Today’s experience attending the James Webb Space Telescope artist event at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD was incredible! 23 artists from different disciplines and parts of the country were selected from those who applied. There were artists creating in all different media, including painting of many different styles, printmaking, jewelry, sumi-e, and even poetry and songwriting. Some folks from the “How Stuff Works” network were also present (I recognized Holy Frye of the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast by her voice alone! What an unexpected fun meeting.) We had a few hours in the observatory overlooking the clean room where the James Webb Space Telescope currently resides to create art from life and take notes and photos. The time from the call for entries to the selection and the actual event was quite short, because NASA’s social media team didn’t know for sure until the last minute when there would be a day where the mirror of the telescope would be in the upright position and easily visible.
We also heard from a few different scientists who are working on the project. James Webb will be the successor to the Hubble telescope. It is larger and more powerful. Because of the time it takes light to travel through space, James Webb will actually be able to look “back in time” and see the moments right after the big bang, which we have never been able to do before. The main mirror on the telescope is made up of gold-plated beryllium panels, which are light and strong. It is designed to fold up like origami for its trip into space in 2018. You can read more about the James Webb Space Telescope on NASA’s site.
I was able to create a “plein air” painting from life of JWST in about two hours. It’s a 22″ x 15″ watercolor painting. Capturing the hexagonal mirror sections and the subtle parabolic shape of the mirror, as well as a sense of the scale of the telescope, was a challenge. It was also rather emotional being able to paint something that is such a huge technological feat, and which will show us things we’ve never seen before. As one of the scientists put it, JWST will “answer questions we have not yet thought to ask.”
I’ve decided to make my painting available to freely share and publish under a Creative Commons license with attribution. I have a high resolution copy available upon request for print publication. I am also selling signed prints of my painting through my Etsy shop.
It was also possible to take a “selfie” IN the mirror of the JWST from the observatory! At the end of the event, many staff members were lined up to do so, since the mirror being in the upright position is a special occasion.