The Intersection of Science, Art, and Taxes (by Eileen Doughty)

Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland

Would it take much to adapt this photograph to abstract art? (The source URL is which has a labeled version of this image and explanatory text)

NASA trains astronauts to take pictures from Earth orbit — man-made landmarks, unusual geology, spouting volcanoes, forest fires, towering storm clouds… Surely the astronauts must take some care to compose the photograph in an artistic sense also. Other images come from Earth-monitoring satellites. Some images have the colors enhanced, or may be taken in infrared wavelengths, in order to emphasize certain features.

Below are some images that have especially caught my eye in the last year or two, striking enough so that I saved them on my computer. They seemed to be prime subject matter for converting into a piece of textile art — the colors, the textures…

There are hundreds of thousands of images at “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth” site, home page . Sign up for their monthly emailed newsletter, which includes links to new and noteable images along with text explaining features in the images, at . It is easy to spend too much time on this website, as each example has thumbnails of even more images that beg to be examined. Since NASA uses taxpayers’ money to get the images, they are not copyrighted (at least they are available freely for use in the U.S., I don’t know if it applies to citizens of other countries.)

Then there is all the low-altitude photography of Earth taken from airplanes, let alone the marvelous imagery of other planets, telescopic images of nebula… perhaps I’ll post on those another time.

Do these images inspire you to make art? Do the colors and shapes look like fabric art to you?

Geology (false color):


Ganges delta:


Sand dunes and shadows in Africa, low angle of lighting:




Geologic feature:


Sunset from the Space Shuttle:


15 Responses to “The Intersection of Science, Art, and Taxes (by Eileen Doughty)”

  1. 1 clairan September 9, 2007 at 4:08 am

    Thank you, Eileen, for bringing these beautiful images to our attention. And thank you June for your ever thoughtful comments.

    I have come to believe that working in a series helps me understand why I do what I do. I have been working on the Windows series since 2004. It has certainly changed over the years. But at every stage I write and rewrite artist statements for myself. “What does this mean to me? Why? Oh, I see the connection now.. . .etc.” I took a wonderful workshop from Ruth Hadlow in Australia in 2006, one of the most lasting things I took from it was writing. She had us follow these steps: observe closely, draw in a detailed way and take copious notes, make an installation (an abstraction using objects) based on our observations and drawings, draw and photograph and write about our installation, write for one hour without stopping about the process. Then and only then did we work on fiber pieces. And each day built upon the last.

    These processes deepen our understanding and, hopefully, better our art. But the mystery remains at the true heart, I think. . . .

  2. 2 June September 7, 2007 at 7:48 am


    heaven forfend that I should suggest _your_ artistic sensibilities need deepening — please forgive my mis-speakings. I was thinking just in general about our universal love of miscellaneous images, like these you’ve shown, and then pondering how important it is for us to sort out those instant gut reactions to decide what we as limited mortals can actually manage. A generalized thought, not directed at you (although since you wrote the post, it’s hard not to believe I was talking to you).

    I think in your comments you are pointing at the things that caught you — first your geographical, mapping knowledge that plugs you into the images in a deeper way than I could understand or see them because I lack that knowledge. And then you’ve really talked about pattern in your last note — swirling colors, diagonals, fractal patterning and so forth, which as you put so cleanly, are appropriate to textiles in very specific ways. So your accumulated education and life knowledge, plus the medium in which you work make these more interesting perhaps than the other thousand you didn’t provide.

    There’s almost certainly more that isn’t being articulated, which is OK up to a point. The reason to articulate is to give you the insight that will enable intelligent choices among good things to take place. It’s as if you have been given a sum of money but can buy only one thing — you have to decide among the goodies and if you can articulate the possibilities and reasons for wanting them, you perhaps can make the choice easier.

    Not that making art is limited to a single choice, but as I have said before, textile artists tend to get easily distracted, running from a flower picture to a fractal to layers using tulle to the latest in holographic thread to the ur-tree to line drawings and so forth and so don’t get deep enough into any single subject to get the power as well as the beauty. Just my observation, of course, and subject to all sorts of caveats and revisions.

  3. 3 eileen doughty September 7, 2007 at 5:16 am

    June, I won’t deny that my artist sensibilities could stand some deepening . Especially since I am probably coming at this issue backwards – I enjoy these ‘abstract’ images because I understand them, which is not my situation with so much other abstract art.

    In a simpler sense, I enjoy these particular examples because they grab my eye – the swirling colors in the False Color Geology images, the diagonals in complementary purple and yellow in the Sand Dunes, the fractal patterning of the rivers and harmonious colors in Ganges Delta. I can think of ways I could make them in a textile piece, which makes them more accessible to me.

    When my understanding, sense of composition and technical ability intersect, that is when an image grabs me.

    An interesting question, June, and one I will continue to ponder.

  4. 4 June September 6, 2007 at 9:09 am


    I think you answered part of my question — the images are meaningful to you because of your background in cartography and geology.

    But as abstractions, what do they feel like?

