"Let's Talk" with David A. Hardy

LillianH · January 28, 2005 12:50 pm

David A. Hardy - Exploring His Worlds! [Interview by Dee-Marie] If possible, renowned British artist and author, David A. Hardy, would be spending his afternoons riding his motorbike around the rings of Saturn, but for now, he is content to create amazing images of the planet's surface for us to marvel at. For over 50 years, David's fascination with outer space has produced some of the most significant planetary artwork of the past century. With co-creator Sir Patrick Moore, David has showcased his lifelong fascination with the universe in the recent publication of: Futures: 50 Years in Space - The Challenge of the Stars. This beautiful coffee-table book uniquely combines a fascinating look into the cosmos through text and art. Recently, I had the great honor to interview this amazing man. He graciously shared his insights into creating realistic out-of-this-world images, as well as a few of his other outstanding achievements.
Photo by Jay Tate outside the Spaceguard UK Centre in Knighton, Wales
How did growing up in Birmingham (Britain's second largest city) shape your views on art and astronomy? I was born and bred in Bournville, Birmingham, where I lived for the first 26 years of my life (apart from my 2-year stint in the RAF). There was no TV until the 1950s, though I saw the movie Destination Moon in 1950, and enjoyed Journey into Space on BBC radio. Most of my 'input' was from books; encyclopedias, books on astronomy (many very old and dated) that I found in my local libraries, and so on. It was in 1954 that I illustrated my first book for Patrick Moore; I had joined the British Interplanetary Society in 1952, and it was then that I began to meet people with a belief that humans would go into space, and land on the Moon and planets. I produced exhibition paintings for the BIS, and began to illustrate more books, and from 1957 The Sky at Night - Patrick Moore's now-long-running TV program. You left your job as a corporate artist with Cadbury (chocolates), to make a living as a freelance artist. What gave you the courage to take that leap-of-faith at that specific time in your life? I joined Cadbury's in 1956, when I left the RAF, and worked in their Sales office for some years while awaiting a vacancy in the Studio. That, at least, taught me how to keep accounts and make out invoices when I became freelance. I did move into the Design office, where, I not only painted chocolate boxes and packaging of all kinds (and gained a lot of experience in illustration), but became responsible for all their Christmas and Easter catalogues. But it was being asked to work on a new film - which became 2001: A Space Odyssey - in 1965, that gave me the impetus to leave my job and go freelance. The film job never came off (the full story may be found in Hardyware: The Art of David A. Hardy) but it served its purpose. With digital artwork; a paintbrush morphed into a Wacom pen, paints are now mixed in Photoshop, and a computer monitor replaced the traditional canvas. You created your first science fiction artwork in your early teens, before the advent of computer generated art, how has modern technology changed the way you approach your art, or has it? Many people think that "computer-generated art" can be produced at the click of a button. With some programs this is almost true, but you can always tell! The artist who has a background in traditional techniques always has an advantage, because he/she has a solid background in composition, perspective and many other disciplines which are invaluable. So I see the Mac just as another tool really - pushing pixels around instead of paint. Where the computer really helps is in things like ellipses. When I think of the times I've painted Saturn's rings, or the orbits of the Solar System, with lines of exact thickness and no kinks. In Photoshop you can do it just like this [snaps fingers]. You have come a long way from your first computer in 1985 - an Atari ST 520 with only 512k of Ram - to your current PowerMac. How has the advancement in technology influenced your art? My current Mac is a PowerMac G4 1.25GHz with 2GB of RAM. I used to try to create graphics on my Atari, but everything was very jagged (huge pixels) and circles looked like octagons! Even so, as I got more powerful machines and better software came out, my work improved until I was able to create work that looked reasonable. I even printed my digital images and then worked over them in acrylics and airbrush. When you started your journey into digital imagery, Photoshop was your preferred software for creating your breathtaking terrains. In your current collaboration (Futures: 50 Years in Space, The Challenge of the Stars) with good friend, astronomer and author Sir Patrick Moore, you added Terragen software to your digital painting tools. How has your discovery of Terragen changed the way you view computer generated art, and has it had a significant effect on your current artwork? Also, why did you pick Terragen over other scenery generating software programs such as Bryce or MojoWorld? Eta Carinae (an exploding star, based on Hubble images). - Created in Terragen and Photoshop It was serendipity really. I'd seen some work created in Terragen by other artists, but Terragen was then PC-only, and I was frustrated. Then, just in time for Futures, Jo Meder released a beta version for Mac. He kindly lifted the