I am leaving for a 10-day vacation in the lovely Appalachian mountains and will not be updating "Art By-Products" while I am away. I hope to return with lots of drawings and watercolors. Until then, enjoy the precious Summer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Colors of Summer

Hot, humid, the sky white with vapor; this is what I love. July is my favorite month and it's just about here. Thunderstorms billowing up on the horizon and the lush foliage muted to soft grey-green. I did these marker "paintings" in my sketchbook in 2006. The technology of markers is so good now that you can simulate watercolor without the mess of water or gooey paint. These images, about 7 inches wide, were not done on site but from vivid memory.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mage Portrait

One thing I really wish I could do better is portraits of pretty characters. Popular fantasy art is packed with pretty humans and humanoids, but it seems whenever I try to depict one or the other, something goes wrong and it just isn't pretty. I want to be a real fantasy artist and do beautiful scantily clad or nude women. Beautiful women. Beautiful babes. Beautiful girls. Beautiful boys and men too.

This one almost made it. It is a portrait of a real person named Christopher. His portrait is idealized. He didn't quite look like that. Probably now he is fat, old, and bald. He was pretty once, though. He commissioned me to do his portrait as a working Mage, in his magical den, with his not so magical St. Bernard dog. The picture is OK, but it isn't ravingly good either. I painted it in December 1990, in watercolor and opaque acrylic on illustration board, 16" x 20".

Thursday, June 25, 2009

K5: Traffic Patterns

I've been doodling on Ye Olde Photoshoppe again, it was about time for another in my "K-series" geometric experiments. This one is called "Traffic Patterns," inspired by the interchanges in the Capitol Beltway, especially the one on the southern tangent known as the "Mixing Bowl." Those photons are just zooming along until they encounter the Relativistic Traffic Jam.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

White-clad Heralds and Magic Horses

There were other fantasy writers whose works I illustrated in the early and mid-90s. Mercedes Lackey was one of them. I was introduced to her "Valdemar" series by Darkover fans. Valdemar, Lackey's imaginary world, existed in a perpetual Renaissance which featured palace intrigues, tragic heroes, bardic magic, psychic powers, a bit of swashbuckling, romance both gay and straight, and last but not least, magical white horses which bond to psychically endowed humans called Heralds. These chosen folk dress all in white and go around the world doing good and fighting evil. Music is magic too in this land, with "Bardic Gifts" as a form of magic, hence the enchanted guitar.

The artist Jody Lee, whose work makes me gnash my teeth with jealousy, has illustrated the Lackey books for decades. I regret to say that I have done some truly dreadful art illustrating Lackey and the one you see above is probably the least bad. Perhaps I just wasn't that into it. I will spare you the rest.
"Herald with Guitar," watercolor on illustration board, 7" x 10", March 1991.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trader Joe Six Pack

It's summer, and it's time to put the suds in the cooler for that ideal outdoor feast. I made this retro-style sign for the beer department. You, too, can be "Joe Six-Pack," and drink a TJ's beer called "Simpler Times."

Monday, June 22, 2009

House of Iran

I used to work for an Iranian gentleman who was an upper-class exile. Like so many people with education and a connection to the Shah's government, he and his family had to leave Iran after the Islamic revolution. This gentleman used to create collectibles which he sold to other nostalgic Iranians: things like decorative plates, jewelry, or art prints. I did designs for him, most of which were not used, but he also sold prints of my art at Iranian events.

One of the designs I did for him was for a cultural "show-house" in Balboa Park, in San Diego. There is a collection of these display houses, the "International Cottages," which are open every Sunday to display the products, crafts, food, and culture of different countries. This design is a concept study for the Iranian (Persian) entry, called in Persian "Khaneh Iran" or "Iranian House." It shows a little museum filled with Iranian crafts, ceramics, glass and metalwork, as well as replicas of ancient Persian treasures. There is also a Persian tearoom where waitresses in traditional garb bring you tea and sweets. Artwork is watercolor on illustration board, 10" x 14", June 2000. Please click on the image for a somewhat larger view.

I also did some concept drawing work on the exterior, which looked like a typical small Southern California stucco house. The International Cottages were originally built for the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition. I have heard that the Iranian House was created but I have no idea what it is really like inside. I hope to visit it someday.

