Sci-fi paintings take first place

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Art: Eric Williams, 28...

October 19, 1997|By Jolan Baucum | Jolan Baucum,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Sci-fi paintings take first place; Art: Eric Williams, 28, of 0) Elkridge was the big winner in the L. Ron Hubbard contest last month.

Spaceships, dragons and otherworldly phenomena appear ready to pounce on visitors to Eric Williams' Elkridge home and studio. But they are harmless -- simply vivid oil paintings that Williams created after being inspired by the lusty covers of fantastic novels in science-fiction bookstores.

Last month, Williams' long hours spent at the canvas delving into the depths of his imagination paid off. Judges presented him with the grand prize in the illustrators' division of the L. Ron Hubbard science-fiction contest.

The grand prize of $4,000 and the annual Hubbard Gold Award, a trophy nearly as awe-inspiring as the entries, were awarded to Williams in a sci-fi competition for authors and illustrators sponsored by Author Services of Hollywood, Calif. His work was chosen from that of 12 finalists who had been selected from among thousands who enter the contest each year.

For Williams, almost as exciting as winning was the chance to attend the four-day conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the prizes were awarded. He and other competitors were able to meet well-known science-fiction illustrators such as Vincent Di Fate and Paul Leher, who conducted workshops at the conference.

Long before this recognition, Williams' talents had won him a $10,000 scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. He enrolled in a four-year program, but completed his degree in 3 1/2 .

He says he thinks he comes by his ability naturally.

"It's very important that any artist be born with talent. You can tell who was born with it and who was not," he says.

"I learned most of the technique on my own. I studied the art of the old masters such as da Vinci, abstract artist Andy Warhol, and some of the biggest fantasy illustrators, [like] Frank Frazetta. I met Frazetta at the awards; I was really excited."

Despite the college scholarship and Hubbard award, Williams has yet to be published in the sort of sci-fi books he pined over as a young man.

"It has a lot to do with luck and timing," he says. "I just haven't hooked up with the right person, evidently. As of now, I have a two-year contract doing work for a private company. I'm doing 19th-century-style oil paintings. They mostly consist of people and are primarily Renaissance-style paintings. I am using the same techniques as the old masters."

At 28, Williams is just beginning his road to recognition. He has made his talent into his profession, and emphasizes that he "would rather be self-employed than to work a regular 9 to 5."

"But," he says, "you need to have self-discipline [to be self-employed]. There is no one looking over your shoulder to keep you on track. If you don't have the discipline and you mess up, then it's all on you."

While he completes his contract work, Williams is hoping to present shows of his work. The shows would consist primarily of his science-fiction works, but also would show other styles to showcase his versatility, he says. He is hoping to find a venue in New York.

"I'll be basically hitting the pavement to get some recognition," he says. "I'm sending some things out now to agents and publishers."

His art-lined walls reveal that Williams takes his craft seriously. Though he has yet to find an agent, he continues to reproduce his innermost concepts onto canvas as well as manage his career.

He says he hopes that he can find someone who will agree with him that "this is deep stuff."

Meanwhile, his work will be published in "L. Ron Hubbard Presents: Writers of The Future," which features all the winning illustrations and stories from this year's competition.

What, exactly, is a college bar? Is it a bar near a college? A bar frequented by college students? A bar where the floor is sticky, it's too dark to see your dance partner and strangers keep buying you Jagermeister shots?

We found ourselves pondering that question on a recent Saturday night at P.J.'s Pub in Charles Village, deemed one of the country's 100 Top College Bars in this month's Playboy magazine, right alongside such evocatively named party palaces Central Michigan's Shaboom Pub Club and Ohio State University's Out-R-Inn.

If oh-so-serious Johns Hopkins University seems an unlikely home for one of the country's best college bars (chosen through an Internet survey of more than 2,500 students), it's because "college bar" means different things to different people.

In P.J.'s Pub's case, it means a cozy, memorabilia-filled hangout in the basement of an apartment building across the street from campus. It's known less for wild partying than for good food, friendly atmosphere and an ample selection of draft beer, said bar co-owner Jerry Smith.

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