Robo Show opens today at Light Grey Art Lab! They asked over seventy artists to create pieces featuring their own robot designs. I was really excited about this prompt and wanted to challenge myself to work a bit outside of my comfort zone to try and create more of a back story and environment with my robot.
I spent a decent amount of time trying to overcome all of the robots from pop culture that I love. A few designs that I have really loved over the years include Howl's Moving Castle, the robot from Castle in the Sky, the Iron Giant, and more recently the mecha suits from Legend of Korra. I wanted to be inspired by them, certainly, but really had to push myself to not just remake the Iron Giant. Sometimes unlearning things is the most difficult task.
The only thing that I knew from the start was that I wanted it to involve plants somehow. I really liked the idea of combining the natural and the mechanical. I went through a lot of crazy back story ideas (most of them post-apocalyptic just because I wanted to draw the landscape and I liked the idea of my robot surviving and protecting some sort of plant life from Earth-that-was) before I finally settled on a walking conservatory built by a Victorian scientist to roam the earth and collect and house plant specimens. I had recently finished reading Devil in the White City and post-apocalyptic eventually morphed into the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition.
It took me a while to nail down the design of my robot. Editing was really the most difficult part. So many ideas for what to include! It could be anything! I wanted to include architecturally-inspired details, elements inspired by couture fashion, at one point the robot housed an aquarium. Editing to make sure that the robot had a clear purpose was really challenging.
Lighting and environment are not something that I often tackle in my illustrations. I really enjoyed working on this illustration a couple of years ago and thought that Robo was a great opportunity to experiment with this a bit more. Once I had figured out the robot design, putting it in an interesting setting was the next challenge for me. Showing scale was an important element that I wanted to portray. One of the notable things about the 1893 exhibition is that it introduced the Ferris Wheel to the world, Chicago's solution to upstaging the Eiffel Tower unveiled at Paris' Exposition Universelle four years prior. The wheel presented the perfect opportunity for my robot to rival it in scale.
I worked through quite a bit of the illustration before deciding that the composition was just too dull to look at and I hit a bit of a roadblock. Inspiration actually came to me while I was procrastinating and watching Jessica Jones. The framing in this show is so fantastic. I was immediately struck by this shot from episode twelve and moved the Ferris Wheel to the foreground of my illustration. (Sometimes it pays to procrastinate!)
And that's the story of Bioterra, the mobile conservatory that visited the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. I can't not think of how the name sounds like "bioterrorism" now but it was one in the morning so what are you gonna do. Be sure to check out all of the incredible robots in the show on Light Grey's website or if you're in the Minneapolis area you can see the show at the gallery until the end of March.