Monday, 24 November 2014

Looking to the stars...

For my latest piece of artwork, I finally decided to create something inspired by my favourite SF novel – The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke. Not only was this the book which sparked my obsession with reading science fiction, but it also re-ignited my passion for SF art, thanks to Chris Moore’s amazing cover artwork.

I had always been hesitant in doing an illustration based on The City and the Stars, as I feared it might never be as epic or stunning as Moore’s cover to the Gollancz paperback, nor do justice to such an awe-inspiring novel. But then I decided to ignore any artistic inferiority complex, and simply make my version – a piece in my own style that embodied the concept of the book, while looking at another angle of visualising the it. 

Version 1...
The joy of working digitally meant I had a great deal of flexibility. Taking the novel’s protagonist Alvin, and the domed city of Diaspar, the first version I created showed a silhouetted figure staring back towards the city.

Version 2...
From this, I tried a second version, without the figure, instead adding a starship (which if you’ve read the book, you’ll know its relevance). The addition of a planet in the sky was more metaphorical, suggesting the notion of other worlds beyond our own. Overall I didn’t think this worked as well without the human element – it’s key to the book after all!

I looked at the dozens of covers the book has had over the decade – some better than others; some brilliant, some completely irrelevant! So I was pretty confident my interpretation was going along the right lines, but I wanted to create something that would also work as a piece in its own right, outside of the original inspiration. 

The finished piece – "Last City"
All the elements were in place, and it was simply a case of finding the right balance. So here’s the final version, now titled Last City, which was derived from a tagline on one of the early editions, “It was the last city built on Earth”. 

This takes the piece into its own, especially viewed with Richard Hayes’ accompanying text, which you can read on my website

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Post-Novacon blues (again)

So another Novacon is over – only my third Novacon experience, but I think I’ve got the hang of this convention lark now and settled in. Novacon is a great SF convention – no silly costumes, but a wide range of fans of SF in film, television, art and literature in particular. There is really a strong literary edge to Novacon which is what I personally like the most. If you're an avid SF reader, an aspiring or published writer or a fan of science fiction art, then this is really the convention to be at. 

Novacon is the right size – big enough to be busy and bustling, small enough to have a comfy community feel. The regulars are passionate about their SF, classic and modern, and you'll always find a common point and something to chat or debate about. I'm not the best conversation starter – I need a good day to warm up  – but you do feel that you can just about walk up to any given conversation and join in. As well as always having a packed and superb program of talks and panels, there is a vibrant social side to the convention, which it seems, is the highlight for many fans – often helped along by the convention drink of choice, Black Sheep!

There are always treasures to be found in the dealer's room. If you're looking for rare or vintage SF books, then you'll find it there, more often than not.

However for me, Novacon is mostly about displaying my artwork, as it’s a perfect opportunity to be seen by the right people – likeminded fans, other artists, collectors, writers and publishers.

This does mean I have to select which panels I will leave the art show to attend. Of course, you can depend on it that as soon as you escape briefly into daylight (well, the hotel foyer, on the way to the main room), somebody will come into the art show looking for you! That’s the way it goes.

At my first Novacon in 2012, I found the prospect of putting so much of my work on show for the first time a little nerve-wracking. Of course I shouldn’t have, as everybody had lovely and encouraging things to say about it – and once you see your pieces going under the hammer and selling in the art auction, well, you know you’re doing something right! Two more events later and my work has found a home there. I've even managed to sneak my music in!

Exhibiting gives you greater confidence in your work and being up there on the wall, you see your pieces really come to life and become part of the event. And it’s incredible how they come into their own; your perception of one of your own works can change, and through the (great) conversations with the other artists in residence, you pick up tips, comments or criticism and it all helps, leaving you feel encouraged and inspired.

Sometimes when the con-goers visit the art room and look at your work, if they don’t know who you are (or might not be aware you are there), you can often overhear a comment or criticism which might not have otherwise reached your ears, and that is interesting in itself.  The people visiting the art show often fall into two categories – those who will stop and chat, maybe ask questions about your work and have a general conversation, and those who gaze in silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves. Quite often they’ll return for a second round.

It's also interesting to see which pieces do get bids on, and how many. This of course varies from year to year and you'd just don't know how it will go, but you can get a rough sense for what people like. Of course the real fun starts when the auction begins on the last day.

So a big thank you to the Novacon committee for once again putting on a great event (despite the hotel's best attempts to intervene!). I should also thank the art show organisers, Serena and John for their hard work, dedication and the continued support and encouragement they give to all their artists. You couldn't ask for nicer people to work with.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Beneath the surface

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the value of the opinions or contributions of others towards your work. Case in point, Richard Hayes – a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Interplanetary Society – has kindly contributed some specially written text to accompany the science fiction artwork on my website.

Not content with my own descriptions of the background to the pieces, I wanted something more evocative and interesting to accompany the artwork – something to perhaps raise questions. Richard’s text does this and more. His narrative sheds new light on some pieces, hits the nail on the head on others, and poses new doubts or questions as to many of the subject matters. This reminds us that on the surface, not everything is always as it seems...

Here is Richard’s text for my latest piece of artwork, First Light:

“A red giant star dominates a planet’s sky, and a city spreads out before us in its unearthly light. We ask ourselves whether the city is in its dying days as a result of an expanding sun - perhaps the remnants of a civilization are surviving in its domed structures. Obviously whoever lives there needs the domes as well as the buildings - presumably the atmosphere is toxic, or has perhaps recently become toxic. Are we witnessing the last stages of a once-great society?

Or could this be the civilization’s normal existence and its inhabitants have learned to survive in what simply looks to us like a hostile environment? It may be thriving within the structures that we see. After all, it’s not a dead city – there are two clear signs of life: a rocket and a land car. It might merely be an image of the time of day when little is going on, and the city is awakening. Or could these be the last inhabitants trying desperately to make their escape from a doomed existence?”

If you enjoyed this, then come and take a look at the rest of the SF gallery pages