Friday, October 31, 2014

Fall backyard 2014

It was a little too cold to sit outside and draw, so I did this iPad sketch out a window in my mother's old house. It is the same every visit, has been the same every visit back for 26 years now, staring out the windows of the one-story house at a back yard overrun with northern jungle and overgrown vegetation. In the fall there is some color as you can see. There is a small patch of green grass in front where there was an attempt at landscaping. The brown area is not water but an ecology known as "forest floor," now covered with fall leaves. The spindly structure in the center is a birdhouse, installed in the late 1960s. One of its sides has fallen off so birds can't nest there, it's not protected enough. There are some vague plans to renovate this backyard or at least clear up some of the underbrush, but winter is just around the corner so it won't happen any time soon.

iPad app "Art Studio," October 23, 2014.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Union Station ink drawing

I am back after a stressful family visit. I took the high-speed luxury train to Massachusetts and  I made this drawing while waiting in the lobby. The grandiose Late Roman architecture of the main station has been reworked and this is a modern addition full of stores and restaurants. There is a constant police presence of uniformed men with bomb-sniffing dogs, reminding me of the scary times we live in. Amtrak's graphics, though, are kind of nice, as you can see from the curved "banner" signs which mark the train arrival and departure platforms.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 4 1/2" x 4", October 21, 2014. An "Inktober" drawing for the month-long internet art challenge.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn Leaf Study 2003

No little ink for today, instead here's one of my many studies of foliage, this one dating from 2003. In that era I had an extensive set of Pitt brush markers in natural earth-toned colors. These markers claimed to have pigment ink which would make the colors less fadeable. I did many sketches with these markers (which are still being made) but found that although the colors didn't fade as much as other dye-based markers, the colors changed inside the pen so you never quite knew what color was going to come out when you used the pen. I used to have a sample page taped into my marker box so I could view the current state of each pen. Anyway I got quite a lot of sketches out of these pens before they began to dry up. I wouldn't invest in them again; I put my marker money into the expensive and majestic line of Copic markers, which are still fadeable dye. Confessions of a marker addict.

No By-Product will be posted from 21 to 28 October as I am going up north for this fall's parental care visit.

Fall leaf sketch is markers on sketchbook page, 4" x 6", November 2, 2003.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


I had no idea what to do for today's little ink until I read some other artist's post about how much he loves robots and dinosaurs. Well doesn't everybody like robots and dinosaurs? OK, some people like abstract tiny square-footed ponies with purple and pink manes and tails that drag on the ground. No to the ponies for me, thanks. So what if you had something that combined dinosaur and robot? With a bit of dog design too? You get "Diggsydog," the bio-armored terrier-saurus designed to dig in the dirt and protect its owner-friend. "Diggsydog" is clad in almost unbreakable bio-armor, rather like an armadillo, and his sturdy little claws can efficiently excavate useful holes in the dirt for gardening, waste disposal, or even hiding your hoard of gold coins. Even his tail can serve as a shovel. He isn't aggressive, but can defend you with his spikes and horns. Diggsydog isn't very big, either, no bigger than the terrier of his distant ancestry. If you want a soft, furry pet, however, this one isn't for you. 

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", Inktober 19, 2014.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Laundry Monster

I'm still working on the laundry, just like Sisyphus. I will never get it all clean at once. There are piles of it in my room, one clean and 4 not yet cleaned. I took my ink drawing to the laundry pile and drew as much of it as I could before this scary monster emerged and drove me away from my folding duties. The forms and shapes of this beast's camouflage surface are drawn from a pile of laundry. This is just the front half of him, the rest of the beast is in the other heaps of laundry.

