Thursday, November 27, 2014

Flowers of 1986

Orange and blue are my favorite colors, and as complementary colors they look great together. My old residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts had a large backyard and lots of small garden spaces, where I grew plants which flowered in my favorite combination. These little bouquets (only a few inches tall not counting the vase) came from my very own outdoor city garden. The flowers are marigolds, bachelor's button, ageratum, lobelia, and nasturtium. I have tried to grow flowers in containers on my urban balcony here in Northern Virginia but none of these varieties survive. It is just too hot and dry on the terrace so all I can successfully grow are cacti and succulents, the occasional zinnia, and wild phlox. 

Brown technical pen ink and watercolor on sketchbook page, about 7" x 9", August 1986.

No By-Product for the next few days as I will be at the venerable "Chessiecon", formerly known as "DarkoverCon," in the Baltimore area this weekend.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I like to imagine life forms with little or no humanoid characteristics. This is harder than it sounds. As soon as you put something like a dot or whiskers, it starts looking like an earthly creature. In fact there is probably nothing completely alien-looking on our planet, since nature  has already come up with any possible design for life over a billion years or so.

I started with a simple circle or oval, then added a band of whiskers around it, and added eyespots on its body, and there I already had protozoa. These tiny creatures, more accurately called "protists," live in water or moist soil. Their variety is endless and their numbers countless. In this drawing I've portrayed at least five varieties of (imaginary) protozoan. 

In my teen years, I kept protozoa as "pets," that is, in a sample of swamp water in my room. I grew up in a forested environment with many swamps or wetlands which could not be built on. These areas were my playground and when we covered the protozoa in high school I got to keep my very own live collection. I had a little microscope, produced in Japan by an entity called "Micronta," which had glass slides to put your drop of pond water on. There was, as the cliche said, a world of life in that one little drop. I was able to identify a few species, like Paramecia and amoebas and rotifers, all of which were tiny specks to the naked eye but lively mini-beasts in the microscope's view. I drew pictures of some of them, though I don't know where those drawings are now.

Unfortunately, to observe these creatures I had to destroy them, since I couldn't return them all to the water jar or the pond. It's possible that some of them might even be harmful to humans, though my collection gave me no trouble. When their life cycle was over in the jar, I poured the water out into the dirt in the backyard and threw out the jar. I may have studied micro-life as a high schooler, but I never followed it up by becoming some kind of scientist or micro-naturalist. 

Black technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 3" x 3", November 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oxford Spa Nateral Foods

As an "urban sketcher" I documented the older buildings in my Cambridge neighborhood just outside the bounds of Harvard. Oxford Street was only a couple of blocks away from my residence and I was there often, wandering around on my daily walk with sketchbook. This old building housed a liquor store and a small market, the "Oxford Spa," advertised on the green and white striped awning as selling "nateral" foods. The owners were Greek and didn't know English very well. 

I recently took a virtual trip down Cambridge's memory lane in my old territory, using the marvelous looking glass of "Google Street View." The Google Street View of this building shows that the Oxford Spa is still there, under the same name, though certainly under different management, and has a cafe as well as the old market.

Thirty years later I imagine in memory my Cambridge days, and remember them as slow-paced bohemian artist's life in an urban village. But the reality was more complex, and I could make myself feel as unproductive and miserable as I ever could, then or now. I didn't have a day job then, so I could draw my urban sketches whenever conditions permitted. And I have the entire global Internet not only to hurry me up but remind me of all sorts of dreadfulness beyond that lazy little neighborhood in decades past.

Brown ink and watercolor on sketchbook page, about 8" x 8 1/2", July 19, 1984. Click for a larger view. You couldn't say that in 1984.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Algorithm 5: Squares and Rectangles

An algorithm, according to the search engine definition, is a procedure or formula for solving a problem. A mathematical recipe, perhaps. When I do my geometric abstraction pictures, I use an algorithm to decide how I'm going to do the composition. Will I use curved lines? Will I repeat angles and mirror them? Or will I use only right angles, squares, and rectangles? This is a doodle created with the "right angle perpendicular squares and rectangles" algorithm. I drew the lines in ink and shaded the spaces with Photoshop. This piece looks very "mid-century modern" (1950s), because this type of design was popular then, even among high-concept artists and designers. It also is inspired by the look of a modern city. 

Technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 8" x 2 1/4", shaded in Photoshop, November 2014.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fish for Pets

Some pet foods are made from fish, I suppose scraps left over from making people food, or fish catches not desired by humans, but I don't know. My pet shop client asked for a fish-themed pictorial tag so here it is. This is the last of the series for now, and I hope he asks for more illustrations. Or maybe someone else will. It's been an unusual assignment and counting back in my logbook I have only spent two weeks on the project, about two hours each piece, time allotted when possible given my day job. Now comes the holiday season with its noise and distraction.

Black technical pen ink on thick paper, about 5" x 3", colored in Photoshop, November 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Here's another of my pet shop miniatures. The client requested one depicting a chicken, not because people keep chickens as pets (do they?) but because some pet food is made out of chicken. Some fancy cat food looks good enough for humans to eat, and I suppose that's deliberate, though I hate to think of people eating cat food. Other people who have more money buy people food for their cats and dogs. I would rather not comment on that. There is an egg in the other bottom corner of this picture.

Brown ink on thick paper, about 5" x 3", colored in Photoshop. November 21, 2014.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cambridge November 1984

I did a lot of "urban sketching" when I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as I have said in many previous posts. This was a corner of a large Harvard property near my own house, which was itself Harvard property in those days. They stashed maintenance supplies and vehicles there. You can see some red-brick architecture in the center, which I think was the biology department. Nowadays all this is gone, the space cleared and rebuilt with a massive new science center. This drawing is unusual because despite its November date I was still able to sit outside and draw. I also liked the last golden fall leaves against the maintenance office trailer, and the old white clapboard buildings, so typical of New England.

Reddish-brown technical pen ink on sketchbook page, about 7 1/2" x 10", November 10, 1984. Some color added in the sky with Photoshop. In those days I would indicate colors on-site with watercolor pencils and then add the rest of the color back in the studio. Click for larger view.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cat Scratcher

I love black and white cats. I especially love the type of black and white pattern known as the "tuxedo" cat pattern. These cats are full of charm. Black cats aren't as easy to draw as other marked cats because the figure and eyes don't always show up. A black and white cat will shed white hairs on your dark clothes and dark hairs on your light clothes, thus doing double duty. This one advertises a cat scratching post at the pet shop I've been working for. 

Black and brown ink on thick paper, about 5" x 3", colored in Photoshop, November 2014.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jack Russell Terrier

The "Jack Russell" terrier is a popular dog breed these days as it is small, energetic, and has plenty of cuteness. I put a portrait of this terrier on one of my pictorial pet shop price tags. The pet shop owner says that he has already put some of my designs into the shop. I still have a few more to do.

Technical pen brown and black ink, colored in Photoshop, about 5" x 3", November 2014.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

King Charles Spaniel and Siamese Cat

After a short weekend break here comes the second set of decorative pet shop price tags. This one features a "Cavalier King Charles Spaniel" and a Siamese cat. I already know a little about cat breeds but now I'm learning about dog breeds. The Cavalier King Charles was recently in the news because it was the pet dog of a nurse who survived Ebola fever, and was in danger of being put down due to possible spread of infection. Fortunately, the dog was never infected and was re-united with its person. I've also added autumn leaves to this little scene.

Black and brown technical pen ink on thick paper, colored in Photoshop, about 5" x 3", November 2014.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Urban Woods Dump Saga

At the end of the block next to mine, at the bottom of a fairly steep hill, is a patch of land owned by a family in the construction business. I can look out at this place from my window using my binoculars, and see what is going on there. They might be builders but they have done nothing with this space except dump trash and old vehicles there. The place is really a "compound" with four buildings on it: the main house, two garages, and an old weathered cabin with a porch which looks like it has been there longer than any of the other buildings. One of the garages has been covered with a blue tarp for as long as I have been here, which would be more than 20 years. At times there were more than a dozen inactive and rusted-out cars in the yard around these buildings, as well as unused construction equipment. What is more interesting is that the old cabin supposedly contains a library of about 10,000 books.

I have occasionally met and talked to these folks but not for a long time. The patriarch of the family was a hoarder, at least this is how it looks. Just recently, again from my observations which might not be true, this old man finally died, and within days his son and the rest of the family started clearing dad's hoard.

They needed heavy construction equipment to do this. First they brought in a bulldozer and demolished an ugly, spreading patch of bamboo which the old man had planted there years ago. Then they went for the dump. There was a massive pile of trash in the yard. They pulled the blue tarp off the garage, which was also filled with trash. Nothing at all valuable, just piles of old cardboard, wood scraps, weathered wood, even old road signs and advertising signs. They used another bulldozer, a small "Bobcat," to do this. They filled a truck-sized dumpster with rubbish and hauled it away. Then they got another dumpster and started on the cabin. That's where they are now. The cabin was packed with decades of old papers and dead equipment. I saw them drag out box after box of papers as well as an old TV. They haven't gotten to the books yet, but I wonder whether they will just throw them away too. 

