Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fairfax County's Favorite Wine

You saw the left half of this sign a few days ago. Now here's the whole sign including the obligatory red banner and Trader Joe's barnstorming biplane. In deference to the cranky Falls Church authority who complained that we were outside the official boundaries of the City of Falls Church, I added "Fairfax County" to the banner instead. This also reflects the fact that many of our customers are from McLean and Vienna, neighboring towns in Fairfax County. 

This is a Photoshop approximation of what the sign will look like when fitted together on the wall. I had to reconstruct the juncture of the sign halves, but I think it will do for the billboard. This project was quite a job as I had to work with big unwieldy boards in a tiny space. I've done that for almost 10 years now but I never quite get used to it. 

It's finally done now so so here's your hand-done billboard. Now for the wine. $3.29 a bottle? No problem. Just chill your Charles Chard and then decant it into a crystal decanter. Your guests will think you spent big bucks on some fancy wine. 

"Fairfax County's Favorite" is, as assembled, 8 feet by 4 feet, acrylic on masonite, June-July 2013. Click on the pic for a larger view.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sea Serpent Dragon

You see this fellow coiled in the sand or in a rock or coral lair under shallow waters, waiting for something good to swim by. He's watching intently, and he's watching you, too. Uncoiled, he looks like a rather  pudgy snake, but he's quite a powerful predator with speed, spines, and snapping fangs. He's sort of like a moray eel with dragonish features. I'd stay away from him if I were you.

Gel pen and technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 4" x 4", July 29, 2013.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Castle Gemutlich

"Gemutlich" (with a 2-dot "umlaut" over the "u") means "cozy, comfortable, friendly," in German. This is what this little castle study suggested to me. I used German 17th century architecture to build another of my imaginary faerieland architectural fantasies. A friendly castle, then. I don't know who lives there, but the two crows in the lower center are gossiping about them, just as I see crows gossiping together in "real life" here in the city.

"Castle Gemutlich" is acrylic on illustration board, 9" x 12", fall 2002.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wining in the Rain

I wine, rain or shine. So when Wine Saturday turned rainy, I just kept going. My destination was Morais Vineyards, a place I hadn't been before. Morais is run by a Portuguese immigrant who brought Portuguese wine traditions and grape varieties to Virginia. There was excellent sipping but how was I to do my winery sketches? I was directed to one of their decks where there was a dry place under an overhanging eave and even better, a large umbrella, usually for sunlit drinkers but now keeping me rain-free while I did the drawings above. I was delighted with this umbrella, which stood alone without a table around it, and I'd love to have one for outdoor sketching. But it was large and heavy and perhaps not the thing for small-scale outdoor art. Still, I loved sitting in the rain under the garden umbrella. I drew one of their vintage trucks (literally vintage, with wine barrels as cargo) and went indoors to draw some of their wine vats. 

The countryside colors are very different in the rain and I am glad that I was able to do a rainy weather sketch for my winery scenery collection. I hope to go back to Morais and make it a regular stop on my wining way.

Colored pencil and brown Pitt technical pen on sketchbook page, about 7 1/2" x 11", July 27, 2013.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Photoshop Painting Practice Winery

A lot of Photoshop "paintings" start out as hand-drawn sketches which are then scanned in and painted over in digital layers. Some of the coloring jobs are "transparent" and look like watercolor. But many more are done in "opaque" layers which look more like oil or acrylic paint. With the magic of Photoshop you can use both transparent and opaque layers in the same painting. I suppose you can do this with conventional paint too but in my experience it gets messy and takes a long time to dry. 

I started with a brown line drawing made at "Old House" vineyards last week.

I used just two layers, one with the plain drawing and one with the colors. The colors are from memory; I didn't use a photograph. I'm still debating about whether to do all my winery studies in conventional non-digital media and whether to include in the collection, pieces which were done from photographs rather than on site.

