Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Ok, I was wrong, there were six illustrations, not five!  This is the last of the Reader's Digest paintings I did for Rosalind Laker's Venetian Mask. I don't remember exactly how it occurred, but the heroine's husband was taken to prison on some charge, no doubt the work of the evil villain. Our lady bails him out and basically saves him, too. Talk about heroic! I had him in his cell, writing a letter ( to his wife, no doubt), when she arrives and the door is flung open. I tried to make it look like he jumped up so fast that he knocked over his chair and spilled the ink. Being one of the upper class, he would have had a chair and table, perhaps, and writing instruments, unless he was really in trouble. I based this cell on a jail cell I remembered seeing in the Doge's palace, near the Bridge of Sighs. For those who aren't familiar with Venetian history,  there was a slot in the wall of the palace through which accusations could be slipped anonymously. To be accused, was to be found guilty. It was up to you and your family to prove otherwise. A system that was all too easy to abuse and a great way to get rid of an enemy or a rival. The accused entered the palace for a hearing and sentence over the bridge of sighs, so called because it would be, for so many prisoners, the last view they would ever see of their beloved city.
I'm quite proud of this series and others I did for the Digest. I hope you enjoyed seeing these images that haven't had a viewing in many years.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Here's our girl being really heroic! Her friend, seen earlier in the bridal gondola, has fallen out of favor with the evil husband . He has been keeping her in a kind of dungeon, without food. Somehow she manages to bluff her way into the palazzo and finds her friend in a terribly weakened state. Then the husband comes home. Smart thinking, to bring a pistol along!
 This is one illustration where I built a miniature cardboard and wood set, to help me envision the space the actors would be in. I had to know what angle to place the guy so that he would appear to be coming down the high stairs. In the studio we had him up on a ladder and the camera was almost on the ground. You really have to plan ahead to shoot this many scenes in 2 hours. I think this is one of my favorites of the series, because of the strong angles in the composition and because of the powerful body language of the heroine.
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Monday, June 14, 2010


Honestly, I forget who is dueling whom in this scene. I think one is the mean husband and the other, the nice guy our heroine ends up marrying. The duelers are both wearing Bauta masks, but have removed the outer clothing and hats, to have more freedom to move. I placed them in one of those small squares that you find throughout Venice. Little alleys lead off in all directions and you can get very lost quickly. A crowd of party goers stand around watching the entertainment. Dueling was illegal, but with everyone masked,  they could get away with it.
On my wanderings in Venice I had the feeling of ghosts around me in those quieter areas, especially at night. History isn't dead there but lives on and there is a sinister undertone to the city and its history. Rivalries, hidden intrigues, plots and murders abounded amongst the debauchery of Venetian society. Ms. Laker really caught that feeling in her story. Of note is the black Bauta at the left, with the lower part fringed with black lace. It's a very disconcerting look, at the least! It's always disturbing to talk with a person wearing a mask. The seem to take on a strange power that an ordinary face wouldn't have. Perhaps because it defeats our ability to read that face.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010


As promised, I'm continuing to post illustrations I painted for Rosalind Laker's book, Venetian Mask, as published by Reader's Digest in 1993. This scene shows the heroine's best friend on her wedding day procession by gondola. She is visibly unhappy, because this is a forced marriage, due to economic circumstances and the guy she's marrying is known to be a real creep, but very wealthy and powerful. I wanted to give the viewpoint from gondola height, to direct the eye. The miserable bride is the focus of attention even though she is off to the right. In the printed book, this image was spread across the top of two pages with text below. Venice was still fresh in my mind from an earlier trip and I was excited to be able to place this scene in the Grand Canal. Did I take liberties with the architecture? Yes. And of course no bride would allow her wedding dress to drape into that water, which was even dirtier then, but it created such a nice flowing line and helped get across her defeated attitude, I did it anyway. I believe the model used for the bride is Sue Brown. Brigid Hobbie played the family member behind her in the gondola and I may have posed for the guy in front, but I'm not sure. This painting is four feet long, in oil on wood.
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Saturday, June 12, 2010