This post is in honor of the brave Iranians who are fighting for their freedom, and for the exiles who long to return.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An excerpt from Page 41

After a hiatus of more than a year, I am finally working again on a graphic novel set in my Noantri world. This epic is about the great theophore Enlil (see this By-Product entry) and his adventures with geo-scientists and an erupting volcano which threatens an entire populated coastline. I am on page 41 out of a projected 80. In these two frames, Enlil collapses to the floor (under a light fixture on the wall) after holding a psionic gateway to allow a spy to pass through into forbidden territory. His assistant, wearing mittens in an unheated bunker, rushes to attend to him. These drawings, done in ink on illustration board, will be colored traditionally using watercolor. But I am debating whether to change over to coloring them in Photoshop. The amount of time spent is almost the same. All comics are now colored digitally. When I started this epic in 1999, this was not true.

I am making my own comics because I want the Noantri world to come to life in words and pictures. But I am also making them because the current world of comic books, huge and popular as it is, seems to have nothing to appeal to me any more. The level of violence and exploitation is way too much for me. Nature's violence is enough for me.

The name of this graphic novel is THE FLAMING RAMPARTS and I may show more excerpts from it though I plan to publish it on paper rather than the web.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Colored Pencil Forest

I am now well-set up for on-site art. I bought as many colored pencil shades of natural green as I could, and yet another loop holder book-size caddy to store them in. Then I sat at my studio table looking out the window, and drew these leafy trees. The color is as accurate as I could make it. I love drawing green trees. The patterns of branches and leaves are ever-different and every change in light or cloud changes the color range. The texture is challenging to render in pencil, especially when there are multiple layers which are not Photoshop layers, but fractalized bio-digital photosynthetic interface systems.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Flag and Porch

I promised myself that I would do an on-site drawing in colored pencil. It's a tryout of a system I hope I'll be able to use while traveling. I sat in the driver's seat while parked, and balanced my sketchbook on the wheel while I put my pencil box next to me on the passenger seat. This house, with its flag slowly waving in a soft breeze, looked just right.

I quickly found that the logistics of drawing this way were not good. It was rush hour and cars were going by me quickly. I dropped my pencil and had no room to retrieve it without lots of reaching. I had to open the door in order to drop pencil shavings on the road. I had forgotten my sharpener which has a little collection bin for shavings. Then I dropped my sketchbook which fell back into my lap. This was not going so well. Not only that, I didn't have the proper colors of brownish yellowish greens to match the foliage. Colored pencil landscape tones tend towards the blue-ish or emerald greenish, whereas real foliage, even fresh June leaves, are yellow or brownish green.

Finally I gave up and decided to finish this in the studio. So it isn't perfectly on-the-spot plein air. (Plein car?) I realized that just storing pencils haphazardly in a box means time lost searching for that yellowish green. I have lots of pencil caddies which hold them in loops, but none of those caddies are as small and portable as the box. So I keep trying for the perfect pencil case, even though I have way too many colored pencils to fit in just one. I now have a vision of a vehicle done up as a pencil and marker case. An old Volkswagen bus, perhaps, or maybe a....Caddy?? Filled with hundreds and hundreds of colors, all arranged perfectly, ready for the artist to fling back the sliding door and draw a July calendar scene of a summer porch with a patriotic touch.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deryni Sequential Art

I have come to the end of transcribing my Deryni art to digital formats. At least, the end of my Deryni painted art. There is one more set of pictures which I have not transcribed yet. This is a series of nine pages that I did illustrating a very early story by Katherine Kurtz that was published in the 1970s. It is "sequential art" which is fancy mediaspeak for a "comic book" or "graphic novel." I started this graphic in the early 90s and worked on it here and there. The latest pages are from 2003, I believe. After that, I have not worked on it. The Deryni graphic is in black and white, pen and ink on Bristol board, which would make it easier to publish. 

The title is "Swords against the Marluk" and refers to an incident in the life of King Brion (Kelson's father) and his young squire, Alaric Morgan (whom you've seen as a grown-up in a couple of these postings). Alaric is fourteen but already has plenty of magic powers. In the story, Alaric must unleash the magic which was encoded in an heirloom silver bracelet, which will endow King Brion with the magic powers which every Haldane king eventually gets. The excerpt here depicts Alaric thrown to the ground by an explosion of magic, while King Brion and his brother Prince Nigel look on in shock. The round snarling face is a close-up of a metal cloak fastener which will become an important prop later in the story.

I have not been able to work on this for years, yet I really want to. Believe it or not, the art I do which I value most is my graphic work, i.e. comic books with frames and word balloons. I do other stuff because I can sell it. If I had loads of money and didn't have to work on day job and stuff, I would devote myself to these high-level graphic stories, despite their lack of "profundity" and non-profitability. You have seen a little of what I can do with my Noantri architectural series. I have lots more in that direction that I want to illustrate. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nostalgic Vegetables

Early in my service at Trader Joe's, I was encouraged to make decorative price tags for the different departments of the store. These were some of the ones I made for vegetables. Each price tag (called "template" in Trader-Joe-speak) was not only a still life, but evoked a landscape and a season, in this case summer. I made poetic asparagus and earthy potatoes and serene fields in the sun. 

