Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Elegant Sandwich Border

My border for Mena's sandwich advertisement board this season derives from Indian textile prints. The advertisement has been simplified as well. Pancakes are now standard fare at the shop, and have a permanent sign on the wall. This allows me to announce the new steak and egg sandwich in larger letters. There's always something good to eat at "Bagels, Deli, and Donuts." Chalk markers on Masonite board, about 30" x 20".

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wine porch and view

Keswick Vineyards was one of the places I visited on my trip. Their people were exceptionally friendly and hospitable. A black and white cat greeted me as well. The weather was perfect and visitors sat out on the porch and sipped. As with most of these vineyard venues, the hosts set up tables with umbrellas so that you can sit outside if you want. I sat under one of these and drew these two scenes. In between the trees was the Blue Ridge and a slope full of ripening grapes.

If you are a Christian, especially a Catholic Christian, wine is a sacrament. The Bible is filled with references to wine, grapes, and vineyards. Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox as well) believe that Jesus mystically made himself (his blood) into wine. Every time I go to a vineyard, which has been made as beautiful as possible by its owners, I think I'm in a little bit of paradise. This goes for other religions, too. Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine in this world, but the righteous ones in the next world, says the Koran, will be able to drink heavenly wine in beautiful green gardens with water flowing through them. And Christians got much of their wine symbolism from Jewish writings and rituals such as the kiddush cup of blessing. Wine is religious! Therefore I am being spiritual by visiting vineyards.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vigneto Virginiano

"Three Fox" Vineyards is less than an hour's drive from my residence. This was my wine destination for Saturday. This idyllic place is situated on many hilly slopes which are the right terrain for vineyards. The winemaker/owner is Italian and so many of the grapes and wine styles are Old World. I tasted the goodness and got to talk Italian with him. "Vigneto" means "vineyard" in Italian. My favorite wine there was "Gatto Bianco" ("White Cat"), a Chardonnay/Viognier blend. I sipped this wine and did this colored pencil drawing of the vines in the bright sunlight.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Surakosai Sketch

Surakosai, in my NoantriWorld. Some have nicknamed it the "City of Crystal," others the "City of Reason." It's on the eastern coast of Trinacria, what is now Sicily. The city is a center for business, imports and exports, high tech development, and increasingly, tourism. The waterfront was originally a fishing village, and then an industrial area, but now after 200 years, it is adapted for entertainment and tourism. The large bubble-like thing you see to the left is the Convention Center, and the high building to its right is the 100-story "Tananoantri Tower," the tallest building in Noantriworld. The three green buildings to the right of the image are "Aquamarine Place," historic architecture by the nouergist architect Apsou-Ari. In the hills in back, you can see a number of mansions as well as the Nouergic Institute, which is the highest building on the slope.

This is a very rough sketch and not meant to be anywhere near a proper illustration. Photoshop, about 3 3/4 inches by 2 inches.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back at Poplar Hill

The people at the Inn on Poplar Hill gave me a scrumptious breakfast out on the deck, while I listened to birds singing. Later, before I left, I drew a line sketch of their porch and the garden greenery, along with "Sequoia" the cat dozing. I have colored this in with Photoshop, trying to emulate watercolors with some success. The green flag on the porch has the symbol of the "Bed and Breakfast Association of Virginia."
Drawing is Pitt black pen on sketchbook page, about 7" x 10".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Weather in Wytheville

The weather was unstable during most of my trip, with rain showers almost every day. The grey weather took the shining gold-green color out of the August vegetation but I didn't mind, I had a softer range to work with. This is a study of the Blue Ridge from Wytheville (pronounced "With-ville") which I did while sitting on my car's tailgate in a hotel parking lot. Drawing is about 7" x 3".

I love doing landscape art, but there seems to be an ironclad painting consensus that the only proper landscape paintings are those that are done "plein air" that is, on site. I visited galleries full of nice landscapes, all of them done outdoors. I was told that one artist was so committed to getting the proper viewpoint that he donned hip waders like a fly fisherman and took his painting easel out into a river! If I followed this rule and never used photographs, then these would be the only landscapes you would get from me, since I am just too lazy to schlep a whole acrylic painting kit and easel outside. Not to mention the damned yellowjackets. I have to get back to doing other types of artwork anyway.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blue Ridge Evening with Bedbugs

On my way south I chose an old mid-century motel, not a big-brand deal, with a grand view of the Blue Ridge, which I drew here in the evening. Later on in the motel I lay down on the bed to relax and within two hours had discovered to my horror that the bed was infested by bedbugs which had bitten me many times on my neck and arms. I hurriedly packed my stuff, went to the management and told them about the bugs. They gave me my money back but were indifferent to the bug menace. I cleared out of that bug-ridden place late at night in pouring rain and drove another 25 miles before I found another hotel (this time a big chain place) that was bug-free. I was not only horrified but terribly ashamed that I had had to deal with these filthy bugs. I tried as much as I could not to bring any bugs with me and I hope that I didn't contaminate anything. I left the bug-exposed clothing in the car. After that night I didn't see any more bedbugs but I closely inspected every place I stayed lest I find more of them. I suffered badly from the itching and pain of the bites and only allergy pills relieved the itching and the reaction.

