Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blast from the Past #233: "A World Beyond: A Happening" poster

Back in 1981, I did this drawing which ended up being used on the poster for a science fiction event -- or "happening", in the parlance of the day -- at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. My memory is a bit fuzzy about some of the details, but I think there was some kind of contest to see what art would be used for the poster, and my entry was picked. I can't recall if there was any prize for this, but it was cool to have my drawing on the posters. I also got to meet the author Joan Vinge at this event, and she was very cool (and a really good writer, as I was later to find out by reading most -- if not all -- of her published work).

Unfortunately, I didn't save a good copy of the drawing, and the original seems to have disappeared, so this image is from a photo of one of the posters.

And while going through some old files tonight, I found this piece -- the rough sketch for the finished poster art. -- PL

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blast from the Past #232: Amherst College campus map

This is the drawing that started my freelance illustration career, right after I graduated from UMass. I just realized that I can't even remember HOW I got this job, but it was a good way to start out as an illustrator -- it was challenging, paid pretty well, and taught me a lot.

As I recall it, in 1976 Amherst College was looking to update the map of their campus. Like many colleges, things change over the years -- new buildings are added, old ones sometimes demolished, and so on. I was tasked with the job of drawing the entire campus, including all relevant buildings, roads and paths (and trees), using a kind of aerial perspective.

(As you have probably guessed, this is a photograph of an actual printed copy of the map -- hence the folds and wrinkles. I don't know where the original art is -- perhaps in a drawer in some filing cabinet somewhere at Amherst College.)

To get all the details correct, I spent a number of hours walking around the campus and making notes, getting a sense of what was where. But the real key to getting this thing done was having access to the official school photographer's archive of aerial photos of the campus. There were none that encompassed the whole area, so it was a matter of picking and choosing the right ones, then using those to create a map of the entire campus.

It was not an easy drawing to do, and I think it took me about three weeks to complete. But the folks at Amherst College seemed happy with the result, and used it as their official map for many years. A few years after I had completed this piece, they asked me to come back and draw -- in the same style I had used for the original -- two or three buildings that had been added to the campus in those intervening years. I was happy to do it. I don't think this art is still used for the campus map -- there have been so many changes to Amherst College over the last thirty-two years that I am almost certain they've had a new one created.

The one hundred and seventy-five dollars I was paid for drawing the original map was put to good use (at least I thought so) -- I went out and promptly purchased an awesome stereo system at Radio Shack that I used for a long time -- a Realistic brand turntable with built-in amplifier and radio, and two speakers. I think I still have it, though I have not used it in quite some time.

Because this was my first real paying job as an artist, and it came at the right time, and it was such an educational experience for me, I still have great fondness for this piece. And there's another nice memory that goes along with the work I did on this map -- one that involves the Amherst College photographer and a Hallowe'en costume I made around that time. Maybe I'll post something about that in the future. -- PL

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blast from the Past #230: Poster for Nuclear Freeze benefit concert *UPDATED 09-27-09*

Back in the 1970's, I was involved with a local branch of the "Nuclear Freeze" movement, an organization whose basic message -- eminently sensible, I thought -- was that there were already enough nuclear weapons on Earth to kill everyone thousands of times over, so why not -- as a first step -- just stop making any more new ones?

We were not well-funded, and were often looking for ways to raise money to continue the work of the group. One of our member suggested having a concert featuring two well-known (at least in our neck of the woods, or so I was told) folk singers, Molly Scott and Court Dorsey. Plans were made, a hall was secured, and I volunteered to do the artwork for the poster, which you see below. (My apologies for the horrible lighting on this image.)

I liked the way the drawing came out, with the nuclear weapon gradually rusting away under the layer of soil, mushrooms, and various plants. I think I even managed to capture the singers' likenesses in an okay fashion.

