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Archive for the ‘Space Art’ Category

Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Space Art and the Exploration of Space Program
Space Art and the Exploration of Space

This Saturday October 29 I’ll be giving my presentation Space Art and the Exploration of Space at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst IL. It will actually be a somewhat modified version of my normal presentation because of the why of why I was asked to speak. I was contacted by a representative of the Elmhurst Art Museum after she read about the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM inflatable module on the International Space Station. She was looking for a way to connect ISS/BEAM with the museum’s BLOW UP: Inflatable Contemporary Art exhibit.

Unfortunately inflatable space art is not a "thing". However I was taken up on my offer to give my presentation about space art – which would be modified to include artist impressions of inflatable space architecture – an idea that is much older than you might think.

Many may remember TransHab, a NASA effort from the 90’s to develop an inflatable habitat for the International Space Station. While the project was canceled, all was not lost because Bigelow Aerospace had the foresight to purchase the rights to the patents developed as a part of that NASA project. This lead to the Genesis I, Genesis II, and now the BEAM inflatable modules – which makes very real the prospect for the commercial availability of private, inflatable space stations. Thank you Robert Bigelow for your vision.

Others may remember the Goodyear inflatable space station prototype from 1961. Much earlier references to inflatable space structures are to be found in the imaginations of science fiction authors. For example, from 1939 is the story Misfit by Robert Heinlein where he writes about covering an asteroid valley with a tarp-like roof and inflating.

So if you are in the area and are up for a presentation on space art, I invite you to attend my talk. Note that while there is no charge for my program, you do have to purchase a museum admission to get in. Museum admission is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors, but admission is free to all students and anyone under 18. For more about the Elmhurst Art Museum, visit the Elmhurst Art Museum web site. To learn more about my presentation, see Art and the Exploration of Space.

Program Description at Elmhurst Art Museum Programs
Saturday, October 29, 2016 – 1:00pm
Space Art and the Exploration of Space
Jim Plaxco, President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, will be giving a lecture which explores the development and evolution of space art from its beginnings in science fiction to its use as a tool to illustrate and promote space exploration. His lecture will demonstrate the large role that inflatables have played in the exploration of space as well as the creation of space art.

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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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Space Settlement Student Art Contest

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Earth and Moon Digital Art Wallpaper
Earth and Moon Digital Artwork

Once again I’ve been asked to be an art judge for the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement International Student Art Contest with this year’s theme being People Living and Working in Space Settlements. The objective for the student artists is the creation of realistic illustrations of some aspect of what life would be like in a space settlement – whether it be on the Moon, Mars, an asteroid, or in free space. The artwork must include at least one person and a view or perspective that clearly establishes the setting for the space settlement. This means interior-only views are out – unless it includes a grand window view of the world outside. The "realistic" includes not only scientific and engineering realism, but also representational realism, aka photorealistic.

I find judging these art contests to be a rewarding, yet challenging, adventure. What is particularly challenging is the back and forth between individual judges over the pros and cons of the individual artworks submitted. Picking winners can be difficult in a crowded field of submissions. FYI, the grand prize winner of last year’s contest was an artwork titled Lunar Outpost Construction by Hidayat Saad of Malaysia.

In order to enter the contest, the artist must be a full-time student between the ages of 13 and 25. Artists not yet 18 years old must have parental permission to participate in the art contest. And it goes without saying that the artwork must be the original work of the artist (yes the contest has received a few entries over the years that were plagiarized works).

The contest will have one Grand Prize winner and up to twelve First Prize winners based on student grade level. There may also be Honorable Mention prizes award. I must point out that if no entries are judged to be suitable, then no prizes will be awarded.

Two of the prizes that will be awarded to the Grand Prize winner are having their art published on the cover of Ad Astra magazine, the official magazine of the National Space Society, and complimentary registration to the 2016 International Space Development Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (does not include trip expenses) The deadline for submitting art to the contest is March 16, 2016. For complete details, visit Roadmap to Space Settlement 2016 International Student Art Contest.

The Earth and Moon Illustration

The art I used to illustrate this post is The Earth and Moon, which is a generative artwork I recently completed. I cropped out most of the Earth in order to use this art as a masthead for the post so I’ve included the uncropped version below. I have also made this artwork available for purchase at Redbubble and CRATED.

