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Connecting with Bob Eggleton

by Edwina Harvey

Picture a little boy growing up in the 1960's fascinated by fossils and especially dinosaurs, which leads to a fannish devotion of the original Godzilla movies. His world is Alien Horizonsinundated with images from the heady days of the US space program, and that new television show, Star Trek, so that's what he draws when he puts pencils to paper.

Now picture that little boy not letting go of any of those boyhood dreams as he grows into adulthood, instead he lives them one by one, and that gives you a thumbnail sketch of who Bob Eggleton is.

As a child of the 1960's, science-fiction artist Bob Eggleton was possessed with a sense of wonder for the world around him. Some 40 years later it's clear through viewing his art (www.bobeggleton.com) and talking to him that this sense of wonder hasn't diminished in the least, and Bob has channelled these interests into the creative outlet of drawing, designing and painting, and has gone on to make a living from them in his adult life.

He claims his life was changed in 1969 when the Monolith in the movie, 2001, "spoke" to him. It was watching the movie that made him decide at the age of 9 that he wanted to draw SF art for a living.

Bob was lucky that his interest in art was nurtured by his parents. From an early age they provided money for art classes and the stimulation of comic books.

He sites making $600 from selling portraits and landscapes the Christmas he was 17 years old as an indicator that he could one day make a living from his art, and he has relentlessly pursued that dream.

For a while, he probably felt like a square peg in a round hole, having decided that art school/college wasn't for him. His work was out of synch with what was being entered at local Rhode Island art shows. He was entering renderings of dinosaurs and Star Wars characters while others were showing more traditional and acceptable works of art such as portraits and landscapes.

It was Eric Ladd who suggested Bob should explore showing his art at science fiction conventions. On his first outing to a SF con, Bob met Carl Lundgren, Don Maitz, Ron Walotsky and Michael Whelan. "Blown away by their stuff," as he likes to put it, he was inspired to enter his artwork in Norseacon II, the Worldcon in 1980, where he won the award for "Best Monochrome Artwork" in the Amateur Division and found himself surrounded by 5,000 other "odd" (i.e. just like him) people who loved his artwork. The square peg had found his niche and hasn't looked back since.

Art shows led to art sales, and Bob soon began getting regular work in magazines. His paintings have graced the covers of such magazines as Fantasy and Science Fiction, SF Age, Analog and Asimov's, and books such as Brian Lumley's Psychomec trilogy, Rulers of the Darkness by Harry Turtledove, and C.J. Cherryh's book, Hammerfall, the collection of "Skylark" stories by E.E. 'Doc' Smith, as well as other covers for Tor and Baen Books, and other genre publishers.

In recent years he has provided conceptual art for The Star Trek Experience ride in Las Vegas, and the movie Jimmy Neutron, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002. Bob is currently working on The Ant Bully, an animated feature film being produced by Playtone Picture.

While Bob says he has no preference for computer-generated art over traditional art media, or vice versa, he does point out that he likes to be involved at the beginning of a project. "It all begins with designs," he says. "You can have the most incredible computers on earth, and talented renderers to render stuff, but they have to have designs to work from in the first place. That is where I come in. I'd rather not do the animation myself at all. That is a whole different ballgame. Takes a certain way of thinking and, it's not mine, and I respect that. I would rather do the pencil drawings that start the whole process."

There's a strong possibility that there's more conceptual design film work slated on Bob's agenda in the future, but he won't be drawn to talk about the subject.

Recently voted second most popular artist in a poll conducted by Locus, Bob has been nominated for, and has won, a swag of awards, including multiple Chesley and Hugo awards. The latest award to add to his trophy cabinet is the ANLAB award presented by Analog magazine for best cover in 2001. It shows a dinosaur/reptilian influence in the alien pilot commanding his ship, with a planet appearing through the view port in the background.

Indeed, a lot of Bob's work has been inspired or influenced by dinosaurs in one form or another. He's worked with Dark Horse Comics on their Godzilla series (#16), reportedly enjoying the writing of the comic more than the actual drawing. He has also done Godzilla picture books for young readers. He has also illustrated the young reader book, Watch Out, Jar Jar! written by Kerry Milliron (Random House, 1999).

His painting, "Sue's World", one of two paintings used for the covers of the program books for SF convention, Chicon, 2000, depicts a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a prehistoric landscape. This inspiration for this painting was "Sue", one of the largest T-Rex skeletons ever found, which is housed in Chicago's Field Museum. The painting happily blends Bob's interests in science and science fiction with his talent for art, while also marrying the science and science-fiction theme for the 2000 World science fiction convention.

