This artwork made by me some years ago is clearly inspired by some illustrations by Peter Elson
Peter Elson's work was one of the reasons for which I have developed my career in the field of Science Fiction illustration.
Below there is an interview describing how Peter Elson was before his premature death in 1998.A LITTLE FAN BIOGRAPHYby YVerloc
Was doing a web search for Peter's stuff, and this thread popped up. I know it's years late, but I thought I'd add what I know anyhow.
Disclaimer - this turned out to be more of a biography than I intended. Elson was a big influence on me, and I've felt for a long time that a) he deserved to be better known and b) the man deserves some kind of biography. Nobody else seems to be about the job, so I've decided to do my best. All of you hotshot concept guys (and gals) might find in it a sort of cautionary tale, maybe. This is as good a repository for said biography as any other, i guess, so here goes:
Peter Elson was a British sci fi artist who did book covers from ~1975 up until his death in 1998. His output peaked in the late 70's. After the recession hit England in the early 80's, the sci-fi publishing industry suffered and work dried up. He did backdrop paintings for theater productions and amusement park rides in between occasional cover stints - he only got one or two covers a year in the late nineties. Despite being insanely talented, he never shopped his skills around. He never seems to have done any production design for film and TV, and he never adapted to computer graphics.
In the 1970's, UK artist Chriss Foss pioneered a distinctive style of cover illustration - a large, colorful spaceship against a vividly colored airbrushed background. His style was massively successful, and it seems that demand for this style of work outstripped supply.
Many prominent UK sci-fi illustrators of the time got their start banging out Foss knock-offs. Peter Elson was among them. But he soon surpassed Foss in almost every way. His handling of so called 'gadget' covers is second to none. He also developed a distinctive detailing style that remains fresh even now, thirty years later.
Why isn't Elson better known? I think I know a few reasons. I met him in 1997, and spent the day with him in his 'studio', asking him about his technique. His studio was his bedroom in a Colchester flat he shared with his brother, in what American's would call "the Projects".
Firstly, Elson was not very versatile. He admitted himself that he sucked at doing people. Not only did the publishing industry in England suffer a sort of collapse in the 80's, but when it revived, tastes had changed. Gadget covers were out, and people were in. Elson simply didn't adapt.
Secondly, he was strictly an illustrator and not a designer. He did 'design' all the vehicles he put in his illustrations, but he only designed them for the sake of the illustration, and only in the POV of the illo itself. I asked him to show me how he designed his ships. He just shrugged, and said he did whatever worked for the sake of the cover. He did no development sketches. He didn't explore shapes and lines. He had no design process whatsoever. A couple of roughs then bang, out with the final cover. In short, he wasn't a concept designer at heart. A genius of a sort, but not a concept designer. So he never did much (any?) work for film, TV or games that I know of. just book covers and theater backdrops.
Thirdly, he seemed painfully shy. I only met him once, and I talked to him by phone from time to time. I can't claim to have known him. But I did observe that he seemed to be shy and reclusive. I certainly wouldn't have described him as 'ambitious' or 'outgoing'. I find it heartbreaking that he could have languished as he did. He could have brushed up on his figure drawing skills. He could have developed his design process. He could have got aboard with the digital tools.
In 1983 Dragon's Dream Press published a book called "Parallel Lines" featuring the work of Peter Elson and Chris Moore. Their lines didn't remain parallel for long though - Moore learned digital stuff and his work shows up in current issues of "Spectrum".
I met Elson in the spring of '97. Rob Cunningham and I were about to start designing the spaceships for a game called "Homeworld", so I tracked Elson down to ask for some insights from the master. I arranged to go to Colchester and spend a day with him. I spent the day in his bedroom looking over his giant archive of all the covers he'd ever done.
There were hundreds. He showed me a couple of sketches, and some works in progress, and told me a bit about his process. There wasn't much to tell though - he was a sort of idiot savant when it came to designing ships. He just did it, he didn't know how.
I got to look at the original artwork for his cover to "Welcome to Mars", known in Great Space Battles as "A mobile monitoring station orbiting mars...". It was small - He said he did his originals at double the size of the published final. "Welcome to Mars" was about 8 1/2 * 11 - for a small paperback edition. He used gouache, small brushes and an airbrush. He sometimes put panel lines in with a ballpoint pen.
I talked to him again in early '98. We were trying to arrange for him to paint the box cover to our game. The publisher eventually balked - they wanted a render, not a painting. Ironically, we got a-hold of a bootlegged Russian copy of Homeworld that had a John Berkey painting for the cover, and it looked awesome. An Elson would have been better though.
When I saw Elson, he seemed...uh, unwell. Seing as I'm I'm attempting to biograph the man, I might as well be open about this. His nose was a swollen red bulb. He had bags under his eyes you could have carried groceries home in. The ashtray next to his bed was so full of butts it looked like a sculpture of Jabba the Hutt. The sea of beer cans beside the ashtray complete the picture. I know this is more information that anyone here really cares about. But Elson influenced me a lot. I know he was no Van Gogh, but I think he deserves some kind of biography, and an honest one too. I don't know much about him, but I feel I have to give a full account of what I do know, for posterity's sake.
According to his agent, sometime in '98, Elson went to a pub with some friends for an evening of drinking. At last call, the friends got up to leave, but Elson didn't. I think he was born in '46, so he died at the ripe old age of 52.