Portraying Hildie

Portraying Hildie

By Jan S. Gephardt

Portraying Hildie Gallagher has been a rewarding collaboration Lucy A. Synk and I tackled this year. Each winter since 2019, my artist friend and I have combined our visions to create illustrations showing aspects of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The books comprise a science fiction mystery series about a pack of extremely intelligent police dogs who live with their humans on Rana Habitat Space Station.

Last week’s post addressed the considerations that go into visualizing a character in general, a process all fiction writers tackle in one way or another. I ended that post with a look at this winter’s two finished paintings. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere may mostly be over, but my 2022 collaboration with Lucy isn’t. I have two paintings portraying Hildie that I plan to talk about – one this week and one next week. Lucy and I also have more works-in-progress, so stay tuned for additional future blog posts later this summer (or get advance views even sooner with a subscription to my newsletter).

Lucy A. Synk’s painting “Hildie Gallagher at Work.”
Hildie Gallagher at Work, 2022 (Painting is © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Who is Hildie Gallagher?

If you haven’t (yet) read my novels, or if you’ve only just started them, you may be wondering who this Hildie person is. Her name doesn’t come up in the book descriptions, so what’s the point in portraying Hildie? Those book descriptions necessarily focus on the Trilogy’s protagonist, XK9 Pack Leader Rex Dieter-Nell (he’ the big black dog on my book covers). The descriptions mention Charlie, Rex’s human partner, but only in passing. And they barely hint at the rest of their world.

But the ten XK9 members of Rex’s “Orangeboro Pack” all have human partners. Charlie may speak ruefully about being Rex’s “on-call opposable thumbs,” but in truth the humans play important roles in their XK9 partners’ lives. Moreover, these humans and XK9s live embedded in a complex society on Rana Station. They all have families and friends. As any society would, this matrix of associations deeply affects how they live, the work they do, and the influence they are able to gain.

Three Portraits of Rex, a large black dog who looks like a wolf or German Shepherd.
Rex Dieter-Nell, ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee for the first two book covers in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, and ©2020 Lucy A. Synk. (See complete credits below).

Hildie Gallagher is one of that matrix of associations who becomes very important in the stories. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say she’s introduced as Charlie’s old friend and becomes his current “love interest.” But she’s much more than just a pretty face or “arm candy.” Indeed, she’d be deeply insulted anybody might think that.

Considering our Options

So, then, how did we decide on portraying Hildie first, out of all the possibilities? Lucy and I finished a long series of XK9 portraits in 2020-2021 (To be clear: she painted, with considerable skill and sophistication. I kibbitzed, and also funded the effort). But that meant twenty different paintings of dogs. After all of those dogs, Lucy – a confirmed animal lover, but at heart a “cat person,” was ready to paint something else!

Head-and shoulders portraits of the ten Orangeboro Pack members.
Top row L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom Row L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. (All paintings are ©2020-21 by Lucy A. Synk).

Fortunately, there are lots of other options for things and people to paint on Rana Station. Not only are there humans, there’s also a large population of ozzirikkians. Ozzirikkians are a non-terrestrial species of Ranan citizens, without whom the station couldn’t have been funded and built.

Moreover, there’s a small resident population of Farricainan AIs. They are autonomous, highly intelligent, cybernetic entities. The XK9s become acquainted with one of these entities named Dr. SCISCO-3750, a local professor. The Farricainan AIs use android “focal objects” to interact more comfortably with “corporeal entities.” More comfortably for the humans and XK9s, that is.

We have plans to create paintings of both one of Dr. SCISCO’s androids and at least one ozzirikkian (we’ll possibly start with Vice Premier Kizzitikti Zhokittik) in the future. But portraying either of them presented multiple, time-consuming challenges. A much more obvious next step was to portray some of the humans. We decided to create paired portraits, at least for the main characters. One would show the person in work clothes. The other would portray them in a civilian context. But we immediately ran into problems there, too.

The Uniforms of Law Enforcement on Rana

We are still working on exactly how the uniforms and other official garb of the Orangeboro Police Department and the Station Bureau of Investigation look. In this particular fictional future human bodies have not changed much. But fashions, fabrics, and customs inevitably must have. Lucy correctly points out that in a painting, science fictional elements such as costumes have to read as science fictional.

A collection of ideas for science fictional clothing.
We have a wealth of ideas to use in developing the official law enforcement uniforms on Rana Station. This is a tiny sample. (See credits below).

For instance, will men still wear ties in the Twenty-Fourth-And-A-Half Century? More to the point, will police detectives wear them? Lucy doubts it. I’m still considering the matter, based on all the various permutations of “cloth around the neck” that history has seen. Constructive, on-topic comments are welcome if you’d like to weigh in, in the comments section below!

Other clothing options, such as embedded LEDs and shape-shifting fabrics may be flashy and “futuristic-looking.” But in a society where nearly every family is engaged in agriculture, durability and practicality are likely to prevail. Can those qualities mesh well with any of the futuristic fashions we’ve seen in entertainment media?

With no firm, final decisions yet hammered out about uniforms for Ranan officers, we also weren’t ready for portraits of most of my main characters. Especially for Charlie, who makes several appearances during the Trilogy wearing his OPD dress blues, we needed to know what OPD uniforms look like! Similarly, major characters Pam Gómez, Chief Klein, and Elaine Adeyeme pretty much all needed to be portrayed in uniform or some kind of regulation garb. In the winter of 2021-22, we weren’t ready to pull the trigger on those yet, either.

