Monday, September 23, 2013

Vineyard Dream Sign

The vineyard dream continues. I painted 15 similar scenes as backgrounds for a series of wine identification signs at Trader Joe's. Each one has a fertile green landscape with trees and greenery, with a vineyard somewhere in the picture. Blue mountains or Blue Ridge hills appear in the distance. These landscapes are not "authentic" portrayals of real scenes, they are imaginary views.

Now that the backgrounds are done, I will letter the names of wine varieties onto the boards to do the sign work. It will say, for instance, "Merlot," or "Chardonnay," or "Cabernet Sauvignon" on it. I wish I could somehow do the lettering on a transparent sheet of plastic over the painting so I wouldn't have to destroy the images, but I don't think that overlay would look good and it would also be too shiny and reflective to make a good sign. So I've photographed the 15 signs before I letter them and this will have to do. I can always make more of them since each one only took a couple of hours to paint.

Here's what this sign will look like with the type on it. This is not entirely representative of what the final painted version will look like. The painted background will be somewhat lighter to allow for contrasting type.

Acrylic on Masonite, about 17" x 9", September 2013. Click on the images for a larger view.

A note to my reader(s): The By-Product will be on hold for a week or so as I journey up to New England for a family occasion. The event is a memorial concert and tribute to my late father and his music. It will be a difficult time for me, so please keep me in your thoughts.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Rainy Day in Paradise

In my never-ending search for Paradise, I re-visited Paradise Springs Winery near the little resort town of Clifton, Virginia. The weather got rainy as I drove through confusing suburban roads trying to find Paradise. When I finally got there it was raining steadily. Nevertheless the winery was packed with people, some at a private event but most of them jammed inside the building drinking and eating and making a lot of noise. The crowd was more dense than usual because they couldn't go outside with their drink and food. I managed to find a place to sip their Petit Manseng (slightly sweet white wine) and drew a few sketches, including this one which shows the multitude and the rain falling in the landscape. 

Ink on sketchbook page, about 6" x 6", September 21, 2013.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Autumnal Equinox

The inexorable passage of the year has brought us once again to the Autumn Equinox. Here's one of the seasonal pages from my upcoming winery picture book, "The Earthly Paradise." The landscape drawing, from Naked Mountain Vineyards, is done in markers and then scanned in. The border and type are Photoshop. I now have about 40 finished pages, and must concentrate on getting the title pages, cover, rear cover, and personal bio page. Still a lot of work to be done. 

Markers and Photoshop, original size 8 1/2" x 11", September 2013.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Proboscis Creature

The suggestive proboscis, or feeding tube, of this creature is pointed and barbed so it enters cleanly and firmly into the skin of its victim, allowing it to drink its fill of blood. The bloodsucking creature also has beautiful fairylike wings and big compound eyes. The antennae and most of the body are covered by sparse hairs. Do not mistake anything here for cute or ethereal. It is after your blood. Creature design inspired by a mosquito's head.

Ink on sketchbook page, 3 1/2" x 5 1/2", September 20, 2013.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tanith Lee Death's Master

Tanith Lee is a British author who wrote decadent, gothic-romantic, detail-filled tales of demons, magical ambisexual youths, mad magicians, barbarian warriors, beautiful mostly naked women, and sensuous healer witches. Y'know, the good old stuff. Back in the prehistory of the early 1980s, I read a lot of her writing, especially since it was made available in the USA by the prolific sf/fantasy publisher DAW Books. There was so much to be illustrated in Lee's work that I couldn't help but do art from it. Some of these were meant to be portfolio pieces, like this one here. 

This is from Lee's DEATH'S MASTER, first published in 1980. It's a fantasy on the decadent main characters including the ambisexual Sinimi, his beautiful but evil girlfriend, and Azharn the Blue Demon. Sinniu holds the elixir of immortality in a glass perfume bottle. Like Gene Wolfe's "New Sun" series, Lee's work is well worth re-visiting.

"Death's Master" is acrylic on Masonite, 9" x 15", February 1981. Click on the image for a larger view.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Grape Press

This is an antique grape press. All over the winemaking areas of the Northern Hemisphere, grapes are being harvested and crushed for their precious juice. The old image of winemakers stomping on grapes with their bare feet still holds in some places, although it's mostly done for fun. Most vineyards have modern crushers which gently extract the juice in a cylindrical metal pressure vessel. This wooden barrel type is still being made and used, though. I found the antique and no longer active press at Willowcroft Winery in Loudoun County. 

