Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nightflight K14

I had the idea for this dark blue starry abstract for a while, but didn't set it down on media until later. When does a picture become a picture? The audience can't read my mind, so it only becomes real when I make enough imagery for the audience, even if it's only one other person, to see. This is called "Nightflight," and it's number 14 on my "K-series" of Photoshop digital abstractions. It might be worthy of going to a painted version, but that would mean a lot of difficult acrylic blending and masking. Anyway, here it is on the screen, where many wonders can take place easily.

"Nightflight K-14" is Photoshop, 8" x 10", July 31, 2014.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Varzil the Good

"Varzil the Good" was a heroic lawmaker character in Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" world. His dramatic and elaborate history is recounted in this fan encyclopedia entry, which astonishes me with its detail. In fact this whole Darkover "wiki" encyclopedia is an astonishing deed of research, and I didn't know about it until just now. This "Varzil" illustration is a piece of my vast and not-so-astonishing deposit of Darkover fan art. II always wanted to do Darkover as a graphic novel in the 1890s storybook style of illustrators like H.J. Ford of the "Colorful Fairy Books" series. But Marion Z. Bradley the author said (in a conversation with me) that she hated comic books and she would never allow anyone to do a graphic presentation of her Darkover works. She's dead now but you still have to honor her wishes.

"Varzil" is ink on illustration board, tinted in acrylic and restored in Photoshop, 3" x 6", summer 1985.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bubble Tower

I doodled something that looked like a cross between a wedding cake and the Philadelphia city hall, then imported the black and white drawing into Photoshop and added color and pre-set patterns. I don't mind a touch of New Age glow or late 19th century holy carnival style. I don't even need feathery angels to trace the vision of lava-lamp heaven. The Bubble Tower is one of an endless number of lighthouses on the astral plane.

Technical pen ink on sketchbook page, enhanced and given a background in Photoshop, 5" x 7", July 2014. Cliquez for larger view.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tiger Swallowtail Border

The Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is the state insect of Virginia. What, you didn't know that each state had an honorary insect? Well yes, they do! And this majestic butterfly is also the state insect of North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia and Delaware. Somehow, no state has chosen the cockroach or the fire ant as its state insect. I decided to add the Tiger Swallowtail to this full-summer border for advertising at Trader Joe's. The butterflies are real and you see them flying around in large numbers around this time. Some of them are huge, as big as birds. When they fly at you, you think they could knock you down. Fortunately they are not aggressive, at least against humans.

Ink, markers, and colored pencil on cardstock, 7" x 5", July 27, 2014.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Drooling Dragon

If a Dragon breathes fire, then it would logically drool lava as well. There's quite a lot of heat involved. The skin of this Lava Dragon resembles just-dried Hawaiian lava, a silvery black with a rough wrinkly texture. It's an interesting combination of geology and biology which has its own level in bio-fantastical taxonomy.

"Volcano Dragon" is mixed media on grey colored paper, 8 1/2" x 9 1/2", fall 1998.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Morgaine at her best

Once again, here's the main character from C.J. Cherryh's series of books about the
female time-traveler and adventurer, Morgaine. The white-haired Amazon is depicted in her black and silver armor and white bearskin cape, holding her space-warping "sword." She also has a blaster holstered at her left hip as well as a "utility belt" with ammunition and supplies, since the books are a mixture of fantasy and science fiction motifs. Morgaine has white hair and silver eyes because she is a descendant of an ancient super-race that once ruled the galaxy and left behind the space/time gateways that they built. It is her job to close as many gateways as she can while staying alive during adventures on many worlds.

This picture was bought by a fan at DarkoverCon 1981 and given to C.J. Cherryh on her birthday at Constellation, the Baltimore World Science Fiction Convention, in 1983. I'm sure C.J. has scads of fan art by people around the world and I wonder whether she still has this one or even remembers it. I consider it one of my best small pieces ever, despite its early 1981 date.

Gouache on Fabriano paper, mounted on black mat board, 4" x 8", fall 1981. Clikonthepic for a larger view.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Andrew Acosta Band Returns to Park

Summer in America, our nation goes outside in the evening for concerts and lawn furniture. Kids and dogs playing in the grass, and ice cream from the vendors under the canopies. Fireflies lighting the big trees and evening birds chirping. The dark misery of the world is put aside for just a moment. 

