Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Special Blog Announcement

We interrupt this By-Product for an important announcement. Pyracantha has now established another Blog. This is "Noantri New Earth," based in Pyra's imaginary world of the Noantri. Some of you may remember its predecessor on the Pyracantha website. Now on Blogspot it's much easier for me to post. You will have the opportunity to read the entries of a number of main characters, with occasional texts from other sources. Here is your chance to visit another world beyond the usual fantasy cliche's. This will not be a daily post, I think it will be updated weekly, while the usual art and blather will continue on the By-Product most days. As always, comments are welcome.

Visit Noantriworld at

Gnomons and Monoliths

Fifteen minutes of iPadulation in the coffee house brings me to this distant open countryside where prehistoric monuments still stand, weathered in the meadow. They are gnomons, or shadow indicators on a sundial or a seasonal wheel. Ancient people raised these monoliths to tell the time of the season, just as they did with Stonehenge. These are based on the stone circles of Avebury, England, which I visited in 1987. I am thinking about British antiquities and stone circles because I am currently reading Arthur Conan Doyle's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES which mentions "primitive" ruins on the desolate moorland.

"ArtStudio" on iPad, February 27, 2013.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Volcano Angels

In 1998, I came across the volcano web-cam at Mount Etna, in Sicily. In those pre-millennial days a web-cam was something new and astonishing, and even more astonishing were the visuals that this camera conveyed to me. Mount Etna is continually active and the camera was focused on the summit craters, which regularly erupted with spectacular blasts of flame and lava. I was able to save hundreds of volcanic eruption pictures, and I renewed my fascination, or perhaps at that time obsession with volcanoes. At one point, Etna had a regular schedule of erupting every weekend. I called it the "Saturday Night Volcano." I did a number of volcano pictures during that time including this one, which features angels dancing around an eruption of Etna. The angels are accented with glow-in-the-dark paint. This picture sold for only $21 at DarkoverCon in 1998. In the early 2000s, the Etna-cam was destroyed by an eruption. Subsequent web-cams were replaced at safer, but less exciting distances from the flaming craters.

"Angels at the Eruption" is mixed media (and glow-in-the-dark paint) on black paper, 7" x 10", November 1998. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Subterranean Temple

I only get 15 minutes a day to do fantasy art. I sit in the coffeehouse next to Trader Joe's on my work break and do these little scenes on the iPad between sips. This one is another Warhammer-inspired piece attempting to depict in miniature one of their phantasmagorical underground temple-fortresses. 

The idea that I would have to re-start my career as a fantasy artist by returning to conventions with more series of small pictures that would sell for only a few dollars apiece, as Tristan has suggested, makes me truly depressed. I'm almost 60 years old. I'm not going to waste my time, energy, and money going to conventions when I know I can't afford it any more. I still want to build a spectacular portfolio and be a published, successful fantasy illustrator but I need another way to do it....15 minutes at a time.

ArtStudio for iPad, February 25, 2012.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter Castle

Years ago, when I had plenty of time (and I often complained about being "not busy enough") I would make a series of small pictures to show at conventions. These would have "generic" fantasy elements, especially castles or other architecture, so they could go with any fantasy scenario the viewer had in mind. The architecture in this one is based on a medieval German castle. I would end up selling these pieces for figurative pennies; this one sold for $25, as my records show, at Boskone in 1994. 

I suppose I could do this again and show them at Balticon or wherever, but what sold in 1994 for $25 may not sell for much more in 2013. I've tried putting them at higher prices which would be more appropriate to the real worth of the piece, but in that case I do not sell it at all. Major artists often sell their small sketches for larger paintings, but I don't have anything major at all right now. I also feel like an amateur making small sketches for conventions while I do no professional fantasy art. However, this one's rather nice.