It's a shame because that cabin is rather nice, or was. It's the kind of building I would love to live in, if it were well-kept and cozy. It is secluded yet in an urban area. There are pockets of hillbilly rurality all over my neighborhood, if you know where to look. Now if they ever get it cleaned out, with the books and the hoarded trash, it would be uninhabitable due to mold and neglect and they will have to tear it down. But given this family's treatment of this woodsy space, it will probably sit there until the whole property is sold, whenever that happens.

I sketched some of the things that I saw and what you see for today's picture is a composite of some of my sketches. I didn't reproduce the scene but put together an image using elements of what I saw. You can see the blue tarp, some railings from the main house, weathered wood, old signs, fall leaves. Meanwhile I am watching this project with fascination and wondering what will come out next. It is quite similar to what happened with my own family's house after my father died. It took 4 pickup truck loads to clear my father's hoard just in the garage and the process is still going on up there at my mother's home.

Pitt brown and black technical pen ink, colored with markers, November 2014. Click for somewhat larger view.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Winery 32

"Wine Saturday" featured lovely weather and excellent wine at the brand-new winery in Loudoun County, "Winery 32." My wining friends and I also enjoyed good food cooked up by the owner/winemaker of Winery 32, who is also a chef. Great combination I say. The fresh new tasting lodge has a rear deck from which you can view splendid vistas and farms. The deck is shaded by big, brilliant orange umbrellas. It was just a little too cold to draw outside so I drew the view through a window, including the umbrella which reminds me of a huge flower. "32," which is also 2 to the 5th power, is definitely worth more visits.

Pitt technical pen brown ink on sketchbook page, 6" x 9", November 15, 2014. Some more work was done in the studio on this.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sunshine Cat

I'm about halfway through my work on the pet shop pictorial price tags. Now it's time for cats. Since the shop is in a warm climate state, I'm adding details and colors from sunlit and summery places. The cat is semi-long haired, with white sides and belly and a reddish-brown tabby back and tail. There will be more cats and dogs for the next set.

Brown and black technical pen ink on Bristol illustration board, about 5" x 3", colored in Photoshop, November 14, 2014.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Black and White Abstractions 1977

I've done graphic design for most of my life. Maybe all of my life, if you count drawings and lettering done by my baby self. When I lived in Cambridge and was a dismal graduate student, I frequented the "Science Fantasy Bookstore" in the Harvard Square area. It was there that I met my first science fiction fan friends, my first Pagan friends, and made my first art sale as a fantasy artist.

I did graphic work advertising the bookstore and many other things as well such as concert flyers or restaurant menus (remember Paco's Tacos!). This is a composite piece which combines my design for a leaflet advertising the Science Fantasy Bookstore, with a small black and white piece I entered at one of my first science fiction convention art shows. I was trying to render my geometric abstraction style in black and white. I'm not sure I really succeeded but it wasn't a bad attempt, especially in 1977. I just put these two pieces together. The bookstore ad is an excerpt, and below where I cut it is writing and maps and other lettering not done by me. All these straight lines were done with a ruler and the curves were traced against a plastic template. Yes, by hand. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop didn't exist yet.

Composite of two separate ink illustrations from 1977, about  7 1/3" x 8 1/4". Click on the pic for more ink.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Golden Retriever mini portrait

People like Golden Retrievers because they are nice dogs, they're fuzzy, and their faces look sort of human. For these reasons I put a portrait of a Golden on one of my pet shop price tags. I am a cat lover but will make exceptions for some dogs. More dog and cat portraits are coming in this series. The drawings are all very small but I can do details with a fine point technical pen.

Pitt brown and black technical pen ink on thick paper, colored in Photoshop, about 5" x 3", November 13, 2014.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Poetic Dog Food

I've taken a temporary second job for the current weeks, making illustrated price tags for a pet shop. This couldn't have taken place without the almighty Internet. The owner of the pet shop, who is located far away from me, saw my decorative Trader Joe's price tags online (posted here some time ago) and wanted something like it for his store. The one you see here is an example of the style I am using, which is inspired by "traditional" ink drawing colored in watercolor. My advertising experience enables me to make dog food look poetic. I'm making 12 different designs for my client, so stay tuned.

