|Clipper ship on alien planet
|Acrylic and airbrush - probably 1987
Until about the point where I made my first fiction sale, I sort of had intentions of becoming an SF artist. To that end I
painted dozens - hundreds - of pictures, right through the seventies and eighties, moving from felt tip to watercolour, to
pastels and acrylics and gouache and eventually airbrush and more recently oils and digital. I've never really stopped painting,
and I do still finish the occasional piece, but at some point the writing became the thing I was most interested in doing
professionally, and I quietly buried any remaining aspirations about becoming a paid artist. I think that was the sensible
thing, too. Not because these pictures are entirely hopeless - I'm aware of their flaws (painfully so in one or two cases)
yet they're certainly no worse or more derivative than the stories I was working on at the same time - but because making
a living;a pro SF artist is, I suspect, several times tougher than being a full-time writer. Even in the late seventies, when
paperback illustration was booming, there were nowhere near as many SF artists in employment as there were writers, and if
anything things have only worsened since then.
Looking back at these pictures now, which mostly span a few years in the middle of the eighties, I think it's pretty obvious
where my influences lie. The artists I most admired, and whose work I slavishly analysed - and attempted to replicate - were
Chris Foss, Chris Moore, Peter Elson, Peter Jones, Tony Roberts, Jim Burns and Roger Dean . You can easily see where
the influence of one or the other was dominating in a given picture. The robot, for instance, is pure Chris Moore, only not
I always struggled with figure work, but at the same time I got bored painting just spaceships. Other than Foss, most
of my favorite artists found a way to incorporate the human element into their illustrations.
Throughout the nineties I did less and less painting. Partly it was circumstance - I didn't have anywhere I could easily
paint - but also a creeping lack of interest. Even so, I still did dozens of paintings, and there are many, many others.
Recently the bug seems to have bitten again, hard, and I have been dusting off my old equipment and spending more and
more money on paints and paper. Partly this is because my wife and I joined our local art society, which not only encouraged
us to indulge our creative sides, but also gave us the impetus to be working on something all the time. My wife has been taking
watercolour and drawing lessons, as well, and her technique is improving all the while, along with her confidence. Although
I mostly paint in oils at the society, and tend to keep away from SF subjects, I do love the airbrush and good old brush-applied
Personally I'm not a huge fan of a lot of modern digital illustration, far too much of which (in my view) is clinical
and cold. (There are exceptions, of course). The beauty of using real paint is that you make mistakes! Many of my compositional
choices were forced on me by the urgent need to cover up a blob of colour spat out by the airbrush. I also love the sheer
childish joy of squirting out worms of colour onto the mixing tray. When I was buying some paints recently, the shopkeeper
looked at my selection or oranges and purples and said (approvingly, I think), that I obviously wasn't afraid of using colour.
As well as working on new pieces, I'm also doing some subtle reworking of the less bad older ones, at least where the
paint layer is sufficiently thin to allow it. I've never been happy with the face of the explorer in that bulbous green spacesuit,
for instance, in the picture with the blue sky background (shot through glass, hence the reflections). I hope to be able to
rectify things without too much bother.
Click on any of the images to see a larger version.