Earth and Moon Generative Space Art on Redbubble
Earth and Moon Generative Space Art on CRATED

Earth and Moon Generative Digital Painting by Jim Plaxco
Earth and Moon Generative Digital Painting

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Dust Storm on Planet Dune Science Fiction Art

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Dust Storm on Planet Dune
Cropped version of Dust Storm on Planet Dune

To ring in the new year, my first work of art for 2016 wound up being a work of astronomical art with a science fiction setting. Titled Dust Storm on Planet Dune, it depicts the science fiction planet Arrakis, from the Hugo and Nebula award winning novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The scene is that of Dune experiencing a global dust storm, not unlike the global dust storms that Mars regularly experiences.

In this case I did not set out to create Arrakis but rather simply a desert planet. As I worked on the piece my thoughts drifted to Herbert’s Dune novel which I first read many years ago. It was at this point that I decided to create the planet with a specific objective in mind.

Initially planet Dune was set against a nice solid darkish blue backdrop – thinking that might make for an interesting alternative to the standard starfield background. But the more I looked at it the more I felt the need to add those stars to the scene. So after completing work on the planet, I went back and added in a starfield for the background.

My next consideration was whether or not to convert the planet into a crescent planet – with some fraction in light and some fraction in darkness. You may be surprised to learn that when I create a planet, I always create the entire hemisphere. I then use a masking technique to play with the positioning of the terminator (the line that divides the day side from the night side). Having a completed planet gives me the freedom to fully experiment with the terminator’s placement, altering the amount and orientation of the day/night sides. In this case I decided to go with the hemisphere facing the viewer as being fully lit so as to fully communicate the global nature of the desert surface.

At this time, prints of Dust Storm on Planet Dune are only available on Redbubble and Crated. Follow the links below to see the product offerings that are available on each site.

"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."
Frank Herbert, author of Dune.

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Pluto, New Horizons Pluto-Palooza: Art and Talk

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Art version of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon
Artistic representation of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon

Next month I’ll be doing some talks on the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons, and the NASA New Horizons mission which will make its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday, July 14 at 11:49:57 UTC. At that time it will pass Pluto at a distance of some 12,500 kilometers. In fact, New Horizons became the mission of closest approach to Pluto on December 2, 2011 – some three and a half years ago. The previous record holder was Voyager I, which got to within 1.58 billion kilometers of Pluto.

As a part of working on my presentation, I decided to create some original artwork. The result is the art used to illustrate this story. Titled Pluto and Charon, I tried to present a reasonably accurate depiction of the pair in terms of relative size in the artwork with respect to Charon’s orbital distance from Pluto. I took some small latitude with the overall coloring and albedos but as to surface features, well at this point that is anybody’s guess.

New Horizons Lorri Image of Pluto Taken June 11, 2015
New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) Image of Pluto Taken May 28, 2015

With respect to the surface features of Pluto, the image above is probably the best image to date of the dwarf planet. It was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) on May 28, 2015 when New Horizons was about 56 million kilometers from Pluto.

My artist’s print version of Pluto and Charon is 18 by 14 inches. By comparison, the version shown here would be about 2.8 by 1.9 inches if printed. I do plan on adding this digital painting to my web site but I’m not sure when exactly that will be as I have a number of other projects consuming my time. However, I have made this artwork available for purchase on Redbubble both as a print and as product artwork:

Dwarf Planet Pluto and its moon Charon on Redbubble

As to my Pluto/New Horizons presentation, I am currently slated to give my talk at the following venues:

When: Sunday, July 19, 2015 at 1:00pm
Where: Schaumburg Township District Library Adult Classroom
for the meeting of the Chicago Society for Space Studies
Address:130 South Roselle Road, Schaumburg, IL 60193
When: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm
Where: Roden Branch, Chicago Public Library
Address: 6083 N. Northwest Highway, Chicago, IL 60631

I will also be appearing in Streator IL on July 5th with time and venue to be determined. The city is including Pluto in its Fourth of July celebration as Streator is the birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer at Lowell Observatory who discovered Pluto in 1930. I am fortunate in that I had the opportunity to attend a lecture about Pluto by Mr. Tombaugh and to briefly meet him afterwards. Mr. Tombaugh passed away in 1997.

