Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Villa at Marienborg, Denmark

Here's another old work of mine that needs a little explanation. This Italianate villa was actually in Denmark. It was a 19th century structure on an estate on the Danish island of Mon (slash through the "o"). The island is a popular vacation place for Danes but it has a long history as well. The person who owned this estate was a Count who was a friend of a bunch of artists who were friends of my family. In the spring of 1976, when I was traveling abroad on a fellowship grant in between college and graduate school, I visited this island and stayed with the people there for about a week. They were sort of like high-culture hippies, in the days when Denmark was very welcoming to social experimenters and artists. The Count also helped support them with his "old money." I remember a rollicking and very boozy dinner with the Count, his friends, and my artist friends which could have come out of a surrealistic movie.

The estate was called "Marienborg," not the Danish prime minister's residence but the Count's family place on the isle of Mon. It could have been a set for that surrealistic movie, with picturesque old buildings and beautiful grounds with the pond that you see here. Naturally, I brought out my paints and did a watercolor sketch of the main residence there, which had been abandoned at that point because it had no modern amenities like running water or indoor bathrooms. I only managed to do a part of the scene, though, leaving the rest only sketched in with watercolor-soluble pencils. The art remained unfinished for 10 years, until 1986 when I decided to give it to our artist friends, who were getting old and might not be there much longer. I finished the piece in watercolor from the remaining sketch and sent it off to them, somewhat to my regret as I really liked the painting.

Now, 25 years later, this scene is gone, along with the old house. It was too expensive to re-fit it as a residence (or hotel) so it was demolished. The Count and my artist friends are all gone, to Danish bohemian heaven, and I don't know what happened to the estate on Mon. But I know that someone, somewhere, is enjoying that idyllic place, whatever happened to it.

Marienborg villa portrait is watercolor on Fabriano paper, about 8" x 10", 1976-1986.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Patri the Grey Mouser

Patri Pugliese was a graduate student at Harvard (in "History of Science") at the same time as I was. He was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and was an expert dancer, fencer, and swordsman. This portrait was created for his then-girlfriend who lived in the same graduate dormitory as I did. Patri is portraying one of his favorite fantasy characters, Fritz Leiber's "Gray Mouser," who was also excellent with a sword. Patri continued to dance and fence and swashbuckle long after graduate school.

This is one of my favorite "action portraits" even after all these years. My photo of the piece is bad and you can only do so much to restore it even with the magic of Photoshop. But it is a remembrance of one of my most creative times. I'm sorry to read that Patri Pugliese died in 2007.

"Patri Pugliese as Grey Mouser" is watercolor on Fabriano paper, 5" x 8", summer 1977.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Three Cat Portrait

Do you know these cats? Well, you wouldn't know these three, who have been gone for more than twenty years, but you probably know cats just like these. From the top: "Eustacia, the Vampire Pidgequin," "Tuftan, Princess of Tigers," and the grey one is "Ben the Boffin." These cute names for cute cats were given by their people, friends of mine in Boston many years ago. The people were a comic book artist and his lady, a comics writer and critic. In those days of yesteryear they commissioned me to paint a portrait of their three furry friends, and this is the result. The vampire cape for the cat didn't exist, I invented it to give her the Bela Lugosi tuxedo fashion homage. We had no idea what a "boffin" was (it's British slang for a science nerd) and Ben certainly wasn't bright enough for that; he was famous (among our friends) for his dimwitted comedy cat moves. I did this from both direct observation and photographs, as I do with most of my pet portraits. I gave the cats big eyes long before Japanese anime made big eyes a worldwide phenomenon. Now these cats will be part of the memory of at least a handful of people who never knew them or their humans back so many years ago.

Triple Cat Portrait is acrylic on illustration board, 9" x 15", December 1980.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Vineyard

Virginia's vineyards near me are mostly on sloping land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Situated as they are, the wineries all have beautiful views. This is inspired by "Naked Mountain" winery, a place I often visit. The last time I was there I saw an area of nakedness where an older vine patch had been. The wine folk told me that the older vines were unproductive and they would be planting new ones there next year. This is my visualization of the baby vines, in the golden evening light of just-before-autumn, with the Blue Ridge in the background. While I was doing this picture, Hurricane Irene raged outside. I am amazed that my electric power is still on so I'd better blog quickly.

