Tom Kidd has been working with Jim Baen for a long time and I've had the pleasure of working with him for much of that time. Some of my favorite Baen covers of Tom's are some of his most recent: those for the Thraxas series by Martin Scott, starting with Death and Thraxas. They show both his talent as an illustrator and his gentle wit. At the end of the year watch out for a new book featuring Tom's wonderful paintings: Kiddography: The Art and Life of Tom Kidd.
It's not always easy to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. In Tom's case he's not sure he was born an SF artist or grew into one. "I've always been good with things that were visual. This may be because my brain naturally grew a well-developed visual cortex, or it may just be because I'm always studying the world around me and my brain grew accordingly. Imagining well is a powerful tool when you want to make something. It's also very good to see your surroundings accurately if you're going to extrapolate on them. That's what an artist should be trained to do. All of these skills will make you a better science fiction illustrator as well. My love of SF started young and, like the visual person I am, art came from that. It was a simple matter of squeezing together two things that interested me greatly. The hard part, as you might expect, was changing that child's fun into a profession. That's where Jim Baen came in. He was among my earliest clients and, had I never met him, I think this all would've been a lot harder."
Every artist is influenced by those who went before. "My list of influences is a very long one, so I thought I'd say something about the first one. Here is an excerpt from a speech I gave at the Chesley Awards:
"The first paintings I remember being in awe of were by Chesley Bonestell. They were in a set of encyclopedias that my parents bought when my brother was born. One was of Saturn as seen from its satellite Titan. I'd never thought of viewing the universe from that perspective. My view was earthbound. Here, the artist had traveled 800 million miles to paint a picture. "
Tom is a charming fellow in person, but when asked "what are some of the best perks of being a science fiction artist?" he responds: "If you're a misanthrope like me the greatest perk is spending long hours in the studio all by yourself. Note: this is pretty hard to do without a very tolerant and understanding wife. Some people have asked me if I find working in one genre limiting. I don't. Science fiction is such a varied literature that there's always something challenging on the horizon."
Tom has had such a long career it's not really fair to ask him to choose among them, but he selects his paintings under his alter-ego Gnemo as some of his favorite work. "My Gnemo (see my web site: http://www.spellcaster.com/tomkidd/GnemoStoryArt.htm ) paintings are my favorites. There's a certain chauvinism here because they all illustrate a story that I've written myself." You can also see Tom's love of zeppelins and all things ligher than air in those works, and the influence of Wyeth and early 20th century illustrators on Tom. "In many cases my Gnemo paintings are titled with the names of the artists who inspired me. A good number of those artists come from the Brandywine School that Howard Pyle created. Titles like H.M.A.S. Wyeth, Port Rockwell, Shippen Green and Schoonover Skyship will be quickly recognized by any fan of American illustration."
Tom not only paints SF, he reads it, too. I always find it interesting to see what the first works of SF an SF fan was exposed to. "I'm probably remembering wrong, but I think that it was Star Man's Son but I read it under the title Daybreak—2250 A.D. by Andre Norton. As I recall, it was an Ace book and had a white haired kid on a raft with a cat on the cover. I was probably around seven when I read it. In my junior high school years I started reading a lot of Isaac Asimov. I also read a great deal of his science books as well."
Tom doesn't just read SF authors. "The non-SF books I've read recently and liked a great deal were by Michael Chabon, Luc Sante, Al Franken, John Allen Paulos and Alice A. Carter."
When asked "What invention or scientific leap in understanding would you most like to see made in your lifetime?" Tom gives a response worthy of a scientist: "I'd like to see a merging of Quantum Mechanics and Relativity into one theory. It'd be nice to have a set of rules that work on any level. I don't think that the superstring theorists are anywhere close to solving this though. Pretty math just isn't enough. On a more personal level, it'd be nice to explore the universe in my faster-than-light spaceship too, but that seems a lot less likely."
And he also responds in the same vein regarding history, if he could go back to one incident in all of history to watch as a spectator: "It would be recent history; I'd like to ride along on the Cassini-Huygens mission and see Saturn and its satellites up close. I'd travel the 800 million miles to the place that Bonestell imagined."
For more information about Tom and his art please go to: http://www.spellcaster.com/tomkidd.