I was fired up by Dublin and the experience of exhibiting and selling my art. So much so that I’ve opened an Etsy shop to sell original artwork and giclée prints. You can find that under the “Shop” menu on this site, or just click here: www.etsy.com/shop/iainjclarkart. Pricing is a tricky thing, but I’m aiming to keep the prints at affordable prices. Originals are a bit more precious to me and I keep being told not to undersell my art, so those have a bit more of a price tag attached.
In another experiment (i.e. new for me, old hat for the rest of the internet) I’ve started a Facebook “Artist” page to share works in progress and prep pieces that never seem to make it as far as this blog. I’ve already added some WIP for a new painting of Drummer from The Expanse, and some background on how I created the cover to the Dublin 2019 Souvenir Book. You can find that Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/iainjclarkart, and if you “Like” the page (it’s what all the kids are doing) then you’ll see any updates as and when I post them.
My 50th birthday was two days before we flew to Dublin 2019. I was juggling work, family, artwork commission, a presentation, fitting artwork into luggage, and the endless production line of convention signage. I barely had time to breathe, let alone anticipate it.
And then we went. And it was amazing.
So many good things happened to me personally at this convention, but also so many good things happened to other people. Or just happened. I had a small, personal moment of bliss strolling on my own through the dealers’ room and being briefly overwhelmed by the sense of good-natured community in all the people who thronged the room. Worldcon is the kind of place where you can strike up a random conversation in a queue and immediately find you have interests in common. (Which is lucky as there was a lot of queueing). Or look around and just enjoy people in cosplay; or geeky t-shirts whose obscure references you get, or don’t; or the random dragon wandering around the concourse; or the lady in the butterfly dress who donated a butterfly to our daughters; or the cheerful cyberpunk madman who took it upon himself to wrangle the queues.
It’s hard to convey the worlds within worlds. At any given moment there are at least 8 other things you could (and probably should) be doing instead. It should be stressful, but is more often like drifting in a warm bath of opportunities, each as appealing as the next, so that missing any one thing feels like a minor irrelevance.
One such opportunity was the workshop for the Belter creole language used in The Expanse (originally from the books but developed and codified in the TV show). I’ve done fan art of The Expanse, and this was a little jewel of a session, a crash course in another language (an invented one) delivered entirely in character in ‘Lang Belta’ by Hanne-Madeleine (Iro) Gates Paine and Kagan MacTane (@Paine_MacTane), with plenty of funny (and only mildly terrifying) audience participation. The two presenters even spoke to each other and cursed their computer in character. We visited them in the bar afterwards and got our names translated into Belter (Iyeng Kelarek and Dzhanet Kelarek if you’re interested). Such an unexpected joy.
Although I did the covers for the Souvenir Book and the Pocket Guide as well as lots of promo artwork ahead of the convention, this was my first time actually exhibiting original artwork (in the Art Show over at the second venue The Point, a slightly inconvenient 10 minute walk or tram ride from the CCD). I arrived on Thursday afternoon just after the show opened which was fairly flustering, but I had a lot of help getting set up from Janet, Niall, Nic and others. Not only did I sell lots of prints, I sold three original paintings/drawings, which frankly was more than I dared hope. (So much so that I’ve opened an Etsy shop on my return!) More than that, admiring all the other art, being part of that group of fellow artists, and even having a fascinating panel discussion with a few of them (Maeve Clancy, Rob Carlos and Kaja Foglio), was hugely fulfilling.
My wife Janet also had a display over at The Point featuring her Bayeux Tapestry recreation plus Tardis, hand-stitched at the original size using authentic techniques. It’s a shame that the full-size Tardis wasn’t able to be on display as planned, which might have helped more people find it! However she got lots of well-deserved praise for it; it’s wonderful.
The convention staff were also incredibly helpful and gracious. I was touched and honoured to be one of those who got a “Dublin 2019 Hero” medal (from Chair James Bacon and Sara Felix) for all the artwork I contributed – all the more so because so many volunteers gave selflessly of their time in the run up to the convention, and also during it. I felt quite lazy for taking the convention off! Incredibly flattering things like this kept happening throughout the con, like being unexpectedly ask to sign a batch of prints of my art work. (Ten minutes of giggling inwardly and pretending to be Neil Gaiman). Just walking around seeing my art on t-shirts, on covers, on Glasgow in 2024 materials was absolutely lovely. My lanyard said “Convention Artist in Residence” which is both a) untrue, and b) absolutely lovely.
Another personal highlight (and cause of giggling) was walking into the Philharmonic concert and seeing my Kraken image on the big screen with the addition of musical notes (Vincent Doherty’s idea, I later learned!) This was the first piece I ever did for the convention, back in 2014 when my friend Emma England asked me to contribute some art (and thank heaven she did). In all that time I never once imagined that the Kraken was playing the Samuel Beckett bridge like a harp. And yet it clearly is. So funny.
I also got a lovely note on my art show display from someone wanting to turn one of my paintings into a costume design (how great is that?) Someone else wants to make a quilt inspired by my Green Woman image.
Lots of people worked harder than me and contributed more than me at this convention, but I feel astoundingly lucky to have been a part of this fantastic event. To have been seen, to have been thanked, to have seen and thanked others in return.
The other other thread of the event was that we got to catch up with many friends in Dublin, and share an exorbitantly priced meal (whose bill is still being worked out to this day). Janet and I also snuck time in our schedules to visit the Book of Kells and The Long Room at Trinity College (it was booked out online but we turned up at opening time and they were still selling tickets at the door). This visit was another small, spiritual moment for me. Particularly the architecturally astounding Long Room, which is as close to a cathedral of knowledge as you’ll ever see (even if rather male-dominated). I’m not religious but it felt sacred and quite moving. And also fantastical, like an intrusion into our reality from a world made of story.
On the very last day of the convention I did the solo presentation about my art that I had foolishly agreed to do when Sara asked me a few weeks earlier. I barely had any time to write this before the convention and certainly hadn’t managed to do a run through. I was still inserting slides the day before! In the event I wasn’t too nervous. This was probably helped by the fact that although the venue was an Odeon cinema screen and therefore huge, there were only 7 people in the audience — including my wife, and our friend Niall who HEROICALLY came to see me despite having been up all night at the Hugo Losers party. This was still more people that I was banking on for a no-name artist in the graveyard slot on the last day. I focused on several milestone bits of art and on my development over the 4 or 5 years leading up to the con (although as Niall pointed out my narrative sort of falters at the point where I go “and then I decided to do a full painting, so I did”.)
So that was Dublin 2019. Or a tiny slice of one person’s experience of it. I didn’t even mention the Masquerade – part costume competition, part performance art – which is so deliciously mad and wonderful that it makes me happy it exists, even if I will never fully understand it. Or the touching closing ceremony. Or the “Glasgow in 2024” party with whisky and Tunnocks teacakes. Or Jeanette Ng’s firebrand speech at the Hugos. Or learning to use Whatsapp like some kind of young person. Or meeting Jim Fitzpatrick who did the iconic Che Guevara image. Or queueing in driving horizontal rain for Hugo Award Ceremony tickets with Janet and Liz.
And now I’m back, and working on artwork for the Glasgow in 2024 bid (by which time our daughters may even be old enough to come with us – Ulp!) and opening a new Facebook page and an Etsy shop and trying to hold onto some small part of the creative positivity I experienced in Dublin.
So this is what one year’s creative output looks like (for me). It was a lot tougher to squeeze this year’s art into the photo than it was last year, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it all together in one place. (It’s also what one year’s beard looks like. I was all stubbly this time last year.)
Putting your art out into the world is a strange thing. I vacillate between bullish self-confidence and agonising self-doubt, often over the same picture, within the same hour. I can cheerfully post fan art on twitter, on my website, on tumblr, even copying in other accounts, and then immediately cringe and want to take it back and/or issue formal written apologies and point out all the crap bits.
I know I’m far from the best artist out there. I also flatter myself I’m not the worst, and when there’s a particular image I’m proud of, I want it to do well. It’s like entering your pet dragon into the Best Small Dragon category at the village fair (it really isn’t, but bear wth me). I give it a benevolent little push onto the stage, a bit of encouragement, I’m pleased if it gets a good reception, maybe a ripple of applause, disappointed if the audience runs screaming from the blazing tent.
