Polyhedra at Planet

At the start of something new, it is good to look back at where you came from.  

Going From Artist to Geometer

As far back as I can remember, working on creative projects was at the center of my universe. I entered art school to expand my techniques and learn how my artwork fit into the fine art academic discourse.

Seeing how the ancient processes of textiles were done with modern techniques inspired me to create large scale installations of fine fabric made of hand dyed and hand woven sewing thread. Vibrant colors in simple compositions create a hazy colored atmosphere that is surging with motion. The work is more of space than matter. Such translucent fabric arouses the illusion of it slowly emerging into being or dissolving away. Humans live somewhere in between the vastness of galaxies and the minute collisions of atomic particles. These pieces investigate the extremes of the macrocosm and microcosm through works of a grand scale achieved by the laborious process of hand weaving sewing thread.


Standing many times the height of a person, each installation unites with the architecture around it. The hundreds of lines forming its structure create a momentum that rushes past the ends of the piece, visually cutting through the limitations of floor and ceiling.  

Visit my weaving website to see more of these works: http://www.stacyspeyer.net


After finishing a 17-foot installation for the front entryway of Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco (on the right), it was time for me to respond to a long pushed aside desire to learn more about science, beginning with the math needed to understand it. Enrolling in a local community college to retake College Algebra started me on a path of learning math and making math art. My studies continued with Trigonometry, Precalculus, and Calculus I, but I stopped taking classes because my art math projects and research had to take precedence.

100 bigWovenIcosi.jpg

While taking those math classes, I began a series of experiments to make spherical forms with the triaxial weave structure pictured above. To understand different ways of making the forms, I began studying regular 3D forms called polyhedra ("poly" means "many and "hedra" is "faces"). The geometric connections between polyhedra are fascinating and as I increased my understanding of the shapes, I kept learning about more new concepts to explore. In the midst of this obsession, I was hired by the Exploratorium to be an Artist-in-Residence for their traveling Geometry Playground exhibit.

From Dia Felix’s video on my work at the Exploratorium:  https://www.exploratorium.edu/video/it-feels-wonderful?autoplay=true

From Dia Felix’s video on my work at the Exploratorium: https://www.exploratorium.edu/video/it-feels-wonderful?autoplay=true

All artists seek to capture excellent images of their work, but the metal polyhedra I made were so photogenic that what began as documentation turned into a 223 page book, “Polyhedra: Eye Candy to Feed the Mind.” I spent 4 years researching, writing, and making diagrams for the first chapter, Introduction to Polyhedra, that uses an easy to read text to explain the geometric connections between shapes. The book is now in print, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign and I have a small business of selling 3D coloring books from an idea that started as a Kickstarter reward. My set of Cubes and Things 3D Coloring Books lets adults and children color and construct their own polyhedra. I lead math art workshops, called Polyhedra Parties, using pages from my coloring books in schools, museums, Maker Faires, and private parties.

Follow link to go to my Bookstore: http://polyhedra.stacyspeyer.net/to-buy-books/


Do you want to work on a really big sphere?

While working at my Polyhedra Party booth for the big Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, a man named Gleeco stopped by and asked me that question, "Do you want to work on a really big sphere?" I quickly answered, "Yes!" He showed me his card for Planet, an Earth-imaging company, and told me about their Artist-in-Residence program. I was so excited about an aerospace company that saw the value of the arts, offered the chance to be around a bunch of engineers developing new technologies, and a welcoming space for artists to make art and learn. I went through their application process and I've been hired to be Planet's Artist-in-Residence from November 2017 through January 2018!

Founded by three ex-NASA engineers, Planet currently has 140+ small imaging satellites, called Doves, that are now in orbit and taking photos of the whole earth everyday. They are a special company that takes pride in designing all their own software and building their own satellites. Planet does another remarkable thing to their satellites: Unique artwork by the in-house artist and community is laser etched onto every satellite’s side panels. Each satellite also has art silks-screened onto the bird like solar wings and other internal components. Yes, they have their own art gallery in orbit, with each piece traveling around the Earth every 90 minutes, 7 kilometers/second!

Dove Satellite covered in artworks. Photograph by Carter Dow

Dove Satellite covered in artworks. Photograph by Carter Dow

The artwork on the Dove pictured above is by Forest Stearns, Planet's first Artist-in-Residence and founder of the program in 2013. Forest started with the fledgling aerospace company as the 25th employee and has expanded his position in the growing multinational firm of 500+. He leads many culture driving projects from murals to museum exhibits at the now established earth imagery centric company. As the Director of Planet's Artist-in-Residence program, Forest navigates the current AiR through the environment of this aerospace company. He continues to use his mural/graffiti/graphic design skills for a huge range of projects at Planet. One of my favorites is a painting he recently made to be put on the top of a rocket launched on October 31, 2017. This was Planet's first launch as a united family of both the medium resolution Dove satellites and high resolution SkySats, recently acquired from Google, and they celebrated it with artistic style!