Ink on sketchbook page, 7" x 3 1/2", October 18, 2014.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Little October Inks

Some of my fellow artists online are doing an art challenge called "Inktober" where you draw at least one ink drawing a day during the month of October. I've already done a number of little inks this month, such as "Ms. Pumpkin" and my water bottle, so I might as well continue. While I was waiting for my car to have its regular maintenance done, I did this sketch of part of the Springhill Road Station on the new Metro line. I had a good vantage point, on a table in front of a restaurant, but much of the modernist urban train line was obscured by trees in front of the big highway, so this is all I was able to see. Also it's getting a little cold to do outdoor drawing, at least for me. Other stalwarts draw outside all year long, even in sub-freezing weather.

Not enough drawing for Inktober? Here, have another. At work I noticed that pumpkins were selling so fast you could say they were "flying out of the store." So here's the flying pumpkin. What, a pumpkin can't fly on such little wings? Neither can a bumblebee, or so they said before it was discovered that the bumblebee wings can bend and thus haul more air freight.

Brown or black technical pen ink on sketchbook page. Upper drawing, 4" x 3 1/2". Lower drawing, 3" x 2". October 16, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trader Joe's wants you!

Trader Joe's is hiring. Something must be going well somewhere. Or else they need new employees to cater to all these pumpkin eaters who are snapping up pumpkin flavored everything. But yes, the holiday rush is coming and TJ's needs holiday temporary workers, so you can go back to fretting about the economy. My manager had me do this "recruiting poster" based of course on the famous James Montgomery Flagg "Uncle Sam" image saying "I Want YOU for U.S. Army." Except instead of Uncle Sam I put a portrait of one of my previous managers.

Markers and acrylic paint markers on plastic sheet, about 24" x 24", October 14-15, 2014.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sisyphus does the laundry

You'd think that since there's only one of me, the laundry wouldn't be a problem and would accumulate slowly. But this isn't the case. I now have 5 loads of laundry to do and the bags are sitting there unwashed. I have to take the big sacks of laundry down 3 flights of stairs to get to the laundry room and then haul them back up when they are clean. That isn't exactly a hardship, but the weight does mount up. I wear mostly cotton clothing and though it's soft and easy to wear, it's heavy. I can do loads of laundry and within a week, there it is again needing to be washed. My little doodle here represents Sisyphus, the Greek mythic character who rolled a rock up a hill for eons, only to see it fall back down again. Doing the laundry is a Sisyphean task where you carry the load rather than rolling a rock. If I were really rich, the first thing I would buy would be laundry service, thus shifting Sisyphus to some other well-paid-for mythic toil.

Ink on sketchbook page, 3" x 4", October 15, 2014.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicago Worldcon 2000

I used to go to science fiction conventions all over the country. I would pack my art up in a chunky bundle and drag it, usually by car, to places as diverse as Chattanooga, Tennessee and Chicago, Illinois. I attended Chicon, the World Science Fiction Convention, in Chicago in September of 2000. I drove out there, taking extra time to see Midwestern places such as Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Gary, Indiana (if only from a distance). Chicago was thrilling for an architecture fan like me. In fact I have only dim memories of Chicon but I have never forgotten the guided tour I took of Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Oak Park and other Wright buildings in that neighborhood. I loved the dazzling skyline and Lake Shore Drive and the sight of a body of water that looked like an ocean but was not an ocean. (Isn't that the sea? Why aren't there waves? Why doesn't it smell like the sea?) And of course I saw the greatest thing ever, the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab, about 50 miles west of Chicago. What was the Worldcon about? I don't remember. I would continue my "Great Midwestern Trip" through other Midwestern places, traveling for almost all of September, making drawings and taking pictures (which I can't quite find in all the clutter). In those days I could do things like a month-long road trip. I had more money and more time, no day job, and lots of art to market.

This sketch depicts the atrium of the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, one of the convention hotels. It had a tall industrial-style space, reminiscent of steel mills and other manly Chicago achievements. There was a shallow pool, only for decoration, at the bottom of the atrium, with a fountain emerging from a metal abstract sculpture. I wonder if any of that is still there.