But I’m also realistic about these things. If after a couple of tries and encouraging nods the whole thing isn’t catching fire then I take my dragon home and we have a nice cup of cocoa and we move onto the next thing.
Okay, now I want a pet dragon.
In a similar vein, I nearly exhibited a few pieces at the FantasyCon gallery in Peterborough. After some exploratory conversations I realised I didn’t have time to get everything framed, packed and sent by the deadline. I also bottled it. But it started me pondering about such things so I’m slowly starting to have a few bits of art framed in case I decide to exhibit them at future cons. I’m quite pleased with how these two turned out.
My fan art pieces from this year have already found their way onto the internet, here and elsewhere. I’ve done a lot more fan art this year and slightly fewer for Dublin. (I’ve also done a few pieces just for myself, some of which may show up in public in future, some of which were just test pieces.) I’m still trying to find a good balance, but I have the luxury of coming up with my own ideas and mostly it’s about where inspiration takes me. This year, inspiration has mostly taken me to Peter Capaldi who has one of those faces that was born to be painted. I’ve also done old and new school Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Deep Space Nine, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, Babylon 5, and Twin Peaks. All favourites of mine, all done out of sheer affection for the source material.
Moving into acrylics last year (instead of scanning and colouring my line art) has been good for my productivity, and increasingly I’m painting without a preparatory pencil sketch which speeds things further. My portraits of Tom Baker, Roger Delgado and Jeremy Brett were one-evening paints (2-3 hours), Mira Furlan as Delenn took two nights. If I painted like that every evening I’d be a lot more prolific, but sadly I don’t…
The Tom one even found its way (at postage stamp size) into the letters page of Doctor Who Magazine, which would have delighted the 10 year old me who read it from Issue 1.
Some of my more complex art has taken much, much longer. I spent a month working most nights back in January for my detailed painting of spacecraft arriving in Dublin. A more recent one took me 3 months (on and off, working and reworking). I abandoned it once and overpainted large sections before I finally completed it to my satisfaction. I’m glad I did – I’m quite pleased with it now. If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years it’s to trust the process rather than throwing in the towel when a picture looks bad. But it’s hard, sometimes.
I also tried some larger full face images like the framed Capaldi one above, and the Sandman image, which took about a week each. I might try a few more along those lines.
I was also quite pleased with the raw emotion I got into this Peter Capaldi image, even though it’s not quite as achitecturally solid as some of my portraits. I don’t want to just mindlessly regurgitate promo images in acrylic, and I go back and forth over whether this looks good or not, but I wanted that sadness in his eyes.
My Dublin artwork generally hasn’t found its way here, and won’t until it’s been used officially by the convention so it’s hard to talk about it much (although if you squint behind me in the photo at the top you can get a preview.) It’s been a huge year for Dublin, which won the 2019 WorldCon site selection unopposed, and things are accelerating. There’s already a t-shirt based on slices of my artwork available, which is a lovely feeling…
I also took some postcards of my Dublin art along to this year’s FantasyCon…
I still feel like I’m finding my way with paint – a medium that, until last year, I’d seldom touched since A Level art – but just doing art is a great way of levelling-up. As for next year, my wife just got me some water-soluble oils and some liquid acrylic colour, neither of which I have any idea how to use, so that should shake things up for 2018. I’m also keen to paint more women and more people of colour — something that could probably be achieved by not painting Peter Capaldi all the time, now I come to think of it.
Another bit of juvenalia for you. This is an A3 pencil drawing I did back in my youth (1988 to be precise).
It’s the companion piece to the Star Trek movie piece here. In accordance with the source material that one was 16:9 format, while this one was 4:3! I think pretty much all the photo reference was taken from my well-thumbed copy of the Star Trek Compendium, and I’ve reproduced the lack of resolution perfectly!
Back in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the Next Big Thing. And then it wasn’t. Although contrary to popular opinion it did just fine at the box office.
I still have a sneaking affection for it, but at the time it was quite definitely the most exciting thing ever — since the last most exciting thing ever, which was probably Star Wars or a particularly scary bit of Doctor Who. The complete lack of action in the film didn’t faze the 10 year old me in the least. And why should it? In my head the Enterprise and the Klingons were having exciting space battles just outside the frame, and that was enough.
