Cancelled Starfleet Battles cover

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The presence of two licensed Trek products in the gaming world was a bit of a mystery back in the early ’80s. Both companies maintained that they were the exclusive license holders but the story I got a about the situation was murky at best.

In the mid-70s Franz Joseph Designs produced two wonderful licensed Trek items: a set of blue-prints for the starship Enterprise and a Starfleet Technical manual. For some reason were able to grant a sub-license to Lou Zocchi to produce a line of injection-molded styrene plastic miniatures based on the ship designs in the technical manual (and if I may add they were positively beautiful). Not so long after that Task Force Games was granted a sub-sub license to develop a tactical ship game based on the miniatures.

How plausible is this? Well, Paramount never shut down the TFG Trek line, though to be honest the back story for that game had morphed over the years to something quite unlike the main Trek universe. I know that the licensing department was very casual when first started doing the FASA trek covers; at the beginning I signed the covers along with a copyright bullet but it was two years before Paramount came back with ” Well, you probably shouldn’t be doing that”.

There was also talk in late 85 about Paramount granting a non-exclusive license to West End Games for a Trek tactical starship combat game – I know because I worked up comps for Jordan for a similar game that FASA would have rushed to market to fight the West End product….but all along Task Force games churned out their version of Trek and finally I was asked to do a painting for them.

Central to the book was a new cruiser class for Starfleet and the accompanying sketch is the concept I came up with – I felt it did a good job of splitting the difference between the class TV series version and the current movie version. It wasn’t until I submitted a cover sketch that I had the boom dropped on me.

The game designer sent Task Force a four page hand-written letter demanding that I NOT be used for the cover, and unfortunately by contract he had the right to do so. I had produced a cover for their STARFIRE game a couple of years prior to this; he felt that my work was too stylized and abstract to represent the Starfleet Battles game system. I lost, but the art director gave me another STARFIRE cover assignment ( the Gorm-Khanate War) that I always thought was one of the best covers I did during that time period.

Epilogue: In early 1987 I got a frantic call from Task Force Games – they needed a cover and their regular artist was unable to take the assignment. At this point I was indelibly connected with the FASA Trek series so I didn’t feel like taking the job was appropriate – and I had just taken a non-gaming assignment with a short deadline ruling out any other work. I was kind of glad for that as I didn’t want to look like I was thumbing my nose at Task Force .

1971: The Real Hogwarts

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The Real-life Hogwarts

There was a point in the first Harry Potter movie when the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was the scene showing the train ride to Hogwarts – it triggered a spasm of nostalgia that made my stomach hurt.

I don’t know if the Alaska Railroad still gives a student discount, but when I started school in 1971 they did – you bought a regular ticket and upon arrival it was endorsed with a special stamp to make it “good” for a return trip. The trip up just before the fall semester was just a regular Alaskan summer excursion ( jaded a kid could get after living in the Last Frontier for nine whole years); it was the trip back at Christmas that was magic.

You left before the sun came up – and was up for only about four hours so most of the trip was completed in the dark. It was a magic dark though with moon-shine, star-shine, the Aurora Borealis and countless homestead lights sprinkling the countryside with bright little beacons that fired your imagination. The track paralleled the highway in several places so you also got the treat of amber and red car-lights flashing by. Overlaying all of this was the ever present fog and mist drifting in from not just heating stoves and automotive exhaust but from nearby streams and rivers.

…and it wasn’t just the trip – the terminals at both ends reeked of drama and strong emotion. While leaving or arriving at the Anchorage terminal was usually a very “flat” affair, the very opposite could be said about Fairbanks. It was like you were in a movie – tearful promises and farewells, hugs and kisses – I half expected French genedarmes or German storm troopers to come bursting through the door after me as the train left.

I wish I had a better photo of both the train and the school – this one dates from the mid-1980s but still looks pretty close to the way it did when I went there. Looking at the school in the cold light of day its just a unspectacular little land-grant school – but in the fall of 1971 it was the start of a movie that I was going to live in, making made it the best place in the world.

Imbalance of Power

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Imbalance of Power

“4M” (Mixed-Media/Mixed Method) on Strathmore Hot-Press Watercolor board painted in early 1986. Lots of bubbly acrylic wash involved in the rocky texture background. “Imbalance of Power” marked several firsts and transitions for me – and my family.

The first “first”? This wasn’t a wrap-around cover and the single-side format would continue (with one exception) until my time with the series ended. FASA was starting to make a decent amount of money and I had kept my prices down to keep from “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”. The understanding was (to quote John F. Kennedy) “A rising tide raises all boats”: when they did better they’d pay me better. There was some murmuring at a raise in rates but as a compromise they changed the format – which meant less time on each painting which in turn increased my dollar-per-hour figure on each painting.

Another first: I drew the rough/comprehensive sketch for this painting while I was attending BOSKONE. It was a little clumsy working on a tiny little hotel room table but it saved me time and gave me something constructive to do while everyone else was drunk.

