Sunday, May 30, 2010

Frankie and Vinny host Balticon

Back from Balticon! I did quite well, sold 6 out of the 9 art pieces on my panel, though I did not make back my convention expenses. I talked to a lot of professionals in the field and looked at lots of books and other artistic things. I was excited to see that in the ten years since I have done commercial science fiction/fantasy art, the opportunities for art have expanded rather than contracted. There are not only book covers, but all sorts of venues in small press or magazines or (locally produced) games or collectibles as well as any number of Web based media. I don't know if any of this makes money but at this point I am just trying to get myself and my art known again after a long absence. I need to build a portfolio of new work for commercial purposes. This will be all digital. But I'll still make those geometric space designs in conventional paint and board, for the "fine arts" market. If you don't like what I'm doing, then there will always be something else to look at. Or you can go somewhere else where the art is really cool.

There is a modern interpretation of a shiny 1950's "diner" on the lower level at the Balticon hotel. It is used as the con suite at Balticon, a place where people can gather and socialize. The convention provides snacks and food and drinks. The place is called "Frankie and Vinny's" and has a lot of stainless steel and neon. I wish it was a real diner with real 50s nostalgia, but it's only a setting with tables and chairs. I drew this picture when the mythical Frankie and Vinny were hosting fans.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Marine Apocalypse

The images on the news screens are apocalyptic again, but this time instead of an earthquake, it's the swamping of the swamps by noxious deadly oil from the broken Gulf well. One way they are trying to get rid of it is by sweeping it into confined areas and setting the oil ablaze. This Photoshop speedpaint (about 45 minutes) commemorates this marine disaster, which will not be over for a long, long time. I am always attracted to things that burn, which is why some people call me the Pyra-maniac.

No By-Products will be forthcoming till Sunday night, because I'm off to Balticon to show my art, most of which you saw here first.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Well then, here's something ugly. I did this Ogre for a friend of mine who had invented a fantasy world and needed an illlustrator. He paid me to do concept and character studies from that world, which he thought eventually would become an illustrated book like James Gurney's "Dinotopia." This Ogre was really not an ogre, but just a role-player. During rite-of-passage ordeals, my friend's young men encountered ogres who would attempt to smash them. They would have to either disable or evade the ogres (killing was not allowed on either side). The ogres were really played by testosterone-crazed bodybuilders who relished the chance to smack down young privileged utopians.

I used a real bodybuilder photo for this character study. Then I added some generic ogre armor and a spiked club. There was always a light comic element to my friend's imaginary world so I didn't take the Ogre too seriously. But I think it would be possible for me to re-create this character in a darker and scarier form, not to mention playing on the grotesqueness of extreme gender stereotypes.

"Ogre" is pen and ink on Bristol board, 7" x 10", March-April 1998.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sky Light Iris

In the previous posting I mentioned that I did a lot of flower paintings during the early 1990s. Here is one of the better ones. I did a lot of irises. Why irises? Because they're so beautiful, and I had access to a number of iris gardens. I took loads of flower photographs. Irises come in every color except bright red, though I've seen dark red. My iris and other flower paintings were quite popular. I would add fantasy elements like tiny fairies or magical glows, or space imagery like nebulas and stars. They were all very pretty pictures.

I don't feel so pretty nowadays, 18 years later. I just don't want to paint pretty pictures. I'm more interested in the grotesque these days, and I've seen a lot of it just lately in places like deviantART. But my clients and my friends love my pretty art, not my grotesque or weird art. You probably don't want to see any grotesque stuff from me either. Art should be beautiful and spiritually uplifting! Or at least entertaining and colorful, or cute. Forget about those monsters and misshapen figures and haunted ruins and hellish vistas. Be good. Be pretty. Be nice.

"Sky Light Iris" is watercolor on illustration board, 10" x 7", fall 1992.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Eos, the Dawn Goddess

During the early 90s, along with those endless series of small space pictures, I also produced a lot of flower, angel, goddess, and fairy art. Looking at DeviantART and other venues where people of every level of skill put up their efforts, I see a lot of this kind of art, always done by girls. So I guess I had a girly line of art back then as well as my more butch space and science fiction pieces. I would sell these pictures to other girls at DarkoverCon or other conventions, usually for very low prices. I will spare you most of it, but this one you see here is pretty typical. I wouldn't do this kind of art again unless I either got a commission, had to illustrate something, or had a mental episode of some kind.