restrictions on size and commercial use, and I was able to produce bump-maps in Photoshop, test them out as terrains in Terragen, tweak them, then take them back as landscapes into Photoshop to add skies, planets, and to give them a 'look' which I hoped was more like Hardy than Terragen. From the reviews I've seen, especially from Ron Miller, (who also uses the PC version and whose work is featured in Renderosity Digital Art for the 21st Century ), I seem to have succeeded! I have tried Bryce and Mojoworld, and although they are interesting I never found them easy to work with; the interface of Bryce is particularly quirky, but I respect the abilities of those artists who can and do work with them. But, the moment I installed Terragen and played with it, I thought: "YES. I can use this!" Do you feel there is a difference between astronomical art and science fiction art, if so, how would you classify your images? I started out as a space artist, highly influenced by Chesley Bonestell, whose book with Willy Ley, The Conquest of Space, blew my mind in 1951. Interestingly, it was in 1970, just around the time that fiction became fact and men landed on the Moon, that my first SF work was published. Obviously there's a lot of overlapping, but space art must be based entirely upon fact, and stick to the laws of the universe. So even in my SF work, I never paint anything that is scientifically impossible. Many SF artists aren't bothered by this, and just use their imagination - which is fine, if it works for them. You also added Photography to your art arsenal - Have you segued from traditional photography to digital cameras, and more importantly, to digital camera telescopes? I've always taken photographs, and that includes taking 6 x 6cm (2 1/4" square) slides of my work to send to publishers etc. As you say, I started getting seriously into it around 1980, when I built a darkroom in a tiny cloakroom under our stairs - it was just high enough at one end for the enlarger. I used to take mainly black-and-white photos; partly because they're easier to process yourself (I later did colour too) but also because I see this as an art form in its own right. Oddly enough, now that I have a new Cannon EOS 300D digital SLR camera, I'm intending to go back into B&W work! (I've had digital cameras for several years, starting with a Nikon Coolpix.) I'm a bit ashamed to say that I haven't observed for years; the images that we get from space, from probes and the HST, have completely superseded anything I could do, and I'm busy enough without getting into CCDs and stuff. Your artwork hangs on the walls of some very influential people, has been featured in books [both fiction and nonfiction], appeared on magazine covers, in films [The Neverending Story], record covers, and as video game packaging. Which has been your favorite media to create artwork for? I don't really have a favourite. I love variety and hate being stuck in a rut. So it's great, after working on a 22" monitor for weeks or months, to drag out a big 3 x 4-ft canvas and slap some paint on it.
Pluto - Created in Terragen and PhotoshopThe bright star HD70642 - Created in Terragen and Photoshop
But I do enjoy commissions: producing a nice big painting to go on someone's wall, based on what they want - but often only vaguely, and it's a great challenge and a great sense of achievement if you can then show them a work to which they say "Yes - that's just how I imagined!" Has your work on computer games been restricted to package cover art, or have you also ventured into 3D animation? I've only scratched the surface of that side of things. I'm envious of those who can do it, and keep telling myself I must set aside some time to learn to do it. Maybe one day. Back in the Atari days I produced some 360 degree panoramic backgrounds, in 16 colours, for a game called Kristal, against which the characters moved. This got very good critical reviews, actually. With your knowledge in science, literature, art, technology, music, and motorcycles - you truly are a modern day Renaissance man. Of all of your areas of expertise, which are you most passionate about? Oh, art, undoubtedly. But, I love music and listen to it constantly while I work - nowadays played from a 40GB iPod over my stereo system. I've just produced a DVD of my images with classical music, but it's Zone 2 (PAL) only at present. I'm also a frustrated rock guitarist; I have a Fender Stratocaster (Squier) which I play around with, and I've met a lot of famous guitarists over the years (again, see Hardyware!), like Hank Marvin of the Shadows, and Brian May of Queen, and my one regret is that I don't have the talent to play really well. You have an amazing "artistic-eye" for seeing beauty in everyday surroundings, which is very evident in your morphing of a shabby railway station's waiting room into a stunning Antarctic landscape [the complete transformation can be viewed on David A. Hardy's AstroArt ]. Do you feel that your gift of pre-visualizing images is something any artist can obtain with practice and patience? Also, did you have any formal art training, or are you self-taught? Morphing Tutorial - Created in Photoshop I've now incorporated that sequence into my video presentation, which I gave for the first time at Worldcon (Noreascon 4) in Boston in 2004. Yes, I'm sure anyone's eye can be trained in this way, but it's probably also 'in the genes', don't you think? I'm basically self-taught. While at Cadbury's I did receive two scholarships to go to the Birmingham School of Art, but I did things like life drawing and sculpture - the sort of thing that your Mum doesn't like you doing at home! Please tell us about Bhen the Alien, that you so lovingly created in 1973 - how did he become associated with the Electrical Eggs organization?