Third “first”: It was the first major piece of art I did while living in “the blue house”. The first (not quite) 3 years of free-lancing were spent in a tiny little studio that had been converted from the tiny little garage for tract housing that had been built in the 1940s for workers at the Geneva Steel works in Orem, Utah. Early in 1986 we had the opportunity to move a huge distance (1/2 mile) to another larger house – the blue house – with a large studio built atop a garage instead of inside it. We moved in stages and started living in the new house before we got everything out of the old one so I had to do all the airbrushing and painting with the board ( and my fourth-point-of-contact was sitting atop the cardboard boxes and plywood sheets we were using for furniture until we got the contents of the studio moved over.

It was also a sad time. After three years of freelancing we felt secure enough to have another child. Lori became pregnant almost immediately and was doing well, but had a miscarriage while I was just starting this painting. As I said it was a sad time – but it was made more so by some of the brain-dead comments people would make – but I will leave that for another day.

Back cover: “Decision at Midnight”

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The little bodies are there – trust me. They are floating at the periphery of the exploding D-7 but between the photo-reduction of the original art, the printing process and then scanning they’ll be hard to spot.

When I first got the news about the Challenger I thought about painting them out, but then I thought it would be better to leave them in as a hidden memorial.

Decision at Midnight

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Decision at Midnight

One of my favorites…but one with some odd stories behind it.

The plot involved a Starfleet captain that had gone insane and was trying to start a war. I held on to the original until January of 1993 when a guy walked into the CHATTACON art show at the last minute and bought it for the immediate purchase price. The buyer kept gushing about the great portrait of Commander Riker he’d purchased and when I told him that A) it was an illustration for a classic TREK product published two years before ST;TNG came on the air and B) the guy who posed for the piece just happened to look like Jonathon Frakes the buyer’s eyes would kind of glaze over.

There is also a sad story to go with piece. About the same time I did this painting I got a reply from Task Force Games about an inquiry I had made to them 6 months earlier about doing work for Star Fleet Battles ( it’s a long story but it was a licensed line co-existing with FASA’s products. When I finally heard back I was told that the game’s designer specified that I not be used for the game – by name. As I had never met the guy it kind of took me back but evidently he wanted a lot more detail that I usually included – especially more little dead bodies getting sucked out into space…so when I did this space battle scene I made sure that I had lots of little dead bodies.

…but as I was finishing up the painting and cleaning my brushes an announcer broke into the classic rock station I was listening to, saying ” Folks, I’m not sure what is going on but we’ve gotten word that something wrong has happened at Cape Canaveral – that something might have happened to the Space Shuttle Challenger.”

Yep, it was early 1986 and while I was being oh-so-clever about dead bodies in space the shuttle was blowing up. There are times in my life when I felt like a bigger jack-a** than I did that day – but not many.

The Mines of Selka

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The Mines of Selka

NAASFIC is the alternate venue to an overseas WORLDCON , which in 1985 was held in Australia. NAASFIC was held in Austin, Texas – and I was pleasantly supprised upon arrival to find that the area felt like Sacramento, Stockton and the other central California places that I spent my early childhood years in. I was also pleasantly surprised at the warm welcome I received there; while taking an elevator to my room one afternoon I heard one of the other occupants comment to his friend ” You know, there is this guy in the art show – Diet-rich is his name I think. He has a very different style, kind of an Art Deco thing going and I really like it” When I piped up that I liked it too the guy looked a little bewildered until he saw my name-tag.

‘The Mines of Selka” was the first Trek piece I did after NAASFIC and it shows. While I was there I spent an evening at a local gallery opening and there were a couple of Michael Whelan pieces I really liked. One depicted a human figure moving through a space vehicle’s interior and I was entranced by both the detail and the way in which Whelan handled all the different light sources. There was also one of Michael’s Chanur cover paintings, again with a convincing interior that appealed to me.

I applied all those observations to this painting and it is one of my favorite out of the series. I tried to blend functional aspects of the characters’ background into my usual graphic devices and just for a change of pace used a hexagon instead of a circle of square for my usual graphic device – the one that locates the figures in space.

Same size and medium as the previous couple of paintings, though the acrylic I used to refine the female’s facial features was a bit thicker than what I had been using up to this time. Rather than working with opaque colors I use airbrush as a transparent/translucent medium like watercolor or acrylic glazes and there is a fine-line between just enough and too much when you add paint on the top.

The Triangle Campaign

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The Triangle Campaign

Even though this was one of the last original Trek cover paintings to go, it is a head-scratcher to me. While I know that I used the same multi-media/multi-step procedure on the same type of hot-press water-color board I cannot remember the date or the size of this piece. It was smaller than the other paintings and I know it was done during relatively cool weather in 1985 because I had a bad cold during most of the time I was working on it.

