Friday, 22 June 2012

Buy a set of 5 Skeptic Magazine cover illustrations

With the permission of the lovely Skeptic Magazine, I'm able to offer A3 prints of all the cover illustrations I've done for them so far for sale. They include caricatures of Simon Singh, Richard Wiseman, Jon Ronson, Robin Ince and my portrait of Christopher Hitchens. I'm only going to run off a few of these sets and you can get one for the quite-literally-a-bargain price of £25 (+£2 p&p) - just click the PayPal button below!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Skeptic Magazine - Robin Ince cover

When I was asked to do a caricature illustration of Robin Ince for the latest cover of The Skeptic Magazine, I knew I was going to have to come up with something different and challenging, as I've drawn Robin a couple of times before and didn't want to feel like I was just retreading old ground.

After reading the interview that appears in the magazine, I came up with a 'multiple versions' of Robin idea - it changed a little bit in the working out, but it's close to what I had in mind. It was a tough one to do for sure. I must thank Andreas Beck for helping me out with some valuable photo reference. The initial idea was in part based on this famous pic:


Something old...

This is something I wrote on an old forum somewhere when prompted to comment on the question of 'spirituality' - I post it now as I was reminded of it by a great column in the new issue of The Skeptic Mag (more on that to follow) by Mark Duwe about the trade-off between dark skies and advancing knowledge of the stars. Subscribe here!

On the day I got married I had a very profound (for me at least) moment that might apply here. At the end of the night I walked along a short 'country lane' I suppose, between the hotel and adjoinging buildings, it was utterly black with no lights, no visible civilisation apart from the two buildings nearby.

Luckily it was a completely cloudless night. Looking up I will never forget seeing more stars in the sky than I had ever seen before by an order of magnitude, the Milky Way itself was clearly visible which was something I'd never been lucky enough to really see in that way. It was a view that was nothing less than awe inspiring, and I would recommend everyone to try to experience it.

The beauty of this sight was very moving, but it was all the more staggering for me because I actually had some concept of what I was looking at. This is what I saw:

Each and every one of those points of light in the sky is a star, equivalent to our own Sun - an enormous nuclear furnace that has been burning fuel for billions of years and will continue to burn for billions more. Some appeared quite blue in colour, some red. The blue ones are far hotter than our Sun and will use up their fuel far faster, the red ones are probably far older than the Sun and may well soon die. Some will die in the most violent way possible - a supernova, probably the most violent explosions ever seen by human eyes.

The Milky Way is the galaxy our Sun is part of. Because we are inside this immense collection of stars that looks like a spinning disk of light we see it as a band milky light across the sky - because the density of stars is so much greater as we look through the disk. There are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, many of them with planets orbiting them, as is being discovered today. Who knows, maybe life exists on one of them and some other life form is gazing up at their night sky - full of completely different constellations as viewed from their planet - thinking something similar to me.

But what I could make out with my eyes that night was nowhere near the end of it - some of those points of light were not stars - at least not individual ones - some were other galaxies alogether. You can't make out the shapes of them with the naked eye, but to me they are some of the most stunning objects in the cosmos. Each one is also a collection of hundreds of billions of stars. Beyond the reach of my eyesight are billions and billions more galaxies. Each one is hundreds of thousands of light-years wide but may only appear as a tiny speck of light to the most powerful telescopes. this means they must be staggeringly far away - literally billions of light-years distant.

As a consequence of this mind boggling distance, not only are my eyes seeing something inconceivably far away, they are also looking back in time. The light from the nearest stars may have left them only a few years ago and so we see them not as they are now, but as they were then. Transfer this thought to far distant galaxies and you could be looking upon an object as it was before life even existed on Earth.

Next I think about how amazingly lucky I am to be able to appreciate the view before me in this way - just think how many people on the planet know this stuff? I'd bet it's a small minority. But what about over history? A few hundred years ago no-one would be able to have the feeling I have looking up at the night sky in such a way. The discoveries had yet to be made, the technology yet to be invented to allow people to make the discoveries. How lucky am I to have benefited from hundreds of years of other people's hard work and effort to find out what I can now read about in any decent astronomy book.

Would I call this experience 'spiritual'? In a way, yes. In a similar way to the feeling I got some moments after looking at my new wife. Intense emotions, a feeling of calm yet powerful happiness. Are these feelings more real than someone having some 'spiritual' experience in a religious way? No. Feelings can be provoked in all sorts of ways. But in my opinion they are more honest because they are based in the real world, in the here and now, will the full benefit of knowledge. To look up at the sky and think 'Wow - isn't God great!' is not to look at all. To think that all that I can see with my eyes when I look up at the sky was created for us, with humans as the planned result, is as arrogant a though as I can imagine. To think that is to abandon all hope of finding out the real answers, to give up. I don't want us to give up. I want someone two hundred years in the future to look up at the same sky with even more knowledge, even more awe and even more appreciation for all those who helped them understand what they can see in a way that I never will.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Davies Sphere

I read this article on io9 about artificial gravity and was reminded of the famous 'Dyson Sphere' idea dreamed up by Freeman Dyson. The article describes the concept of building a spherical space station around an artificial (very small) black hole such that the gravitation force on the station would equal the gravitational force we feel here on Earth. Cool idea, and in some ways similar to a Dyson Sphere, except that people live on the inside of a Dyson Sphere, rather than the outside of the black hole space station. We're also talking about massively different structures in terms of scale.

