Mixing Science and Artwork, One Portray at a Time

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Mixing Science and Art, One Painting at a Time

Laci Shea Brock has had to be creative and inventive all her life. So it may not come as a surprise that not only is she doing a PhD in planetary science and astrophysics, but she's also a talented artist.

"My father says I always had a brush in hand," said Brock, "and I was always inspired by space and nature.


Laci Shea Brock with a job in progress. Via Twitter.

However, sharing her art is a relatively new endeavor for Brock. While working on her first Masters Degree in Science Education, she realized the importance of science communication and public relations, as well as how much she enjoys sharing her love for science.

"One of the nice things about science is that it can benefit everyone in society," she said.

Brock shares her unique artwork on her Instagram page with insights and videos on the science behind her art, various insights into work in progress, and tips on some of the skills she has learned.

Four paintings of Jupiter from top right: watercolors, acrylics, spray paint, oils. Photo credit: Laci Shea Brock.

"Originally, I wanted to hide behind my art and not show my face," she said. “But art and science – with a dash of birds, dinosaurs and landscapes – make up who I am. It seems wrong not to assume that. "

Your biggest advice? She wrote on Instagram, "MISSING. LOTS of color, experiment, develop your own techniques, make mistakes and learn from them."

Brock has always had an interesting outlook on life and art. She grew up in a rural area of ​​Indiana, which inspired her love of nature – and she was particularly fascinated by clouds and the wonders of the dark, starry sky. She chased storms for a while as a spotter for the National Weather Service, but kept coming back to her little telescope to observe distant wonders, including Comet Hale-Bopp as a child. Part of her nontraditional upbringing was watching Bob Ross on television and learning to paint by trial and error.

Now she combines different types of media in unconventional ways, such as combining spray paint with acrylics or watercolors and ink, while using a variety of surfaces such as wood, poster board, canvases and different types of paper.

"I don't think I have my own artistic style," she said. "I like to experiment and challenge myself, so I always try something different."

While she loves oils and watercolors, her new favorite medium is digital art.

You will likely recognize the famous Pillars of Creation on the Hubble Space Telescope. But this is actually a Brock digital painting created with an Apple Pencil on an iPad using an art program called Procreate. If you look closely you can see subtle differences, but it's an amazing replica that will allow you to admire this work of art and better appreciate the real pillars of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula.

"To be honest, I was surprised myself at how realistic it was," said Brock, "mainly because I only use the digital medium to paint for a few months. To me it feels like having a brush in hand and would move the color. "

Brock took a detour into astronomy and didn't start college until he was 21. She initially studied atmospheric science, but when she learned that there was something called "planetary science" in which to study the atmospheres of other worlds, she majored in interdisciplinary physics.

She had to get her own degree in planetary science and astrophysics to study exactly what she wanted, since it didn't yet exist at Purdue University. She did research with the well-known geophysicist Jay Melosh (who recently passed away), who specializes in impact cratering. Melosh inspired Brock to continue studying planetary science and astrophysics. After graduating from Purdue University with a bachelor's degree, she attended Northern Arizona University and earned a master's degree in applied physics with a major in planetary science.

Watercolor painting of Monument Valley at sunset by Laci Shea Brock.

She studied science education and conducted an interdisciplinary research project that included dinosaurs, geological time, and travel through space, linking time on earth with time in the universe

After a car accident in 2014, Brock was unable to walk for 6 months. While continuing her studies from home, she discovered a new passion for bird watching – and various species of birds now grace her art. She has identified over 300 species that are helping conservation efforts assess the effects of climate change on bird migration.

Image courtesy Laci Shea Brock.

Now she is working on an unusual hybrid degree in planetary science as well as research in science education at the University of Arizona.

"Sometimes your path doesn't work the way you expect it to, or you change your mind along the way," Brock said. "I keep trying to remind myself that it's okay. By the time I finish my PhD next year, I'll have another decision to make about what to do with my life."

What does she see as her “perfect” job / career in the exchange of astronomy and planetary science?

"I think I have to do it," she said. “I've created almost everything else and since I've taken an unconventional path I think I'll have an unconventional career. But whatever I do, my art will always be a big part of it. I thought I had to decide between science and art, but now I know I can do both. "

Laci on Instagram, Twitter

Mission statement: Oil painting of Jupiter by Laci Shea Brock. See it here on Instagram.

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