"New Vineyard" is watercolor on Arches paper, about 11" x 8", August 27, 2011.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jedi Jawa

One of my co-workers is a gamer who plays desktop, video, and role-playing games. One of his games is based on the "Star Wars" universe, where a lot of unusual combinations take place that even Lucasfilms wouldn't imagine. This character is one of the rodent-like scavenger creatures, the "Jawas," who somehow broke away from his desert-dwelling species to take Jedi training and become a Jedi Knight. He also got a suit of high tech armor to wear under his Jedi robes. I am practicing my digital illustration skills by portraying this character. My young co-worker is all too happy to provide me with ideas for my practice. My own imaginary world isn't as fantastic as those gaming or movie worlds. Yes, that is a robot head under his arm. Jawas like to collect parts of stuff, even when they're Jedi's.

Photoshop, about 6" x 7", August 27, 2010. This will re-appear later in a color version.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm Sunset

It was a weathery day today, with rumbles of thunder and splashing rain. Just at sunset the clouds cleared, allowing ruddy sunlight to illumine the neighborhood with an eerie pink light. I set my visual mind to "record" and an hour or two later produced this Photoshop sketch, of the trees near my building and the glowing sky.

It seems a hurricane is coming, so if I lose power then there won't be any By-Product for a while. I guess the Virginia earthquake wasn't enough for Nature's Fury, or perhaps just Nature's Crankiness. I remember that after the destruction by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, my dwelling was without electricity for 3 long days, and I read and ate by candlelight. However, I can't blog by candlepower. We will see.

Photoshop, 10" x 7", August 25, 2011.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Builders of the Bridge

This picture needs some explanation. It was commissioned by a friend of mine back in 1979. She was the oddest friend I have ever had, but we had a lot of fun together, going to amusement parks and wasting time and money. She was a very quirky, OK, wacky type. I think, looking back, that she probably had some sort of autistic spectrum disorder like Asperger's syndrome. She had the weirdest fetish that I have ever heard of, namely an air pressure fetish. She had fantasies about being thrown out in space without a space suit, or being placed under a bell jar which was being pumped out for a vacuum. Fortunately she never acted on any of these fantasies though she did skydive (with a parachute) at least twice. She loved roller coasters and anything which would toss her around.

The story of the Roeblings, father and son, who were the designers and engineers of the Brooklyn Bridge, is an American epic. The air pressure element of the story attracted my friend. The construction of the bridge involved pressurized chambers under the surface of the river, and in the 1880s no one knew about "the bends," caused by bubbles of gas in the blood of those who moved into and out of the chambers. Washington Roebling, the son, was paralyzed by this and finished the work on the bridge despite his disability, aided by his wife.

My friend, inspired by the story of these grand engineering pioneers, commissioned this double portrait of father and son Roebling, with the Bridge in back of them, illuminated by fireworks. Looking back on the picture, it has a kind of "steampunk" look to it, although I tried to keep all the details historical, with contemporary photo references.

My friend and I lost touch with each other when she moved out to California to seek her fortune in the music business. The last time I heard from her, though, she had joined a fundamentalist Jewish sect and could no longer talk to me because I was an "apostate."

John and Washington Roebling portrait is about 10" x 12", watercolor on illustration board, fall 1979.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Conan 1979

Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite characters, whether from the original Robert Howard tales or in the movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger or in the long-running Marvel Comic. (I haven't seen the new Conan movie.) I love the Hyborian Age and all its epic and comic richness. In 1979, when I was just an amateur artist freezing in my quarters in Cambridge, Mass., I got a commission from a friend to do a portrait of Conan. My friend is a rare book dealer who specializes in fantasy and science fiction, and he loves Conan too. I produced this "action portrait" and 32 years later it is not so bad. It is not so good, either, since the foreshortening in the legs is all wrong and looks out of proportion. And when would Conan wear sweat pants? But still, back in 1979, before Arnie played him, you could take liberties. And I could do a picture of Conan without being too self-conscious of all the other artists, to do even a mediocre job.

Conan is watercolor on illustration board, about 8" x 10, Summer 1979.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guardian of the Megastructure

The World Science Fiction Convention ("Worldcon") was in Boston in 1980 and I attended as an amateur, hoping to become a professional. The standardized subject matter required to be a science fiction professional, then and now, involves sexy beautiful women with weapons. I tried to produce a pro-style, publishable version of the slightly alien warrior babe with this small picture. This piece was done in gouache (opaque watercolor) rather than in transparent watercolor or acrylic. I was influenced in this by the fabulous work of an illustrator named Paul Alexander, who also worked in gouache. Alexander, like almost every other American illustrator whose work I admire, studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, which even now continues to turn out spectacular illustrators for the media and film market. If I were younger, more energetic, and had lots of money and could re-locate to California, maybe I'd go to Art Center, if my work was good enough to get in.