Original drawing is Pitt brown ink technical pen, about 6" x 4", July 20, 2013. Click on the pics for somewhat larger view.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stephen Donaldson's Earthblood

The self-loathing leper who becomes the savior of the "Land" goes through the books dressed in ragged modern clothing. His face bears a permanent expression of horror and disgust. In other words, he's someone you might see any day in Harvard Square. Which is where I lived and worked in the days I read Donaldson and painted illustrations from his work. 

In this image, a royal character called "High Lord Elena" prepares to drink a magic lava named "Earthblood" at the earth's core. Thomas the anti-hero leans against the wall, aghast as always at her dangerous action. In the shadows behind them, an immortal warrior called a "Bloodguard" observes stealthily. The model for  Elena was a friend of mine who has commissioned many artworks from me.

"Drinking the Earthblood" is acrylic on Strathmore illustration board, 11" x 15", October 1982.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Wine and Civic Pride

Trader Joe's theme for this year has been Local Civic Pride, as By-Product readers may remember. All our larger signs, according to the policy, must have some local connection. This piece, which is unfinished, is part of a big mural-sized set which advertises Trader Joe's famous house wine, "Charles Shaw," priced at $3.29 a bottle. It's not "Two-Buck Chuck" any more. But local folks still buy plenty of it. 

The question is, how do you turn a quiet suburb into a civic destination, and what image would you use for it? Falls Church, to admit it, is not an action place. The leadership of this city paid a lot of money for a "branding" campaign which included a logo designed by an expensive graphic design firm. This logo is the "Little City" logo, which is still featured on the city website. Falls Church isn't going to be a little city much longer, as major building projects are quickly turning its downtown into a multi-use urban concoction such as "Reston Town Center."

The "Little City" logo, with its squirmy bouncy letters and multiple colors, wasn't well received by some of the local artistic community. However, no one has come up with anything better, so there it is. This wine ad sign depicts an authentic Falls Church lamppost with an authentic "Little City" logo and banner. The rest of the board evokes a summer night with patriotic fireworks. It's not finished because I will be placing a red banner overlay which says, "Falls Church's Favorite Wine." We have to work hard to get something interesting out of the Little City. Meanwhile, I heard at a local outdoor concert that one of the city officials complained about our Trader Joe's tributes to Falls Church and depictions of local interests. She said that our store wasn't really in Falls Church, so we were usurping the Little City. Yes, technically our store is in Fairfax County, not Falls Church proper. I wonder whether they will complain even more about our use of the Little City logo to sell wine.

"Drink in the Little City" is acrylic on Masonite, 4 feet by 3 feet, July 2013. Clouds added in Photoshop. A virtual sip of Charles Shaw wine for anyone who has read this entire posting and remained awake.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tribute to Bober

I have always loved the work of Richard Bober, an American fantasy illustrator who is eccentric in a world of eccentrics. His work has been on book covers for decades, yet he lives and paints in a distant rural area in Pennsylvania, and never goes to conventions or marketing tours. He sells to privileged collectors who market his work for him. 

His painting, in a combination of acrylic and layers of oil paint, is inspired by old masters like Rembrandt and more modern ones like Gustave Moreau. Both of those were fascinated by the play of light on metal, brocade, and gilt surfaces. Bober uses the old gold technique in his fantasy art. 

I have had the good fortune to inspect Bober paintings closely and actually meet the artist. This happened during an artists' gathering at the lavish, museum-like house of a major collector. Bober wouldn't come out and mingle at the party. He hid in a bedroom away from the crowd, which he found intolerable. But somehow he gave me an audience and I had an enlightening technical conversation with him about painting surfaces and golden highlights. After my conversation, I was told that Bober talked with me more than anyone else that evening. 

This tiny piece is my tribute to Richard Bober's phantasmic renderings of gold and golden light. "Sorceress of Sapphire and Gold" is painted using some of what I learned from the masters about rendering color and light. 

