CASE STUDY: When is a Star a Star?


Bonnie Craig is a UK-based visual artist and designer working mainly with pattern and print. She creates large-scale pieces, such as installations in public spaces, and small-scale pieces, such as one-off prints. I use pattern in my work to draw attention to the sometimes overlooked details in nature, buildings, books and all sorts of other things.

When is a Star a Star?

“Ever since I started working with pattern, I’ve been interested in the maths behind what I do. I use a lot of numbers, sequences and grids to structure my work, experimenting with adding random elements or breaking rules that I have set myself. I find this a really satisfying way of working – the constraints and structure help me to organise and sort through the creative ideas and possibilities that sometimes seem overwhelming.

But I’ve always wanted to work with someone else’s numbers – what would happen if I applied my own way of working with number and pattern to the data from something else entirely?

A chat with the Lancashire Science Festival earlier this year was the perfect opportunity to start exploring this idea. After meeting several academics at the University of Central Lancashire who work with data in different ways – all of which left me with far too many ideas for projects before I’d even started – I was introduced to astrophysicist, Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, Director of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute of Maths, Physics and Astronomy.

Derek’s research is all about star formation, which seemed like a perfect topic for a family event like the Lancashire Science Festival. I loved the idea of using art to communicate some of the facts and science behind something that seems so magical.

I have no background whatsoever in maths, physics or astronomy, which I later realised was a great place to start as all my ideas came directly from our discussions. After a crash course in star formation, helped by Derek’s patience with my extremely basic questions, I started to see where my own working process could fit in. Derek’s team works with telescopes that capture information on scales and distances that I can’t even comprehend, and the images they work with help to identify exactly what’s happening in space when stars are created”.


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