"Eos, the Dawn Goddess" is watercolor on illustration board, 7" x 10", June 1990.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

City of Light Detail

I have found an important resource in my program to digitally archive all my artworks. This is "Digipixart," a photo processing and printing shop in Fairfax, Virginia. They can either photograph my original work or digitally scan, at high resolution, my library of 8" x 10" color transparencies. I can take care of my own color slides, but I have never been able to get the old transparencies digitized. This image is a detail from one of my big fantasy cityscapes of the 1990s, "City of Light." It is cropped from the large file that Digipixart produced for me. Digipixart hands the work to me on a CD. Each transparency costs $15 to transcribe to digital, and it's $50 to photograph an original painting. I think it's worth it. I need to do more work on the color slides, too. But I'm busy preparing for Balticon which is coming up next weekend.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Your Development Home in a Good Neighborhood

I didn't do only space, science fiction, and fantasy art during my career as a freelance illustrator. I am trained as an architectural renderer, that is, someone who can take a blueprint and draw something using that information that looks like what the building is going to be like before it's built. I did a lot of these during the building boom of the 90s. This is a more modest house than some of the mansions and "McMansions" that I illustrated. It was part of a long series of models that you could order, with various options. Brick or siding. Side garage entrance or front. Recessed doorway or portico. People had money to buy new houses back then, or at least they thought they had money. This house may be in foreclosure by now.

My renderings were in watercolor, or pencil, or ink. I never used a computer, my perspectives were all drawn by estimation and visual reckoning. Very few, if any, architectural renderings are done this way any more. They are done with dazzling precision by people in the Far East using computer rendering programs. I never learned to use these programs, and my watercolor rendering skills are useless now. As it is I'm still trying to learn to use Photoshop for doing illustration, with varying and frustrating results.

"Windson Homes" series was done in watercolor and pen on paper, each rendering 18" x 14", done in about 1992.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Victorian Bagels

The sign at Mena's bagel, sandwich, and donut shop has a new design. Victorian printer's ornaments adorn the sign for the familiar breakfast special and the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich. I've only had the pancakes once, they are quite rich. I enjoy the Onion Bagel with veggie cream cheese on it. Seems like I spend a lot of my time advertising food.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

High Lord Elena

I've been looking through my old drawing sketchbooks, which are all stacked together in my closet. These sketchbooks go back to my high school days. Evidently, I never throw anything artistic out. But sometimes I find unusually good pieces of sketchery. It's somewhat depressing that I could draw so well thirty years ago and so poorly nowadays. This sketch dates from September 1982. It is for a painting project which I don't think I ever did. The portrait poser is a friend of mine from Massachusetts (and she is still my friend, though I haven't lived in Mass. for 22 years). She posed in costume for a number of "roles" in my fantasy art. This one is for a character, "High Lord Elena," in a book by Stephen R. Donaldson. He is a long-winded fantasy talespinner whose books about a miserable leper magically transferred to a world he has to save, were unaccountably popular in the late 70s and early 80s.

In those days, life was slower, and we all were less busy, and no one had an iPhone or any other type of cell phone, and I could invite my friends over for a portrait session and it wouldn't take weeks of schedule maneuvering to have them give me a few hours of posing for a portrait.

"High Lord Elena" is pencil on sketchbook paper (note how yellowed it has gotten in 28 years), 11" x 14".

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Picnic Picks

I haven't done any large signs for Trader Joe's for a long time, due to changes which went on in my store. But Tuesday I got an assignment to make four signs for the front displays at the registers, each having mostly the same wording and image on them. One innovation is that we don't have to use the black background on our signs. We spray or paint them whatever color is assigned or chosen. I was assigned a red-white-and-blue Memorial Day theme, and I added the checkered flag for an "Indy 500" reference.
The crunch for your lunch would be either peanut butter-filled pretzels, or potato chips, on display in front of the sign.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Life drawing, 1972

In the summer of 1972, when I was still in college, I went to a concentrated summer art program at Boston University. This was held not in Boston, but in the idyllic arts center of Tanglewood, Massachusetts, where the Boston Symphony plays its summer concerts. Every day we art students would go to a rickety wooden structure called the Art Barn and draw life drawings from models. We also had lessons in painting, art composition, and color use. I did a lot of landscape watercolors as well. This is the most formal training I have had. Boston University's art school is one of the best in the region, but it is known for its conservative approach. Life drawing was of prime importance. At the summer session we had two models for the whole two months, one male and one female. Note the "B.U." initials that I added in to this drawing, standing for Boston University.

