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Posts Tagged ‘Space Art’

NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement Student Art Contest

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

NASA Moon Base Art
NASA Moon Base Credit: NASA

I enjoy judging art contests. I particularly enjoy judging space art contests. I concluded my most recent space art judging experience Monday evening. In this case it was judging the student art that had been submitted to the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement Student Art Contest.

The goal of the contest was to get students to create art that could be used to illustrate the NSS Milestones to Space Settlement: An NSS Roadmap – a document that was created for the purpose of laying out for the public the major milestones that will likely have to be passed and the major barriers that will have to be overcome in order for humanity to achieve the NSS vision of "People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity." The contest was organized and managed by Lynne Zielinski, the NSS Vice President of Public Affairs (and a member of the Chicago Society for Space Studies).

Unfortunately the contest was run on a very tight time line. The contest was announced on March 25 and the submissions deadline was April 22. Typically art contests provide much more time – both to provide time to promote the contest and to allow artists time to create their submission. However NSS wanted the contest completed in advance of their annual International Space Development Conference (May 23-27).

In spite of the limited time frame the contest received over 300 submissions. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of these submissions were rejected since they did not meet the contest’s guidelines. Eliminating these non-qualifying submissions left the judges with 14 artworks to evaluate. This was reduced to 13 when it was discovered that one of the submissions was a fraud. The artist claimed to have created his submission using Photoshop and GIMP but the artwork was actually a NASA produced image of a lunar base! I have used that NASA image to illustrate this article. You may have previously seen this image on the NASA or web sites.

Judging art can be quite challenging at times. However, a well designed set of judging criteria that includes specific elements on which to judge the art helps. For this particular art contest, judges were expected to evaluate the art based on the following elements:

  • the art features one of the milestones listed in the Roadmap to Space Settlement
  • the milestone depicted contains sufficient evidence of accuracy
  • the art is a realistic depiction
  • the art represents more factually based science than fictional science
  • the art uses accurate perspectives
  • the art provides an uplifting, positive message of our future in space
  • the art contains a high level of detail.
  • the art appears to be created in a manner that is consistent with the method described by the artist.
  • all elements of the art appear to be created by the artist

Each judge independently graded each image after which we met to confirm the grand prize winner and to ascertain how many First Prize and Honorable Mention awards would be given out. In the end it was decided to give one First Prize and one Honorable Mention award. The Grand Prize Winner was the entry Asteroid Mining Module and the First Prize Winner was INSPIRE Life – both of which topped my list point wise. An Honorable Mention was awarded to Jupiter Orbital Space Settlement.

It is likely that this contest will be held again next year and, hopefully, I will once again be asked to participate as a judge.

Reference Links

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Judging Art for the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Humans in Space Youth Art Competition
Humans in Space Youth Art Competition

Last evening I finished judging 97 works of space art that has been submitted to the second international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition. It was my good fortune to have served as a judge in the first contest as well. I can’t tell you how happy I am to not only see the contest back for a second year but to also see an explosion in the number of entries submitted.

Contest partners include NASA, DLR German Aerospace Center, USRA (Universities Space Research Association), Lunar and Planetary Institute, Mission X, and the International Academy of Astronautics. The theme the artwork was expected to address is How will humans use science and technology to explore space, and what mysteries will we uncover? With respect to the contest’s goals:

The international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition encourages youth to “Be Inspired, Creative and Heard.” We ask them to think about the future of human space flight and to creatively communicate their ideas, and we promise to make these ideas viewable worldwide. By including the next generation in the planning of the future, the competition aims to enhance their awareness, interest in and support for human space flight, and to allow their ideas to begin shaping the future now.

The contest accepted submissions from March 9, 2012 thru November 18, 2012 from young people of 10 to 18 years of age, split into two groups: 10–13 years and 14–18 years. Submissions were accepted in the categories of visual, literary, musical and video artwork. Along with the artwork, each artist was expected to include an Artist’s Statement of Originality. The purpose of this statement was to provide information that would help judges to understand, appreciate, and evaluate the art. The winning artwork will be woven into displays and performances designed to relay the artists messages to a world wide audience. Most exciting for contest winners is the opportunity that their winning artwork might be displayed in orbit aboard the International Space Station!

Judging the Art

Youth Space Art Contest Entries Judged
The 97 Youth Space Art Contest Entries Judged

I had elected to be a judge in the Visual Art: 2D Visual Art category for the 14-18 year old age group. A special web site had been created for judges to view and rate the art submissions. Each judge is assigned a subset of the submitted art due to the large number of submissions received. When I log in to the system I see the art that has been assigned to me to judge. The only downside to this system is that I am limited to viewing only one work of art at a time (unless I open multiple browser windows).