Sadly, the concert was a total bust, as I recall. I think about thirty people came. If memory serves, we lost money on it. But our hearts were in the right place. -- PL

*UPDATE 09-27-09! While going through some old stuff tonight, I found the following roughs for the Scott-Dorsey benefit concert. The top one is my first REALLY rough thumbnail, and the bottom one is a slightly more detailed rough. -- PL

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blast from the Past #229: "Unicorn Skull Encounter"

This is a drawing I did, just for fun, back in 1983. It's one of my favorites from that time -- I think I like it because it's one of those "story in a picture" drawings. I like to imagine the various scenarios which might have led up to this one tense moment.

I also tried to do a color version of this piece, but it didn't come out so well.

I think Kevin may have also tried his hand at coloring this one, but I'm not sure. I can't find it in the files I have on this computer. -- PL

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blast from the Past #228: "Spherical car pursued by robot drones"

There's no date on this piece, but my guess would be that it's from the mid- to late 1970's, possibly the early 1980's. It's one of my rare all-color pieces.

If memory serves, this one was inspired by photos of a cool "spherical car" I saw in either POPULAR MECHANICS or POPULAR SCIENCE. I just thought it looked totally "sci-fi". My apologies for the poor quality of the photo. -- PL

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My bicycling misadventure

This past Saturday, I had decided to go for a bicycle ride, even though the weather wasn't that great -- a slight mist in the air, overcast, but actually not too cold (about 65 degrees). I got the recumbent out and headed out toward the dirt road loop I've been doing past the bird sanctuary on Old Springfield Road. I went a little further and headed up towards the Audubon Center, taking the right hand of the fork in the road just past their entrance drive. I took that road to the end, then headed back.

I stopped to look at an old, unpaved trail that crosses the road I was on, heading north and south, the north end going into the Audubon Center. I'd wondered about this path before, but today it looked more appealing than usual to try to ride on -- like somebody had been clearing it up a little, taking out sticks and maybe chopping back some brush. I decided to take the southern route of the path. Along this path on its left side ran a line of trees. To the left of this line of trees was a small field, with what looked like a well-worn track (probably made by farm tractors or other vehicles driving through it) immediately abutting the tree line. This is an important detail, to which I will later come back.

At first, the riding was fine... a little rough, with some roots and mud, but not too bad. Then, after pedaling in a few tenths of a mile, I saw an appealing path heading off to the left into some pretty fields, and I took it.

For a while, it was fun -- beautiful trees and bushes, small meadows, and the path was more or less clear, though in places it had long grass growing in it. Then the grass and weeds started to grow taller, and the path disappeared.

I continued on, trusting in my sense of direction (which is generally pretty good, or so I thought) to lead me back out to either the original path I had taken or to that track into the field just to the left of the trailhead I had started down originally. I figured I would just make a gentle arc back in that direction, and I would in due time come out in that general vicinity. But the weeds just kept getting taller, and I couldn't see the path. Eventually I couldn't pedal through the weeds any more and I got off and started pushing my bike. That was only slightly easier, as the weeds and grass -- which by this point were easily three or four feet high and dense -- would get caught in the various parts of the bike, making pushing a real chore. Even walking through them was a chore, as they would wrap around my feet, getting me tangled up and making me stumble. I kept going, and thought I saw a way out near the edge of some woods... but although the weeds got thinner there, I was faced with a brook which I had not expected to see. I realized then that I had no real idea where I was -- I was lost. I didn't know where the original path was. I had gotten completely turned around. Looking about me, I could see no recognizable landmarks.

So I decided that the best thing to do was to head back the way I had come in, and retrace my steps back to the original path. I was not looking forward to this, as it meant fighting my way back through the high grass and weeds, and going UPHILL for the most part. I did think that at least I had already been through that stuff, so my path would be a little bit clearer than just bushwhacking through untouched growth. Well, that plan fell apart when I realized I couldn't find my previous path -- I just could not see where I had come through. So this meant I did have to bushwhack.