"Arrival at Winter Castle" is ink, colored pencil, and gouache on grey paper, 7" x 10", February 1994.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dragon Front End

I haven't  presented one of these for a while, so here's a dragon, at least the front end of one. He fits in my sketchbook journal page with writing over what would be the rest of him. With the marvels of Photoshop I suppose I could export the drawing to another page and draw the wings and the body and the tail. I'll think about it but I have other projects on my mind. Gotta keep something creative going even if it's small or, uh, done with digital media. This one was drawn with "conventional" materials.

Pitt art pens on sketchbook page, 5" x 3 1/2", February 24, 2013.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunflower Knight

I've always been fascinated by armor, even when I was a young kid. I used to draw Roman and medieval warriors in the margins of my notebooks. I still love drawing armor and warriors, now with more fantasy or science-fiction influence. This knight is drawn from Renaissance woodcuts of parade armor, which is decorative only and not meant for warfare. This picture is done in what I call my "storybook style" which I've used for miniatures all along. 

"Sunflower Knight" was part of a set of little pictures that I whipped up for Balticon in 2001. I would enter a convention with lots of small pictures and a couple of larger ones. Sometimes I would sell them. But nowadays due to many factors, especially my day job, I have not had the time or the energy to produce these pieces. And I cannot count on selling them either. I won't be exhibiting at Balticon this year, and I don't have the money for a weekend's worth of hotel stay either. I may try to show up there only on Saturday, to see my friends, but nothing more, since I work on Sundays. I have a lot of questions as to where my art is going, and no good solution for them right now.

"Sunflower Knight" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, 10" x 8", spring 2001.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Warhammer Ruins

This dreadful pile of rubble and ruins used to be a beautiful city full of art, music, creative people, thriving business, events of entertainment and delight, reverent religions, children playing in the park, restaurants serving delicious food, and a dazzling skyline. Then the endless war came, and the battalions of Space Marines and their bombs and their tanks and their giant killer mechas, and now this city looks like every other one on your desktop planet, ruined by one war after another. Play on, space brothers.

Pitt and Copic ink and greyscale markers, about 4" x 4 1/2", February 20-21, 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Flower Building Falls Church

Falls Church has been a mild and quiet suburb of Washington, DC for more than a century, and it is hard to find excitement, either in social life or in the architecture of the town. In the last years of the first 2000 decade, though, someone thought that building an eccentric building on a main road would make Falls Church more interesting. Thus was born the "Flower Building," designed and built by local Northern Virginia architects and builders. The "Flower Building" is office and retail and also contains the new home of  Falls Church's main post office. It is promised to be ecologically correct. Its main visual impact is that a section of it has been decorated with a flower pattern reminiscent of the chintz usually used in upholstery. The flower pattern is based on a real plant species, the bittersweet nightshade vine or Solanum dulcamara, which by the way is poisonous, though I don't think the designers knew that. The plant details, including purple flowers and red berries, are painted concrete forms applique'd onto the  building's walls.

This is in my "Then and Now" series of paintings of Falls Church buildings for Trader Joe's. It's the post office as it exists now. I will be adding Trader Joe's logo and theme images around the edges, which are unfinished since they will be covered. In the sky to the left, clouds gather as a thunderstorm approaches.

I painted another version of this on a small wooden plaque which was used to designate whether a cash register was open or closed. The plaque dates from summer 2010. These plaque paintings of Falls Church and Tysons Corner scenes were decommissioned in 2012 and donated to a collector.

Acrylic on Masonite, 4' x 3', February 2013. Plaque: acrylic on wood, about 12" wide, summer 2010.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Boreal Twilight

For quite a while now I've been using "Google Street View" and Google Earth to virtually tour places I will never see for real. These places are in far northern Canada, a vast, almost unpopulated area of countless lakes, hills, mountains, and rivers. Google Street View didn't run its image-capturing wagon through the wilderness but it has archived hundreds of photographs taken by explorers or visitors and has placed their links on the map site where the photo was taken. I've seen the boreal forest, the taiga, and the tundra. They are wondrously empty, expansive spaces, lit with the slanting golden light of an arctic summer. In winter it is all snow and ice for thousands of miles, with occasional polar bears. The good thing about these virtual tours is that I don't have to contend with the vicious swarms of Arctic mosquitoes. If there were a way to protect against the mosquitoes, I would consider visiting these places myself. I want to see vast open territory and big skies. 

