AstronomyDigital ArtDrawingIllustration

Illustrated Anatomy: Third Edition

We’re sticking close to home with today’s edition of Illustrated Anatomy and telling the story of a new tattoo on my arm, designed by my fellow contributor Brian G!

As I was falling asleep one foggy San Francisco night last July, I was thinking about a particularly inspirational quote from Carl Sagan (the guy was full of them):

Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

And I was struck with an idea for a tattoo that would be a rather literal interpretation of “We are made of star stuff.” I had a really clear image in my head of what it should look like, but drawing is not my strong suit. Thankfully, I am friends with many talented draw-ers! And so I reached out to Brian to help turn my idea into reality, because I’m a huge fan of his pencil-work.

*star wipe*

Hey gang. Brian here, intruding on Anne’s post to elaborate on the design process.

When Anne first approached me about designing something that would be permanently inked into her skin, I was quite honored. I’ve designed a couple of tattoos before and it’s always a bit nerve-wracking. But Anne knew exactly what she wanted, which made it much easier. I made a sketch using an image of Arp 273 – a group of galaxies. Anne wanted it to look like her skin was torn and pulled back, revealing the galaxy inside of her, [theremin] inside all of us [/theremin]. The trick was to make it look like paper being peeled back rather than skin. I went ahead and played with a few versions of paper being rolled back, torn back and so on until we settled on the paper below.

Following this was a dark period. I wanted everything to have a nice painterly look, but with good detail. I tried watercolor, then oil. Nothing was doing it for me. I have discarded or painted over all evidence of that garbage (and believe me, it was garbage.)

I realized what was bothering me and shared my thoughts with Anne: “I do a painting from a stunning photograph, which will lose something in the translation. Then the tattoo artist makes a tattoo from my not-as-stunning-as-the-photograph painting. Too many layers of translation. This should look REALLY GREAT. Therefore, I’ve used photography and Photoshop to get this to look right, so it will be PERFECT.
My thinking on this was also influenced by the fact that the watercolor version looked like crappity crap.”

After coming to that conclusion, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I did a fully digital version and then rendered the folded paper using pencil so it would have a drawn-on look, as Anne wanted. The progression is pictured below.

Seriously, I left out the garbage ones I made. They don't exist anymore
Seriously, I left out the garbage ones I made. They don’t exist anymore.

After I took a step back, I was really happy with how it turned out and I couldn’t wait to see the execution of the tattoo.
I now return you to Anne.

*star wipe*

Brian did an amazing job of helping me get my idea out of my head and onto paper–thank you again, Brian! After he completed the illustration, I put off getting the actual tattoo for awhile. I wanted to make sure I found the right artist, someone who could achieve the tromp l’oeil effect of the torn skin, but also do the galaxy and stars justice. I ended up making an appointment with Jared Bent, an artist at a tattoo shop mere blocks from my apartment (there are literally five tattoo parlors within a four-block radius of my home) whose portfolio demonstrated incredible detail in pieces based on photographs, experience with white ink, and a pretty realistic Iron Man heart. The session lasted about two-and-a-half pretty painful hours, and I’m really pleased with the result:

tattoo panorama

It’s larger than I originally envisioned, and the effect doesn’t work quite as well since it has to wrap around, but I’m incredibly happy with it! The white ink really makes the stars pop. It’s a great conversation piece, too.

One of my favorite things about the tattoo is how the colors turned out. It was important to me that the design be in color and reminiscent of the beautiful space photographs you can find around the web. Images like those at the previous link are actually fined-tuned and colored by scientists based on data collected and measured by telescopes and related tools. A recent PBS Off Book episode looks at the preparation of these images (jump to 1:53 for an explanation from Hubble Image Processor Zolt Levay):

“It’s both a scientific and a technical process as well as a creative process.” -Zolt Levay

The data that allows image processors like Zolt (such a great name, btw) to interpret and color these photographs is the temperatures of the objects in question. This great post from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait reminds us that “color is just another word for wavelength” and that shorter wavelengths appear to us as blue and longer ones as red.

Anne S

Anne Sauer is an atheist with an appetite for science, good food, and making connections between the two. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her favorite foods are salted caramel ice cream and chicken tikka masala. You can find her on twitter @aynsavoy.

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