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Yes, they pee on the tires.

Male Soyuz crew members do indeed urinate on the tires of the transport bus that drives them to the launch pad.

According to retired astronaut Chris Hadfield in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. “Much is made of this as a tradition, but really, if you’re going to be locked in a rocket ship, unable to leave your seat for quite a few hours, it’s just common sense. The only problem is that, when clad in a launch suit, one cannot simply unzip one’s fly. The suit techs on board had to help us undo all the tricky fasteners they’d painstakingly closed not an hour before, so we were able to urinate manfully on the tire without spoiling our plumage.”

I have detailed this and a handful of other Russian pre-launch rituals in my novel, but there are even more rites:

  • A visit to Yuri Gagarin’s office to autograph a book
  • Planting a tree in the cosmonaut grove
  • Custom matryoshka dolls are commissioned for each crew member
  • Coins are flattened under the train that transports the Soyuz to the launch pad (Cosmonauts must not watch this roll out – it is bad luck –  and get their hair cut instead)
  • The night before the launch the crew watches the Russian 1969 movie White Sun of the Desert (an action film set during the 1917 revolution)
  • The crew poses with women in traditional Kazakh costumes for photographs
  • No mission can take place on 24 October since it is the anniversary of a catastrophic missile failure in 1960 (this is subject of a future blog post: “Biggest space screw-up ever”)
  • There is also a welcoming ritual of bread and salt for visitors arriving to the ISS

Not to be outdone, American crews have their superstitious rituals as well:

  • On the day of launch, NASA astronauts eat eggs and steak in tribute to Alan Shepard, who ate a breakfast of this before the first American launch
  • Before launch, the crew is given a cake – that no one is supposed to eat
  • Contemporary astronauts sit on the same recliner chairs as the Apollo era crews the suit-up room
  • The crew plays five-card poker or Blackjack until the commander loses, only then can they drive to the launch pad (one shuttle crew almost was late to the launch pad because the commander kept winning)
  • No mission has been numbered ’13’ since Apollo 13 failed to land on the moon
  • Jars of peanuts are considered good luck charms for unmanned landings on other worlds
  • Successful manned launchings are celebrated with a meal of beans and cornbread
  • After their first flight, rookies in the team have their neckties cut
  • A ship’s bell is rung onboard the ISS when the command changes to a new crew

More adventures when Soyuz Blue, Volume Three debuts in September at SPX!

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mi

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mission.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just Outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; We ing the tires of the bus.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; wetting the tires of the bus.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are Excused from this rite.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are excused from this rite.”

Lots more adventures ahead! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Electronic collage for graphic novel.

While it may cause die hard comic purists to curse and throw their Series 7 Number 2 inking brushes in outrage:  I have to admit this book could never have been created without Photoshop.

Two-ply Bristol board, pencils, lettering guides, inks, and electric erasers? I would still be working on the first chapters.

Blue pencils can be removed from the final Photoshop scan by selecting the blue filter in the convert to Black and White setting.

Most of the drawings in Soyuz Blue were created separately in small sketchbooks, and at various times and locations. My tools of choice are mechanical pencils of H, HB, and B value. I took these disparate pencil drawings, scanned and darkened the line work, then combined them into the collaged images you see in the finished novel. On occasion, I have also included a file or two drawn in Adobe Illustrator.

For the figure drawing, the most demanding part of any comic, I relied on a two-step process. First, I create a gesture and wireframe drawing to get the feel of the figure. Second, I cleaned up this rough drawing by tracing the figure on to 80 pound cold press paper, retaining some gesture lines to make sure the drawing still felt “alive.”

Also handy in Photoshop was the ability to rough things out in a non-repro blue pencil, draw directly over the sketch with a black pencil or pen, scan the image and “erase” the blue using the “black and white” conversion tool.

In this way the novel has been portable.  For instance, the fiery explosions at the end of the first volume were done while waiting to comment on a zoning issue at the Arlington County courthouse. I also did some pretty good work waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Smoke, ice, and other elements are added from other drawings.

This technique heavily influenced the final look of the novel. Scanning and converting pencils result in much more of the artist’s’ “hand” showing. The rougher look contrasts with the slick expectations the reader might have for a science fiction story. Also, while I tried to draw at 120% of the final print size, I occasionally mixed scales of drawings; using bolder rougher renderings for grittier special effects. Having the drawings as layers in Photoshop also allowed for quicker corrections and more spontaneous combining of images.

More coming in February 2016 with the release of Volume Three, the final installment of the three part Soyuz Novel.

See it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Photonic mouse haunts artist’s dreams (artistic influences, part 1)

There is a saying that children are like wet cement, whatever they run into leaves an impression.

My first artistic memory dates from when I was four years old. I was riding in a car through Baltimore on a November night in the 1960s. From the highway there was a clear view of a drive-in theater. On the screen, four stories high, was a Mickey Mouse cartoon. That giant, powerful, graphic rodent still haunts me. Here was a two dimensional being made of light, but as real as the three dimensional brick and morter city around it.

Art and graphics, especially in popular culture, were a huge influence. My Mother has always been a voracious reader, and in the 50s and 60s she was a fan of science fiction. That was the age of the 25 cent paperback book. There was a treasure trove of colorful tales lying about the house, each with a bold illustrated cover.

I was also born on the cusp of when small children in America stopped playing  “Cowboys,” and began to playing “Spaceman.” Black and white TV was still rerunning with the Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers; while the nightly news featured the real life exploits of America’s Mercury and Gemini Astronauts.

Traces of these themes show up now and then in my fine art. Everything shows up in my graphic novel.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Casting the characters in Soyuz Blue.

Soyuz Blue is a science fiction thriller set in the not too distant future. All of the space vehicles and hardware are very similar to what currently exists. As an illustrator I felt a realistic style would be best for this kind of story. I also wanted each of the characters to have a distinct look. I tend to be cinematic in my storytelling, so I needed source material on my characters from many different “camera angles.”

I found one of the best places to “audition” characters was the art museum. Statues and portrait busts hold still, are great to sketch from, and happy to be photographed. They also won’t sue you if you make them the villain of your tale.

Andrew-Jackson-as-Dr-Ouspenskaya

My Dr. Ouspenskaya, with his rugged features and mad scientist hair, is based on  a bust of President Andrew Jackson. I sketched his likeness in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery from various angles. Also useful were the additional sculptures of Jackson at different ages. Of course, I still had to make decisions on what the character would look like smiling, laughing, and talking. A basic knowledge of human anatomy allowed me to make up certain rules: “Ouspenskaya shows his lower teeth when he talks…”

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His countenance is perfect for a successful military officer who is politically savvy and has mastered his area of expertise.  Zhukov also knows that a lot of what goes on in the military is nonsense, but he is in on the joke.

In this way I collected faces to match my script, but also found that it was much easier to edit and sharpen dialogue once I had a likeness of each player in the drama.

Did I cast the novel correctly? Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue and let me know!