Category Archives: Illustration

Moments in Research: A Poster Series

I love poster design. I love decorating my house with See America and WPA posters; I love designing posters about my passions. I haven’t posted any science designs because I find science hard to illustrate. I see lots of designs with beakers and test tubes, atoms, lab coats, and petri dishes. The challenge is that these are the tools of science, but they aren’t what makes science exciting. Science occurs between the ears, and the standards symbols are just tools of the craft. But how do you make posters of people thinking? Even the WPA posters promoting math-related careers are pretty listless, and that is a series of posters that used dinosaurs to promote syphilis treatment.

It occurred to me that the unifying thread of scientific inquiry are the highs, lows, and puzzlements of research. My friends in mechanical engineering have little need for beakers or lab coats, while my friends in biology aren’t (usually) immersed in coding. Different disciplines use different tools, but every discipline knows the elation of a published paper or the frustration of explaining what the heck it is you research to granny.

So, this inspiration broke my science poster designer’s block. I have three designs, but ideas for many more. For the style, I was inspired by World War I illustrator Lucien Laforge. There will be more, but I’m pleased with the start!

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Beautiful poster books

I love colorblock poster art. My living room is decorated with National Parks travel posters and my bathroom bears WPA hygiene posters (which are available free online from the Library of Congress!). In my guest room, I display JPL’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau posters. What can I say, I have a passion!

So I also collect books of such posters. In recent travels, I’ve found two great specimens!

Intergalactic Travel Bureau Vacation Guide to the Solar System

Great art and great science! Each planet has a poster, and often one or two extras. Each section also has info on atmosphere, year length, and more. Great for kids and adults!

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A few of my favorite illustrations:

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See America

A collection of posters for National Parks and historic sites, with posters of places like Big Bend National Park and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (i.e., the Gateway Arch in St. Louis). Check out the Creative Action Network website, too, which has posters on all kinds of cool topics and projects.

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A little joyful nonsense

I’ve been joyfully distracted for the last few weeks. After years of digestive distress, my new meds are helping so much that the rhythms of my life are new and spontaneous. Without the burden of constant discomfort, I’m more curious, quicker witted, and less anxious.

One of the great joys this summer is playing water polo and knowing that I won’t spend two days being dysfunctional from the exertion. That joy and my obsession with art deco posters cross-polinated and the result is….

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The Art of the Park

I’ve posted many times before about my love for WPA-era travel posters and some of my own tribute work. I have a wall of stylized postcards that I have collected along my travels. Like the parks passport stamps I described a few months ago, the WPA postcards became an exciting item to collect. Every time I have a visitor in my home, we talk about the parks. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, county open spaces, state parks, they are all wonders of the west and worthy of a place on the wall. Not all of these places have postcards, which I am slowly working to remedy. But today’s post is about the great parks’ art that I have accrued and slathered upon my walls.

Below I include a few of my favorites from the wall. Some of the cards I like the depiction of the specific piece of scenery, others I like the color palette or the stylization. We all have stories about our visits to parks. These cards tell stories; the stories of these cards have augmented my stories. They let me dream for weeks and months after a trip about the animals, the scenery, the history, and the cultures of the parks I visited.

New Mexico has 14 National Monuments, extensive Bureau of Land Management sites,  wildlife reserves, open spaces, state parks, and more. In a future post, I’ll talk about my work to create posters for the New Mexican sites that lack them today.

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Fractal Art

Here in Albuquerque, mathematical art adorns the schools. We are the Fractal Capital of the World. Fractals are a kind of math that considers the multi-scale aspects of nature. In school, we learn about rectangles, circles, and triangles, but which of these shapes best represents the coastline of Great Britain?

And even if learning fractal math isn’t your path, you probably appreciate what others have done with it.  This documentary describes how lava in Star Wars was simulated using fractal approaches. Many natural objects have fractal aspects, and CGI versions of these objects utilize this approach.

I do research in nonlinear dynamics, which is a cousin to chaos theory and fractal math. Fractal math first emerged as a visual wonder with Benoit Mandelbrot; as a scientist and artist, fractals inspire me in multiple ways. I hope my forays into fractals might inspire, too!

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Pop-ups: Water Polo

I recently resumed my fascination with pop-up art. It’s fun to abstract the world to a system of interacting planes. I’ve created cats at play, architecture, and hot air balloons. It was inevitable that my play would turn to water polo, and so it has. I wondered how I would depict a goalie blocking a ball or a player swimming down the pool. I cannibalized some poster designs from a few months ago and was off to the races.

Below is my water polo pop-up book! I’m already scheming on new ideas, but I’m very proud of my first foray.

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Art Deco Posters: Water Polo, the gentleman’s game

The Olympics are coming up! It’s that rare time when non-professional sports get to shine! As a lover and player of water polo, I get so inspired watching the amazing men and women of the world expressing their mutual disdain through grabbing, elbowing, and splashing in the big pool. Water polo is GREAT.

As I type this, I nurse a bruise from a deliberate kick in the back, some mystery bruises on my arm, and a sprained thumb. I can only hope I gave as good as I got. But really, one of the wonderful things about water polo is the intensity of the violence compared to the mildness of injury. You cannot fall down or run into a wall, and any underwater shenanigans are dissipated by the water. As I have often said, water polo enables to player to express all of the intent, but little of the impact. That’s perfect!