This is another of the paintings done for Rosalind Laker's Venetian Mask, published back in 1993 by Reader's Digest. It shows the heroine at work in the shop that creates and sells masks. She is being noticed through the window by her future husband. I imagined this shop to be in the arched arcade that surround Piazza San Marco. All the masks were all carefully researched. One particularly strange one is at the upper right, which is known as the Plague Doctor. I read somewhere that during the plagues that swept Europe in previous centuries, it was believed that breathing bad air was the cause of the disease, so doctors wore these peculiar masks to sort of filter the air before they breathed it in. Can you imagine being deathly ill and visited by a doctor wearing a mask like that? How horrific! The heroine was played by model Brigid Hobbie, I don't remember the guy's name. I was honored when Reader's digest used this image on their Christmas card for that year, the second time they used one of my illustrations for their card. The first one was for a book called Anya, set in Russia in the 19th century which I'll post at another time, if there's any interest. This is an oil painting approximately 32 inches high.  Please leave your comments!

Friday, June 11, 2010


I thought it would be fun and interesting to post a series I did for a story written by Rosalind Laker, called Venetian Mask, which was published in Readers Digest in 1993.These are all oil paintings and they hark back to an earlier era in illustration. The story features a gutsy heroine, a dramatic rescue and tons of wonderful period detail to help the reader feel immersed in the time. I had been in Venice eight years earlier and had taken the photograph of the great piazza at night. Of course the people in Comedia Del Arte costumes weren't there. One of the wonderful things about working on an historical project is to learn about things I didn't know about before, such as the characters of the Comedia del Arte, a very early form of street theater, which dates back I think to before the Rennaisance. I learned that people regularly went out at night wearing masks and this allowed them to behave in ways they couldn't normally act if people knew who they were. The lower classes could sometimes infiltrate the high society if they were good actors and vice versa.  The masks themselves were very specific and not just random disguises. The oldest and most common type, the Bauta, is shown here on the second from right figure. It was always worn with the lacy mantle, tri-corner hat  and long, concealing cloak. To me it looks very skull-like and creepy. In this scene, four of the main characters meet in Piazza San Marco at the beginning of Carnivale. They are all dressed as specific Comedia characters, I think the woman on the left is Harlequina, I don't recall what the man is and the other woman is Columbina. This story also takes place at the time of Vivaldi and is really the high point of Venetian culture. This, being the title page, was spread across two pages, with some type over it. I'm going to be posting all five of the illustrations from this story over the next few days. A note about the process of creating this series. As usual, I did sketches and then hired models and costumes. Because I was paying for all that, I wanted to keep the costs affordable, so I used only four models! I'm in some of the scenes, too. The other thing of interest is that I set up all the scenes and shot them in Black & white film in just two hours at Bob Osonitsch studio in New York. The prevailing thinking was, these are paintings and the photos are just reference help. Things are different now. I hope you enjoy a look back at these vintage images.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010


Here's a piece I did for a book called The Substitute Bride, by Elizabeth Lane. It is set in 1906, a period that hasn't been so popular among romance authors of late. I really like this period, because of the opulence and sophistication in the fashions, architecture and decoration. A very elegant era. The couple has parked for some heavy petting on the street in San Francisco's Beacon Hill area, ( before it was all destroyed by the earthquake! ) Realisticaly, they wouldn't dare do that in the street, under a bright light, but who cares? It makes for a nice picture, with the lighted buildings behind. I emphasized the play between warm and cool colors in the composition. The carriage was created in the 3D program, Cararra because I wanted to have the exact angle and lighting for the couple to look like they are seated in it. My models were Tracy Weller and Harmon ?? (the last name escapes me). Both excellent models. Costumes, as always by Sharon Spiak and photography by my friend, Shirley Green. A word about the use of 3D "props". In the old days, I used to make little models with lighting, in order to help me get the correct angle, light and shadow. I don't claim to be an expert 3D artist, but I do manage to create serviceable props and settings when I need to. It's actually a very interesting way to work. My inspiration for setting up miniature scenes originally came from Maxfield Parrish, who used to build very elaborate miniature scenes, using rocks, mirrors ( for the water), sand, plaster, etc. He apparently had a collection of favorite rocks for this purpose.  Mine were mostly wood and cardboard, sometimes painted. Sometimes I used toy cars or plastic models. Nowdays, 3D has dispensed with all that. Interesting to note, another artist/hero of mine Fortuni, was really into designing theater sets. He would make complete miniature stages, with working parts, lights curtains, everything so he could control the effects on the big stage. There must be something very exciting about working this way for many artists.
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