Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calendar Scene: Autumn

Something is a bit different about this post. What is it? The image is a photograph, not a piece of my hand-done or digital artwork. I took this photo, but it was such a nice scene that I felt no need to do a watercolor or acrylic that would just duplicate it. Nowadays art galleries are full of photographs, and they are considered art if they are presented well enough. But in my earlier art days, photographs were still thought of as something less than real ART, unless some major famous photographer did them. I am considering posting my especially good photographs occasionally, unless you think it is cheating.

This photo was taken in 2007, in eastern Massachusetts, just a couple of miles from my parents' house and the place I grew up. The roadside fence of granite chunks is typically New England. I'm posting it here because I will be going up there again for my annual parent care visit. I'll probably revisit this place or someplace like it. During next week I may not be able to put up "Art By-Products." I'll try to make some sketches while I am there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Conversation in the Dark Tower

This Bloghost was out of commission for a few scary hours, thankfully it's now back in action. Here's the continuing conversation between our two trainmen, the wormy and the innocent, coming from the high corner office in the old Art Deco skyscraper of Taggart Transcontinental. I have recently discovered a pop genre that perfectly encompasses Rand's ATLAS universe. You've heard of "Steampunk," well, this is "Dieselpunk." It's a fantasy concept based on the mid-20th-century technology of heavy industry, steel, railroads, flaming refineries, coal mines, oil derricks, propeller planes, all the things that Rand writes so enthusiastically about.

I have been a fan of heavy industry for most of my life. My father introduced me to its wonderfulness, though his interest in it was from a "socialist realist" sort of outlook. That is, this grimy prosaic technology, maintained by the downtrodden proletariat, supported our world. Rand, from the other end of the political universe, turns this on its other end. This grand, effective, powerful technology, maintained by a brotherhood of the competent, supports our world, and is in turn supported by a heroic elite of brilliant, inventive, good-looking geniuses. All you need is the smoke and flames. I hope to be seeing some of that soon, as I pass through the refinery area of New Jersey on my way north.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ellis Wyatt, Oilman

Ayn Rand believed fervently that individuals could make a major difference in the world, at least individuals who were powerful, talented, and creative, whether in industry or in the arts. This is part of the appeal of Rand to people like me, who are talented and creative but live obscure un-influential lives. I'm not that much into the politics, but I'm very much attracted to Rand's vision of creative people as heroes. Reading Rand always gives me a self-esteem boost. But it is rather like caffeine. It doesn't last, so you need to have more. Interestingly, Jennifer Burns' book describes Rand's use of amphetamines during the writing of ATLAS SHRUGGED and afterward. ATLAS does have the delirious feeling of something written while on speed. I think I'll stay with espresso.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Algorithmic Art

This is a teeny tiny piece of art, an "artist trading card" measuring 3 1/2" x 2 1/2". It's designated for a friend of mine. She requested one of my geometric abstractions, so here it is, in cheerful colors, made with markers on bristol board.

You've seen a lot of different kinds of art on this blog, from sketches to doodles to architecture, sentimental country landscapes, and hard-edge "modernist" geometric abstractions. And plenty of fantasy and science fiction and astronomical art, too. And also, graphic story panels and continuity. Doing a lot of different things isn't always the best strategy for an artist who wants to show and sell stuff. Galleries and art directors want to see a consistent style. So I can be consistent in any number of artistic "lines" or options, but amassing a portfolio in all of that takes time to do, which I don't have.

I sometimes think I should just pick one for a while and make a whole lot of them, which all look similar. Colorful geometric abstractions like the one above appeal to a lot of my friends and collectors. I get positive comments and even a bit of imitation (flattery!). So why not do a whole series of these?

I can do that, but I must admit, that they are designed according to an algorithm, a progressive series of instructions and rules. If I design according to the algorithm, things turn out right. I know how to keep it all in balance, and not go outside the lines or do anything messy. (I will not reveal the algorithm here, it's a trade secret.) But it can get somewhat mechanical at times.

