Friday, June 29, 2012

Mexican Menu Elric

The albino sorceror prince Elric, a character created by British author Michael Moorcock, has always been one of my favorite fantasy heroes. And so I wanted to put Elric on a Mexican menu. I usually dashed these off in a couple of hours, but this one had real production values and I spent a lot of time on it. It saw action a few times in the restaurant, but then I decided I didn't want to get taco sauce all over it and I withdrew it from the stack, keeping it in my own collection. Believe it or not, I still have this one in my archives somewhere. It is one of only three Paco's Tacos signs that I saved. My armor for Elric is based on 16th century parade armor and the typeface is from an Art Nouveau collection. 

Markers on posterboard, 22" x 13", winter 1979-1980. Colors restored in Photoshop.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vernacular Porch

Vernacular architecture is the building style of a region or era, that just sort of got built the way local builders (not usually architects) usually build something. Nothing fancy, just useful for that region's use. This porch is a good example. It's semi-enclosed by that front panel, which replaces the usual rail with balusters (those vertical spindles which hold up the rail on a porch). The ladder inside shows that the porch is used to store construction and maintenance equipment rather than leisurely chairs and plant containers. What I find notable in this vernacular structure is the decorative wood panel square on its point in the center of the front rail-wall. They didn't have to put that in, but they did. 

This is another of my work break-time drawings of houses and sights in the neighborhood behind my work place. There are lots of these details as every house in that area is different. People have customized their cottages. Sometimes they have torn down the original house and replaced it with an oversized, ugly edifice that uses almost the whole lot. This neighborhood was built in the late 40s and early 50s for GI's returning from the war. Now every one of these sites and small customized cottages is worth a fortune due to its location near the city of Tysons Corner. It's a form of American building that originally catered not to the affluent but to the middle class. They don't build like this any more, at least here; new developments in my area feature monster houses or townhouses which are well out of the price range of any veteran, or anyone else who is still modestly middle-class.

Staedtler technical pen on sketchbook page, 6" x 6". This drawing took about 20 minutes to draw.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mexican Menu White Cat

Cat-loving me couldn't resist doing another cat sign for the Allston series. This one is the Great White Cat of the Cosmos, with the Christmas Star (I must have done this in the holiday season) in the background. Or perhaps it is the Star of Redemption. Or the Star of Enlightenment through Chili. There's something metaphysical going on here, but I have forgotten just what it was. 

Markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Colors and whiteness restored in Photoshop.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Neglected Cottage Next Door

This cottage is right next to the shopping center where my workplace is located. It has been neglected and overgrown for a long while, though not abandoned. Someone owns it, but as far as I can see no one lives there. Some years ago it had a "for sale" sign on it, and then a "for rent" sign. At one point I did see people living there, in a sort of grubby way with broken down furniture on the lawn. Now I see no one there. I would have liked to live here, since it is next door to work, but the location on a noisy main highway isn't very restful. Still, it would be nice to live in a house with a back yard rather than an apartment. It would probably take a lot of money to make this place habitable again. I don't think "Architectural Digest" would feature it.

Staedtler technical pen on sketchbook page, 6" x 6", June 25, 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Puccio's Deli Leesburg

This is the second of the street sketches I did on my recent visit to Leesburg. Many of the businesses in the old town are built into old residences, which gives the place a homelike feeling. "Puccio's New York Deli" is one of these, and this is the porch of that house, complete with wrought iron seating bench in front and hanging ferns. By the time I drew this, Puccio's had closed for the day so I didn't get to eat there, but maybe I will next time I visit the town. I drew this porch detail out the window of my parked car as a major thunderstorm was approaching the area. I drew fast and left just before the deluge.

Pitt pen on sketchbook page, about 6" x 6", June 22, 2012.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mexican Menu Green God

I used my Mayan resources to create another "Pre-Columbian" menu board. This was a green snaky god with a humanoid head and the sacred green quetzal plumes. The humanoid head with its exaggerated features caused some controversy when I showed it back then, as it was regarded as an ugly caricature of a Native Mesoamerican face. But it wasn't far removed from the faces that were actually carved by the Mayans themselves. I did enjoy working with the Art Nouveau typeface, with each letter carefully built (and corrected) by hand. The little guy in the lower right hand corner is copied from a Mayan depiction of an owl.

