Visualising Vance, Pt. 2

The Pelgrane

Here’s a painting that has been lurking in the back of my mind for several years. It’s a scene from one of the short stories in Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth (1950). The story is called T’sais, and here we see the titular character and a hooded man named Etarr on Modavna Moor at sunset, as they try to avoid being spotted by three saurian flying pelgrane. I took a first go at it last year, and while I think I got the sense of place right, the figures were barely there. There was mood, but no action:

At the end of this summer, I revisited it, and tried several new variations. I was trying get the hurried sense of Etarr suddenly pulling T’sais down into the furze as he spots the predator:

Although I love the pelgrane crop in this one, it’s not quite right as a whole, so try again:

This one felt like the figures in the foreground were passing by on their way to some other painting.

Finally, I get on the right track:

There was some good body language, and more connection between the whole group. I took this back to vertical format, and lightened everything up in the foreground. I was reading a lot of commentary from Harvey Dunn, so I was working with the figures first as silhouettes, and then tried to sculpt out detail with more and more value. I did a bit of self-posed photography to work out trickier bits on Etarr.

I was also inspired by a WWII-era illustration by Mead Schaeffer in how I handled the foreground/background. I’m glad I managed to get sense of true distance, and I was lucky enough to get a few sunsets with exactly this lighting effect outside our studio windows while I working on this.

Overall, I am pleased with this, and despite a few nitpick areas, I’m nearly ready to call it done. It’s not quite the vague, saturated red image I had in my head, but I think it works as a good illustration for the story. I could easily see it as a facing plate in an old hardbound edition, which is what I was after.

There’s another illustration coming from this same story – look for it here soon!


One thought on “Visualising Vance, Pt. 2

  1. Excellent pelgrane. The “great hatchet of a beak” I often forget to picture when reading because of how it can talk. But then parrots talk too. In one of the Cugel stories it is said to have some kind of a crest, though. But then maybe it folds flat while flying, as many do. Anyhow, I like it. Very convincing sensatioin of frantic motion.

    Do you ever do black-and-white illustrations? I can’t draw too well myself, but my alternate hobby is translating Jack Vance into Esperanto (with the author’s kind permission). These I distribute on-line for free here: and must shamelessly mooch for better talent in doing the covers. It would be volunteer work, though, since I myself am also not paid. I’m presently working on Liane the Wayfarer, which will be a month, I expect, in the translating, proofing and annotating.

    My login here is via Twitter (which I hardely ever use) since the Google one just hung there forever. I have an email link on the website above, if you’d be so kind as to use it.

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