Ink drawing colored and modified in Photoshop, about 5" x 3", November 2014.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Virgil's Grapes

I was still a graduate student in Greek and Latin Classics when I did this pen-and-ink drawing. My Latin professor, a devotee of the Roman poet Virgil, commissioned me to do three drawings inspired by passages in the "Georgics," a set of poems by Virgil poetically describing idealized farming and country life. This one was about viticulture, that is, vineyard and grape growing. I used a pen technique which was very 19th century if not even earlier, and I put the Latin passage on a label-block which derived from ancient Roman inscriptions. I used a photograph of an ancient Italian vine overloaded with grapes, though real winery grapes are much more sparse and heavily pruned. The Latin line means, "Hence every vineyard teems with mellowing fruit." 

My professor and my academic career in Latin are long gone, but as you can see from my recent pursuits, the grape is still a major part of my poetic and idealized art work. 

Pen and (originally brown) India ink on Bristol illustration board, 8" x 10", spring 1978. This image is from a photostat. Click for larger view. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Right Stuffing

Here's more corn from the Trader Joe's graphics department. Fortunately, current graphics styles allow you to use different typefaces on your panel. Not too many people will remember what "The Right Stuff" was. It was one of Tom Wolfe's best books, about the first American astronauts, and was also made into an excellent movie with Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, and other manly all-stars, as well as an excellent soundtrack by Bill Conti. I refrained from sneaking in an astronautic reference, as there was enough on the billboard already. Besides, we don't usually send Thanksgiving dinner into space. 

Acrylic paint markers on black-painted hardboard, 6 feet x 2 feet, November 9, 2014.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mediterranean Village sketch

I love drawing images of Mediterranean villages. Their complexity of geometric shapes fascinates me, as it does with most architecturally minded artists. I have a carefully selected library of photos of these places, and once or twice in my life I have actually visited them. This drawing was done from a photo, and I can't remember what village it was, probably Italian. I'd love to go back, even if I had to climb stairs to get anywhere in the town. I wouldn't be the only person sketching there, either. Artists tend to "colonize" picturesque places.

Ink and markers on sketchbook page, some color added in Photoshop. About 4 1/2" x 5 1/2", June 2007.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ratty Writer

A little late on this one…just don't look at the time stamps on these By-Product postings, they will horrify you. Here's Ratty, a writer, contemplating his next few thousand words on "NaNoWriMo," which is an internet challenge to write a complete novel during the month of November. The composite word stands for "National Novel Writing Month." I do not have to do this, for which the reading world should thank me. Some of my friends are writing for it. Most of the outputters in my circle of friends are probably writing fantasy, but you can write anything for it.

"Ratty" the writer is inspired by the Rat character from Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows," a children's classic that I read when I was young. It was not written in only one month, but collected from Grahame's stories that he told to his young son at bedtime. I think it is time for me to read it again after all these years. Anthropomorphic characters aren't only for  children. And I won't have to worry about them doing kinky erotic things to each other, such as "Fifty Shades of AnthroNaNoWriMo."

Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 4" x 2 1/2", November 8, 2014.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Were-Dragoness

When "Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine" was still publishing, I had the ongoing job of illustrating MZB's "Lythande" stories. Lythande, as some of you might remember, was a wizard who kept a shocking secret: despite living and looking like a man, "he" was a woman. She had obtained her magical knowledge by disguising herself as a male in the all-male magical academy (like "Yentl" in the Barbra Streisand film). When she was discovered, she could keep her magical knowledge as long as she represented herself as a male. If her true gender was discovered, she would lose her magic and possibly her life. In this short tale, "North to Northwander," Lythande must defend a town against a fierce dragon who turns out to be a shape-changing woman.

I showed this picture at "DarkoverCon," the MZB fantasy fan convention, and I got some negative comments because I depicted the dragon-lady as corpulent. 

Black ink on illustration board, 8" x 8", April 1997.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Roomscape October 2014

Some of the details of a classic 1950s mid-century modern ranch house are still visible in this drawing I did of the living room I grew up in. The black area with "curtains" in front is a real fireplace that, if its chimney were in working shape, would burn real wood. The curtains are made of metal mesh that protects against sparks or popping wood. I spent many a warm winter night in front of this fireplace, despite its wastefulness by modern standards. Note the mantel and fireplace surround, made of white-painted brick. Metal fireplace tools hang from a central rod topped with a trefoil, at right. Nowadays homes are still built with fireplaces but they are fueled by gas. I find it interesting that no matter how modern a residence is, the designers often include a symbolic fireplace with symbolic flames. 