Technical pen ink on Bristol board, 3" x 6", September 18, 2013.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wine Pages

It's time to share with my handful of faithful, what I've been working on artistically for much of this year. You've all seen my wine sketches, which I do at wineries I visit. Well I've been putting them together in graphic-designed pages which will be gathered and published in a wine art book. You can see how I'm putting together a page from this example. Each winery trip gets a page. The backgrounds are done in Photoshop while the images are done by hand, scanned and incorporated into the page design. Then I add bits of text, including the winery's name and its website.

The title of my book will be "The Earthly Paradise: A sketch journey among wineries of Virginia." I will be self-publishing this. I am just beginning to work out the details of printing it with a private printing company. When it's done I hope to sell it at wineries and independent bookstores, along with other places that might be appropriate. 

The theme of the book follows the four seasons as seen through winery scenes. The one above is a summer theme, as is the one below. Some of the pages will not have a specific winery, just a scene from the winery's grounds or view. Of course grapevines and vineyards will show up in most of my pages. The final book will have about 50 pages (single sides on back to back pages). At the moment I have a few more to go and then I must compose a title page, back page information, etc.

The one below comes from Piedmont Vineyard in Middleburg, but I am not featuring my drawings from Piedmont because it is no longer active and has been abandoned. 

These pages are 8 1/2" x 11", a composite of Photoshop and scanned drawings in ink and colored pencil. Click on the pix for a closer view.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blue Cosmodrome

Once upon a time, I did work like this. These fantasy buildings are actually inspired by real architecture, Hindu temples in the city of Bhubaneswar, India. I painted them as if they were made out of some exotic crystalline material instead of carved stone. The background is airbrushed and I was able to paint the buildings so that they faded in from the bottom of the picture. The main color is cobalt blue. Everybody thinks that orange is my favorite color but a close second is this celestial cobalt blue which is very difficult to paint with as a pigment. Nowadays I would do this digitally in Photoshop but some painterly purists would not like it. I sold the original to one of my best collectors for a fairly good sum. Once upon a time, I sold work like this. The original title was "Bhubaneswar" but I re-named it "Blue Cosmodrome," to emphasize that something science-fictional was going on.

"Blue Cosmodrome" is acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", November 1998.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


All right, enough of these tasteful wine barrels and charming rural scenes. This is more like my true artistic identity. Or is it? Am I destined to sit on the porch for the rest of my life drawing pictures of lawn furniture or do I get to play with the big boys and their creepy creatures? This creature is probably sentient, and I am not sure whether it is friendly or not. Just  because it has big eyes doesn't mean it is "cute." It has manipulating limbs on the bottom of its head, near its mouth. I am not sure of the scale of the creature, it might indeed be as large as an SUV. It lives in tunnels but comes out at night.

Ink on sketchbook page, finished in Photoshop, September 14, 2013.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sunset Barrels

You can't go wrong with wine barrels. They look good wherever you place them, especially if there are plants nearby. These are at the Sunset Hills Vineyard, on a porch where garden items are stored. The drawing was done from a photograph, a fact I must cite for quality control purposes.

Pitt brown technical pen on Bristol board, about 4 1/2" x 4 1/2", September 12, 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Shenandoah Shed

This odd little building is a utility shed at Shenandoah Vineyards in Edinburg, Virginia. I visited Shenandoah last year and drew this panorama on site. I took a lot of photographs, too. This drawing was done from one of those photographs. I still feel somewhat guilty for drawing from photographs as the ethic of the "urban sketchers" and "plein air" art movement is that every artwork must be done on site and looking at the original thing. I would have drawn more stuff on the Shenandoah site but I didn't have the time. Meanwhile I assure any plein-air fanatic that the drawing that resulted from the photo image looks exactly like any drawing I would have done on-site, perhaps a bit more precise. But since it was scanned in, I decided to add the color with Photoshop. 

I love tiny architecture but despite its door, picnic table, and attempt at a kind of porch projection, I don't think this shed is big enough even for a hideaway cabin or studio. Unless the inside is bigger than the outside.

Pitt brown ink on sketchbook page, 7" x 4 1/2", September 12, 2013.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Railside Home

There is an intersection at I-66 at Markham which is one of my favorite places in Virginia. It is an old rail stop which is partly abandoned and partly re-developed. The track, which is still active, goes through this place and freight trains clatter through every hour or so. There is a cluster of old houses which were originally either commercial buildings or residences. There's also a historic, tiny post office which I depicted in this posting. Some of the edifices, I am told, were resort hotels or, uh, places of pleasure. These two-story buildings have been renovated and are now occupied by people. This one depicted here is one of them. It has stucco walls and some nice Deco-style window surrounds. 

It must be a noisy place to live in, as the train goes by no more than a few yards from the house's front steps. There are children living in the house as I noted some toys and a wagon on the porch. It must be difficult keeping the kids off the tracks. I don't know how I could stand living in a house where a freight train complete with majestic horn blows through your front yard. I am told by someone who lived in such a situation that you get used to it after a while. During the restoration I did manage to get the owner to let me in one of the houses to see what it was like inside. I was tempted to live at the railside but it was economically (and probably sonically) impossible to settle there. 

