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Winners of 2016 NSS Space Settlement Student Art Contest Announced

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Space Settlement Student Art Contest Grand Prize Winner
Space Settlement Student Art Contest Grand Prize Winner
Pioneers of the Cosmos by Adrianna Allen

The National Space Society has announced the winners of its 2016 NSS Space Settlement Student Art Contest. As one of the contest’s art judges, it was once again an interesting experience. While I did not write about my experiences judging last year’s contest, I did write about Judging the 2014 NSS Space Settlement Student Art Contest. As an art contest for students, entries were received from grade levels 5 through college with the vast majority of entries being submitted by non-U.S. students.

A number of entries were disqualified for failing to meet the contest’s few but clearly stated criteria. Unfortunately some of the art disqualified was pretty good. Even worse, there were a few submissions of plagiarized work. For example, taking an existing work of space art and running an edges filter on it does not give an "artist" the right to call it their own art. Worse yet is lying about the process and claiming it to be a drawing by hand.

Aside: As a digital artist who enjoys writing his own image processing and digital art software, one of the self-challenges I used to do quite regularly was analyzing digital art and attempting to figure out exactly how it was created and what software was used. This process helped me to develop my own programs and to have a better feel for the overall digital art creation process.

The judging of the art consisted of two stages. In the first stage, I, Lynne Zielinski (contest manager), and David Brandt-Erichsen (fellow judge) went through the art eliminating those entries that clearly failed to meet the stated criteria regarding size, subject, and content. Once this was done, I created a browsable version of initially valid submissions and distributed that package to the panel of judges (there were six of us judging the art). We had a total of 125 entries to judge with a remarkable 66 coming from 5th graders, the largest grade submission category by far. In contrast, there were only 2 submissions from 6th graders.

It was two weeks ago that all contest judges had a web conference to judge all the accepted entries. It was quite the marathon session with some of the art submitted generating significant discussion. The structure of the art contest’s rules provided us with complete latitude when it came to selecting winning art entries. In fact, we judges were not required to select any entries as winners if we decided that all were of sub-standard quality. Fortunately that was not the case. It was at this stage that we looked more seriously at whether or not the submitted art fully met our subject and content criteria. Unfortunately a large number did not. The most common shortcoming was the failure to show any people in the artwork – as showing people living and working in space was a central theme to the contest.

The easiest part of the entire process was selecting the art to be awarded the Grand Prize. We judges immediately and unanimously chose Pioneers of the Cosmos, a digital painting submitted by Adrianna Allen, as the Grand Prize winner. Adrianna attends Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI.

The judges awarded one First Prize for the submission Space Aviary by Vindya Malla, an 11th grader from India.

There were also three Honorable Mentions awarded. A very well done work of 3D digital art was the piece Micro-Gravity Lunar Orbit Research Center Apollo submitted by Hidayat Saad, a college student from Malaysia. Frankly I thought this artwork to be deserving of a First Prize. The second Honorable Mention went to The Martians submitted by Pranab Kumar Padhi, a 12th grader from India. The artwork depicts a settlement on Mars. What most sold this artwork to the judges was a table of people in the foreground having a meeting. The third and final Honorable Mention went to Shuttle Transport Station (shown below) submitted by Anushka Hebbar, a 9th grader from India. Given Anushka’s wonderful depiction of an O’Neill Colony, this was my second favorite submission to the contest and I thought it should have been awarded a First Prize. So Anushka Hebbar: consider this my personal congratulations to you for your wonderful submission.

Space art contest honorable mention - Shuttle Transport Station
Space art contest honorable mention – Shuttle Transport Station by Anushka Hebbar

A gallery of the winning art and the art submissions that met all the contest’s criteria is now online at Gallery for NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement International Student Art Contest 2016. Enjoy.

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Nabaroo for Artists Review

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Jim Plaxco's Nabaroo Account
Jim Plaxco’s Nabaroo Account

A few days ago I received an invitation to join an online site for artists named Nabaroo. I had never heard of them but as stated in their email, Nabaroo is a new network for artists and I was being extended an invitation "based on your exceptional work." I regularly receive unsolicited invitations from businesses marketing one service or another. In fact I recently received an invitation from another online service for artists – that one being a print on demand site. In checking them out I decided that they were not a site that I wanted to do business with. You can read my review of their service in the article A Review of Selling Art on Artist Become (artistbe.com).

