Academy of Art University Graduate Has Illustrations Orbiting Earth on 28 Miniature Satellites Launched by Planet Labs

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Forest Stearns, professional illustrator and 2010 MFA graduate from the School of Illustration, conquers space with innovative art application.

Forest Stearns has one of the most unusual professional positions for a classically trained illustrator: he is the newly appointed art director at Planet Labs, the San Francisco-based company that has launched the largest fleet of satellites ever put into orbit around the Earth.

Stearns created a series of illustrations titled Great Migration by painting the scenes of animal life onto large canvases, which are then translated by a laser etching machine directly onto the metal sides of the satellites. “The subject matter of the art is a stylized tumult of migrating animals looking back at the Earth from the satellites,” states Stearns. He adds, “It is an amazing artistic challenge to work shoulder to shoulder with rocket scientists trying to save the world!”

The deployed solar panels attached to the satellites have patterns of radio waves, also designed by Stearns. Stearns created the artwork and application for the satellites while he was Planet Lab’s artist in residence. He is now mentoring the next artist in residence, Eriko Yamada, who graduated with a BFA in 2009 in Illustration from the Academy of Art University.

The satellites were successfully deployed by Planet Labs on February 27, 2014, and are designed to provide the most detailed images of Earth available to date, taking a composite picture of most of most of the planet every two weeks, at a 3–5 meter per pixel resolution.

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About Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University, the largest private university of art and design in the United States, is educating students for the art and design jobs of the 21st century. Established in 1929, the Academy is an output-based higher education model that provides open admissions to all students, but imposes a rigorous curriculum that requires the students to produce a portfolio of work that demonstrates a mastery of their field in order to graduate. Students are taught by a faculty of professionals from the existing marketplace, both online and on campus in San Francisco, who provide them with an understanding of what it takes to succeed in today’s business environment. The Academy’s hands-on curriculum produces graduates who possess outstanding artistic and design skills—and equally as important, the ability to put those talents to work immediately after graduation. As a result, Academy graduates are ready to compete for and win the jobs of the 21st century in the fields of Acting, Advertising, Animation & Visual Effects, Architecture, Art Education, Art History, Fashion, Fashion Journalism, Fashion Styling, Fine Art, Game Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Industrial Design, Interior Architecture & Design, Jewelry & Metal Arts, Landscape Architecture, Motion Pictures & Television, Multimedia Communications, Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, Photography, Visual Development, Web Design & New Media and Art Teaching Credential. Academy of Art University is accredited by WASC, NASAD, Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) (BFA/MFA-IAD), NAAB (B-ARCH*, M-ARCH), and California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). *B-ARCH program in candidacy status. Visit for more information.

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susan toland