"Sorceress of Sapphire and Gold" is acrylic on Strathmore illustration board, 6" x 9", June 1992.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Another Baroque doodle

I have recently acquired another book on Baroque architecture and art, lavishly illustrated. There's plenty of material for studies and design work there. Here's a doodle taken from a library interior, with multiple levels and balconies. It's amazing how much detail and ornament Baroque structures have. Their civilization must have been quite different from ours to allow for the construction and craftwork in these palaces, churches, and public places. The modernist architects of the 20th century triumphally threw out all these ornaments, leaving us with grim plain rectangles and lots of big glass windows. Nowadays even if you wanted to, you could not construct one of these Baroque structures crawling with squirming statuary and zig-zag pile-ups of cornices and projections. I am left with books and imagination to guide my drawing lines. The more Baroque I look at, the weirder it gets, filled with erotic saints, alien presences writhing in the niches, and hallucinatory broken lines where once, a simple straight level would do. Now all I need is robots and color.

Baroque doodle is gel ink on sketchbook page, 7" x 2 1/2", July 22, 2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fighting the Ur-Viles

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Stephen Donaldson published a popular series of fantasy novels called the "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant." The story involved a depressed, self-hating writer afflicted with leprosy who finds himself transported into a vast fantasy world simply called "The Land." In this universe, Thomas has magic powers. This inner world is similar to various Western mythologies and especially to Tolkien's "Middle Earth." Covenant, who is portrayed as a mostly loathsome figure, has to save the Land with his powers, which manifest through a staff and a white gold ring on his finger. In this scene, Thomas Covenant fights against a battalion of "ur-vile" monsters as he tries to protect a flock of benevolent flame-spirits and his lady friend. The story has gone through ten books so far and Donaldson is still at it. The supposedly last and final and ultimate, etc. book in the series is due to be published later this year.

"Covenant and the Wraiths" is acrylic on Strathmore illustration board, 11" x 9", August 1982.
Clickonthepic for larger view.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

There's always time for a glass of wine

Well, I hope there's always time for a glass of wine. It says so on the winery sign. Lately I've been caught up in the prevailing attitude of more more more work and get more done, get more done, get more done. I never seem to get enough done, there's always more art to do, more laundry to do, more dust to remove, more of everything. I'm a good American so this is the way things have to be. Except maybe at a vineyard, where time slows down and sips taste fragrant and the sun lights up the meadows beyond the hedges where a fountain trickles. I was at another wine paradise on Saturday, "Old House Vineyards" near Culpeper, Virginia. Their Chardonnay is unique, with a flavor of fresh-baked bread. While sipping this wine with my friends I drew this sketch of one of the tasting rooms. There were people in the room but I left them out. Note the curtain swag in the center; it is in the next room over which was filled with sunlight. Sunlight and wine, an excellent combination. Now back to work.

Sketch is brown ink on sketchbook page, 7" x 4", shading tone added in Photoshop, July 20, 2013.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Winery book sample page

I'm reconstructing and going ahead on preparing pages for my possible winery drawing book, which will present the best of the winery art I've been doing for the past few years. This page is for the "Village Winery" and is a proposed sample. Everything in this composition except the winery image can be changed. I looked for typefaces and originally thought that the well-used "Times New Roman" would be good for it, but then I found this lighter, breezier  1960s style font which I used for the lettering on this sample. I don't think my own sign-making writing would work well on this project, but I want a kind of "journal-book" look to it. Some of the pages wouldn't have type on them other than the title of the winery, its home town, and its web site. I have five different "parchment" or "wrapping paper" backgrounds and I intend to use all of them to add variety to the collection. 

I would welcome comments on any aspect of this sample. It may be hard to read the type and I have considered turning its color to black rather than dark brown. Or perhaps I need another typeface altogether. I like the irregular vignette around the painted image, that is the marvels of Photoshop at work. I could also change or edit the text if it seems too formal or it is too long. This time I saved the work on my external hard drive as soon as the sample was done.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cherry Hill Concert Return

Last year I attended an outdoor concert by Andrew Acosta and his string band, just around this time. (The 2012 posting contains a link to the Acosta band site.) Thursday night they were back for their annual gig at the Cherry Hill evening concerts in Falls Church. I sat drawing and listening. First I drew this utility shed at the side of the music barn. Then I drew this colorful character sitting at the front of the audience.

