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Paintbrush and Mouse
By day, Dennis Calaba and David Faust are NASA graphic artists; by night, they transform into fine art painters.

By day they wield computer mice, digitally rendering everything from technical report images to art deco-style promotional posters. By night, high tech computer graphics give way to old-fashioned brushes, a welcome relief for these classically minded artists.

Painting by NASA graphic artist Dennis Calaba
Fine artist and NASA graphic artist Dennis Calaba
"Working with oil paints is getting your hands dirty, literally, compared to the digital stuff. With digital, you lose touch in an art sense," Faust says. Calaba has worked as a graphic artist at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California since 1986, where the two met and became friends. Faust, also a graphic artist, worked at NASA Dryden until 1989, when he moved up to NASA's Ames Research Center in Northern California. He worked there as a graphic artist until moving back to Dryden in 1999.

Images left: NASA Dryden graphic artist Dennis Calaba with some of his paintings. Photos by Chris Calaba.

While they have several things in common, Faust and Calaba have their own styles. Calaba prefers painting subtle, moody images. Dynamic atmospheric conditions such as fog, along with variations in light and dark, permeate his work. Faust, on the other hand, enjoys a lighter palette, working bright sun-drenched color into his images.

Both artists enjoy their day jobs in NASA Dryden's graphics shop. Work requests put in to the shop usually dictate the tasks to be done. Regardless, the individual artist's tastes and sensibilities come through. Reflecting this, Calaba uses graphics software that allows for more subtle blends in his work. Faust works with different software that he feels produces bolder, more straightforward images. Though both share all types of work that comes into the shop, Faust tends to do more of the promotional tasks, while Calaba does a lot of the technical art, in seeming conflict with their software preferences.

"My NASA work is challenging because I try to creatively turn out an exciting product within the framework of government guidelines and budgets," Calaba says. "I enjoy sharing in an agency that is beneficial to the country, kind of mixing creativity and patriotism."

"For me, NASA always seemed a natural decision, career-wise," Faust added. "My dad worked as a technician on the Mariner, Surveyor and Apollo projects, and my brother worked on the Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests here at Dryden."

Fine artist and NASA graphic artist David FaustPainting
Images right: David Faust displays some of his artwork. Photos by Chris Calaba.

Privately, both artists sell their work and are commercially minded, so they don't fall into the category of casual artists referred to as "Sunday painters." When they head for home after putting in a full day's work, the paintings awaiting them aren't a mode of relaxation. To the contrary, the pressure is usually on to finish what they've been doing, or start another piece in time for the next juried exhibit on the schedule.

"Professionally, it's a frustrating challenge to express yourself publicly, but it keeps an edge on your creativity, keeping your skills fine-tuned," Faust says.

NASA has many artists and writers, photographers and videographers, web designers and many others who all play a crucial but often unheralded role in the Agency's endeavors.

Dennis Calaba and Dave Faust exhibit the spirit of exploration in their art that connects with people as only art can.

Gray Creech
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center