As you can see, I wasn't that bad at drawing human figures back then, as long as I kept on drawing and didn't get out of practice. I hope to continue drawing figures, now from DVD instruction and photomodels. I'd love to find a live one to draw, but it's difficult for me to find the time what with the day job and other work. Back in 1972 I didn't quite appreciate how lucky I was to go to art school; I was emotionally messed up those months due to non-art reasons. I'd love to go back and visit Tanglewood, but the art barn is long gone.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cold Dark Matter

Back in the '90s (back? so long ago?) astronomers knew that the Universe was full of something they called "dark matter," something which had enough mass and gravitational pull to change the orbits of galaxies and alter the expansion of the universe. But they had no idea what the "dark matter" might be. The problem is still unsolved today although there are some leads toward an answer and "dark matter" has been documented in observations.

In those premillennial days, they thought that perhaps dark matter was something as prosaic as a vast amount of space rocks and debris, too dark or small to reflect light that telescopes could see. That was what I depicted in this painting. I imagined a universe filled with crunchy floating rocks, every star surrounded by a rubble field. There must be plenty of this stuff really out there, countless asteroid fields with anything from planet-sized down to clouds of gravel. But the scientists decided that this was not enough to be dark matter, and they're still looking now.

"Cold Dark Matter" is acrylic on illustration board, 16" x 20", January 1991.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wine and Craft Festival

This Saturday I went to the Virginia Wine and Craft Festival in Front Royal, Virginia. In addition to the wineries giving out samples of their wines, there were vendors of food, craft items, local art, and jewelry. The weather was brilliant and clear, making the mountains of Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley look like a matte painting. I consumed much wine along with festival food. My personal favorite among the vineyards was the Davis Valley Winery. Every wine of theirs I tasted was good, even the reds. Wine snobs may look down on Virginia wines, but there is much to like here in the Old Dominion.

This drawing was done from behind a vendor's canopy, and it shows the gazebo in the center of town where a band was playing. Some art is on the vendor's display, including a painting of a sunflower.

Sketchbook drawing with brown ink Pitt pen, 5" x 7".

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Cirrus clouds are those high wispy clouds that adorn the sky on clear days, though weather legends say they are a precursor to storms later on. They're made of ice crystals on Earth. If there are cirrus clouds in space, they are blown not by an earthly wind but by the pressure of light from stars. They may still be made of ice crystals, as water ice has been found in many nebulae and space environments. This picture combines airbrush and hand painting to depict an ice crystal nebula.

"Cirrus" is acrylic on illustration board, 11" x 14", January 1991.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Obscure Jacqueline Lichtenberg

I got a commission from fantasy author Jacqueline Lichtenberg to illustrate a book she was writing, which was to be published by an avant-garde press somewhere in California. They asked me to do a more "edgy" and modern style for the black and white illustrations. I am not so good at "edgy" stuff but I did my best.

Lichtenberg's story involves an Earthman in a future interstellar civilization, who is a "Boxmaster," a kind of techno-magical practitioner whose powers derive from a link to a shard of living crystal. The future Boxmasters must brave hostile desert and mountains to carve a shard for themselves. After they have attuned to their crystal, it is placed in an impregnable box, hence the "Boxmaster" role. Lichtenberg's Earthman is paired with a young alien of indeterminate sex, who is an aspiring Boxmaster. The book tells the story of how they find the young alien's shard, how the alien bonds with it, and later on, how the alien (who is really female) falls in love with her manly Boxmaster partner.

This "Boxmaster" concept is not to be confused with the country band the "Boxmasters," in which the movie actor Billy Bob Thornton plays.

