I’ve been wanting to introduce a series of posts showcasing SF artists for a while, and I’m delighted to kick it off for SciFiMonth with UK artist Alex Storer. Alex is a graphic artist with a love of SF, who has been exploring the genre through art and music for over ten years. I’m delighted to feature him and his work today – join us for a virtual exhibition followed by a chat with the artist!
For our virtual gallery, I provided some prompts to explore and Alex chose examples of his work to share with comments. All copyright Alex Storer. Please do not reproduce without permission.
The starting point for Ruin was a scene in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time (there’s still a subtle nod to his book through the spider webs in the foreground). There is something fascinating about discovering a relic from the past; an abandoned building or something where nature is reclaiming the land… and that’s what we have here, although this scene is presumably set on another world. What was perhaps an optimistic, ambitious plan for colonisation now lies in a state of decay. What went wrong?
Another piece playing with the passing of time. We don’t quite know what this huge, overgrown structure is – or was – and the person on horseback suggests we’re in a world that has gone back to a more primitive way of life. Or could it be a scene from the past, and the discovery of an object that shouldn’t be there?
The World Outside
This is one of my older pieces, but it still gets a lot of interest at conventions. On first inspection, it depicts the arrival on another world – but look closer, and we see the girl’s spacesuit is torn, suggesting that things may not be quite what they seem…
This is an example of a painting that came from a music project – at the time I was working on an album called Future Worlds, where each track represented a different future scenario. This piece became the cover art.
In a future where mankind can travel into deep space, the burning question will always be who – or what – will we encounter first? In Simulacrum, I wanted to depict the discovery of an object in space: we see a spacecraft approaching what appears to be a small planet… but on arrival, we are faced with some kind of artificial world or perhaps a huge vessel made to look like a planet. Either way, this vast husk is long abandoned, raising the questions of who constructed it, and what happened…
In Battle was a fun piece: it started as an homage to the shoot-em-up arcade games I used to love (still do) on my Commodore Amiga; where you’d have to fight some enormous monstrosity at the end of a level. As the piece progressed, it started to venture more into Jules Verne territory, becoming an example of man encountering this huge creature in its natural environment and opening fire at it.
Best Ship In The Galaxy
Demesne and Urbium are two interpretations of different kinds of world ship. In Demesne, we see a classic Enzmann style starship, with the distinctive frontal globe which contains the deuterium propellant. We might be looking at the last of its occupants arriving, before the Demesne sets off on her epic voyage.
I’ve always loved the concept of a floating city, although it’s a theme I’m yet to fully explore. Urbium shows a very different kind of vessel; more like a vast, domed metropolis – but a welcoming one, as we see a craft coming in to dock.
There is perhaps more of a dystopian feel to Thalassa, right down to the colour palette. We are clearly looking at a city that is becoming submerged in water; its ominous towers perhaps built to escape the rising tides. But you’ll notice this scene is viewed from a window of some kind; a vessel on the seas, perhaps arriving or leaving this potentially hostile place.
This is one of several pieces that explore the same city environment – perhaps a distant future here on Earth. It’s another tranquil moment at sunrise, though you’ll notice there is a cat, looking up at the figure in anticipation of something… as cats do.
Here we have what may be a different part of the same city as seen in Daybreak, but also a different time of day. The figure in the foreground looks out over a busy plaza as a huge transport vehicle of some kind prepares to land.
First Light is one of my personal favourite pieces. I had an urge to create a piece that was almost entirely red, and I happened to have an unfinished sketch of a futuristic city, so that became the skyline in the painting. I liked the idea of capturing that moment as the city comes alive in the early hours.
This was an illustration for a book about the original Doctor Who exhibition in Blackpool. Having visited the exhibition myself when I was seven years old, it was easy to recall that sense of awe and thrill as you entered the TARDIS console room at the heart of the exhibition. I wanted to capture that mood, as it would resonate with a whole generation of fans who visited it back in the day. I initially produced this as a mono illustration, before creating a full colour version that became the cover art.
Shadow Men (Apartment 21 / Dreylock / Intruder)
This trilogy of comic-book style illustrations was inspired by a Jeff Noon book. I enjoyed The Body Library so much, I was immediately inspired to illustrate several scenes from the story, returning to a style of illustration I hadn’t really done since my days as a wannabe comic artist. It was great fun to return to line-art and also to produce something very stylised, looking like an excerpt from a graphic novel.
What first drew you to SF?
My parents were interested in space, astronomy and science fiction, so I was exposed from an early age. There were always books around the house – the one that caught my attention was called Space Wars, Worlds and Weapons (Paper Tiger, 1977). It brought together work by 70s SF art greats such as Tim White, Chris Moore, John Berkey, Chris Foss and David A. Hardy. We had a huge Hardy print on the living room wall, which I would stare at and get lost in, my window into another world. I didn’t know the artists’ names back then – I just spent hours staring at this amazing artwork, which took you to deepest space and beyond.