These tags, in sheets of 6, were multiplied on a color copier and then lettered, usually by me. The emptier areas of the scene were where I put the writing and the price. They were then installed in the vegetable area, anchored in plastic clips. The originals are in ink and water-based markers. Each tag is 5 1/2 inches wide by 2 1/4 inches tall. This set was done in the summer of 2004. (Please click on the image for a larger view.)

These haven't been in use in the store for many years. Nowadays, five years later, we signmakers are required to do templates with no decoration at all, only a band of color around the perimeter, for the sake of visibility and clear writing. I remember with fondness how I was able to create miniatures of sentimental nostalgia to tell people the price of asparagus.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memories of New Orleans

I knew I had this tiny sketchbook, but couldn't find it for years, until I delved into one of my numerous messenger-bag briefcases and found it just last week. I had it with me when I went to New Orleans in 2003, and I did this drawing, in brown Pitt ink pen, of a commercial building on Magazine Street which housed "Charbonnet and Charbonnet," an antique shop. The building has an interesting projecting balcony on the second floor that goes all the way around the basic rectangular structure. One person I showed it to suggested that the building, which may date from the 19th century, was built to house a brothel and that the ladies of the evening would display themselves on the balcony to attract customers.

According to my Web search (what did we do before this?) Charbonnet and Charbonnet closed the New Orleans location in 2004 and they moved their shop to Bay St. Louis, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I remember traveling through this sleepy resort town on my way eastwards from New Orleans. In 2005, Bay St. Louis was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina, and most of it was destroyed. I don't find anything about Charbonnet and Charbonnet after that, though Bay St. Louis is bravely rebuilding.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Big Barbecue

At the Tinner Hill Blues Festival there were a number of food vendors, cooking up "soul food" and barbecue and other tasty delights. When I saw this big black metal barbecue, I had to draw its picture. It looked like industrial steampunk gear but it also had mud and dirt on its undercarriage from many voyages into festival fields. The team of owner-cooks brought in the meat to the grill and basted it with barbecue sauce, as the cauldron emitted clouds of fragrant smoke. I admit that I really love roasted meats but by the time I got to the vendors they had run out of beef, which is what I wanted. I ended up getting barbecue pork ribs from another vendor, and a very tasty bowl of spinach with potatoes from his neighbor. I know I'm supposed to like light salads and raw vegetables and fruit and tofu, but this stuff...soul what satisfies me. I have to have grilled and stewed goodness at least once a month. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blues in the Afternoon

This weekend was the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, celebrating music and African-American culture in Falls Church, Virginia. Saturday afternoon featured an outdoor free concert in Cherry Hill Park. The weather was excellent and a lot of people attended, including me. I sat there on my folding wood and canvas artist's stool and did this picture of the scene while the Deanna Bogart Band was playing. That's Deanna up there on stage playing the keyboard, in the upper right of the picture. She also sings and plays a mean saxophone! I got to meet her after their set, I love meeting musicians. You can find her on the Web at and hear some of her band's music at her MySpace page. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Visual Arms Race

In order to catch the attention of people in the store, we are requested to make signs that are as bright and "arresting" as possible. This is the sign that I made for the section that features gluten-free and new items. It's about 40" x 30". I tried to make something as noticeable as possible and I hope it works. The store environment is packed with visual stimuli, not just signs but colorful packaging and built-up infrastructure. In order to compete with the other visual stimuli, signs have to be louder, brighter, and if possible larger than the background signage. Big letters on neon-fluorescent background! Shiny reflective metallics! Flashing lights! When these are in the environment, any additional sign has to be louder, brighter, and more eye-catching than those it is next to, leading to a "visual arms race" which can be exhausting to a more sensitive viewer.  

The ultimate test of a store sign, of course, is how much of the product it sells. If gluten free and new items fly off the shelves, then my sign is a success. If they are not bought in sufficient numbers, it's back to the drawing board.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rainy Breakfast and Lunch Specials

It has been wonderfully warm and humid and rainy and thundery these last weeks, and I love it. It's my favorite type of weather. So when I re-did the sign at Mena's bagel and sandwich shop, I did a "rain" theme. You see the clouds with lightning, the flowing water, the rain on the city roofs, and the big blue stylized raindrops on the right. 
I am paid in food at the shop. This sign earned me a cheesesteak with bacon, a bag of chips, and a can of CocaCola. 