He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt with pink flamingo images all over it, and a tropical pith helmet mounted with something....a gunsight? in front. This guy is Bobby Joe Small, a local banjo player and songwriter.

Gel pen ink on sketchbook page, the first about 5" x 4", second about 5" x 6", July 18, 2013.
Color added in Photoshop.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Another Castle Fantasy

I found another of the dozens of fantasy castles that I had painted, almost always on a small sellable scale. This one is called "The Sorceress Returns to the Castle." The swooping trails and shining starlike point are the tracks and aura of the Sorceress. I didn't make up any more story for this, and I just painted the castle without any perspective, as seen from a distance and lower elevation. The colors are a bit sugary in my opinion but it did sell to a person who had a collection of my works. Those were the days. 

"The Sorceress Returns to the Castle" is acrylic on Strathmore illustration board, 7" x 10", 
June 1992.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Narrow Dragon

Sometimes dragons need to fit into small or narrow spaces. This includes the space created in between blocks of text. This dragon crawled into just such a space in my sketchbook journal. From there it leers at me for my sketchy graphic design. 

Gel ink on sketchbook page, a bit of photoshop added, 9" x 2 1/4" , July 17, 2013.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Titus Groan at Gormenghast

The "Gormenghast" trilogy, by British author Mervyn Peake, is one of the most disturbing fantasy series I've ever read. Despite, or because of that, it is perennially popular in Britain and other English-speaking countries. It's a Gothic black humor tale of the young inheritor of a fantasy earldom called "Gormenghast," and the evil kitchen boy who manipulates everyone in the castle for his own advantage. It's full of typically British funnynames such as "Prunesquallor" and "Rottcodd" and "Sourdust." 

I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton, England in 1987, and figured that I would do at least one piece from a British favorite. So I did this one, mostly architectural fantasy, and dragged it overseas. Fortunately, it sold, though not for very much.

"Titus and Gormenghast" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, 20" x 24", August 1987.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Return of Paco's Tacos

I'm not much of a cartoonist, but I can provide when called upon. An assistant manager asked me to come up with a cartoon about tacos for a section featuring taco makings such as salsa, corn shells, seasoning, and even beer. As long-term readers of this Blog know, I worked at Paco's Tacos in Harvard Square back in 1979, serving 'em up and making artistic menu cards. I remembered the logo of Paco's, which was a jaunty pelican in a sombrero. Since Paco's Taco's of Massachusetts is long gone, I felt free to re-envision the logo for Trader Joe's. The cartoon will also be given to kids to color in, so I had to keep the drawing simple and also use "enclosed" areas which a kid can fill in with crayons. So "Paco the Pelican" lives again, but now he works for Trader Joe's. Note the taco in his wing "hand."

And here's the design colored in, not with crayons but with Photoshop:

"Paco the Pelican" drawing is marker on thick paper, about 8" x 11", July 14, 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Aspen Dale Winery

Finally, I'm back to winery drawing! I returned to the enchanting Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn for more sipping and some honest-to-God outdoor on-site art. This winery has sprawling acreage featuring old-style farm buildings, horses in green fields, bluebirds and barn swallows, an estate house for the owners, and a wood-beamed tasting lodge filled with rustic stuff in many interior nooks. And of course some vineyards, as depicted here. Aspen Dale is one of my new favorites, not just for the wine but for the environment. 

Aspen Dale is colored pencil and ink on sketchbook page, 7" x 10 1/2", July 13, 2013. Clickonthe pic for a larger view.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


In art history, a "capriccio" is an architectural fantasy, often involving ruins or fragments. Other examples will pile up details on more details, having fun with mash-ups of famous or entertaining buildings. Here's one in Photoshop,  done in a looser style than I usually choose, with Italianate ruins and dark cypress trees. If you were there, you could hear the cicadas buzzing.

