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Just wonderin if anyone knows about Peter Elson a Sci-fi artist from the 70s onwards. He still does work but dont here much about him. I think he's English. Does anyone know of any refernec to him on the web? I have couple of books (great space battles ) series which have stacks of his work and i would like some more...I think his sci-fi work is great...anyone?....anyone?....bueller...bueller... .
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I've searched his name in every engine I could find. Nothing!
His stuff was (is?) really great.
I think he and Chris Foss, Chris Moore, Tim White and others name's I can't remember came out of an angency in England in the mid 70's.
Was doing a web search for Peter's stuff, and this thread popped up. I know it's years late, but I thought I'd add what I know anyhow.
Disclaimer - this turned out to be more of a biography than I intended. Elson was a big influence on me, and I've felt for a long time that a) he deserved to be better known and b) the man deserves some kind of biography. Nobody else seems to be about the job, so I've decided to do my best. All of you hotshot concept guys (and gals) might find in it a sort of cautionary tale, maybe. This is as good a repository for said biography as any other, i guess, so here goes:
Peter Elson was a British sci fi artist who did book covers from ~1975 up until his death in 1998. His output peaked in the late 70's. After the recession hit England in the early 80's, the sci-fi publishing industry suffered and work dried up. He did backdrop paintings for theater productions and amusement park rides in between occasional cover stints - he only got one or two covers a year in the late nineties. Despite being insanely talented, he never shopped his skills around. He never seems to have done any production design for film and TV, and he never adapted to computer graphics.
In the 1970's, UK artist Chriss Foss pioneered a distinctive style of cover illustration - a large, colorful spaceship against a vividly colored airbrushed background. His style was massively successful, and it seems that demand for this style of work outstripped supply. Many prominent UK sci-fi illustrators of the time got their start banging out Foss knock-offs. Peter Elson was among them. But he soon surpassed Foss in almost every way. His handling of so called 'gadget' covers is second to none. He also developed a distinctive detailing style that remains fresh even now, thirty years later.
Why isn't Elson better known? I think I know a few reasons. I met him in 1997, and spent the day with him in his 'studio', asking him about his technique. His studio was his bedroom in a Colchester flat he shared with his brother, in what American's would call "the Projects".
Firstly, Elson was not very versatile. He admitted himself that he sucked at doing people. Not only did the publishing industry in England suffer a sort of collapse in the 80's, but when it revived, tastes had changed. Gadget covers were out, and people were in. Elson simply didn't adapt.
Secondly, he was strictly an illustrator and not a designer. He did 'design' all the vehicles he put in his illustrations, but he only designed them for the sake of the illustration, and only in the POV of the illo itself. I asked him to show me how he designed his ships. He just shrugged, and said he did whatever worked fo the sake of the cover. He did no development sketches. He didn't explore shapes and lines. He had no design process whatsoever. A couple of roughs then bang, out with the final cover. In short, he wasn't a concept designer at heart. A genius of a sort, but not a concept designer. So he never did much (any?) work for film, TV or games that I know of. just book covers and theater backdrops.
Thirdly, he seemed painfully shy. I only met him once, and I talked to him by phone from time to time. I can't claim to have known him. But I did observe that he seemed to be shy and reclusive. I certainly wouldn't have described him as 'ambitious' or 'outgoing'. I find it heartbreaking that he could have languished as he did. He could have brushed up on his figure drawing skills. he could have developed his design process. He could have got aboard with the digital tools. In 1983 Dragon's Dream Press published a book called "Parallel Lines" featuring the work of Peter Elson and Chris Moore. Their lines didn't remain parallel for long though - Moore learned digital stuff and his work shows up in current issues of "Spectrum".
I met Elson in the spring of '97. Rob Cunningham and I were about to start designing the spaceships for a game called "Homeworld", so I tracked Elson down to ask for some insights from the master. I arranged to go to Colchester and spend a day with him. I spent the day in his bedroom looking over his giant archive of all the covers he'd ever done. There were hundreds. He showed me a couple of sketches, and some works in progress, and told me a bit about his process. There wasn't much to tell though - he was a sort of idiot savant when it came to designing ships. He just did it, he didn't know how. I got to look at the original artwork for his cover to "Welcome to Mars", known in Great Space Battles as "A mobile monitoring station orbiting mars...". It was small - He said he did his originals at double the size of the published final. "Welcome to Mars" was about 8 1/2 * 11 - for a small paperback edition. He used gouache, small brushes and an airbrush. He sometimes put panel lines in with a ballpoint pen.
I talked to him again in early '98. We were trying to arrange for himn to paint the box cover to our game. The publisher eventually balked - they wanted a render, not a painting. Ironically, we got a-hold of a bootlegged Russian copy of Homeworld that had a John Berkey painting for the cover, and it looked awesome. An Elson would have been better though.
