Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Strange Science

Virgil Finlay's masterful illustrations, done for pulp magazines, the medium with the cheapest of cheap printing, are reproduced with love and care in VIRGIL FINLAY'S STRANGE SCIENCE.

These are examples from the out-of-print hardcover edition.

VIRGIL FINLAY'S STRANGE SCIENCE, Underwood-Miller, Publisher. 1992. Copyright © 1992 Lail Finlay Hernandez


  1. Finlay is awsome, as always.

    My first exposure to his work was in the mid-1960s, when he was still doing work for some of the science fiction digests of the time. Then in the late-1960s, some reprint digests came along that reprinted a number of old stories with his illustrations.

    Examining his artwork, guessing how he did it, it looks to me like he probably did a tonal drawing first to use for reference. Then he probably transferred in some way the outlines for shapes in the tonal drawing to scratchboard. Next, he probably spotted the blacks--filled in the shadow areas with a flat black wash. Then, he probably modeled the shadow areas with scratchboard tools, scratching or gouging white lines, hatch marks, and stippling. After that, he probably modeled the highlight areas, adding lines, hatching, and stippling with india ink and a pen. (And, I think Cat Yronwode wrote in a review of his work that Finlay did stippling by dipping an engraving tool in ink for each stipple, getting a single little drop of ink for that one stipple and laying that one stipple down before getting another drop of ink for the next stipple. Very labor intensive.)

    I'd love to try doing some artwork in the Finlay manner, but I think they stopped making suitable scratchboard years ago. The last time I went looking for scratchboard, all I could find was thin glossy paper, and stuff mounted on foam board. And a lot of the scratchboard was pre-inked, all-black, making it totally unsuitable for working in the way that Finlay probably worked.

    Perhaps one could simulate the Finlay look by working on illustration board or bristol board and by substituting white paint or white ink for scratchboard markings. The original art would be a heavy mess that would be part ink work, and part painting. (Mixed media.) But that wouldn't show in the reproduction.

    Or perhaps the Finlay look could be simulated with digital inking. If I ever get a Cintiq I'll have to experiment and see what I can come up with.

  2. Mark, your description of Finlay's methods is probably as good as I've read, and thanks for your analysis.

    I've not heard if Finlay might have had a bit of the obsessive-compulsive in him. He could never have been paid enough for the work he put into his drawings. The fact that his art still commands attention all these years after he did it--while other pulp artists' work stays uncollected in mouldering old magazines--shows that his labor was worth it, if not financially then at least artistically.

  3. La mayoría del trabajo magistral de Virgil Finlay estoy seguro que fue realizado con plumilla y tinta china, y algunas cosas con pincel seco...


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