Astro Art: Artist Creates Portrait Gallery of Astronomers


Art and astronomy often intersect, and it’s wonderful when art can provide an emotional connection to science. Amateur astronomer and artist Sayward Duffano has captured the personalities of several astronomers through history as well as individuals in astronomy related fields in a gallery of paintings she created especially for the International Year of Astronomy. “I knew I wanted to paint something special for the IYA,” she said. “So last year I had started painting a few astronomers, some planets, and some other types of astro art.”

And Sayward says she is looking for a place to display her work.

“Originally, I was working on a print and book project, but due to the recent downturn in the economy, those plans were not able to be realized,” she said. “I’m not trying to sell the originals, but I do want them to be able to be seen because of their subject matter and they were painted especially for the IYA.”

Andromedan Gothic.  Painting by Sayward Duffano.
Andromedan Gothic. Painting by Sayward Duffano.

Her gallery includes astronomy notables like Galileo, Ptolemy, Cassini, Sagan and Levy and astronauts like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, Christa McAuliffe, and even Laika the astro-dog. She also has a collection of the solar system and other astronomical objects, and a few humorous works, such as her “Andromedan Gothic” spoof, above.

She says she saw Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” when she was very young, and it inspired her to study art and created a bond with the night sky. “As time went on, I did more studying on the night sky and space, and realized it was a much bigger, more complex place than I had previously thought.

You can listen to Sayward talk about how astronomy has inspired art through the years on the Sept. 14 edition of 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.

After attending a star party a few years ago, she found the dark, unpolluted skies to be very inspiring. She began painting some Messier objects and some abstracts inspired by vintage copies of Sky and Telescope.

Astronaut Fred Haise with Sayward Duffano. Courtesy Sayward Duffano
Astronaut Fred Haise with Sayward Duffano. Courtesy Sayward Duffano

In February of this year, she found out that Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise was coming to a nearby college campus in Long Beach, Mississippi. “I had painted his portrait, and wanted to give it to him,” she said. “It’s not every day (for me, at least!) I get to meet an astronaut. We went to his lecture, which was awesome, and afterward I gave it to him. He loved it.”

Sayward says she likes the abstractness of the moon and planetary surfaces. “Even the smallest craters and crevasses never fail to inspire, and the colors in space are always inspiring as well. The strange brightness of the sunny side of any planet reveals unusual earth tones, the vibrant oranges and yellows of Mars, the pale cream and contrasting red of Jupiter, the yellow ocher of Saturn, the icy greys of our Moon. They are vibrant, yet subdued in their own way.”

M 27.  Painting by Sayward Duffano
M 27. Painting by Sayward Duffano

Sayward says she grinds many of her own paints and primarily work with Mars pigments. “I feel these colors are perfect for studying the planets via brush. There are reds, browns, yellows, oranges, violets, and black in the Mars color series, usually a light and dark of the same color. The pigment comes in powder form, and it is beautiful in itself. It’s like I’m mulling Martian soils.”

“Jupiter is probably my favorite planet,” she said. “I say probably because it’s almost a tie between it, Mars and Saturn. You have the cool rings around Saturn, and that strange, irresistible orange of Mars- but Jupiter is something else all together. It reminds me of a huge, ever changing marble.”

The astronomers, planets and other studies in this series of painting for IYA are all done on archivally sound recycled materials.

Any planetarium, science center or other place interested in displaying this collection can contact Sayward through her website,