Portraying Hildie at Work

But portraying Hildie presented none of those challenges. I hate to call her the “low-hanging fruit,” but her work outfit – a universally-practical jumpsuit not unlike those worn by contemporary astronauts – presented far fewer challenges. Finding reference photos for that outfit was not going to be a problem! So we started with her.

As it is for many of us, Hildie’s job is a really important part of her identity. It’s also important in the stories of the Trilogy. She’s a paramedic with Orangeboro’s Emergency Rescue Team at the Hub. Assigned to the Rescue Runner Triumph, she was part of Charlie’s old team, when he drove a MERS-V (Multi-use Emergency Response Space-Vehicle) at the dawn of his career. Hildie’s a specialist in microgravity-based emergency medicine – a demanding and very challenging specialty.

A collection of resource images.
Rock-climbing shoes, paramedic patches and pouches, and NASA astronaut flight suits all factored into our development of the painting. (See credits below).

Consider fluid dynamics in microgravity, and then recall that human bodies are big bags filled with fluid that tend to leak alarmingly when injured. That’ll give you some of the more obvious difficulties a paramedic in microgravity would have to confront and counteract. Our first glimpse of Hildie, in What’s Bred in the Bone, is in action, on the job, saving lives. Specifically, saving Charlie’s life!

Building From Things We Know

Some visual things were clear from the books: Safety Services employees wear blue jumpsuits. Hildie’s uniform includes chevrons on the sleeve. And she has long, dark hair, which she wears tied back at work. Lucy based her jumpsuit on those used by NASA (as had I, when writing about them). We based the patches and insignia on similar items in current international use. It seemed needlessly confusing to come up with a whole new system of symbols that contemporary viewers might find hard to interpret.

We did go around and around some on her emergency medical equipment pouches. For aesthetic reasons, Lucy wanted to show her wearing a backpack. And contemporary, terrestrial paramedics do use backpacks. But when I envisioned the practical realities of trying to access a backpack in microgravity, in potentially a narrow work area somewhat like the Jeffries Tubes of Star Trek, it seemed awkward at best and utterly impractical, especially for a solo paramedic, at worst. When seconds saved can save a life, you don’t want to have to fight with your gear.

Lucy, however, wasn’t real enthusiastic about portraying Hildie with bulky, 21st -Century-style belt pouches around her middle. She wanted something more sleek, compact, and perhaps futuristic-looking. And maybe not something bright red, in the painting’s color scheme. So we negotiated ourselves to a compromise.

Sketch variations test various ideas for the “Hildie at Work” composition.
Between mid-January and mid-February 2022 we tested a lot of ideas. (Artwork ©2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Lucy’s Ingenuity

Once we’d figured out a set of packs we both could live with, there was still the matter of Hildie’s surroundings in the painting. Here’s where Lucy’s ingenuity and spirit of innovation truly became valuable. She drew on her experience making dioramas for natural history museums, and assembled an array of “found objects” to provide long shapes and textures that she could use to create the dramatic perspective.

Once that had been glued together, she used the last of a can of silver spray paint from her studio. It transformed her impromptu background into a credible simulation of a maintenance passageway. Then she positioned her lights and photographed her posable wooden mannequin in the environment she’d created.

Take a look at the early sketch at the left corner of the illustration below. We went through a world of possibilities and variations for the decision-making on this piece. But the early sketch shows that Lucy’s overall composition concept actually didn’t change much. The idea of portraying Hildie floating in microgravity, making her way through a maintenance passageway toward a patient, never really changed.

The making of a painting: Lucy started with a sketch of her idea, then began to build a diorama to help her visualize it better. She shared photos of her diorama process on her Facebook page: collecting cardboard scraps and “dead ballpoint pen” parts, affixing them to their curved cardboard backing, spray-painting them silver-gray, then posing and lighting the diorama background with a poseable wooden mannequin standing in for Hildie.
An early sketch, and the steps to make and use a diorama background. (Art, diorama, and photos © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this examination of the illustration work that Lucy and I have combined our visions to create. I’m proud and pleased with Lucy’s oil painting of Hildie Gallagher at Work. Next week’s post will explore the more complex process of portraying Hildie in a completely different setting and costume.


The vast majority of the imagery in this post is © 2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. However, I also have a handful of other sources to thank as well. They include most notably Jody A. Lee. whose two images of Rex, ©2019 and 2020, are details from the book covers for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. The detail of Shiva Shimon in a helmet and body armor (in the science fictional clothing collection) also is © 2019 and a detail pulled from the cover of What’s Bred in the Bone.

The other imagery from the science fictional clothing collection, moving clockwise from Shiv in the upper left, includes the following. A pair of highly improbable police uniforms from Daz3D. Genuine Leather Jacket’s design for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds Leather Trench Coat, discovered via Pinterest (Lucy: note the necktie). Artist Lian Li’s “Shura Hitmen LawBreakers Concept Art” (Whoops! Another tie), also found on Pinterest. A production photo of Lieutenant Anastasia “Dee” Dualla from Battlestar Galactica, via Justin Grays. A page of futuristic fashion designs by gary jamroz-palma on Behance, found via Pinterest. And a police-ish-looking uniform which I also found on Pinterest but was unable to source beyond that.

The montage of resource images includes several pieces of a Google Image Search for “Paramedic Patches,” scattered throughout. The rock-climbing shoe collection at upper left is from “Rock And Ice’s” review of the recommended climbing shoes. The AP photo of the unidentified ISS crew came from a story on Sky News. And I found the red paramedic’s fanny pack on Amazon. Many thanks to all! The montages were created by Jan S. Gephardt.

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