I was honoured to be asked to contribute the wraparound cover of the Souvenir Book. I’d been heavily involved in the con but doing the cover was by no means a given and was a huge vote of trust from the convention.
This was destined to be a prominent bit of artwork so I did an unusual number (for me!) of preparatory sketches to get approval for the concept. Since these sketches were aimed at other people for approval, not just for my internal creative process, I did them in colour with annotations. I don’t normally feel the need to do this (since I am lazy and avoid additional effort wherever possible.) We settled on a combination of two of the ideas with concentric circles, moving out from the CCD to Dublin, Ireland, the Earth and the Universe.
I then worked up a larger pencil prep sketch. This is fairly close to the final version but there are a lot of different sections to the image so I’m still trying out ideas. In hindsight I overstuffed it with detail, partly out of a fear that it would be too simple for the cover. Ultimately I decided to trust the concept and simplified it back down for the final painting.
The sketch version includes additional elements such as phases of the moon, connecting lines between the concentric circles, and additional animals of Ireland – a salmon, a bat, a hare (the crow survived intact to the final image). The woman’s face became a dragon in space in the final version, for no particular reason except that I was struggling to find something suitably iconic for the back cover, and who doesn’t love a dragon in space? It put me in mind of the Space Bat Angel Dragon from Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man.
The astounding library at Trinity College Dublin is a major part of the cover, along with the 5000 year old spiral carvings at Newgrange Passage Tomb in the Boyne Valley. Selkies have been a repeated motifs in some of my Dublin art and I really wanted to include one here as well, diving into the ocean of the planet and making for a transition between front and back covers.
For the actual painting I started from the centre and worked outwards, because that’s how my brain works. And besides, isn’t that how you’d want someone to paint this picture?
Here’s an animation of the rest of the process:
In the final stages I did a lot of what is technically known as “faffing” to darken and tidy up parts of the image. I added some red tones to parts of the image, including the CCD building, to harmonise the colour scheme across the cover.
A framed print of the finished artwork was presented to the Lord Mayor of Dublin by the Chair of Dublin 2019 James Bacon. Sadly I couldn’t be there for the event but I was hugely honoured.
The final Souvenir Book is below. I was delighted by the sympathetic design and placement of the text by Diana Thayer. I had been worried that the standard Dublin 2019 logo would clash with the artwork (bad planning on my part) but Diane’s curving design fits the artwork very harmoniously.
“Worldcon”, “Hugo Award”, and the Hugo Award Logo are registered service marks of Worldcon Intellectual Property, a California non-profit public benefit corporation. “World Science Fiction Society”, “WSFS”, “World Science Fiction Convention”, “NASFiC”, “Lodestar Award”, and the distinctive design of the Hugo Award Trophy Rocket are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.
So I’ve been nominated for a Hugo Award. That’s a thing that has happened.
I’m well aware that I entirely owe this honour to all those people, including my Dublin 2019 colleagues, who were kind enough to vote for me. I’m extremely humbled that you took the time to do that. Thank you. I’m pleased to be in the company of a fine collection of creative women.
There’ll be a Hugo voter packet that includes examples of my art, but you can already see plenty of my eligible art (and some earlier work) on my Worldcon and Hugo Award page. On each Worldcon artwork page I’ve included examples of the artwork in use — as adverts, badges, bookmarks, covers, posters, postcards, slides. The great thrill of contributing the artwork (apart from the enthusiasm with which it is received!) is seeing it in the real world. You can see of few of those real world examples below, and I blogged gushingly about my experience of the convention here: https://iainjclarkart.com/2019/08/23/an-irish-worldcon/
A detailed blog about creating the cover to the Dublin 2019 Souvenir Guide, with preliminary sketches, is here.
I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity, not least because getting involved in Worldcon was very much a case of right place, right time, and knowing the right people. This is privilege in its truest sense, and I don’t forget that for a moment.
It’s been a creative flowering for me. Over the last few years I’ve moved from mainly drawing in pencils and inks to primarily painting in acrylics. I’ve been able to experiment with styles and techniques; contributing to a combined volunteer effort means no pay but it also means a very understanding group of people who graciously accept whatever meandering side-alley my inspiration has taken me down this time. In return I’ve tried to make at least some of my output punchy enough to be halfway-usable, which is always a plus.
