Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mexican Menu Pinball

In the late '70s I frequented many amusement parks along with my roller coaster-loving friend. While she headbanged on the famous wooden coaster at the now-lost Paragon Park, I played the silver ball. From Salisbury down to Nantasket, I must have played them all...ah, memories and rolls of quarters. I played simple, colorful old machines from the 50s and 60s, before pinball machines became ridiculously complex multi-story labyrinths. Their flippers actually said "Flipper" on them! Now these machines are collector's items and I haven't played a real game of pinball in decades. Digital pinball just isn't the same.

Naturally I wanted to do a menu board in the garish style of these pinball machines. The price of the Dinner Special is recorded in the mechanical counter that tallied up your pinball points. 

Markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Balticon Sketches

Here are more sketches from Balticon. I sat in the "midway" of the artists' area or at another place where people gathered, and drew them really fast. The woman with hands put together and the harpist, below, are from the book launch party I attended, for "Galactic Creatures." 

A musical note here. The science fiction/fantasy community is very musical. They love to sing and play and drum. But their music is all folksy or singer-songwritery, or Celtic. Fan music doesn't sound futuristic at all. As an electronic music fan and occasional electronic music maker, I wish there were more synthesizers and theremins and sound-mashing in the science fiction world, and more electronic ambient performances. Where are the old psychedelic sounds when we need them? Just glue gears on it and call it Steampunk? I need MORE REVERB. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Back From Balticon

I did surprisingly well at Balticon, given that I had hardly any time to prepare and I just fished some prints and some originals haphazardly out of my closet. I actually sold a number of prints and one original. The book launch for "Galactic Creatures" went very well and many books were sold. The editor told me that my art on the cover was receiving numerous compliments. All this was a pleasant surprise. Balticon is my favorite convention because I have so many friends there and there is always time to get together. There was plenty of restaurant food. Another surprise was the Marriott Residence Inn where I stayed. Even though it was a bit more expensive than the convention hotel, which I didn't book early enough so was sold out, the Residence Inn provided me a whole little studio apartment which had many amenities and was very peaceful. There was a fridge, so I had wine. At the convention I did a lot of marketing for my book cover and also bought some fun books in the dealers' room. Despite what a lot of long-time participants say, science fiction conventions are not all dead. There were ads for many of them, even in Virginia. But now that I've returned I really must finish the Big Painting, which should have been displayed at Balticon but wasn't finished. 

I always sketch at Balticon so here are some. The sketches at the top are some costumers, a Pirate Artist, and an ukulele. Below are some sketches drawn on the iPad, including a random book in a squarish frame.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back to Balticon

Well, folks, I'm off to Balticon, rather unprepared and mentally overwhelmed. Maybe I'll have some fun there. I'll take my iPad and my sketchbook and so forth. I won't have much of an art show. But my friends will be there and I will try to be entertaining. I leave you with these scenes of leisure and business from the Wine and Craft Festival. I hope there's wine at Balticon. No posts till I get back on Monday, May 28.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mexican Menu Star Wars

I wouldn't want to miss a post without good reason, so here's my post for May 23. I was just too tired to post earlier today when I usually do after midnight. I'm preparing, rather stupidly, for Balticon, where I will only be able to show older pieces since I didn't get the Big Painting done in time. My personal scheduling and life planning has sucked this year. Well, more vintage graphics from Paco's Tacos here. We did Star Trek, so naturally we had to do Star Wars, which was really fresh in our memories in the late 70s. I adapted the now-famous "perspective crawl" yellow lettering to our menu, and added some X-wings and TIE fighters, with the "Death Star" in the background. Luke Skywalker, your tacos are ready.

Star Wars menu board is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mexican Menu Darkover

In 1979 I illustrated frontispieces for a series of hardcover reprints of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" series for Gregg Press in Boston. This was one of the ways I became familiar with Bradley and the world of the Red Sun. So by the time I got to working at Paco's Tacos, I had read a lot of the Darkover books and made not only black and white frontispieces but color illustrations, though my first Darkover book cover would not happen until 1980.

