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Looking Up! Inspires Artistic Exploration of the Night Sky

Guest post by IDA member, Jim Altenstadter

 One year ago, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the International Dark-Sky Association in Snowbird, Utah. I was captivated by the many presentations featuring photographic images of natural starlight juxtaposed against backdrops of dark skies, especially those of the Milky Way. I came home eager to paint what I remembered of those indelible images.

I was curious if I could capture the spirit of those photographic dark-skyscapes in acrylics and oils. And, I wondered, if successful, might the painting techniques be suitable as an adjunct activity at nocturnal star parties or as an educational outreach in which school children could participate.

These curiosities led to a series of eighteen “Looking Up!” studio explorations. Most of the quickly done pieces were completed over the next three weeks while the impressions of those inspiring photographic images were still fresh in my mind. My intention was to capture the “felt” impressions of the photographic images as I remembered them – and not so much whether the results “looked” realistic.

In sixteen of these studies, I employed acrylic paints, including iridescent, interference, and metallic paints (as well as pencil and glitter). Ample amounts of acrylic pastes and gels (as well as sand and pebbles) were applied with painting knives and rollers to create surface textures in the landforms. The fast-drying acrylics allowed the application of multiple washes and glazes. Splattering paint droplets off a toothbrush populated the starry skies. All but one of the pieces were painted on heavyweight watercolor paper and mounted on cradled artboards. Two of the studies were done with oils on canvas using similar methods.

All of the completed “Looking Up!” paintings have been donated to the International Dark-Sky Association and will be available for sale at the 2019 Annual General Meeting and Conference in Tucson, Arizona November November 8th and 9th. 

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