I tried to evoke the Arctic landscape, the taiga, in this iPad miniature. I did some work on it in Photoshop in the main studio. I am working on depicting an environment or scene in a minimum amount of time and a simple design style. 
"Art Studio" app on iPad, February 19, 2013.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Skyways under construction

Another 15 minutes in the coffeeshop gave me this iPad doodle. I want to work more with industrial shapes and latticework towers. I see a lot of it in my neighborhood since there is so much construction, including a "skyway" for the Metro line to Reston and Dulles airport. But for that "concept art environment" look it has to be less abstract and more "realistic" even if it is fantasy. Fantasy can do an anti-gravity structure but it has to look as though it had mass and light could reflect off it. I will not spill milky coffee on my iPad, even in Earth-normal gravity.

"Art Studio" app on iPad.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ice Pagodas

I only have about 15 minutes during my work break to do art. Inside the coffeehouse I can use my iPad to create mini-scenes during those minutes. They're called "speed-paints" by the pro's, they're tiny (only a few inches wide) and they can do dozens of them really fast. Many of these are fantasy environments, which I have done plenty of, so I decided to try one. This is an arctic land with Chinoiserie (faux-Chinese) ice towers. They actually build ice palaces in China for the Harbin ice and snow festival, currently going on. I hope to be doing more of these mini-scenes as time and coffee allow.

"Art Studio" for iPad, February 17, 2013.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ocean Dreams

This lovely sea nymph is one of the very few truly pretty women I have ever depicted. She is copied directly from a Calvin Klein ad so it's probably not so legal, but it was some time ago and no one cares now. I'd love to sit some really pretty woman down and do her portrait. Live models with "model" looks are hard to find. I have so little time to do new art now I must be satisfied with quick sketches of whatever I want to do. 

"Ocean Dreams" is colored pencil and gouache on brown paper, 7" x 10", November 2000.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My mother's painting

This may be the only time that I feature the work of an artist who is not me on this blog. My mother, Esther Geller, is an artist, in the "fine art" field rather than in my own commercial field. She is a graduate of the Boston Museum of  Fine Arts school and has been making art for over 70 years. She's 91 now and I am now involved in a project to catalogue all the art she has done and all the paintings which are in my parents' house and in her studio in downtown Natick, Mass. I've been photographing my mother's paintings when I can, over the years, and I have a stack of cards with descriptions and information about each piece written on each card. 

I've been going through my photographs and an old slide archive as well. These date from the late 1940s all the way to the 2000s. Many of these films are in poor condition, dusty and faded. The negative films are faded, especially those which are over 10 years old.  I've been using my slide scanner and my photo scanner, plus a heaping helping of Photoshop, to get these images into recognizable form.

My mother uses an unusual and ancient painting medium called encaustic, which involves mixing pigments with melted resinous wax and painting while the wax is still liquid. Encaustic was used in ancient Egypt and paintings from two thousand years ago are still bright and visible. Just recently modern artists have been re-discovering the medium and my mother, among a small group of historic Boston artists, is one of the pioneer encaustic painters. 

This image is actually four images, four paintings fitting together into one large piece. My mother wanted to paint a big wall-size piece but couldn't handle the huge panel, so she built it in sections. You can see the connections where the paintings are placed. It took me a while to figure out how this fit together, since there were no indications as to which way was up or which piece went with which. It was like a puzzle. Eventually I found out how the pieces connected and placed them in Adobe Illustrator. This set of four paintings is wrapped up and kept in the back room of my parents' house and has been hidden for more than 20 years. Maybe some day it will see the light again.

