18 minutes | Oct 24, 2017

NASA Designer Makes One Giant Leap to Full-Time Artist

Melissa Walter had a job at NASA. She did graphic design, illustration and social media, mostly for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. She loved the job, but she also started obsessing over the fine art she was making at home in her spare time. At the end of 2015, she decided to take the leap: She quit her full-time job so she could become a full-time artist. "I was sort of having more confidence in what I was doing, and more excitement, and that's all I could think about," Walter said. "I realized, OK, this is it. This is what I should be spending my time on." In a new episode of Culturecast, Voice of San Diego's podcast about arts and culture, I talk to Walter about her transition to full-time artist, and the science-based art that's been fueling her success. Many artists who quit their day jobs flounder, at least in the beginning. But Walter has quickly flourished, scoring group and solo shows, plus residencies that have allowed her to explore large-scale installation work. She's also the subject of a new documentary by The Artist Odyssey, a San Diego production company that produces short films about artists for its subscribers. The interest in Walter's art stems, in part, from her perfectionism. She's a bit obsessive-compulsive, which means she's able to intensely focus on her work and use time-consuming processes – like using thousands of tiny dots to create a shading effect – that result in attractive, detailed geometric images. People also appreciate her exploration of astrophysics and astronomical objects. Because of Walter's background in science-based illustrations and graphic design, she's got a knack for turning complicated ideas into intriguing and meticulous minimalist drawings, sculptures and installations. But even those who glaze over the dark matter, gravitational waves and other complicated concepts at the center of her art can still enjoy the clean images she creates. "You don't have to know any of this to look at my work or appreciate it," she said. "I like the idea that people can connect to my work visually, and then if they take the time to learn about it more in depth, then maybe they'll be more curious or inspired."See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
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