Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Boys of Darkover

Here I am again, preparing to go to DarkoverCon this weekend, in the northern suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. This convention has lasted 32 years. I have been to every one of them since 1980 (I also went to the ones in 1978 and 1979.). There are other people like me who have gone to this convention every year. It is like a family reunion. Sometimes I sell art, sometimes I don't. I will have a fairly nice exhibition this year, both of originals and prints.

Inside the aging hippies who attend this convention are eternal swashbucklers, Renaissance bravos and red-haired Celtic babes, Regency damsels and occult adepts. Most of them, including me, have lived their lives as much in fantasy worlds as in the "real" world. This has both good and bad sides. They are harmless people, but they are also on the margins of society. Marion Zimmer Bradley, the original inspiration for this convention, died ten years ago, and I thought this gathering would have been long gone by now. But it is a nice time to get together with old friends and party. I won't be bringing my computer so there will be no Art By-Products until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

The picture shown here is a portrait of Marion Zimmer Bradley's heroic gay lovers, Regis and Danilo. It is acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", May 1984. I went to DarkoverCon that year, too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Space Duck

This digital improvisation or "speedpaint" was done in about an hour in Photoshop, while I was listening to an ambient electronic music improvisation by my friends Darrell "Palancar" Burgan and Stephen "Duck" Philips. They improvised on their instruments and played together despite being separated by more than a thousand miles. Burgan is in Texas and Philips is in the Maryland side of the Washington, DC area. In fact, Burgan set down his notes without being able to hear Philips, and their communication was by instant message chat, rather than sound. This is the way music can be created these days. The improvisation was more than an hour long, composed of lush drones and drifting spacey passages, mercifully free of harsh noises or annoying rhythms. Perfect for a dark, rainy November night. The improvisation was recorded and will probably be available, eventually, from one of the download sites connected with the Stillstream composers. The title of the picture, "Space Duck," is in honor of Stephen Philips, owner of the "Dark Duck" record label.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Deco Pricetags

When I first started working at Trader Joe's, I was encouraged to make all sorts of decorative miniatures for use as price tags. These would be reproduced, and the empty space in the center would be calligraphed with a product name and price. Each set denoted a category of products, such as vegetables, fruits, canned goods, or bread. This set, done in early 2004, was for frozen desserts. I was inspired by Art Deco and especially the stained glass designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. The originals are each 5 1/2" x 2 1/4", done in ink and markers.

In my tenure at TJ's we have been through three "revolutions" of price tag design. Each "revolution" meant that thousands of tags had to be laboriously replaced, each one of them hand-written. These tags went out of use in 2005. We are currently working on yet another of these replacement revolutions, with more than a thousand tags left to go.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alcohol-Free Bubbly

We're doing a lot of signs at Trader Joe's for the holiday season, as you can imagine. Goodies and sweets are everywhere. There's plenty of wine, too. But I always want to remind people that there are some people who can't, or don't want to, drink alcohol. They want to be festive too! Therefore they can drink these tasty fruit juice sparklers in a wine glass. This sign is about 3 ft. x 2 ft., as usual done in acrylic markers on black chalkboard paint.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Noantri World: Keilians

Here's another page from my abandoned Noantri history. This panel is about the Keilians, an ethnicity of Noantri that gave up modern technology and ways to live in a medieval style, including feudalism and brutal clan and gang warfare. They carry on even in modern cities governed by more advanced ethnic groups. Around this time of year the Keilians hold a great festival, with parades, street performers, games, vendors, feasting, and drinking. Tourists visiting Keilian areas love it. But outside the tourist zones, the Festival is an opportunity to work out the vendettas which have accumulated over the year. After the festivities are over, the non-Keilian police authorities go around the city pulling the dead Keilians off the streets.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Meteor Wing

Kandinsky goes into space! Here's the Kandinskified version of the red squad of space fighters and their colorful decorations and insignia. The bright colors in this are inspired by superhero comics. This is the last in the series of smaller space and abstract pictures that I am preparing for DarkoverCon. This is not a good reproduction image of this picture as it didn't scan well, but I figure a flawed image is better than no image. I'll take its picture with my digital camera when sunlight is available. Space is for heroes!