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Leesburg Porch with Resident

I brought the Big Painting to Leesburg on Friday, to have it photographed at the gallery I frequent. I will pick it up next Friday and I'll have a high-resolution file that I can present here and on other internet venues. Of course I also did some drawing in the town, because it is filled with old architecture that I love to draw. This is part of a row of houses just a few blocks away from the town center. I decided to include the utility lines on this one. The hedges in front had engulfed some of the chainlink fence in front of them. If you look closely in the lower center of the image you can see the tiny figure of one of the residents of this house, who came out to sit on the porch and have a smoke while I was drawing.

Pitt technical pen on sketchbook paper, about 7" x 6", June 22, 2012. Some corrections were made in Photoshop.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mexican Menu Hungry Dragon

I had dragons on my mind even long ago back in my Paco's Tacos era. This long spindly fellow wrapped himself and his red-trimmed black wings over the slab announcing the Dinner Special. I found a spiffy Gothick Victorian font to letter the "Dinner Special" words and price, and the rest of the letters were made up by me from medieval examples. At that time I was reading a lot of Michael Moorcock's "Elric" stories so I was enjoying a kind of Victorian fantasy decadence with dragons. I'd love to go back to those classic fantasy stories and try illustrating them again. I'm thinking about what comes next in the studio.

"Hungry Dragon" menu sign is markers on posterboard, 22" x 13", winter 1979. Colors restored in Photoshop.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Peachtree iPad sketch

It's just a little slice of the courtyard at the apartment complex next to my workplace, "Peachtree." Autodesk Sketchbook Pro has a convenient architectural straight-line drawing tool. And the latest update to this app has a "realistic" foliage tool whereby you can place trees and vegetation wherever you want. I used it here, though I wonder how much you can use it and not get repetitive. You can see the green shade plants and their lavender blossoms on top of the grey stone wall. I could have done more but I only had about 20 minutes to work on it. I would really like to practice more on the iPad so that I could do clearer architecture.

Meanwhile, the Big Painting is done and once I have it photographed and presented to the people who commissioned it, you'll see it here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mexican Menu Lonely Surfer

In late 1979 and early 1980 Paco's Tacos expanded to a set of three restaurants. One of them was in Allston, just across the river from Cambridge, and another was in Kenmore Square in Boston. Both these areas were packed with students and the hipsters of the time who enjoyed eating Mexican street food. 

The management commissioned me to make two more sets of menu signs, one for the Allston store and one for Kenmore Square. I'll be showing the Allston series for the next lot of menu signs. This one, entitled "The Lonely Surfer" after the Jack Nitzsche surf instrumental classic, was my tribute to surf music and the Beach Boys. Many of my menu signs had musical connections, sometimes requested by the music-loving customers. 

It was also a fond memory of my first trip to California in 1977. I visited the Los Angeles area with a friend and I spent some very nice hours at Laguna Beach. I tried to depict some of the scenery from that place, as well as the laid-back surfer culture which still prevailed there at the time. That's right, no Internet, no cell phones, no GPS, no home computers. Just the waves, the sand, and the sun.

As always, markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Water Tower and House

On top of the hill behind my workplace is a water tower, standing in the trees in the neighborhood of small and worked-over mid 20th century houses. This is one of those houses, added onto over the years but still small. Note the extension and different roof pitch in the back, and the little box-like vestibule added at the doorway. It looks like the water tower belongs to the house, but it is safely behind it in a fenced enclosure. This took about 25 minutes of work break time to draw, as I leaned against a telephone pole for stability. When I used to do this kind of drawing in Cambridge, Mass., I took a folding wooden seat with me so I could sit down and draw. I don't know whether I could do this now without attracting too much attention. A stranger sitting on a stool drawing a picture in any neighborhood would be watched. In fact as I did this drawing an elderly Persian gentleman I knew as a customer at Trader Joe's walked by and stopped for a few minutes to watch me draw.

Water tower house is Staedtler technical pen on sketchbook page, 6" x 6", June 18, 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mexican Menu Kukulkan

I had fun faking type with my Mexican menu boards. Here I'm trying to do a Deco/Mexican squared-off letter style, with modest success. All these boards were done before the era of computer typesetting. You had to "spec" the type you'd be using, not only which typeface but what size it was, what words and what spacing. And you had to get the specifications right the first time so that you wouldn't have expensive do-overs, since the type got printed out in a coated-paper photostat that you had to stick down on the "mechanical," that is, the layout page of type, pictures, and text. These boards didn't need the expensive type creation because I did the lettering all by hand. Interestingly, at Trader Joe's I have just finished a sign series in which I imitate a formal typeface (Times New Roman) in large size, hand-crafted letters. 

