The classic artist reaches for a brush, pen or pencil, or perhaps a pastel crayon to paint or sketch.
Michael Jansen, for three decades an engineer at Johnson Space Center, sits before a computer display, stretches with his right hand for a mouse and begins to draw as though he was working with sketch pad or canvas.
The inspiration for his space-themed creations flows as passionately through Microsoft PowerPoint as it once did through pencil and brush.
Jansen’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in mid-career, changed much in his life. One of those changes rekindled an interest in drawing, something that occupied the future aeronautical engineer for hours each weekend morning as an only child in upstate New York. The private drawing sessions allowed his parents to sleep in.
“After I was diagnosed, I began to think about what all I wanted to do before it became physically prohibitive,” Jansen said, who counts flying, creative writing and photography among his hobbies. “My artwork lay fallow for a long time. I decided that if it was important to me, I wanted to get back to it, and get back to it in a way that would last.”
It has—thanks to his innovative use of PowerPoint to steady his artistic stroke, a painstaking commitment to realism in his imagery and a supportive workplace.
One of Jansen’s latest NASA sponsored creations is a tribute to the International Space Station. Celebrating the Dawn of a New Era in Human Exploration ... The First Step to Humankind’s Permanent Off-Earth Presence commemorates the coming together of the station’s first Russian and U. S. components 15 years ago this December. His creation has been proposed as the basis for a forthcoming NASA logo, poster and patch.
“It’s a momentous first step, I think, to permanent space occupation,” Jansen said of the space station. A careful inspection of Celebrating the Dawn reveals a faint moon and Mars delicately embedded within a colorful ring border of flags representing each of the program’s 15 member nations. The space station, with its outstretched golden solar panels, flies over a darkened Earth outlined by a bluish band representing the atmosphere.
“The space station is envisioned as a stepping stone,” Jansen said, who practices his craft as a member of the International Space Station Program External Integration Office. “It is where we will learn to live for long periods of time in space.”
With PowerPoint, Jansen has developed an illustrating technique he calls “smudging.” After introducing the basic outline and colors for his creations, he plots a series of oval outlines of varying sizes, eccentricities and transparency levels that enable him to shade his work, adding depth and realism.
In Celebrating the Dawn, for instance, the artist used “smudging” to make the flags of the partner stations ripple as though windblown. It was Jansen’s way of introducing a note or realism and signaling that at 15 years of age, space station operations are in full swing.
Though now his primary means of making a living, Jansen’s artistry fills much of his private time as well.
A signature work that strays from his NASA roots, Red tailed hawk, pays tribute to a lifelong fascination with flight, an interest shared with his father. The visage, explored further in Hawk Ascending, helped him pioneer smudging, as seen in the precise coloring of each feather on the soaring bird of prey.
The technique enabled Jansen to capture the subtle rainbow-like bands compressed within the ribbon of atmosphere against the Earth depicted in another NASA illustration, The International Space Station: A New Perspective for Life on Earth and Beyond.
Jansen came to JSC in September 1982 as a co-op student enrolled at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, N. Y. His initial assignment, the development of a statistical means of estimating the flight uncertainties of the space shuttle’s aerodynamic coefficients during the glide back to Earth, turned his youthful focus to spaceflight.
“My first assignment got me hooked,” Jansen said.
After three years as a co-op, a NASA full-time job offer awaited him at JSC upon graduation with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Eventually, Jansen migrated from shuttle to the International Space Station Program, assigned initially to the External Carriers Office, and then to Assessments, Cost Estimates and Scheduling duties within the Program Planning & Control Office.
His artistry won him an opportunity to produce a cover for a report to be released by Julie Robinson, NASA’s International Space Station program scientist. That led to his current assignment as a full-time artist while he manages his Parkinson’s symptoms.
“I try to do what I can to engender excitement and enthusiasm in people for the space program,” Jansen said.
Watch Jansen create art in action here
International Space Station Program artist Michael C. Jansen. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair
A poster Jansen completed in celebration of the upcoming 15-year anniversary of the first element launch. Image Credit: NASA/Michael Jansen
An International Space Station 15th anniversary logo, which Jansen completed using PowerPoint. Image Credit: NASA/Michael Jansen
Another artwork completed by Jansen, called "Hawk Ascending." Image Credit: Michael Jansen
"The International Space Station: A New Perspective for Life on Earth and Beyond," a piece of art made for the space station program. Image Credit: NASA/Michael Jansen