Black gel pen on sketchbook page, about 4" x 6", September 7, 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chateau O'Brien glass and balcony

This is what you do at Chateau O'Brien. You sip wine and look out over the balcony at the view of the hills, or down the hill at one of the vineyards and a farm shed. The balcony is twined with old grape stems. I never get tired of looking at weathered farm buildings. Of course I'm a consumer and not a worker, so like a consumer I tend to overlook the hard labor that goes into providing the vineyard experience. However, Chateau O'Brien is one of the few wineries that has given me a tour of their industrial wine works, so I learned a little bit about how it's done behind the scenes. It takes a lot of work to get from dirt to grape to wine, work I don't have to do.

This was drawn while sitting on the round covered porch, and the wine glass is on an inner balcony railing. I will color in this drawing later.

Pitt brown technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 5", September 7, 2013.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chateau O'Brien

Last "Wine Saturday" I revisited Chateau O'Brien, the winery founded by a wildly energetic character named Howard O'Brien. He has spent his fortune creating this top-quality winery which features rich French-style red wines. This eccentric wine lodge commands a panoramic view of the Virginia landscape from its round porch, as seen in my drawing here. The colors of the roofs reflect the nature of the place: red wine and blue-green hills. This is one of my all-time favorite Virginia wineries and it's a good destination in all seasons. I just wish I lived closer to wine country so I wouldn't have to drive an hour to get there.

Ink, colored pencil, and marker on sketchbook page, 7 1/2" x 4", September 7, 2013.

Monday, September 9, 2013

More Collectible Cars

This drawing of a 1957 Corvette was done at the First Friday festival where vintage cars were on display. The owners often open hood and trunk to show the details inside. The 1957 Corvette is from the height of American mid-20th-century modern design, with its swooping curves and tasteful but spiffy use of chrome on the grille and front end. They don't make 'em like they used to. Drive with the top down now, while you can, the cold and dark are around the corner.

This one is in, to put it mildly, an "unrestored" state. The owners are still saving up for their program of restoration. The Buick Skylark was stylish in its day, 1972, and can be again. For now, it's what the owners call the "Joe Dirt Special," after a comedy/drama movie named "Joe Dirt" which somehow features the restoration of an older car. 

I've always loved cars and loved to draw them too. At one point I even considered becoming a car stylist or designer. In those days of my youth they actually sculpted the bodies out of plasticine clay before any kind of prototype was made. Now it's all done by 3-D computer graphics and soon, 3-D printing as well. 

Car drawings are technical pen and colored pencil on Bristol board. Corvette is 6 1/2" x 3", Buick is 6" x 2 1/2", September 6, 2013.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

First Friday Cars

On the first Friday of every month, there's a local festival in my town (and others) that promotes arts, crafts, good eating, and socializing. There's a band playing old familiar songs. In Falls Church, the "First Friday" takes over a parking lot and hosts vendors, artists, the band, craftspeople, and also an array of old collectible vehicles. Some of these are beautifully restored, or cleverly modified into hot rods or "funny cars." Others are in the process of restoration, or, as the "Joe Dirt Special" in this picture (the 1972 Buick Skylark to the left) are still awaiting restoration. Lots of people come to admire the cars and enjoy the music.

I was invited to set up my art table among the vendors so I sat there at the festival drawing cars and buildings. Some of the car owners gave my drawings a lot of attention. I'll be drawing at the outdoor festival again next month. After October the cars go into their garages and "First Friday" moves indoors.

"First Friday September" is ink on Moleskine sketchbook page, 7 1/2" x 4 1/2", September 6, 2013.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Little Earth Mover

This little digger has been working at my apartment building for days. The earthquake of 2011 damaged the foundations of the building and the maintenance had to excavate, pour concrete into the foundation, and then replace the dirt. I watched the machine and its expert driver move heaps of dirt and then replace them. It also has a jackhammer attachment which broke up a concrete patio to get at the dirt and the foundation. The whole operation has made a lot of noise. This view is from above as it was  parked at the job site. It is a Case 85XT skid steer loader. This hard-working little mover is no bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle and it is, if I may say so without disrespect to its compact manlinesss, cute. I wish I could drive one and pick up dirt. 

Pitt black technical pen and greyscale markers on Moleskine sketchbook page, 5" x 4", September 5, 2013.

