Michael said, “Being suspended in space, floating unencumbered yet in control of one’s flight, is as close to pure freedom as I can imagine. I knew I would enjoy reading Larry Niven’s manuscript and attempting to visualize a credible alien environment based on that weightless feeling experienced by the people of his Smoke Ring world. As an artist, I was also intrigued by the physics of the lighting created by 2 suns. There is a sharp cool light source orbiting a diffuse warm light source; a constantly shifting color balance and intensity when sometimes there are both kinds of light and other times one eclipses the other.”
I was already fascinated with Larry Niven’s free-fall environment, and then in this book I was especially taken with his descriptions of life in and around the “Clump.” The Clump is a LaGrange point within the Smoke Ring where curious matter of all types has collected; in the deepest part of the interior it is flowing “soup,” an area the inhabitants call the “Dark.” Given the already strange ecology of the Smoke Ring proper, the addition of organisms peculiar to the Clump made for an intriguing proposition irresistible to an illustrator. In this view, the Clump flows into our field of vision from the lower left corner. Spherical green puffball plants and “jungles” provide shelter for some inhabitants of the region, while (from the painter’s angle) providing an essential reference to the Earthbound viewer for spatial distance and perspective. Strange life forms, the peculiar geometric “huts” of the human inhabitants of the region, ponds, clouds, and other strange objects float around the scene like shapes in a Miro painting. In fact, there is so much going on in there that I was concerned that the human activity on the right would clutter things up too much! Unlike the painting I did for the cover of The Integral Trees this one encompasses both suns within its field of view though they are somewhat obscured by haze or Clump material.
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In the early 70s, artists the likes of Jeffrey Jones and Michael Kaluta congregated at Neal Adams’ studio in New York City. There they would speculate about some theoretical kid walking in off the street, fresh from who knows where, and blowing them all away with a style they’d never seen before.
That was the background chatter when Michael Whelan arrived from California in late 1974 to show Neal his portfolio, and indeed Whelan went on to transform the landscape of illustration for decades to come.
He accepted his first paperback cover assignment, The Enchantress of World’s End, from Donald A. Wollheim of DAW Books. He would soon add ACE and Del Rey to his list of clients making the ’70s busy years.
By the turn of the decade, Whelan was churning out iconic images: the consummate anti-hero Elric, the majestic dragons of Pern, and the vibrant landscapes of John Carter’s Mars. The early ’80s continued that trend in Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and the first volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower opus.
Whelan’s ascent was meteoric, earning him a Hugo by 1980. It would be the first of 13, not including a SuperHugo for the Best Artist of the Last 50 Years in 1992. Readers of Locus Magazine voted him Best Artist a staggering 21 years in a row. In 2009, his induction in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame was the first for a living artist.
But awards alone fail to convey Michael Whelan’s impact on the publishing industry. Whelan advanced illustration through a vibrant palette, a masterful grasp of anatomy, and an uncanny sense of wonder deeply grounded in realism. His influence can be seen in the work of so many fine illustrators today.
Michael Whelan had rocketships flying over his house when he was a toddler.
His father worked for the aerospace industry, so he always lived near airbases and got to see things—like rocket launches—that most of us only saw in grainy black and white.
If rockets weren’t flying directly over his house, they should have been.
Michael excelled from the beginning. He sold every piece of art he took to his first World Con. He’ll tell you that that’s because they were all priced under $20, but you know that they were probably also beautiful, thoughtful pieces.
Get a taste of the series with a free download of THE SLICKS on Amazon this weekend Saturday June 8th through Monday June 10th.
For cheap summer reads, it doesn’t get better than that. THE SLICKS is a great jumping on point for the series. And LEGENDS OF THE FALLOUT and SPLINTERLAND are just $2.99 on Amazon as well. Be sure to leave a review on Amazon
Whelan is just beginning work on THE SKIN BAGS. Look for that cover soon, but in the meantime be sure to check out the gallery of Michael Whelan Mutant Hunter art on Cox’s website.
Read More MICHAEL WHELAN VISITS SECOND LIFE ON SATURDAY Michael and renowned SF author Larry Niven will attend the First Annual Writers Convention and Fundraiser in the Cyberspace world Second Life on Saturday, August 30 at 11 am PST. Both the author and artist will sign...