NANOGrav: Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Science / Astrophysics Illustrations • NANOGrav • 2022
3D art of a pulsar shooting out colorful jets.

Procedural 3D: pulsar emitting a flurry of particles.
Fun fact: the color of extremely hot celestial objects like these is approximately periwinkle.

Click on the images for more info.

3D art of stars and galaxies in a petri dish.
3D art of earth in space surrounded by telescopes, pulsars, and galaxies with supermassive binary black holes.

The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), 2022
Thanks to Michael and Matt at Sandbox Studio!

Concepts, illustrations

Cinema 4D, Redshift, Nomad Sculpt, Procreate, Photoshop

Illustrations for the NANOGrav website, about "the fundamental principles that make [NANOGrav's] mission possible": Radio Astronomy, Low-Frequency Gravitational Waves, Galaxies and Supermassive Black Holes, Pulsars as Cosmic Clocks, and Multimessenger Astrophysics.

View and read about all of them here.

Sketches & process ↓

Concept sketches & WIP

Depending on the subject and other criteria, I sometimes sketch unconventionally: in 3D or even using icons.

Sketching in 3D can be more and efficient than drawing: it provides more information — for both artist and the client — about if / how a concept might work, be built, or look.

For example, the pulsar sketches:

Sketches of a pulsar or AGN with jets

Originally I planned to paint the pulsar and started with a regular sketch. Later I moved to 3D:

Procedural modeling in 3D allowed me to test compositions and ideas much faster than redrawing. Once we settled on this dynamic angle, the model could've become a base for a painting (paintover; here's a good example), or a render with a more "realistic" / CG aesthetic (PBR:  physically-based rendering). In this case the art direction called for the latter.

I'd still love to do pulsar / AGN paintings at some point!

Another example:

2D and 3D sketches of gravitational waves

Left, an initial 3D sketch. The direction shifted to be more abstract. Working in 3D was vital to test the concept and ensure it would work.

Sketches of earth in space surrounded by telescopes, pulsars, and galaxies with supermassive binary black holes.

Sketches & WIP for multi-messenger astrophysics.

Sketching with icons (above) can also be a great way to quickly nail down a concept and composition. I like Mural: a whiteboard web app with a massive icon repository.

Sketches of galaxies on a ribbon of spacetime, in space, and in a petri dish
Sketches of space scenes with pulsars and galaxies

Initial roughs for galactic history and radio astronomy.

Screenshot of

Screenshot of the NANOGrav Science Topics page with all of the artworks.

© Olena Shmahalo