RoundupReads It Got Sketchy: Artists Draw Inspiration from NASA Johnson

It Got Sketchy: Artists Draw Inspiration from NASA Johnson

by Andrea Dunn | 2023-09-11

Some people see the arts and sciences as night and day. Science uses facts and reason to understand the universe, while the arts express emotions and different perspectives. But at NASA, there is a rich visual history that brings the distant universe closer to us. And that’s what members of the Houston chapter of the Urban Sketchers discovered when they arrived at NASA Johnson Space Center this August with anticipation and wonder.

                            Man sitting and sketching at NASA  Man sketching at NASA  An artist sketches at NASA


Throughout their visit, the artists sat in silence, their gazes fixed upon the mockups, mission patches, spacesuits, and the very building that houses the dreams of space exploration - the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Each artist absorbed the details, textures, and stories embedded within these remarkable objects, sparking their creative minds.

Given two hours to sketch or paint, the artists dispersed throughout the facility, each finding their own corner of inspiration. Armed with sketchbooks and tablets, they skillfully captured the essence of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility with their chosen medium. The artists' dedication and passion were evident as they meticulously crafted their artwork, each stroke reflecting their unique perspective and artistic style.

After the creative session, the artists gathered in a circle, forming a sacred space for artistic exchange. They laid their sketchbooks and tablets on the ground within the circle, creating a vibrant tapestry of artistic expression. One by one, they took turns discussing their artwork, sharing the stories behind their creations, the inspiration that fueled their imagination, and the mediums they employed to bring their visions to life. This "throw down" session fostered a sense of camaraderie and mutual appreciation, as artists celebrated each other's talents and shared their artistic journeys.

                                         A group of sketches laying on the ground  People standing in a circle looking at sketches on the ground

“I like to think of it as throwing down your weapons of mass creation,” shares Peggy Engels who joined the Houston chapter in 2015. “It’s cool to see the big picture of what everyone was doing during our sketching time. It encourages the potential trajectory of your own creativity.”

“It offers artists a unique opportunity to see each other’s impression of the same place at the same time. No interpretation is the same,” adds Judith Dollar, who helps head up the Houston chapter. 

This visit to Johnson was a testament to the power of art and its ability to bridge the gap between science and creativity. Through their silent observations and artistic interpretations, these talented individuals captured the spirit of space exploration, immortalizing it on paper and digital canvases.

Formed nearly 10 years ago, the Houston chapter has been a haven for artists seeking to connect, learn, and create together. It embodies the vision of Urban Sketchers founder Gabriel Campanario, who created the first chapter in Seattle in 2007 with the goal of building a global online forum “for all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit, from the window of their homes, from a cafe, at a park, standing by a street corner… always on location, not from photos or memory.”

                            Man sketching at NASA  Man sketching at NASA  People sketching spacesuits at NASA

What sets this group apart is its inclusive nature, as anyone can join without the need for forms, fees, or other requirements. By simply following them on social media and joining the meetups posted on their accounts, individuals can become part of this vibrant artistic community. This accessibility extends to all chapters globally, fostering a sense of unity and collaboration among artists worldwide.

Dollar notes that they try to make each meetup free so anyone can attend. They also schedule meetups on various days so that more people can join.

“Every time we meet you see a few old friends and make a bunch of new ones,” says Engels. “Being with this group helps you get over your fear of sketching in public, especially in this day and age when we’ve been so isolated for so long. You can do your own thing yet be with a group of people.”

The Urban Sketchers continue to inspire and welcome artists of all backgrounds, inviting them to join their creative endeavors, raising the artistic value of on-location drawing, and connecting people worldwide who draw where they live and travel.


                                       Two women sketch at NASA    Two artists sketch at NASA  A group of artists pose with their sketches

See the Urban Sketchers website for more information.

Check out the artists' creations below.