bonus episode – engineering, science, and art | Briand Montiero and Cyrus Foster

This bonus track is part of a series of interviews we conducted for episode 23 Draw Everywhere: Space and Quantum Computing Art with Forest Stearns.  This time we interview Briand Monteiro, an artist and a mechanical engineer at Blue Canyon Technologies, and Cyrus Foster, Senior Guidance, Navigation, and Control Engineer at SpaceX. We spoke about their encounter with art in a space company and how art influences their day-to-day. 


Nico Daswani The Artian Podcast

Resources and links

Artworks and other topics mentioned during the podcast can be seen in the following links:


The transcript was produced by an AI, mistakes might appear. 

[00:00:00] Nir Hindi: So, it was, can you take a moment to introduce yourself?

Cyrus Foster: Sure. Yeah. Um, my name is Cyrus foster. Um, um, I am an aerospace engineer and from 2014 to 2019, I had the privilege of working at planet labs, where I got to work at a company that had an artist in residence program.

Nir Hindi: Great. So, you worked at planet is flight dynamics lead, and you joined probably at the same time four was joined.

 So, you come from an astronautical background, you worked at NASA, and then you get to planet and there is an artist in the company. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see an artist in a space company?

Cyrus Foster: I guess I did not really know what to expect. I imagined it would be to be an artist set up on an easel in the middle of the office.

And he would be painting all day. And [00:01:00] that, that is what it turned out to be, at least, you know, the initial impression when you get there. Um, but he is not just painting all day, but he is, you know, he is, he is busy working, but he is also to talk to and chat. Then you can chat about art. You can chat about, work, and chat about life.

It was not just the artist being in this fishbowl, you know, in the middle of the office, but it was. It was very much like a two-way direction.

Nir Hindi: and not like something to look at, but something to interact somewhat with. And before you got into a planet, and you got to meet a forest, did you have any connection to art?

Cyrus Foster: No, not really. So

Nir Hindi: it is kind of, it is the first time you get into interaction without these things?

Cyrus Foster: I would say so like maybe randomly, I might have sketched some, some stuff, you know, that may be work-related but no, like essentially no art connection beforehand.

Nir Hindi: I am interested to know you, as you [00:02:00] mentioned, you started to chat with four, and you see him over there.

And how is the presence? Of, of someone like a forest and artist in the company influenced you. On a personal level on a professional level,

Cyrus Foster: on an art level. Like when I arrived at a planet, um, you know, as I said, you know, I had no art connection, but I was, I was gradually inspired to do some sketches and I, I think the first.

The opportunity was when the artist in residence program had like an evening event where we got all the employees to make, a napkin drawing on the back of a napkin, you draw something. So, it is just like a little snapshot, you know, very easy to make very quick as no pressure, because it is just, you know, it is a very small canvas, and you do not have to put a lot of thought into it.

Um, and, and everybody 30 or 40 people at the time.  Made the blue napkin drawing, and then it was put up on a, on a montage, um, up on the wall. And that was probably my first sketch [00:03:00] fair. Gradually. I just randomly had a desire to, you know, make a number sketch and this time it was not on a napkin drawing, but I am like a full page.

So, you know, after work. Forrest would usually be there that time and I would sketch, and he might be working on something else and that could be busy sketching, and we could interact. And you look at what I do and, you know, maybe, give me, give me pointers. And then eventually after that, I think it was at least a few years into me working at planet labs.

I was like, you know, I have a few sketches here, but like, I want to paint one of these, and I had never painted. Since kindergarten, probably. So, I just went online and got like a little starter pink kit for 25 bucks and then had asked for us, you know what kind of things should I get? And so, I, I got a little kit, and then it is just started painting, you know, he would see me paint and give me tips about, Oh, you know, this is how you, this is how you do a gradient or, you know, this is how you take care of your paintbrush.

So, it does not get all clogged up. And so, I, I started painting because [00:04:00] of that. And I knew I still paint.

Nir Hindi: So, so like we are six years after you got to planet and now, you are painting and drawing regularly.

Cyrus Foster: Yeah. I mean, regular for me is maybe. One or two paintings a year, but sure. Yeah,

Nir Hindi: it is, it is, it is already one or two more than zero, so it is, it is a good step.

Um, so what ask you if, if you were now a manager or if there are managers that listening to us, why would you recommend having an.

Cyrus Foster: I would say there, there are a few reasons I can think of for one, just having the artist, having somebody creative, making art in the office, even if you are not involved with that, or we do not even interact with that on a personal level.

It still inspires the company. You know, something is being creative to mean it is being worked on and it kind of lightens your day and builds a promise [00:05:00] to a better future. But also, other than that, I mean, for one, you know, your art is being created for the company that the company can, can put up and as showpieces for, to tell the story of behind the company.

Um, and show visitors. So, it is building an art gallery relevant to the company. Um, and lastly, you know, something that. I benefited from on a personal level it was just an opportunity for employees to dabble in art themselves, and to, they have never been involved with art and to get involved in art. So, I saw that as a great perk of the company, even though it was maybe not what, you know, what was in the mind of the, at the onset of the program, but it gave me the chance to, to paint, which.

I never would have thought I would be doing.

Nir Hindi: And did you have something to action? Today the holidays that came program, because I know that there are many others other,

Cyrus Foster: Yeah, absolutely. So, forest was the [00:06:00] director of the program. And so, he was a mainstay employee of planet for years. And then he would manage the visiting artists who would come for maybe a couple of months at a time.