Thirty-one years later I'm still trying to become a professional illustrator (again) but I have not produced any warrior babes or any other fantastic subject matter. I seem to be stuck in this rut of pleasant landscapes or avant-garde geometrics. I am fighting for the time and mental discipline to build an illustrator portfolio and I am trying to get rid of time sinks and clutter. I don't consider sketching at wineries as a time sink or clutter. But when do I get to do the warrior babe or the dragon or the battle robots or the monsters? Is anyone reading this anyway.

"Guardian of the Megastructure" is gouache on Fabriano paper, 10" x 5", August 1980. It was sold at the Worldcon for $25.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Leesburg Log House

I did this drawing while sitting on the tailgate of my car in downtown Leesburg, on one of the streets in the "historic center." I guess it's historic enough for Anglo settlers, being founded in the 18th century. The sign on this log house claims it dates back to about 1700. I love this area of Virginia with its old architecture and all the wineries and the mountain views, and if I could find some sort of work that wasn't too awful I'd move there.

My ink drawing here is inspired by the work of Belgian architect and artist Gerard Michel, who spends his time drawing buildings all over Belgium and the rest of Europe. He is always on site despite miserable weather and his perspective is impeccable. I would like to do just what Gerard Michel does, that is, draw pictures of buildings and other stuff every day. But then Belgium is a place full of artistic genius because I would also love to do work like the Belgian sequential artist Francois Schuiten who along with the writer Benoit Peeters has produced brilliant surrealistic graphic novels. Both of these guys are big inspirations for me.

"Donaldson's Log Cabin" is about 8" x 10", ink on sketchbook page.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Village Winery Lawn

I took another sip of nectar from the rustic Village Winery on a bright August afternoon. I sat inside their tasting shed to avoid the rustic yellowjackets and flies. My pink drink was a mix of apple and elderberry wine. The Village people (not THOSE Village People) are also about to release a raspberry and apple wine, definitely for dessert purposes. I met a group of wine tourists from south-central Pennsylvania, apple country and not devoid of wineries. They were fascinated as I drew this color sketch of the lawn and landscaping on the iPad.

If there's something new and colorful in the art materials department, I'll probably buy it just to try it out. I just got another art app for the iPad and let's see what this one does. The drawing above was done in ArtStudio but this new one is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and it seems more elaborate. I also wonder why I seem to be doing only sketches from observed "reality" and nothing fantasy-oriented. Maybe I need more wine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


In Wineworld, you don't hear it through the grapevine, you taste it after it's been crushed and wined and aged in its oaken barrel. The vines are loaded right now, so that you can be loaded later on. Soon the purple and green clusters will be harvested so that the alchemy can begin again. This image is derived from vines at more than one vineyard. Each variety has its own leaf shape, way of growing, way of clustering the fruit. No detail escapes the grower and vintner. For art, watercolor becomes winecolor.

"Grapevine" is watercolor and ink on Fabriano paper, 8" x 10", August 17- 19, 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I got to use my iPad for sketching only once during my short vacation. However, I am getting better at using the "Art Studio" app which is the closest in operation to Photoshop. With"Art Studio" you can block out what you want to put color in, and that gives you straight lines so that you can depict stuff like the porch pillar here. This is the porch of the "Inn on Poplar Hill" and I had plenty of time to portray their almost tropical landscaping. They have tall decorative grass and lots of wild-looking perennial flowers as well as viney foliage twining around the porch railing. You can sit in a rocking chair and just enjoy the quiet, until the train comes through town, but I love the train anyway. It rained for a few minutes and then I reluctantly had to pack up and go. This is the last picture from my recent tour.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Orange Town Details

Orange is a little town in central Virginia. It still has some of its old industrial quality, with a furniture mill and some other noisy workshops I observed downtown. Slowly and not too surely, Orange is moving into the newer Virginia industry of tourism. There are three fairly good gourmet restaurants in the town, as well as more than one bed-and-breakfast inn and a brand new motel. My favorite thing in Orange is the train crossing, which is right in the middle of town. Every hour during the day, a freight train rumbles through sounding its majestic chord of horn blasts. It goes through once or twice at night, too. I drew these details of buildings while wandering around main street in the evening, and the lower two drawings (Crown Royal whiskey bottle and an espresso bean grinder) were done in a restaurant waiting for my dinner. Click on the pic as usual for bigger view.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lake Anna Vines

Grapevines are hard to draw. They seem to be in orderly rows from afar but as soon as you get close to them, they become a whirl of green leafy chaos, only now punctuated by the majestic bunches of grapes hanging at carefully pruned intervals. Grapevines are always putting out new viney branches with grabbing tendrils, as if they would seize you or the vintner and make wine out of their human hosts, rather than the other way around. They have a wildness to them which I enjoy watching. It's almost like kudzu, which unfortunately doesn't have the same sort of profitable fruit.