I put a lot more work and time into "Summer Pastorale" (the one with the trees and the grazing cattle) than I would on a geometric of the same size. Perhaps I shouldn't admit that. I always assume that the value of a painting is partly determined by how much time and effort the artist put into it, and also how big it is. If a collector buys a picture I did in a day or so for a lot of money, am I ripping her off? One of my more aesthetic and analytical friends tells me that it's the design skills and the experience that count, not the time spent daubing or spraying. It's nice to believe that, but I have my doubts. This tiny trading card, by the criteria of size, and time and effort spent, is worth little monetarily, but someone will treasure it anyway.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Telecommunications Cover

This is a magazine cover I did in summer 1986 for a long-gone trade magazine called TELECOMMUNICATIONS. I got the job for the cover through a Boston science fiction writer friend of mine, who at the time was working at the high-tech firm Bolt, Beranek, and Newman.

The BBN folks were guest editors of TELECOMMUNICATIONS magazine for August of 1986. They contributed articles and could also do the cover if they wished. My friend commissioned me to do the cover for their issue. The commission was to depict in artistic terms a long-range computer/telecommunication network, with individual features such as satellite dishes, computers, personal computers, radio towers, packet switching devices (rectangular white forms, looking like refrigerators), and local area networks inside buildings. The network itself was represented with neon-glowing colored paths, spread out across a stylized city plan reaching to the horizon. White and grey equipment gave the impression of lighted city buildings. I based the sky on a hazy California sunset.

The theme of the magazine was "Advances in Telecommunications." Little did I know that the network I depicted on the cover was rapidly expanding and turning into what we now know as the INTERNET(S). Seven years later, that same friend would commission more art from me and pay me with free internet access.

Acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 15", August 1986. Published as cover to TELECOMMUNICATIONS magazine, September 1986.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Star Vortex

Here's another in that 1986 series of astronomical features. This one was originally meant to depict a high-powered gas jet coming from out of a black hole. But as I review it, this could just as easily be an "active galaxy" where an enormous central black hole creates intense radiation as it gobbles up stuff from just around it. This would then be the "accretion disk" or matter spinning in a vortex around the giant black hole. Or perhaps it is not that at all, but a gamma-ray burst in action, where an oversized but failing star collapses into a black hole all at once. It's a violent universe out there, as well as beautiful.

I have done stuff to this picture with Photoshop. The original 1986 acrylic did not contain the white sparkles and glows which surround the central jet. Now that we have Hubble Space Telescope, deep-sky objects have been revealed to us in much finer detail so space artists must imitate accordingly. I added the starry glows to represent incandescent gas and other superheated material orbiting around the black hole's accretion disc, before it inevitably is sucked in, on its way to...perhaps another universe.

"Star Vortex," summer 1986 acrylic on illustration board, plus Photoshop meddling in 2009, 8" x 8".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Play Railroad Tycoon in Ayn Rand Comics

When I look up "Railroad Tycoon" in Google, I don't get references or images of 19th-20th century railroad barons. I get pictures and play schemes for a video game called "Railroad Tycoon." I have never played it, and have only vaguely even heard of it. I guess there aren't any railroad tycoons left in the USA. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe, in Randworld, it is not good. There might be mini-tycoons though (would they be "tykes?" "tykeenies?") who run small railroads on old tracks through touristy areas. I found this kind of railroad when I went to West Virginia early this summer. But the rail town was deserted, and the station was empty. I'd love to see a steam engine chugging down the track. Hiyo, Phoenix-Durango!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Astral Fountain

At one time there was astronomical speculation that on the "other side" of a Black Hole was a "White Hole," where instead of having things fall into the vortex never to be seen again, things (matter and energy) would erupt out of the white hole, having passed through the black hole's passage. Instead of the obvious "digestive" metaphor, I offered this picture with a more ethereal concept, an "astral fountain" from which issued a dazzling bloom of glowing mist and stars.
No one has ever found evidence of a "white hole" in any observations, however, and so it remains just a fanciful astronomical concept.
Acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 10", Summer 1986.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Atlas Shrugged Graphic Page number 11