So I decided to give Nabaroo a look. In some respects, UI/UX for example, Nabaroo is similar to Pinterest. In other respects it is unique. It has a clean design and it is easy to create collections so you can organize your art into groups. They also make it very easy to add new content. Aside from being able to post/share your art and videos (in a process called nabbing), the site offers a Discussions feature and a Jobs section where artists can search for employment opportunities.

What I found particularly appealing, and unique, is Nabaroo’s Shop feature. When an artist shares their art on Nabaroo they are given the opportunity to add a link that directs viewers to the product page for that artwork, where ever that may be. Upon learning this I decided to do some fast data mining. I grabbed the first 500 artworks that showed up in my Buy Original Artwork from Nabaroo Artists stream. Following are the top print-on-demand/art products web sites that were linked to.

Online Vendor Artworks
society6.com 174
etsy.com 68
redbubble.com 37
inprnt.com 17
storenvy.com 17
saatchiart.com 11
crated.com 7
altitxde.com 6
displate.com 5
bigcartel.com 5
teepublic.com 5

I was surprised by the dominance of Society6. Notably absent from this list are such popular print-on-demand art print sites as Artflakes, CafePress, FineArtAmerica, Imagekind, and Zazzle. At this point I must offer the following supplementary information. The above is simply a count based on the number of artworks and not artists. For example, all of the 174 artworks for Society6 could have come from one artist. So these numbers should not be used to judge how popular a platform is with artists. I could have produced that number but the process of associating artists with individual artworks would have required much more work on my part. However, I can say that these 500 artworks came from 221 artists and that the number of artworks per artist ranged from 1 to 11 with an average of 2.26 artworks per artist. So it is safe to say that based on this information, it appears that the three most popular platforms for artists who are active on Nabaroo are Society6, Etsy, and Redbubble.

Also with respect to the above table, it is worth noting that a few of the artists, rather than linking to a product page, directed their "Buy on" link back to non-product web sites like their Facebook fan page or their Nabaroo account. I don’t know that this is a strategy that I would use but it is clearly an option.

Adding Art to Nabaroo

Adding art (or videos) to Nabaroo is quite simple. The dialog for adding (nabbing) art gives artists the option to either upload an image or video from their computer or from a web page (a very nice option). Artists are offered the following fields to describe their art/video:

  • caption – a text field for providing a description of the art
  • collection – a drop down list that allows an artist to add the art to a collection (or to simultaneously create a new collection to which the art will be added)
  • Buy on link – a field for providing a link to where the art can be bought
  • tags – tags for categorizing the art for improved searches

When adding (aka nabbing) art, you also have the option to share your nab on one or more social networks simultaneously.

My Nabaroo Account

In reviewing Nabaroo, I really like what I’ve seen and have created an account. While I have yet to really begin posting content you can see my account at:

Jim Plaxco’s Nabaroo Account

My only concern is with respect to their business model. At this time the site is free of advertisements and is free for artists to use. The only source of revenue I see is with respect to companies wanting to post job openings on the site – and even that is free for Nabaroo artists. As Nabaroo grows in popularity the site will require ever more computing resources to support that growth. I will be very curious to see what steps Nabaroo takes to generate the income they will need to pay their bills.

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Selling Art on Crated

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Jim Plaxco's Crated Portfolio
Jim Plaxco’s Crated Portfolio

Last friday I began selling open edition prints on crated.com. I initially uploaded only a few artworks while I got a feel for their workflow and researched the site. As an artist selling art, my initial experience with the site has been positive. As a part of my initial research into the site I’ve written a review about crated.com as a platform for selling art: Selling Art on Crated.com – A Review.

Since then I’ve added a few more artworks to my Crated portfolio and created several galleries. You can view my work at Jim Plaxco’s portfolio on Crated and if you are a member follow me as well.

If you are an artist investigating crated.com as a platform for selling art, you may find my article
Selling Art on Crated.com a useful addition to your research.

Following are the artworks that I have added to date on Crated.com. Clicking any picture will take you to that artwork’s page on Crated.