I strongly recommend that anyone who travels inspect their bed in any lodging for these pests. This is the second time I have found bedbugs in a hotel room this year, including some in a well-known chain. This pestilence is now common even in expensive places. The management will lie to you that there are no bugs or tell you that you brought them with you, and they may not be taking any action against them.

I didn't let the bug bites deter me from making art or drinking wine, but the shame and the humiliation remain.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Instant Colored Pencil Gratification

Colored pencils give you, the artist, instant gratification. Not only do they come in hundreds of naturalistic colors, you can take 'em with you and use 'em without any sloppy water or solvents or palettes or nasty smelly paint residue. I have big cases in which hundreds of colored pencils are kept secure in elastic loops until I need them. All I have to do is open the case and sketchbook, select and sharpen the pencil, and draw away. I want to catch the specific light and forms of one moment, one cloud, one sunlit tree in the evening, and with the colored pencils I can do it quickly. Here are two scenes from my first evening out, in my favorite paradise-like bed and breakfast lodge, the "Inn on Poplar Hill." I sat at their back door and did these sketches, with an orange cat accompanying me. Each sketch is about four inches vertical.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Double Decker in Gordonsville

Gordonsville, Virginia is another small town near Charlottesville. Its center is larger and more developed than Barboursville. There are touristy shops and a couple of expensive restaurants there. There is also a cluster of historic nineteenth century buildings which have been renovated inside and are currently serving as offices for a corporation. This double porched building is one of them. I like the double porch design a lot. This Southern classic protects occupants from the hot sun and gives them an opportunity to sit out on a porch upstairs, away from the dust of the street but still able to have a clear view. I sat at a sidewalk cafe table to do this drawing. It is Pitt fine point black pen on a sketchbook page. This drawing was done the "proper" academic-art way, on site outdoors with no further modifications or additions in the studio.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back from Appalachia wine tour

This is Barboursville, or at least part of it. It's a tiny town north of Charlottesville, Virginia. It's also the home of Barboursville Winery, one of the many wineries I visited in my 10-day tour of Virginia and Tennessee. I have just returned home from this wine-soaked vacation, and the drawing you see above is the latest and last of all the drawings and sketches I did on this voyage. This scene is to me the perfect rendition of nostalgic Americana: a sleepy town street with porches and a few commercial buildings, with a train track running through it. A few times every day the noise and clatter of a train passing through shakes the town, and then as it recedes the town returns to its quiet rest. Note the Masonic flag flying beneath the American flag; the Freemasons have a lodge there and own some of the buildings on that side of the street.

This little section of Barboursville is also home to a couple of sophisticated art galleries, and "Muscle Car Paradise," a private collection of perfectly preserved sports cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This is the work of one wildly rich collector, but it is occasionally opened to the public so that the cars can be admired. A couple of these vehicles in less perfect condition were parked in front of the museum buildings. See what hidden treasures I can find while touring through the hilly land of Virginia! Over the next days I'll show you more of my drawings done on-site in various locations. This is done in brown ink marker and colored pencil, about 10" x 8".

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Open Neighborhood

There are nine registers at my Trader Joe's and each one will get an open/closed sign. Each side will be painted with something from the neighborhood including the big-city Tysons Corner area. This means 18 different paintings on these wooden plaques. As I explained in a recent post each of these plaques will be mounted on hinges so they flip up (thus blocking the register path) to show "Closed" and down to show "Open." Some of these will be day/night scenes, where the day scene is the "Open" and the night scene is the "Closed." Other "Closed" signs will have other images. The one you see above depicts a historic farm house which is on the grounds of "Cherry Hill Park" and the city hall of Falls Church. It is used for events and is not occupied as a home.

I have depicted the "Hole in the Wall" bookstore more than once, including a portrait of the place for its owners. This is one of my favorite stores in Falls Church. It has lasted almost 30 years. I go there often to buy comic books and other goodies from their collection. It has survived against the odds and deserves a place in the neighborhood collection I am depicting for Trader Joe's. Note that this piece is kind of in a "comic book" style and the "Open" is done in a word balloon like a comic book. Similarly I gave the old farmhouse "Open" a nineteenth-century type style.