This was an adventure set in The Triangle, an area of vague boundaries where Romulan, Klingon and Federation space. It was given to me with a very short-fused deadline so I went for a very simple composition which drew some flack when the sketch arrived in the office. The main complaint was that is seemed like it had nothing to do with The Triangle area, until Jordan pointed out that the three circular windows were trimmed in the colors belonging to the state that would have occupied that space on a regular map: blue for the Federation, red for Klingon space and purple for Romulan space. it was the kind of conceptual twist that was happening in main-stream illustration but not necessarily in gaming…

The model was a friend of ours from church, a conservative young mother with the grace and slender build most professional models would die for. Though I used her several times she never spoke much, so it kind of shocked by a comment she made when she saw the printed version: ” I love it when David “boobs me out” like that”

You’ll notice several star systems scattered in the background – I usually apply the patterns in a random matter by tapping the side of a loaded paintbrush or using my thumb on an old toothbrush. This time I had to be more imaginative – I was just putting the finishing touches on the painting when I was rocked by a surprise-sneeze ( remember the cold I talked about earlier?) After cleaning the sneeze-whiz off I was left with an area of clustered faded dots in the lower right hand corner – and I was baffled because I didn’t know of a way to repair a damaged airbrushed surface. Then the light went on; by judicious application of highlights and shadows I turned a glob of spots into a star system in a nebula…but when Jordan told me how much he liked that part of the painting I just kept my mouth shut until the check cashed.

Walter Mitty as Starship Captain

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Walter Mitty as Starship Captain

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I posed for the cover painting of “One Doomsday Deserves Another” so when I found this image earlier today I felt compelled to post it.

As mentioned Lori made the uniform and because I used it for several of the FASA Trek covers I was able to deduct the expenses involved as a business expense. It was a BIG deduction too – Lori is a reluctant seamstress but when she does sew, she does a professional job and expects to use professional materials. This was made of a very nice wool which made it drape nicely. It also happened to be the only cloth in this specific shade of red in the state of Utah – and it wasn’t cheap.

I got all the hardware at LA CON II – while this was long before Trek popularity peaked and props became affordable I didn’t go broke getting this stuff. I think the fact that I was at a major convention helped. Sometimes at the smaller ones you aren’t so lucky.

Two other comments/notes: this was shot in late winter but the Doomsday cover was done in July. It was not uncommon for me to shoot a lot of “scrap” ( reference photos) on spec at the time – any poses that I thought I might need or just looked cool. This was back when I used a Pentax K-1000 shooting film and you had at least 24 exposures per roll to use up at a time. One of the local developers worked a sweetheart deal with me where they’d load up cassettes with 8-10 exposures on the roll but in the end it was a money-loser for both of us. I’d also shoot Polaroids for any areas where the 35mm stuff didn’t work out – or if I had to slightly modify the pose after the client saw the sketch.

A lot of times I would shoot slide film and then start my overlays by projecting the slide/photo right on the wall of the studio. I also had a small rear-projection screen that I would sometimes set up just to the side of my drawing table. Every so often I’d end up in a situation where time or budget kept me from getting prints made of the scrap I shot so I’d just use the image on the rear-projection screen for reference.

I kept this uniform for about ten years, going through a number of Trek paintings and a couple of Halloweens. Finally in the mid-nineties I passed it down to my son Conrad when the jacket could no longer accommodate my ever-increasing Shaternesque physique.

Where Has All The Glory Gone

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Where Has All The Glory Gone

I was extremely blessed to have my career start when it did. I came into the market on the tail-end of the Conceptual Era in illustration history, when the idea behind the picture, intense thought was involved in the design process and individual style were as important as the degree of realism to which the image had been rendered. It was also a time when an illustrator worked with a single art director or editor instead of dealing with art direction by committee.

As usual I was blending a J.C.Lyndecker influence with a movie poster technique and in the process trying to portray enough detail in the adventure to generate interest but no so much that I gave everything away. It was challenging in that the action almost all happened in vacuum; not only was a required to carefully tailor the Star Fleet space-suits we saw in “The Wrath of Khan” into something more practical, I had to devise a Romulan suit based on the paucity of visual reference for Romulan garb available in 1985. Some comments were made at the time there being a strong resemblance to the Zhodani vacc-suits in Traveller but if that is the case it was purely unintentional.

Technical notes (this is going to get boring at this point) I used the same mixed medium process on the same support in the same size as the covers to follow. Again, it is just the front cover-half of a wrap around. Keeping that same 16″X24″ made buying, cutting and storing the Strathmore hot-press water color board very convenient. I used a big of bubbly acrylic wash for the asteroid but lost most of the effect. I took this with me to Boskone in 1987 where I thought it would just sit because I had cropped the painting into just the front half to make framing and display easier. I figured that because of the Trek subject matter and the purple color in the back ground but it sold right away….