Visual art judges were directed to judge the art based on the following criteria:

  • Aesthetics (Shapes, colors, textures, flow, proportions, composition, etc.)
  • Skill (Are knowledge of the media or principles of art demonstrated?)
  • Inherent meaning (What is the story or statement?)
  • Creativity (Is the artwork creative and original?)
  • Fulfilled intent (Does it meet the objective to express something about How will humans use science and technology to explore space, and what mysteries will we uncover?)

Additionally judges were asked to consider the scientific accuracy of the art. For example, if your character is walking around on the Moon then they had better be wearing a space suit.

In assigning ratings, judges were expected to assign equal numbers of 4, 3, 2, and 1 star ratings. To better judge the artwork, I downloaded the hi-res version of all the art to my computer. I then used Adobe CS4 Bridge in order to both view the art side by side, rank the art, and sort the art by rank. My methodology was to start from the ends and work inward. By ends I refer to first identifying the strongest and weakest artworks. Identifying 1-star and 4-star submissions was fairly easy. Much more difficult was distinguishing between the 2 and 3 star submissions. Upon completing my initial judging I found that I had the following distribution of rankings:

-Stars- -Allowed- -Given-
4 25 10
3 24 35
2 24 38
1 24 14

My distribution made it clear that my principal course of action was to promote art from the 3 star category to the 4 star category and demote art from the 2 star category to the 1 star category. Promoting and demoting was, predictably, the most difficult part of the judging process. In the end I did achieve the distribution of stars that judges were expected to award – though it was not easy.

The second round of judging will begin later this month with the entire process scheduled for completion in January 2013 and the winners to be announced shortly thereafter.


In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.
Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11 astronaut and first person to set foot on the Moon

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From Capricon to Floral Photography

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Art Painting
The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Painting

Part 1: The Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This year Capricon was a short affair for me. While the con ran Thursday thru Sunday, I only attended Friday and Saturday and then only until 6:30pm as I had made plans to attend the opening of a photo exhibition at the Prairie Arts Center in Schaumburg. And because I was not returning on Sunday I did not participate in the art show. On Saturday I did make sure to go through the art show and was happy to see work exhibited by a couple of my friends. What I found disturbing though was the fairly large number of empty display bays in the show. In my experience the Capricon Art Show generally has little, if any, unused space. Unfortunately I had to leave before the start of the art auction so have no idea how well that went.

With respect to programming, my only job Friday was as a panelist on Pluto Is Still a Planet in Illinois with Bill Higgins (Fermilab physicist) moderating and copanelists Brother Guy Consolmagno (Vatican Observatory) and Steven Silver (Capricon Fan Guest of Honor). This was a really good panel given that Brother Guy was a part of the IAU meeting at which the Pluto vote was made and Steven was a friend of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. If you were at Capricon and missed this panel – it was definitely your loss.

I arrived back at the con Saturday morning shortly before I was scheduled to give my presentation The Art of the Exploration of Space. I especially liked that I had 75 minutes to speak as this allowed me to go at a leisurely pace and engage in conversation with the audience as I went along. This was immediately followed by my moderating a panel at the opposite end of the convention on Goodbye, Space Shuttle. My copanelists were Henry Spencer, Chris Gerrib, and Kent Nebergall. Kent had the misfortune of being in the audience of my space art presentation whereupon I drafted him for the Space Shuttle panel as I knew that he would have valuable insights to contribute.

I next attended The Coming War on General Purpose Computation presentation by Cory Doctorow, the author guest of honor. It was a fascinating presentation. While I agreed with Doctorow on SOPA and other aspects of attempts to stamp out the theft of intellectual property, I came away dissatisfied that he offered no remedy for the authors, artists, and musicians who are having their work stolen. I was also somewhat surprised by his stance towards Facebook in that he seemed to believe that people should not be given the choice of sharing their information on social networks. I viewed this as being inconsistent with what I would characterize as a free and open internet perspective.

The last panel I attended was the most boring panel I have ever attended at any science fiction convention. Now with a title like Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement you would expect there to be an invigorating debate between the panelists and between the panelists and the audience. However, this panel was run by the brown shirts. No audience participation was allowed. There was a short period at the end where 5 people were identified and allowed to ask one question each with no follow up or commentary by the questioners permitted. In short, this panel was a total waste of time for the audience.

In summary, I’d say that the best things about Capricon were:

  • The accidental meetings
  • The conversations in the halls
  • The food in the green room
  • Prowling the Dealers Room
  • Checking out the art show
  • How well my The Art of the Exploration of Space presentation went and the ensuing conversations
  • Being on the Pluto panel with Brother Guy Consolmagno, Bill, and Steven
  • Friday lunch in the Green Room with Brother Guy, Bill Higgins, and Henry Spencer
  • Drafting Kent Nebergall to serve on the Space Shuttle panel.