I did a whole series of illustrations, plus smaller design headers for the first pages of chapters. Jacqueline herself paid me for it, not very much but better than nothing. And then the whole project dropped into oblivion like a stone into a desert cave. It has never been seen or spoken of again, until now.

"Boxmaster" illustration of an outpost village. Originally ink on Bristol board, 8 1/2" x 11", September 1994.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bizmac final

Here is "Bizmac," number 980D in my catalog, all done. See, I added plenty of color. If you don't like purple and green together, then this picture is not for you. But I was so sick of that standard primary blue and red. This is all digital. No paint was spilled over this picture. And once I figured out how to use the "edge finder," Photoshop went along quite quickly, though it gave my fidgety iMac (and me) the vapors a couple of times. There are plenty of printing options to bring this set of pixels into the world of paper and ink.

There is mathematics in this, too. There's a parabola or two and many wider curves. Also, the edge finder works by breaking a curve into smaller and smaller straighter segments, eventually becoming a set of points, just like in calculus. I haven't forgotten calculus!

The name "Bizmac" comes from that 1956 RCA computer that I referenced in the previous post. These geometric designs were popular in the '50s and '60s. Things that were considered banal and tacky in decades past are now chic again. Digital chic, this time around.

"Bizmac" is done in Photoshop CS4, with Adobe Illustrator CS4 for the geometric linework. 14" x 11", or in pixels, 4200 x 3300, high resolution for printing. May 2010.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Digital Mid-Century Modern

This is still in progress, but I might as well show it here anyway. It's one of my typical geometric abstractions, but it's done in Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, on my RCA Bizmac with all those rows of blinking lights. (It is 1956, after all. So modern!) The digital medium allows me to do things which would be time-consuming and messy in the physical world of paint, such as transparent color overlays and smooth blends. And even better, it allows me to "take back" things I don't like, at least up to a point.

The main problem with doing the geometrics in digital media is a simple one which I cannot figure out. It seems strange that this ultra-basic art move is so difficult in digital media. That is, "coloring in" a pre-existing space. This geometric style formula depends on adding color to the spaces made by intersecting lines. In the "real world" I do that with pencil or brush. In the digital world I am required to use a rather imprecise tool, an "edge-finder," to select that space before I can add color to it. There is a "fill" tool in Photoshop which will do this, but only in simple spaces and on one isolated layer. It gets complicated. Other than that, I can reproduce one of my airbrush pieces quite conveniently in a few hours, with no drips or goo or long waits for paint to dry.

What's left to do on this piece? I need to add some brighter colors. Right now it's kind of dark. The point of these geometrics is to be visible even in a dark convention showroom. I need bright color contrast to do that. So what you see now is not what you will get. But I will save this version anyway, and finish it on another copy. That's another thing you don't usually get to do with "traditional" paintings, though you do get a "state proof" with an etching or print. I'm still debating whether a digital painting saves me time and effort.

Untitled as yet art with catalog number 980D is Photoshop, equivalent of 14" x 11", May 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spring Theory

Fancy physics makes good space art. You've got the warped planes (or "branes") of multidimensional space, the unspun cosmic strings, the multi-universal moon, and the background of visible "familiar" space. This is not really an Art By-Product, it is a fully Serious Art Product, but I might as well show it anyway. It's easy to do visual art that is inspired by advanced physics, but nearly impossible for the artist to do advanced physics. I've been trying to get past simple math for years. Artists can be physics groupies, making pretty things inspired by hard science. But in the case of string theory, not even the physicists have gone beyond pretty things to get something experimentally verified. Art doesn't have experimental results.

I did this piece in the spring of 2005, and called it "Spring Theory." I brought it to Balticon, where it was quickly snapped up by one of my regular collectors. The sketch for it was done digitally, in Corel Painter 7, but the final was done in acrylic.

"Spring Theory" is acrylic on canvas, 30" x 15, April 2005.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Centaurian Planet

More space art! This was quite a nice picture, too, but my photograph of it just wasn't that good and no amount of Photoshoppage can make it look right. The title, "Centaurian Planet" does not refer to the "Centauri" of "Babylon 5" but to the star system of Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our own. This group of stars has two sunlike members and one smaller, bright red star called "Proxima" Centauri. This is the red star you see in the sky here, while the exoplanet and its moon are illuminated by the other, brighter stars. There is no technological life on this planet, as the dark side is unadorned by bright artificially lighted urban areas.