Readers: The By-Product will be on hiatus for the next 10 days or so while I go on vacation. I might be able to post one or two entries if I get the chance. I will be traveling in Virginia and Tennessee, visiting wineries and towns and countryside, making drawings and sipping wine and making more drawings. So if things go well I will have plenty of Americana to post when I return.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


It's hurricane season on an unnamed exoplanet. This planet follows a complex orbit around a double star system, as well as being in a nebula of glowing gas. There aren't just four seasons on this world, but an intricate succession of not only water weather and changes in radiation levels as well. The planet is entering into a tropical phase in this picture, and you can see a large cyclonic system moving through the heavy atmosphere. Any life which would evolve here would be very different from life back on Earth. The title is "Tropic of Capricorn," referring to a region of Earth's southern hemisphere.

"Tropic of Capricorn" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", November 1991.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Orange Line Sign

This is a sign for Trader Joe's. It will go on one of the nine register counters to tell customers that it is open for business. The back side of the sign will say, "Closed." The sign will be mounted so it can flip up to signify closed register, and then down to say "Open." I am not quite sure what the engineering is going to look like, but I think the sign will be mounted (from the top) with a door hinge.

You haven't seen much Trader Joe's work from me this year, and that's because I haven't produced very much. I have been shifted to cash register work for part of my shift, and have worked almost entirely on smaller signs such as template price tags. I have only recently been assigned larger and more permanent signs. The reasons for this are complex but I hope that I continue to work on pictorial signs. The manager has requested that these open/closed signs show familiar landmarks and features of our area. One important thing here is the Metro train, the "Orange Line," which goes from Fairfax County into Washington DC and Maryland. So the Metro is on the sign. I have also depicted memorable buildings in the area. The style is a bit looser than what I am used to, but it is not in a gallery, it's under a sales counter at about stomach level.

"Metro Open" is acrylic and other media on a wooden plaque, about 12" x 8".

Monday, August 9, 2010

Woodsy Watercolor

I rarely get to do watercolor on site outdoors. Unlike the Urban Sketchers who seem to have a way to do it, I can't get the logistics right. I want to put my paints on a table or some surface, and my paper on another surface, and then I spill the water, or I can't put the kit back together after I use it, etc. And worst of all, the bugs are attracted not just to me but to anything with water or moisture. In August and then into September, vicious yellowjackets make it impossible for me to do anything outside, because they immediately find me and zoom right at me, and I've been stung a couple of times while trying to do art outdoors.

Therefore this painting which was done almost exactly 11 years ago is one of my more successful attempts at true "plein air" painting. And I must admit that I finished it in the studio when I got home. Dunn Loring Park is a very nice woodsy park right in the middle of a busy city. It's good for birdwatching and walking and recreation but as I said, as soon as you try to do anything outdoors in August, the yellowjackets come after you.

I am always fascinated by forests and the pattern of leaves and colors they show. I could paint lots of forest paintings, if I could figure out a way to put myself in the environment without the environment attacking me.

"Dunn Loring Park," watercolor and pen, about 8" x 10", August 6, 1999.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Observers

Maybe they're from out of town and have come to visit us and observe us from near earth orbit. Or maybe we've finally reached our destination, an Earthlike planet, and are observing it from orbit rather than landing on it recklessly. In any case, a spherical spacecraft is always a good design. That sphere, though, does not have any stealth or cloaking adaptations and if it's there, we, or they, will see it right away. Let's hope it's a peaceful situation.

"The Observers" is acrylic on illustration board, 10" x 7", November 1991.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Boring Waiting Room

Waiting for my car to finish undergoing regular maintenance, I'm drawing in the lounge of the Honda dealership. They have a cafe in the lounge which serves soft drinks, coffee, and snacks. They have two
flat screen TV's. They have wi fi. They have a little walled-off area for kids to play in, thankfully empty while I was there. As car waiting rooms go, this one is quite luxurious. I did a drawing in it, and then a crossword puzzle, and then my car was ready. This is exciting urban sketching!

Pitt black pen on sketchbook page, 8" x 6".

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Tree Monster

And now for something completely different. Some of my young co-workers are gamers and fantasy fans. I sometimes get into discussions of gaming and fantasy worlds with them. Over the years I've shown my fantasy art to co-workers and I have told them about my current project to re-claim my work as a professional fantasy/science fiction illustrator. Character illustration will be an important part of my illustration work. I asked the gamers whether they had any characters which I could illustrate. This is one of them.

According to the game scenario, the Tree Monster, a spirit of evil and twisted nature, was imprisoned under the earth by the faerie folk, who then felt safe living a life of sweetness and light in a purified Natural world. But the Tree Monster, after ages underground, escaped and rampaged through the Faerie world, filled with anger and revenge, attacking and killing the pretty creatures who had buried him alive. Here he is with one of his victims in his hand, her broken wings drifting away to the ground.