The 42 Million Pixel Shark digital painting
Nebular Connection digital painting
The Girl from Alpha Centauri digital painting
Digital generative painting of American author Edgar Allan Poe
Grecian Seaside Village digital painting
The Mirror in the Water is an abstract digital painting
Cape Cod Uninhabited digital painting
Sunset on the Marsh digital painting
Mistress Moon astronomical art
Hup Ho World cityscape painting of downtown Chicago

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A Redbubble Review and Free Wallpaper Art

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Warped Portrait of the Artist Damien Hirst
Warped Portrait of the Artist Damien Hirst

I set up an artist’s account on Redbubble a long time ago but confess to never having really used it. By chance I happened upon a link by an artist on Google+ to their Redbubble profile – at which time I decided to think critically about Redbubble as a selling platform and whether or not I should keep my account there. This led me to write up a review of Redbubble as a sales platform for artists. As a part of this review I thought it would be a good idea to upload some new artwork on the basis that this would help me with my review process. By coincidence I had just completed a new work of art using a 3D image painting program I had just finished writing. I decided to make that piece available as an open edition print on Redbubble as a part of my review process.

I originally intended to make my Redbubble review available here on my blog but judged it to be too long for a blog post. So I’m making it available as an article on my web site. You can find the review here:

Selling Art On Redbubble – A Review.

The review reflects my feelings about using Redbubble as a platform for monetizing my art. Spoiler Alert: my Redbubble review is a positive one. In fact the process of writing this review makes it more likely that I will become more active on Redbubble. My only negative issues were with regard to the profit potential for artists selling on Redbubble (addressed in the review) and that their web site is not mobile friendly.

Currently I have the following artworks for sale on Redbubble:

The Damien Hirst Illustration

I’ve illustrated this post with a small digital painting I just did of the artist Damien Hirst. I’m making a free wallpaper version available for anyone interested. Note that this is for personal, non-commercial use only.

Click here for the wallpaper version of Warped Portrait of the Artist Damien Hirst

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Chicago Lake FX Summit and Expo for Artists

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Chicago Lake FX Summit and Expo for Artists

I’ll be attending the Lake FX Summit and Expo April 16-19, 2015. The expo has as its target audience artists and creative professionals working in film, music, fashion, culinary, the visual arts, and performing arts. The expo is managed by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and has Google as a presenting sponsor. The expo theme is "Improvisation and Innovation."

The Lake FX Summit and Expo is an integrated successor to three past separate expos: the Creative Chicago Expo, the Chicago Music Summit and the Chicago Film and Media Summit. This event is being billed as the midwest’s largest free conference for artists and other creative professionals. Program components are spread out between the Chicago Cultural Center, Virgin Hotels Chicago, the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Hard Rock Hotel, and the State Street Macy’s.

I have previously attended the Creative Chicago Expo and found it to be a worthwhile event. I’m not sure if trying to create a mega-event from three separate specialized expos is a smart thing to do from the perspective of the individual attendees. We’ll see.

Looking through the programming guide, as an artist I find the following presentations to be the most relevant to my interests:

Who’s Your Audience? NEA Recent Research in the Arts
Discussion of the National Endowment for the Arts research on "Public Participation in the Arts, 2002–2012" and other related topics.
How to Win at YouTube
Discussion on video creativity and review of what types of videos work on YouTube.
Self-Management Tool Kit for Artists
Discussion about the business of being an artist.
Portfolio Reviews: How to Share Your Work
A How-To on presenting your portfolio for review to curators, gallery directors, art critics, etc.
Protect Your Creative Content
Yep, all about copyright protection and trademark protection given by the group Lawyers for the Creative Arts.
Intro to Crowdfunding and Fiscal Sponsorship
A panel on using crowdfunding (think Kickstarter and Indiegogo) as a way to raise money.
Video 101 for Artists and Arts Organizations
A panel discussion for artists on the role of video as a marketing and fundraising tool.
Maker to Market
A panel on the maker scene done in collaboration with World Business Chicago.
Online Risks and Rewards: What Your Business Can and Can’t Do Online
Explores the legal aspects of doing business online.
Photoshop Basics for Artists
Okay, if I have nothing else to do I’ll attend this one just to see what aspects of Photoshop they’ll be covering.