Naturally I wanted to make a Darkover Mexican menu board so this is what I came up with. "Flautas" are really good snacking bits. They are a thin cylindrical roll made with a tortilla rolled around shredded barbecue meat and then deep fried. You drop some avocado sauce or runny guacamole over it and enjoy. They're called "Flautas" because they look vaguely like flutes.

The girl in the picture was one of the people in the fan club that I did miniature portraits for. I attended a costumed event with them and took pictures of them, which are still in my archive somewhere.

"Darkover" menu is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Restored to its charming original look with a heaping helping of guacamole/I mean, Photoshop.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Aqua Feature

When I take my break from work at Trader Joe's, I often go to the apartment complex next door and sit in their garden courtyard. They have a fountain as well as landscaped walkways, a swimming pool, and an outdoor dining area with grills. I sit on the benches or a rock-built ledge near the fountain and enjoy the sound and sight of the water, as well as the birds who come to drink at the fountain. There is a shallow pool on the lower level of the structure, and it reflects the leafy vegetation in this little apartment-block paradise. And this pool makes me think of Aquaman.

For those who know a little about comics, Aquaman was (and is) a superhero whose realm of power was the oceans and anything watery. He was a sunny blond who dressed in a unique costume of an orange fish-scaled shirt and green finned tights. No other major or even minor superhero had an orange costume. He had telepathic powers which gave him the ability to communicate with and command the creatures of the sea, and he had superstrength and super-swimming power as well. Eventually he became King of Atlantis, an undersea realm of aquatic humanoids, and he married the glamorous princess Mera.

What does Aquaman have to do with the courtyard fountain? Well, in the classic character concept of Aquaman, which was changed considerably in later re-tellings, Aquaman couldn't live in air for very long without needing to immerse himself in water or at least get wet. He had gills which would dry out and he would suffer in our world. So when I am sitting by the fountain, I imagine that a dried-out Aquaman would find this place life-saving, even if the water were little more than a foot deep and filled with murky leaf debris. The superhero would splash into the pool and find at least some basic revival, while the residents eating their grilled chicken looked on in amazement.

On Sunday, the weather was very fine, and I took my sketchbook to the fountain to draw its picture, so this is what you see. I depict the two spouts, one higher and one lower, and the upper pool with its little waterfall into the lower pool. Aquaman isn't there, but there is a starling on the edge of the waterfall, taking a drink. 

Ink on sketchbook page, about 9" x 7", May 20, 2012.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Virginia Wine and Craft Festival

Finally! Some new "urban sketching" from me. I went to the Virginia Wine and Craft Festival in Front Royal, Virginia, which I do every May. Numerous wineries set up their tasting booths and many vendors attend with trinkets and fragrant things to sell. I tasted a lot of wine of varying quality, ate some festival food, and bought a pewter grapevine pin and a set of homemade soaps. 

Front Royal is about 75 miles from Washington, DC and takes about an hour and a half for me to get there through the traffic. There are a lot of fine old wooden buildings there, especially houses with porches, which I love to draw. I once considered moving there but could not find a good place to rent. Front Royal is just far enough away from the Metro DC area that it has not been invaded and overbuilt by the yuppie and corporate interests, though it may happen sooner or later.

Two sketches are ink on sketchbook page, about 7" x 10", May 19, 2012.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mexican Menu Aubrey Beardsley

I bet Aubrey Beardsley never thought his illustration for Salome would be used on a Mexican menu board. But maybe he would have approved of it, because he was part of cafe society back in his day, just as Art Nouveau defined the French advertising, decorative arts, and menus of its day. This was my "Art Nouveau" Mexican menu for Paco's Tacos, where I had a good time with Art Nouveau typefaces as well. I still have all my fancy font books, maybe I can use some of these fonts in our new manager's Trader Joe signs.