Acrylic painting on canvas transferred to Orbital ATK Minotaur rocket. Photograph by Planet Labs

Acrylic painting on canvas transferred to Orbital ATK Minotaur rocket. Photograph by Planet Labs

Art on the Minotaur-C rocket at liftoff. Photograph by Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now & Planet

Art on the Minotaur-C rocket at liftoff. Photograph by Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now & Planet

New Polyhedra Planets

Whenever I'm on a plane, I just have to be in the window seat. Except when sleeping or over a solid cloud cover, I am constantly looking out the window and thinking what great compositions are to be found in the land below. Unfortunately, the pictures I take through the airplane's thick window are rarely something I could use in my art. But I now can explore the beauty of the world at high resolution...

As their Artist-in-Residence, I am able to log in to Planet Explorer and visually roam all over our fascinating world for images that would look perfect around a polyhedron. Below is an image of El Centro, California, just north of the USA/Mexican border.  


I also like to use images from the Gallery page of Planet's website. There team has shared a bunch of stunning pictures that they put up under a Creative Commons license. The image below is from the northern Caucasus region of Stavrapol Krai, Russia.


The form below is called a small rhombicub-octahedron. (If you want to see a chart of polyhedra that can help you to understand how this form has the 6 squares of a cube, the 8 triangles of an octahedron, and 12 extra rhombi, ie squares, spaced evenly around the shape, follow this link http://polyhedra.stacyspeyer.net/net-book-2.)


The green squares come from the farmland of El Centro, California, just north of the USA/Mexican border. I couldn't resist squaring the squares, while also enjoying areas where the symmetry has organic breaks. I used one of Planet's Gallery images for the lines in earth tones that zig-zag around the form. This agricultural region in the northern Caucasus is Stavrapol Krai, Russia where they are growing grapes and grain (according to caption Planet included with the photo). When I saw the perfect 90 degree bends in this picture, I knew I wanted to used it to show off the unexpected symmetrical twist of the small rhombicub-octahedron.

For the picture below, also from Planet's Gallery, I wanted to use every part of it to go around a dodecahedron. When I saw the Rangitoto (volcano) Island and Motutapu Island in the upper middle, I couldn't resist framing them with a pentagon. This image is from Auckland, New Zealand and, according to Wikipedia, the volcano has been inactive for over 500 years.  

You can see the 15 interesting pentagonal compositions I liked from this image. I choose 12 that worked together with just the right balance of land and sea, and placed them on the 12 faces of a dodecahedron.

I have to share a very simple concept that keeps overwhelming my mind as I work with this kind of imagery: First, begin with a spectacular picture. Frame it with a polygon, so the focus zooms in on only the framed area, and you will find a new fantastic composition. It feels like magic to start with one lovely rectangle and get so many perfect polygons from it.


Although the image of the dodecahedron above shows my island inspiration and surrounding faces, I felt the need to share what it looks like with every pentagonal composition facing forward, so I made a very short video.  I hope you enjoy seeing how all the faces look around this spherical form:

My goal is to make at least 18 of these Polyhedra Planets: the 5 Platonic Solids + the 13 Archimedean Solids. Below is a picture of 3 more shapes. For those who want to see all around the shape, there are short stop motion videos with the descriptions below.


On the left some might recognize a soccer ball, but it will impress mathematicians more if you call it a truncated icosahedron. The bold blue water of the Tylihul Estuary, Ukraine, (that I downloaded from Planet’s gallery) encircles this imaginary world defining two landmasses. My delight in the points and curves of this picture resulted in a longer video, as I took more photographic turns around the shape to examine how the moving composition feels when the water is vertical versus horizontal or when the visible area is dominated by the large land mass compared to the pointy shores of the smaller one.

For the cub-octahedron (in the center above), the geometer in me could not resist how perfectly the 6 x 6 squares of farmland from El Centro, California, fit into the 6 big squares. All 8 triangles of the cub-octahedron show areas where the desert meets the cultivated land on the outskirts of town.


Jacksonville, Florida, is the source of the amazingly symmetric highway interchange set into the octagons of the truncated cube on the right above. My first attempts to use the natural rich green of this area gave it an odd fake appearance, so I made it more unnatural looking by increasing the contrast and and making it a deep blue to set off the swirling lines of the highway.

Come back for the next blog in this series, to see other new worlds I will create with Planet's imagery, watch them come to life in new stop motion shorts, and other geometric experiments combined with satellite images. Including a project with Forest using a net I made of Planet’s radomes. Our goal is to construct a pair of models with the paintings he did (from these radomes in New Zealand) on the outside and the dish on the inside.

Photograph by Forest Stearns

Photograph by Forest Stearns