As I have demonstrated again and again, I love art deco design. I love old art deco Olympic posters; they’ve inspired my water polo art before. Water polo is a niche sport, and there isn’t a ton of art out there for it. Additionally, I enjoy contrasting the gentility of art deco design with the brutal public image of water polo. The soft civility of art deco posters in many way jives with how the game feels as a participant—it’s like a big tea party with all of my scantily-clad friends.

So, as we near these (hopefully sewage free but probably not) Olympics, I hope you’ll enjoy my water polo posters. I got inspired when the Olympic Trials were on TV a few months ago, so you can only imagine how much I’ll enjoy the Olympics.

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The delightful illustrations of George Barbier

I am two years into a project of science fiction illustration inspired by Hiroshige’s 100 View of Edo. I’m working on 100 views of Vironevaeh. I’ve completed 75 line art drawings, and am satisfied with 44 of them. It’s a project that ebbs and flows, and I constantly seek new sources of inspiration. The floor of my office is littered with books tabbed with post-it notes—a photo essay of the Koreas, French war illustrations from World War I, a Western photo essay, amongst others. This weekend I found art deco master George Barbier.

I’ve written about my interest in art deco and art nouveau before. (see: Victor Horta’s architecture, Alphonse Mucha’s posters and Walter Crane’s childrens books.) When I found a book of George Barbier illustrations on my shelf, purchased over a year ago, but forgotten in a cross-country move, I found inspiration.

The book is the top Barbier hit on Amazon, though it is mostly in Japanese with some original French. Barbier was one of the top artists in France after World War I, but disappeared largely after his death in 1932, a fate that seems to happen to many of the commercial artists of this period. Blissfully, he is in ascendance, even if the most accessible manifestation at the moment is an unreadable rendition in metallic blue. The illustrations are good enough that that doesn’t matter.

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The book has hundreds of illustrations from what seem like a variety of sources. The impenetrable Japanese let my imagination run wild. Below are just three.

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One inspired me rather directly. Can you tell? Time to take my scattered brain back into the world of inspiration.

 

Vironevaeh: 19 years of love

Like so many of us sci-fi-ers, I grew up on science fiction television. I remember watching Star Trek Next Generation in a high chair, and later I watched Babylon 5 and Voyager. I feared the space under the bed because my brother told me it contained a black hole. I drew aliens, made up planets, and wrote in codes. Once a friend cut the bridge of my nose with a hardcover book during horseplay, and I was delighted to declare myself Bajoran.

In 5th grade, we had the city project; we had to invent a city, describe its economy, design a model of it, and write a small essay. It was my catalyst. I created a city called Vironevaeh, set on a distant planet, colonized by humans from Earth in the distant future. My languages, my maps, my characters, my aliens now had a focal point.

That was 19 years ago. Once a year, I like to look back and celebrate all the fun I’ve had since. Dreaming about world building made me look at our own world in odd ways.

For now, Vironevaeh is just my little place. Maybe someday it will be something different, but more than anything, I love the journey.

Trips down memory lane

Below are a pair of landscapes, one from years ago and one from last year. My longing to depict Vironevaeh forced me to draw for a purpose. The pencil drawings was one of my first landscapes ever. The poster was an homage, and and another experiment in new territory: art nouveau and posters.

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Maps

Maps are a simple staple of scifi and fantasy, but drawing maps made me ask a lot of questions. What kinds of geology could happen on a planet that could still sustain humanoid life? Or non-humanoid? Where should lakes, mountains, deserts, and oceans be in a realistic environment? What kinds of names would places have? What names would be linguistically compatible? What kind of linguistic range could I expect on a planet–how much would it vary in a place with a global culture versus one with regional cultures? What kind of stories would I tell about the people on such planets based on the map, and for the people whose stories I had already imagined, what kinds of maps would that require? Maps seem dry and factual on the surface, but I found myself asking a million such second-level questions. I love maps.

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Storytelling

Vironevaeh filled me with stories, but I struggled to express them as I felt them. I have written my stories so many ways. Nowhere is that more rapidly evident than in my portraits. Below are four portraits of a character over six or so years. I had to learn to get the details right and be honest with myself where it wasn’t right. As ever, it’s a work in progress.

Places for the people

Maps and people weren’t the end, I wanted to know how the streets looked. That’s really hard! There’s architecture and materials, and then there’s imagining the landscape and how such things would fit in. I studied pictures of streets from around the world. I find this aspect the most challenging, but maybe also the most rewarding.

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Stories of a new world

As I told stories about a new world, I wondered about their stories. And when I told them, I found that they fit everywhere. How many references to the garden of Gethsemane exist in western literature? A new place would have new Gethsemanes. Below are two images from mythology about a mouse, and new people finding that mouse in new constellations.

It’s never the end. Next year I’ll have new thoughts to share. Every year I am a new person, and Vironevaeh is a new place.

New Mexican travel post cards

I love the old-fashioned posterized postcards that many of the national parks have. Whenever I visit a park, I go hunt for postcards. I have a wall of 4×6 frames of postcards. Whether they are the old WPA posters from the 30s or the modern versions, I adore them.

Sometimes, I would go to a park, and they wouldn’t have any. So naturally, I had to make my own. Now I do it everywhere I go. Below are from my grand trip last weekend through southeast New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, and White Sands National Monument. I also visited Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, a BLM property, and River of Fires BLM site, but no postcards there as of yet.

Happy travels!

Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.