Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Thing for Helmets

Gregory Manchess

Last weekend was the 50th anniversary of the Boskone SF&F convention in Boston. I usually try to hang several originals at the event as their art show draws out many good painters from near and far.

I wanted to paint pieces based specifically on my love of the genre. So, once again, it led me to painting helmets! The hardware of science and science fiction. But I couldn’t just paint one or two. I wanted to paint a whole slew of them, starting with astronauts, of course, then moving through the ages, all the way up to bubble helmets. The list was quite long.

I’ve started a series of helmets as larger paintings, but in order to get this all rolling, I painted them on 5x5” cradled panels. I’m starting to see them as explorations for future works.

Some presented more problems than others because of their complexity. I wanted them to be as loose as possible, but still give that feeling of reality with just the right amount of detail. I visualized my reference as if it was already painted.

I had to keep in mind that most of the details of the subject were unnecessary to give the feeling of reality. Picking the right details became the hard part. Several times I painted too much and had to wipe out or brush over a rendered area. But it added to the loose effect. Finding that balance was the focal point.

Most of them took about one and a half to two hours. Any more than that and they would’ve become much too fussed over.

Saturday afternoon at the con, I did a demo painting of a deep sea diving helmet, like the smaller one shown here. It was a fun shift from the small ones, but again I had to be discerning about too many details. This time, though, I could get more paint worked in! It was a two hour demo, and it’s in the studio now for a few more tweaks here and there.

Most of them are available now for $350 each. If you’re interested, shoot me an email.

What is it about helmets. They all imply a person on a mission. To explore, to achieve, to frighten, to conquer, to quest, or even to protect. It all started from years of watching NASA and countless movies about space exploration. Men and women of adventure...gotta love ‘em.


  1. What a great and inspiring idea!

    Very good you..

  2. Ohhh, Greg. Really wonderful. And seeing them (and you) in person at Gamma was the real treat. Bravo!

  3. Greg, these are wonderful. You've done such a great job of conveying the essence of the subjects with loose, bold patches of color. I really like your use of both palette knife and brush. Bravo.

  4. I hope you have some of these at Spectrum, Greg -- I'm already saving up!

  5. These are dynamite. I now own the diving helmet (2nd row, 3rd column). Brilliant stuff, Greg! :)

  6. These are absolutely breathtaking. Your brushstrokes are so rich, you've said so much with so little.

  7. Thanks, you guys. This is a direction I'm exploring. Working from single images first, then full figure, then multiple figures, then building a scene with this approach. I may leap one of those steps, but that's the idea in mind. It will take some exploring.

    The great thing? I've packed in so many, many years of painting that I can push and pull with abandon. Only now, at this stage, can the concept take on proportions equal to the technique. And the experiment will involve the question: how far can I push the detail of a subject and counter-balance that with abstraction?

    Kinda scary. But I can fall back on experience. Always the way, right? Take a step, build a platform, reach higher, build another platform, go higher again.

  8. Nice work! Very inspiring as I try my hand at portraiture. Thanks, Greg!

  9. Lovely work Greg!
    I was so thrilled to get to see one of your earlier Apollo helmet paintings at IMC. I love the "loose" feel of these, and the indication of light and color with deliberate brushstrokes makes them feel mosaic-like. Until you step back and - voilá! It's a helmet! That brushwork is the first thing that grabbed me when I first discovered your work several years ago.
    Looking forward to seeing some of these at Spectrum!

  10. Brilliant and inspiring- just delicious to look at!

  11. Just beautiful Greg! Thanks for showing us "young'uns" how its done.

  12. Helmuts=insta-narrative!

    neat =-D

  13. Great stuff. The loose and gestural brushwork adds an interesting contrast in style to the more hard surface elements.

  14. Because. Helmets. Especially the WW1-era gas masks and gear!

  15. Greg, do you own all of these helmets? You're house must look like the storefront from Oddities! Excellent work, but I seem to be drawn to the more "representational" ones. There seems to be a balance between realism and abstraction, and some of these live in that perfect "goldilocks" zone. Can't wait to see more!


  16. OH BABY! These turned out really nice Greg. I can imagine a whole wall of about 100 of these.

  17. Assuming your question wasn't just rhetorical helmets suggest a person out of their element, in need of protection. I especially like the ones with the fishbowl quality (as in Ridley Scott's Alien, some of the best helmets based on Moebius art) where the person inside can be seen in their fragile bubble of air. On the other hand the ancient visor helmets like the knight and samurai you painted have a masking effect. Are we sure what's inside is really human?

    Beautiful work.


  18. This is beautiful. Really enjoyed catching up with your blog. What a great painting. There were so many amazing views - I could have painted many more too.
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  19. "Finding that balance was the focal point." I really like that quote, cause most artists think of focal point as some sortof location within the picture frame where more detail needs to be put. I like how you think bigger than that, or more balanced :)

  20. Thanks, Joseph. Yes, the conceptual side goes beyond what is expected as the typical way of thinking about ideas. The technique and the concept should blend together in an effortless expression.

    If everyone is still reading....the helmets are sold out. But I'll have more for anyone attending Spectrum LIVE 2 this year!

    See you there!


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