I thank reader Mary for that excellent analysis of the corporate decision-making process. I figure that in Randworld (the alternate universe that ATLAS SHRUGGED is set in) businesses are smaller, and thus able to be run by single people, families, or a small group of people. She mentions only one multi-national corporation and that, too, is run by a single family, generation after generation. This page has the first mention of "Rearden Steel," which is personally run by one of the heroes of the book. Rearden Steel, heroic as it is, is probably much smaller and more local than something like U.S. Steel.

I'm currently reading a book about Rand, "Goddess of the Market" by Jennifer Burns. It contains a lot of information I didn't know about the author, especially her involvement with American politics. I haven't gotten to the part about ATLAS yet, but it should be enlightening.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dark Nebula, Star Clouds

There are places in our Galaxy (and in uncounted others) where the stars are so close together that from a distance they appear to be luminous clouds. And also in our Galaxy and all those others are nebulae of smoky dust which obscure the starlight, and reflect it too. This is what is going on in this astronomical scene. There's a blue star outside the picture frame which is illuminating the dust cloud from below. It's a beautiful universe out there. Acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 8", Summer 1986.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rand: Executive Dialogue

Rand's dialogue is quite wordy, so I had to solve the problem of putting all of it, or most of it, into balloons. Since you already know the two characters who are speaking, I can do an all-dialogue page.

I know nothing about what goes on in the private offices of Big Business, or Big Transportation. Rand's story assumes that powerful individuals make decisions which determine what the corporation or company does. I have assumed that a corporation is more like a swarm of flying creatures that moves according to some collective impulses, and will turn or change shape only when some impetus from outside it forces it to. Interestingly, Rand in ATLAS never mentions the retail business. The stores she mentions are single-family, small places, never a big chain or a grand department store, even though they certainly existed during her career. She's interested only in the "smokestack industries." I don't think any industrialists are reading this blog, though.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Flaming Pumpkin

It's Flyer Time at Trader Joe's again. This is the ad for that cute booklet filled with goodie descriptions which TJ's publishes for the temptation of its customers. This colorful panel goes on display in the "lobby" of the store, just when you enter, so that you'll know that Flyers are available. You saw the orange and black indicator here earlier this month. Those are now distributed all over the store, showing where the Flyer items are. That's how we do advertising at Trader Joe's, complete with flaming pumpkin. Inside the store is a giant pumpkin with the TJ's logo etched into it. Orange is everywhere.
Spray paint and acrylic markers on black foamboard, 30" x 20".

Monday, October 12, 2009

Red Giant, White Dwarf

This picture attempts to show a binary star in which one partner is a red giant and the other a white dwarf. Both of these stars are almost used up, by star standards. The white dwarf is pulling matter off the surface of the red giant and this makes a gas disk around the two of them, here seen edge on. According to astrophysics, this type of star pair is unstable and eventually can emit nova blasts when some of the star material collapses. Or the whole system could blow up real good in a supernova. You wouldn't want to be on any planet orbiting this system, though this image was inspired by a fantasy author's (Jo Clayton) world where such a planet existed.
Airbrushed acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", February-March 1986.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Dreary Boss

And now back to our industrial melodrama. Our young innocent attempts to speak truth to the dreary boss. Needless to say, this won't work. At this point in the novel, no one knows why everything is falling apart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mister Tire

Finally, an authentic, drawn-on-site urban sketch, fresh from the sketchbook. Size: about 10" x 6". It was a bright, unseasonably warm day in Tysonia, and I drew this vista while I was waiting for my car to be inspected at Honda of Tysons Corner, down the block. Here is the bright and cheerful home of "Mr. Tire," and his welcoming garage bays. What if cars had consciousness? I sometimes imagine a universe where all objects, not just humans and animals, were sentient. In such a universe, how would we negotiate the rights of things we used, or consumed? Or would we be a more brutal and practical bunch, and just use things without their consent, with no empathy for their joy, pain or feelings. I'll stop now.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stanford University Chapel

In April 1985 I was the art guest of honor at a small convention in Oakland, California called "Fantasy Worlds West." In those days Marion Zimmer Bradley was well enough to host a convention of her fans, and I was known as a "Darkover artist." So I went out to California only for the second time in my life, dragging my art with me.