Andrew Acosta and his "New Old-Time String Band" plays every year somewhere in the Falls Church neighborhood and tonight was his turn at the "Concerts in the Park," held at an outdoor venue near the City Hall. As always he brought a good helping of country-musical Americana, somewhere between bluegrass and folk. The band, as seen above, is six gentlemen on various instruments and vocals, including the ninety-six year old fiddler, "Speedy" Tolliver. On the second half of the show, Acosta brought up his other group, "Acosta and Clark," a smaller band with a little bit of drumming and an electric bass. Acosta's sister appeared as vocalist on a few songs and they finished out their set as usual with a Gospel medley.

Pitt technical pen black ink on sketchbook page, about 5" x 8", while sitting on my tiny and uncomfortable folding stool.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paisley Page

Each page in my sketchbook journal has a different graphic theme, as long as it has text frames. Last week's was Paisley, the time-honored Asian decorative style that was popular in the West during the swingin' Sixties. These swirling, highly detailed, multi-colored designs appealed to the psychedelic stylists whose drug visions may have resembled "Oriental" paisleys. I never indulged in anything psychedelic, I say despite my occasional visits to those visual styles back then or even now. 

"Paisley Page" is ink and water-based markers on sketchbook page, blue background added in Photoshop. July 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Grocery Graphics

When I was first starting out with Trader Joe's I had a boss, called in TJ pseudo-nautical parlance a "first mate" who was a very funny guy. It took me a while to understand his humor, but once I did I learned an important lesson about people. Which is, occasionally what appears to be insults and mistreatment is actually an expression of friendship. Of course you have to be very careful to interpret this correctly. This is much more common among straight guys, or males in general, than among women. It's entirely possible that you are really being insulted or abused. The difference is often non-verbal, as in a non-threatening smile behind the insult. And if this happens between two people who have a very different style of personality, or ethnic culture, it can be trouble. I realized, after more than a year of working with him, that he was treating me like a male friend, because he didn't get the idea that the boyish insults wouldn't win over women co-workers. And he was even more clueless about working with people of other ethnicities or races. That last one finally got him fired, something which some people said "he had it coming." 

However I found him memorable in ways that other, more socially skilled bosses were not. One thing this guy used to say, when we were all upset or disturbed or overworked or angry at each other, was this: "It's only groceries." In other words, it isn't national defense or police work or medicine or something that is a matter of life and death. At least, it usually isn't that dire. Every so often there is a disturbance in the grocery world that makes it clear that we shouldn't take our abundant food supply for granted. A few years ago, it was tainted spinach that got the news. 

Meanwhile I'm advertising harmless (mostly harmless?) olive oil popcorn, using a vaguely retro graphic style, writing something that is perhaps a bit too serious for an art by-product, but there you go.

Olive Oil Popcorn sign is acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite hardboard, 6 feet by 2 feet, July 22, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Maine Coon Cali

Continuing with my Maine Coon theme I return from my religious meeting having enjoyed the company of my best friends. There is nothing like a group of true friends who pray together and share spiritual experiences. I also enjoyed the beautiful grounds of the retreat house which was home to at least, as I counted it, 32 different species of birds. 

This cat drawing, idealized from a photo, was done as a commission for a Maine Coon cat breeder in Connecticut. It is a lady cat named "Cali," a common cat name for a "calico" multicolored coat. The drawing was supposed to be the logo for the "cattery" but I never knew whether it was used.

I am somewhat allergic to cats even though I love them dearly so I don't have any of my own. I go over other people's houses and stroke and adore their cats. Then I quickly wash off the cat allergens and dust from my hands.

"Cali" is ink on illustration bristol board, 8" x 11", summer 1999.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cat Sketches

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a cat lover. I adore housecats and will pay worshipful attention to them whenever I can. I was over some friends' house last night and I drew pictures of their cat "Cinnabar." She is a lovely brown tabby with medium long fur and tufts on the tips of her ears. She may have some Maine Coon ancestry though she is a small cat. She moves quickly and zips along as fluidly as a droplet of mercury, hence the name ("Cinnabar" is a mercury compound.). When drawing cats, sometimes less is more and a few lines can convey an entire creature. 

Cat sketches are brown Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 5" x 7 1/2", July 14, 2014. 

A note to my handful of readers: Photoshop is working, but I will be away from my studio this weekend to attend a meeting of my religious group, so no blogification until I return on Monday next week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

City of Amber detail

This is an excerpt from CITY OF AMBER, the last of the 4 great hyper-detailed 
“city” pictures I did in the ‘90s. AMBER was commissioned by Elektra and Michael Hammond, who already owned many of my works. The picture was based on the swashbuckling fantasy series by Roger Zelazny, THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER. The vertical format panorama shows a wildly detailed Italian-Renaissance style city sited on a mountaintop, with numerous borrowings from European buildings of that era. The royal palace is topmost, with its magical reflections in the sky. A selection of characters from the Zelazny books appears in various places in the foreground.Two of the Hammonds’ prize Maine Coons are also depicted in the picture, though not in this view.

