Chesley Bonestell

Chesley Bonestell
As I get a little older, I’m increasingly impressed with the changes in the world that a person can see in the course of a single lifetime. I have always been amazed that my grandfather, who was born at a time when it was still a matter of debate whether heavier-than-air flight was even possible (1889), lived to see human beings step foot on the moon.

The same can be said for Chesley Bonestell (pronounced bonn-e-stell) who was born in 1888 and not only lived to see men land on the moon, but helped make it possible. It was his visionary paintings of how space travel might look that helped convince congress that the space program was possible and worth funding.

At a time when most airplanes were still driven by propellors, Bonestell created a series of strikingly photo-realistic paintings of scientifically feasible designs for multi-stage rockets, orbital space stations, spaceships and lunar landing proceedures based on sketches on graph paper by Wernher von Braun, with whom Bonestell worked closely.

He also created a celebrated series of Colliers’ magazine covers and illustrations for articles by von Braun based on the same concepts.

Bonestell is the undisputed father of space art. If you were raised in the post-Star Wars era, you take space art and science fiction concept art for granted. If you are a baby-boomer, however, chances are that it was Bonestell’s images that fired your imagination about space travel and the lure of other worlds, whether you encountered them in Life Magazine, Collier’s, on the covers of science fiction magazines or in wonderful illustrated books like Willy Ley’s Conquest of Space.

Bonestell was trained as an architect and worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Tower. When the depression made architectural work difficult to come by, he transitioned his talents to special effects matte painting, working on films like Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951) and War of the Worlds (1953); but it is for his prophetic and still inspiring space art that he is most revered.

The Chesley Awards, given each year by the members of the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists in recognition of the best in the field, are named in his honor. (A collection, The Chesley Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy Art: A Retrospective, was published a couple of years ago.)

There is an offical Bonestell Space Art site and a site for Bonestell archives of Melvin H. Scheutz, but the best reproductions I’ve found on the web are the previews of these Bonestell prints from Dreamstone, and these Bonestell prints from NovaSpace.

You cannot get a true picture of the imaginative brilliance of Bonestell’s space art, or the surprising breadth of his artistic range (from architectural renderings of the Golden Gate bridge and New York skyscrapers, to beautiful portraits, idyllic landscapes and architectural fantasies) by looking at the few small scraps of his work available online.

There is a superb and beautifully printed book from Paper Tiger: The Art of Chesley Bonestell by Frederick C. Durant III and Melvin H. Schuetz that really strives to reveal the scope, beauty and astonishingly visionary quality of Bonestell’s work.


Roger Langridge

Roger Langridge
Roger Langridge is a British (New Zealand born) comics and webcomics creator whose mind and pen… well, wander a bit, and delightfully so. He is best know for his whacked-out character Fred the Clown and his webcomic Hotel Fred, both of which are more a playground for Langridge’s fertile imaginings than a coherent story in the usual sense.

Langridge has a style that seems “cartoony” on the surface, but is in fact quite sophisticated. His strong clean lines and carefully chosen color (sometimes bright, sometimes in subtle monochromatic palettes) are at once graphically strong and charmingly whimsical; and his drawings are just a treat for anyone who enjoys good comics and cartoon art. His work looks great in black an white too, handled with deft use of patterns and hatchings that show a fine command of the textural language of pen and ink drawing.

Langridge’s comics reveal a genuine fondness for (and knowledge of) the great comics artists of the past. Nowhere is this more evident than in FRED THE CLOWN – An Illustrated History, Langridge’s hilarious and dead-on send-up of every “History of Comic Strips” book or article you’ve every read. The “history” features a pastiche of Fred strips as if done by RF Outcault, Winsor McCay, Max Fleischer, George Herriman and Robert Crumb, among others! His work reveals influences from a host of cartooning and comics greats: E.C. Segar, Cliff Sterrett, Will Elder, Wally Wood, B. Kliban…, the list goes on.

In his affection for the great newspaper strips and comic books of the past, and in his exploration of the paneled language of comics as elements of graphic design, Langridge treads some of the same ground as Chris Ware, but with a decidedly different bent (and bent is the operative word). My mental thesaurus is coughing up words like “zany”, “wacky”, “loopy” and “off the wall” in an ineffectual attempt to describe his excursions into comics’ loonier territory.

The front of Langridge’s web site is a blog. Look to the right for links to comics, and other info, including an interview and bio/checklist.