The second day of my short vacation I visited Lake Anna Winery, which is situated on a recently made (1970s) lake which was created to be the cooling pond for an establishment of nuclear power plants. I didn't know that when I was there but I wondered why there was a sign mentioning a nuclear zone or something to that effect. Now I have the fantasy of radioactive mutant grapevines reaching out their glowing green tendrils to take over Virginia.

Drawing is ink and colored pencil on sketchbook page, about 8" x 10".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Modernist Wine Building

While most wineries make do with a rustic re-purposed barn, a woodsy traditional lodge, or a restored old house, Cooper Vineyards in Louisa, VA built themselves a slick modernist wine hall with all the features of 21st century eco-responsibility. Their wood is "sustainable" or recycled from older structures, their stone from local sources. Their power comes from an array of solar cells mounted at the side of the building. The architect, Michael Pellis, is a certified LEED (ecologically immaculate) practitioner.

When I visited, there was no one else visiting but me, since it was on a weekday afternoon. I painted from their deck and sipped Cooper's dry-ish rose. Then I went outside and sat on the tailgate of my artistic car to do this view of Cooper's wine home. Maybe we'll see more of these modernist wine edifices as Virginia wine becomes more and more popular and well-funded.

Drawing is in ink and colored pencil, about 8" x 8", August 11, 2011.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cooper Vines

By now, in mid-August, the grapes are almost ripe and they will be ready to pick soon. The bunches hang underneath the leafy canopy, which has been carefully pruned to admit just the right amount of sunlight. Under the sun, the vines are golden green. But there are perils for the beautiful harvest: birds, mammals, and insects try to feed on the succulent grapes. Vineyards try many methods for chasing off these unwanted creatures. At Cooper Vineyards, where this image was painted, they have an outdoor sound system broadcast loud recordings of predator bird calls as well as distress calls from various species, warning other birds away from the area.

I sat on the modernist wine deck of the new Cooper Vineyards building and painted this scene. There were no other guests there on a weekday afternoon and so I enjoyed the quiet of a country summer afternoon (minus their pop soundtrack which I mostly ignored). It was quiet except for the artificial bird-scaring racket which burst forth every few minutes. All worth it for the safety of the grapes.

Watercolor of the vine rows is about 9" x 7", August 11, 2011.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Return to Poplar Hill

I took a short 3-day vacation in Central Virginia, visiting wineries and making small art. I stayed at my chosen corner of Paradise, the Inn on Poplar Hill. This bed and breakfast inn is in the town of Orange, VA and is owned and maintained by a wonderful kind couple who are the best hosts. They provide a gourmet multi-course breakfast and homebaked cookies as well. I did a lot of driving through green countryside on winding roads, photographing and observing.

I did this watercolor within an hour of arriving at the Inn. Can't waste that golden August evening light, after all. I sat on the tailgate of my car and painted. Plein air, baby! I think I matched the August colors on this one precisely. This is an old barn on their property. Note the sleeping cat in the foreground. More to come tomorrow and afterward.

Watercolor is about 10" x 8", August 10, 2011. Click on the pic for a somewhat larger view.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Spike Fantasy Battle miniature

Spike McPhee, proprietor of the "Science Fantasy Bookstore" in Cambridge, Mass., was my first good friend and arts patron in the science fiction community. He was the one who gave me information about how to go to conventions, what authors were popular, and what fans wanted in art. He was also one of the first people to buy my fantasy art and amass a collection of my art.

This was one of a number of miniatures I did for him and his circle of friends. It's a standard medieval battle scene without any magical or fantastic reference. As with many others of these miniatures, I'm rescuing the images from badly faded color slides. Some of these slides were bad photographs to begin with, while others have faded so much that the image is unrecoverable.

