Thursday, June 10, 2010

Original Science Fiction Artwork, Pt. 2

Continuing with the previous post, here are four more pieces of original science fiction art. I'll be concluding this in part three, which I'll write once two final paintings show up in the mail. Ooooh, the anticipation! (Note: Part 3 is up!)

1. "World of Null-A," by Eddie Jones. 15" x 9". Ca. 1970. Gouache on board.

As I wrote here, England's Eddie Jones was a regular part of the science fiction art scene, and his work helped define how sf looked in the late Sixties and Seventies. His most famous series of paintings were for the covers of various Star Trek novels, many of which were written by author extraordinaire James Blish.

This painting was done for a European edition of A. E. Van Vogt's science fiction classic The World of Null-A. The art depicts the novel's hero standing in front of the giant, building sized computer that helps rule the world in the far future. All the detail, the bold colors, the moody atmosphere -- it's all part and parcel of what makes Jones' art so damn compelling.

2. "Unknown," by Jon D. Arfstrom. 3" x 3". Ca. 1940s or 1950s. Scratchboard.

Jon D. Arfstrom started as a fan artist in the Forties, contributing piles of illustrations to fanzines. Much of his work was published by legendary 'zine publisher, book dealer, and letterpress printer Roy A. Squires in his Fantasy Advertiser. By 1951, Arfstrom was contributing work professionally to various pulps, including Weird Tales and Other Worlds. He eventually grew beyond genre work, becoming a well known mid-western artist.

Though he's a formidable painter, Arfstrom remains one of my favorite black and white illustrators -- and I absolutely love this particular piece. The detail is astounding. Scratchboard is pretty unforgiving; the art is created by literally scratching away the black surface to reveal the white part of the board. If you screw up, the only way to fix the mistake is to cover it over with black paint -- but it never looks right.

I have no idea if it was ever published; I'm guessing yes, and I'm guessing it was in one of Roy Squires' fanzines. He was a prolific publisher, though, and I haven't had the opportunity to hunt down the artwork. One of these days I'll get around to it.

3. "Unknown," by Malcom H. Smith. 4.5" x 3". Ca. 1950. Gouache on board.

Malcom H. Smith began his professional career in 1940 with submissions to Amazing Stories, which was published by Ziff-Davis. He eventually joined their staff, working his way up to art director when they expanded their line of titles. Smith also contributed regularly to Other Worlds, Imagination, Fate, and other pulps. At one point, he completed hundreds of paintings for the nonfiction book Life On Other Worlds -- but sadly the project was shelved. (Apparently, at least one of the paintings made its way into a collection.) Smith went on to work as an artist for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Now, there's a bit of a mystery surrounding this particular piece. First, there's no proof that Smith actually painted it. I've spoken to a number of experts who all agree that it certainly looks like something Smith might have done -- the aliens, in particular, appear in some of his covers. There's also agreement that despite some issues surrounding the proportions of the woman in the painting, the line work and color show the solid technique of someone who knew his way around a paint brush. So what gives?

This painting came from the collection of legendary science fiction fan Forrest J Ackerman, a man who had befriended pretty much everyone in the field and who had amassed over the years a stupendous, museum-sized collection of ephemera, movie props, books, and yes, artwork. With that in mind, the leading theory, proposed by many of the people I spoke to about this piece of art, is that perhaps Smith painted it as a quick sketch for Forry -- maybe as a gift. It'd certainly explain the roughness.

While I'm only about 90% convinced that this was done by Smith, I choose to accept it as fact. It's a nice idea, and it's about as close to owning a real Smith as I'm ever likely to get.

Regardless as to who did it, I think it's an awesome piece of art, a funky take on alien invasion scenarios and yet another opportunity to ask, "Why do aliens keep abducting naked earth women?"

4. "The Commuters," by Jack Gaughan. 4" x 6". Ca. 1961. Watercolor (I think) on paper.

Jack Gaughan was one of the premier science fiction artists in the 1960s. He began working in the field a decade earlier, contributing work to a variety of publications, but he really made a name for himself in the early Sixties as a cover artist for Ace paperbacks. He also contributed regularly to magazines such as Galaxy, where he served for a time as art director. Even as his professional career flourished -- he won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos (science fiction's highest honor) -- Gaughan never forgot his roots and continued to produce fan art for 'zines.

Me, I love Jack Gaughan's work. It's punchy, it's exciting, it's slightly abstract, it's full of energy and personality. It's also in high demand and generally costs more than I can afford to spend. This piece, though, is a preliminary sketch Gaughan did for a possible cover for Galaxy science fiction. It's not quite as "finished" as his final paintings, but it's still more detailed than many preliminaries by other artists.

It's a great, whimsical piece; as a New Yorker, how can I not love the idea of a subway car flying past the moon? Man, I want an office on the moon...

Stay tuned for part three, coming real soon!


Much of the biographical information contained in this post comes from the be-all and end-all of books about science fiction and fantasy artists, Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, by Jane Frank. It's an exhaustive study of the subject with hundreds of in-depth entries about pretty much everyone who's ever produced any sort of art within the genre. Highly recommended!

A nice review:

Copies are available at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And check out Jane Frank's online store, Worlds of Wonder ( She's been collecting and dealing science fiction art for decades and is tops in the field!


  1. The first two? Fantastic!

    While I have yet to work with scratchboard, I used to do a lot of black and white pen and ink work. Love it!

  2. The first one is a finished piece, so lots of detail, lots of strong color. I love all the blue... But I like the other Eddie Jones piece more. It's less specific, if you know what I mean.

    The Arfstrom was a real lucky find, I think. It just popped up on eBay one day. I'd only recently discovered the artist after picking up a bunch of Roy Squires' old fanzines and never imagined I'd get to own any of his work. Especially his older fanzine stuff, which I really love. Amazingly, I don't seem to remember too many people bidding against me... Like I said, I was lucky!

  3. Eddie Jones had a singular talent for grabbing your attention. Your eye catches on something in his Star Trek covers, then you notice there's more to them. That's a skill many artists and writers no longer seem to have. They either don't grab you, or they show the whole farm all at once.

  4. This is an excellent collection of illustrations. It's really top notch work. I'm usually not that interested in illustrations but these science fiction illustrations are something very different. I especially like the small ones. They are very loose and spontaneous. I believe they give a peak inside the artist minds more than many larger pieces that are over worked .

    That one painting by Malcom H. Smith may be a study. Sometimes artist just spontaneously work up a quicky just to see if they like the idea. And then if they like the quicky they will do a more finished version. A good example of a quicky is a Van Gogh in the Saint Louis art museum. In this example Van Gogh did a pencil sketch and then painted very loosely on top of the pencil sketch. It was so loose it looked incomplete. It's paintings like these that give insight into how an artist thinks and works.

    That scratch board piece is great and so small. I like the style of all the various elements in that piece.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed the art, Tom.

    I think there's a very good chance you're right about the Smith painting. The Gaughan painting is a study as well. Over the years I've had opportunity to purchase a number of studies -- silly me, I passed. A few were so clean, so finished looking, though, that for the life of me I can't figure out what I was thinking.


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