"Meteor Wing" is 9 3/4" x 9 1/4", acrylic on coated matboard, November 2009.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Calatrava's Bridge

If things had been different in my life, I might have been an architect. But I would not have become the type of architect whose stunning works grace big cities and change the way people think about buildings. I would have been grubbing out a living re-modeling garages and building bathrooms. And I'd probably be unemployed right now. But this picture, in my current series of space paintings, honors an architect who truly merits description as the first kind I mentioned. Santiago Calatrava, from Spain, has designed things which look like they come from another universe where gravity is different. I have never seen a Calatrava building in "real life" but just looking at pictures of them gives me a thrill. Hence my homage to him in this little work. "Calatrava's Bridge" is acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 10", November 2009.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cosmic Nest

All over this Universe and probably in other ones too, stars form in nebulae. They condense from interstellar gas and dust, the remains of previous stars which blew up. The thicker parts of these clouds fall together due to gravity, and eventually a fresh star is hatched. This image shows one of these star nests, where new stars shine brightly, reflecting in the center of this gathering of nebulosity. When the stars are powerful enough, they dispel the clouds with the force of their radiation, and then they fly away, to arrive on your bird feeder in winter plumage.

"Cosmic Nest" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 8", November 2009.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Noantri History Panel

It's been a long time since I posted something from my own imaginary world, the world of the Noantri. Maybe too long, by my standards. I searched on dusty shelves and found a few graphic panels that I had done in September of 2003. At that time I was considering writing a history of my Noantri people, or at least their time on New Earth, done in a graphic novel format. I used markers for these experimental panels. As I remember, I didn't like the look of my finished panels. I couldn't get enough fine detail or smooth texture with my markers and marker pens. After about three pages, I abandoned the project. But here's one of the panels I did, dated September 30, 2003.

Early Noantri New Earth history, about 8" x 4 3/4", markers on sketchbook page, panel 1.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Plasma Flames in the Endless Night

"This could be Heaven, or this could be Hell...." Either place is full of plasma, made of atoms which are ionized by the radiation from nearby stars. It is the light of the Otherworld, manifest in nebulae which are photographed with our religious telescopes in holy rituals keeping vigil through the night. Zoroastrian astronomers of ancient times honored the stars, the sacred lights, which told the stories of the seasons.

Meanwhile, I have an airbrush and plenty of red paint, with words to spare. "Plasma Flames" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 8", November 2009.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Space Aurora

Here's another in my new series of nebula and space pictures for my upcoming show. This one, "Space Aurora," features one of my favorite colors, the ecstatic, hallucinatory light blue-green I call "Aurora Green." Auroras happen because of energetic particles from the sun striking gases in the Earth's upper atmosphere and causing them to glow. There are no auroras in space, but there are emission nebulas, which are sort of the same, made of gases that glow when energized by light from a nearby star. This is an image of an emission nebula.

I once asked whether I should "invent" the nebulas and galaxies I painted, making up visual details and patterns as I went along, or should I stay true to "real" views from telescopes like the Hubble or advanced terrestrial scopes in Hawaii and Chile. When I asked an astronomer that question, she said, "Why not? It's a big universe out there and there are a lot of nebulae." The question of whether this is an "accurate" picture becomes even more unusual if you believe the current speculations on a plurality of universes. If there is more than one universe, in fact uncounted bbbbillions of universes, then in one of them there is a nebula that looks just like this. And maybe even a person just like me, painting an image of that nebula and posting it to the Otherworld Wide Web, which is just too disturbing to consider.

"Space Aurora," acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 8", November 2009.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rand Flashback

Here's a scene from Rand's characters' childhood. Even when young, Rand characters know what they want. At least, the good ones do. For another perspective on Rand, try this hilarious article (warning: lots of profanity) by "Gentlemen's Quarterly" reviewer Andrew Corsello.

I should say, whether you believe me or not, that I am not a "Randroid" and do not agree with many (maybe most) of her ideas. I am more interested in her as a pop culture phenomenon who appeals to geeks. She was one of the first well-known writers in America who made geeks feel good, even heroic, about themselves.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Space Bubbles

I went back to doing small space pictures with acrylic airbrushing and some conventional brushwork. Space pictures are always appealing. I have a show coming up at DarkoverCon (north of Baltimore, every year for the last 31 years) and I might as well show something small and, uh, sellable.