Bhen and the Electrical Eggs - Created in Photoshop
Somewhere around 1970 I had the idea of writing and illustrating a book for children, using a 'benevolent' green alien to show two children around the Universe. I brought in a friend, Anthony Naylor, who I met at Cadbury's, because he's a natural cartoonist and caricaturist, which I'm not (something else that's in the genes, I think), and we used Plasticene to design this character. I never found a publisher for the book, but in 1975 I did send a painting with Bhen looking at Viking on Mars to Ed Ferman at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He loved it! Carl Sagan bought the original, and it became the first of at least ten 'Bhen' covers. As a sort of 'interplanetary hobo' he almost always makes unorthodox use of NASA hardware, and I've had letters from quite a few NASA/JPL scientists, saying that he could explain some of the strange results they've got back! A few years ago I heard that Electrical Eggs (who try to provide access at SF conventions for the disabled) were asking artists for suitable work. I don't know why, but I thought immediately of Alien, from the movie, but replacing him with Bhen, and the slogan "In Space, NO ONE Can Hear!". I also use this in my video show now, because all of my 'slides' are captioned.< Your "spacescapes" appear to be influenced by the works of Thomas Cole - the father of the Hudson School of Art (who ironically was born in Lancashire, England), and astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell, with a dash of Picasso. Is there a specific artist or art movement that you lean towards in your own creations? All space artists (I'm Euro Vice President of the IAAA) see the Hudson River School as their immediate forebears. We hold workshops in the most 'alien' parts of Planet Earth, such as Iceland, Hawaii's volcanoes, Utah's canyonlands. In February 2005, we're going back to Death Valley, the scene of our first workshop in 1983. Like all artists, I'm influenced by everything - places I visit, things I see on TV or in books, the work of other artists. Your life has been filled with an abundance of amazing achievements; published artist and author, artwork appearing on numerous magazine covers, first non-North American president of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), working in a vast cross-spectrum of the entertainment field, socializing with some of the most brilliant minds of the past century - the list goes on and on. Yet, there is one accomplishment that stands out among the rest - in 2003, the Minor Planet (13329), which was discovered in 1998 by Spacewatch and previously designated as 1998 SB32, was renamed Davidhardy. Can you please let our readers know the back-story of how this came about? I can't really tell you very much! - nobody was more surprised than myself when I received an e-mail from Dr. James Scotti of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson to tell me about this. It seems that he felt it was time for some artists to receive this honour, which naturally normally goes to astronomers and scientists (Patrick Moore 'got' his some years ago), so, he recommended me, and a few others. I can only say (as I did to James) that I was gobsmacked! Do you have any parting words of wisdom, or inside secrets to success in the field of art or writing, that you would be so kind as to share with the Renderosity art community? Thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with our readers. The Web is a wonderful vehicle. When I started out, I was desperate to find ways to show my work to others, and the only way was to get it published, whether in books or magazines. That was about it! If the artists reading this are already members of Renderosity, then they already know how to share their work and receive the comments of others. If you're passionate about something, just DO it. One of the biggest problems is procrastination: many people say "Oh, I'd love to do this. . ." and never do. But make sure that what you show others really is the best you can do; the downside of the web is that people can put up masses of stuff, which may not really be up to scratch. This may even be why digital art has a bad name in some circles, because people don't necessarily see the best of it online. It's a bit ironic that to do that, they need to buy a book!
To learn more about David A. Hardy, and to view additional images of his artwork, please visit David A. Hardy's AstroArt web site.
Nereid (Neptune's outer moon)Ice Cliffs of Miranda
Also available: Futures: 50 Years in Space, The Challenge of the Stars A collaboration between David A. Hardy and Sir Patrick Moore. Hardyware A showcase of David A. Hardy and his images, from the early years to present day. Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds, David A. Hardy's science-fiction novel.
We invite you to visit David on Renderosity.
All images within this article are copyright and used with special permisson from David A. Hardy. Any use of these images without written permission from the artist is prohibited.