Spike is still around and has a major presence and virtual art gallery in "Second Life," where he is known as "Paradox Olbers." He maintains a blog about virtual reality activity and astronomy, "Paradoxically by Paradox Olbers." I always remember him fondly as an early inspiration in my artistic life.

As I retrieve these thirty-three-year-old images and place them in digital files, I wonder how I could be so bold and adventurous in making fantastic scenes. Not necessarily this one, but scenes with dragons and unicorns and other characteristic figures which I hesitate to do today. I would love to re-capture my feeling of having fun depicting fantastic scenes, creatures, and people, without wondering whether it was a cliche or a rip-off or childish or tacky.

As usual, this miniature is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 3 1/2" x 2 1/4", spring 1977.

The By-Product is going on a short vacation and will not be posted for the next few days. I hope to be back posting by this weekend.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Klaatu Barada Nikto miniature

The client for this nametag miniature (with her initials, R.E.S.), requested an image of "Gort," the giant robot which appeared in the classic science fiction film "The Day the Earth Stood Still." This movie continues to be one of the greatest s.f. films ever made, despite the proliferation in modern times of elaborate computer-generated special effects. I live near Washington, DC, and every time I go downtown I secretly hope that Michael Rennie in his flying saucer would fly in from the sky and plop down on the Mall in front of the Washington Monument. That would show them politicians something, though I don't know what.

"Klaatu Barada Nikto" is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 2 1/4" x 3 1/2", Fall 1977.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fiona of Amber miniature

This is not a portrait of the person who commissioned this nametag miniature. It's a character portrait of "Fiona of Amber," one of the scheming royal family of Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series. She was one of my client's favorite fantasy characters. Ms. Client also asked for a lioness holding a green rose as a heraldic device. My records point out that Ms. Client didn't pay me for the job for a year and a half. As with many fantasy and science fiction fans of that era, she was constantly in financial and emotional turmoil and moved often. The latest information I have for her (2005) says that she reviews erotic fiction and is knowledgeable about "kinky" practices and culture.

"Fiona" nametag miniature is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 3 1/2" x 2 1/4", February 1978.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chef Miriam's Outdoor Kitchen

Another wine Saturday, another feast of gourmet food with Chardonnay, and friends to drink with; it almost makes me feel guilty. We were at Casanel Vineyards, a small but impressive winery near Leesburg, VA. Clouds threatened but the rain didn't drop till after we had left. Casanel is run by a family along with helpers. The presiding food expert is "Chef Miriam," a Scottish lady who creates various tasty treats to match with Casanel's wines. Miriam does the cooking under a new wooden trellis canopy just built on the patio of Casanel's tasting lodge. She has a pizza oven which (who?) she has named "Rita." I ate one of Miriam's herb, mushroom, bacon, and goat cheese pizzas. The only difficulty about eating so well is that you get olive oil on your fingers so you can't draw until you've cleaned your hands off.

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Trans Am

First Friday comes to Falls Church again, and so it's time to trot out the old cars. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of classic, lovingly restored "muscle cars" from the 1970s, including this shiny black 1971 Pontiac Trans Am with its hood raised. I drew the car and some of the people gathered at the event, which also featured barbecue samples, vendors, ice cream, and a fairly competent Southern-rock band. Click on the pic for a bigger view.

Y'know I am supposed to do art from REALITY like plein air, on site, live models, stuff like that but I'm getting so bored, couldn't I just do a lurid fantasy character here and there even if it's bad?

Friday, August 5, 2011


This sketch was done on my iPad running the "Art Studio" app, on a wine deck in bright sunlight. This was at "Naked Mountain" winery and vineyard, a place I often go, that combines natural beauty and views with excellent wines. As I poked at the screen, hummingbirds swarmed around a feeder hung from the eaves. I wondered what would happen if they replaced the sugar syrup in the feeder with wine. Would the hummingbirds get drunk and careen around madly? Would they reject it? Or would it be dangerous for them? I love watching them, they are so feisty for something so small.

