by Michael Carroll

Watson Guptill


144pp/$24.95/July 2007

Space Art
Cover by Michael Carroll

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

For many people, when spacescapes come to mind, science fiction illustrators, from Chesley Bonestell to Michael Whelan to John Picacio come to mind.  However, outside the field of science fiction, and overlapping with it, are the ranks of astronomical artists who create realistic space images for NASA, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, planetaria, and other organizations and publications that cover astronomy and the space program.  Michael Carroll belongs to the latter fraternity.  In Space Art, he shares the techniques used to create his artwork.

Although he does start with some basics, such as the shading of spheres, Carroll's book does assume a certain level of artistic knowledge and ability.  It is not a book for beginners. To this end, Carroll only briefly discusses materials the artist should use or the general techniques for applying paint to canvas.  Instead his focus is on creating memorable paintings and the scientific background needed to make the images plausible.

Carroll does start with basic images, such as the painting of Jupiter he explains on pages 24-25.  In this case he not only talks about using colors to achieve certain effects (such as brushing a layer of red brick to soften the cloud forms), but also explains that colors which aren't obvious are necessary to achieve the desired look ("to really get things dark [for the blackness of space], add a layer of purple and another of dark blue.")

Although Carroll's book eventually runs through painting images of all the planets in the solar system, he begins with Earth, which is the template for all the other planets.  Earth provides the artist with the necessary building blocks, as well as adds in the familiarity which is necessary.  However, Carroll quickly points out that being able to paint a realistic terrestrial sky easily translates to other planets with a slight (or not so slight) change of color.

Following up on the idea of using the Earth as a template for alien vistas, Carroll demonstrates how to use the Ubehebe volcanic crater in Death Valley as a basis for a crater on Jupiter's moon Io. Not only does Carroll show how to convert the terrestrial landscape, but he also explains the use of mathematics to figure out the proportions and perspective necessary to give the final scene a realistic appearance.

Of course, part of painting alien landscapes is the inclusion of innovation and imagination.  Carroll makes sure to explain how to take images found in nature, such as clouds, and convert them to something that is recognizable, yet completely foreign.  The key to making these images believable is to make sure that no matter how outre they are, there is some tie in to the world the viewer will recognize.

While Space Art is not going to turn a novice into Michael Whelan or Don Dixon, it will help an artist who already has some knowledge and talent create more realistic and technically better artwork set in the distant reaches of space.  Carroll's explanations are succinct and the art he has selected to showcase the techniques is first rate.  Showing that art at various stages of completion is very useful as it clearly shows the intermediate stages the work takes before achieving its final appearance.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books

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