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Ron Miller

How to Make Astronomical Illustrations

When I was painting traditionally — before I moved to digital media — I almost never did preliminary sketches… except perhaps for the occasional thumbnail doodle to remind me of an idea. And after doing astronomical art for forty years, not much has changed in that regard: I have such a clear-cut idea of how the finished artwork is going to look that in a very real sense the preliminary sketches are already done. Now I work almost exclusively in digital media (a decision I made when I found myself having to both write and illustrate a series of ten books… and realizing there was no way to meet my deadlines). I had been reluctant to abandon traditional media, but when I presented my first efforts to my friends and heard them say, “Why, these look just like Ron Miller paintings!” I was sold — so much so that I’ve done only a couple traditional paintings since.

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Imaginary Exoplanets

Extrasolar planets have been a staple of science fiction pretty much from the get-go. My favorite fictional movie planet is probably Metaluna of This Island Earth. For one thing, who could possibly trump that wonderfully evocative name? Besides, it’s beautifully realized in the movie, with its cratered surface bombarded by radio-controlled meteors and its underground civilization. Then again, it might just be because it was the first exoplanet I had ever been introduced to.

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The Planet Artists: Chesley Bonestell, Lucien Rudaux, and Ludek Pesek

Just about everyone doing the kind of space art I do (sometimes referred to as “rock and ball” space art), owes something to Chesley Bonestell. While not the first artist to specialize in astronomical art, he raised to the level of fine art.

A classically trained painter, Bonestell began his career as an architect and architectural renderer. During this time, he contributed to the design of such American icons as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building. He took his painting skills and the knowledge of perspective, light and shadow to Hollywood where he entered the second phase of his long career, creating special effects matte paintings. He worked on such classic films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Citizen Kane. All the scenes showing the cathedral and medieval Paris in the former are Bonestell’s artwork as are the scenes of 19th century New York and Kane’s Xanadu.

[Space art ahead!]