Yeah, bloggers shouldn't apologize, it's bad bloggery, but I must anyway. I know I've been posting far too many "vintage" pictures, but I don't have new material or sketches for you right now. I'm too busy trying to finish the Big Picture, and even so I don't think I'll have it done by Balticon. I will have to show it unfinished, probably without some of the metallic border elements. The artist hasn't done very well these last months, but it will eventually get finished.

Beardsley Salome lunch special sign is markers on posterboard, 22" x 13", winter 1979. Heavily restored in Photoshop from a terrible photograph.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mexican Menu Lighthouse of Alexandria

I was a graduate student at Harvard in Classical Studies (Greek and Latin). My world, up to 1978, had been filled with the marvels of antiquity, both literary and architectural. The Lighthouse  of Alexandria was no longer standing, but coins and other illustrations from ancient times depicted the structure with enough detail to inform a rough drawing of what it would have been like. I depicted this Hellenistic skyscraper on the menu chalkboard, and this is the posterboard that was derived from my original drawing. Classicists who came in for their tacos and burritos enjoyed the rather esoteric pairing of enchiladas with Egypt. 

"Lighthouse of Alexandria" was markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Note on photograph: I had to photograph these inside using a crude flash attachment, since it was winter, covered with snow, and I had no way of using sunlight outdoors as I did with other photographs of my art. The photos were bad even then, but nowadays the modern marvel of Photoshop can bring the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and its menu, back to its old colorful self.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Muscle Study

I haven't done a figure study here for a long time, so here's one. This muscle guy comes from a treasure-trove of posed photos which a friend gave me while I was visiting him in Cambridge on my recent Massachusetts trip. Most of the photos are more appropriate for tastes like my blog buddy Tristan's, but I can use the figures as models. I suspect that Photoshop was used to enhance some of the attributes of these guys, but that also helps me out when I am working with more conventional anatomical studies. This sketch was done in Photoshop in a style imitating the "academic" figure drawing technique, which is prized in art schools. Photoshop, May 17, 2012.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mexican Restaurant Menu Buffalo Wings

The family who ran "Paco's Tacos" came from Buffalo, New York and they had been in the restaurant business there. In Cambridge, they brought their favorite regional barroom snack to their Mexican restaurant, namely what is now called "Buffalo Wings," or fried chicken wings coated in a spicy red sauce and served with celery and blue cheese. In those days, this culinary concoction was unknown outside of Buffalo. At Paco's Tacos, the chicken wings were in big bags in the freezer and you would take an order, go directly from the freezer to the deep-fry oil well and fry'em till they were done, then coat 'em with the sauce. I didn't eat very many because I found them greasy, stringy, and in general unrewarding. I liked the blue cheese and the celery, though. I didn't have to do any food preparation anyway, I was busy at the counter, pointing to my artistic menus for the lunch and dinner specials and counting out the change.

This Dinner Special shows my use of Mexican and Mayan folk motifs, which I would use on many of the signs. Back then you could get a lot of pub grub for $4.50. I gave titles to each sign I did, and this one was called "Sundog," because of the stylized and decorated Mexican dog depicted there.

"Sundog" was markers on poster board, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Differently Abled Heroes

This was my cover illustration for a thin paperback anthology of three fantasy/SF stories starring disabled, or "differently abled," heroes. "Worthy Foes" was published by the long-gone "Obelesk Books" (the spelling is theirs) based in northeastern Maryland. I did some black and white covers for them in the mid-'90s. This cover features the heroine of a story by Lela Buis. The main characters in the story are a couple of adventurers and mercenaries who do secret missions for anyone who hires them. The woman of the couple is a quadriplegic who depends on an elaborate exoskeleton to move. But the exoskeleton is a futuristic design which gives her ultra-speed and strength. In the story, she is forced to save herself while she is deprived of the exoskeleton. In my drawing, she is waiting to encounter bad guys while in a modern hotel complex.