Kukulkan was a Mayan snake god, who I added to my "authentic" Mexican menu repertoire. The "Dinner Special" type line was made to look like inlaid jade.

Kukulkan dinner special is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Extensively restored in Photoshop. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chat at Chateau O'Brien

Chateau O'Brien is one of my favorite Northern Virginia wineries. Their wines are all rich in flavor and they specialize in red varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The vines are all on their site and you can see them wherever you turn. The wine tasting and event house is an eccentric piece of architecture with a round turret and wine deck, with both outdoor and covered patio seating. I drew the sights and sipped the wine from my spot on the patio. I included the gateway down the hill with its red roof, a wine barrel with plant container, and a stray calico cat who hangs around the place, probably being fed by customers. So Chateau O'Brien has a chat, if you pardon my French. More accurately would be "chatte" as this is a lady cat.

Pitt brown drawing pen and real old-fashioned colored pencil, no iPad, on sketchbook page, about 10" x 6", June 16, 2012.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mexican Menu Fountainhead

Since I had done an "Atlas Shrugged" menu board, as a Rand fan I wanted to do one based on her architectural tale, "The Fountainhead." The hero of "Fountainhead," played rather awkwardly by an aging Gary Cooper in the movie, is Howard Roark. He's a flame-haired (red hair for heroes!) tall, angular architectural demigod, loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright, who designs modernist buildings with lots of cantilevers and big windows in them. I found a perfect image in a fashion magazine which I adapted into a younger, prouder, non-filmic Roark, looking up at the skyscrapers he has designed. I tried to do the writing in the "Wright" typeface he used on many of his buildings and publications. I inscribed the motto of this piece at the bottom of the little cityscape to the lower left. It reads, "Skyscrapers: the shape of man's achievement on earth." Quoted from Ayn Rand, who insists on the "man" language as she believed that women should not design or build skyscrapers, but worship and be the wife of the man who does. This is one of my favorite menu boards of the whole set, and my most successful Rand illustration.

Howard Roark is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yet Another Menu Board

Nothing much has changed in my commercial art life. I'm still doing menu boards. I've been doing them for "Bagels, Deli, and Donuts" since 2007. This one is inspired by Arabic brasswork. There's a hookah shop next door to the deli. 

Acrylic paint markers on black foamboard, 30" x 20", June 14, 2012.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I got to go industrial with my break-time drawing on Wednesday. Workers were renovating the paved area behind my workplace, using a number of impressive machines. They crunched the existing pavement with an overhead jackhammer (which sounded like an earthquake), then removed the fragments with a nimble Bobcat equipped with a digging scoop. Then the asphalt was deposited in big heaps for the paver. This machine is a paver, sitting on a flatbed truck before it is deployed. It has a hopper (to the right) where the chunks of asphalt are melted before being laid out as new pavement. The paver moves on tank-like treads as it places a layer of fresh, fragrant asphalt. I love the smell of asphalt and in fact some pretentious wine-tasting notes claim that their Cabernet Sauvignon has a touch of "fresh asphalt" in its flavor mix. 

Paver portrait is Staedtler technical pen on sketchbook page, about 6" x 6".

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mexican Menu Cats

One of my friends during my Paco's years had two cats, Fred and Rabbit. Fred was a goofy orange and white neutered male, and Rabbit was a grey striped spayed female. She got the name "Rabbit" because she would sit up on her hind legs with her front paws against her chest, like a rabbit. Being a cat-lover myself, I naturally put Fred and Rabbit into one of my Mexican menu boards. Here they are discussing what's in the Lunch Special. 

Markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Colors entirely restored in Photoshop.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gas Station with Wyrm

This sort of thing happens every day in Falls Church. I just was in the right place at the right time. Well, if you believe this, you will have to trust the co-worker who asked me to put a weird thing "like a UFO or a monster" into my break-time drawing. The gas station is behind my workplace building, and once I found a good vantage point, I did the rest of it. 

If you were a fire-breathing wyrm (snake-like dragon) what would you want to drink? Gasoline or petroleum, of course! That gas pump looks like a soda fountain to the Wyrm. He sticks out his siphon-like tongue to sip the tasty stuff up. 