Only one more year until Capricon 33!

Part 2: The Photography Exhibition at the Prairie Art Center, Schaumburg IL

Departing Capricon, I swung by home to grab a bite to eat and then headed over to the Prairie Art Center to take in a photography exhibition that was opening that night in the Herb Aigner Gallery. Titled Flowers in Our Soul, the show is devoted to artistic photographs of flowers and consists of 27 separate works. The photographers that I identified as having work on display in the show are Maria Aiello, Mary Angelini, Debbie Beller, Cindy Brumm, Susan Couch, Randee Lawrence, and Karie Strangeway. I had the opportunity to speak with several of them about their work. I was also curious to learn whether they printed their own work or used an outside service. If you would like to see the show, it runs through the end of February. See Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg IL.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I decided to use a piece of science fiction art that I just added to my web site. Titled The Flyers of Fomalhaut b, it is an imagining of what the life of exoplanet Fomalhaut b is like (note: not only is there no evidence of life on this planet, there is some question as to whether or not the planet even exists). Fomalhaut b appears to be a Jupiter-like planet that is about three times more massive than Jupiter and which orbits the star Fomalhaut once every 872 years. By comparison Pluto takes 248 years to complete an orbit of the Sun.

For more about this digital painting, see The Flyers of Fomalhaut b.

Until next time, Ad Astra, Jim

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Art Exhibit and Web Site Updates

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Fremont Public Library in Mundelein IL
Fremont Public Library in Mundelein IL

I must say that 2011 has not been a good year for posting to my blog. Looking back, I can see that my pace has slackened significantly from what it was in the past. If you visit my Facebook page – Artsnova Art of Jim Plaxco you’ll see that my postings there have been equally erratic. There are so many things going on and just not enough time for all of them.

However, I have been continuing to make additions to the Artsnova web site. Specifically, this year I’ve added:

With respect to my art, I spent part of today setting up an art exhibit at the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein, IL. I was only able to exhibit 11 framed works of art as each of my pieces was of a decent size and I quickly filled the space available. My art will be on display in the library until July 11, 2011.

Fremont Public Library Mundelein Art Display 1st Floor
Fremont Public Library Mundelein Art Display 1st Floor

The art on the first floor is in an excellent location from a visibility perspective. Upon entering the library, the art is easily visible. Note that additional wall space is reserved for another artist who is also a member of the Northwest Cultural Council Corporate Art Gallery Program. Fortunately the display space I received is slightly larger and better positioned than the alternate space.

Fremont Public Library Mundelein Art Display 2nd Floor
Fremont Public Library Mundelein Art Display 2nd Floor

The art space on the second floor is much smaller and not so well positioned. However, as it turns out my art is located right next to the tax forms so for the next week or so it should be seen by lots of folks who, like myself, have waited to the last minute to do their taxes.

In other news, I’ll be speaking at the DucKon Science Fiction Convention in June and will also be in their art show. Because of that, I decided to not display any of my astronomical art or space art at the library.

I still don’t know if I’ll be able to attend the 2011 International Space Development Conference. While I did do a presentation about space art at last year’s conference, I did not submit any proposals this year due to not being certain of being able to attend. Missing the ISDC would be quite unfortunate as I am on the Board of Directors for the National Space Society and it is at the ISDC that one of the two annual board meetings is held.

To close, I leave you with a quote from scientist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: "The astronomical artist will always be far ahead of the explorer. They can depict scenes that no human eye will ever see, because of their danger, or their remoteness in time and space."

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Capricon Science Fiction Convention 2011 Debriefing

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Capricon Live Art Sound Art Landscape
Capricon Live Art Program – Sound Art Landscape

The Capricon Science Fiction Convention was held at the Wheeling Westin Feb. 10 thru Feb 13. I arrived Thursday evening for my first panel – Requiem for the Space Shuttle. Along with fellow panelists Bill Higgins, Tracy Lunquist, and Henry Spencer, we discussed the history of the space shuttle program and its impact on space exploration. We also spent some time talking about the future of human access to space and the commercial revolution that will make it possible for private citizens to buy tickets for trips to space, i.e. space tourism. Our discussion lasted for over 90 minutes with lots of input from an enthusiastic audience.

Live Art

For me, the highlight of my participation in Capricon was my Friday morning Live Art presentation. My presentation opened with a demonstration of one of my programs for taking sound input from a microphone and processing that sound in order to create visual imagery. This was followed by my presentation which explored the subjects of algorithmic art, conceptual art, the question of is computer art art, and an explanation of my methodologies and the programming tools that I used to create the various programs. In fact a reasonable part of my presentation could be considered as a sales pitch for the field of computer art. My presentation was followed by the "show" – which involved running a number of different programs I had written to convert sound into art and letting the audience have their way with the microphone. Several of the artworks we created can be seen at A Gallery of Live Art Created at the Capricon Science Fiction Convention. The point that I sought to drive home was that while the sounds being generated by the audience were largely the same, the way in which they were interpreted visually varied tremendously based on the algorithm being used to translate the sound waves into visual imagery. For information about Live Art and my other presentations, see my Art Lectures page.

