Visions of Space: An Interview with David A. Hardy

By Alex Storer.

Any science fiction or space art aficionado should instantly recognise the name David A. Hardy – perhaps from the early part of his career working with Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night and their award-winning books, including Challenge of the Stars and Futures / 50 Years in Space, or perhaps from his film and television credits, which include Blake’s Seven and The Neverending Story. Maybe you’ve got books in your SF collection adorned with David’s stunning cover art (maybe you’ve even read his own SF book, Aurora), or have encountered his work on the convention circuit. At the very least, if you’ve ever bought Cadbury’s chocolate, you’ll recognise the logo that Hardy originally designed during his time working at their Bournville factory, Birmingham, in the 1960s!

First published in 1952, David A. Hardy is the longest-established living space artist. Hardy started out as an astronomical artist, and the inevitable expansion into science fiction did not come for some years. Hardy’s work can transport you to the remotest corners of the Solar System, or into remote alien worlds and future times. What’s more, Hardy is still working and in as much demand as ever, regularly supplying cover art for the likes of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and countless science fiction paperback and e-book titles.

Initiation of Akasa_F&SF

F&SF: Initiation of Asaka

Hardy’s artwork continues to move with the times – in tandem with spaceflight technology and our ever-expanding scientific knowledge about the planets in our Solar System, and advancing with the advent of computer technology and digital art.

I grew up in awe of Hardy’s work, courtesy of its inclusion in the most marvellous book, Space Worlds, Wars & Weapons (published in 1977 by the sadly defunct Paper Tiger imprint), and an art print that hung on the wall at home, entitled Stellar Radiance. This artwork my young imagination; it was like having a window into space. It sparked my obsession with science fiction art and ultimately led to me working as a science fiction artist myself, years later.

Stellar Radiance

Stellar Radiance

When I rediscovered my love of science fiction and space art in 2007, I realised it was time to start creating my own – and David A. Hardy’s work was my first port of call.

However, at the time, I did not know the name of that wonderful painting that I used to lose myself in, nor the artist’s full name – though the carefully scribed signature of “Hardy” in the bottom corner of the painting had always stuck in my mind. Thanks to a quick Google search, in no time at all I was in touch with the man himself, and soon found myself discovering his decade-spanning portfolio, starting with the books, Hardyware and Futures / 50 Years In Space. David’s enthusiasm and encouragement were invaluable and enough for me to know that I simply had to give it a shot.

One of the things which appeals to me about Hardy’s art is that whether it is paint or pixels, the work is still distinctly Hardy. When it comes to digital art in particular, I’ve always found it crucial to still have the touch of the artist’s hand, which I feel adds soul and personality to a digitally piece, eliciting just the same kind of emotional response one gets from looking at a canvas painting – and Hardy achieves this masterfully.

Despite being in the age of photographic imagery and photorealistic 3D graphics, hand-rendered art has remained important in science fiction circles, as it is another medium in which we can escape into other times or worlds – and more often than not, the art goes hand in hand with the SF literature we read; either adorning the covers of the books we love or simply inspired by them.

A ‘Hardy’ is immediately identifiable, not only by that kind of vibrant colour palette (regardless of medium), but by a consistent style and approach. Decades of experience and expertise all go into making each and every piece a work of wonder that one never tires of viewing.

I caught up with David to chat about all aspects of his work and career …

The first time I encountered computer-aided artwork in the early 1990s, it felt like a life-changing moment; a glimpse of the future. Do you remember the first time you saw computer art and did you realise it was going to be a significant way forward, especially in terms of science fiction art?

DAH: I had a similar “Eureka!” moment when I discovered the airbrush in 1957! Here was a way to paint atmospheres, glows, nebulae in a way that was realistic yet wouldn’t take hours of painstaking blending of paints. I have always kept up with new technology, and started using photography, especially ‘derivative’ (manipulated) images, in my work. In the 1980s I did all my own darkroom work and even became a LRPS. I also bought a large-format camera and started taking photos of my work to send to publishers as transparencies (slides) rather than entrusting valuable artwork to the tender mercies of the Post Office! I became aware of the intrusion of computer art in publishing, and it was exciting, but I couldn’t afford any of the equipment. Then when the Atari ST came along in 1986 I got a 520, then a 1040 and finally a Falcon before getting my first PowerMac in 1991. But it was still some time before I felt able to use this professionally. (I did however produce graphics for an Atari/Amiga game, Kristal, which won an industry award.)



Many SF artists have continued to work with paint while others have moved to digital or only work digitally – yet you have maintained a healthy balance of both. What do you feel you can achieve with digital art that you can’t with traditional media – and vice-versa?

