Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Shunned House

I waited until February 28 to post this picture because I did the original sketches and photographs for it on February 28, 1987. This picture was a commission from a costumer friend of mine who was an H.P. Lovecraft fan. He wanted me to do an illustration from the Lovecraft story "The Shunned House." In this story, a pair of amateur scientists investigate hideous phenomena originating from a weird old house in Providence, Rhode Island. My friend wanted me to portray the Shunned House, but without any of the usual "horror house" cliche's.

I didn't know at the time that the Shunned House was based on a real house in Providence. Instead, I took as my model an early twentieth century house near my own residence in Cambridge, Mass. This house was in "Shady Hill Square," a set of houses set around a little park-like commons. It was an affluent area and Harvard professors lived there. But it was also somewhat shabby and for some reason whenever I visited it, it gave me the creeps. Perhaps it was the Harvard professors. So I used one of the houses at Shady Hill for the model Shunned Home, complete with the tangled ivy, gnarly trees, and black windows. I sat on my portable stool and sketched it outdoors, not an easy task in Massachusetts in February. The conditions were rather as they are right now: dreary skies over leafless trees and melting, congealed, dirty old snow.

I avoided any horror cliche's which were not from Lovecraft's original. But if you looked closely at the windows and door of my house, you could see disturbing flashes of livid light, a tentacle or two, and some green slime at the door. Unfortunately, my photo of the picture isn't very good and you can't see this here. The painting was almost monochrome, rather like a New England grey winter day.

My friend who commissioned it is long dead, gone off to whatever afterlife welcomes Lovecraft fans. I wonder what happened to the painting. Maybe it was auctioned off or given away. I hope someone still has it, with the slime, shivers, and gnarly trees.

"The Shunned House" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, 14" x 20", May 1987.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Leprechaun Monster

I don't usually do cartoon characters, whether at Trader Joe's or anywhere else. But the assignment came to me, and I did my best. The idea I was given was, advertise this product with a cartoon character that is a mix of Cookie Monster and a leprechaun. I may be the only person on earth who has never seen "Sesame Street" on TV, so I had only a vague idea of what he looks like. Someone whipped out one of those ubiquitous screen phone gadgets, spoke into it "Cookie Monster!" and within seconds, images of this character appeared in Google Images. Ain't technology grand. So there he is, the green pseudo-Irish cookie monster. "Green Plant" is an unusual drink, blending fruit juices with "microgreens" and vegetable extracts. This billboard is supposed to appeal to kids and mothers.

Friday, February 26, 2010


I nearly didn't get to post this, due to a power failure at my usual posting time. High winds damaged lines and blew some transformers. I am really sick of this winter stuff. If you live in eastern USA, you probably are too.

Here is another star scene from the same big long series of astronomical pictures I have been featuring. This one is called "Asterism," which is a name for a highly visible cluster of bright stars. I never get tired of astronomical pictures. I'm painting one right now, and just airbrushed the bright blue background for it, thankfully before the power went out.

"Asterism," acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", February 1990.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Train from the Past

I believe this is a New York subway train, which I depicted while it was sitting still at a station somewhere in Queens. The sketch is dated March 15, 1987. I was in New York for one of my attempts to get work on book covers from science fiction publishers. In those days, you had to live in New York or at least travel easily there, in order to get work from publishers. Since I didn't live there, and found it difficult to get there quickly, I didn't get much work. It all seems quaint now, when illustrators from all around the world from the Philippines to Egypt to Argentina can get work and send the images to the publishers online.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Light Echoes

When a supernova explodes, its light propagates outward in a sphere, like an expanding bubble. When this light strikes gas and dust clouds, it reflects, producing what astronomers call "light echoes." As the light-bubble expands, more and more reflections appear. This picture, inspired by a supernova observed near our galaxy in 1987, shows some of these light echoes. This time I chose a color scheme different from the usual blue and red that I used in space pictures. The colors are, as I have explained before, mostly arbitrary, since human eyes can't see them. Space artists and photographers add whatever makes it look interesting.