This painting took five painstaking months. Some of it was painted under a magnifying glass with miniature brushes. No computer was used anywhere in the project. 

The whole painting of CITY OF AMBER is acrylic on gessoed hardboard (Masonite), 24" x 36", June-November 1999. Click on the image for a larger view.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trader Joe's Maurice Sendak Tribute

The management asked for an eye-catching sign which would inform our customers that the store would now be open later. So I came up with one of my creatures, a cross between an owl and a cat. It ended up looking a lot like the creations of Maurice Sendak, one of America's most beloved book illustrators. I hope this will appeal to the Trader Joe customer, who probably has children who read and look at Sendak's books.

Trader Joe's Sendak Tribute is ink on card stock, about 10" x 8", July 14, 2014. Scanned in and colored in Photoshop. PS Note: Helpful friends have shown me how to reset the Photoshop crop tool and it is restored to working correctly again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Coconut Oil

At Trader Joe's they choose their specialties carefully but also respect what's trendy in culinary circles. These last couple of years, coconut oil has made a comeback in the "healthy foods" category. I remember back to my youth when coconut oil, which was a favorite for deep-frying and fondue, was reviled as the worst possible oil you could use. Nowadays it's promoted as full of nutrients and "fatty acids" which are supposed to do all sorts of good things for you and paradoxically help you lose weight. So here on the billboard is the TJ coconut oil which comes in a jar and is also usable as an ointment which will keep your skin soft. The price number is superimposed on a green coconut, not the ripe ones which are brown and shaggy. Everyone eat coconut stuff now, it's all over the shelves at Tropical Joe's. 

Acrylic markers on black-painted Masonite board, 6 feet x 2 feet, July 13, 2014.

A Blogification note: I am having some trouble with Photoshop CS4. The "crop tool" which crops photographs and scans has failed and will not crop or adjust the size of pictures. As far as I know this is the only thing in PS that has gone wrong so far. I've tried re-starting my system many times and have unplugged and re-plugged my Wacom tablet to no avail. I don't want to have to completely re-install Photoshop which will lose me many of my pre-set brushes and all my color swatches, but I may have to. Until this problem is solved I am processing photos on my laptop but the logistics of moving it to a new workspace and transferring files are cumbersome. There may be some interruptions in By-Product posting. Photoshop advice is welcome.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stone Tower Winery

"Wine Saturday" was epic this weekend as my friends and I visited the grand estate of "Stone Tower" winery near Leesburg. This one is so new that I did not get the chance to draw it and include it in my wine book. It was opened in the fall of 2013 and it is still under construction. The cheerful owners were on site being friendly to the guests and answering questions. Starting a winery and maintaining it is a huge job, which takes at least 10 years of work and planning, not to mention barrels of money. Vines don't put forth drinkable grapes until they are about five years old, so many of the vines at Stone Tower are still growing. But the Tower manages well with local estate grapes and the wines, especially the red Bordeaux-style blend, were excellent. 

But where's the tower? I asked the servers. The Tower isn't built yet. It will take shape throughout 2014 and into next year. Meanwhile they're building a wine palace which will house not only the winery but a big deck for drinking and feasting, and event rooms. The view is splendid, and there are wide areas planted with baby vines - the Stone Tower class of 2019.

Colored pencil and brown Pitt technical pen on sketchbook page, 6 1/2" x 10", July 12, 2014. Some mild Photoshop enhancement in the sky.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do Not Leave the Mall Until you have made a Drawing.

I have made countless sketches inside my local mall but none this year, so it was time for Mall Drawing. I tasked myself with a challenge: don't leave the mall until you have made a drawing. So in between visits to stores packed with neon-colored goods, I found places to sit and draw. My views this time were a mosaic of geometric shapes, especially with big rectangular advertising banners. The mall seemed more visually crowded than I remember it,  the stores were jammed and I felt a sense of sensory overload both visually and sonically.  There was also the Friday night crowd of wildly diverse and international people, who moved too quickly for me to draw them. 

There are two views here, the top one being across the level horizon of a shiny railing, and the lower one showing the angular canopy of a Japanese snack shop. I did some shopping as well, including yet another orange backpack to put art stuff and iPads in. Then, having achieved two sketches, I was able to leave the mall.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 8" x 5", July 11, 2014.

