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Martian Landscapes

I’ve referred before, probably more than once, and certainly in the About section, to an idea I have for works based on descriptions of the Martian landscape in Kim Stanley Robinson’s series of books about the colonisation of Mars. I’m still mulling over ideas and collecting visual references. This post though is about the inspiration, not the art. I’ve been reading science fiction since I was about twelve years old, so it is unsurprising that I find inspiration for my art there.

I already had paper versions of the books and made notes, but to make things simpler I also bought the Kindle edition. Using the notes function, I generated a text file of quotes that inspired me. I can’t publish that here in its entirety. Apart from copyright issues, there are 19 pages! Here though is a selection, plus some images from my ‘mood board’ of visual references, which together I hope will give some sense of why I find this idea so compelling. The extracts are all taken from:

Robinson, K. S. (2015).
The Complete Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars.
[Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from, 9/5/2022


The sky was now a deep violet, streaked by yellow cirrus clouds.


The depth of Valles Marineris was perceptible, the height of the four big volcanoes obvious: their broad peaks appeared over the horizon well before the surrounding countryside came into view. There were craters everywhere on the surface: their round interiors were a vivid sandy orange, a slightly lighter color than the surrounding countryside. Dust, presumably. The short rugged curved mountain ranges were darker than the surrounding countryside, a rust color broken by black shadows. But both the light and dark colors were just a shade away from the omnipresent rusty- orangish- red, which was the color of every peak, crater, canyon, dune, and even the curved slice of the dust- filled atmosphere, visible high above the bright curve of the planet.


Their wheel tracks stretched behind them like the first cut of a lawnmower through grass, and the transponders gleamed bright and incongruous among the rocks.
Tracks of Curiosity Rover

They stood and watched the sun set. Their shadows went right out to the eastern horizon. The sky was a dark red, murky and opaque, only slightly lighter in the west over the sun. The clouds Ann had mentioned were bright yellow streaks, very high in the sky. Something in the sand caught at the light, and the dunes were distinctly purplish. The sun was a little gold button, and above it shone two evening stars: Venus, and the Earth. “They’ve been getting closer every night lately,” Ann said softly. “The conjunction should be really brilliant.” The sun touched the horizon, and the dune crests faded to shadow. The little button sun sank under the black line to the west. Now the sky was a maroon dome, the high clouds the pink of moss campion. Stars were popping out everywhere, and the maroon sky shifted to a vivid dark violet, an electric color that was picked up by the dune crests, so that it seemed crescents of liquid twilight lay across the black plain.

Atacama Desert after rain

They flew over the westernmost of these crack systems, Hephaestus Fossae, and found the area an unearthly sight: five long deep parallel canyons, like claw marks in the bedrock. Elysium loomed beyond, a saddleback in shape, Elysium Mons and Hecates Tholus rearing at each end of a long spine range, five thousand meters higher than the bulge they punctuated: an awesome sight. Everything about Elysium was so much bigger than anything Nadia and Arkady had seen so far that as the dirigible floated toward the range, the two were speechless for minutes at a time. They sat in their seats, watching it all float slowly toward them. When they did speak, it was just thinking aloud: “Looks like the Karakoram,” Arkady said. “Desert Himalayas. Except these are so simple. Those volcanoes look like Fuji. Maybe people will hike up them

Tierra del Fuego

Candor Chasma, and now it was as if he were in a gigantic replica of the Painted Desert, with great deposition layers everywhere, bands of purple and yellow sediment, orange dunes, red erratics, pink sands, indigo gullies; truly a fantastic, extravagant landscape, disorienting to the eye because all the wild colors made it hard to figure out what was what, and how big it was, and how far away. Giant plateaus that seemed about to block his way would turn out to be curving strata on a distant cliff; small boulders next to the transponders would turn out to be enormous mesas half a day’s drive away. And in the sunset light all the colors blazed, the whole Martian spectrum revealed and blazing as if color was bursting out of the rock, everything from pale yellow to dark bruised purple. Candor Chasma!

Although the inspiration is Mars, and the quotes are from Science Fiction, I’m not planning these images as Science Fiction illustrations. It isn’t my area, and there are dozens if not hundreds of artists who have been there before me. I’m thinking of this project as a set of landscapes, probably as prints, but I may yet attempt some paintings, who knows?

I do know of one current painter who has looked at Mars as a subject for landscape painting, artist Tina Mammoser. You can find her work here.

I was especially taken though by the images in this blog post looking at the Martian aurora.

For anyone interested in the topic though, the first name that comes to mind is Chesley Bonestell. Bonestell (1888-1986) was an American pioneer of space art who helped popularize manned space travel. He is well known for his cover art for science fiction magazines, including Astounding Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as many books such as The Conquest of Space, The Exploration of Mars, and Beyond the Solar System in collaboration with several authors well known in the field of space exploration.

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Artistic Influences

Sometimes the artistic influence on a piece of work is deliberate. There is a lot to be learnt from trying to emulate the look of another artist without directly copying. This was the case with ‘Shalimar’ below, where I was channelling Richard Diebenkorn and his Ocean Park paintings. (Not in the shop yet, but will be soon. Contact me if you are interested before then.)

Shalimar - monotype print in blues and greys in style of Richard Diebenkorn.
Shalimar – monotype print made with acrylic on paper

Sometimes, though, the influence is accidental. You looked, perhaps, at the other artist’s work years ago. Then as you work, something in front of you triggers the memory, and it becomes embedded in what you make. I think that’s what has happened here with ‘Mercury Beach’. I was framing a batch of prints for upcoming shows, (watch this space for more news on that and where to see them). Suddenly I saw Barbara Rae. Not the subject matter, but the intense colours and the ribbon like horizontal marks. Incidentally, when framing it, I decided it looked better inverted. The version below is upside down compared to the version in the shop. I think it was that change of perspective that made me see the artistic influence coming through.

Imaginary landscape abstract monotype print
Mercury Beach – abstract monotype print

Of course, I may be deluding myself, but getting even part way towards the work of someone like Rae is not bad in my view.