ISS: 20 years looking over Earth

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Science & Exploration

02/11/2020 503 views 4 likes

To mark the 20th anniversary of continuous habitation of the International Space Station, ESA commissioned two graphic artists to illustrate the Station from two perspectives. We spoke to the artists and asked them how they approached this challenge.

The International Space Station celebrates a huge milestone on 2 November 2020. For two decades, it has continuously hosted humans in space. Eighteen ESA astronauts have flown to the Station. Altogether, more than 240 crew members and visitors from 19 countries have visited the station and made it their temporary home.

A collaboration between five space agencies, the station has become a symbol of peaceful international cooperation. It represents the best of our space engineering capabilities as well as humankind’s pursuit of scientific knowledge and exploration.

By any standards, it is an incredible piece of spacecraft engineering. Weighing 420 tonnes and the size of a football pitch, it travels in low-Earth orbit at more than 27 000 km/hour, circling Earth more than 15 times each day.

Crew members conduct scientific research in microgravity at facilities such as ESA’s Columbus module. Some of these experiments and tests are preparing the way for human exploration of the Moon and beyond. But the Station also provides a unique view of Earth, while the science benefits life on our planet.

To celebrate 20 years of human habitation of the Space Station, ESA asked two well-known graphic artists to illustrate different aspects of the Station. Ale Giorgini, an illustrator from northern Italy, chose a view of space from inside the Space Station’s Cupola observatory, while Riccardo Guasco, also Italian, drew the spacecraft from an external perspective. To get an insight into these illustrations, we asked Ale and Riccardo what influenced their original illustrations of the Space Station and how space has inspired them.

A view over Earth, by Ale Giorgini

ISS 20 years: Ale Giorgini illustrates a view from inside the Space Station for ESA

What influences your style?
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as the Wacky Races, the Jetsons and the Flintstones. I also lived above a well-stocked library and fell in love with the illustrations of Czech author Miroslav Šašek. At school I studied geometry and trained as an architect, so all these things influenced my later work.

What ideas and feelings do you convey in your work?
There is no profound meaning in my drawings. Rather, I want to give the observer – and myself while I’m working – a moment of serenity. I like to use a single line to construct several elements: a person’s face, the outline of a tree or the body of a cat. This for me represents my view of life: that everything is connected.

How did you draw the Space Station?
The first challenge was to draw something I’d never actually seen in real life – and that was fun. From a technical point of view, the challenge was to study the interior of the Space Station and to represent it in such a way that, even though it is stylised, experts and space fans would still be able to recognise it. I imagined the famous cupola like a balcony with a view of space and this fascinated me as a concept. I’m pleased that the final illustration creates the feeling of floating in space because it can be viewed from different directions and doesn’t have a right way up or down.

What is it about space that intrigues or inspires you?
We are still exploring and learning about space, so it’s an environment we know very little about. It’s also somewhere that I am almost certain I will never visit. The unknown has always fascinated me.

How do you like to work?
I tend to wake up early, between six and seven, and focus on challenging projects first. I take breaks and always have a proper lunch with the phone switched off. In the evenings I go for a run. More than anything, peace and quiet helps me work well.

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ISS 20 years: Ale Giorgini illustrates a view from inside the Space Station for ESA

Perspectives in space, by Riccardo Guasco

ISS 20 years: Riccardo Guasco works on a portrait of the Space Station for ESA

What influences your style?
My inspirations include the grand avant-garde masters of the 20th century. I love Picasso and Cubism, Matisse and Malevich’s Russian Suprematism. Early 20th century advertising, the Italian Futurism and French Purism movements are also important to me. But my influences change constantly. Regarding this illustration of the Space Station, I didn’t want to play too much with these influences from the past, as the station is very much a symbol of the future. Some of my contemporary influences include illustrators such as Cristoph Niemann, Jean Julienne, Roman Muradov and Malika Favre. We’re currently in a golden age of illustration.

What ideas and feelings do you convey in your work?
In my wider work, there are messages and ideas connected to dynamism, irony and to the lightness of brief moments in time. In this piece, I looked at the relationship between humankind and space, which offers a lot of scope for interpretation. Here, everything plays on the game of proportion. The size of the person contrasts with what humankind has built: the enormous Space Station that travels in space to study something even vaster: the infinite Universe.

How did you draw the Space Station?
It was a challenge to interpret a structure like the Space Station without being able to change its form, which I often do in my illustrations. This was more like a portrait of a Space Station, so I remained faithful to complex technical details. Clearly, I applied some artistic licence, at least in the colour. I chose those warm, lively colours to work in contrast with the rigid, geometric structure, which appears to be cold but very beautiful.

What is it about space that intrigues or inspires you?
Space is endless, so the idea that you can travel in space yet never reach a destination has always both scared and fascinated me. It’s almost a new dimension in continuous evolution and this brought me closer to the idea that abstract art has a lot in common with space: where objects float and gravitate weightlessly in the dark. Space is like a blank canvass and this also fascinates me.

How do you like to work?
I’ve worked as an illustrator for ten years. I work by day – even though by night the silence makes it easier to focus. I work without music and lots of coffee, so it’s a daily commitment that I see as a gift, because I love what I do.

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ISS 20 years: Riccardo Guasco works on a portrait of the Space Station for ESA

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