A Nebula in a Petri Dish

jana stýblová
11 min readNov 11, 2021


I haven’t written publicly since 2014, right before going on a journey to find my people. I lost some, I found some…but mostly I found myself. I’ll be keen to touch on that evolution one day, but for now, here is some kindling and my current whereabouts.

I’m an artist at heart, but didn’t begin my art studies until mid-way through an Astrophysics degree. While the love of discovering new worlds remained, the perspective and intentions of exploration evolved.

I spent the majority of my days, months, years between 2006 and 2008 watching The Fountain on repeat, slowly but surely absorbing the magical organic textures created by Chris Parks’ space scenes: opting for analogue methods instead of VFX that produced imagery that to this day has refused to age.

“Chris has taken the cloud tank techniques used in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close encounters of the Third Kind and refined them to create mesmerising and powerful imagery that has an unrivalled organic and timeless quality.

›› https://www.chrisparksart.com/cloud_tank_fluid_films/

It’s no surprise, then, that when the time came to transition from a physics degree to an art degree, my first subliminally-planted task was to transform my black and white film camera into a microscope.

In 2008, a student without the necessary means to purchase any high-end equipment, I settled for a Canon AE-1 film camera as a prerequisite tool for my Black & White Dark Room class. Using just this camera, an additional lens, and the long forgotten science of concave and convex lenses, I stumbled onto a method of creating ultra-macro photos:

This particular technique, due to the dual lens method, only allows for a small portion of the film to be exposed — essentially not dissimilar to the way the eye can see the black edges inside a pair of binoculars. This results in circular images, framed just as you see them above, in the middle of the film strip.

My life spent in love with the cosmos to the very core of the molecular star dust stored in my bones: the most heart-warming revelation about these experiments was the direct influence of my awe of space and having worked as a planetarium educator for the majority of my young-adult life. Here in front of me were new worlds that I was creating all on my own — it’s a wonder I didn’t see it at the time.

As I worked through my art studies I had the absolute pleasure and luck to take a digital photography class with MJ Sharp who was ever so encouraging in my exploration of these non-traditional Fine Art Photography methods.

Throughout 2008 to 2010, after upgrading to a tiny Canon SLR (which, again with great irony, was financed by physics research grant…) I continued pointing my contraption in different directions and showed this series of photos at a small end-of-class gallery show, aptly named “Worlds”…


Throughout my art studies at UNC there were two additional professors that I could truly say changed my life permanently.

Nestor Gil opened my eyes to the idea that life itself is indeed art; that art doesn’t have to be a physical object in a physical space, but can be everywhere, and nowhere, that it can even just be implied. That Art is an experience you have, something you can actively participate in: this was my first exposure to performance art. And most importantly, he tied my Astronomy and Art worlds together: encouraging me to create projects literally inside of a Planetarium. To no feel shame about my disparate backgrounds. This will come back to me in the future in profound ways…

Kimowan Metchewais. If I could heave a heavy sigh with my words, I would. What a great loss for all of us that he was taken so early in life. I could scream at the sky every day to tell him how much he meant to me as a professor and human. He blended design and art seamlessly, and explored transportable fine art experiences while exploring the use of materials in eye opening ways, even human hair. He was the first to encourage the digitization of my artwork — saying it is okay to use digital software to create art. To use design techniques to speak to people in profound ways. And especially to use the act of creation as a reminder that we are connected to something much bigger than ourselves.

Thank you, Nestor and Kimowan.

2010 and onward…

It would be a very long time before I picked up the camera again, and indeed, before I remembered that I was fundamentally an artist (we all are) without having to constantly try to be one.

I spent the early 2010s figuring out how to monetize my decoupaged studies: what on earth does one do with an art degree and a physics degree. I was lucky yet again to have a mentor, Michelle Kloda, at the Morehead Planetarium who encouraged my exploration of exhibit design and convinced the endlessly talented Experience Design team (the ones who make those amazing 3D dome shows inside of planetariums) lead by Jay Heinz, to teach me a small morsel about design. Poor Jay, I remember him shoving a stack of design literature at me and just saying … please … go look at this and learn something…

I suppose in the end, I did. His and Michelle’s confidence in me paved the way to my becoming a designer and ultimately propelled me into a New York City based career that would last over a decade, one which expedited my path towards becoming a leader in the design industry and ultimately empowered me to be completely self-sustained as an independent design contractor.

I look back at these people and opportunities and my gratitude is forever over-pouring. When someone sees something in you, listen.

Burnout / Rebirth

It would be ~5 grueling years of living the NYC lifestyle of 60 hours weeks, sleepless nights, a million small gigs on-top of a full-time job, not eating properly because finances over health…A long climb up the ladder, and an ultimate jump off. Was it worth it?

Having moved through a debilitating episode of burn-out, divorce, health complications, moving back in with my parents in my mid-twenties after having seemingly thought everything was figured out…I decided to start again — to begin rebuilding my life, my worlds, my universes… from scratch.