Staedtler technical pen on sketchbook page, about 6" x 6", June 11, 2012.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mexican Menu Led Zeppelin

When I asked my co-workers and customers at Paco's Tacos what they wanted to see on upcoming menu boards, many of them recommended music-related topics. The first one I did from such suggestions was Led Zeppelin. Back in the late '70s Led Zeppelin's popularity was at its peak. They were so popular that even I had heard many of their songs and I was not a rock fan or listener. So I bought a rock music fan magazine at Nini's Corner, the legendary newsstand in the heart of Harvard Square, and derived my menu decorations from photos of the band performing. To the left is singer Robert Plant and at right is guitarist Jimmie Page. I didn't have room to put the drummer and keyboardist in performance so I just threw them into the background. This menu board was unusual in that I tried to adopt a more sketchy, "action" style to give the feeling of exciting rock music, but since I couldn't get them all into the action it isn't quite successful. However it was colorful and people recognized who it was.

"Led Zeppelin" is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reston Raft

I ate a fine dinner at the Lakeside Inn in Reston, Virginia. The restaurant, as advertised, is situated above the shoreline of one of the artificial lakes which are interspersed through the luxury planned community. People live in lakefront houses nearby, within walking, or boating, distance of the shopping center where the restaurant is. As my friends and I dined, we watched this deck raft, occupied by a family, approach the cove shore. Father paddled while Mom and two little girls lounged in the evening sun. When the raft was securely tied to a pylon, the family exited the raft and came into the restaurant to eat. Reston lake residents take to the water on these leisurely little barges, complete with tables and chairs and toys and food, all shaded by the Garden Umbrella. What a pleasant existence!

This drawing of a Reston raft was done on the iPad, while waiting for dinner to arrive. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro's latest update features a whole selection of simulated pencils, complete with graphite color and texture. There are also foliage simulations, such as I've used in the background here. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Blues Band Falls Church

It's time for the Blues in Falls Church. Early to mid-June is the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, where live bands play downtown in numerous places. I was fortunate to attend a free concert in a parking lot where the Clarence Turner Band was playing. I drew the band while they played, and they were great. Note the canopy, which is close to a garden umbrella though not identical. I also depicted a cheerful fan and her shapely legs, sitting among antique stuff in a gift shop storefront. Clickonthepic for my sketches of bluesmen: bass, keyboard, Clarence on  guitar. 

Pitt artist pen on sketchbook page, about 10" x 7", June 8, 2012.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Local Architecture 1

Here's another quick drawing of a house near my workplace, drawn in about 20 minutes while I am on work break. None of the houses in the "Pimmit Hills" neighborhood are old; the place was built in 1950 to house war veterans and their families. Most of the residences have been extensively re-modeled or even rebuilt from the ground up, so few houses in this neighborhood look alike. This one has a deep porch which extends into a carport, which makes for an interesting front elevation. I'll probably draw the carport from another view later on. The only problem with making these drawings during my break is that I am not walking and getting good exercise while I am drawing them. I'll figure that one out sooner or later.

Original drawing is technical pen on sketchbook page, about 5" x 5", June 6, 2012.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mexican Menu Egypt

In 1975 I visited Egypt and other ancient lands on a traveling fellowship after my undergraduate years. Even though I only spent two weeks in Egypt, it was a memorable experience that still remains vividly with me. 1979 was only a few years away from my Egyptian trip. So, despite Egypt having nothing to do with Mexico (except for various crypto-historical speculators and mystic believers), I did an Egypt-themed menu, complete with pyramids, ibises, date palms, hieroglyphs, and decorative border. Pyramids here, pyramids there, what's the difference. 

"Land of the Pharaohs" is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Despite my Photoshopic efforts, this slide was too faded to restore completely. You can still see the design though.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More Garden Umbrellas

Looks like garden umbrellas might be a theme in my summer-season sketch forays. I have taken to making little drawings on my half-hour breaks at work. (One half hour required per six-hour workday.) You saw the fountain in this luxury apartment courtyard some weeks ago. These are the chairs, tables and umbrellas on the patio where people sit outside and grill stuff and eat. It looks like a fancy hotel. There is a swimming pool in another part of this space. It's very well-taken-care of. While I was drawing this a maintenance man came by, saw the drawing, and voiced his appreciation. I wouldn't mind living here but it is much too expensive for me to afford.