Various markers and colored pencils, 6" x 10", September 1, 2000.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Smokers in the courtyard

My first job in the DC area was at an architectural drawing firm where we toiled over repetitive illustrations of development houses. At least one of our employees was a heavy smoker and the fumes from his cigarettes polluted the entire workplace. Up until very recently (21st century) it was perfectly legal to smoke up your workplace with "second-hand" cigarette smoke. And if you go back a few years before that, it was not only allowed but expected, because everyone smoked. I'm glad I live in the twenty first century, so that workplaces are smoke-free. Those who wish to partake are sent out into the courtyards or doorways to indulge in the open air. This drawing shows the smokers in the courtyard of what was once a fancy office building in Edge City but is now just another block of glass and concrete at the fast-building area near the elevated Metro stop. The red overpass does give it a little bit of style, if only fading 1980s style, back in the era of interior smoke.

Pitt technical pen brown ink and colored pencil, 6" x 9", August 4, 2000.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Barrel Top Color

It was a grey dim day at Winding Road Cellars winery on Saturday, but there were touches of color in places. That included traditional barrel top displays of flowers and fruit, such as the one depicted here. I delivered their architectural portrait, which I showed you a few days ago, and they were very pleased. This drawing was done from memory as it was already too cold to sit outdoors and draw. The flowers are prolific autumn chrysanthemums.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 3 1/2" x 4 1/2", October 12, 2014.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Spiritual Cat

Everyone who knows me, knows I'm a cat lover, even though allergies make it difficult for me to live with cats. The ordinary housecat is my "spirit animal," if non-Native Americans can have a spirit animal. I prefer the "tuxedo cat," the neatly attired black cat with white paws, necktie, and face blaze. Back in pre-historic days (pre-Internet) I attended a lot of conventions and it was the fashion to have name tags made for yourself, or if you were an artist, to show your art off by making your own name tag. This is from a convention name tag and it has been cropped to remove the name, which I no longer use. The monogram made from that name, however, remains in the star-shaped design at upper right. I still sign my art with the monogram, however repulsive I consider the old name. This design is a bit more stylized and "graphic" than I usually go with, but if you are doing a tiny artwork you need visibility and clarity. Also I don't use these green colors a lot, but I think they look good here. I have considered doing more cat-related art but I haven't done much of it.

Gouache on thick paper, about 2 1/4" x 3", 1977.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Water Bottle

This is an image of a hot/cold thermos bottle sold by Starbucks in 2006. I bought it that year during the autumn, when it was available in ORANGE. I still use it almost every day. It's meant for tea or coffee but I put cool water in it. A co-worker suggested that I drink water to "keep hydrated" during the day and it seemed like a good idea. A visit to eBay finds other examples of this historical item, selling for modest bucks. eBay also reveals that the product name for this bottle is "Marilyn." The cup-shaped top can be used to drink from though I rarely do that. When I bought it, I thought it looked like a bomb so I referred to it, at work, as my bomb. Co-workers heard me say that and thought I was saying "my BONG" so it has had that nickname ever since, though there is no weedy substance anywhere near me or the water bottle. I'm amazed that Marilyn has lasted so long, what with the difficult environment of an active workplace. I try to keep it clean and respectable.

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 5" x 5", October 8, 2014.  Color added in Photoshop.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Twilight Hills

I did a lot of traveling in 2003, all of it American road trips. I had my sketchbooks and colored pencils with me at all times. I usually stayed in motels, which were conveniently situated outside cities and towns and which had nice views. The view you see here is done from the "Alpine Motel," in Abingdon, Virginia, which is almost on the Tennessee border. Amazingly, the Alpine still exists and gets positive reviews from customers. 

The wooded hillsides are golden in evening sunlight. I tried to get that color of the moment and I sort of succeeded, perhaps watercolor might do better but I am not daring enough to work like the "Urban Sketchers" and do watercolors right on site. Also, 2003 is before I discovered Wineworld and I now expect to depict vineyards on my travels. Note the empty silhouette of a planting, conveniently labeled "Bush." This is not a political statement.