"Light Echoes," acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", February 1990.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dragon's Progress

Back in the now dust-covered days of 1982 I did a lot of fan art for 'zines run by friends and imitators of Marion Zimmer Bradley. I also did illustrations for other fan publications ranging from comics to academic essays. This was one of them. It was an interior title page for an article by an MZB fan and friend. Other than being about dragons, I have no recollection of what the article was. Somewhere in my archives buried in dust is the magazine with the article and my illustration in it. There is some cuteness in this piece, notice the dragon warming its own tail with fiery breath, and the "literary" dragon in the bottom half with the fluffy quill pen and scroll, and the pince-nez glasses.

I don't usually do drawings or paintings of dragons. It's not because I don't like dragons. It's because I have not got enough knowledge of animal (reptile) anatomy to make a convincing dragon. But then so many renditions of dragons have been done throughout history, that all sorts of improbable anatomies have been created for dragonkind. I have a very nice book called "Dracopedia" by William O'Connor which has everything that I would need to know about making images of dragons as well as creating them in Photoshop. Maybe I should try to depict another dragon.

"Dragon's Progress" is ink on bristol board, 8" x 10", spring 1982.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Techno-mage at 60

The techno-mage (or in my own parlance, "nouergist") Tanheu Afboureh-Souteth turns 60 later this year, and this is a new portrait I've made of him. He continues to serve as the director of the Nouergic Institute of Surakosai. He is also active as a consulting physicist at the new Institute of Advanced Studies which recently opened in the seaside town of Eloro, some kilometers south of Surakosai.

He is still active in research, investigating nouergic aspects of cosmology and dark energy, and has recently gone on a geographic exploration mission to the southern continent of Wairuna.

This image comes to you from my world of Noantri. Photoshop color over a pencil drawing, February 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fairfax Vernacular

Fairfax County, like much of Virginia, has a number of older commercial and residential structures, built in what would be considered a "vernacular" style. They are disappearing one by one, as developers buy the land and put something more profitable on it. The current Economic Downturn has slowed this process down, so that buildings like this are still standing on expensive Fairfax County sites. This is a tailor's place of operation. I like the squat pyramidal roof, and especially the angled cut into the porch on the right side. In this drawing you can see the mountain ranges of dirty piled-up snow which block views on the roads and make driving inconvenient. I drew this through a window at a Starbucks. It's still far too cold outside for outdoor sketching.

If this were a real and proper "Urban Sketcher" blog all you would see would be stuff like this. I guess after almost two years it has turned out that "Art By-Products" is not an Urban Sketcher blog, nor completely by-product-ish, but just a PyraArt blog of any variety or era. I hope you don't mind.

"Fairfax Vernacular Business Building" is ink on sketchbook paper, about 10" x 6", colored in Photoshop.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Airbrush and Asteroids

Here's one of the better ones from my long series of space pictures that I did in September of 1990. It depicts an asteroid field and what would now be called a "dwarf planet," which is really a planet populated by dwarfs. I managed to get a nice three-dimensional look to the piece. It was mostly done with airbrush. I have had the same airbrush rig since 1980, changing only the metal airbrush nozzle and trigger. I have just dragged the contraption out and set it up again, because I'm going to do airbrush work for a new space abstraction picture.

I'm kind of spoiled by digital "painting" where you can get airbrush textures and overlays easily, that would take hours to create in real paint. However, your client doesn't get anything that he can frame and put on his wall, unless you have it printed large size by an expensive process. And even then, it's not quite the same. Airbrush painting is probably going towards obsolescence anyway, except for things like T-shirts and graffiti. There has always been something "cheap" about airbrush painting, and very few "fine" artists (if any) use it.

I painted the asteroids and planetoid on this picture with a regular brush. 14 years later, I ask myself, why did I paint all those rocks lined up? They are all roughly oval, and they're all floating with their longer axes sort of parallel. They should be randomly posed. Maybe the dwarfs on the planet had too much time on their hands and put the rocks in order.