Ballpoint gel pen on sketchbook page, 5" x 6", June 5, 2012.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mexican Menu Ritual Taco

Among the Mexican foods and knicknacks in the restaurant, I decided to do some "authentic" Mexican designs for the menu boards. I did some research in Mayan art, costumes, and architecture and came up with enough material for many signs. Here is a Mayan dignitary doing what I titled the picture: "Ritual Sacrifice of the Sacred Taco." On the left are my sketchy interpretations of Mayan glyphs. A bowl of incense perfumes the ritual scene. I also tried to play with type, making up a typeface which was a bit reminiscent of Mayan glyph writing. Thinking about Mexican food makes me hungry, even in the middle of the night. 

"Sacred Taco" is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Extensively restored in Photoshop.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mexican Menu Atlas Shrugged

In the late 1970s I was a huge Ayn Rand fan. I read "Atlas Shrugged" in 1978 and it was a major inspiration to me. I was not as much interested in the politics as in the psychology and the character building. I could aspire to be a beacon of competence, power, and responsibility, the way Rand's characters appeared. I could be brilliant, exciting, and change the world with my inventions, discoveries, or art. But in reality I was a Harvard dropout working in an underground Mexican fast food place. 

I did this Ayn Rand menu board to express my fannish feelings. I created a "montage" cover with portraits, which in those days still showed up on big fat novel covers. To the left of the picture is Dagny Taggart, the glamorous lady railroad executive. I used actress Kelly McGillis as the model for this portrait. She had played the flight instructor in "Top Gun" and I thought she was forceful enough to play this role. To her right and above is Hank Rearden, the steel magnate who becomes her lover. And at the very top, holding the spiral of green energy, is John Galt, the Promethean engineer who is responsible for changing the entire world with his conspiracy of competence. There is a steel mill, a train, a city, and other Rand symbols including the Dollar Sign which I actually cut out of gold foil-covered cardboard and glued onto my posterboard.

The current movie series of "Atlas Shrugged" promises us another installment later this year. I enjoyed the first entry although Dagny was played by a rather fragile-looking blonde lady instead of the tall, athletic, brown-haired Dagny portrayed by Rand. Rearden in the book was a blonde-haired guy and very tall, so that's how I portrayed him here. 

I miss my enthusiasm for Rand. The world has changed a lot since 1978. But I'm still a Harvard dropout working the cash register selling bananas and beer, dreaming of power and competence.

Ayn Rand Lunch Special is markers and foil collage on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Heavily restored in Photoshop.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Potomac Point WinePad

Potomac Point is one of the most lavish wineries I've visited in Virginia. It has a fresh new Mediterranean-style main building with many rooms for tastings and events. Outside, there is a wining and dining patio where you can consume fancy tapas food and cheese arrangements along with some excellent European-style dry wines. I made this drawing on the iPad on the iPatio, depicting the umbrellas, a greenish water fountain in the center, and a Roman-like brick wall with archway in the back. A blue bottle of Potomac Point's sweet white blend sits in an ice bucket in the foreground. 

The only problem with using the iPad outdoors on a brilliant sunny day is that light reflects off its shiny screen, so you can't quite see what you're drawing. I sometimes can use the plastic case lid as a sun blocker but due to the direction of the rays it wasn't possible here. Also, it's hard to hold a wine glass and draw on the iPad at the same time. Fortunately, I can't be arrested for drinking while drawing.

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, done on the iPad, June 2, 2012.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Small Action Figures

I've been doing these pages of little action figures for ages. I just never considered them figure study practice until I read some of the books on drawing and illustration I've recently collected. They are considered "thumbnails" and can be developed into more detailed drawings if necessary. The anatomy and proportions don't have to be perfect in these tiny sketches, it's the gesture that counts. You can build the correct anatomy later. Here's a fresh page of them, all drawn from memory. I'm not that bad at drawing human figures. 
Pencil on sketchbook paper, about 8" x 10", June 2, 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mexican Menu T-Shirt

I ran out of ideas for menu boards, so I asked the customers what they would like to see. One regular customer suggested depicting the T-shirt that we wore, so here it is. Red and white were Paco's Tacos colors, and the shirt also had the logo of the place. Paco's Tacos logo had a cute cartoon pelican ("Paco") wearing a Mexican hat. You couldn't see it too well from my poor rendering on this shirt drawing. I still have this shirt somewhere. But I don't fit into it any more. 

Later, I tried to do a personal business logo for the T-shirt customer, but she constantly demanded changes and refinements and in the days of expensive photostats of type which you had to glue together, I never finished the job. It was an early graphics failure for me which I have never forgotten.

"Paco's Tacos Shirt" is markers on posterboard, 21" x 13", winter 1979. Major restoration in Pacoshop.