So what about a combination of the two ideas? A sphere built around the Sun with a radius such that the Sun provides a gravitational force on the sphere surface that equals Earth's, so that people could live on the outside? Gravity in a normal Dyson Sphere is an open question, it doesn't provide any gravity for people to use to live on the inside surface, so it's a problem to be solved. Not so with my sphere as the Sun provides the gravity. But how big would a 'Davies Sphere' (and I hereby claim eternal dibs on the idea by naming it so ;) ) have to be for the gravity on it's external surface to be equal to Earth's?

Well, I've studied a little bit of physics and so I *think* I can work it out*. The force of gravity on the surface of the Earth is roughly 9.81ms^-2, and the equation required to work that out is this:

g = GM/R^2

where G is Newton's gravitational constant, M is the mass of the Earth and R is the radius of the Earth. I want to rearrange the equation to find R (the radius of a sphere basically) by using the mass of the Sun and keeping the same value for g:

R^2 = GM/g

R^2 = (6.67x10^-11 Nm^2kg^-2) x (1.99 x 10^30kg) / 9.81ms^-2

Work that out and you get a value for R of 3.68x10^9m. Now, that's the radius of the sphere built around the Sun that would have Earth like gravity on it's surface. But that's measured from the centre of the Sun, so I need to subtract the radius of the Sun itself to get the distance between the two:

3.68x10^9m - 6.96x10^8m = 3 x 10^9m to one s.f. - in other words the sphere's surface would be about 3 billion metres, or 3 million km from the Sun. Sounds a long way, but the orbit of Mercury at it's closest to the Sun is 46 million km! So the Davies Sphere would be reeeeeaaaallly close to the Sun! I expect it would have to be made from some new super light-weight, super heat-resistant material, but hey that's not my problem, future engineers can figure the easy bit out ;)

Other thoughts about the Davies Sphere - in contrast to the Dyson Sphere, no one will be living on the inside, so the entire inside can be coated in solar energy collectors to capture the entire EM energy output of the Sun. Apart from a few 'windows', aligned with a set of massive orbiting mirrors which, when the 'windows' in the sphere allow sunlight through, reflect it back over the outside surface of the sphere. So, if opened simultaneously, the entire surface of the sphere could have a simultaneous day/night cycle.

The surface area of the Davies Sphere works out to be 1.13x10^20m^2, which is nine orders of magnitude more than the surface of the Earth - so room to move wouldn't be a problem at all! So there it is, my idea for the future of humanity - no thanks required ;)

I should really get back to work now :)

*this may well all be totally and utterly wrong. Really quite likely.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Christopher Hitchens for The Skeptic Magazine

This started out as just a piece for myself, I'd seen some really wonderful portraits recently (many of Steve Jobs who also died recently) and so I wanted to do something along similar lines for Christopher Hitchens who died last December. I sent an earlier version to The Skeptic Magazine to see if they might want to use it if they were doing a piece on Hitch any time, and they thought it good enough to be the next cover. It needed a fair amount of work (in fact it probably still does if I'm honest), mainly to fit the magazine cover layout, but now I'm pretty pleased with how it looks :) If anyone would like an A3 print of the painting I'll make them to order for £15.00 inc p&p, so just send me an e-mail if you'd like to get a copy. The new copy of the magazine also comes with a poster of Crispian Jago's amazing Modern Science Map!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Skeptic magazine cover - John Ronson

This illustration was FUN.

The team from The Skeptic Magazine told me they wanted Jon Ronson on the cover and that his new book The Psychopath Test was just out (it's a really good book, grab it if you can). This idea came straight away an I did a sketch, thinking that they'd think it was a bit 'out there' and I'd have to tone it down or come up with something else. Nope - they liked it and so I went for it!

The idea is pretty simple, Jon is in a school classroom having just taken a 'psychopath test' and the teacher is handing him back his score sheet with a 100% mark. The slightly mad bit is that he's dressed AND made up as The Joker from The Dark Knight - it was a bit of a challenge to caricature someone and then give them full face make up of someone totally different. I was worried the likeness would vanish under the white make up and red lipstick. I think it came out ok though. There are lots of other little things in it too which I really enjoyed putting in. Can't wait to do the next one if they still want me!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

BBC Science Rocks!

This design idea arose when I was trying to think of something to pay my own small tribute to the great science programmes being put out by the BBC. Series after series of amazing stuff; Frozen Planet, Wonders of the Universe, Cell, The Story of Electricity, The Human Body, Are We Still Evolving?, The Story of Maths and of course The Sky At Night (and that's just to name a few). There are many other BBC science presenters I couldn't fit it also. You can buy the t-shirt here. Let's go to work ;)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Galileo 'SCOPE t-shirt design

Thought this was a bit of fun - another geek t-shirt to add to the list! Galileo 'SCOPE t-shirt

Thursday, 5 January 2012