DAH: Digital art is much more flexible – you can change, delete, try different effects and save the results separately. There are filters and plugins which produce results quite impossible to achieve in painting. And of course one can send JPEGs to publishers by email. (This can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage, as it gives them an opportunity to request many changes, some of which would be virtually impossible with traditional media. Fortunately, though, this rarely happens to me now!).

How do you feel your work has progressed since branching out into digital art?

DAH: I’m not sure it has progressed – perhaps this is for others to say? My method of working has changed, because now I usually produce a digital version first on my Mac, to see what I am working towards, before putting paint on canvas.

You create works both in paint and digitally which both clearly have your distinctive style. How would you say you achieve this?

DAH: Well I suppose it is inevitable that my work will look like mine, however I work. In either case I know how I want my final work to look, and I just continue until I achieve that, in whatever medium. However (see below) computer art can have a rather bland look, and I try to avoid that by using various ‘real media’ filters and other techniques.

Mountain Grill_Portals_comp

Mountain Grill Portals

I personally dislike the term ‘digital’, as it all too often makes people think of cold 3D renderings or that the computer does all the work, whereas you still work by hand using a graphics tablet – the way of working is practically the same, just the medium that is different. Would you agree?

DAH: I do agree. TV presenters especially tend to give the impression that ‘digital art’ is produced simply by pressing a few buttons. This is far from the case – I use very little ‘3D’ art, but I admire those who can, because it is a very steep learning curve to use Vue or Lightwave, and the results can be incredible. I do user Poser to help me with figures, and used the original version of Terragen as a terrain generator for many of the new illustrations in Futures: 50 years in Space. But then they changed it, and instead of being a user-friendly graphic interface one has to enter numbers and such – not what I call art!

Comet Probe

Comet Probe, as featured in 50 Years in Space

It’s only in recent years that digital has become more accepted as a medium – yet there’s no less imagination or creativity involved. How do you feel when collectors voice concerns about there being no ‘original’ so to speak?

DAH: I can quite understand that. Yes one can produce any number of prints from a traditional painting, but there is only one original, and the difference is immediately obvious on close inspection. Also, when painting I often use ‘impasto’ effects – paint applied thickly with a palette knife – and although it is no doubt possible to simulate this, it is quite impossible to do digitally. There is a huge amount of trust involved in digital fine art (personally I only use the computer for illustrations), as the customer is expected to accept that only one, or a limited number of prints will be made from a digital file, which may or may not then be destroyed. . .

Talk us through your general process when starting a new piece. Are you more inclined to head to your digital or wet studio? What kind of creative routines or rituals do you have?

DAH: As I said above, I often produce a quick digital version first when painting, but for illustrations – covers and such – I always use the Mac. So the choice is quite simple really. Currently I am experimenting with less realistic, even abstract techniques, and for these the wet studio is the only choice. Actually, after working for perhaps weeks on a 27” monitor it is a pleasure to be able to slap some paint on a large canvas, and I enjoy the whole physical process of working directly with my hands.  Routines? None really, except to have all my tools readily available and to hand.

Do you remember when you first realised that science fiction and space art was something you absolutely had to do?

DAH: When I was thirteen my parents took me to Blackpool. I walked down the seafront from the boarding house, and found a newsagent’s which had some SF ‘pulps’ on a shelf. I bought two: Seven to the Moon by Lee Stanton and Rocket Men by King Lang (a pseudonym if ever I saw one!). They were the first ‘adult’ SF books I had read, and I was hooked!  From then on I got SF whenever and wherever I could, including of course H.G.Wells from the library. Sometimes the covers were quite good, if garish, but often I would amuse myself by trying to create my own based on the stories. A year later, in 1950, I found a copy of The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley, with the most amazing photographic paintings of the Moon and planets by Chesley Bonestell.  That was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do! From then on, although I read and was involved with SF, I thought of myself purely as a space artist; this was of course amplified by the fact that I was working with people like Patrick Moore, and illustrated my first book for him in 1954. In fact it wasn’t until 1970 that my first published SF covers appeared, first on Vision of Tomorrow and then on F&SF.

EnigmaF&SF- Enigma

Enigma (1970) and the F&SF cover featuring it

DAH: In the 40s and 50s F&SF, and to a lesser extent other magazines such as Amazing and Galaxy, used Bonestell art as covers. Yet he always insisted that he was not a SF artist, but an astronomical one. When Challenge of the Stars (a book that I co-wrote with Patrick Moore as well as illustrated) was published in 1972, F&SF and a couple of the other mags used my paintings from that in exactly the same way that they had used Bonestell. But sadly, 1972 was also the year in which men visited the Moon for the last time, and public interest in space began to wane. To give me a reason for still painting space art covers I invented (with my cartoonist friend Anthony Naylor) ‘Bhen’, the benevolent green B.E.M., who I showed with the Viking lander, riding in the bowl of the Pioneer probe at Saturn, riding the Lunar Rover, and so on.  (Not a little green man, as some have called him, because if you compare him with the NASA vehicles he is about two-and-a-half metres – nearly 8ft – tall!). He first appeared on F&SF in 1975, and of course the earlier covers – there have been ten – were painted, though the last one, in 2015, was digital.