Fortunately for me, all the programming for the Visual and Performing Arts Track and for the General Track is being held at the Chicago Cultural Center – meaning I don’t have to run back and forth between separate venues.

Note that people are encouraged to pre-register for the expo. Benefits of pre-registration include "Fast Pass" access to some of the programs being held at the Chicago Cultural Center Claudia Cassidy Theater and automatic entry into several drawings. Complete details on the expo and a link to the registration form is available from the expo’s main web page at
Lake FX Summit and Expo.

In closing, if you know an artist or a person in one of the other creative fields, please share this information with them.

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A Weekend of Art and Space at Capricon

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
The Constellation Capricornus aka Capricorn, not Capricon

This weekend I’ll be attending the Capricon Science Fiction Convention which is being held at the Westin Chicago Northshore in Wheeling IL. I’ve attended quite a few Capricons over the years and have always had a good time. This year I’ll be pretty busy – giving one presentation and participating in five panels on art and space.

As a part of the convention, I’ll be giving my presentation Digital Art: Delights and Dilemmas in which I discuss the issues and challenges that digital artists face. I talk about hardware, platforms, software, storage, and accessories issues – not to mention that classic issue of "is it art?"

On the subject of art, I will be moderating the panel Great Artists of Science Fiction. The panel is described as follows:

Art has always been an integral part of science fiction. The decades have given us several masters – and today more artists than ever are producing amazing work. Who are the greatest artists of science fiction thus far? Who do we think will be on that list twenty years from now?

My co-panelists are Dexter Fabi, Alessandra Kelley, and Deb Kosiba. We are taking some liberties with the panel in that we will start out by discussing our favorite science fiction artists. So far our list of artists includes John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, John Harris, Syd Mead, Frank R. Paul, Arthur Rackham, Albert Robida, Gene Szafran, and Michael Whelan.

Sticking with art, I will be participating in the Cover Snark panel whose description reads:

There have been some radiant, resplendent, and refined works of art gracing the covers of SF/F books. Then there are the ones we’re going to snark about today. Which covers make you ask “Whyyyyy?” Which covers might have been cool at the time but are now rubbishy?

For my part I’ve prepared a sequence of images that tracks the cover art used for Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children beginning with Leo Dillion’s illustration from 1958 and continuing through to a 2013 edition that simply used a NASA Hubble Space Telescope photograph for the cover art. Fortunately in researching the topic I came across an absolutely horrible example of cover art that really left me scratching my head. My fellow art critics on this bad art extravaganza are moderator Alessandra Kelley, Mallory Harrelson, Helen Montgomery, and Blake Packard.

Besides art, another favorite topic of mine is space exploration and development. On this subject I’ll be moderating the panel Re-starting the Manned Space Program. Joining me will be Chris Gerrib and Bill Higgins. Our mission: to explore what the next steps for human space exploration should be. We’ll be paying particular attention to the subject of new space and the potential for private/commercial space development to open the final frontier to the rest of us.

Looking a few years or decades down the road, another panel I will be moderating is A Lunar Life in which we explore what it would be like to be born, live, work, and retire on the Moon. My focus will be on commerce and the lunar economy because the Moon will never become a second home for humanity until such undertakings can pay their own way. Joining me will be Dale Cozort, Anne Elliot, Mark Huston, Jim Lund, Henry Spencer, and Dr. Michael Unger. With seven panelists, not only is this the largest panel I’ve ever been on, it’s the largest I’ve ever moderated! Will chaos and pandemonium reign?

Lastly, I’ll be a panelist on Rise Up! in which we’ll be talking about all things that fly (not counting birds). Moderated by Bill Higgins, my co-panelists are Emmy Jackson and Henry Spencer. If you want to hear about hot-air balloons, zeppelins, airplanes, jets, rockets, and space ships, then this is the panel for you.

The Illustration

The illustration above is a stylized rendition of a star map for the constellation Capricornus (not Capricon). Capricornus is Latin for "horned goat" and is generally represented as a sea-goat: a mythical creature with the fore body of a goat and the aft body of a fish. In a nod to this bizarre creature, the name of the Capricon convention’s newsletter is Goat Droppings.

See you at the con.

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