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Cygnus X-1

Cygnus X-1 (named for being the first-noticed X-ray source in the constellation Cygnus) is a black hole of 13–23 solar masses in a binary pair with a blue supergiant star, HDE 226868, of 25–35 solar masses. The star and hole orbit each other at approximately 0.2 AU and the system is about 6070 light years from Earth. Cygnus X-1 was not the first black hole discovered, but it was the first to be widely accepted as such. It is one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky.

Contrary to other artistic depictions, Cygnus X-1 does not actually rip material off of the star's surface (it is instead fed by the star's stellar wind). The stellar wind is collected and falls into an accretion disk. Orbital potential energy is slowly transferred to the material, causing it to heat up along a blackbody radiation spectrum, eventually to the point of emitting X-rays. The disk is shown slightly blue-shifted on the left and slightly red-shifted on the right owing to the hole's rotation (although this may be difficult to pick out in the scan). As the material reaches close to the black hole, it is gradually redshifted to infinity, explaining the darker area near the center. The upper edge of the disk is also gravitationally lensed into a bulge. Some material also spews out axially (there are multiple mechanisms by which this happens, and they're all rather physically complicated). In the case of Cygnus X-1, the jets emit only weakly in the optical regime.

Artistically, this is acrylic paint on a canvas panel. The corona was done with very thin paints; the accretion disk was done with very thick paints in many layers, and the star has lots of both. I had a hard time reproducing the colors in the scan; I had to do a lot of postprocessing to get it to look more-faithful, and I'm still not happy with it. The painting itself looks good though.
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Space Shuttle

For this one, the imaginary photographer has set the exposure of the camera high-enough to capture the stars, which are typically not visible in correctly exposed pictures in space. You can see the Milky Way running up and down the center.

The consequence, of course, is that the sunlight (white, coming from the right) and the reflected light off the Earth (bluish-green, coming from below) make the orbiter very overexposed (leading to very bright regions that produce blown-out diffraction spikes.

The hard part artistically was getting the luminance balance correct. A couple times I realized that the shadow I'd drawn was in the wrong place or didn't match the other components of the image!
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Black Hole Ringworld

Imagine a ringworld built around a star. After eons of bliss, the star dies. Through the use of advanced technology, the ringworld itself survives intact, but the black hole remaining casts little light. In that late universe, the only remaining stars would be red dwarfs, so our advanced but dying civilization might move one (e.g. using a Shkadov thruster) to orbit the black hole itself, giving a hundred billion years of twilight.

This is what it would look like. Although I initially tried sketching out what I thought it looks like, I didn't feel confident in my intuition to give me an accurate result. Therefore, I wrote a raymarcher and had my computer do the heavy lifting. It turns out I actually got it mostly right, but the ease with which I could make modifications led me to change the viewpoint to this, much-more-cinematic, perspective. I then sketched that out in a quick colored-pencil drawing, producing this.

The black hole is a Kerr black hole (as most are), meaning it spins around its axis. You're looking down that axis, with the ringworld circling above and below. The red dwarf is orbiting very close to the event horizon and is being torn apart by tidal forces. You can see two main images of it, magnified (these also produce two faint lens flares, which you may be able to pick out). The black hole's frame-dragging twists the image of the ring around into a confusing shape and also Doppler-shifts it—the upper limb is bluer and the lower is redder.

Realism-wise, the black hole is probably much too large and therefore the effect far too dramatic. Also, although the geometry was calculated by a computer, and the light ray paths should be roughly correct, the relative distortion contribution of the spin vs. gravity, as well as the color, may be physically impossible (or not). Also, the system is gravitationally unstable (but ringworlds alone are gravitationally unstable and you weren't complaining about that).
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Space Debris
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Water Glass Study

What it says on the tin. I used white and black charcoal, pencil, and gel pens. It turns out that drawing glass, especially without a reference for the reflected environment, is really difficult. But, as I worked more and more on it, adding more shadows and highlights, I became increasingly pleased with the result.

I elected not to touch up the raw scan at all, since surprisingly it came out fine as-is.
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Rocinante

It's mostly just colored pencils, with the highlights provided by gel pen. I only have three gray-valued pencils: black, mid-gray, and white. To achieve the mixture of shading here, I blended them. I'm very pleased with the result.

I also eschewed the white charcoal, which I like the feel of more, in favor of the white pencil, since the charcoal unfortunately doesn't blend with any of the colored pencils.
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This is a re-do of previous traditional art (https://plus.google.com/+IanMallett/posts/DtQHrADmvR2) as digital art/a poster. This is much more in-line with what I had pictured in my head. I also made a version with a gradient.
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7/23/18
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For this one, I was trying to go for simple, almost cartoonish, contrast to get an evocative look. I ended up adding weak contrast, such as the gray in surface and the yellow in the explosion, so this was a failure in that regard. (EDIT: see my second, more-successful attempt: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+IanMallett/posts/cdNgHTRarLe)

The terrain is a piece of black construction paper glued over the background red piece. The ship is a simple pen, and the explosion is white gel pen and various pencils.
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The Next Generation

There's something poetic about the way a rocket launches. I'm hopeful that today's resurgence in interest for rocketry and innovation will bring about a new generation of engineers and scientists.

This is from a speculative future where we're confident enough to launch in rain. Actually, I had drawn the initial ascent with a ridiculous gravity curve, but I couldn't fully erase it. By that time I had drawn a lot of the launch clouds, and didn't want to start over. So I drew heavy clouds to cover it up!
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Sea Launch

One approach for launching really big rockets is to launch them from the ocean. One advantage of this is you can launch them from basically any latitude just as easily as any other.

Getting the volumetric clouds right took some effort and several tries, but I'm fairly pleased with how it came out. The trail is mostly white charcoal (and no, I don't know how that works), and it was darkened with pencil and (lower down) black charcoal. The moon is also pretty good. I'm not happy with the ocean, and I've never been happy with any ocean I've ever drawn. It just requires too much layering and too dark a color. Adding specular on the waves seems to help, but not enough.

Pencil and charcoal seem to work well together, but colored pencil and charcoal don't. In-particular, while drawing colored pencil over charcoal kindof works, drawing charcoal over colored pencil doesn't work at all. Hence, the ocean and base of the cloud used charcoals, and then colored pencil to fill in the remainder.

I also was happier with the scan quality. I think a lot of it was due to some nasty JPEG compression it applies, but raising the save quality in the settings seems to improve it greatly.
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