I moved to San Francisco, never having been, to start something new — but namely to heal something deep within myself and to learn my own creative truths:

We are all born artists. From the moment we were able, we played with our imaginations, inventing worlds, sounds & stories without a care for aesthetics or others’ understanding. I wish we all could have remained that way. We grew up, instead, to the ever present structures, oppressions, manipulations of society, molding us into something we never wanted to be: running in the rat race and climbing mountains that weren’t ours. One the of truest tragedies remains the stolen opportunity to take time to discover and create our own personal truths.

After a long, quiet, many months of healing and companionship with a spiritual particle, the tether was reformed: I started making art again c.2015. The experiments bloomed, and I found myself in a familiar cadence: constantly pointing my strange contraption, sometimes held together with bandage wrap, at everything I could find in the apartment: bubbles, milk, salt, coffee, cooked on crud inside of the oven…

Continued exploration of macro-worlds using the double lens technique, applied in this case to dish-soap inside of a glass jar. Part of the It’s True collection, photographed 2008–2012.

Harkening back to Chris Parks’ work, I wanted to continue exploring liquids and how they interact with each other in order to create explosive reactions…well, very subtle ones, actually. The series above is a collection of bubbles forming in a glass jar, un-pictured are experiments with milk and dish-soap — it was indeed a bit of a science lab that naturally evolved into paint and one particular experiment I did when I was a child making black and white micro-mixtures of acrylic.

Motion, reaction, lack of control — I wanted to harness a moment in time…so naturally, my science background whispered a wee idea into my head:

A petri dish is also a nebula

The era of the petri dish began and I don’t believe it ever ended. Much of my work happens here and my dedication to this space has helped me define and understand my personal approach to the act of creation.

I let the paint play. I let it move, elude, bend and melt. I add other chemicals to produce interactions. I dedicate my practice to the breath-taking nature of all things around us: those that we can witness, those that we can be a part of, those that we affect and those that we have no idea are happening. Every action has an …

Traditional Art

Having come from the traditional art world, yet taken a very non-traditional path, I found it impossible to penetrate the gallery ecosystem. Between paid submissions, portfolio reviews, schmoozing with expensive looking folk at gallery openings, to even building an art-centric app — I always struggled to find a place in the hierarchy. I also knew that it wasn’t a game I was particularly interested in playing. I was left with a challenge: what is art if no-one experiences it? Does it exist? Does it have purpose? Is it enough for it to exist on my websites, in my home…

The last few years have been a struggle to come to terms with how I would like to showcase my work — considering it Art with a capital A, but not necessarily wanting it to be part of the white-washed gallery space (nor wanting it to drowned seas of social media platforms). Perhaps, admittedly, I was too busy or too lazy to properly dedicate my time to crafting a Fine Art career.

I knew there was something in the act of creation that freed me, but I wanted to approach my process via a healthy dose of Wu Wei.

Planetarium by Jana Stýblová (Created 2015, Augmented 2021)

Fast forward to 2021

I jumped on the NFT wagon quickly: after research, guidance and ultimately a deep appreciation for the over arching goal of self and community empowerment, I now mint my art to live permanently on the blockchain.

The platforms built around web3 finally free us from decades of frictional secret-club-like mentalities of the art world, and from the alternative: devaluing our works for Instagram and Tumblr’s shallow double-tap-love. And secretly, giving me a chance to finally not feel like a failed artist.

Around 2015, I was blessed to cross digital-paths with Joshua Davis, who has not only been a supporter of my past work but utilized my photography in his installation at OFFF Barcelona.

Thank you Joshua, for always holding the door open for the smaller folk, for teaching us how it’s done, and for always being cognizant of underrepresented artists in the digital space.

He is also one of the main figures who introduced me to this fine NFT world we find ourselves in — and as a result, I’m now able to look back on my body of work with a renewed understanding, re-energization, and re-inspiration.

This year it was with great excitement that I joined the SuperRare family, forever ingraining my works of art into permanence and stating: I was here, on this planet — I breathed, I lived, I loved, I hurt, and I created. Knowing that a part of me will live on, that my art journey hasn’t been in vein, knowing someone somewhere one day, will see it. That is what the blockchain means to me.

I am endlessly grateful to all who have been by my side on this journey. Special thanks goes out to one of my top collectors, iki-ima, whose confidence in me and support I will cherish forever. To VÉRITÉ whose encouragement to explore some wild new aesthetics landed me in some beautiful new realms, and Kinstugi for connecting us and continuing to open some amazing doors.

I’m now incredibly lucky to be able to take a step back and celebrate the kid who made her first planet from scratch in Photoshop a blurry 14 years ago. The teenager who decided to pursue physics even though she was one of two girls in the department (and wasn’t particularly good at physics)…for the college student who fell out of love with Astrophysics because she couldn’t bare spending THAT many hours staring at a computer (irony…)… and had the gall to do something about it. The new human realizing there are more universes to explore than just the one above our heads. To the difficult decisions that laid ahead. To getting here and for every single loved one, mentor and human who believed along the way. It’s for you. Thank you.

Explore my works:

› on SuperRare ›

› on Foundation ›

› on Async ›

› on Tezos ›

Jana Styblova

Thank you for taking the time to read my work. I’m still designing: http://styblova.com but transitioning to making art and music full-time: http://janastyblova.com. If you ever need anything, come get me in Twitter DMs: @styblova