Tuesday, 27 March 2018

SF History in Leeds, Scriven Bolton and Space Art

Thomas Simeon Scriven Bolton (1883-1929)
For this month’s post I decided to return to the theme of SF history in Leeds and the work of former Leeds resident Thomas Simeon Scriven Bolton (1883-1929). Bolton was a commercial illustrator and amateur astronomer, who lived in Bramley with his family from 1911.

As an illustrator, he specialised in astronomical subjects, also known as space art. Space art covered a range of drawing styles: illustrations of astronomical phenomena reproduced from telescopes; technical illustrations with overlaid graphics and text; and imagined planetary or lunar landscapes. Bolton produced all three kinds of illustrations and these were published in a number of newspapers, magazines and books in both the UK and North America.

Clive Davenhall, who has written an extended essay on Bolton’s art, suggests that he introduced several innovations into the field and describes his technique as follows:

Bolton developed an effective method for producing realistic lunar landscapes that involved making a model of the surface in plasticine or similar material, photographing it and then painting over the photograph. This approach was a development of the technique of modelling the lunar surface and photographing it under oblique light.

Being an amateur astronomer, Bolton also published many of his astronomical observations in science journals such as Nature and the Journal of the British Astronomical Association.

A lunar landscape by Bolton using the technique described above.

However, the SF connection can be found in Bolton’s work for magazines such as Popular Science. These types of publications tended to focus on topics of popular interest in astronomy, and on speculations about imagined worlds, planetary surfaces and undiscovered moons.

Bolton’s work thus shares affinities with the writings of SF fans and scientific enthusiasts, discussed previously on this blog, who saw their speculations as contributing to and advancing the sciences, particularly in the field of cosmology. A more detailed consideration of this topic is available here.

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