Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Super Moon

The Super Moon was a few days ago, but I wanted to finish inking before posting this.

When the news touted Saturday’s moon as a ‘Super Moon – the largest in twenty years’ I thought to myself, “How can that be?” I thought I remember ‘the biggest moon’ happened two or three years ago. I went to bed Friday night pondering that .. and a little bummed because with our Oregon rains I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get to see it.

I guess I had a touch of the lunar madness that used to give unsettled people the name, “lunatic.” I couldn’t sleep. At 1 AM I realized moonlight was pouring in my bedroom window. I got up and headed out onto the deck to fully appreciate it. The clouds had parted. There, so bright at first I needed to squint, shone the big full moon above me. It was Saturday, so doesn’t it count whether you enjoy it at 1 AM or 11 PM?

I came back into the house itching to draw it, but not feeling durable enough to brave the near freezing temperature – I’m getting over a rotten cold. Instead I started sketching and pretty soon had a little black and white piece started ….. a barn owl flying in the moonlight. Somewhere out there a barn owl is taking advantage of the bright night to prey on little beasties. Barn owls are so pale they almost look like ghosts flitting about in the moonlight. I drew for awhile, inked for awhile, and finally said ‘Good Night’ to that big, beautiful moon. By 2 AM an ethereal haze was taking over the sky and softening its vibrancy.

In morning I did some checking. It’s a little confusing as to which moon is ‘the largest.’ The moon is biggest when it is at perigee – the point at which the moon is nearest to the earth in its elliptical orbit around the earth. The exact course of this orbit shifts a little too. How far the moon is from earth varies by 31,000 miles … depending where it is on its orbit around the earth. To have a Super Moon, the full moon needs to be very near perigee. At that time it is 14% larger and 30% brighter than during a ‘lesser’ full moon.

To further complicate the matter, technically the moon is full for only a moment, not a full day. So on Dec 12, 2008 the moon’s orbit came within 221,559 miles of earth, but it’s moment of fullness was about 4 hours from perigee. Saturday’s moon reaches fullness only about an hour from perigee so, by a hair’s breath, it is a larger Super Moon. There are other calculations to toss in there, but I’ll accept that the astronomers say this is the closet the full moon has been to earth since 1933. The moon will make its closet approach in 18 years, but won’t be quite full when closest.

Does it matter? Not really. The tiny moment in time happens before dark in North America. I’m not going to bother to figure out which section of the earth gets the best view. Some airline pilot will be even closer. I’m sure I can’t tell the difference between that perfect moment in time and what I saw last night. I do know it shone big, bright, and beautiful. And if it is cloudy tonight, I will have very nearly seen perfection anyway.

Postscript: I did get to see the moon Saturday evening, but though varying thicknesses of haze – beautiful, but not the awesome view of the night before.

This is how much I got done in the middle of the night. I bit off a lot of inking but enjoyed taking my time while working on it.


  1. I wasn't so fortunate to be awakened by the moonlight at some hour. I slept through whatever break through appeared. It has been so cloudy here that I have had to enjoy this moon through everyone's sketches. Love this one with the barn owl added. It also fun to get a glimpse of how your ink sketch came about.

  2. Elva, This is a wonderful capture of a special and unique moment. I applaud your patience with all that ink stippling. Great job! Thank you, Ambal.

  3. Dear Elva,
    Amazing...absolutely beautiful work...How long di dit take you to finsih it up? A bow in gratitude.
    But I did not know the Super Moon. Thank you for the precious info!
    Cheers, Sadami

  4. Thanks for taking the time to explain something that I too found confusing! Love the sketch. There is a meditative quality to it. I also know you must have the patience of a saint to do all that stippling!

  5. This is lovely. What a lot of work. Not sure at that hour I would be able to focus on doing much of anything. We totally missed the full moon.. when we looked out it was to cloudy out. Sometimes it pays off to have a sleepless night. :) Thanks for sharing it with those of us who missed it. The Weather girl the next morning said it was no big deal. hmmm guess she missed it too. lol

  6. This is so very beautiful, one of my absolute favorites of your works, of which I admire so very many! Thank you again for a lovely blog in every way.

  7. This is so beautiful...and I envy your patience and ability to draw in such detail Elva. Thanks for sharing. I have a picture of the super moon as well! and will post a painting soon!

  8. For those of you who are impressed with all that detail, I'll let you in on a little secret. I have to have total concentration in the planning stage, but after that I can stipple and mostly listen to a TV program. Ideally I'd be in my monk's robes with lovely flute music in the background ..... but I gotta do what I gotta do.

  9. I'd missed that post, Elva, a lovely composition- and I thought it was an etching at first, with the fine chiaroscuro work. I adore the moon bt it wasn't so big when I watched here in Rome, although it was a clear night. We obviously missed the magic moment.

  10. Beautiful sketching. First time I have been on your blog and I enjoyed all that you do. will be visiting again soon. Lovely the birds. They are one of my favorites to paint.