Painting takes skill on this planet, but can you imagine how hard it would be to do in the zero-gravity environment of a spaceship?
Astronaut, artist and author Nicole Stott did imagine doing it — and made the first watercolor in space.
The painting, called “The Wave,” was inspired by a photo Stott took of Los Roques, an archipelago off the coast of Venezuela, while she was on the International Space Station in 2009.
That work and other paintings and jewelry Stott made will be on display in “Space for Art” at Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass in Safety Harbor. Stott will be at the gallery to give a lecture and sign books at an opening reception on Aug. 25.
The exhibition also includes artwork from other NASA astronauts, photography from the Apollo Missions and two art-adorned spacesuits from Stott’s Space for Art Foundation. Proceeds from work sold will benefit the foundation.
Stott grew up in Clearwater and now lives in St. Petersburg. She retired from NASA in 2015 after 27 years. She was an engineer before she entered the astronaut program in 2000. Stott made two spaceflights and spent 104 days as a crewmember on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. She performed a 6½-hour spacewalk and was the 10th woman to do so.
She is also a NASA aquanaut, having spent 18 days training on a saturation dive mission at the Aquarius undersea laboratory — which was about the size of a school bus and was 62 feet underwater.
Growing up, Stott liked to make things including macrame, pottery and paintings, but never had any formal art training. When it was time for her first mission to the International Space Station, a colleague told her she should bring items to work with during her free time. Her watercolor kit was an easy and nontoxic solution.
Without gravity, painting was a completely different experience.
“You can’t dip your brush into a cup of water, you have like a floating ball of water,” she said. “The way the water would kind of float around the end of the brush, that was totally different ... and how careful you had to be to kind of transport that ball at the end of the brush down to the paper to push it around and then pull a colored ball of water off of that.”
She began working on her painting “The Wave” later in the mission using a photo — because when you’re traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, scenery goes by pretty fast.
“It’s definitely a personal highlight for me,” she said. The painting was collected by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum but is on loan for the Safety Harbor exhibition.
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Another painting, “Night Launch 128,″ is based on a photo of Stott taken while she was on the spacewalk — an experience she described as the “surreal-est.” Despite having a partner on the other side of the station, it was the closest she ever felt to being completely alone. It felt as if time stood still during the walk, she said, but when it was over, it felt like a blur.
Back on Earth, Stott has been embarking on another mission through the Space for Art Foundation she co-founded in 2018: uniting a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art.
After retiring, Stott wanted to use art as a way to engage with people and instill the values of the space station mission. Her projects have expanded to hospitals, refugee camps and orphanages across the world.
She worked with Ian Cion, the director of a pediatric art and medicine program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas in Houston. Cion had worked on previous projects that incorporated patients’ artworks into large-scale community projects. The idea to create spacesuits adorned with space-themed artworks made by the patients was hatched.
Stott said the experience of painting with kids has been humbling. She noticed that while painting, they sat up straighter and talked about their futures, lifted from their situations.
“If the inspiration is space exploration and allowing these kids to create based on that inspiration can get them feeling better, give their family some relief while their kids are feeling better, then I just found my next mission in life,” she said.
What to know before you go to “Space for Art”
It runs Aug. 25-Sept. 9. Stott will be at the opening reception from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25. Free. Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass. 247 Main Street, Safety Harbor. 727-725-1808. sydentelgalleries.com.