I don't know the title of this picture. It was probably painted around 1990. My mother is not forthcoming with information about her work, even when I ask her. Each piece is 4 feet by 3 feet so it makes a large painting of 8 ft. by 6 ft.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Space Marine

This is my first rendered attempt at depicting a Warhammer Space Marine. He's wearing the heavier armor that is described in the books, but not so bulky as to obliterate his humanoid shape. He's holding the "bolt-gun" which the Space Marines carry. It shoots projectiles bigger than bullets, like small artillery shells. The Warhammer reference images show the bolt-guns to be surprisingly small, like a futuristic Uzi. I don't know much about weapons but perhaps in this gun-conscious society I ought to know more, especially if I illustrate military fantasy. The armor design needs more work to make it look more move-able. The armor is self-contained and serves as a space suit as well as in battle. It doesn't look very comfortable. But your Space Marine is a tough guy.

"Space Marine" is in Pitt ink markers and Copic grayscale markers, 4" x 7", February 13-15, 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Crystal City Storm

There is a place called "Crystal City" in the Metro DC area but this isn't it. I created this imaginary cityscape using forms from real quartz crystals, something that a lot of modern architects do. I also included the John Hancock tower from Chicago, visible at right. My Chicago architectural experience of mid-2000 had a major influence on my art. I added a thunderstorm to further evoke the turbulent weather of the Windy City. I'd love to go there again.

I've got a question for my little handful of viewers, some of whom collect art. This picture was done in 2000 for a specific art show at Philcon, the Philadelphia regional science fiction convention. I took extra time and did a whole series of pieces in traditional and mixed media, all small and experimental. Most of these pieces sold, but for modest prices (under $50). I am currently debating whether to enter an upcoming convention art show at Balticon. But this is 13 years later and a lot has changed with me. I still work with conventional media when the client wants it but I also do a lot of digital work now. But most of all, I have my day job which I didn't have in 2000 and is currently taking up a large amount of my time. My question is, should I again do this time-consuming job of preparing small originals for a convention where I will not sell enough work to pay for my expenses? Would collectors pay for prints of digital work? In my experience, collectors will buy them, but they won't pay as much for a print of a digital work as they would if the piece were done in "artisanal" hand done media. The collectors do not take into account (maybe they don't know) the fact that making a really good digital piece takes just as much time as doing a "conventionally" done piece.

This production of small originals for shows is also more like amateur art than professional work, which I am still seeking. I know that many of my fellow artists are in the same quandary as I am. If it were my decision I would do digital work and attempt to sell prints, even if they were for a lower price, but that would not pay for my expenses staying at the convention. Any thoughts from By-Product readers?

"Crystal City Storm" is mixed media on dark grey paper, 7" x 10", November 2000.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Falls Church Nostalgia

Trader Joe's current theme is "Falls Church Civic Pride" or something like that, so I've been creating pieces that provide nostalgia for the gadget-laden overworked current residents of this Washington suburb. Imagine yourself back in 1900, with no computer or cell phone or microwave oven or even a car. You get around by horse cart on dusty dirt roads and you travel around the neighborhood, or to Washington, on an electric tram. Your grocery store and the post office and the tram stop are in the same building, depicted here as copied from a photo dating from around 1900. The sign in front will say "Post Office." The one-floor building, with its unusual roofline, is long gone, along with that post office and the tram. I've tried to give it that quiet summer feeling of long afternoons and unhurried schedules. Yes, it was quieter back then because there weren't any aircraft in the skies, none of the helicopters that constantly fly overhead ferrying dignitaries or police.

This was done in acrylics on Masonite and the architectural straight lines and details were very difficult to do. I used acrylic markers but since they don't come in the tan and brown colors I want for these wooden structures I had to mix them in a messy way. Drawing against ruler edges with these markers was also messy. I will have to create custom markers for future assignments.

"Nostalgic Falls Church" is acrylic on Masonite, 4' x 3', February 2013.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


This picture is from 2000. That pre-millennial year with the still ominous 2 and all those zero's was a time of major changes for me. By the end of 2000 I would be re-learning elementary mathematics, due to my visit to Fermilab outside of Chicago where I determined to learn physics. 

