Friday, December 3, 2010

Deconstructing the "Astronomer"

For this post I'm going to look back at a previous painting, Alien Menagerie 004 • 天文学者 (Astronomer).

I wanted the astronomer to feature a cratered, lunar surface and an airless sky. Astronomer would be floating near weightless in the middle of the box. I went through various sketches I'd made over time, and found this one. It had a character I liked, and was the basis for the Astronomer.

These sketches outline most of the idea.
None of them have everything in place, but each of them contributed something to the composition of the final piece.

In preparation, I collected together reference photos. For inspiration, I pulled images of antique astronomical devices from the internet, principally telescopes, and armillary spheres.

I photographed the observatory at the New York Hall of Science Museum in queens NY. It's on one of the few remaining structures from the 1964 world's fair in Flushing Meadows Park. There's a lot of similarity from one observatory dome to another, but I liked using this particular one, modest as it is.

I also went to the internet for for photos of 1960's era control panels. Apollo mission control panels were what I was most interested in, but I found features I liked in photos of F-4 control panels as well. Then it was off to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City New York.They have the original Lunar Module, which was intended for the Apollo 18 mission to Copernicus Crater in 1973. More to the point, they have plenty of control panels with the sort of knobs and switches I was interested in photographing as reference.

The next step was a color study, and refinement of the idea in photoshop. It's an incredible advantage of digital medial that you can paint and revise an image rapidly. Mapping the star chart to the inner walls of the box for reference is a huge advantage as well I must say! All this would get painted later, but I really want to solve most of the drafting, composition, and color decisions in advance.

The previous three alien menagerie paintings all featured cyclopean individuals. I was concerned about painting yet another single eyed alien enough to have a look at a version with a few more eyes. Conceptually it worked fine for me and could be justifiable, but I wasn't sure about this one. I printed out 2 versions and hung them on the wall for a while. I surveyed the family. In the end, the singularity of just one eye to look through the telescope was more powerful. It seemed it was the correct decision for this piece after all.

Above is the final digital study. From this I would make a final pencil drawing on drafting vellum. I transfer it to a gessoed birch plywood panel with graphite paper.

While I like going into a painting pretty well prepared, with most of the important decisions made in advance, it doesn't preclude making changes.
I submitted the painting in progress, to some friends looking for critical feedback. It was pointed out that the head appeared to be balanced on the neck, as if it could easily roll off. Realistic, credible, alien anatomy, is not what I'm pursuing in these paintings, but as a matter of design, I knew the neck had to be fixed.

At one point I textured the control panel and facade of the box. While I liked that it gave the surface some detailing, I decided it was better to stay true to a flat gray painted metal that was characteristic of the Apollo control panels.

Time willing, I could do a several "Astronomers". I'd make a series of them, much in the spirit of Joseph Cornell's "Observatories". His work in general is one of the many influences that affect and inspire me.

Probably each would have to incorporate a star chart, maybe an observatory, and an antenna tower. Star charts and observatories have their place for pretty obvious narrative reasons. Antenna towers I find visually appealing, but it also implies a communication network. Would all the various astronomers be in communication with each other? Perhaps, but while I seek to construct a narrative (of sorts), I also prefer that it not be entirely explicit.

the original moleskin sketch was the source for this painting ~ alien menagerie extract 6