I joined Dublin 2019 when it was still a fledgling bid, and I’m currently performing similar duties for the Glasgow in 2024 bid, for which one of my pieces of art was published in 2019 and is eligible for the Hugo. If you haven’t already, pop across and support this fantastic bid, which is (at least partly) to be held in an Armadillo and a Flying Saucer.
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. [Edit: This was Constanze and you can see her amazing progress here.]
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.
Some of my Dublin artwork (my very first piece) in use in the Balticon brochure earlier this year. Which is a lovely thing.
I mentioned this piece a while ago, and I might do a proper ‘making of’ blog when I get the chance, as it was the first bit of my inked artwork I coloured digitally and I learned a huge amount in so doing.
I shared my immediate emotional reaction to LonCon3 a few weeks ago. I think the moment has now passed for blogs about LonCon, but since I seem to shed neurons like other people shed skin cells, if I don't write down some specifics I know it'll get lost forever. For my own reference, then, if no-one else's, here's My LonCon, Part Deux.
We couldn't get a cheap hotel near the venue so stayed in Travelodge London Bank in the middle of London. We originally wanted to stay in a Japanese Coffin Hotel but fancied a smaller room. BOOM. It was bijou, is all I'm saying. Also about as hot as midday on Mercury.
LonCon was about 20 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway, with a change of trains halfway, so that was fine. When we got there the registration queue of which we had heard Terrible Things had vanished. That's the nice thing about arriving after lunch. Pausing only for vital business like chatting to Alison, Nic, Abigail and Emma and standing in front of a Tardis, we jumped straight into our first panel.
Over the next three days we didn't get into everything we wanted, but we did pretty well, and a good half of the panels I saw were very stimulating. The other half ranged from pleasant-but-unsurprising to frustratingly stalled discussions. Fortunately the panel I participated in was one of the enjoyable ones. (At least from our perspective. Who knows what the audience made of it.)
So my LonCon3 write up reminded me of a dim memory that I attended a Doctor Who convention in 1984. Turns out it was 1985, not 1984. Phew! I’m not old after all1.
I was inspired to dig out the old convention guide, since I figured it might be of interest to about seven people on the internet. You can find some images of it below.
Now it has to be said that my memory of 1985 is somewhat hazy and my main recollection of this convention is falling asleep during a 37-part2 black and white story in the all night video room instead of going back to the B&B. You have to remember that this was before I’d have seen much if any Who on videotape so I was probably only familiar with the ones I’d seen on air in the Seventies and Eighties (my earliest Who memory is Planet of the Spiders) plus whatever paltry repeats the BBC had deigned to show. I knew the show’s past mainly from the Target novelisations, which I devoured from an early age and which I credit for getting me into SF. Actually watching honest to goodness old episodes was a proper novelty back then.
Here’s me (on the left of the picture) and my best friend Paul outside the Wiltshire hotel at the tender age of 16. One of my first trips away from home without my parents, possibly the very first. Looking pretty sharp, I think you’ll agree.
Below are some scans of the Convention guide. Click for larger versions.
First up, here’s the cover sporting Kaled Man of the Year and all round good egg Davros. Also the welcome page:
Next, the list of celebrity guests and the two day programme which ran from 24th to 25th August 1985, after Colin Baker’s first full season and during the long hiatus before ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ aired a full year later.
We were treated to Colin Baker, David ‘Cyberleader’ Banks, Nicholas ‘Brigadier’ Courtney, Matt ‘Special effects’ Irvine, Sarah ‘Production Team’ Lee, John ‘K-9’ Leeson, John ‘Benton’ Levene, Ian ‘Harry’ Marter, Peter ‘Nyder’ Miles, and David ‘Son of’ Troughton.
I do remember seeing Matt Irvine, who is one of the few people I can readily identify in the panel photo below from his many appearances on Swap Shop and his amazingly ’80s fashion sense. (Again, click for a larger version). Is that John Levene leaning in on far left? Presumably that’s Peter Miles (Nyder) third from left. Ian Marter far right, maybe. Nick Courtney third from right? I also do remember seeing K-9, who I’m almost certain is the one in the middle of the second photo below. (Amazingly high quality pictures I think you’ll agree.) Strangely I have no recollection whatsoever of that Colin Baker bloke, who you’d imagine I’d have been at least slightly excited to see. I also took no other pictures of any interest whatsoever. What was I thinking? These days I’d have taken several hundred.
