How does inspiration and a creative idea take root and grow into a major collaborative project? Artist Jeff Sturgeon shares a story of transforming sci-fi illustrations into an exciting business project.
As a professional illustrator with twenty-five years’ experience, I am a guest speaker and artist at science fiction shows and conventions around the country, and I often do painting demos at the cons. At a Portland show in late 2013, I finished up a piece I had in my studio for a few years gathering dust. It was a floating island/castle in the air. I’ve done similar themes in the past, but as I drove home to Seattle, I began thinking about the why and how of a city in the sky. I began world building.
I often get asked (as do many artists and writers in our field) “Where do your ideas come from?” For me, ideas come from everywhere and nowhere, often with no notice or warning. They are sometimes fully formed, and this was the case with my project Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth.
I have many interests and pursuits, and one of my favorite subjects to study is plate tectonics, volcanoes etc. I had been thinking about super volcanoes for some time, especially Yellowstone and what would happen, in this day and age, if one were to become active. I almost had to pull over as I drove north up I-5, as the vision for this world became clear, almost instantly.
Many elements of the story happened at that moment. Cities lifted into the air to tap solar energy above the coming volcanic winter that would last for decades and plunge the world into a thousand-year ice age, with airships designed to navigate in a future world that barely clings to survival. The old world, our world, long dead. This idea continued to grow in my thoughts and dominate them.
A few months later, I had a lunch meeting at a convention with author and friend Peter J. Wacks. After finishing our talk about a cover for another project, he casually asked what I had been up to. At that moment, I decided to run my last cities idea by him, and he was immediately captivated.
Originally, I was contemplating an art book based on the paintings I was designing, with possible input from a writer on a potential book. Peter took it a step further.
New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson is an old friend from 35 years ago, before our careers started. Peter was at the time the managing editor of WordFire Press, Kevin’s publishing company. Unbeknownst to me, Peter told Kevin my idea.
A few weeks later, Emerald City Comicon took place. Kevin and WordFire Press are always in attendance, and he invited me to be a guest at his booth. Over the course of the weekend, we enjoyed the con and talked. In a final ten minute pitch, with Kevin’s buy-in, Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth was created.
It is now three years later. I have painted a dozen large paintings, with several pieces in various stages of completion, and hundreds of concept art and designs. In 2018, the anthology Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth will be published, with fifteen leading science fiction and fantasy writers in the field writing about the cities and this world that I’ve created and continue to create.
A major Kickstarter campaign is set for a June 2017 launch, and my team and I are hard at work getting that ready. Updates will be posted on our Facebook page. We are scheduling several podcasts and interviews with news media in preparation for this.
What led to this opportunity? Working hard over the years painting and drawing has increased my skill level so that I’m very confident in my abilities.
Secondly, it took years of networking and being visible. I’ve displayed my newest works, been a guest and occasionally a guest of honor at live event. That is a major “must” for up and coming artists in our field of science fiction and fantasy illustration. It pays off to work each show and mingle. So many deals are made at cons!
Our business plan is that if the Kickstarter campaign is successful, and the anthology and art book are published, several authors are gearing up to write novels in this world. We also have potential role-playing and computer game projects, future anthologies, art books and more. All based on an idea I had as I drove home from a convention!