Saturday, December 15, 2012

Double Arch III

1.83 Double Arch III. I took a really long time deciding how many stars to show in this painting. I had spent a really long time creating the gradient sky on the 30x40 canvas and didn't want the stars to dominate and obscure the effect. So I pulled out my star chart and searched for a good section of the sky to place behind the arch. This view would be looking west so I had to choose constellations that would realistically appear in this part of the sky. Seeing that the geminid meteor shower was coming up I chose to put Gemini in the largest portion of the sky. 
With my constellation subjects chosen, I now had to decide how which stars to paint. It would be easy to pick and choose the stars with the best placement for balance and accent however one problem arises. I will illustrate this problem with a critique of the book "The Stars" by H. A. Rey, author of the Curious George books. It is a charmingly written and illustrated guide to learning the constellations for children. What he did was to re-draw the stick figures that the constellations were supposed to form, connecting different stars to form new pictures. The goal of these "new style"constellations was to present a figure that more accurately represented what the constellation was supposed to be. Ursa Major was rendered as a seated bear with a saddle on her back rather than the trotting bear with the ridiculously long tail that we all know. 
At first glance this seems brilliant, these figures are much more easily recognizable than the ones that we're usually taught. The problem is that these new figures make use of stars of apparent magnitudes up to 6 (with lower numbers being brighter). This means that someone would only see these stars in the darkest of skies, far from city lights. Furthermore if you were under a sky clear enough and dark enough to see these stars you would also be able to see the thousands more of that same magnitude that would be peppered throughout the constellation making it almost impossible to pick out the stars that make up the constellation stick figure.
This second issue is what troubled me as I was deciding what to paint. Realistically, if I were to choose a star with an apparent magnitude of 5, the viewer should also be able to see every other magnitude 5 star in the field of view of the painting. So I decided to limit the visible magnitude for the sake of relieving clutter in the painting. The sky you see here would be what you'd expect in Downtown Raleigh, not the Utah desert. 
This whole conversation is really pointless and persnickety but the sky is my favorite part of this painting. The actual arch did not live up to my excited expectations after my work on the sky. The arch is moonlit and I painted it twice, changing where the light was coming from. I enjoy these night scenes though, so I'll have to try again.

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