"Worthy Foes" cover is black ink on Strathmore illustration board, 8" x 12", October 1995. Published in January 1996.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mexican Restaurant Menu Star Trek

This posting begins a long series of digital transcriptions of work I did for a Mexican restaurant in 1979-1980. The name of the restaurant was "Paco's Tacos" and it occupied an underground space close to Harvard  Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The restaurant was founded by a family who had lived in Mexico and who thought that Mexican street food would be popular in Cambridge. 

I ate there so many times that I decided I might as well apply to work there, which I did in the latter half of 1979. It quickly became apparent that I was no good as an assembly cook making tacos and burritos, so they assigned me the front counter where I was responsible for taking orders and payments. There was a menu chalkboard there with some colored chalks, and soon I was artistically decorating the board every day that I worked there. I used all sorts of fanciful and popular themes, often suggested by my friends or the customers at the restaurant. After all, I was still a full time artist, attempting to become a commercial illustrator. I had done sign work at other restaurants before this one.

The boss family loved my work and after a while they suggested that I put my menu designs on poster board with markers. They even paid for me to get a couple of sets of advertising layout markers to do the work, thus initiating my lifelong obsession with MORE MARKERS. In those days the markers (still available as "AD Markers") were fueled with xylene and exuded an, uh, intoxicating fragrance, which in an unventilated room could cause dizziness. I experienced this on some occasions.

This is one of the first boards I did for Paco's Tacos. "Star Trek" was a natural choice in the atmosphere of Harvard Square. The Enterprise is in the upper left, and a Romulan (?) Warbird is at the lower right. The menu features a "Chalupa." I was always asked, "What's a chalupa?" It's a kind of Mexican mini-pizza, with cheese and salsa laid out on a tortilla and baked until it melts together. It was messy but good.

If this tale of food and markers sounds familiar, it certainly is, because this is more or less what I do at Trader Joe's now, but on a much larger scale and with only Trader Joe's copyright material.

"Star Trek Lunch Special" is markers on white poster board, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Winged Warrioress of Philadelphia

As I have mentioned before, I used to hang out with a group of science fiction/fantasy fans and gamers in the Philadelphia area. I didn't play their games, but I illustrated them. "Aurona", a character in one of the games, was commissioned as a birthday present for one of the gamers. Another of the group, who had a tall model's figure and some ballet training, posed for the image. I did this illustration, as my notes say, on one of my friends' kitchen table, with my portable ink and watercolor kit. 

I am no longer in touch with any of my Philadelphia friends, except for a rare encounter at a convention, so I don't know what happened to any of the illustrations I did for them. But their characters and their games are now brought back to life on this By-Product, long after the originals have been forgotten.

"Aurona" is ink and watercolor on rough watercolor paper, about 8" x 10",  June 1986.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cable Dig

Dig we must. I heard the sounds of shovels in earth and went out on my terrace to find these guys digging a small trench in the turf in the backyard below. They were putting a phone cable in. Immediately I thought, "Free models!" So I grabbed my sketchbook and drew what I could. By the time I was drawing, though, they had seen me and stopped and posed. So I didn't get action figures. I liked the guy on the left's "turban," improvised from a sweatshirt. These pencil drawings are tiny, no more than about two inches tall. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Alien Flowergirls

My creative friends commission art from me to visualize their often quirky ideas and conceptions. This was one of them. The commission was to illustrate a scene from an early Andre Norton novel, THE PRINCE COMMANDS, a non-fantasy "Ruritanian" adventure story in which the American hero, due to an unexpected hereditary revelation, is called to become the ruler of a small middle-European country. In the story, the hero passes by a bridge which is populated by girls in traditional costume selling flowers. The hero meets a group of dirndl-clad flower-selling girls on the bridge. One of them is a spy's messenger with a message for him, signified by a yellow rose. My friend commissioned this scene, with the twist that all the flowergirls are represented by different alien-sentient females from different planets. I was allowed to create whatever alien species were necessary, as long as they wore dirndls and sold flowers.

