Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Awakening of Insects


Greg Manchess

“The Awakening of Insects” by Bobby Sun, is a tor.com short story about a woman on an Earth-like planet researching the environment for possible habitation after eleven years of ongoing study. As one might imagine, Earth IX feels very similar, but oddly different considering its unique orbit around a host star, different terrain, flora, fauna, and certainly…insects.

There are some intense planet-wide occurrences that surprise and delight, forcing her on a tight deadline for discovery. To explore without much worry about contamination or being contaminated, the primary character wears a flexible space suit with exoskeleton, which allows her to move quite freely.

I chose to depict her mid-stride in the midst of the planet’s jungle-like setting, running and leaping with the power-assisted suit. There’s also a high tech vehicle involved, but I wanted to see more of the figure, to express urgency and the physical work the character is forced to engage.

A round of multiple thumbnails kept me on track for the composition, while exploring multiple points of view. There was so much to do with so little here. Always enjoyable when designing for impact. Do I come in close for a character reveal? Or do I stay back to give a sense of place? I only needed to suggest the suit, not actually depict it, so this gave me the room to explore.


Tor chose to go for a horizontal sweep seen in the thumb of the lower left corner. I kept the energy of the thumb by blowing it up and drawing straight onto my prepared surface. This time I primed a piece of illustration board with thinned-down gesso, the consistency of heavy cream. After brushing it on, it tends to level out into a toothy, but beautifully smooth surface that takes pencil very well. I even used a few Prismacolors to enhance the drawing.


Acrylic washes sealed the pencil off, then a palette knife applied the first layers of oil. I kept it as loose as possible, but with enough attention for focal points of interest. I eventually covered almost all of that up, but realized I should experiment with that approach more often.

Along the way, I discovered a few new painting ideas to do for my gallery. Sometimes when limited by space and story, simple ideas arise. This isn’t surprising. Limitations are what gives us the will to push those confining perimeters.

Sun's story left me eager to find out more about not only the character, but the future of the new planet. I could see doing a whole string of images to stir the viewer’s curiosity.

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