The Art of Space Exploration

Saturday morning I gave my The Art of Space Exploration presentation which provides an overview of the history of space art – beginning with early astronomical art and concluding with a discussion of space art from an artist’s business perspective. I included a couple of my own works in the presentation, including Shattered Dreams, a piece that I created as political commentary on the cancellation of NASA’s planned return of humans to the Moon and which was the cover art for the 2010 International Space Development Conference Program Book.

Capricon Odds and Ends

The rest of the weekend was spent either in conversation in the halls or over food, or attending panels on a variety of subjects. Unfortunately for me, the three programs I most wanted to see at the convention were scheduled in the same time slots as when I was speaking. My surprise meet-up of the convention was with fellow space artist John Kaufmann. This was the first time I had met John face to face – our previous meetings were of the virtual variety. John had some great astronomical art in the convention’s art show. We had a wonderful time talking shop and otherwise. Dinner Saturday consisted of an outing to a local mexican restaurant with Tullio Proni, maker of ray guns and other fine energy weapons; Bill Higgins, a beam jockey at Fermi Lab; and Nora. The other convention highlight was attending the Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog which indeed lived up to its name. In short, I had a fine, fun time at the con.

The Illustration

To illustrate this blog post, I combined two of the artworks created during the Live Art program in Photoshop and performed some additional image manipulation on them to create an abstract landscape. I also use this piece to illustrate A Gallery of Live Art Created at the Capricon Science Fiction Convention.

Referenced Links

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The New NSS Space Art Gallery

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Shattered Dreams digital painting
Shattered Dreams digital painting snippet

On Wednesday, I flipped the switch and the National Space Society’s Space Art Gallery went live. Creating the NSS Space Art Gallery has allowed me to combine two of my loves: art and space exploration. I was actually drawn to art because of space art. As a child I found the paintings of astronauts exploring distant worlds enthralling. Later I became a member of the National Space Institute (now the National Space Society) because of their work on promoting the human exploration and development of space.

Being a director of the NSS, as well as the chair of the NSS Web Oversight Committee, put me in the unique position to address what I saw as a problem. While there are a number of web sites that focus on astronomical art, their really is no central hub for art that focuses on the human exploration of the solar system. There are several NASA sites that feature space art but they are limited to art created in the past to document previous space missions and what little future looking art there is is tied to specific NASA programs.

My first undertaking to address this issue was in response to a request to chair a NSS committee whose job it would be to create a space calendar. Rather than relying on stock NASA space art, I turned the task of illustrating the calendar into a space art contest. Thus was born the NSS’ first Space Settlement Art Contest.

Subsequent to that experience I proposed that the NSS create an open space art gallery to which artists could apply for exhibition. I saw this as being a win-win situation for all concerned. The NSS would benefit by having a new source of content for the web site and by showing our support for space art and artists by providing this free service. The artists would benefit from the exposure they receive since the NSS web site has a very high page rank and traffic rank. And of course lovers of space art will benefit by having a central source of space art that they can visit.

To get the space art gallery up and running, I contacted a few of my space artist friends and asked if they would like to participate. Much to my delight they all agreed. The founding artists of the NSS Space Art Gallery are Frank Hettick, Walter Myers, David Robinson, and myself. In fact, David Robinson allowed NSS to use one of his works as the background image for the 2010 International Space Development Conference. for which I am the web master. In fact being the web master for the 2010 ISDC is one reason why I have not been more active of late in posting new material to my own web site and blog.

So please check out the new National Space Society Space Art Gallery. While the gallery currently has just 20 works of space art, I am hoping that as more artist’s join, this gallery will grow to become the web’s most significant collection of space art.

The Illustration Shattered Dreams

Just what is that a picture of? Well, it is a very small fragment of a digital painting titled Shattered Dreams. I created this work of digital art to serve as the cover art for the 2010 International Space Development Conference Program Book. I was inspired to create this art as a consequence of a debate I was having with another National Space Society director over the new Obama space policy. Yes, it is true that you never know where inspiration will come from. I am also donating one of the ten limited edition prints to the NSS space memorabilia auction that will be held at the ISDC. I will not reveal the full painting until the start of the ISDC so you’ll just have to check back here in a couple weeks to find out what it looks like – that or attend the ISDC.

Ad Astra, Jim

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