Ink and colored pencil on sketchbook page, 10" x 6", June 2003.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spiced Cider 2014

I do this sign at Trader Joe's every year, at least I have done it for three consecutive years. This lovely sweet concoction is on the shelves all through the fall and winter. I have faith that our educated clientele will appreciate a slogan like "The Essence of Autumn." It's apple cider spiced with allspice, cinnamon, and other traditional flavors. If fall must come at least there's something autumnal to celebrate, and non-alcoholic too.

Acrylic paint markers on black-painted hardboard, 6 ft. x 2 ft, October 7, 2014.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dragonflight over Chaos

This is a very early work of mine, based on a passage from one of Michael Moorcock's "Elric" tales. In this scene, Elric rides a flying dragon over a landscape that has turned to Chaos. The Earth, in these stories, is degenerating into Chaos - an indiscriminate stew of biological, geological, and human-made materials - which can no longer support any sort of organization. (These stories were originally written in the 1960s.) 

I was using my European pen, with its ultra-thin point, for this drawing, and in order to see the details in it you need to click on the picture. It doesn't quite hold together as a visual scene and I never colored it in. Elric's dragon is an odd-looking thing which looks more like a flying turtle than a proper dragon. I was influenced by the trippy art of British illustrator Patrick Woodroffe when creating this piece.

"Dragonflight over Chaos" is brown technical pen ink on watercolor paper, 14" x 10", winter 1976. At the time, I was a miserable graduate student in Greek and Latin classics.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My pumpkin protector

I don't draw only pretty buildings. Sometimes I draw things of lasting spiritual significance, like this portrait of Ms. Pumpkin. She belongs to the season and is a friendly presence all through October. While coloring this drawing I was listening to a particularly scary piece of ambient music and the Pumpkin was there, as she is on countless doorsteps, to guide the good souls returning and scare away the evil spirits. And you know my fondness for Orange. Then after her Halloween duties are over, Ms. Pumpkin goes to the nearest bar and gets smashed.

Marker ink on sketchbook page, about 4" x 3 1/2", colored in Photoshop, October 5, 2014.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Autumn Wine Lodge

I just finished this after a lot of long delays. This is a portrait of a wine lodge at a nearby winery. The owners, seeing me sketching while sipping their wine, commissioned me to do a portrait of their newly-built tasting room and event area. This cozy wooden building was created by a team of Amish builders and features re-purposed antique wood. The kitchen is to the right and the main room with the wine bar is at center with the porch. Underneath, sheltered by the earth, is the wine cellar. 

The clients specified that their portrait have colorful autumn leaves so I am finishing it just in time. I'll specify which winery it is once they have seen it and approved it.

Ink and watercolor on Fabriano illustration board, 15" x 12 1/2", October 2014. Click on the image for a larger view. This is the first professional work I've done at my new refurnished art space.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

New Orleans, late June 2003

In the summer of 2003 I took a long road trip through the Deep South, visiting places in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. My destination in Louisiana was New Orleans, where I spent three soaked days wandering through the city in the downpours of Tropical Storm Bill. I drew all the time of course and during a less rainy moment I got the time to draw this grandiose mansion in the affluent Garden District of New Orleans. This area later got hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. This house was across the street from an even more grandiose dwelling. I sat in my parked car doing this drawing and wondered why so many people were looking at that house (not this one across the street). Even busloads of tourists came by. Finally I asked one of the "pilgrims," who said she had come all the way from Las Vegas, what was the attraction. She said it was the home of vampire author Anne Rice. I've read some of Rice's books but I'm not a huge fan, certainly not enough to make me travel all the way from Vegas. Anyway I got this drawing done before the rain started really coming down so I escaped from Vampire Street unharmed.

Technical pen black ink on sketchbook page, 6" x 6 3/4", June 29, 2003.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Free Amazons of Darkover

Here's more early professional work. I was still using the very thin European technical pen point and my decorative efforts were still heavily influenced by European ornaments and architecture. This is a frontispiece interior illustration for the Gregg Press collector's item reprinting of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" books. The one here is for "The Shattered Chain," a tale of women who defy their medieval social rules to band together as "Free Amazons" doing guerrilla warfare and social welfare. 