Friday, September 6, 2013

UFO Building

This fab piece of commercial architecture was built in the 1960s or early 1970s. I have wanted to draw it for years but never got the opportunity until now. When I came to the suburbs of Washington 25 years ago, it was part of a fancy Lord and Taylor department store. The round top with the arched windows was a cafe and restaurant for the ladies who shopped there. Later on, Lord and Taylor left the site and it became a Sears store, which it still is now. Last time I looked, the round top room was abandoned, but I'm not sure whether it is used now. I am amazed that this is still standing, as most of the architecture from earlier times in that area is gone. Some architectural snobs would think this was cheesy and ugly but I see it as a relic of an era where design was more adventurous. The round top does kind of look like a cooking pan turned upside down, or maybe a 1960s style UFO alien spacecraft.

Brown technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 4" x 6", September 5, 2013.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Baroque Color Fantasy

The name of this small piece is "Domes of Crystal" and it is a study for a big piece I did the following year, "Domes of Fire." It shows my ongoing fascination with Baroque architecture, which I encountered during my years living in Rome. I have many resources on this era of design, including stage sets and festival constructions, made to show off a nobleman's or king's wealth and power. These festival designs were often lit up with pyrotechnics and torches. These Baroque entertainment designs inspired this study, and instead of torches, I've installed laser beams on the crystal dome, shining up into the imaginary sky.

"Domes of Crystal" is gouache and mixed media on blue paper, 7" x 10", November 1997.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I copied this from a gun and "tactical" magazine I bought at the 7-11. There are a lot of magazines about guns at the 7-11. This fighter is aiming some sort of Israeli small machine gun. You may be shocked at this, but I have a fascination with warriors and weapons, not only archaic swords and axes. Recently I was criticized on Facebook for making a statement about guns that was totally wrong because I was so ignorant about firearms. Since then I have wondered whether I should learn more about this important part of our world, especially since our society seems to be increasingly armed. The weapon that this fighter aims is filled with details and shapes and devices about which I have no clue. But every one of those details means something for the "tactical" operation of the weapon in battle. It is not added on for style, and yet this "tactical" military style has become a major influence in civilian design, in the arts, in costuming, in illustration, even in sports. A nice girl like me should not be paying attention to machine guns, and as many people suggest, I should not say anything about things which I know nothing about. This means that I can only talk about Photoshop, classical music, weird religion, and birds of the eastern United States. 

It's not just guns. I have an internet correspondent (not really a friend) who can identify every single plane or aircraft that he sees in the sky, and every locomotive or passenger or freight car that he sees on the track. I am in awe of this. I suppose I could learn to identify a gun (I know that's not what they're called, they are pistols or rifles or something else more specific) or an aircraft or a locomotive the way I've learned to identify birds. I actually think it might be fun and would alleviate boredom. But then maybe I should just stay with my wine and wineries, and keep my warfare and transportation interests to myself lest someone track my internet searches and conclude that I am dangerous. What was the question?

Tactical black ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 4", September 4, 2013.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Angels of the Sun

This little piece was based on a Spiritualist visionary narrative that I have in my collection of occult literature. The visionary recited a long tale of her adventures among a civilization of intelligent beings who lived inside the sun. Presumably these were beings of pure energy, angels of fire, though her tale treated them as material. Inside the glowing sphere of Sol was a golden paradise populated by spirits and angels. Despite the near-impossibility of illustrating such an energy realm, I gave it a few tries. "Angels of the Sun" shows prismatic angels of light flying in a world of fire architecture, which bears no weight but defines an inner space.

"Angels of the Sun" is ink and acrylic on illustration board, 7" x 10", fall 1996.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Emerald Castle

Another fantasy castle...this one's in green. What if a castle really was made out of precious stones? Suppose emerald, or other green gems, were common in some world, common enough to use as a facing on an otherwise utilitarian defense building? I experimented with color over brown paper. 

I've been going through my stock of paints and other art materials and have found to my dismay that some of my best acrylics have dried up, just when I want to use them on a project at my workplace. The green colors are especially affected. I guess I should have painted more emerald castles.

"Emerald Castle" is acrylic gouache and colored pencil on brown paper, 7" x 10", April 1997.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Return to Vintage Ridge

August has ended and the colors of the Virginia countryside are already shifting into autumn. There is brown and yellow on the ground and in the leaves. The vines are grapeless, as the grapes have been harvested. I revisited Vintage Ridge winery on "Wine Saturday" to sip and draw. You can see the vineyard in my color sketch as well as their gardens. One interesting thing about their landscaping is the fences that enclose the trunks of all their trees. I'm not sure why they do this, perhaps to prevent deer or other critters from damaging the trees. The views from Vintage Ridge are splendid. Every time I go to a vineyard in Virginia I wish I lived there, or at least close to there.

Colored pencil and Pitt brown technical pen, about 8" x 10", August 31, 2013.