I did a series of small originals for Philcon that year. This one was a miniature of a gleaming, futuristic city based on Chicago (which I had recently visited for Worldcon). The tower is inspired by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, hence the composite name "Chi-Zandria."

Acrylic and gouache on black paper, 10" x 7", November 2000. Restored in Photoshop.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Warhammer armor

This one's a study of lower body power-armor. I haven't made it as massive as the standard Warhammer 40K visualization, which is too elephantine for my taste. I just can't imagine even a superpowered Space Marine moving quickly and evasively across a space while wearing huge armor, even though the authors assure us readers that it can be done. If I design a lighter look to the armor, it will not be "canonical." But I'm not playing the game, so I don't have to conform. I've done a number of parts of armor, next time I'll try a full set. 

Pitt sketching pens and grayscale markers on sketchbook page, 3 1/2" x 7", February 11, 2013.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Otium in the afternoon

"Wine Saturday" was a bright, sunny winter day, no snow anywhere in Northern Virginia. I went to what is now my Number One Favorite vineyard and winery in the area, Otium Cellars. This winery has everything: delicious wines, friendly people, beautiful scenery, a splendid woodworked tasting room with a real wood stove, and also a barn and stables with horses, some of which are prizewinning dressage and event competitors. How could it be better? If only they had a luxury bed-and-breakfast for us drinkers. But the Otium people say that is not in the plans.

There were plenty of tasters and drinkers at the shiny wooden bar and tables, including this one at the table next to mine. She twisted her lovely blonde tresses as she sipped dark red Dornfelder.

Top drawing, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on iPad. Bottom drawing, fine point gel pen on sketchbook page, about 6" x 6". February 9, 2013.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Brown's Hardware Now

I depicted "Brown's Hardware" in its 1880s version a couple of posts ago, and here it is as it is nowadays. I prefer a wood-frame house with a weathered porch myself, but this is the typical American retail architecture of our times. As with the other Brown's picture, I've left unfinished areas where captions and Trader Joe's logos will be attached. The directive is to present Falls Church's civic features with Trader Joe's logos on or beside them. I'm now working on the second pair of "Then and Now" panels, which will depict the post office. 

Acrylics and acrylic markers on Masonite panel, 4' x 3', February 2013.

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Cambridge Architectural Details

I guess February is "Architectural Detail Month" at the By-Product. If not Historic Falls Church, mundane Cambridge in the early 1980s. I used to wander around my neighborhood with my drawing stuff and a folding stool, and if I didn't have a huge amount of time, I'd just draw a part of a house, a detail or color or cornice that looked nice. This was one of them. In New England you find houses with wooden shingles on their walls instead of siding or brick. And it was just fine to paint the shingles red. I used to meet the cats of the residents on the porches and have a little friendly conversation with them. 

Ink and watercolor on Bristol board, about 4" x 7", 1980. Reverently restored in Photoshop. I still have this drawing somewhere, along with many more like it. If I try to find it though, I will have a clutter explosion as stuff packed in my closet expands under pressure.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Brown's Hardware Then

This is what I'm working on for Trader Joe's right now.  We have been instructed by the leadership of Trader Joe's to reflect our local areas in our decorations. I've done this before in my series of small painted wood plaques showing "Landmarks of Falls Church." This is a big slab of Masonite. It shows the longest continuously running business in Falls Church, "Brown's Hardware." This was started in the early 1880s and is still going today. This image, taken from an old contemporary photo, shows the original Brown's in the mid-1880s. There is a companion piece which shows Brown's as it exists nowadays. The emptier areas on the bottom and top will be covered up by decorative captions and Trader Joe's logo's. Civic pride is the story for Trader Joe's, at least this year.