"Centaurian Planet" is acrylic on illustration board, 11" x 14" , January 1991.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hydrogen Alpha Garden

This is a nice one, if I say so myself. It looks just like the "real thing," at least the real thing as presented by scientists turning up the colors. But I am told that the red glow in nebulae is emitted by hydrogen atoms under radiation, or "hydrogen alpha red." The purple and bluish bits are reflections from the bright new stars glowing in this nebula, like flowers in a cosmic garden.

"Hydrogen Alpha Garden" is acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", January 1991.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I'm using my acrylic chisel pointed markers to create this painting, over a spray paint background. I used to use this set of media to create signs at Trader Joe's. In this painting I have added orange and yellow over the backgrounds, first with acrylic markers and then with Matisse Derivain "Background Color" paint. This Matisse paint is a colored gesso which can be painted on as an opaque solid color, even yellow over black. In Photoshop there would be at least three different layers on the painting, and you could change each one as you see fit without disturbing the others. In the "traditional" world, it's all on one panel surface and you can't change it without making a mess overpainting it. The name "Parabolika" comes from "parabola" and you can see the mathematical parabolic curves in the design here. This piece and similar ones will go to Balticon for my convention art show at the end of this month.

"Parabolika" is mixed media and acrylic on illustration board, 11" x 14", May 2010.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seascape with Oil Spill

I'm experimenting with Photoshop at the expense of the environment. The oil spilling into the ocean south of Louisiana is a bright orange, usually my favorite color but not a good thing for the world right here. Just another train wreck for us to watch this year, from Haiti to Chile to Nashville to Louisiana. And my own imaginary city of Eridu.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Gas

It is well-known, at least among people who know me well, that I hate vegetables. Vegetables are good for you, but they all taste like dirt to me, or at least they are bitter and unpleasantly chewy and, uh, plant-like. However, I must eat them. I have found that if I roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour, vegetables get all shriveled up and taste at least acceptable to me. They will still cause my biosystem to produce gaseous carbon compounds. Similarly in the Universe, there is lots of gas and some nebulae are properly roasted by radiation, forming nutritious vegetable material for young stars to consume. Thus it is proven that the carbon cycle continues outside the protected environs of Earth. Seasoning is provided by culinary compounds with heavier elements in them. Bon appetit!

"Reflection and Emission Nebulae" is acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", January 1991.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ominous Dome

I have indeed returned from overgrown, pollen-dusted, turkey-infested Massachusetts. I did my part to help the neighborhood celebrate my father's 90th birthday. I am not kidding about the turkeys. These birds have returned to their ancient range and you can hear them gobbling in suburban woods. Nothing that a shotgun and a dinner table won't take care of. There was plenty of food at my dad's parties, one for musicians on Saturday night and one for the neighborhood and more musicians on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, I was holding out in the Hampton Inn poking away at night on my little Mac iBook, "SoyMac," trying to make something in Photoshop. I worked for hours
creating architectural detail patterns for my next modest digital opus. And I wrote more about the techno-mages helping the poor earthquake-stricken city of Eridu. There's more to be said about that, including the aftermath of what could still become a nuclear disaster in NoantriWorld. Hence this ominous dome picture, made with some of my architectural pattern pixel-printers. The blue glow represents radiation. I am very glad to be back home in Virginia.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Massachusetts Downtown Window

Greetings from Natick, Massachusetts. I have been here almost a week, tending my aged parents and celebrating my father's 90th birthday. On April 30 I was able to go to my mother's art studio in downtown Natick. It is in a nineteenth century office building overlooking Main Street. This is the view from one of the studio windows. You can see part of a red-brick church across the street, and spring foliage. The branches are from a street tree that is just sprouting new leaves.

This study was done on my Mac laptop, using Photoshop CS2 and a Wacom "Bamboo" tablet. It is the first "on-site" sketch I have done using a computer and art program. Many artists use this equipment for on-site reality sketching, and I hope I get to use it again.

I hope to be home in Virginia by Tuesday of next week, and back posting regularly here.