"Blue Thoroughfare with Asteroids," acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", September 1990.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Skater Fashions

I was thrilled at the men's figure skating competition at the Olympics. I love watching anything where people put on costumes and move about boldly. Olympic athletes are like superheroes dressed in bright Spandex and doing amazing moves. (Except for the snowboarders, who are dressed like high school students.) Congratulations to Evan Lysacek for his awesome performance and gold medal! Note to male skaters: black costumes always look best.

I designed these costumes for skaters, for a skating fanzine run by some friends of mine. In those days (1988-90) Brian Boitano was the god of figure skating and I still think he was the best ever. These costumes would be show costumes rather than competition wear. The man's solo performance would be called "Winter Lightning," and the woman's would be called "Iceflame."

Ice show costumes, ink on Bristol board, each drawing about 3" x 5", September 1990.
Color added in Photoshop, 2010.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dreaming of Sunshine and Gardens

Here's a "billboard" I just did for Trader Joe's. This graphic will go in a window display that people outside the store can see. Winter-weary customers can sip warm soup to melt the inner ice.

Acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite, about 4 feet by 2 feet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Star Furnace

Inside this swirl of glowing gas is a pulsar, or perhaps a binary system going nova. The high-energy event is throwing out a jet of gas, like a geyser in space. Cataclysms and intense phenomena are going on in space all the time, emitting super-energetic particles which reach our relatively peaceful Earth and register on radio and X-ray detectors. There's a lot of action out there.

"Star Furnace" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", February 1990.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Gay Superhero

I am now trying to teach myself to do character studies and concept art in Photoshop. This will take a long time, but I might as well keep trying. As you know, I love costumed characters and superheroes. I have a friend who is a comic book artist and is also openly gay. He has designed a number of gay superheroes, positive images of pride for gay comic book readers. One of them is this guy. I found my friend's drawing of him in my collected papers from 1997, and I decided to do a character concept of him in Photoshop for practice.

The costume is part San Francisco leather boy and part Batman. Note the "lambdas" (Greek letter L) on his halter top and embossed into the kneepads of the leg armor. Also note the rainbow "utility belt" and wristlets, containing gadgets which he deploys in combat. The goggles not only contain a virtual reality display but have infra-red vision that allows him to see in the dark. I am not sure about the leg armor, it seems that it would give him mobility problems when jumping or running, but this is fantasy after all.

I can post my own work but I won't post the original art or any names until I get permission from my artist friend. I still have a lot of technical and artistic problems to work out in my Photoshop quest, not to mention that my drawings of people and faces still suck. But at least I'm trying to improve.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tomato Basil Marinara, Formula One

An hour before I started this sign, I had no idea what I was going to do to advertise Trader Joe's marinara sauce. Then I got the idea of putting a sports car on the sign. Why a sports car? Because the sauce was originally Italian, and Italians make great race cars? But I didn't have time to draw a car. I was going to draw a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti, but I didn't have either the bottle or enough time to draw it. Well...mid-century design! I can always draw something from the golden decade of design nostalgia 1954-1964! OK, ovals for the writing. They have checkered tablecloths in "traditional" Italian restaurants, right? I'll put one of those in. But I made it black and white checkers like an auto racing flag. That'll do it. Classic. The commercial artist's life.

Acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite, about 40" x 30", February 14, 2010.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Persian Sphinx

I'm going through my old papers from 1996 and other years, in an attempt to make more space in my cluttered dwelling. I sort the papers out and what is unimportant, I throw out. But often I find little treasures I don't know I still had. This drawing is one of them. I found it only as a photocopy; I may have given the original away. In that era of my life I was working a lot with Persian people as I did my Zoroastrian research. I designed a lot of stuff using motifs from ancient Persia. This sphinx was one of these projects. It was meant to be a logo for a study group that my Zoroastrian professor was starting.