Friday, July 11, 2014

July Groundhog

I bet you don't remember me. But you sure hated me in February when I saw my shadow. You blamed me because you got five months of winter including snow in April. Well, enjoy your summer, your brief summer days, because in a few months it will all be back and I will be hiding in my hole again, waiting to be dragged out of it by those guys in the tuxedos and black stovepipe hats. 

Ink on sketchbook page, 2" x 2 1/2", July 9, 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Forest Vortex

This is a weird little picture, and it was when I painted it too. I was experimenting with images of "eldritch" illuminated scenes which I could render on dark colored papers. I also had transparent iridescent paint which I wanted to use for special effects. This image was the result of some of my experiments. The magical energy vortex was inspired by my readings on fantasy and ritual magic, and it appealed to my Pagan friends. 

Acrylic and gouache and blue iridescent paint on textured blue paper, 7" x 10", fall 1996.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mri Eyes

C.J. Cherryh's "mri" aliens were humanoid, but they weren't completely human-formed. Their eyes were adapted to desert planet ecologies, with sand-proof eyelids and a third eyelid called a "nictitating membrane." On earth, various birds and other creatures have them but humans do not have one, at least one that works. The third eyelid protects the eye against irritants, sand, and harsh atmospheres. In the "Star Trek" mythos, Vulcans also have a third eyelid which figures in an episode where Mr. Spock believes he has been blinded but has only had a previously unused third eyelid close over his eyes.

The mri of the warrior class masked their faces in public, showing only their eyes and part of their facial tattoos. Their headdresses also had a thick plastic visor which would cover their eyes during battle. Nowadays our visual world is full of fierce black-clad desert warriors who mask their faces, such as the members of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria." In a lot of ways, though I shouldn't admit I think this, terrorism is a form of theater, complete with costumed identities and pre-written scripts and scenarios. What would a science fiction writer do as Secretary of State?

"Mri Eyes" is gouache on thick watercolor paper, 7" x 5", fall 1981.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The New Internet Highway

In the rip-roaring years of the early 1990s, I did editorial work for a magazine called "Internet World." They were busy advertising and advising users about this brand new way of showing pictures and text online called the "World Wide Web." This had just been invented and was quickly spreading through the online world, even though most of us were still poking along in front of a black screen with bright green or yellow writing and symbols on it. But the vision was there of an "information highway" on which we would all glide along seeing the sights of Southern California in our shiny new digital convertible. (It's a 1959 Chevy, here.) Here are Mr. and Ms. User cruising the freeway. Drive the new 1994 Internet!

This image is watercolor and ink, with collaged elements of computer graphics. I printed the road signs and rectangular captions on my first color printer, an HP PaintJet, which scrolled out dot-matrix-like prints in dye ink that was so fadeable that one day in normal bright room light would fade out the color.

"Information Highway" is 8 1/2" x 11", watercolor and computer graphics collage, December 1993.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Starbucks Jungle Girl

I never thought I'd save this photograph. I did an artwork for a barista friend at Starbucks, to his specifications. He wanted an appealing, moderately sexy portrait of a tribal girl from the Amazon in her traditional state of (un)dress. I actually did research into what jungle tribal girls wore. They were painted with body paint, wore lots of colorful beads around their necks, and had tattoos on their upper arms. I was pleased with my painting although by tribal standards she is probably too skinny. And there was always the issue of authenticity and appropriation of indigenous images and people. Nevertheless I painted it but after I photographed it and gave it to the barista I found that my photo was very bad. Some camera failure (this was before the advent of digital cameras) had wiped out all the color and contrast. But now so many years later I was able to save my coffee jungle girl's image and restore it in Photoshop. In an interesting effect of coffee tribalism, this barista still works occasional hours at Starbucks, though he has gone on to be a professional "fine artist" showing in galleries and other art venues. I wonder whether he still has my jungle girl portrait.

"Jungle Girl" is watercolor on illustration board, 6 3/4" x 10", May 1995.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Greenhill Winery Sketches

"Wine Saturday" in July brought me and my wine-loving friends to Greenhill Winery and Vineyards, a large new winery near Middleburg, Virginia. This is a new establishment which is why I haven't been there before. It was crowded with holiday wine drinkers but I managed to get a few drawings done. The view from the tasting room porch was excellent and I would like to go back there just to sit and draw, as well as partake of more Greenhill wine.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, around 8" x 5", July 5, 2014.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Night of Sparks

In the USA, "Independence Day" July 4 marks the unofficial first day of "High Summer," those precious days (for me) where it is warm and stormy. Around the country, fireworks and explosives are used in celebrations of the holiday. There are big civic displays including lavish ones in New York and Washington, and there are countless smaller fireworks in those lucky states where the practice is allowed, including my state. This is a Photoshop rendition of a backyard firework array on the night of July 4. A girl dances in front of a colorful fountain of sparks.