The Comics page of his site features links to the Fred weekly comics, an archive of his attempt at a daily comic and PDF Minicomics that you can download free. For some of the best stuff, though, pick up on the terrific print versions of his comics, including Fred the Clown, his anthology of stuff from Zoot and The Collected Knuckles the Malevolent Nun. Yowzza!


Matt Dixon

Matt DixonI first came across Matt Dixon’s work on the CGSociety site, where he has been a participant in several of their “Challenges“, contests in which computer graphics artists create works that are a response to a particular theme.

The great thing about the Challenges is the the artists document their work at numerous stages during the creation process, effectively creating a sort of tutorial for each work. Here is the finish page for the sequence devoted to the image at left, Dixon’s entry for the “Master and Servant” challenge, for which he took second place for 2-D works after Linda Bergkvist’s elegant entry. (See my previous post about Linda Bergkvist.)

The Challenge feature page for each work is a bit like a blog, with “posts” arranged in reverse chronological sequence. Go to the second page and scroll to the bottom to go through Dixon’s creative process from the initial concept sketch to finished digital painting.

You can also see his digital painting process for The Old Man of the Woods, his entry for the more recent “Spectacular” Challenge theme.

The Challenge features are particularly nice in the case of artists like Dixon, whose own site has galleries of his work and a little bit of background info, but virtually nothing about his working methods.

Grounded in traditional drawing and painting techniques, Dixon now prefers to work entirely digitally. Professionally he does concept art for the gaming industry. There is a list of some of the games he has contributed to on the MobyGames site.

The March 2006 issue of Heavy Metal magazine features gallery of Dixon’s work. He is also a contributor to the Event Horizon 2 anthology from MamTor Publishing.


Michael Skrepnick

Michael SkrepnickMichael Skrepnick gets to draw and paint fantastic animals that are as wild and bizarre as anything done by any fantasy or science fiction artist, except that the animals he portrays are real, or at least based on the best information we have about real animals that once walked the Earth.

Paleo artists like Skrepnick work with paleontologists to create images of animals long extinct by extrapolating their appearance from the fossil record and from a knowledge of modern animals that share physiological characteristics with the extinct ones. In the case of dinosaurs, this means birds and members of the crocodile family.

Good paleo artists and paleontologists are painstaking in their efforts to recreate these animals faithfully. The fossils give good information about skeletal structure, from which things like muscle mass, size and weight of an animal can be deduced. There is also some information about skin textures. (For color, however, fossils don’t give a clue.) The closer we get to the reality of what dinosaurs actually looked like, the more one thing becomes clear: these were some weird puppies.

Working in graphite or pen and ink for monochromatic works and in acrylic for paintings, Skrepnick portrays prehistoric animals with a clear, sharp and detailed style that reinforces their connection with the real world and recognizable environments and makes their strangeness even more palpable. His dinosaurs are bathed in sunlight, strongly modeled and connected to the ground and the world around them.

His images have appeared in many museums and scientific institutions and in books from a variety of publishers.

There are two galleries in the site, but the images are frustratingly small – not large enough to get a real feeling for the quality and drama of Skrepnick’s work. Try looking for some of the books he has illustrated.

Some titles are: Great Dinosaur Expeditions and Discoveries: Adventures With the Fossil Hunters (Dinosaur Library) (Thom Holmes, Laurie Holmes), Armored, Plated, and Bone-Headed Dinosaurs: The Ankylosaurs, Stegosaurs, and Pachycephalosaurs (The Dinosaur Library) (Thom Holmes, Laurie Holmes), Triceratops: Mighty Three-Horned Dinosaur (I Like Dinosaurs!) (Enslow Publishers), Sinosauropteryx-Mysterious Feathered Dinosaur (I Like Dinosaurs!) (Michael William Skrepnick), and Mesozoic Vertebrate Life: (Indiana University Press), for which the image of Monolophosaurus jiangi, shown here, is the cover.


Michelangelo’s Drawings

MichelangeloThis sheet of drawings, Michelangelo’s studies for the Libyan Sibyl, perhaps the most beautiful of the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, has always impressed me as a self-contained master course in drawing.