Tristan, yes, let's work out an art exchange. It should be something that I never do and you never do, so that we can have stylistic adventures. Or else we should try the old strategy again, where you do one of "my" pieces and I do one of "yours."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Deryni Magical Family

In the time of the Ancients, according to Katherine Kurtz' Deryni lore, the Deryni were not persecuted, and they were free to pursue their magical activities. Whole families were involved in preserving and practicing the arcane arts. The time of the Ancients might correspond to our Later Roman Empire or Byzantine period, although for all we know the Deryni might have been active from prehistory onwards. Katherine has never written about Deryni before the medieval period. My own speculation, which the author does not endorse, is that the Deryni either were another species of humanity or even humanoid aliens marooned on Earth who had forgotten their alien origin and history. 

This painting shows a Deryni family doing magic together in their own private ritual chapel. Dad is dressed in splendid purple vestments and Mom and the two kids are wearing white trimmed with gold. They have the brilliant blonde or red hair that characterizes pure-bred Deryni. 

This painting was done in acrylic, in November of 1990, and is 11" x 14". The "sparkles" you see in the upper half are not part of the painting but are light reflections from a glossy varnish that I applied to the surface. The magical glows were not added by airbrush, but were done by hand, which was quite a difficult operation: acrylic magic.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hard-working Wine Sippers

Once again I enter into RetroStyle to create a sign for Trader Joe's Tysons. Tysons means Tysons Corner, a heavily urbanized place in Northern Virginia southwest of Washington DC that was nothing but farmland 50 years ago and was only built up starting 30 years ago. My Trader Joe's is in an older shopping center that was built in the 1970s. TJ's tries to have references to the local area in each store, but there aren't many distinctive local landmarks in Tysons Corner, unless you count the large, ugly office buildings. I am one of the "hard-working wine sippers" who recommend the wines. Glad to be of service.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alaric Morgan, Deryni Hero

The most heroic person in Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books is not the young king Kelson, but his protector, the noble knight Alaric Morgan. Tall, blonde, and swashbuckling, Morgan is the one who gets to clash swords and fight duels. Not only that, he has Deryni powers including the ability to heal people with a glowing touch. Katherine reserves her most adoring prose for him. She also loves to dress him up in medieval finery, described in elaborate, costumer's detail. These pieces are costume studies for Morgan, taken from descriptive passages in the books. The one at the top, done in 1991, is Morgan's court garb, and the one at the bottom, done in 1993, is a more everyday attire, complete with broadsword. Katherine is still writing about Morgan; her current Deryni books are about his childhood.

Court garb image is 7" x 10", ink and watercolor. Warrior garb image is 11" x 14, gouache on brown matboard. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

StayCation Summer Guide

This is the "lobby poster" for Trader Joe's summer 2009 flyer. You saw the "flyer indicator" some postings ago. Some of you will get this Trader Joe's flyer in the mail. It's cleverly done but it reflects an unfortunate symptom of our economic times. That is, not everyone will be able to afford to go away somewhere nice for summer vacation. Those who are financially afflicted will have to stay where they are, and try to be content with a backyard grill and a spray from the garden hose. Or perhaps an exotic "desert" garden of cacti and succulents on an apartment terrace. But at least they will have Trader Joe's goodies from all over the world, to internationalize their stay-put-ness. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Magical Deryni Priest

Katherine Kurtz' books are full of priests. Not just your ordinary Sunday morning Father, but magical, mystical, anointed, glowing priests. Sacramental priesthood (there are no Protestants in Katherine's books) has a mystique which wafts us through high ritual, complete with elaborate vestments, drifting incense, golden chalices, carved altars, and glittering jewels. And not only that, some of these priests are secretly Deryni, and have psychic-magical powers on top of sacramental magical powers. In the Deryni's world, though, Deryni are barred from the priesthood, so those who do manage to get ordained have to hide it, or else they meet an unfortunate and messy fate. 

Katherine Kurtz' fans are full of priests, too. Some of them are mainstream Episcopalians, but most of them belong to the myriad mini-congregations of "independent Catholicism," which allows women and openly gay men to be priests. Many, perhaps most of these independent groups are esoterically inclined, so the magical mystique of priesthood continues outside the fantasy fiction. This has been going on long before Katherine K wrote her fiction. You can see a sample of this in the early twentieth-century Theosophical classic, "The Science of the Sacraments," in which the Catholic Mass takes on a psychedelic shimmer. 