Message2159624.jpg"Lets Talk" with Dee-Marie
is a monthly featured column
by Dee-Marie:
Senior Staff Writer, and Managing Editor of
Renderosity's Front Page News January, 27, 2005

Article Comments

L.W. Perkins ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

An excellent article with some choice samples of Dave's art! he is not only a fantastically talented artist, he's a nice guy, too;-)

KarenJ ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Very interesting and inspiring reading - thanks for sharing your talent with us!

Spike ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Outstandong work I always loved this stuff

DreamWarrior ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Wonderful article and awesome work!

SndCastie ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Wow beautiful work Welcome to Renderosity and for sharing your article and outstanding works with us.

Teyon ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Really cool stuff here! Nice to have you at Renderosity!

AndyWelder ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Amazing story and work, David. This is bad for my work as Terragen moderator here at Renderosity 'cause I'll have to go through all this awsome stuff now ;-) Welcome indeed!

Zhann ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Welcome to Renderosity, I've followed your work, it's spectacular! You're my inspriation to do more space images....=)

Rich2 ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

You have melded Terragen very nicely into your works! So glad you have chosen to share with us!

nuski ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 29 January 2005

Excellent article and wonderful artwork and best of all. . . . another Mac user and lover of interstellart horizons!! Welcome to Renderosity David and please visit us at the ArtMatic Forum and Gallery at your convenience. - paul

KimberlyC ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 30 January 2005

Wow beautiful work! Welcome! Thank you for sharing your work with us.

RimRunner ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 30 January 2005

Welcome David. I've seen some of your works before without knowning who they were by. Great to finally place a face and name to those inspired memories. Looking forward to seeing many more of your works. Heading off to browse your site now. :) Cheers.

Bambam131 ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 30 January 2005

Dave it is always a pleasure to see your amazing artwork. You have definitely been a big influence on my approach to space art. Thanks so much for all your encouragement. Regards, DR

cybia ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 30 January 2005

Hi Dave, Nice to see you here at Renderosity. Keep up the great work and see you at Worldcon this year in Glasgow! P.S. Anyone who is attending Worldcon, don't forget to vote for David's "Futures" book in the Hugo awards! Steve

Moebius87 ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 January 2005

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and your art. Very inspirational, specially to someone like myself who is a confessed sci-fi junkie, but still very much chained and constrained to the corporate treadmill of design. Fantastic to get to meet the person behind the artistic visions. :o) Cheers! M

inkydigit ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 January 2005

amazing space scenes and interesting story too, thanks for sharing this with us!:)

davehardy ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 01 February 2005

Today (Tuesday 1 Feb) was the first chance I've had to look at this page since it went up, and I'm blown away by all the comments. Many thanks! I'm off to Death Valley for an IAAA workshop on Friday, so shall be offline until around 20th. Best to all Dave

EoinArmstrong ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 01 February 2005

Great to see you here - planning on posting anything? Ever met Ritchie Blackmore, by any chance? :)

dogsbody ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 02 February 2005

Dave, Talking from Brum (well Solihull, but close enough, its sad to say that the night sky is pretty well compromised with the glow from the streets now, it's rare to see much below 40 degrees. Even more reason to celebrate the images that you have brought to us then. I'm really disappointed that you didn't tell us more about the bike tho, as I've been a fan of Brit bikes since I was old enough to ride. Looks like a 70's Bonnie, but the tank detail and the seat don't look quite right. Best regards from Brumagem

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 02 February 2005

Hi dogsbody, An in-depth article on David's bikes [first through current] can be found on his personal AstroArt web site. I know you will enjoy reading of his motorcycle adventures :) Dee-Marie

cynlee ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 03 February 2005

thank you for the interview & interesting read!! :] quite a journey! Impressive... Enjoy the workshop!

WyndWalker ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 04 February 2005

Outstanding artwork! Welcome to the community!!

dogsbody ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 08 February 2005

Deemarie, Thank you for pointing me to that. I've just skimmed it and it says so much about the (classic) biking scene, the location (which I know quite well) and about that bike. Now if I could only afford a Brit bike of my own (having given up my Greaves Sports some 25 years ago)....... Thank you again Dogsbody