Photoshop, 7" x 10", July 12, 2013.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Faerie Winds Castle

I've painted dozens of fantasy castles and architectural studies. People love them and these pictures always sold at conventions. My challenge was to keep it from being too repetitive. It could just be one interchangeable late medieval castle after another. So I would add interesting bits like a tiny dragon here or there, or some unusual colors, or in this case, the "faerie winds" which were represented by wispy drifts of mist. The mist was easily depicted by thinning out white paint so it was semi-transparent, something acrylic paint was very good at. No tiny dragons in this one though.

"Faerie Winds  Castle" is acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 9", June 1996.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Culture Vulture

The Culture Vulture flies about looking for carrion and finds a vast array of rotting popular culture to feast on. Cinematic roadkill, leftover cliche ideas, expired copyrights, and picked-over carcasses of postmodernity attract the Vulture's attention. The Culture Vulture has also developed an ability to sit on its backside (or haunches) in a peculiar almost-human way, with its tailfeathers either spread behind it or bent underneath. This way the creature can watch a lot of television and enjoy the bloody carnage that in a suitable ripening time can be its next meal. Why do so much shopping and cooking when dinner is easily provided to you already prepared? The Culture Vulture is the Buzzard with the Buzz.

Pitt pens on sketchbook page, 4" x 4 3/4", July 11, 2013.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gene Wolfe's Uhlan

An uhlan is a cavalry warrior who is armed with a lance, a sword, and pistols. The name originally comes from a Turkish word meaning "warrior." This class of mounted fighter served in Eastern European wars from the eighteenth century all the way to the twentieth century and in World War II. 

Gene Wolfe adapted the idea of an uhlan for his "Book of the New Sun," where these warriors ride fancifully dragonized horses and carry technologically enhanced lances which send out destructive force beams. Or something like that. 

"The Uhlan" is mixed media on illustration board, 6" x 7", July 1983.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Convent Campus

I did this drawing at the religious retreat I was at a couple of weeks ago. This view shows part of the Sisters' chapel and some landscaping, along with a nearby electrical box. I was going to colorize this drawing in Photoshop but it just didn't look right with the colors on it so I'm keeping it a simple black and white ink drawing. I did a lot of bird watching at this Retreat so I suppose that will have to be my prayer practice. Wasn't the Holy Spirit once represented as a dove? There were doves there, so I'm OK with that.

Pitt technical pen on sketchbook page, June 29, 2013.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Purple Ascended Master

Once upon a time in the storied lands of Central Asia and Tibet, a Russian adventuress named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was given secrets and spiritual powers to bring back to the West. When she returned, she came to America where she founded the Theosophical Society along with some other believers. After a while she and her group moved to India where Blavatsky revealed the presence of higher, humanoid intelligences known as the Ascended Masters. These beings had mystic powers and occasionally might show themselves to a worthy human on Earth.

When Blavatsky ascended herself, her successors elaborated on the hierarchy of the Masters and discovered (or invented) more masters. They built on Blavatsky's Theosophical cosmos to create a multi-layered and multi-colored world full of spiritual beings arrayed in their orbits and habitats and levels of enlightenment. These Masters came from all different cultures on Earth, anywhere from France to India.

A branch of Theosophy re-established itself in America, this time in the warm and welcoming climate of California. The Masters seemed eager to contact the Theosophical inheritors in the USA, now in their third generation of inheritance from the original. The Masters, in the California spiritual system, now lived inside the dormant volcano of Mount Shasta, in northern  California. They selected some individuals as contacts, and another generation of esoteric and occult traditions (or fiction) was born.

This majestic figure is one of the Ascended Master royalty, a family of superhumans who transcend the material world and inhabit the palaces hidden within the Mountain. I give each Ascended Master a different spectrum color; this one is Lord of the Purple Ray. The Chalice and the Staff show that this Master is both priest and King. 

"Lord of the Purple Ray" is acrylic and mixed media on illustration board, 6" x 10", November 1987.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

New winery

I visited a new winery in Northern Virginia, Capitol Vineyards. This idyllic place is located in a secluded hollow near Delaplane in horse country. Its tasting room is in what used to be an old country store. The hills you see here behind the early 20th century farmhouse are the future site of more vineyards. Right now the wooden stakes support baby grapevines. 