Just as many of his paintings reflect his interests in dinosaurs, his rendition of space ships as pointy, delicate constructions harks back to classical SF paintings of the 40's and 50's when pointy rockets were a recurring theme. One of these space ships made it onto the back cover art for the Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes book, Encounter With Tiber.

If he hadn't pursued art as a career path, Bob thinks maybe he would have pursued a career in astronomy if possible. When asked about space-art, he sheds a surprising new light on the subject for the novice viewer, stating: "A lot of space art -- especially the so-called 'accurate' work, requires math to be used. And, as a consequence, it all looks very diagrammatical -- like a scientist designed it or something. It always seems to be the more we learn about space or the solar system, the less imaginative it starts looking. The greatest sin is for space art to look boring." He's also been quoted as saying, "Space art for me is pure feeling, something that anyone can understand."

While Bob agrees science may have made space art a bit obsolete commercially (magazines that previously called on artists to give a rendering of a space scene can now turn to photographs taken by the Hubble telescope for instance) there are still plenty of opportunities for the artist to be inspired by the science. Take for instance, Bob's dramatic painting, "Ocean of Ice". Described as a "self-commissioned piece", it was inspired by the Galileo probe "finding huge chunks of ice, frozen in an ocean of ice on the Jovian moon, Europa." His rendition of what the surface of the moon might look like in close detail, captured the viewer's imagination in a way the NASA photos could not.

There are times when it seems the artist takes a back seat, and Bob Eggleton the would-be scientist/astronomer takes the lead. I have found few artists of the genre who go into such scientific detail when describing one of their paintings as Bob does with his painting, "Fountains of Fire" (painted in 2001). Displayed on his web site, (www.bobeggleton.com) he describes it thus: "This is a planet, close to a binary star system. The small blue star is in fact a neutron star that is so dense its gravity is sucking matter off the larger red sun. The flux of the gravity is causing this world to be tormented by seismic and volcanic activity."

In a different, perhaps slightly lighter vein, one of his paintings, commissioned by a friend, had to show an alien planet, with a galactic background, and the planet Greetings from Earth"had to look like Hawaii." It succeeds in meeting all the criteria, and is also displayed on Bob's website.

When painting space art, as Bob puts it, "What I try to do is go beyond Hubble. I go to places the Hubble (telescope) hasn't seen."

"Painters can capture things that photographers cannot," were the words reviewer Martin Grampound used when describing Eggleton's book of art, Greetings from Earth (Paper Tiger publications, ISBN 1 85585662X). Another book, with images by Bob and text by Nigel Suckling, The Book of Sea Monsters (Paper Tiger, ISBN 1 855854635) is devoted to unusual sea creatures, the stuff of myths and legends, also received favourable reviews.

A collaboration between Bob and author John Grant, called Dragonhenge, was released in October Dragonhenge2002. As the title suggests, its primary theme is dragons. Here again you can find an interest in dinosaurs influencing Eggleston's dragon art. Bob and John are working on a new book, The Stardragons.

When asked if he prefers creating fantasy art to space art, Bob admits he goes through phases of preferring one to the other, but he says about producing fantasy sketches and paintings, "(with) Fantasy, however, you can do what you want, and that to me is more imaginative overall ... Fantasy is total escapism.

"Book projects are the most fun," Bob declares, though he seems ultra-enthusiastic about all areas of his diversified career, and this becomes obvious when talking to him.

He was the artist GoH at Chicon, the Worldcon in 2000, where he spent a great deal of the con in a "fishbowl" -- a glass sided office, where he spent a lot of the con painting costumer and fellow artist, Joy Day, and explaining his techniques and talking to his growing legion of fans. "I sort of go into a different mode of thinking when I do public work. I just coast and let the work flow out of me. You step aside and let it come out." It's an experiment that Bob's been asked to repeat at other cons both in America, and overseas. He attends, and shows his art at about 10 conventions a year, and admits that his outlook is changing. He'd like to concentrate on more personal commissions, and says, "I'm more interested in making things that count rather than just doing one paid job after another and not enjoying life." He also says, "Life is short. Too short to do bad art!"

With his wife, ex-pat Australian, Marianne Plumridge, he has visited Australia several times, and doesn't discount the idea of either living here on a part-time basis, or perhaps eventually retiring to Australia in the future. Bob also says he'd love to be invited to attend as a Guest of Honour at an Australian con at some time.

Where a lot of artists prefer quiet and solitude, Bob isn't fazed by interacting with the public at all. "It's a lot of fun to talk to people and connect with fans," he states. "That is what's most important, if people like your work you have to go out and connect with them."


© Edwina Harvey 2003.

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