The bag on the metal rods in front of the fireplace is my mother's crewel (wool thread) embroidery. She hasn't worked on it for a long time. There are books everywhere in this intellectual family's house. To the left is an old portable radio. I would do a lot with this space if it ever comes to me. 

Pitt black technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 6 1/4", October 27, 2014. An "Inktober" drawing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Backyard Colors

In this piece of iPaddery you can see some of the colorful foliage in my mother's back yard. I have heard that the bright red leaves belong to a plant called a "euonymus" but I don't have confirmation of that. Anyway the word "euonymus" is kinda cool, Greek and botanical and all. The bright yellow-green leaves in center belong to a catalpa sapling. This landscaping tree sheds pods and seeds which sprout weed trees all over the area which have to be removed. Nobody thought of that when they planted small catalpa trees in the front yards of these suburban ranch houses 60 years ago. Now the trees are huge. Nature has its revenge, sort of.

"ArtStudio" app on iPad, October 25, 2014.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


My mother's house was de-cluttered last year and earlier this year, but there are still many cluttery places in back rooms, including the one I sleep in during my difficult visits. When my mother vacated her art studio downtown, twenty years of art clutter re-invaded the family house. This drawing shows two art tables, some broken-down stools, chairs, and light fixtures, and two backpacks. The pack on the chair, under the conical light fixture, is mine. There is no room for making art here. I drew this while sitting on the cot bed. The round UFO-like shape is the reflection of the lamp in the window. You can also see some of the pattern of an imitation "Oriental" rug on the floor. Much of this room is taken up by my mother's art work, painted on heavy boards, which dates from the 1940s to the 2000s and is stacked against the walls. A small towel is draped over the stool back, in the center of the picture.

Pitt black technical pen on sketchbook page, 5" x 8", October 25, 2014. Drawing for "InkTober." Sorry, I do not have the time or resources to do the "AquaVember" daily watercolor challenge.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fall Colors

There was a lot of bright color remaining on the trees when I was in New England. This is a study of some leaves across the street from my mother's house. You can see my sketchy rendition of a garage in the background. The leaves seemed especially bright on grey wet days. By now the leaves are all on the ground. 

This is done, as usual, on the iPad with the "Art Studio" app. This app is especially good for landscapes and nature studies because it has excellent texture "brushes" that simulate leaves, lawn grass, and other plant forms. The only thing I would like from the iPad drawing apps is a "straight line drawing" feature that allows the artist to make straight lines from one point to the next, as is possible in Photoshop. There is some sort of line-drawing feature on the iPad but it usually doesn't work.

"ArtStudio" app on iPad, October 2014.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


The old house is full of stuff, 60 years full of stuff. Some of it I remember from my childhood. This is a tabletop in what was the dining area. My father built the table from scratch in the mid-60s. The stuff on the table goes from the 1960s to the present. You can see, to the left, a little "boom box" CD player from about 2006, numerous cups, mugs, and saucers, a metal pitcher full of dried-up flowers, and an early 2000s "torchiere" pole lamp.To the right is my rain hat and part of a late 1950s chair. I draw what is in front of me.

Pitt technical pen black ink on sketchbook page, about 5" x 5", October 22, 2014. An "Inktober" drawing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mall-o-ween 2014

As I did last year, I evaded the candy-snarfing door-knocking youths in dark hoodies (no costumes) by going to the nearby Mall. The mall hosts Halloween activity for younger kids and their parents. The kids wear costumes, and sometimes the parents do too, and they trick-or-treat the stores, which have someone giving out candy. I brought my sketchbook with me and drew as many costumed kids as I could. Since they were all moving, I had to do a lot from instant memory and some invention, as I could not see all the details of the costumes. Some of the better ones were superheroes, butterflies, Egyptian princesses, bees and ladybugs, and of course the feminine gender-specified fairies and princesses. There were also the usual "traditional" characters of pirates and Gypsies and ninjas and zombies. Almost all of the costumes were pre-fabricated, rather than created by the wearer and parents. I was reminded of my own trick-or-treating nights, which were exciting because you were out at night all by yourself. This no longer happens for modern kids, who are protected from weather and accidents and bad people in the safety of the mall. Meanwhile, I took home some candy myself, since the mall "hosts" didn't mind handing it out to me.

Brown Pitt technical pen ink on sketchbook page, 5" x 8", October 31, 2014. Last "Inktober" drawing for this year. Click on the pic for a larger view.