Persian sphinxes, unlike the Greek ones and similar to the Egyptian ones, are male. The Persian sphinx is a composite of four creatures, which appear in many ancient carvings and become the four symbolic creatures of the Bible. The body and tail is a lion, the head is a man, the head has horns and ears like a bull, and it has wings like an eagle. These creatures also signify the four directions and four traditional elements.

The original of this drawing is ink on Bristol board, about 5 inches square, 1996.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bridge Over the Stars

In my new residences I assembled my airbrush and continued as usual. I made series of space pieces which I would sell at conventions I regularly attended. My move to the Mid-Atlantic region gave me easy access to science fiction conventions that had lots of collectors, such as Baltimore's Balticon, the DC area's "DisClave," and cons farther south such as Chattacon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I made contacts among Southern fans and sold pictures in Georgia and Florida as well. All of this happened during the early 1990s. I was by then doing only free lance art; I left the architectural art company in about 1990, because I was very unhappy working full time without any time for my art. I continued to do architectural renderings for private clients.

"Bridge Over the Stars" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", February 1990.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cygnus the Cosmic Swan

As I transcribe my way through my catalog of space pictures, I have now reached the time when I moved to the Washington, DC area. I had decided to move in early 1988 and finally did it in October of that year. I moved into a single-room apartment in a large mid-rise apartment block in Arlington, Virginia. I had arranged a job before I even moved down, and from October 1988 till about spring 1990 I worked as an architectural artist at a company which made architectural renderings (house portraits) for the real estate market. It was a full time job, sometimes more than full time, and it seriously cut into my other art production.

I did manage to make some pieces, most of which went to conventions or commissions. This was a small commission by a fan who liked my concepts of constellations. I would lay a glowing blue image of the constellation animal or symbol in airbrush, over a starry representation of the constellation star pattern. This is Cygnus, the swan, also known as the "Northern Cross," easily visible from northern latitudes for most of the year.

I spent only one year in that cramped studio apartment. In November 1989 I moved to the apartment complex where I still live. It's been more than twenty years since I did this picture in a new home.

"Cygnus" is acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 10", June 1989.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alaric Morgan Brandishes

In the work of fantasy author Katherine Kurtz, no character is more prominent or heroic than Alaric Morgan. He is one of the main heroes of Kurtz' long-lasting "Deryni" books, set in a magical medieval world. A big, blond hunk, he strides, casts spells, and battles his way through at least 9 of her books. Katherine is currently writing a series about his childhood, called the "Childe Morgan" series. By the age of fourteen he's already a competent magic user. This illustration, for a fan magazine, shows him brandishing his sword at some unseen foe, though he doesn't look too threatened.

"Alaric Morgan" is ink on Bristol board, 7" x 10", December 1987.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blizzard of 2010

"Snowmageddon" part 2 continues. Here's a Photoshop sketch of what I see through my studio window. The world is monochromatic and sometimes all white.
In four months this scene will be lush and green.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ascended Master Portraits

Here's another image, a companion picture of the previous post, again from Guy Ballard's visionary testament of the Ascended Masters of Mount Shasta. The narrator is brought into a vast jeweled hall where he sees a huge tapestry depicting an Ascended Master Couple holding their instruments of power. According to Ballard's St. Germain mythos, the entire mountain, an extinct volcano, is riddled through and through with gold deposits, jewel caves, underground palaces and industrial spaces, and Masters' habitats. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, a similar mythology exists in recent Parsi Zoroastrianism, centered on Iran's Mount Damovand, also an extinct volcano. Not surprisingly because both of these mythologies depend on earlier visionary literature from Sufi, Gnostic, and Theosophical sources.

"The Masters on the Tapestry" is watercolor and ink on illustration board, 14" x 11", December 1987.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Meeting the Ascended Masters

I encountered the "Saint Germain" mythos while working at the New Age bookstore in Cambridge, Mass, "Sky Light Books." The bookstore carried a series of tiny books, printed in purple ink with green covers, written by "Godfre Ray King." They were visionary literature of the kind I have been discussing: descriptions of heavenly worlds and beings of color and light. "Godfre Ray King" was the pseudonym of Guy Ballard, a mining engineer near Mount Shasta in California who had founded an esoteric group devoted to the "Ascended Masters" who lived in or above Mount Shasta. The group was kept going by his wife Edna, and part of it morphed into the much weirder "Church Universal and Triumphant," once headed by the now-ascended "Elizabeth Clare Prophet." None of these groups have a connection with "Unarius," the UFO contact group I mentioned in an earlier post.