I've had this airbrush for ages and haven't really used it for about three years at least. It is still in good condition. The technique is exactly the same as it was with the pictures I've been showing you from the 1980s. I spray small panels black, then add stars and nebulas onto the black with spatter and airbrush. Then I finish'em with hand-brushed details.

The difference is that the Hubble Space Telescope has resolved far more detail in its pictures of deep-sky wonders, so the artist has to keep up with Hubble reality. That means filaments, cloudy drifts, protostars in clumps of dust, and these gas bubbles, sometimes quite evenly spherical, emitted by small stars as they mature.

Painting these "space clouds" has gotten me thinking about how clouds form, why they take the shapes they do, and whether the growth and disappearance of water clouds in Earth's skies is analogous in any way to nebula gas "clouds" in space. Earth clouds are subject to gravity which factors into their shapes, but these space clouds are not. Yet earth winds blow clouds around much like stellar "wind" particle emissions move space gas around.

"Bubble Lights," acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 10", November 2009.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blustery November Afternoon

Eastern and northern Virginia are experiencing some rough weather. It's been raining and gusting for days. This happens every November, and it's the time when the colorful leaves are stripped from the trees and the twigs and branches of winter appear. This is the view out my window (from memory) rendered in Photoshop, on this wet grey day. In a few days those bright yellow leaves will be gone.

A colorful welcome to new "followers" of this Blog, "Rainbow" and JohnLithium, thanks for visiting!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Iconic Organic Bananas

At Trader Joe's I don't get to do my "mid-century" style signs much any more. The spaces are already filled, or they are taken up with more "generic" holiday-time signage for seasonal goodies. But here's a somewhat "doo-wop"-ified banana sign to go on the fruit display. The bottom of this sign, plain yellow and unmarked, will be behind piles of bananas. Spray paint and acrylic markers on foamboard, about 30" wide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spaceship Rendezvous

This spaceship picture, painted in August 1986, was originally an unpublished illustration from a book by C.J. Cherryh, "The Kif Strike Back." It was a mixture of airbrush and hand painting, and my notes say that the adhesive masking film I used during the airbrushing tore up the surface of the painting when it was removed. I did the best I could to repair it, and 23 years later, Photoshop has done the rest of the job. This is acrylic on illustration board, 12" x 20", and it was sold to a fan at ConFederation, the World Science Fiction Convention that year in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bluemont Porch

During the saner portions of my recent summer, I traveled through Virginia looking for beautiful, rural nostalgic scenes and architecture to photograph. I found an idyllic place in Bluemont, Virginia, where I went to a fair in September. The weather was sunny and perfect, and I took lots of reference photos there. This image is from one of them. I love porches. They symbolize the ideal nostalgic village life which is probably better in fantasy than in reality. You sit on the porch and people come by in the warm evening. Remember my dream of making the summer last forever. I wish this were my porch, but it's at least my painting. I'm planning to frame it and take it back to Bluemont; perhaps a local antique and art dealer will show it in his shop. And maybe the people who own this house will buy this. Ink and watercolor, 9" x 8".

Monday, November 9, 2009


This planet picture is part of yet another 1986 astronomical series. I think it was originally meant to portray Jupiter, yet I titled it "Shepherdess and Moons," from the idea of "shepherd moons" orbiting large planets with lots of gravel and smaller moonlets around them. In those days the idea of stars around other planets was just speculation, though many astronomers knew they had to exist. The first detection of a true exoplanet (a planet orbiting another star than the Sun) was in 1995. I think this is an exoplanet.

I tried some non-airbrush texturing in this piece. After I laid down the basic colors with the airbrush, I went back over it with brushwork and semi-transparent layers of acrylic. Then I used a sponge and a paper towel with paint on it to add texture. I painted the planet and its moons and its gravel ring (seen edge-on here) last.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Autumn Improvisation

This is a vaguely Cubistic improvisational doodle from a notebook, colored in Photoshop. It's about autumn leaves and trees, and the original drawing is only about 3 inches square. Drawings like these allow me to try out ideas without having to mess around with acrylic paint or watercolor.