"Tree Monster" is Photoshop CS4, 700 x 1000 pixels, August 6, 2010.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer Sunset

After a long, hot, humid summer day, evening comes to the Virginia landscape. You can hear the cicadas scratching out their twilight song, and the crickets chirp quickly in the heat. Maybe later in the night there will be a thunderstorm. I wish this were the view out my window. It is the view out the window of my imagination. Though this is from memory it is a real scene that you can see just about any August evening in rural Virginia.

Photochirp, 10" x 7", about an hour's work, August 5, 2010.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cambridge Memories

This is from my 1984 sketchbook. During that year I did on-site sketches of my urban environment in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a black book-bound sketch book. I did the original drawing in brown ink Rapidograph pen, and colored them in with watercolor pencils. Then I took them home to the studio, wet them down, and added what color was necessary in watercolor. This was on thin paper and it warped in the book but I used it anyway. Some of it has yellowed over the years as you can see from the impressions of warping and yellowing in this image. I would like to do more on-site sketches like this. Sometimes I do and you see them here.

I look back on my years in Cambridge as somewhat idyllic but the truth is that I was constantly troubled and depressed. I had more time to be troubled and depressed as for most of those years I didn't have a day job. I was working as a professional free lance illustrator but that didn't bring much money in.

I would draw anything as long as it was in my neighborhood. This is a corner about half a block from my house. The view you see has been obliterated. There is now a great big fortress-like wall built there, behind which is a massive garage and a science laboratory complex, all belonging to mighty Harvard University.

"Hammond and Gorham Street, 1984" is watercolor and ink on sketchbook paper, about 8" x 10".

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Horizon in Space

In space, there is no horizon, unless you are on or near a suitably large planet. The horizon for our purposes is defined by a horizontal line which is drawn at the height of our eyes. So as long as there is an observer, you might say that a horizon exists. But in the three-dimensional swirly mix of a nebula, there isn't any structure strong enough to provide a horizon by itself.

An accretion disk around a black hole or neutron star, though, is a good equivalent of a horizon, since it forms a horizontal plane in space that is easily seen. There is also the phenomenon of the "event horizon" which is found at the junction between "ordinary" space and the highly altered space of a black hole. This may be what you see in this picture. The very bright star at the upper center may be an unstable very large star, emitting a lot of radiation and gas and just about to collapse in a supernova or even into a black hole. You can then see the beginnings of an accretion disk forming.

Should you find yourself in such a situation, I suggest that you leave the area immediately so that you will not be obliterated in a nova blast or possibly even a supernova. Your spaceship's warp drive may not be able to move that fast, but your Imaginal Drive should clear both you and your spaceship out of danger in no time at all.

"Horizon in Space" is....uh,....acrylimaginal on eventhorizon board, relativistic dimensions, November 1991.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Zoroastrian article in Gnosis Magazine

From the early 1990s until about 2000, I was seriously involved in the study of Zoroastrianism, the ancient and still-living religion of Persia. I attended many religious services, study meetings, lectures, and social gatherings all around the country, meeting Zoroastrians from both Iran and India. Zoroastrians in India are known as "Parsis." In 1993 I started writing articles about the religion for the non-Zoroastrian world.

GNOSIS magazine was a wonderful periodical devoted to mostly Western esoteric traditions. It ran from 1985 to 1999. I wrote a number of articles and book reviews for this magazine. One of the ones I wrote, for which I drew this illustration, was called "The Light of the Sacred Fire," and it was about Zoroastrianism and its influence on later religions such as Judaism and Christianity. (It has also had a lesser influence on Islam and Buddhism.) The article was published in June 1994.

I am still a student of Zoroastrianism and I still have some contacts with the community, but I'm not active as a scholar and writer any more. The Z. community now has plenty of resources of its own to educate the public, and I needed to go on and do other studies. I'm still much indebted both artistically and spiritually to this venerable faith.

"Light of the Sacred Fire" shows an Indian Parsi urn with the sacred fire burning on a dish placed on top of it. The fruits, nuts, and flowers on the table are typical of a Zoroastrian festive table. The winged disc man emblem on the wall, which was once the insignia of the Persian King, is now the symbol of the Zoroastrian faith.

Illustration is 9" x 6", ink on illustration board, November 1993.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Another Vineyard Visit

Another Saturday in the northern Virginia countryside, and I'm at the wine again. This landscape is at the Hume Vineyards, a newly opened winery in fancy estate country. A neighboring thunderstorm turned the sky grey, though no rain fell at the winery. I could hear distant thunder and the warbling songs of bluebirds. I could have drunk more wine but then I wouldn't drive well on my way home.

Here's a shed on the vineyard property. In the back you can see my sketchy rendering of young grape vines, just beginning to yield fruit.

Colored pencil and Pitt brown pen, respectively, both drawings on an 8" x 11" sketchbook page. Drawn outdoors on site, with no alterations or corrections in the studio, just the way the art academics want it.