The little green books were a rich source of illustration ideas. The writer describes the ascended realms in lavish detail, from palatial interiors filled with gold and diamonds (and cosmic-industrial descriptions from the mining engineer) to crystal chambers filled with flames, rainbow energies, fountains of light, and celestial music. He meets Ascended Beings clothed in radiant garments of light, all of them golden-haired and very tall. His guide in all these journeys is the Master Saint Germain, a legendary "immortal" alchemist and adventurer who has been the subject of many a novel or conspiracy theory.

This picture combines my own imagination and the Saint Germain mythos. In the image, the narrator (on the right) is introduced to the Ascended Master Royal Family by Saint Germain (in the blue cape). The family has two parents and five offspring, thus making seven colors of the traditional rainbow. I've dressed them in what might be called "Hollywood Byzantine." I made up the Royal Family, but it is similar to other groups that Ballard/Ray King describes in his visionary narratives.

I haven't done pictures like this for a long time. They don't make visionary religion like they used to. The mainstream religions are all embarrassed by this kind of stuff, let alone the visions of the Bible such as Ezekiel's or the Revelation. The rational, progressive, philosophical types won't touch it. I really miss it.

"The Ascended Master Royal Family" is watercolor and ink on illustration board, 11" x 14", December 1987.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Silent Trees

It finally stopped snowing in the late afternoon, and by twilight the skies were clearing. I had only a few minutes to do this Photoshop study while gazing out my studio window. Two feet of snow are on the ground, and drifts are everywhere. I haven't been outside in two days, and my car is almost completely buried in snow. I spent the day doing small domestic tasks and playing with Photoshop among other artistic diversions. I also listened once again to Kevin Kendle's beautiful and emotionally moving album WINTER, just right for the moment. "Silent Trees" is the last track on the album. You can try all the "Winter" pieces here at "Rhapsody."

Photoshop study, done with Wacom tablet, print size 10" x 7".

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cosmic Glamor

Finally, something new for me. I've been wanting to try doing picture of a "glamor" nude in Photoshop, without any scanned and imported pencil sketch as a base. I have lots of model photograph books, and one of them has a lot of very nice pin-up poses done by a stunning model, someone that I would never have the chance to draw in a decade of life drawing classes. I drew directly into Photoshop, with the photo in sight, using my Wacom tablet and stylus. Then I built up the figure using a lot of layers, which is how you're supposed to work in Photoshop. There are layers for the drawing, the skin tones, face details, hair details, and glitter stars. The cosmic blue is the background layer, and I let some of the starry blue show through in the drawing, something which I have done before on colored paper drawings.

I'm not really pleased with the face, which I didn't draw from the photograph but made up. I left too much cosmic blue in it. I need to work on faces but I think I did pretty well with the body this time. As I was working on this a blizzard was raging outside, and there she is, naked in a warm nebula bath.

"Cosmic Nude 1" is Photoshop, 8 1/2" x 11".

Friday, February 5, 2010

Conclave of Light Beings

I love apocalyptic writings. These are not necessarily about disasters. They are visionary experiences, usually of a religious nature, written down for posterity. The most famous example is the biblical "Book of Revelation" which is the last book of the Christian New Testament. This classic apocalypse became the model for uncounted later visionary texts, including many in the twentieth century.

In the twentieth century science, or at least its terminology, was blended into religious mysticism, and aliens and UFO's shared chariots with angels. One of the most creative and organized "schools" of apocalyptic thought was (and continues to be, on a lesser scale) the "Unarius" group of UFO devotees. The original seer and founder was a wonderfully colorful lady named Ruth Norman. Her visions and channeled tales were published by the Unarians during the 1970s in a number of volumes. The center of the group is, of course, in Southern California, in El Cajon, near San Diego.

