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July 3, 2000

Cosmic art on display at Lick Observatory

By Tim Stephens

A cosmic art exhibit of paintings and prints by astronomical artist Lynette R. Cook will be on display at the Visitor Center at Lick Observatory through September 30.
space image by Lynette Cook
space image by Lynette Cook
space image by Lynette Cook
Go to larger images and captions for each illustration

Images by Lynette R. Cook

Lick Observatory, located atop Mt. Hamilton about 20 miles east of San Jose, is open to the public Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors who attend special summer programs in the evenings will also be able to view the exhibit.

Highlighting the exhibit are portraits of extrasolar planets discovered by the Marcy/Butler Planet Search Project. The project's planet hunters, who include UCSC astronomer Steven Vogt and UCSC alumni Geoffrey Marcy and Debra Fischer, made many of their discoveries at Lick Observatory.

Since 1995, Cook has been working with Marcy and Fischer, both now at UC Berkeley, to create images of these extrasolar planets as they might actually appear. Since the planets cannot be imaged directly, Cook blends the scientific data with her own creative expression to depict these far-off worlds accurately and realistically.

This, in fact, is the role of an astronomical artist: to blend art and science into a unified whole for the purpose of educating others about astronomy and science.

The 27 paintings and prints in the exhibition include realistic and conceptual works of other astronomical subjects in addition to extrasolar planets. Among the subjects Cook explores in her work are the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the cosmic puzzle of dark matter and missing mass in the universe.

Most of Cook's works are traditional paintings: mixed-media combinations of acrylic, colored pencil, and gouache on illustration board. She also occasionally uses acrylic gouache, graphite, ink, pastel, and watercolor. In the past year, Cook has been working with digital methods as well and has included one digital print in the exhibit.

Visitors may recognize some of Cook's images of extrasolar planets, which have been widely published. They have appeared in planetarium shows, in television documentaries airing on BBC, CNN, PBS, the Discovery Channel, and the Learning Channel, and in books, newspapers, and magazines, including the periodicals Astronomy, Eos (Belgium), Pacific Discovery, Science et Vie (France), Science News, and Sky & Telescope.

About the Artist

Interested in both art and science since childhood, Lynette Cook double-majored in biology/drawing and painting at the Mississippi University for Women. She completed a bachelor of science degree in 1981 and received a bachelor of fine arts degree a year later.

Cook then moved west to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts, specializing in scientific illustration through the Drawing Department. An internship at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco eventually led to the staff job of artist/photographer for the Morrison Planetarium, a position she still holds.

Since 1984, Cook has maintained a freelance career, providing natural science illustrations for clients including Final Frontier, Fine Cooking, Food For Thought, Houghton Mifflin, Omni, RN, The Nature Company, and Time-Life Books. Cook initially focused on botanical and biological subjects, but now specializes in astronomical imagery (view more of Cook's work).

Cook is a fellow of the International Association of Astronomical Artists and a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the San Francisco Society of Illustrators. She has exhibited her award-winning art across the country at major museums, research centers, and universities, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1994, Cook has been associated with the Science Photo Library, which makes her illustrations available to publications throughout the world.

To learn more about space art, visit the web site of the International Association of Astronomical Artists. Information about visiting the Lick Observatory is available at http://www.ucolick.org/public/visitors.html.

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