I've always been fascinated with space exploration. The science is beyond me and the sheer magnitude of the universe mind boggling (and scary) but the advances of our knowledge and the people behind those moments are of real interest to me. In 2019 we had the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and when one of my Patreon supporters enquired about a commission to commemorate this amazing event with an added hint of 'Who' then I was always going to be excited to paint this historic moment in time.
The brief was pretty straight forward. Create a piece that featured the 'Eagle' LEM (Lunar Module) that landed at the Sea of Tranquility, the astronauts and a little touch of Doctor Who. The reference to Doctor Who had to be reasonably subtle, the main focus was to be the moon landing but something had to be added to give it a nod to the TV series that many of my supporters know and love.
The moon has featured quite a few times in the series, most recently when the Twelfth Doctor discovered it was actually a gigantic egg in the 2014 story 'Kill the Moon'. The Doctor even became entangled with the Apollo 11 mission placing a device in the command module to broadcast a recording to Earth to help battle the Silence in the 2011 story 'Day of the Moon'. This and quite a few other references gave me some things to consider when coming up with an idea.
The first thing to do was come up with some concepts that would help give the client some ideas about how we could approach the commission. I worked on three concepts created digitally in Photoshop that showed the astronauts at three different distances from the viewer. The 'distant' concept would have an element of 'Who' that would be approaching the LEM and its occupants. The 'middle' concept would have the astronauts discovering a 'Who' element and the 'close' concept would feature an element that would be reflected in the visor of an astronaut. All of the 'Who' elements where up for discussion as I wanted the client to be able to pick something from the series that would mean something to them.
The 'distant' concept featured the approach of a Cyberman from the 1967 Second Doctor story 'The Moonbase' and this struck a chord with the client who was happy with the idea that the looming shadow in the foreground was enough indication everything was not as we know it to be. That concept picked and it was time to create a rough to better examine the scene.
We had discussed the fact that this painting was to be more an artistic rendition of events than an overly accurate depiction. For instance as we know from photographs taken on the moon everything is very monotone. The ground is pretty plain and devoid of colours, the sky is black and with astronauts pretty much dressed in white that only leaves the complicated shape of the LEM to add some different colours into the scheme. So we decided that while we would keep certain things accurate the colour scheme could be altered to help the overall painting become more appealing. This isn't something new in space art and the various examples I found online all show that an artistic approach is far more preferable when it comes to creating a painting of this scene.
The pencil version of the rough finished I coloured it up in Photoshop to help get a better idea of what our palette would be and to help show the client that we would move away from a pure grey and white looking painting. If Norman Rockwell can paint stars into a moon landing scene then we can too and without doubt the inclusion of the Earth into the rough would upset those who prefer accuracy but it sure does help to break up that black space in the composition. The scene shows Armstrong with his visor down and camera on his chest plate turning and seeing the approaching Cyberman. A just discernible figure in his visor as the Cyberman looms towards them. Aldrin is unloading the Passive Seismic Experiment Package from the LEM and is unaware of what is about to happen.
I often think 'pencils' can be quite confusing for people to look at especially after seeing a coloured rough which can be a bit more coherent. These pencils are all about getting details correct and nothing about form and shape. There is no weight to these, no shade or depth. Just purely where something is and what it looks like. I often paint over a lot of the more detailed areas of a piece as you may not actually need to see those details but I needed to know it was there and in the right place.
The pencils for this commission where done in my usual manner of flipping my rough and pencilling onto tracing paper. I split the work over two A3 sheets, concentrating on the ground work on one and the astronauts and LEM on the other before then transferring the pencils onto the art board. The act of creating the pencils is fun but transferring the pencils by drawing over the work again is fairly boring.
As this is going to be an acrylic painting I needed to paint in the pencil work so that I'd have a chance of seeing my pencils (for a while anyway) as the painting progressed. This is essentially paint drawing the pencils for a third time and is a pretty long and laborious process. Nothing is being changed or rethought at this stage it is purely painting the line again and it is definitely a part that I'm happy to see finished. I picked a mid level mix of Coeruleum Blue and Naphthol Red to make a more purplish blue for the moon surface and eased off on the red for a blue on the 'tech' suff. I find it best not paint the pencils too dark as you want them to slowly disappear as the painting moves along.
After this point it is all about working away at the painting and in this case I picked elements to work on separately until I had covered the whole painted area and I could take stock of how it looked as a whole before making any tonal variations or alterations that might be required.
The final painting had to be scanned in three section and then stitched together with Photoshop for the digital version. This was a lot of fun to paint and I'm really pleased with how the whole piece came together and it's great when a commission takes in elements that I'm interested in. The client was 'over the moon' to receive the painting and I'm pleased to have accomplished the commission capturing the spirit of the moon landing mixed with their favourite TV show.