After the convention I visited with friends who lived near Stanford University. I got to tour the beautiful campus with them and do some drawings. This is one of them, done inside the Memorial Chapel. This Byzantine-style building was wrecked during the earthquake of 1906 but they rebuilt it and it looked like a background to one of the magical-religious scenes from a Katherine Kurtz Deryni story.
Ink marker on sketchbook page, 5" x 8".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Harvard Square, October 1984

While we're reminiscin' in the mid - 80's, here's a drawing I did mostly on site in Harvard Square. It was a nice warm-ish afternoon and I had a chance to sit and draw undisturbed. There was some sort of festival going on (green banner in center) and the streets were filled with people who were not too miserable (ice cream cone eater in center). Most of the buildings you see in this picture have been considerably changed since this picture was done. Harvard remains the same, though recently a few billion dollars poorer.
Reddish-brown ink and watercolor on sketchbook page, about 8 1/2" x 11", October 1984.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Unseen Planet Gets a Cover

So finally, after another trying New York adventure presenting portfolios to publishers, I got a book cover commission. The editor/art director drew a quick sketch on a piece of yellow lined paper and gave it to me. This was the composition I was to follow. There were two little spaceships looking like wine corks, floating above a big red planet. No slam-bang action, no slick Art Center College of Design tricks, just this simple minimal image.

If the art director gives you a design, that's what you do. So I worked up that design into the image you see here. It was for a science fiction book by a Canadian author, Teresa Plowright. Not only had I not read the book, but it was not even finished at the time of painting. (This is not unusual for book cover art.) The basic story was that a group of Earth explorers land on a planet that looks Earth-like but once they land, the planet turns (literally) hostile with violent weather and corrosive chemicals, because the whole planet is one living thing and it is treating the explorers as if they were an invasive infection that must be destroyed.

The painting was done in May of 1986 and published in December of 1986. It was later re-published in paperback with another cover, not mine. Teresa Plowright is still active as a writer, but she's doing travel writing now.

"Dreams of an Unseen Planet" is 17" x 19", acrylic on illustration board. Here's what the finished cover looked like.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Space Battle

And now, back to 1986. I apologize for posting so many vintage images but I am currently working on portraits that need to be done, and don't have time to do a Fresh Art By-Product.

Well, I gave it the old (NOT) Art Center College try. Tilted horizon: check. Sense of speed: check. High contrast: check. Complex structures: OK, heavily borrowed from STAR WARS. Explosions: check. Top half left empty for printing title and other text: OK.
Book cover: Nyet. No book cover.

In those dim pre-Internet days, you had to go to New York City to get work as an illustrator. In fact, you had to live in New York or somewhere nearby because you had to take the physical work of art to the art director, and be ready to change it at his dictate. And to get more work you had to get to Madison Avenue or wherever the publishers were located, and deposit your portfolio with them and wait till they bothered to look through it. Then you had to come back and pick it up. You had to find somewhere to stay in NYC while you were doing this.

Remember: No internet. No FedEx. No cell phones. No virtual galleries. No digital art. No weblogs. Seems like the dark ages.

1986 was still a busy year for me. I was doing illustration work locally in the Boston area. This piece along with other space art went with me to "ConFederation," the World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta, GA. It was bought by a collector and sank into oblivion, until now. You're the first people to see this artwork since 1986.

"War by the Gas Giant" is its official title, referring to the large Jupiter-like planet in the top half of the picture. Acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 20".