Since I was working at a New Age bookstore in 1988, I was able to order these books and other visionary writings not only for the store but for myself, and I managed to collect a fair number of them. The picture above is an illustration of a scene from a book called "Conclave of Light Beings." It depicts a vast, city-sized amphitheater in which millions of angels, Masters, aliens, and ascended human souls attend a worshipful event: the wedding of "Ioshanna," Ruth Norman's heavenly counterpart, to "Michiel," also known as the soul-incarnation of Leonardo da Vinci.

As she describes it, the enormous amphitheater has seven fountains, each in a different color of the rainbow, and three giant flames of light, all surrounding the crystal dais in the center of the circle where the wedding takes place. To the uninitiated, this intricately detailed text reads like an antique Hollywood glamor epic on major acid. For me, it's imagination candy: wild descriptions of fantastic stuff just waiting to be illustrated. There are contemporary illustrations in the book, but they are not made by professional-quality artists. I dust off my copy of "Conclave" and think, This is what Photoshop was made for. But so far, the "Space Brothers" have not arrived.

"Conclave of Light Beings" is watercolor and gouache on illustration board, 22" x 16", May 1988.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The White Elf Lord

I spent the 1980s doing endless, endless amounts of fan art for various private publications put out by my Darkover fan friends and colleagues. In retrospect, all this fan art production seems a near-total waste of time, and perhaps one reason why I am not a more successful (better-known and making money) artist today. I scratched most of this fan art out on illustration board with a late 19th century "storybook" style modeled on either H.J. Ford's "colorful" fairy tale book illustrations, or the modern illustrator Barry Windsor-Smith, who was inspired by the older style.

I sold most of the drawings for modest sums, or just gave them away to the publishers or authors of these forgotten diversions. This one here is from a Tolkien pastiche written by Marion Zimmer Bradley. My records say that the original was sold to a fan in Baltimore, but who knows where it is now, as fans always live in chaotic circumstances. As far as I'm concerned, I wasted most of the 1980s doing crap. I'm trying to save whatever was good from that era in my artistic life. I'm not sure this qualifies as "good," but there it is, saved anyway.

"The Jewel of Arwen" title page is about 7" x 10", ink on illustration board, Summer 1983.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lights of Paradise

In late 1988 I made some larger nebula pictures, rather than the sets of small 7" x 10" pieces that I had been doing. This one here was sent to the World Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans, where it was sold and thus disappeared into the void. It's called "The Lights of Paradise," a poetic title for a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by stars and protostars. It's acrylic on illustration board, airbrush with some sponge application and hand brushing. The image is inspired by pictures of the Eta Carinae nebula, an elaborate space cloud full of swirling shapes and lights. This was before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, so the details of the nebula (and all nebulae) were not clear and finely drawn as they are with current space-based views.

"The Lights of Paradise" is acrylic on illustration board, 16" x 20", August 1988.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Big Can

"The Big Can" is what this picture ended up being called, even though it originally had another title which I have forgotten. It's my attempt at doing a "realistic" space hardware picture. It depicts two joyriding space sports vehicles zipping and playing around a large piece of space junk.

This piece was a big failure in exhibitions. For some reason, people laughed at it. I couldn't sell it even for pennies. I ended up giving it to a friend in the Baltimore area, but who knows where it is now, since he's moved so many times in the years since I gave it to him.

"The Big Can" is acrylic on illustration board, 16" x 20", August 1988.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Four Valentines

Oo la la! In the inexorable march of the commercial year, Valentine's Day is approaching. These signs will go with displays of Champagne, bubbly wine, more wine, and sweets, strategically placed near the registers where people can snap them up on impulse buys. The store is also decorated with Super Bowl-themed signs and football motifs. So in a truly American mash-up, we have sentimental lovers tackling each other while wearing emotional padding and heraldic helmets, vying for a chocolate football. And many goodies will be served and consumed.