Around this time I started to realize that my heart rate had gone up quite a bit -- this was the kind of aerobic exercise that I don't generally get, and I could feel my heart pounding very fast. It was then that I think I started to panic. I knew that although I could not be TOO far away from either the path or the paved road -- probably no more than a mile at most -- I had no real idea which way I should head to get to either one of them most quickly. What concerned me was that if I started off in what seemed like a likely direction, I could -- given how completely off-course I was at the moment -- just start walking in circles, getting even more exhausted as I tried to force my way through the tall weeds. I started to worry that I might have a heart attack as I fought my way through the dense growth. I also started to worry that I might run into bears (I know, unlikely... but not impossible... they're pretty common around this area). I looked around and I could see no houses, no roads... just tall weeds and grass and trees. If at that moment I had been asked to point to where the paved road was, the one on which I had ridden to the trailhead, I know now that I could not have done it correctly except by sheer chance. By this time, it was almost impossible to push the bike through the grass and weeds, so dense had they become, so for the most part I had to lift it up and CARRY it, which got my heart rate going even more (it's a long, fairly heavy bike).

I was starting to freak out. No one knew I was out there. If I keeled over from a coronary, I probably wouldn't be found for weeks. The grass and weeds were so high that I don't think the bike could be seen even from a short distance. I actually yelled "Help!" a few times, but got no reply. I came about a minute or two away from calling my friend Rob, who lives in nearby Easthampton, to see if he could come and find me -- maybe park out on the road and beep his horn so I could get my bearings or something. Every couple of minutes I would stop and try to let my rapidly beating heart slow down. Of course, when I'd do that the mosquitos would start to gather.

The one manmade thing I could see about three hundred feet away were some power lines under which I had passed when I was crossing this field of tall grass and weeds previously, before I decided I had to turn around and retrace my steps. But they were an old style of power lines with wooden poles and I couldn't recognize them as something that led to the road I was looking for -- for all I knew, they went off through the surrounding woods and fields until they crossed Route 10, and that was much further than I cared to go (or, perhaps, even COULD go -- my strength might not hold out). But I figured I should try to make my way back to them, and see if there might be an old track that led alongside them. So I fought my way through the tall stuff, and there WAS kind of an almost invisible track -- like it had been cut or crushed down months ago and had almost (but not quite) grown back up as tall as the other weeds and grass. So I started following this.

In spots, I could actually pedal, so I rode a little bit. But for the most part, I got off and pushed. I had to cross a small stream along the way, but that wasn't too bad. Oh, and at some point during this, I noticed that my chain had come off the sprocket, which made me groan -- would I have to fix the bike while simultaneously trying to find my way out of this predicament? Fortunately, I was able to quickly get the chain back onto the sprocket with judicious use of the twist shifter and backpedaling.

My heart was still pounding pretty hard, so I forced myself to take it easy, stopping every so often. But I really wanted to get out of there! Eventually, I came out from behind some trees and saw a house I recognized about a quarter of a mile away. Then I realized where I was... and I was stunned to see that it wasn't anywhere near where I thought I should be. (It was actually at the intersection of the roads near the entrance to the Audubon Center, which is about half a mile back from where I picked up the trail originally.) The field I had to cross to get to the road was, thankfully, recently mowed, so the grass was only about a foot high. I was able to ride about half of the way. Finally I made it to the paved road. What a relief!

A few days later, I went back with my friend Rick to show him the site of my misadventure. I didn't want to have to struggle thorough that high, tangly stuff -- it still gave me the creeps to even think about getting back into that -- so we stuck to the edges of the fields and only went far enough so that I could point out to him where I'd screwed up. Rick had brought with him a few satellite photos he'd printed out from Google Earth, so we were able to use though to get our bearings. And it's a good thing, too, as we rapidly lost track of where we were. At one point, we were standing at the edge of the last field, the one where I had started to panic, and Rick asked me where, from our perspective, the road up to East Street in Easthampton was. I looked around and pointed over to our right. "No," Rick said, and pointed straight ahead. "It's over there." I couldn't believe it, but looking at the Google Earth photos, it was clear that he was right and I was wrong. It was a sobering moment.

