Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories

I’m a member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, and they’re putting on an exhibit at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh sometime next year (exact dates TBD). It’s called “Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories” and will showcase Pittsburgh-related stories as illustrated by our members.

We were asked to illustrate something that told a specific story that happened in or around the city, and I decided to illustrate the loss and return of the “h” at the end of “Pittsburgh.” It’s a long-ish story, and you can read all about it here. For the record, nobody actually physically stole the letter; my illustration is just being silly about it.

Here’s the sketch. The final illustration will be 8″x15½”, and I’ll be using colored pencil on this one.



While I was transferring new texture photos to my computer, I scrolled through one of the folders there and found some beautiful extremes in wood. The ones I picked to share here are wood that was made into some “thing”: floors or picnic tables or walls or railroad ties. I remember where a lot of the photos were taken and have taken even more on return visits. Every one of them has a story that will help write a kind of history behind whatever illustration I use it in.

wood01 wood02 wood03 wood04 wood05 wood06 wood07 wood08 wood09

Journal Doodles

I started a visual journal almost exactly nine years ago (Yikes! Has it been that long already?) on July 19, 2007. My intent was to illustrate my days so when I went to bed I could say I drew something that day. The sketchbook has been sitting dormant since Feb. 2013, and it’s high time I got back at it. Here’s the one I did after I met a friend for lunch, had lima beans for dinner and spent the afternoon drawing marshmallows.

Journal Doodles: 2016-07-24

Path of the Flood Trail in Johnstown

For our latest adventure, we wanted to immerse ourselves in a little history and headed to Johnstown and the Path of the Flood Trail. It was a short ride, but we made plenty of stops to read interpretive signs, go off-trail to see an old culvert, and get lots of tunnel photos.

South Fork

This is the village of South Fork as seen from the end of the trail. South Fork was the first town to be hit with flood waters after the South Fork Dam broke on May 31, 1889.

Sandstone culvert

We had to jump off the trail a bit to get a look at this old sandstone culvert, built to divert water from the railroad bed. The railroad was built in the 1830s.

Staple Bend Tunnel

The east portal facade entrance to the Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel—and the third tunnel of any kind—to be built in the U.S.


The natural rock ceiling and walls inside the Staple Bend Tunnel.


The western portal of the Staple Bend Tunnel with pilasters described as “Roman Revival Style.” The entrance facades accounted for nearly half of the tunnel’s original cost.

Staple Bend Tunnel

What you can’t see on the last picture is all the vandalism carved into the pillars. 19th and early 20th century vandalism, that is. Every flat space has something carved into it, as high as people could reach.

The story of the Johnstown Flood overwhelms me a bit and is hard to read even now. Human error and complacence, a lot of rain, and millionaires who weren’t legally held accountable combined for a heartbreaking loss of over 2,200 lives whose families would never receive compensation. On the positive side, relief efforts poured in from around the world, and criticism of the lack of accountability resulted in a change in American law and the acceptance of “strict liability” which requires no proof of fault, negligence or intent.

Read more about the Johnstown Flood here:
Find out about the Path of the Flood Trail here:
Read about the Allegheny Portage Railroad here:

@Dippy_the_Dino’s rainbow scarf

On my latest trip to the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, I found Dippy sporting a colorful rainbow scarf in support of the LGBT community after the recent nightclub shooting in Orlando.


Dippy is the fiberglass sculpture that sits near the entrance to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. He wears different scarfs in celebration and support of current regional and national/international events. The sculpture behind him sits atop the Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland where I heard Neil Gaiman speak way back in 2012.

Look Down Once in a While

Stone in the Road

Look at this beautiful texture I found while we were visiting Slate Run. It looks like it could be the granite from a countertop or some incredible interior design pattern.

Nope. It was a road.

The middle of a freakin’ road.

Thankfully the traffic stayed away long enough for me to snap a few close-ups (along with some mid-range and overview shots). I can’t wait to use one of these in an illustration somewhere.

Thumbprint Tree

Thumbprint Tree

I’ve been working on my first “Thumbprint Tree,” this one for my niece’s upcoming wedding. I had never even heard of them until now. Very out of the loop, apparently. She told me what she wanted and sent me off to my room. Here’s the initial sketch:

Thumbprint tree sketch

I needed to do a little tweaking for size, but here’s how it turned out:

Thumbprint Tree

23″ wide x 17″ high, pen and ink on cream Strathmore 400 Series drawing paper.

Pine Creek Bike Trail (day 2)

Of course, I might have overdone things this time with my ankle, but we needed just one more day on the trail before we headed home. We decided to walk the trail in the opposite direction from where we had just biked the day before, which meant better opportunities for photos since we weren’t moving quite as fast.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

Looking down Pine Creek from the bridge at Slate Run.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

Pine Creek Rail Trail

It had finally rained at Slate Run the night before, and the clouds were doing their “night after it rained” formations.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

This shot just looked like a tunnel into the wilderness. I liked the way the trees framed the view and the trail invited you right in.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

This little girl was along the edge of the trail laying eggs, we presume. We found several holes that had been dug along the way and, beside a couple of them, what looked to be the leathery shells of ransacked turtle nests. I hope these ones make it.

Pine Creek Bike Trail Anniversary

For our anniversary this year, we decided to head to Slate Run, Pennsylvania, and do a little biking on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. We started at the Slate Run trail head and rode about 10 miles north to Blackwell with the incentive of ice cream at Miller’s before we turned to head back. And we enjoyed yet another beautiful day. I think the weather got the memo.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

We passed over this interesting, asymmetrical and nameless (to me) bridge along the way.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

If I described the scenery there, it would sound exactly the same as the Great Allegheny Passage. But somehow the Pine Creek Trail had a different personality. This photo looks like it could have been taken on the GAP, but when I took it, I could feel the difference.

Pine Creek Rail Trail

Ice cream at Miller’s. “Water + Food + Art.” Not a sign you see every day.