There was also an auction of memorabilia. Lots of premium items like tatty paperback books and annuals. On the second page you can see that I’ve written in biro what some of the sales went for. You’ll note that I was particularly impressed by £20 for a scarf donated by Liz Sladen. To be fair this was probably more money than I’d ever seen up to that point. It doesn’t say if it was screen-used, or just one she had in the back of a drawer.
So there you have it. The least timely con report in Doctor Who history.
EDITED TO ADD: Although the specfics of the con have largely left me (sadly for you the reader) what sticks with me is the huge sense of anticipation I felt. That feeling of connecting with the show. I’d been reading Doctor Who Monthly since issue 1, I owned The Making of Doctor Who, the Monster Book and all the other stuff I could lay my hands on, but being in the presence of people who actually made the show felt surreal. I’ve no idea how many attendees there were but it was a tiny and domestic affair compared to modern conventions. That hardly mattered to a 16 year old Doctor Who fan. My fandoms have considerably broadened since then, but the Doctor Who one has never left me.
— 1 I’m only fooling myself. 2 Approximately.
Sitting here a few days later, LonCon feels so far outside my day to day existence it’s almost like it didn’t happen to me, but was just part of a particularly immersive novel I read at the weekend (with some surprising plot twists and a setting surreally poised between the utopian and the dystopian. I kept expecting Blake’s 7 to come and rescue me.)
Fortunately I also met and chatted to lots of lovely people, at least some of whom definitely exist. By this marker I’m going to provisionally declare the Con to have been an empirically real event. Or events. Many, many events, coincidentally sharing the same space and jostling for primacy in exactly the same way that parallel universes probably don’t.
As my first major Con (barring a Who convention circa 19841 and a Trek one in 19922) it was an enfolding but kinetic experience, a conveyer belt of ideas and conversation that rarely lasted as long as I wanted before some new sensory input demanded my attention. At times it felt like I was developing mental whiplash, at others it was like the fuzziest, longest-lasting party in the Universe. I was conscious even as we entered Sunday morning of a certain post-Con emptiness lurking in the middle distance. That sense of regret that it would have to come to an end.
From start to finish it was a welcoming, well-organised event with a noticeably diverse range of attendees – all ages, various nationalities and ethnicities, disabled, abled, male, female, cis and trans. Not to mention human and alien costumed individuals (though nowhere near as many as the news would have you believe). You’ll rarely see such a vibrant range of people at most ‘mainstream’ events, or find them so actively catered for. It felt liberal and liberating and very inclusive, but take my views with a pinch of salt here since if there’s a privilege to be had, I’ve pretty much lucked into it.
The range of things to see and do was frankly astonishing — often simultaneously, meaning that tough choices had to be made. Janet and I were reflecting that no two attendees will have experienced the same convention. We sat down with the stunningly useful web app several days before and narrowed our choices from the completely overwhelming to the slightly overwhelming. Enough so that we got to see what we wanted but also did some of the same things together. Call me soppy but there’s some merit in having attended the same event and not two different but geographically similar events. In the end we made some wise decisions to ditch programme events in favour of downtime and chatting, and I think I had a much better and richer time for it. It was so great to catch up with those I’d met briefly (like Tim, Dan, Aileen, Liz and Aisha) and meet people I’d only encountered online (like Alison, Abigail Nussbaum, Alex, Lal, Graeme, Andrew, Chance, and my fellow panellists Ashley, Saxon, Jacey and Abigail.) And all the other lovely people I’m currently in the process of offending by forgetting to mention.
Since I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, a little note about the panels I attended wouldn’t go amiss. But that can wait. I’m off to wander a shopping mall in search of someone discussing artificial intelligence.
— 1 The Leisure Hive in Swindon. In 1984. 1984! Jesus I’m old. I mean, okay, I was only 15 at the time, but still. I’ve got the poorly photocopied con guide somewhere. I’ll have to scan it.
Since I’m on the LonCon panel to discuss the Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form nominees I thought It might be helpful to get my thoughts in order. And in the case of Orphan Black, actually get around to watching the show. That always helps.
Orphan Black, Season One: ‘Variations Under Domestication’
My wife and I have seized the opportunity to attend WorldCon while it’s in London this August. It took some determined childcare planning (and our daughters have been duly bribed/compensated with a family holiday) but it’s happening!
Not only that, but I’m delighted to say I’ve been invited onto a panel at LonCon:
2014 Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Saturday 11:00 – 12:00
Having never done this before, at this stage I’m feeling slightly under-qualified, but since a few people may be wandering over to this fairly moribund blog, here’s a quick roundup of my published reviews.