A child of the late 1970s, I grew up with the original Star Wars films, Disney’s Tron and The Black Hole, plus television classics like Blake’s Seven and the BBC’s adaptation of The Day of the Triffids (which terrified me!). What captivated me the most was Doctor Who. I probably started watching the show when I was three or four years old… there was such a thrill in being whisked away in the TARDIS each week to another world or time. By the time I was six, I was completely obsessed with the show! Not much has changed since then.
What do you love most about SF?
One of the things that appeals is the breadth of the genre. Whether you want alternative realities, space travel, alien worlds or future scenarios, it’s all there. Many people hear “science fiction” and immediately think aliens and spaceships, but it is so much more. These days, I’m most drawn to futuristic stories that explore alternative realities and mess with the fabric of time.
I didn’t read SF until my early twenties, when I picked up Arthur C Clarke’s The City and the Stars (drawn to it by the Chris Moore cover art) – it changed everything! It remains my favourite book – so visionary for its time. It was through becoming an avid SF reader that I rediscovered my love of science fiction art, which in turn led to me creating my own.
What themes do you explore in your work?
Future times and places are one of the main recurring themes in my work. I enjoy creating environments that put the viewer as an onlooker to the scene, whether it is a futuristic cityscape or an alien world. I like pieces that are thought provoking, and perhaps make the viewer question what’s going on. There’s always a story to be told and it’s always fascinating to hear people’s different interpretations of a piece.
How do you approach your work?
I work digitally. Although I’m a traditionally trained fine artist and illustrator, when I felt digital was the place to be when I started my own work. Working in Photoshop gives me a lovely vibrant palette without the mess of paints! Most of my inspiration comes from whatever I am reading at the time; a phrase or scene in a book can spark an idea. I’ve done a few pieces inspired by dreams, too.
I also make instrumental music, which is often science fiction influenced. I tried keeping art and music separate things at the start, but a degree of crossover was inevitable. Sometimes I would be working on a piece of music that would inspire a painting, or vice-versa. Many of my tracks and digital paintings even share titles. I think this is because for me, it’s the same process – one uses form and colour, the other uses sounds. In either case, I’m creating another world to escape in (and being a synesthete probably has something to do with it!).
Since picking up that copy of The City and the Stars, I always wanted to illustrate book covers. I’m a graphic designer by trade, so this expertise comes into play when I’m working with an author or publisher. I’ll always start with a conversation about the book and the cover, then go away and work up a few black and white sketches to get a feel for it. Once we’ve agreed a direction, I work up the real thing. The rise of self-publishing has resulted in a lot of opportunity for rewarding creative collaboration.
At the start of the year, I released a free art ebook exploring my collaborations with US author Alice Sabo. It goes behind the scenes of each of her covers; Alice’s brief, my concepts and finished pieces. You can find The Art of a Changed World on my website.
There is something really evocative about illustrated covers for science fiction and fantasy books, and I think we’ve seen this approach return to popularity in recent years. It’s like when you look back at old illustrated movie posters from the 70s and 80s – they were so much more enticing than the photo-montage posters that are common today.
Any goals or highlights you’d like to share?
One of the most rewarding things has been exhibiting my work on the science fiction convention circuit – often finding myself alongside the artists whose work first inspired. I have become personal friends with David A. Hardy – having grown up in awe of David’s work to having him critique my own early efforts was a lovely full-circle moment. He’s still producing stunning work, as creative and inspiring as ever.
An unexpected career highlight was being commissioned to create a piece for HRH Prince William in 2017. This was a non-sci-fi piece, just to throw me completely out of my comfort zone!
When I started out, my goal was to do a cover for a major publisher. While I’d still love to, the publishing industry has changed over the past decade. I’ve come to realise that whether you’re working with a small press or an indie author you’re still creating something that will hopefully entice readers and make it on to their bookshelves, physical and digital.
What do you have coming up?
I have recently been involved in a brilliant project which reunited me with my childhood love of drawing Doctor Who. Blackpool Remembered is a free digital publication – a whopping 400 pages – detailing the original BBC Doctor Who exhibition, which ran from 1974 to 1985 in the British seaside town of Blackpool. I made several written contributions, produced the cover art and several interior illustrations. This project will be of particular interest to any classic Who fans, and it can be downloaded for free.
I have also just released a retrospective music album, Synthesis – The Light Dreams Anthology, which brings together some of my best work over the last eight years. You can find out more about this on Bandcamp.
I’m always on the lookout for new writers and publishers to work with, but understandably things have been quiet on this side of things this year. It is a very worrying and unsettled time for the arts, publishing and creative industries.
What SF did you enjoy the most this year – and what are you looking forward?
Tales from The Loop stood out as the most original science fiction series I’ve seen in a long time. It felt so fresh and different in addition to being really well written. Another series I really enjoyed was a Catalan/Spanish series called If I Hadn’t Met You. It’s a tale of love, loss, time travel and parallel lives, exceptionally well made and beautifully told.
In books, I’m looking forward to The Evidence by Christopher Priest, which has just been published. I can’t get enough of his writing.
A big thank you to Alex for taking part as my first feature artist. If you are an SF artist and would be interested in a future feature, please get in touch with me via Twitter.