Photoshop, 7" x 10", July 5, 2014. Click for larger view.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lightning Dragon

There are few things I like better than a heavy thunderstorm, with crackling bolts of pink and purple lightning and pouring deluges of warm water. Yesterday, July 3, I got rewarded (and wet) in one of these as I took refuge in my local coffee shop. Here is the dragon that rides the lightning in one of these glorious moments of weather. And yes, lightning storms are dangerous, and so are dragons.

Ink and markers on sketchbook page, 7 1/2" x 5", July 4, 2014.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Space Desert Ninjas

Well, that ought to cover it. This pic from the C.J. Cherryh "mri" series hits on all the cultural points that the fans of that day loved: Japanese masked ninjas, desert warriors, caste systems, single combat, and lovable telepathic companion animals. To her credit, Cherryh was able to come up with intelligent readable stories rather than sword-and-raygun fan friendly fiction.

I tried to put in the details of cloaked mri looking on in the distance, their four-footed dusei, and the desert environment and architecture, but I regard this image both now and then as a failure. If you look closely at the composition of the piece, you see that my perspective is a mess and I have placed the warriors and the background in two completely different perspective layouts. The background doesn't match the foreground. Also, the photo is bad. Blah, I say…the 1980s were a long time ago.

"Mri Combat" is gouache on illustration board, 10" xx 8", April 1982.
Some apologies perhaps needed for the excess of vintage art rather than fresh by-product here, due to extra work at the day job and also ergonomic problems at the home studio. I'll try to iPad my way into some newer stuff soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

C.J. Cherryh's "Mri"

C.J. Cherryh wrote prolifically of alien and future human cultures starting in the 1980s and she is still writing and publishing as of now. She's written so many books that there's no way I could ever read them all. But some of my favorites were written in the 1970s and early to mid-1980s when I was living in Cambridge, Mass. and selling art at conventions. She wrote the "Mri Wars" series in the late 1970s and I found lots to illustrate in them.

The "mri" were a race of humanoid aliens who were nomadic spacefarers, and their business was warfare. They sold their skills to various other alien races who needed mercenary warriors. Mri warriors fought traditional battles with swords as well as modern mechanized and technological wars. The mri were divided into three main castes. First were the warriors, who dressed in black and masked their faces in public, rather like the Touareg nomads of the Sahara. They also identified themselves by facial tattoos of three parallel lines on each cheekbone. The next caste was the priestly caste, a monastic group dressed in gold who kept the legends and the technical knowledge of the group. The last was the domestic and breeding caste, of women, who bore or cared for the children and homes of the race. The leader of the tribes was a queen who dressed in white. They also were accompanied by hippopotamus-like intelligent quadrupeds called the "dusei," one of which is at the lower left edge. You can see a full-fledged warrior mri on the left, the queen mri (his sister, who had been a warrior before becoming queen) at center, and an Earthman who joined the mri society. The artifact in front is a sacred container, somewhat like the "Ark of the Covenant," which contained essential information to find the original world and remnant population of the mri.

In that era, the science fiction fan world was fascinated by super-dedicated mercenary warriors, not only Cherryh's but the "Dorsai" of Gordon R. Dickson and many others, and my illustrations from Cherryh found many fan customers. Nowadays, images of masked warriors in black, armed to the teeth, appear on our screens constantly, and being a super-mercenary isn't as romantic as it used to be.

Mri Characters and Earthman is painted with gouache on Fabriano paper mounted on black mat board, 5" x 8", fall 1981. Click for larger view.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sacred Squirrel

They're everywhere, but you never notice them until they eat your flowers or otherwise get in your way. If they are anything, they are cute but bothersome. But what if they were the ultimate holy beings, a rodent collective God watching over us in the habitat we have built for them? There's God scolding us in the tree, there's God scampering over the lawn, and there's God burying the Acorn of the World for a new World Tree to grow from. 

I did this image for the 2002 "Sacred Space" pagan/new age convention. Some people thought it was irreverent. Others immediately called it "Sacred Squirrel" which then morphed into the cartoon character "Secret Squirrel." It was printed on the program book and the convention T-shirt, where it was  printed in brown on an off-white shirt with the leaves colored in light green. Original drawing was ink with computer lettering collage, June 2002.