This drawing of a Deryni priest emitting a halo of magical light was done in June 1992 and was displayed and bought at a convention where Katherine Kurtz was the author guest of honor. My art catalog records say that the piece is owned by Kurtz, given to her by a fan. It's colored pencil and gouache accents on brown paper, 7" x 10". 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Panera Panorama

The complexity of a Panera restaurant was my drawing of the day. For the price of a medium-sized coffee I could sit and sip and draw the constantly shifting population of a nicely designed restaurant. It was like October in June, cold enough for them to turn on the gas flame hearth in the dining area. Summer's over before it has even begun. When will I be someplace warm?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Storm Clouds

I love making pictures of clouds. I often look up at the sky to observe weather and cloud formations. When it comes to drawing skies, I am faced with a dilemma. I either take a photo and use that as a reference, or I draw it from memory. Clouds by their nature are constantly changing, so the artist doesn't have enough time to make an "accurate" observation portrait before the clouds have moved on. The renowned illustrator James Gurney recently posted in his art blog "Gurney Journey" about drawing from memory. I always thought that it was kind of cheating, that (representational) art should be at best a kind of photography done with drawing materials rather than film or pixels. But of course it's not that way at all and all artists make stuff up that is "realistic." 

I daydream and fantasize about clouds, that I am some sort of superhero or astral traveller who can fly among the clouds unharmed and untouched by wind or temperature extremes or storms. My pseudonym for making electronic music is "Altocumulus," a type of cloud. 

This sketch was done purely from memory, from a day which later featured a violent thunderstorm. I am trying out yet another mass purchase of colored pencils, striving to get as accurate color rendition as possible. I hope to do more "real" on-site landscape and sky drawings this summer. This one is about 7 inches by 5 inches, in my book'o'color sketches.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Deryni Big Scene

Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books are filled with big operatic scenes which take place in grand settings. This illustration depicts one where Dhugal, King Kelson's best friend, is knighted by a lord, now a bishop, who is his father by a secret marriage. During the ceremony the father reveals, by emitting a halo of light, that he is Deryni.

This illustration was commissioned by two friends of mine who are ongoing patrons of my art. It was originally supposed to be simpler, but the architectural details of the Romanesque church setting got out of hand and I just kept painting more columns and archways, even if they didn't go anywhere! I also painted miniature portraits of various friends into the audience. This is what happens when there isn't an art director. In the end, they paid me the pre-arranged price for a painting which was worth far more, in time and effort.

"The Knighting of Dhugal" is acrylic on illustration board, 18" x 24", painted in April-May 1991. Click on the picture for a larger view of all these obsessive details.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dogwoods Mansion

It was early 2001, and mansions were springing up all over Northern Virginia. I worked doing renderings for some luxury builders, who would construct these palaces in fancy locations and market them for many millions. This one, named "The Dogwoods," was just a few minutes from the CIA. The builders included all sorts of amenities a master spy or "consultant" would need, including a secret room which was accessed by turning around a wall panel, just like in the movies. I designed the grand front stairway and the landscaping, and when it came time to build, they built it just the way I had drawn it.

By the end of 2001, no one with big bucks wanted to buy a property near the CIA, or the Pentagon. The house remained unsold for a long time, and now may once again stand empty, a sign of an era which won't come back for quite a while. 

The rendering is in watercolor and ink, about 24" x 20", and was done in January of 2001.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Iconic Summer Flyer Promo

Trader Joe's puts out a cute magazine every month or so, the "Flyer," which advertises chosen goodies to inform and tempt the customers. Each Trader Joe's then creates advertising to go with it, including a "flyer indicator" which is placed by each featured item. This is my effort for June. Its style is not so much "retro" as "Pop," with the surfboard and the waves and other standard pieces of Trader Joe's iconography. The flyer page where the item is featured, is written into the labeled space in the lower right corner. To help us advertise the flyer items to the customers, the management holds a "flyer tasting" where the "crew" gets to sample all the goodies. We get paid to eat gourmet food and drink wine. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Theatrical Deryni

This well-dressed pair is the mentally unstable King Imre and his sister (who also becomes his lover) Ariella. They are from Katherine Kurtz' "Camber" series, a parallel storyline taking place about 300 years before her "Kelson" series. In the story, a dynasty of corrupt and crazy Deryni was on the throne of Gwynedd, and Camber, the political hero, warrior, and kingmaker, tries to overthrow them and place another royal heir in power. This takes a lot of books to tell. 

This whole image was borrowed from archival photos of a lavishly staged play (or was it a silent movie, I forget) from the early 20th century, when there were no computer-generated effects and you had to build sets and costumes for real. The look of Camber was inspired by the Byzantine era, with of course a lot of Anglo-Celtic influence as well. 

Painting is 8" x 10", acrylic on illustration board, February-March 1986.