New Horizons References

The following New Horizons articles contain additional information about the Lorri image of Pluto used in this story:

The main web site for the mission is the New Horizons web site at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

In closing I offer the following quotation:

Most great discoveries in science are preceded by intuitions and followed by simple or crude methods, procedures, and use of inferior equipment. Often a succession of attempts take place in a progressive sequence, just barely missing the discovery. This was especially so in the case of the discovery of the ninth planet, Pluto.

Clyde Tombaugh in Out of the Darkness: The Planet Pluto

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Space Art, Lunar Bases, and Space in Chicago

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Lacus Somniorum, Moon
Lacus Somniorum, Moon

Did you ever see that movie Sybil with Sally Field as the multiple personality woman? That’s me. Only I’m not a woman and it’s not multiple personalities — it’s multiple interests. Two interests that are obvious to people who know me are digital art and space — both of the astronomical variety and the space exploration variety.

My multiple competing interests — not to mention my interests in photography (see Jim Plaxco Photography), a wide variety of computing topics, and an interest in economics (my B.S was in Economics) — serve to limit the amount of time I can devote to each individually. In fact I’d say that I frequently find myself the victim of thrashing — an old computer science term describing the sub-optimal performance of a computer when it spends too much time switching between tasks.

It is much the same with my art. I have an interest in a variety of artistic subjects as well as creating art using a variety of stylistic approaches. I really chafe at the traditional advice given to artists that they should pick one subject and one style and stick to it. Where is the intellectual and creative fun in that? I understand how the one subject-one style approach works well for branding but why limit your creative ventures just so you can be more marketable and identifiable? In the acting profession that’s known as being typecast.

One recent activity of mine that neatly joined my interests in art and space was serving as a judge in the National Space Society’s 2015 International Student Art Contest (see NSS 2015 International Student Art Contest). We finished judging the submitted art last Friday. It took us a good number of hours to go through the 85 submitted works of art. Our first task was to categorize the art and determine whether or not each submission met the contest guidelines. The rule that all submitted art must feature one or more people doing something in a space setting disqualified a number of submissions.

The thorniest issue was regarding that of realism and led to the most intense debate between the judges. Some wanted to establish higher standards for the quality of the art that would be accepted. I argued that since this art contest was marketed as a contest for students and had entries from sixth grade through college, it was not appropriate to expect a sixth grader to produce artwork of the same caliber as that of a college student. On the whole, my approach won out.

One of the stipulations for the art contest was that if the judges felt that none of the submitted art was worthy of being awarded a prize then none would be given. Fortunately I can say that we did award several prizes. However, because the contest results have not yet been announced I can say no more on this subject.

On another space note, I’ve also been spending more time than planned taking the Introduction to Aerospace Engineering: Astronautics and Human Spaceflight online class from EDX.ORG. The class is being taught by MIT Professor Jeffrey Hoffman, a former NASA astronaut who made the trip to space five times on NASA’s Space Shuttle (Hoffman was the first astronaut to log 1000 hours on the Shuttle). My motivation in taking this class was to refresh old knowledge and hopefully pick up some new knowledge.

In one of my roles as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I do a variety of educational space development presentations so a good understanding of the various issues is critical. It was in this role that I spoke a couple weeks ago at Loyola University as a part of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. The title of my presentation was From Camp Century to the Moon and in this presentation I emphasized the future commercial opportunities of lunar development (neatly combining my interests in space and economics). The “Camp Century” in the title of my talk is a reference to the nuclear powered "city" the U.S. Army built under the Greenland ice outwardly to do science and learn to live and work in arctic conditions — but secretly a part of Project Iceworm. I use Camp Century in my presentation due to the similarities it has to a lunar base. On a related note, my next space to-do is actually tonight when I’ll be doing a shortened version of this presentation for the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights IL. I’m willing to bet that having someone speak about the commercial development of the Moon is rather out of the ordinary for them. We’ll see.

The Illustration: Lacus Somniorum, Moon

The illustration for this post is a small section of a digital painting I did of the Moon. This particular art project of mine was inspired by a painting of the Moon done in 1875 by astronomer/artist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (December 26, 1827–April 22, 1895) whose work I greatly admire. At some point I do plan on adding this work, as well as several other works of lunar art, to my Moon Art Gallery.

The region shown in the illustration is that of Lacus Somniorum (Latin for Lake of Dreams), an irregular plain near the Moon’s northeastern limb. Specifically it is at selenographic coordinates 38 degrees north and 29 degrees east. With a diameter of 384 kilometers, it is the largest "lacus" on the Moon.

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