Winner of Sir Arthur Clarke Award for 'Best Written Presentation', 2005

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All artists have their own way of working.

When, in 1989, the US magazine Step-by-Step Graphics invited me to provide material for an article about my space art, I took photographs of the stages in the production of a painting of a robot rover on Mars.

My starting point was the pastel-and-pen sketch at right, of Thingvellir, a spectacular fault valley or graben in Iceland, which I visited in 1981 and again in 1988, this time with the IAAA (see Alien Earth). I used part of the sequence again in the final chapter of my book Visions of Space (1989/90). Thingvellir

Teach-in collage


Click on the collage to load the animation.

Note: The animation will take a while to load (it's 273KB) but it gives you a chance to look at each stage in the painting as it appears!

Below is the step-by-step guide.

1. The first stage was a detailed pencil drawing on tracing paper (as you see, I reversed the reference sketch left/right).

2. I transferred the outline of this to a sheet of art board, and airbrushed in the sky (had I painted the landscape first I would have had to mask it).

3. The dust storm was added to add drama to the scene, with an ominous darkening of the background.

4. Working in gouache, the landscape was painted in quite transparent washes, rather like a water-colour.

5-7. Detail and texture was gradually built up.

8. Finally the shape of the robot rover was airbrushed through a frisket or mask and detail added with fine sable brushes.

The original painting was auctioned by the Planetary Society in Pasadena in 1998 to benefit the Carl Sagan Memorial Fund. It measures 13 x 18 inches (33 x 45cm) and the medium is gouache.


A hornito or spatter-cone, photographed in Iceland. Not a brilliant photograph (it was raining at the time), but it served as reference for the cover of Visions of Space, below.

Hornito cone

As explained in the book, this scene is impossible, as even if an artist could paint in the low temperatures and other adverse conditions of Io, the radiation belts of Jupiter would ensure that he/she could not do so for long. It is purely an artist's dream.

However, I have written a novel, Aurora, in which an artist uses an 'electronic canvas' on Mars.


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