Just in case it wasn’t enough, there was also plenty of merchandise to enjoy, including these lovely survivals I recently came across in the loft…
I can’t remember where I got this one. It looks like the kind of thing that used to come in weetabix promotional boxes, and perfectly characterises the slightly staid, proper, naval approach to Star Trek that the movie embodies. (“Starship Enterprise”.) I don’t remember where all the more interesting characters went, but this is the one I have left. Here’s to Mr. Scott.
Meanwhile, here in the UK 45p would buy you this fine poster magazine from the time of the movie’s release. Here are the front and back. The poster inside is a huge, grainy version of the small, grainy front cover.
And here are some interior pages, complete with wildly gushing write-up, and of course that bird guy. Who can forget that bird guy? For me, he was the most poignant character in the film.
Nostalgia time again. I’ve had this tatty old poster since childhood.
As may be apparent if you read my blog waxing lyrical about the movie version of the USS Enterprise, I have a huge affection for this spaceship in its various forms. This is a massive(ish) A2 pull-out poster of the original TV U.S.S. Enterprise, painted by by one Joe Petagno, and it’s lovely: just painterly enough to be beautiful without sacrificing accuracy.
Judging from the small print it comes from a magazine called “TV Sci-Fi Monthly”. I have no memory of the publication or how it came into my possession, but I do remember owning the poster because it graced the wall of my bedroom for several years back in the 1970s.
I also remember thinking the nacelle caps looked a *bit* too much like a pair of eyes staring at me when I was lying in bed, which might explain why the corners are torn from when I nervously ripped it from the wall one night… It’s well-loved, in every sense.
It must date to around 1976, because on the reverse is an article that talks about Space 1999 as if it’s a current show, alongside a really quite eccentric illustration by Malcolm Pointer of a young Spock in his bedroom, which definitely did not grace my wall except by association.
I picked up this little gem at Tynemouth Market recently.
I originally collected Star Wars Weekly right from Issue 1 back in the day (for values of “the day” that include flared corduroy trousers and bowl haircuts) but I no longer have any of them.
This is issue 11. It’s the earliest issue I could find, but I also picked it because it’s a cover that has particularly stuck with me down the years: the trench run on the Death Star screen (impossibly annotated with the names of the characters “Luke Skywalker and R2-D2”); the proton torpedoes coming right through the glass at Darth Vader. It haunted my imagination, this weird mashup of events and locations, the dreamlike logic of the image on the screen invading the room like your TV coming alive. My overly-literal young brain grappled with the impossibility and went *bzzzt*, and I suppose those are the things your memory hangs onto. The bits of cognitive dissonance that get turned over and over.
The inside cover features Luke and Leia snogging. Feel free to insert the obligatory “incest!” joke here.
I don’t think Star Wars Weekly was ever better than in those early weeks retelling the movie. Look at Howard Chaykin’s amazing art in that interior page. It turned a movie into a comic and made it feel like it had always been a comic. It wasn’t the intricate, photo-referenced adaptation we later got with Empire Strikes Back but a much looser approach that kept the spirit and the pulpy feel of the original. I think I’m almost as nostalgic about the comic adaptation as I am about the film. After they ran out of movie, my hazy recollection is that the comic went off the rails a bit. ‘The further adventures of Han Solo on Tatooine’ or somesuch. Lifesize blue rabbit-men and bounty hunters, maybe? It felt un-Star-Wars-y. and generic.
Star Wars is one of those fandoms that slots right in around Doctor Who and Star Trek in my experience of the 1970s and 80s. It’s ultimately proved to be the lesser of those three loves, for a brief part of my childhood it burned brighter than anything else. In the summer that I first saw Star Wars my “What I did this summer” report for school was literally just a ten page synopsis of the movie. Our tiny front garden became the Millennium Falcon for the summer holidays. Our metal cowboy revolvers that fired little red caps became laser pistols.
We had light sabres too. Here’s the back cover of the comic advertising Luke’s unfortunately-positioned “force beam”. I used to play lightsabre sword fights with my brother endlessly, until the rounded ends fell off the blade, and the plastic tubes got bent, and the coloured disk fell out, and eventually it was just a chunky orange torch with a big slidy switch on the side.
One last thing from the issue. This advert for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, back when the title needed explaining. How that movie ever became a hit when the poster is a Wikipedia entry is beyond me.