Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Rick Sternbach, space and science fiction artist. He has a long list of impressive clients including NASA, Sky & Telescope, Smithsonian, Analog, Time-Life Books, Science Digest plus many more. Beginning in the late 1970s Rick added film and television illustration and special effects to his repertoire, with productions like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (He was with the Star Trek franchise for 15 years), The Last Starfighter, Future Flight, and Cosmos, for which he and other members of the astronomical art team received an Emmy award, the first for visual effects. Rick also twice received the coveted Hugo award for best professional science fiction artist, in 1977 and 1978. When we asked him about himself, this is what he had to say:
It all really started for me as a kid growing up in the 50s when the space program was just beginning and there was nothing man-made in Earth orbit. Seeing all of that happen, with an added dose of SF films and TV shows, really set in my mind what I wanted to do. Okay, with a short-lived switch to being a bio major in college, but the science and technology and learning about the world was always there. My dad was an architect, so the art side originally came from him, and along the way I was lucky enough to meet up and learn from a number of other very talented artists, writers, scientists, and engineers, all generous with their time and knowledge.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I’ve got a few bits ’n’ pieces up on ricksternbach.com, but it’s a terribly old website that I haven’t updated. Folks who read science fiction and astronomy magazines in the 70s and early 80s saw my cover and interior illustrations, before I made the switch to designing for television and film in Los Angeles. If you’ve seen shows like the original COSMOS, and “modern” Star Trek like The Next Generation, my work is all over those productions. A nice look back from not too long ago is up on https://www.siggraph.org//discover/news/spotlight-art-interview-star-trek-artist-rick-sternbach .
Copyright 2019 Rick Sternbach
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness?
There’s not a great deal of new artwork to follow these days, though I’m pursuing some scale model space projects that I’ve shown off on Facebook. Performing Google searches for general information and images specifically connected to my name does result in a lot of hits, even some that I’ve totally forgotten about over the years. Pretty amazing tech to preserve the past. 🙂
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you do? What can readers expect from you next (Latest cover, book, comic, movie, etc?) or what is the last thing you worked on?
I don’t think there’s a single label I’d attach to my artwork, though I suppose everything I’ve done has been connected to taking a thought, a concept, and making a visual statement or explanation that will make the concept more real. I did this with certain written passages in science fiction as well as with real science and engineering ideas, and later with popular media, which was full of spaceships and props and visual effects. I can’t say that I know what sort of work people will see from me in the future; the last few years have really been spent exploring personal design and modeling projects, and it’s been a nice bit of down time.
What kind of research went into your last project? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the final product, but you loved discovering?
My last project is actually my current project (the first doodles came in 2004), imagining what an interplanetary human expedition spacecraft might look like, based on available and almost-here technology, and built upon some seventy-plus years of ideas on the subject. The research into such a ship is really the territory of trained engineers, but I’ve had a great of fun reading up on structural requirements, propulsion systems, environmental control, crew health and nutrition, and other topics, and consulting with my professional colleagues. I can’t say that any single bit of research has been the most exciting, since everything is coming together piece by piece, though I was particularly satisfied when I finished the first rough scale model. Will we ever build a real Solar System Explorer? No idea, but all of the individual parts could be made in the next thirty years or so.
copyright 2019 Rick Sternbach
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you create? What do you think draws readers to these works?
That’s an easy one. Space and science fiction have been favorites of people like me who have lived through the beginnings of human space exploration, professionals in various fields of real science and technology and interested followers, and readers who have absorbed stories of events that don’t usually happen in their daily lives. Most people I’ve known since I began working as an artist (and even as a kid) have craved those sorts of experiences, and I’ve had a great time helping to make some of the visual aspects come to life.
What is your favorite part of being an artist? Of the whole art and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
Taking a concept and turning it into either a two dimensional drawing or painting, or even building it up as a three dimensional model is one of the big attractions for me. I think that having a finished piece, with all of the preliminary research and gathering of tools and materials, and finally having it become a physical reality is amazingly satisfying.
While you’re working, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
Music for most drawing and computer graphics work, you bet. And I’ve got pretty eclectic playlists full of classical albums, rock, jazz, new age, TV and film soundtracks, anime. I’ll occasionally switch it all off if I’m working through some work involving a lot of math, but as soon as that’s done it’s back to the tunes.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your career as an artist?
Interact, and pass along what you know. I have been amazingly fortunate to have been accepted by artists, editors, scientists, and engineers who I would describe as “old school,” willing to give of their time and knowledge. A favorite story involves my first meeting with artist Paul Calle, who in the days of the Apollo moon landing program I discovered lived only a few blocks from me in Stamford, Connecticut. Aside from generally being an extraordinarily talented artist, Calle had done wonderful paintings and pencil drawings for NASA, and as an 18 year old hoping to get to Florida to see Apollo 11 leave the Earth in 1969, I politely cold-called him and was invited to meet up at his studio in neighboring Weston. After seeing all of his artwork and talking about various techniques and subjects, he suddenly stopped and asked “You realize why I’m doing this, don’t you?” I gulped a bit and shook my head, and he said “Because you’re going to have to do it, too.” That directive could have been permanently riveted to my forehead, and it is something I’ve followed ever since.
Rick, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions!