Astronaut-Turned-Artist Nicole Stott Shares View from Space in Paintings
Yahoo UK news feature by R Pearlman:
<<Nicole Stott would really like it if she could find her paint kit.
A small watercolor set no bigger than a deck of cards, she knows the general location of where she last left it, she just can no longer go there to look for it.
"I did not think about bringing my little watercolor set home with me," Stott admitted in a recent interview. "I left it there thinking other people might want to paint..."
"...in space," she quickly adds. [Alien Life, Landscapes and the Art of Space (Gallery)]
Stott, a former NASA astronaut who was the first person to paint what she saw out the window while still in space, left her pallet aboard the International Space Station when she lived there for 90 days in 2009. She revisited the orbiting outpost two years later as a crewmember on the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery, but didn't have the chance to look for it.
"I knew on STS-133 I would not have the time to paint and similarly, I did not think to grab the paint kit while I was up there again," she explained.
Stott has had some of her astronaut friends try to look for the watercolors during their own expeditions since then, but they have come back empty handed.
The paint set, at least for now, is lost in space.
Fortunately for Stott, and her growing audience of patrons and admirers, there are more and better paints on Earth, which she uses to share the brilliance of what she saw while orbiting the planet.
A wave of beauty
"Every picture you take from the space station looks like it is in a haze," Stott observed. "So you have to do this auto-color, auto-correct [digital manipulation] to get any type of clarity out of it and it still doesn't get it."
"It still doesn't get what your eyes see through the window — this glowing, colorful living planet, it just doesn't get that," she said.
Artistically-inclined since childhood ("my mom calls me the 'artsy-crafty' one in the family"), Stott was inspired to take the watercolor set to space after the crew support staff at NASA asked her to think about what she would like to do during her limited free time on the station.
"I thought it would be kind of cool to paint in space," she recalled. "At that time, I did not know that no one else had painted in space."
Once in orbit, Stott reviewed the photos she took each day and identified what she considered to be the most beautiful place on the planet below.
"This one place, Isla Los Roques, is just this tiny chain of islands, located just east of Bonaire on the northern coast of Venezuela. When you look at it from space, it looks like a wave was just drawn on the surface of the ocean. It is just the way the little island chain is. It kept standing out to me as the one that I should paint." [Do Science and Art Share a Source? - Café Panel Chat]
Capturing the moment
Having chosen "the wave" as her scene, Stott then needed to figure out how to capture it.
"There was no way you could sit in front of the window and paint it," she explained. "It would be gone before you had the chance to get the water out of the drink bag."
Travelling around the Earth at 17,500 mph (28,000 kph), any spot on the planet below was only out the window for a minute or so at most. To capture the view, Stott took a photo of the islands and then printed it out on a scrap piece of paper.
"I still have that too, the little printout that I did on this torn sheet of paper, and used that as a guide for painting," she said.
Like any watercolors, the solid paints only become active when made wet, which presented another challenge in the microgravity environment of space. Liquids, like everything else, have a tendency to float away.
"What I would do is squeeze just the tiniest little sphere of water out of a drink bag and then shove the brush into that so that it would wick into the brush. I'd then quickly cap the bag off," Stott described.
"You just had to be careful you were not squirting water all over the place, or swinging your brush around," she said. "The water kind of wicked to the paper, too. It was a nice flow and worked out really easily."
From astronaut to artist
Stott returned from her first spaceflight with that one small painting, a blue and green watercolor of Isla Los Roques.
"It's not like a masterpiece or anything, but I think, in some ways, it portrays what I saw out the window," she said.>>
Nicole Stott with her original photo and watercolor painting as she created aboard the space station in 2009. Six years later, Stott left NASA to become a full-time artist. Image courtesy: NASA, the artist.