Click on the picture for a closer look:

Here are the flowergirls from left to right: Back row: Psionic blue alien lady from another friend's  fantasy world, Cyclops-eyed peasant girl from Julian May's PLIOCENE, insectoid with lilacs, one of the Mole People, sentient seaworm. Front row: black catwoman with daffodils, walrus woman with violets, blue lobster-woman with multiple sets of of arms, reptiloid ("Granny Lizard"), the Melaklos (see this post from last yearwith the yellow rose, dressed all in grey; deep-sea holothurian from a heavy gravity world, holding hyacinths. Background details: Ferns, cat, mouse, cheese, newspaper, little yellow bird, beer bottle (St. Pauli Girl, for the dirndi costume). The buildings in the background are taken from Prague, Czechoslovakia. "Granny Lizard" is wearing a ribbon with the Austrian flag colors of red and white.

The "Alien Flowergirls" is ink and watercolor on Fabriano paper, 16" x 9", October 1985.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hawaiian Shirts are Cool

This is the first illustrative/graphics piece I have done for my new manager. The concept and slogan was specified by him. I will be doing a series of large "billboard" style ads featuring Trader Joe's symbols, trademarks, and key concepts. This one goes above the manager's desk. The graphic style is deliberately simplified and derived from comics. I have long wanted to do comics-style art for Trader Joe's. I think with its simple frames, word panels and balloons, block lettering, and bright primary colors, the old fashioned American comics style would work well. 

Drawing is acrylic markers on a Masonite board covered with white primer coat, 45" x 42", May 2012.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Terra Brasilis

This is the other sketch I managed to do while in Massachusetts visiting my folks. My parents and I ate at a Brazilian restaurant in Framingham, Mass. called "Terra Brasilis." Their food is delicious, served buffet-style with meat that is toasted on a grill and carved right in front of you. But as always, my father takes a long, long time to eat, so I had a lot of time after I finished to wait for him. I pulled out my sketchbook which I always keep in my car and drew this view of the front desk where you pay for your meals. The little window in the desk front shows candy and sweets that you could buy for dessert. You can see part of the face, and the hand, of the guy behind the counter, and you can also see part of my car through the vertical window. The restaurant logo sign is really a separate drawing and does not appear as drawn in the view. I'd love to have a Brazilian eatery like this in my neighborhood.

Ink drawing on sketchbook page is 8" x 5".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Back from the old home

I am back from my sojourn with my elderly parents in Massachusetts. It was very difficult for me as I was helping to arrange in-home care for my 92-year-old father. I just hope that he doesn't reject the helper we arranged for him. My 90-year-old mother can't take care of him all by herself. Despite suggestions from relatives and some other examples of sons and daughters who gave up jobs and homes to care for their aged parents, I don't think it would be good if I tried it, for many reasons I don't want to discuss here.

I didn't make much art at all there. I was just too busy. I managed one iPad sketch and one ink drawing. This is the iPad sketch, which is rather abstract and concerned more with colors than with details. It's the kitchen/dining area with a round light mounted on a large wall. The red and blue-ish figure in the left center is my father, who spends hours and hours at the dinner table sluggishly feeding and nodding off. I would have liked to do a more detailed drawing of the scene but I am having trouble making Autodesk Sketchbook Pro do my bidding. I would like there to be a "lasso" feature so I could block off areas of color, and maybe there is one, but I haven't found it. I would also like a "square brush" which also is probably customizable.

The parent situation isn't resolved, but at least someone will be visiting the household. Their front door entry was overgrown with vegetation and I hacked a way through it with an ancient rusty old shears when I was there. I also took away at least 10 bags of piled-up junk from the house and dumped them. Much more needs to be done with de-cluttering but my efforts must suffice for now.