Monday, October 5, 2009

Joe's Deli

This image from Trader Joe's dates from 2004. In market years, it's an age ago. I did image research to find pictures of deli cases and sausages. The products in the deli cases are Trader Joe's items. The sign in the upper right corner ("Send a salami to your boy/girl in the army") is the slogan from the famous Katz' Deli in New York City. Joe himself, there with the big sandwich and the red apron, is a sort-of-caricature of our then assistant manager.

This sign lasted from 2004 to 2006. It's long gone. Here's what's there now. Original sign was acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite, about 6 feet by 3 feet. You are invited to click on the image for a somewhat larger view.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Space Train

Here's another one of my spacecraft pictures from the mid-80s. "Space Train" is passing by the rings of a giant planet, accompanied by smaller escort craft. This was done after I learned architectural perspective at night classes at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

It was yet another of my futile attempts to create a science fiction book cover that could be plucked out of availability by an editor. But though I knew perspective, I still didn't know how to make an exciting composition. Decades later, I know now, but I am not near the science fiction illustration world any more. How to make it more interesting? The most important thing is to tilt the horizon line. Nothing is more boring for a book cover than a level horizon and perpendicular lines. Next is to break up the masses of the spacecraft so that it has interior depth, rather than being all one block. After that, it's important to create the illusion of speed. I tried that with the smaller craft, but the big "train" looks like it's standing still. And finally, all cover art is now done in digital media, so I would need to do this all in Photoshop and other even more complicated programs.

These compositional tricks were not something that you learn naturally. What I later found out was that every artist whose work I admired, from Paul Alexander to Michael Whelan to current digital artists like Craig Mullins and Thom Tenery, all of them went to the famous Art Center College of Design at Pasadena, California. This expensive, exclusive school teaches you how to do that stuff and oodles more. The Art Center teaches a slick, sure-fire commercial style that looks like brushed aluminum, thrills art directors, and sells like wild. I wish I had gone there instead of Harvard. But it was 3000 miles, and even more dollars, away from me.

"Space Train" is acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 20", March 1986.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Tinfoil Queen Texts Upon her Throne

Every two and a half months I make a visit to the hairdressers to "recharge" my hair color and get my hair cut. While I sit waiting for the hair dye to set, I sometimes draw things in my sketchbook. This fellow beauty shop inmate was in my line of sight. Her tinfoil highlights dye job in progress, reminded me of some exotic crown. She was texting away on her mobile device, like everyone else. Except me. I have a mobile phone but I never use it. And I have never text-messaged anyone. I don't even know how to do that. And even more, I don't have anything to say. At least, not that anyone needs to hear. You can read it here if you need to.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Four Stars in Reflection Nebula

This one's for you, Captain Fog. Fog's a musician who loves space art. There's plenty of nebulae, galaxies, planets, star systems, and space scenes ahead for you and others who like it. Jim Taggart and the Railroad of Doom will return shortly, but I am currently doing some difficult portrait work which is for private clients and can't be shown here. Meanwhile, here's a nebula picture I sprayed into existence with my ever-improving airbrush, in February-March of 1986. It's acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7". The original title is "The Four Evangelists," referring to the four bright stars in the picture. Astronomically, those are fresh new stars recently condensed from cosmic matter. They are now bright enough to illuminate the whole nebula with their reflected glory.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Harvest Home at Trader Joe's

When it comes to autumn, the way to sell groceries is to remind people of that nostalgic peaceful harvest time that never was, where baskets and wooden boxes of colorful fruits and vegetables sit outside under golden leaves and a perfect blue sky. Well, wait a minute, that describes a situation that's all over Mid-Atlantic rural areas right now. Come back to the harvest home you dreamed of with the Trader Joe's fall flyer, the advertising booklet that features goodies for the season. This is the "indicator" which is placed in the store next to the flyer-advertised items. The original is black ink on white paper, about 5 inches by 5 inches. It's printed on bright orange paper.