“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” — Victor Hugo
Smithsonian Orbital Annex. One in a series of eight illustrations for Smithsonian FUTURES by Oktopolis: The art of Brian Miller
What might a Smithsonian exhibit look like in 2071? That was the question posed in eight workshop sessions with Smithsonian researchers. In collaboration with Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, Smithsonian researchers paired with futurists and sci-fi creators to envision our world 50 years in the future. As part of these workshops I was tasked with distilling these future visions into eight illustrations. Each image was to be inspired by the aesthetic of vintage World's Fair attraction posters to to encourage visitors to explore these future visions.
I always start by working up some simple grayscale concepts using tone and value to convey the basic composition. I know from past experience if you can communicate the visual at this level then the finished illustration will be successful too. Since I was collaborating with eight teams from Smithsonian and we were discussing various aspects of the future I decided to create three grayscale concepts for each team to consider.
For Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum the first concept would feature an orbiting museum in space to allow everyone the opportunity to see what astronauts of the past have seen. Concept number two would imagine a Smithsonian annex on the Moon where visitors could visit the Apollo landing sites. The third concept would feature a child and parent standing at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum looking up at the stars making plans to visit the orbiting annex.
The experts at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum had a tough decision to make in selecting which of these concepts would move on to a final illustration. In the end they selected the first concept with the orbiting museum in space.
With the concept art selected I receive additional feedback and input from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum I will need to incorporate into the final illustration. These include making the orbiting museum appear larger and more massive as well as incorporating a working astronaut and possibly some sort of robotic drone.
Using my concept as a guide I set to work drawing the illustration using Adobe Draw on my ancient original model iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. I know I want to keep the color pallet condensed to just a few shades of blues and grays and use variations of the gray values to create depth, light, and shadow in the orbital museum. I use a darker blue for the space background as a framing element to help draw the eye toward the central action.
With the initial illustration nearly complete I focus my attention on the halftones and typography. I moved the illustration from my iPad to my iMac where I could experiment with various halftone patterns in Adobe Photoshop.
Next I progress to various type choices and treatments. The text needed to work for this illustration but also not look out of place among the other illustrations I was creating for the FUTURES exhibit at Smithsonian.
The typographical elements need to be fairly large and easy to read from a distance. It is important to have the word Smithsonian on the illustration to ensure viewers will understand the relationship even if the image is viewed out of the context of the physical exhibit. The Smithsonian SUN symbol is also added to the orbital annex to further reinforce the branding.
With the final artwork completed the illustration is prepared for large format printing and delivered to Smithsonian in preparation for the exhibit opening. I know the experts I worked with from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and ASU Center for Science & the Imagination will be proud when they see this image representing their vision of a possible future.
All eight finished illustrations are on display at the Smithsonian FUTURES exhibit at Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building from November 2021 through July 2022.
illustration by Brian Miller © Oktopolis. All rights reserved. This artwork may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of Oktopolis. This project was made possible through a collaboration with ASU Center for Science & the Imagination and Smithsonian.