I am still learning how to sketch with the iPad. One thing I have to watch for is color brightness and saturation, especially if I'm drawing in sunlight. The screen is dark compared to a page of white paper and I am sometimes misled into using brighter colors than are really there in view. In this sketch I imported it into Photoshop and reduced the saturation to make the colors more realistic. Even so, the scene was pretty bright. If I'm going to make "plein iPad" art I will have to take color shift into consideration. Naked Mountain's riesling is a very nice accompaniment to iPad sketching.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Griffin Teaches Me a Lesson

I was very excited to go to my first Boskone in February of 1977. I was even more excited when a friend of one of my new-found fan friends commissioned a nametag miniature from me. His name was "Griffin" and that's what he wanted on his nametag. I was commuting to the convention so I went home that night and in a rush, created this piece for Griffin. I brought it back the next day and presented it to him. He said that the design was not what he was hoping for and that I had tossed it off too quickly. Could I take more time and make him a nametag miniature that would really be impressive?
This was the first attempt, the one Griffin rejected:

And a few weeks later, this is what I sent to Griffin as a final. This second Griffin was derived not from heraldic drawings as the first one was, but from a fantastic engraving by Albrecht Durer. I copied from the best. Mr. Client was very pleased. This is how I learned my lesson early, not to rush things on a job when I didn't have to, and not to present art that was too simple and quickly done.

Both miniatures are the usual size, ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, February and March 1977.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Elric magical jungle miniature

Andrew Adams Whyte was a science fiction/fantasy critic who wrote reviews and essays for several publications during the heyday of science fiction in the Boston area. I met him via my newfound fan friends in the late '70s. He lived in an apartment in Cambridge that had more books than any other private interior space I have ever seen. He was estimated to have around 10,000 books. (I currently have roughly 2000.) As with many other friends, he commissioned me to do a nametag miniature, again on a theme from the Elric mythos. This one shows Elric pointing his great black-magical sword at a gathering of Chaotic forces. The sword is actually floating; in the books it often moved on its own with Elric merely holding it. The Chaotic forces and creatures don't look very threatening. I was influenced by Maurice Sendak's "Wild Things" as well as Art Nouveau. For instance, you can see a tiny blue rabbit at the lower right corner. Click on the pic for a larger view.

A number of fantasy series from the late '60s and '70s had the theme of Order Vs. Chaos. Chaos turned the world not into evil, necessarily, but into jumbled psychedelic meaninglessness. Later on, Chaos in fantasy acquired a more malevolent aspect. I often wonder whether the social upheavals of that era influenced the "order vs. chaos" themes of contemporary fantasy fiction.

"Elric swordpoint to Chaos" is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 3 1/2" x 2 1/4", Spring 1977.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Elric miniature

In late 1976 I attended a party of Boston science fiction fans which changed my life. At the time I was a miserable graduate student at Harvard, attempting to study Greek and Latin and not enjoying it at all. I used to frequent the "Science Fantasy Book Store" near Harvard Square for escape. I became friends with the proprietor and he introduced me to his fan friends, who invited me to the party and asked me to bring some of my art. I did and immediately sold a piece and got some commissions. Many of the commissions were for nametag miniatures. This piece wasn't commissioned at the party but it came from people contacted at the party. The "John" lettered here was a fan of the "Elric" saga by Michael Moorcock which was very popular at the time. I loved the Elric stories too, of the ill-tempered, cursed albino aristocrat wielding his demonic sword, "Stormbringer." In my opinion no artist has yet gotten Elric right, though some artists like Michael Whelan, Robert Gould, and Barry Windsor-Smith have come close. After the realization that someone would pay me for my art, I never wanted to be an academic again, though it took me two years to get out of graduate school.

John's Elric nametag is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 3 1/2" x 2 1/4", Spring 1977.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July Twilight

I spend a lot of time driving around rural Virginia looking for landscapes. When I find one, I snap a photograph and dash away. Very often, as soon as I stop to photograph, concerned motorists slow down and stop, thinking that I am in some kind of trouble. I just wave my camera and say I am taking pictures. There is no possibility of sitting for any length of time to do a proper "plein air" painting. I take the photos home, download them, do a little Photoshoppery to crop them, and then paint from them. The idea is to make the painting from the photograph LOOK like it might have been painted on site. Lately I have been using the iPad as a reference photo compendium, so that I can move back and forth between images without making a lot of cluttery paper prints. This didn't take very long to do, just a few hours at most.

This image is from my latest expedition, which started at Chateau O'Brien and made a big circle around country roads in Fauquier County. I am also trying out some new watercolors which use fine-ground colored stone pigments the way painters did in the past, rather than the chemical dyes which are often used nowadays. These pigments are much more natural-looking and match the colors of trees, stone, dirt, meadows, and other earthy environmental sights. I plan to do a number of these little watercolors and maybe I can exhibit them at a winery.

"July Twilight" is watercolor on Arches paper, 11" x 8 1/2", July 31, 2011. Click on the pic for a larger view.