Monday, August 31, 2009

Vermilion Sands

Some of my readers will remember the surrealistic, eerie science fiction stories written by the late author J.G. Ballard, before he became a "mainstream" writer. He wrote a whole series of stories set in a place he called "Vermilion Sands," a kind of extraterrestrial Hollywood of exotic decadence. I thought that it might be set on a terraformed Mars (the vermilion redness of its sands). When I painted this tiny picture in 1983, I was inspired by the Ballard stories.

I was still using gouache (opaque watercolor) at the time. I loved its flatness and bright colors. I used my airbrush for the background. The trouble with gouache, though, is that it is fragile and, of course, water-soluble unless you use a clear-coat spray. But clear coat sprays dull the flat finish and change the colors. So I sometimes left the paintings unsprayed, as I did with this one. In order to photograph the painting, I needed sunlight. But it was the dead of winter and there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground. I went out into the feeble Massachusetts winter sunlight and balanced this painting on a snowbank. Then the wind blew, and particles of ice landed on the painting, melted in the sunlight, and put water marks all over my fresh surface! I was horrified, feeling very stupid that I had placed a water-soluble painting on a structure made of, uh, water.

I took it inside and decided to paint over the marks with little golden clouds. This is why there are clouds in the Martian sky. The two moons are Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars, though in reality they are not round, just two irregular oblong asteroids. In 1983 I'm not sure we knew that. Then I sprayed the painting with clear-coat.

"Vermilion Sands" is 7" x 5", gouache on illustration board, February 1983.

1 comment:

Tristan Alexander said...

I like the look, the color is great and I think I like it with the clouds more than if there were none.

I hate Gouache, and the rewetting is one of the big reasons. Try egg tempera, it is somewhere between the jewel tone/translucents of Acrylic and the flatter colors of Gouache. And it only rewets for a short period of time. (and it comes in a tube now)