The border for this piece repeats for all the borders in the series. I drew it once and then multiplied as many copies as I needed by photostat (explained earlier). Then I added the original work for each book in the left hand arch. The right archway space had the title, author, and publication information text. The spine of the book, between the pages, is the column in the middle.

The group in my frontispiece illustration were characters from the book. For a while, female Darkover fans (most Darkover fans were female, which was unusual for the science fiction/fantasy world back then) started their own "Free Amazon" groups which met at conventions, but it didn't last as a movement, which I think is kind of a shame.

"The Shattered Chain" is black technical pen ink on illustration board with photostat border, 12" x 8", October 1978. Click for a somewhat larger view.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Zenna Henderson's "People"

One of my earliest professional illustration jobs was doing frontispieces for collector's item editions of fantasy and s.f. books for Gregg Press. This Boston-based publisher specialized in hard-bound reproductions of old but important texts for libraries and collectors, and used real art on their frontispieces. The covers were not pulp pictorials but dignified panels with the signature of the author reproduced in gold foil print. I eventually did work for Gregg illustrating books by Philip K. Dick, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Zenna Henderson.

Zenna Henderson, who was a schoolteacher in rural Arizona, wrote a series of stories and longer texts about a race of aliens, who were visually identical with humans, who came to Earth after the destruction of their own planet and settled in the American Southwest. The difference was that these folk had magic (or psychic) powers and could do all sorts of miraculous deeds. They hid their powers from their neighbors lest they would be persecuted, but occasionally some of them, especially children, would use them anyway, as I depicted in this image of three levitating sisters. These alien refugees called themselves simply "The People," as many tribes do. Eventually they were assimilated into human society, since they could interbreed with humans, and their magic powers were lost. You can see other Henderson illustrations and my comments on them in older postings on this Blog.

In those ancient days I still did my black and white drawings with a very thin technical pen, the fabulous European Rotring-Rapidograph which I had brought back from the Old World. I could get a very high level of detail, perhaps too much for a simple illustration which would be reproduced at only 5" x 7". The image on this posting is taken from an archaic and forgotten method of printing black and white drawings called a photostat. This photostat was high resolution and could preserve every little graphic detail, and it didn't fade or yellow or warp. The photostat I used for this picture is well-kept from (yikes!) 1978. The house and tree are taken not from the Arizona countryside but my very own street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Technical pen black ink on Bristol illustration board, 7" x 10", spring 1978. Recommended click on the pic to see Rapidograph ink details.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Alchemical Madonna

This may be, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, one of the best pictures I have ever painted. You haven't seen it before on my blog because my photo of it, scanned from a poor slide, was not good enough. But the magic of Photoshop has made it into an image worthy of publication.

"The Alchemical Madonna" is a portrait of a real person and her daughter. Mother is wearing recreated Tudor noble garb, while the daughter wears a neutral white gown. They are seated in an allegorical space with alchemical themes, since I was studying alchemy at the time. The portrait was commissioned by her (then) husband, and I don't know which member of the couple got this painting. The daughter, a toddler at the time of painting, is now in her mid-twenties and all grown up. 

To detail some of the alchemical elements in this picture:  The alchemical Planets are depicted, with Saturn (lead) and Moon (silver) on throne. A Green Lion, symbolizing a yet-unknown chemical operation, is at Her right, and a Dragon at Her left. A Green Man, symbolizing Nature, appears in foliage ornaments on top of the throne. The yellow ribbons hanging from the bar holding up the hanging in the back of her throne commemorate the yellow ribbons of the Persian Gulf War, during which this was painted. 1991 was a long time ago.

"The Alchemical Madonna" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, 16" x 20", February-March 1991. Click on the image for a larger view.