Acrylic paint on primed Masonite, 4 feet by 3 feet, February 2013.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kiddie Rides

The kiddie rides at Salisbury Beach were inside a barnlike structure that also had banks of noisy pinball machines. The rides were scaled to child-size and parents stood to the side while their offspring rode. Outdoors, the adult rides and midway faced the beach. The sky was often a misty flat white which gave the place a kind of gentle, unearthly light. The beach and its entertainments was another world where you and your family could go for an inexpensive afternoon escape. Outside the rides barn were fast food and sweets places, games, and souvenir shops like this one, the "Salisbury Discount House," where you could get T-shirts, towels, toys, and other beach supplies, as well as knick-knacks and joke "novelties." This is all gone but I want it to still exist somewhere. Maybe it does, somewhere in New Jersey or Delaware or Ocean City, despite Hurricane Sandy wrecking it. 

Brown ink and watercolor on Bristol board, about 9" x 12", heavily restored in Photoshop, 1980.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Red Finial, Cambridge

Here's a study of some of the magnificent woodwork displayed on turn-of-the-last-century houses in Cambridge. I did most of the drawing on site and watercolored it in the studio. I'm especially fond of the stately pediment dormer at the top, not to mention the red conical finial which would look like wood turning ornament if it were not as big as a roof turret. As I remember from the time, this house was in poor repair so I hope that someone saved it for future generations. This drawing was given to a neighbor who did me a favor. In those days I traded art for services or just friendly actions. 

Ink and watercolor on Bristol board, late 1980.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Coffeehouse Dragonesse

What do I do when I'm at the nearby coffeehouse on my work break, with only about 15 minutes to draw something on my iPad? I draw the clientele, of course. This coffeehouse brings in a sophisticated crowd, whether they're downing a simple espresso or a big drink loaded with mocha and whipped cream. This dragonesse was at the big wooden table, just enjoying a sip of something before heading out into the snowy evening. 

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, February 3, 2013.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Groundhog Sees Nothing

Nothing to see here, Mr. Groundhog. No shadow this year! What do you do when your one moment of fame per year turns into a negativity? If I were a groundhog, I'd eat more. But then, that's kind of your basic groundhog activity whatever the season or the time of day. Back into his den then, and spring weather will come early. As for the other critters, I hear woodpeckers drumming and the foxes doing their "love bow-wow" mating call which means that wildlife in our little corner of the city is moving right along. 

Pitt black sketch markers on sketchbook page, about 3" x 3", February 3, 2013.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Old but Unruined Cambridge

As far as I know, Cambridge, Massachusetts is still standing and has not been demolished by Imperial or insurgent forces. This building here may still be standing as well. This image is one of countless ink and watercolor sketches I did of my neighborhood's old buildings. I especially enjoyed the turrets on these early 20th century houses, which were roofed in geometrically interesting shapes such as this one. 

Ink and watercolor on illustration board, about 4" x 6", summer 1980.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Warhammer Ruined City

The Warhammer universe is filled with ruined places. The hapless billions of civilians build great cities of beauty and power, and time and again these works of wonder are demolished during the battles between the Empire and its enemies. Warhammer authors revel in describing in lurid detail the destruction of precious things, irretrievable treasures, hard-won information, cultural riches. Libraries and universities perish alongside technologies, industries, and hospitals. All that is left at the end of any story are hordes of desperate refugees fleeing their once-beautiful home that has been turned into a nightmarish radioactive wasteland. I drew this panorama of a ruined city in my sketchbook, as usual it is tiny, no more than about 8" x 3 1/2". I can only handle tiny drawings right now due to an extra heavy workload at my job and archiving.

I scanned the greyscale drawing and added more destruction in Photoshop. Then I colored it with transparent digital color. The blue-glowing areas are concentrations of radioactive waste. This is all described in the Warhammer books, where these places are called "rad-wastelands." I may make this into a larger digital picture someday.

Original drawing in greyscale and black markers, 8" x 3 1/2". Colored in Photowarhammer, weapon of mass artistic destruction. February 1, 2013.