The Art of Frank Tinsley

The artist behind of the iconic illustrations of Modern Mechanix.

Frank Tinsley artwork
Art of an atomic-powered zeppelin by Frank Tinsley, from Mechanix Illustrated (March 1956)

Frank Tinsley was a prolific illustrator of the atomic era. If you’ve ever browsed the archive of Modern Mechanix, you will have seen his work, perhaps without realizing many of the magazine’s iconic illustrations were done by the same artist.

Born in New York in 1899, Tinsley worked as an artist’s apprentice in the Research Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art after graduating from high school. He joined the Design Section of the War Department during World War I and freelanced as an illustrator in the 1920s and 30s, for magazines as well as the movies. That’s how he met publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, who was expanding into film at the time. The two became personal friends.

After World War II, Tinsley found a home with Mechanix Illustrated (the former Modern Mechanix), where he wrote and illustrated numerous stories about (the future of) technology. Thanks for James Vaughan for the following high-quality scans.

Mechanix Illustrated April 1948 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (April 1948, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated January 1949 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (January 1949, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated March 1951 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (March 1951, story here)
Mechanix Illustrated October 1951 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (October 1951, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated September 1953 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (September 1953, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated November 1954 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (November 1954, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated February 1957 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (February 1957, full story here)
Mechanix Illustrated March 1957 pages
From Mechanix Illustrated (March 1957, full story here)

In 1958, Tinsley was hired by the American arm of Germany’s Bosch company to illustrate their futuristic space technologies. Images courtesy of Atomic Flash Deluxe.

Tinsley died of a heart attack at age 65.

Frank Tinsley artwork
This 30-foot high Unicycle is designed for preliminary exploration of the moon, once a base camp has been established. It’s entirely constructed of inflated, rubberized fabric, with the exception of strengthening members, hatches and a few other items of equipment. Gyros stabilize and steer the vehicle: electric motors furnish the driving power.
Frank Tinsley artwork
This imaginative but technically accurate illustration shows a permanent satellite (center) being constructed in orbit around the Earth. It generates its own heat and electricity from solar rays. Basic vegetation (such as algae) for oxygen as well as protein-rich foods are grown in hydroponic tubes in upper level “greenhouses.”
Frank Tinsley artwork
This nuclear-fueled reconnaissance craft is preparing to land on Mars’ outermost satellite, Deimos – 12,000 miles away from the “red planet” (center) and 35 million miles away from Earth.
Frank Tinsley artwork
Spreading its wings to absorb the eternal flow of solar energy is the Cosmic Butterfly, a space vehicle of a type first conceived by Dr Ernst Stuhlinger of Redstone Arsenal.
Frank Tinsley artwork
The space-assembled super satellites of the future will periodically encounter disaster – collision, mechanical failure, military attack, or the long chance of being hit by a meteorite. When this happens, “lifeboats” like the one shown here will bring the crews safely back to Earth.
Frank Tinsley artwork
By 1970, our solar system will be filled with expended satellites – whirling aimlessly in space with dead batteries and electronic equipment, their missions long since completed. As space traffic increases, these derelicts will have to be captured and put out of orbit to keep flight paths clear. For this task, special towboats will be designed and crews trained.

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Oh I’d like model kits of those spacecraft and moon vehicles. An operational model of that cross country cruise ship could be interesting too.

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