    My questions are directed at finding ways to “discriminate” — not in a bad sense, but in the sense of sorting out why pick out this image from the thousands that are available. What makes you decide that you want to transform “london” or “geologic feature” into the textile medium rather than, say “Sunset” or “Sand Dunes.?”

    This is the old question — what do I paint (or make quilt art from)? And I think it’s very important as we mature as artists — to know why we choose some things over others. As newbies, we love everything and want to do it all and leap from Van Gogh to Rothko without a thought. But as our art deepens as well as broadens, then we must choose that which we can bring our greatest deepest thoughts to. The world is too full of beautiful images to use them all, as Pam said, so how/why/what do we grab onto to transform in our art?

    The Abstract Expressionists wouldn’t tell us what their art was about but if read further, it’s clear that they thought they were pursuing some kind of ultimate truth — a deep clear universal truth that didn’t need explaining, a truth which simply spoke to people’s souls (if they were aware enough of their souls to get it). So even with abstraction, something has to be going on — or you don’t know when to stop.

    Sorry for the sermon — I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deepen the maturing artists sensibilities (for lack of a less pompous way to put it). Most of us do this unconsciously but at some point, becoming conscious about the choices we make and why we make them, even after the fact of making them, can help the maturation process. Or so I think this AM after a cup or two of coffee.

  5. 5 shiborigirl September 5, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    “Sand dunes and shadows in Africa, low angle of lighting:”

    -looks like arashi shibori to me!

  6. 6 eileen doughty September 5, 2007 at 4:40 am

    Thanks for all the replies!

    June asked, what is the artist putting into these images. I respond – is this so different from any photography? The photographer/artist chooses the subject matter, film type, composition, exposures, etc. The main purpose of these earth images may be scientific, but they cause us to wonder about our world and literally give us a very different point of view. The astronauts themselves hate to leave their window and return to their other tasks.

    I react to these images from my background in cartography and geology. But I also react to them from an artistic point of view, as abstractions. And specifically as someone who works in the textile medium, I’d love to try to do the “London” in black discharged fabric, the “Sand Dunes” in twisted pleats, the “False Color Geology” in marbled fabric, the “Ganges” in thread painting. They make me think about our blue marble of a home and our responsibility living on it.

  7. 7 Lee September 4, 2007 at 11:55 am

    I used to work with images like this. I loved them for their content then, I still love them for their shape and meaning now.

    A friend used some satellite images printed onto fabric for a large quilt – it was gorgeous. I loved in particular being able to inspect the fabric up close to see the meaning of the image on it, and then back up to see how it fit into the mosaic of the quilt.

  8. 8 Olga September 4, 2007 at 12:25 am

    Ann, thank you so much for the link to Blurbism. The Previous life images reminded me of the work of The Boyle Family:

  9. 9 Ann September 3, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    These are remarkably similar to some wonderful photographs of ships at blurbism

    Funny how things close up can look so much like things very far away!

  10. 10 Peg September 3, 2007 at 4:29 am


    Thanks so much for sharing these photoes and the web site. I do try and do Nature….and these are inspirational to me. The suggestions of lines, color and form.

  11. 11 arlee September 2, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Are you kidding? They’d be stunning translated into textiles. Just because they *are* a wonder doesn’t mean they couldn’t be transmuted into something tactile. Personally, i’d love to be able to wrap myself in that sunset, or set that spiral on my wall in backlit sheers……..awe inspiring, in the purest sense of the word……

  12. 12 june September 2, 2007 at 7:52 pm


    I guess I would ask two things — what is the meaning of any individual image (to you, the artist) and what is your (the artist’s) personal comprehension/gut feeling/personal milieu have to do with the images?

    They are beautiful but lack, for lack of a better phrase, the artist. What is the artist putting into this? How does one sort through the thousands of available images, off which there are more images unless there is meaning and personal attachment of some sort that comes from the artist.

    And I guess I’m back, too — insert snort

    But Pam R. don’t speak too soon. I swore I never would do nature for exactly the reason you speak of. I’ve changed my mind.

  13. 13 PaMdora September 2, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    These are wonderful photos, thanks for sharing. But this is why I don’t do nature — it is vastly more original and creative than I could ever hope to be!!

  14. 14 pamela Allen September 2, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Eileen what struck me immediately about these photos was the similarity to the point of view that Georgia O’keefe took long before the space age. There are so many hidden inspirations in nature if only we take the time to look. In O’keefe’s case she needed only to take a macro look at plants and natural forms around her. I learn this lesson from my little grandchildren too. Their reality is WAY scaled down compared to adult’s who bigger and whose world is too much with them. I myself have a background in microscopic lab work and was aware of the beauty of the teeny weeny. The addition of space photos, fractal math and atomic microscopy has added even more amazing sources.

  15. 15 Olga September 2, 2007 at 9:33 am

    These photographs are wondrous, and think that they are art as they are. I think that it would take something away from them to make them into abstract textile work, which after all could have been dreamt up out of nowhere. I think what makes these photographs so especially beautiful is that they capture a beauty normally unseen, a different view, but which is really there.

    Thanks for sharing the photos. They are a joy to behold.

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