I did the beginning of this iPad drawing outdoors on site, but the heat and the blazing sunlight made it too difficult to proceed. I suppose a "real plein air artist" wouldn't let that get in the way. I downloaded the drawing into my main studio computer and finished it in Photoshop, including the farmhouse. This is a promising winery and I will be glad to return to it when the weather is milder. 

ArtStudio app on iPad, finished in Photoshop, July 6, 2013.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Trees

Summer is captured in my memory and in my iPad. I did this from memory, with a little extra added in Photoshop. I'll see these trees, this sky, day after day, and never get tired of them. I don't need to add any buildings or dragons.

ArtStudio app, July 5, 2013. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Severian's Contemplation

I received a commission from someone who loved the work of Gene Wolfe so I was led to re-visit the fantasy world I had illustrated many years ago. I put together retro-futuristic images for the ruined spaceport and added poetic Roman-style Baroque ruins for the foreground. The debris piles in front are the wreckage of hundreds of thousands of years of civilizations. Severian sits on a fallen cornice (lower right hand corner) contemplating his future in a world of only past. This picture seems like it should be large but the original is only 10 1/2" x 8".

"Severian's Contemplation" is ink and watercolor on Crescent illustration board, 10 1/2" x 8", December 1999. Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Snake Handler

I recently read a compelling and vivid book about snake-handling congregations in Appalachia, especially in West Virginia and Tennessee. The book is "Salvation on Sand Mountain" by Dennis Covington. In it he describes his assignment as a journalist to visit and write about small churches who practice these bizarre and death-courting behaviors in the name of God and holiness. After a while he gets personally involved and eventually takes up the venomous snakes himself. At the end of the book he renounces the practice out of common sense and a desire to stay alive.

I have visited Tennessee many times and my friends there are aware of snake-handling churches. In fact one of my good friends in that state has fond memories of a preacher she once knew; she said he was a good and holy man and she had much respect for him, even though he handled poisonous snakes at the holiness services. The practice has been illegal for some time but it still takes place in secluded rural areas where congregants risk (and sometimes lose) their lives proving God's power (or, to non-believers, tempting God).

While reading this book I had a fantasy about what the religious world would be like if snake-handling had become a mainstream form of Christianity. In the early days of Christianity there was a Gnostic sect called the "Ophites," who were said to have venerated the serpent that taught Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil, as well as the Brazen Serpent which Moses set up among the Israelites in the wilderness in order to heal them from real serpent bites. There is no record of the Ophites actually handling real snakes, though. I don't think snake handling would make a good mainstream religion. You can't afford to lose so many members.

Black gel pens on sketchbook page, 5" x 4", July 2013.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Atrium of Time

This is another of my visual explorations of Gene Wolfe's NEW SUN writing. This scene, the "Atrium of Time," is inspired by Wolfe's descriptions of a ruined palace with a sundial, where his main character carried on a forbidden romance. The terraformed moon hangs in the sky, lit by the fading sun. My design is much influenced by the surrealistic paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. I am sure that Wolfe was also looking at the same artists' work.

"The Atrium of Time" is acrylic on illustration board, 16" x 12", August 1983.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Conference Attendees

I'm back from the conference of my religious group. I must admit that at least for me, this year's version of our retreat was not as successful or enjoyable as previous years' conferences have been. There were many reasons for this, some personal and not to be mentioned here. Another problem which is currently endemic to our society is that everyone at the conference (including me, I'm just as guilty) had their smartphones and/or computers with them all the time even during program discussions, so no one paid complete attention to what was actually going on. I would like to see a ban on gadgets during at least part of the conference, so people could cultivate gadget-free mindfulness. I spent a lot of time wandering the lovely forested grounds of the retreat house, watching birds with my binoculars, but no iPhone. I drew sketches of some of the participants listening without electronics. But is a sketchbook just as distracting as an iPad? I'm not sure. 

Pitt brown technical pen on sketchbook page, 7" x 4 1/2", June 29, 2013.