When I saw Elson, he seemed...uh, unwell. Seing as I'm I'm attempting to biograph the man, I might as well be open about this. His nose was a swollen red bulb. He had bags under his eyes you could have carried groceries home in. The ashtray next to his bed was so full of butts it looked like a sculpture of Jabba the Hutt. The sea of beer cans beside the ashtray complete the picture. I know this is more information that anyone here really cares about. But Elson influenced me a lot. I know he was no Van Gogh, but I think he deserves some kind of biography, and an honest one too. I don't know much about him, but I feel I have to give a full account of what I do know, for posterity's sake.
According to his agent, sometime in '98, Elson went to a pub with some friends for an evening of drinking. At last call, the friends got up to leave, but Elson didn't. I think he was born in '46, so he died at the ripe old age of 52.
There you go. A mini bio from a fan. Not that anyone cares. But where else am I going to put it?
Thanks for the bio. I agree, Elson was a big influnce. I liked the work of his contempraries, but I always thought they lacked his sense of design detail, to find out he was, as you say, a savant at design, wow!. Still the work was magnificent and I'd still like to see a compolation of his work in book form.
He was and always will be one of my biggest influences and a major source of inspriration.
I agree about the book. I asked his old agent if there was any interest in making a book of his stuff. He said no, and cited Elson's lack of decent figurative work as one of the reasons why interest would probably be low.
BTW, I checked out your site, and recognised one of the pieces immediately - "static trest". I remember when you first posted it. I was blown away by it then, and still am. Acrylic too - wow! A couple of friends and I sometimes joke about reviving the Terran Trade Authority books. It would be wicked to produce a Great Space Battles II, with artwork by modern concept guys (and gals) who were inspired by the originals. I wasn't sure where I'd find enough folks with both the credentials and the chops. Until now.
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wow thats great im glad you put that here and this thread was revived . when i was a kid my aunt had a bit coffie table book with some of his paintings in it .. along with a ton of other spaceship covers from many books i used to love to look through it . sadly i asked about it a few years ago and it was not to be found but as soon as i saw the name on the thread i was excited !
<the home world stuff is really great also mate >
I had books upon books with Peter's work in them - I could always tell one of his, even without the telltale "PE"!!
I would pour over the paintings for hours and can picture many of them now - 25 years later...
I've since lost all my books in a storage warehouse fire. I'd love to find some of the books and have them on my coffee table.
A great read here man, thanks for taking the time to write this.
That is... really sad. I can't believe they passed it up. (should've comissioned an old-school sci-fi illustrator to do the Homeworld 2 boxart too. The one they went with was hideous.)I talked to him again in early '98. We were trying to arrange for himn to paint the box cover to our game. The publisher eventually balked - they wanted a render, not a painting. Ironically, we got a-hold of a bootlegged Russian copy of Homeworld that had a John Berkey painting for the cover, and it looked awesome. An Elson would have been better though.
Just wanted to join & say thanks to YVerloc for the Peter Elson bio... Great to read, but a sad ending...The man inspired me also...he fed my imagination kicked into being by star-wars and such like... my father got me some books purely with fantasy art-work...amazing to me, i used to try and spot the [PE] signature of Peter within his artwork...
Little did he know that poor man gave me and many others so much... he was a genius but he lives on in those who remember him for his truly amazing imaginary art...wonderful !
This is my first message on this forum! :-)
I am (like many it seems) a fan of Peter Elson work!
Is paintings had to me as much influence as Starwars had!
YVerloc, if you read this message or if someone can let you know about it,
You are the only person I know who was lucky enought to met him!
I was thinking of the possibility to make some resin models from some of Peter Elson spaceships
Do you have any way to contact his family (or agent?)
If so, I am very interested !
I wish that like you I can see some of his original paintings!
It is also so sad that his old agent does not believe that a book of his work would be of interest! :-(
I personaly think that it would be wonderfull!
(as would be a book about Ron Cobb work!)
I thought I would post as I had just discovered this page while searching for Peter Elson's work... a little late I know..
I was fortunate enough to receive the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks as a gift at a young age, they led directly to a passion for art and inspired an ongoing and successful career in Graphic Design. Peters work in particular stood out for me and I found myself searching for other books which featured his art on the covers, often not concerned with plot or style contained within. I discovered a good many novels this way.
I am very sorry to hear he has passed away, and that his work will no longer grace these covers...
I would love to own a collected works book with these stunning images as a reference in my library.
Peter's work inspired me considerably as a young kid and I loved my Great Space Battle book. I haven't done any Sci-Fi work in nearly 20 years and I just found this forum.
The mention of Peter's work has yet again got my artistic juices going again although my days of airbrushing are over I'm proficient enough to tackle a new project with applications such as Maya and Modo.
Watch this Space!
Rest in Space Peter!
So sad we will never see another [PE]
Like many others here, I'm a big fan of Mr Elson's work. I have a question for other fans. Currently, I'm trying to collect the larger format books with Peter's work in it - NOT including paperbacks. So far I have all the "Terran Trade Authority" books, as well as the "Galactic Encouters" books.
Are there any others I'm missing? Or is that it? Thanks for your time.
The Official Peter Elson website is now on line at www.peterelson.co.uk
Come and take a look
Oh wow, that's awesome Pam & Martin, thanks for getting the site up.
Going to take a while to look through all those inspiring images. Thanks so much!