It’s loose, expressive and supremely confident. The draughtsmanship is precise and elegant. The figure is modeled in detail but there is still an economy of line. The tone work is subtle and strong and defines the forms with unquestionable fidelity. The line itself is firm and definite, but almost disappears in places. You can see the remnants of light construction lines where Michelangelo is searching out the form, but when he finds it, he nails it. No question.

The drawing is exquisitely beautiful, and of all of the master drawings I’ve seen in my life it remains one of my absolute favorites, yet it was never meant to be a work of art.

For Michelangelo Buonerroti, as with most artists before the Baroque period, drawing was a tool, a step in the preparation of a final work, whether a painting, sculpture or other work, and not an art form in itself. Drawings were made into woodblocks, engravings or etchings for display as artworks, but the original drawings were seldom considered works in themselves. (Michelangelo burned many of his drawings before his death!)

Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and not a painter or a draughtsman, yet his drawings are among the most brilliant in the history of art. (Hey, that’s why they call these guys “masters”.)

I’ve had the opportunity to see this drawing in person twice, once in Philadelphia and once in New York, and I was entranced by it both times, coming back to it again and again. Like all works on paper, it can’t be on permanent display and is only shown as part of a temporary exhibition. The original is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in NY. You can view it in detail with the zooming feature on their site.

There is a major exhibit titled Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master at the British Museum in London (this drawing is not part of it) opening this Thursday, March 23rd and running to June 25th, 2006. The exhibit draws on the collections of The Ashmolean and the Teyler Museum in Haarlem as well as the British Museum’s own collection.

There is a gallery connected with the exhibition page, and you can find other selections from their collection including another study for the Sistine ceiling.

You can find some other selections from the exhibit here, some other Michelangelo drawings on the Web Gallery of Art, Casa Buonarroti, and excerpts here from a book published by Yale University Press: Michelangelo Drawings : Closer to the Master (Hugo Chapman).


Alessandro Barbucci
& Barbara Canepa

A few years ago I was in Paris (sigh), gleefully digging through the bandes-dessinées shops in the area around the Sorbonne, when I chanced on a comic album called Sky-Doll. I knew nothing about it, I was just struck by the wonderful drawing and colors. I was unfamiliar with either the artist, Alessandro Barbucci, or the writer/colorist, Barbara Canepa, both from Genoa, Italy.

I managed to conjure up enough halting, clumsy French to convey to the proprietor that I was interested in any other comic albums he might have with art by Barbucci, but finally learned that this was the only volume so far and the artist was new.

The drawings were lively, fresh, slightly cartoony but highly rendered and with delightfully realized and very imaginative backgrounds and settings. I was immediately taken with the visual joie de vivre and went home happy with my discovery, but disappointed that I couldn’t carry home a stack of Barbucci albums with my Moebius, Beltran and Gillon.

I was able to pick the second volume of Sky-Doll a couple of years later (this time while rooting through fumetti shops in Rome), and learned that Barbucci had, in fact, been around for a while. He had previously worked on a comic series for Disney Italy, also written and colored by Canepa, called Witch, a charming and beautifully drawn childrens’ series (as opposed to the distinctly adult nature of Sky-Doll). The series is the basis for the current W.I.T.C.H. animated TV series, but I don’t think B&C have anything to do with it directly.

After the first two volumes of Sky-doll, Barbucci and Canepa returned to Disney to work on the first three (I think) stories for Monster Allergy, a delightful comic series about a kid whose allergies allow him to see invisible monsters in his house. The comic series continues to run under other artists and has been made into an animated TV show in Italy.

Sky-doll #3 is currently being serialized in Lanfeust (Google translation here), the French action-adventure comics anthology magazine, and should be released soon. Sky-doll 0: Doll’s Factory is a “making of” book on the series.

There is an official site for Sky-Doll, but it’s been unfinished and apparently abandoned for some time. It still has full pages that you can preview, though. In fact only the Book intro and Gallery page are active.

You can also find some art from B&C on (Google translation here). The page for Witch, has lots of small comics pages you can preview. There is also some Barbucci art here.

There is an unofficial site devoted to Barbucci and Canepa (annoying Lycos pop-up warning) with news and info as well as galleries of comics pages, covers and sketches. (Google translation here).

Americans can order some of the Sky-doll comic albums from Stuart NG Books or Mars Import. These are the French editions (there are no English translations that I’m aware of) and they come at a premium, but you can get them.

Note: Some of the sites linked here contain nudity and sexually suggestive images. Avoid them if you’re likely to be offended.