She was at Cape Canaveral on Oct. 15, 1997, when the Cassini spacecraft launched. Its destination was the ringed-planet Saturn and its moons.
The invitation to see the launch was made possible by her husband, Clark Russell, who worked for a company that made parts for the rocket that fired Cassini into space.
“I looked at him,” said Russell, 73, “and told him, ‘I will never be able to wait seven years for it to get there.’ I was so excited.”
The pair lived in Napa Valley, California, at the time, where Russell was, indeed, able to wait until 2004, when Cassini beamed back three different views of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, and activated her imagination.
“It was the same view, really, with different filters to get different colors,” her husband said
Russell has worked with oils, acrylics, charcoal and more, but eventually decided those media didn’t fit her artistic approach.
“I’m a minimalist,” she said. “I like to do abstract paintings, using one or two or three colors. Or you use one color and different shades.”
More than a decade ago, she dove into encaustic painting, and here’s where the story goes back in time.
“This is one of the oldest art forms known,” she said. “It was mentioned by Homer in 800 B.C., talking about great sailing ships. They would paint the ship in wax so it would be buoyant and wouldn’t sink. They actually added pigment and had beautiful paintings on ships.”
Such beeswax paintings migrated to Egypt, where artists captured portraits of the dead to stay with their mummies. Some of those richly detailed paintings have survived 2,000 years underground.
It was a similar process of beeswax, resin, pigment and heat that Russell applied to the three colored versions of Titan.
“It probably took three or four months just to do the three of them,” she said.
Once finished, there was the obvious question: What should she do with them?
“For years, I have been wanting to donate them to NASA,” she said.