Bhen on Mars v1

BHEN on Mars (1975)

Bhen 15

BHEN ExoMars (2015)

In recent years, we’ve seen a healthy revival of painted/illustrated covers for SF titles. What do you think it is about this kind of artwork that has such longevity, and right for the genre?

DAH: I suppose it’s largely tradition, and nostalgia? We became so used to expecting SF covers to look a certain way that it still gives us pleasure to see that type of work.

In your opinion, what makes a good SF book cover?

DAH: Ah, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it! For me, it’s essential that it really relates to the content of the book (but preferably without giving too much away), and that is exciting and eye-catching.

Is there any particular SF novel that you’d still like to illustrate?

DAH: Loads, but I couldn’t really list them. . .

Moving briefly on to space art – your earlier depictions of Pluto turned out to be astoundingly accurate in recent years, when NASA published its first high-definition images of the planet. This must have been a proud moment.

DAH: Yes, I think I was as surprised as anybody when we saw that there actually was a cracked, icy plain which they named ‘Sputnik Planum’, few craters, and that on Charon there are great crevasses – just as I had painted them in 1991 for The Universe by Ian Ridpath. I don’t really claim any prescience; I had just based my version on the geology of some of the outer moons, like Neptune’s Triton.

New Horizons at Pluto.jpg

New Horizons at Pluto

As a space artist, do you feel it vital to keep painting new and updated interpretations of our planets, as we learn more about them? For example, the way you may have painted Jupiter from Io in the 1970s would be significantly different to how you would paint the same scene today.

DAH: Absolutely. I’ve heard people say that the paintings of, say, Bonestell from the 1950s have no value now because they are inaccurate, showing tall, jagged mountains on the Moon or canals on Mars and so on (and of course I was highly influenced by him then). Rubbish! What we painted then was based on the scientific knowledge of the time, so yes, we do need to keep updating our work as new data come in. Having said that, even Bonestell should really have known that the lunar mountains have been eroded by millennia of impacts by micrometeorites and extremes of temperature – French astronomer/artist Lucien Rudaux knew, back in the 1930s, because he observed the limb of the Moon, where the mountains can be seen in profile – though they still cast sharp, pointed shadows in a low light.

Despite the amazing, high-resolution photographs of other planets which we now can see thanks to modern technology, there continues to be a healthy interest in space art. Why do you think this is?

DAH: It’s true that instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have sent us the most amazing, detailed colour images of distant nebulae etc. But much of the information we receive comes in the form of data, and while numbers, charts and graphs may be exciting to astronomers, the public and the media prefer to see exciting visual interpretations. This is where space artists come into their own. It is also the area where we see the difference between space artists and SF artists: while SF and fantasy artists are free to use their imagination, space artists need to combine these talents with accurate scientific knowledge. And they can’t afford to get it wrong!

Two Worlds 15

Two Worlds

This Summer Hardy exhibited at Visions of Space 2 – An Exhibition of Astronomical and Space Art by British IAAA artists at Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset, at which he also gave a talk on the Moon and Eclipses on the opening night. His next event is next month at Novacon, the UK’s longest-running SF convention, at which Hardy has attended and exhibited every year since it began in 1971.

Every year, Hardy presents a display of work covering all aspects of science fiction, fantasy, space art and beyond. Not one to rest on his laurels, Hardy continually pushes himself and experiments with new artistic media – the most recent being sculpted 3D relief landscapes and scenes, and also abstract art.

At 81, David A. Hardy could easily be living proof that art and creativity keeps both the body and the mind young – youthful in appearance, with a mind as sharp as his wit, just a few minutes of conversation with the artist leaves you feeling inspired and educated. His passion and dedication for his art and everything that has influenced it over his long career, is as strong today as it ever was – and this should be an inspiration to us all.

Alex Storer is a science fiction artist and electronic musician.

2 thoughts on “Visions of Space: An Interview with David A. Hardy

  1. Superb article! Beautiful artwork Mr. Hardy. I still covet my copy of Hawkwind’s “Hall of the Mountain Grill” both for it’s music AND for Mr. Hardy’s incredible space art on the back cover. A true space art genius!

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