Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Memories of Pern

I just heard that Anne McCaffrey, author of the "Pern" books, has died. I was not as much a fan of the series as others of my friends, but I have vivid memories of Ms. McCaffrey and the era of Pern fandom. In its day, it was a widespread fan community where people took names and role-played in that imaginary world and wrote loads of fan fiction.

This picture won a contest, sponsored in early 1980 by what was, for a while, a fantasy and science fiction art gallery in Boston named the "Earthlight Gallery." The co-sponsors were WBCN Radio (then a rock music station) and Bantam Books, McCaffrey's publisher. The contest was a promotion for McCaffrey's latest book, "Dragondrums," which was the story of a talented but mischievous young lad named Piemur, who finds himself transported to a tropical southern continent on Pern which is mostly unexplored. Piemur is accompanied by his mini-dragon, or "fire lizard," named "Farli." This picture shows Piemur surrounded by tropical plants on a southern beach. The tropical plants are real Earth plants which I copied from books or from a local florist shop.

I only heard of the contest a couple of weeks before its deadline, and after seeing that there were only a few entries, decided to enter it myself. I painted this in a rush, taking only about four days to do it. The picture is in acrylic watercolor, a little-known use of acrylic as transparent wash, which makes the colors very bright and long-lasting. I also made it larger than the other entries. My picture won the contest. Even though it won, it annoyed the gallery-owner who felt that I had "stolen" the prize by throwing in a hastily-assembled but flashy piece of inferior quality.

The prize was a trip to Ireland (for two) to meet Anne McCaffrey. In the autumn of 1980 I went with a friend to the Emerald Isle and we spent a week touring around. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to McCaffrey's cottage, where even though she had just returned from a trip around the world, she was gracious enough to receive us as guests for a couple of hours. I got to see her own art collection, including a painting of a bulky dragon which she said was as "authentic" as could be depicted. I commented to her that this dragon was kind of heavy and the wings were too small to bear that weight. How could those dragons fly? "They levitate!" was her response. There has always been a wide range of interpretations of what "Pernese" dragons should look like.

This is one of the few Pern and dragon-themed artworks I've done, compared to the myriad Darkover pieces I have turned out over the years. I've never depicted a dragon I've been satisfied with, and I sometimes feel that I am not really "authorized" to depict them like other artist friends of mine who do marvelous dragons. So I have not artistically explored the Pern world very much.

This painting was exhibited in various conventions and then given to a couple of friends of mine in 1982, in return for transportation to DarkoverCon 5. In a couple of days, if all goes well, I will go to DarkoverCon 34. My, how time a dragon, burning up the years.

"Piemur of Pern" is ink and acrylic watercolor on Strathmore illustration board, 30" x 20", Spring 1980.


Amanda said...

If the gallery owner set it up as a popularity contest rather than a juried show, they shouldn't have complained--that's how they had set up the rules, after all.

Here in the future, we'd call that a "speed painting" or something, right?

Tristan Alexander said...

This is wonderful. I think it is one of your best! Maybe the fact yopu had to do it quickly gave it a fresher, less labored and stiff look than some of your pictures. You should do prints of this for sure!

Pyracantha said...

Amanda: At the time I entered the contest, I had no idea what kind of jurying would award the prize. I assumed that it was the personal choice of the gallery owner. But it was my intention to win, and I thought I had a good chance, especially since the other entries were so weak. This was not technically a "speedpaint," since it took four days. A "speedpaint" is usually accomplished in only a few hours at most.

Tristan: One of the reasons I've never printed this picture is that my photo was bad. This version relies heavily on Photoshop restoration.