My temperamental iMac (I originally wrote iMad) is back in my studio, now working with the latest operating system, "Snow Leopard." I am now pursuing upgrades to Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Whatever I do, it's gonna cost me money. So far I have never made a cent from any digital artwork I've done, though I have earned some pennies doing a logo design.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Atlas: One More Try

Poor Eddie Willers, Ayn Rand's closest approximation of an "Everyman," tries one more time to convince boss James Taggart to take action. A waste of time indeed. The characters (and I) have spent 14 talky pages trying to save the Rio Norte Line of the mythical Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. By the way, no railroad that I have ever heard of is named for the people who create or run it. All railroads that I know of are named for the places they go, at least until Amtrak.

I have a few pages left to go in this opening scene, which is typical of the pace and thick dialogue of Rand's book. Even with editing for clarity and fitting into word balloons, a comic book adaptation of ATLAS SHRUGGED would be hundreds and hundreds of pages long. I plan to do one more scene following this one and then move on to other things, graphic novel projects that I have been doing slowly for many years. I may return to Rand for illustrations or graphic sequences in the future. I like doing sequential art (comic books, in popular terminology) more than any other type of art, except perhaps architectural art.

I can't imagine that in our big world no one has tried to do a sequential art version of ATLAS. Interestingly, according to Rand biographer Jennifer Burns, a graphic adaptation of Rand's FOUNTAINHEAD was created in the 1940s for serialization in newspapers. I would love to know whether it was still extant, it would be great to see it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chili Autumn at Mena's

For autumn and winter, Mena is adding chili to her menu at the snack shop. Come in and warm up with a bowl! I decorated the menu board for this season with lifelike leaves. It is already November, and it's chilly time.
"Bagels, Deli, and Donuts" shop is located in the Falls Plaza East shopping center in Falls Church, Virginia, on Route 7 across from Don Beyer Volvo.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Red Nebula

Even though my overwrought iMac is still in the shop waiting to be retrieved, I can still do just about everything I need to do with my faithful iBook G4, now more than 3 years old and still good. Its name is "SoyMac" and she has been my studio machine now for quite a while. The artwork above is from a series I painted in October 1986. It's called "Filaments of Fire" and is a nebula perhaps radiating in the infra red or hydrogen-alpha radiation. There are also glowing areas which are protostars just being formed. It's acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7". We wouldn't see these colors in space. All the bright nebulae and galaxy pictures published for our wonderment are color-enhanced. We need a glamorous universe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Atlas Shrugged: James Taggart Rants

James Taggart unleashes a rant in this page of Ayn Rand Comics. It's a rant that I have heard quite often in "real life" from people I've grown up with. You can always blame your lack of success on the pressures of competition from other people in the field. No one gave you a chance...they all were pushy, obnoxious, untalented, culture-less hacks who thought they were something, and they put themselves forward like merchants, and they drowned out your own pure, refined, non-commercial high quality offerings.

Also note how Rand has her wormy villain character always introduce his statements with "It seems to me" or "I think," or "I'm not so sure...". In editing, these are sometimes called "weasel words," included in dialogue or article text in order to cover yourself against having to state a fact or an outright falsehood. Again, this is part of my own experience. When I was growing up, I was told to always add this sort of language to my own statements, because otherwise I would be making false assertions or "sweeping generalizations," or some other tactless utterance.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Colors of New England Fall

I had almost no time to do drawings when I was in Massachusetts. Social tasks took up all my time. But I did manage to do these two colored pencil sketches looking through the windows of my parents' house. Their property is overgrown with shrubs and tree seedlings and weeds. These plants are colorful in the fall, before everything turns brown and grey. The roof in the image above is from a shed which was my playhouse when I was young. It's now almost buried in vegetation. The image below depicts a catalpa tree sprout in front of a brilliant red euonymus shrub. I wish I could clean up my parents' landscaping, but I can't. And my father refuses to pay for any service, anything which costs any money. He is too weak to maintain it himself, so the old homestead has fallen into disrepair.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back from Boston

Hi folks! I'm back from Massachusetts, having spent a week in the Boston area taking care of my elderly parents, and visiting relatives. Due to the high concentration of social activity I didn't get much time to draw at all. Late one night I did this very fast Photoshop sketch of autumn leaves. I didn't have much sunny weather but on the days there was sun, the leaves were amazingly intense. This was drawn with my new "Bamboo" Wacom drawing tablet, in portable size for use with my laptop. Visits to Boston are always a lot of work for me. More autumness will follow in the next posts.