Here's a panoramic view of the area in question...

So what's the point of this post? I guess it's just to say that I learned a lesson that day about the dangers of solely depending on my sense of direction, which -- prior to this -- I'd always felt was pretty accurate. It's funny -- about a month or so ago, I was listening to a piece on the radio about a study that was recently done testing people out in the woods, to see if they could find their way without compasses or other sorts of navigation aids. Almost everyone tested -- I think it might have been over ninety percent -- ended up walking in circles. Very few people could walk for any significant distance in a straight line.

And that's what made my little misadventure scary... the idea that while I was really no more than a mile or two from "civilization", I might have continued to walk in circles, all the while thinking that I was heading in a straight line... getting more and more exhausted and panicky as I went. -- PL

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blast from the Past #225: Moxie® Hundredth Anniversary artwork

I can't remember HOW I got this job, but somehow I made the connection with the Moxie® bottling company. Moxie®, as you may know, is a distinctively-flavored soda, sold mostly in New England.

When we were living in Dover, New Hampshire, I was struggling to find work as an illustrator, and I was fortunate to get this job doing some illustrations for the local Moxie® plant (I believe it was in Rochester, NH). I think I did about half a dozen drawings, some of which were used in newspaper advertisements. Moxie® was celebrating its one-hundredth year in 1984.

I can't recall exactly what this one was used for, though I think it might have found its way onto t-shirts. I recall that the guy who hired me to do this work gave me a small paperback book about the history of the Moxie® brand to use as reference -- it had quite a few photos, including some of this cool promotional vehicle Moxie® made great use of during their heyday, the "Moxeimobile". Apparently, this was one of those old open touring cars, and it had a life-size fiberglass horse standing up inside it. A person could sit on the horse and actually drive the car. I was told that the bottling company had one of these in storage, but sadly I never got to see it. -- PL

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blast from the Past #224: Finhead guy fights tentacled monster

This is another piece from back in my college days -- my last year of college, in fact, which was 1976. I'm not sure what inspired this drawing, although I have a vague memory of doing several different drawings featuring this guy with the fin on his head -- it's possible that I intended to do a story with him as a protagonist, but I don't think it ever happened.

I think I was trying to play with ink washes in this piece (not terribly successfully, in my opinion). -- PL

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blast from the Past #222: Ninja archer lithograph

Here's a bit of evidence that my interest in things ninja goes back a ways before the Turtles. This is a lithograph I did while at UMass, sometime between 1972 and 1976. I based this drawing on a photo in a book I had at the time.

This piece is kind of unusual for me in that I am typically not comfortable with the kind of semi-abstract blobs and shapes I used in it. I can't remember WHY I did it this way -- it could have been a desire to make it look significantly different from the photo in the book. Or maybe I was playing around with how the inks, mixed with water in varying amounts, would work on the litho stone. Who knows? But I like the end result. -- PL

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Moon and clouds

Kind of lonely here at the old homestead -- my wife is away for a few days visiting friends on Cape Cod. I do have the dogs for company, but as you might guess, it's not quite the same.

Late last night I stepped outside for a few minutes to get some air, and let the dogs run around, and was greeted by a very dramatic view of the moon partly hidden behind some ominous clouds. As I gazed at this scene, I wondered if Jeannine was seeing something similar down at the Cape. Probably not, as she tends to go to turn in before I do, but maybe she'd stayed up that night and was down on the beach right at that moment, staring up at the moon as she listened to the waves massaging the shore.

I don't know enough about photography to really try to capture these sublime moments, but I did know enough to realize that the minute shaking of my hands as I pressed the shutter button would probably ruin this shot, so I grabbed my TrekPod and set the camera on it. I also set the self-timer for ten seconds, which I figured would give the camera time eough to stop whatever small oscillations had begun when I pressed the shutter button and released the camera. And I think it worked pretty well.

The final result, while okay, doesn't come close to capturing exactly how moody this scene was. -- PL