Sunday, April 7, 2019

Stellar Paintings

After almost two months of work, I'm finally done with my series of star paintings! Hopefully it'll have been worth the wait. Without further ado, here's a picture of all seven stars lined up next to each other so you can see how the sizes compare:

As I've mentioned before, these seven paintings represent stars on the main sequence in the seven spectral classes used by astronomers. From left to right, the classes are O, B, A, F, G, K, and M. Masses (and thus radii, luminosities, and temperatures) decrease from left to right, though not smoothly; there's much more change between O and B than between G and K, for instance. It helps to keep in mind that stars fall on a whole continuum both within the representative members of each (ultimately arbitrary) class I've depicted here and outside the end points.

After being worried about how to capture the light-reflecting properties of the paint and glass beads on the canvas, I discovered (after a suggestion from a fellow student) that it was as simple as turning the flash on my camera on. As a result, enjoy a close-up photo of each star below, plus some musings on each one:

The O-type star; canvas, 60×60 cm.
Ah, the O-type star. Larger than all the rest put together, the first star I started and the last I finished, I've probably spent more time working on it than on all the rest put together as well. I learned a lot from this huge star. When I first started on this one it was much too blue, as I discovered after I'd started painting the B-type. I spent an evening trying to paint over as much of the blue as I could with white or various shades of purple, and serendipitously created the snaky white lines that you can see around the edges, which really help give it a feeling of three-dimensionality and depth. (They're present in the interior as well, but the reflections drown them out.)

This is probably the most visually impressive of the stars, partly by dint of its sheer size (it's half a meter in diameter), but also because of the large number of glass beads (in two different sizes) scattered across it that reflect a lot of light from certain angles and give it a real dynamism as you shift your point of view. Right up until this week when I finished it it had always had much tamer “wisps” around the outside, but I'm glad I went a little more aggressive with them in the end.

The B-type; canvas, 40×40 cm.
For quite a long time after I made the video of its creation, I was totally happy with this star. I didn't go back to revise it for several weeks, and ultimately only did so after I'd realized just how much things like glass beads and texture could add to a painting. Like its big brother the O-type, it too had much tamer wispiness right up until I was signing it, when I added some more randomness to the exterior edge which I think really improved it.

I tend to think of the B- and O-type stars as a group, since they're on differently-sized canvasses from the others, and are large enough that I used larger glass beads in addition to the small ones that I used on all the others. If I had to say, I think this canvas size is just about perfect for painting a star: it's a happy medium between between being so big that it takes a really long time to work on and being so small that it's hard to work in much detail.

The A-type; canvas, 10×10 cm.
Nearly bursting the bounds of its little 10×10 cm canvas, if I'd been able to put the A-type on a 20×20 cm one I would have, but I couldn't find any in the store while I was getting canvasses for the project. (There were plenty on sale when I checked this week, go figure.) I've had to wrap some of its coronal extensions around the edge of the canvas a bit, but at least it does fit.

It's interesting how our perceptions of color and temperature run counter to the physics of such, as this star probably feels the coolest out of all of them; I've had people tell me it feels “icy” with that light blue, and I can totally see where they're coming from. For a while this was probably the most boring star as I initially wanted it to be almost pure white, but I realized color was a good way to differentiate it from the F-type so I added a bit more blue. (Artistically, I meant the A- and F-types to both be very close to white, but for the A-type to have a bluish cast and F-type a yellowish one.)

The F-type; canvas, 10×10 cm.
Much like the A-type this one was a bit boring at first, as I was afraid adding too much yellow to it would make it too indistinguishable from its neighboring G-type. I eventually came around, though it still has a very pronounced white cast to it in the center; this is due to a glaze of iridescent white I put over it after I'd added the glass beads. At this point in the mass progression I'd decided to start adding more flares and activity around the edges as the star masses decreased, which you can see here.

Interestingly, I think this is the only star in the series where I used ceramic stucco texture gel; I only got some and started using it after I'd started painting the A-type, and I don't think I went back and added any, while for the remaining stars I used resin sand texture gel instead to make their surfaces more clumpy. I really enjoyed the feel of the ceramic stucco while painting with it, however, and I'm itching to use it in a future project somewhere.

The G-type; canvas, 10×10 cm.
Ah, the G-type; at last, our own Solar class. Besides that there's not a whole lot to say about it, actually; it's more orange than the F-type and less orange than the K-type, and it's got an intermediate amount of activity around the edges. Though as we move away from the A/F whiteness the glass beads start to do an amazing job of not just reflecting white light, but also refracting colored light. This is also the first star I experimented with using resin sand texture gel, and thought the texture it added looked good enough to extend it to the remaining low-mass stars.

This star does have a claim to importance in that its size was the starting point for scaling all the other stars. When picking a size I had to consider that I wanted the large end of the range to be small enough to fit on canvas I had available and the small end to be large enough to be interesting and hold at least some detail. And since I couldn't find 20×20 cm canvases, and a 40×40 cm would've been overkill, the A-type also had to fit on a 10×10 cm one. Luckily, it worked out pretty nicely by making the G-type 5 cm across and scaling everything based on that.

The K-type; canvas, 10×10 cm.
The K-type may be my personal favorite in terms of its color; though it's not the color itself so much (though I do enjoy a good orange!) as how it came out. I experimented with putting an orange glaze over the entire star in the course of working out how it should look; it came out beautifully, and as a result the entire star seems to glow and pulse with an inner fire.

Beyond that I don't have a lot to say about this one either. Here you can really start to see how the glass beads are reflecting a light tinged by the colors around them, though (an effect that looks even better in person).

The M-type; canvas, 10×10 cm.
And finally, the M-type, the red dwarf. Despite being the smallest, faintest, and coolest stars, M-dwarfs are known to produce powerful flares many times more powerful than the worst our Sun can throw at us. (I wrote an article for Astrobites a year ago about a powerful flare from Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor.) As such I decided I wanted to go all-out with its flares and activity, and ended up trying to depict one in the very act of a flare erupting, as the magnetic field lines snap and spew hot plasma out into space. (The flare's so large it ended up wrapping around the top of the canvas!)

I painted these stars roughly in the order I've gone through them (barring some returning to work on the O-type occasionally), but by the time I'd gotten to this one I'd learned so much along the way that I turned around and started working my way back up the series making improvements as I went. This star was actually the first one I tried putting the glass beads on; when I caught my first glimpse of how they looked, while the gel was still wet from only an hour or so of drying, I was so taken with the sight that I immediately added them to the rest of the small stars. I still remember going home that night feeling incredibly excited to see how they had turned out, and when I saw them the next day I was not disappointed.

And there we have it! I've had an immense amount of fun working on this series, and it's been an amazing learning experience. I've picked up or been able to practice a lot of techniques which will doubtless serve me well in future, and I've come to dimly grasp the true power of acrylic paint: its unmatched versatility of form. I'm not quite done with these painting just yet, though, as I took a number of photos of them over the past two months and plan on sharing some of these to give you a sense of how they developed over time. (And where hopefully you'll agree with me that they look much better now than they did at any of the multiple points people told me they thought they looked good enough already.) That's for a later post, however! A hui hou!

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