And they would each have their own flavor of art that they would be working on. And it was very interesting to see this diversity of arts. So, some people force, paintings to have a certain vibe to them. You know, they are usually, you know, these big landscape paintings or if he is grandiose imageries, but some artists are more abstract.

And, and it would paint something that you just look at and, and you just, and it just mesmerizes you, or, you know, some artists, you know, it would be these like a lot more color, and it would be like a more vibrant cartoonish kind of art person. People would, would work on physical models, like 3d art.

So, it was great to see this diversity, and we had maybe. Almost a dozen different artists come in, in, and out through the years. So that was a very enriching experience to, see that and [00:07:00] interact with these artists, you know, when they were at planet.

Nir Hindi: And do you miss it on a day today?

Cyrus Foster:  Yeah. You can be sure of the direction.

Yeah, I do miss it, but you know, like having experienced that and worked in art, by myself, it, it also changes you. Your viewpoint when you do CR so when now when I do CR, I look at it a very different way. I know what details to look at because, and to work on some of these things myself, you know, I see somebody made a gradient and I will look at that and.

See, how, how did they make this color gradient? Or what colors did you choose and where, how did they set up the shadows? So, you look at all these details you never noticed or thing to notice beforehand if you had never got into bad art.

Nir Hindi: Great. Any last thoughts you think valuable to share? Yeah.

Cyrus Foster: Yeah. I, I think, I think, having an artist in residence program where, you know, you do not just have an artist separated from the rest of the company, but one bit is.

Accessible and you can interact with is a [00:08:00] great thing for a company to have, and a great perk for your company, not just for employees, but it also reaches the story and the, and the story of the company is trying to tell.

Nir Hindi: Great. So, thank you very much. Have a great day in LA. Enjoy the sunny weather, um, and do not stop creating.

Cyrus Foster: Yeah, no, it was great chatting with you, and good luck on the podcast. Um, yeah. All right. Take care.

Nir Hindi: Hey, Brianne, welcome to the Altium podcast.

Briand Monteiro: Thanks so much for having me,

Nir Hindi: Brianne, can you take a moment to introduce yourself?

Briand Monteiro: Sure. Um, my name is Brad Montero. Um, I am a mechanical engineer. I design satellites. Um, and I am also an artist.

Nir Hindi: Great. So, Brianne, I want to ask you, you joined planet just after forest joined planet and you join a company.

And obviously you have this nature or connection to the arts, you will meet an artist inside a satellite company. What is the first thing you have in mind?

Briand Monteiro: I was very surprised. Um, I had always thought of sort of an engineering firm being this very. Um, I guess sort of like linear and, um, controlled environment where everyone sits in their cubicle and office and does their independent, um, sort of like math and [00:01:00] science.

And I came into, planet and Forrest were there, and he was creating art in the middle of this open office space. And he had these huge canvases and, um, I would walk by and he was. He was one of the people that I felt the most comfortable talking to when I first got there, I found, I do not know, some sort of like solace and being able to like to connect with him, um, while doing this was my first job in engineering.

I had done an internship at NASA, but this was my first like real job doing engineering. Um, and, and having that ability to connect with him on this like different creative level was really, um, inspiring and comforting.

Nir Hindi: Great. And then you, your kind of, eh, Probably, you know, Forrest was approachable.  Maybe the creative connection between you as someone that practice out, by the way, what do you do as an artist?

Briand Monteiro: Um, all kinds of things. Um, I went to art school briefly before I went to engineering school. [00:02:00] Um, and there, I did not settle on a discipline. I only went for one year before I decided that I wanted to, um, study something a little bit more, um, in math and science for school. But, but yeah, there, I had no like specific discipline that I was settled on.

Um, I really love to draw. I love to sew and create like soft goods and design clothing and different. Random things, um, and collage and photography, and, um, just all sorts

Nir Hindi: experimenting with different mediums.  So, you obviously have this a, I would say more natural tendency to the app store, the arts.

And I wonder how you perceive the response of the other engineers in the company to the fact that they have an artist. What were the influences in your, in your opinion?

Briand Monteiro: Yeah. Um, having an artist in residence, in, um, a technical [00:03:00] company, um, it sorts of provided this diversity of thoughts that, um, I think influences people in very subtle ways that.

Um, you are not really thinking of daily, but seeing someone else’s creative process, um, especially in the field, um, of like design engineering, I think is really, um, relatable in some ways. And, like very inspiring, I think probably for both parties to see the creative process of the other.

So, the creative process of the engineer and the greater process of the artist when I was in art school. You know, the, what was really like driven home was, um, you, you have your, your concept and you come up with this concept and then you find a way to communicate that concept to your audience. And then as a design engineer, it is almost kind of similar, um, [00:04:00] like.

I come up with a concept to meet a set of requirements. And then I create something for my audience, which is my customer, um, to communicate, you know, usually in a functional way. Their needs, but in my way, so it had some like parallels and I think in art, there is a lot, there is like this beautiful focus on the process as well.

So, you have like your concept, but then that evolves throughout the process. Um, and engineering, I think that can be helpful because it is easy to sort of get stuck in this idea of like, well, this is like the function that I need to meet. And when you run into sort of like a problem with that, you, you really must think outside the box and sort of get involved in the process of like discovering a new solution.

Nir Hindi: I visited the offices of a planet. I think it was the end of 2018. And one of the things I have noticed is that there was a, [00:05:00] even though like very engineering. Company as a visitor, I felt like super creative and in cool and energetic atmosphere. It is like I was there, and Forrest had these canvases all over and you had artworks by other artists in every room.

And then you had the band was playing in the middle of the home. And I was like, what is going on over here? And I wonder is that if the fact that you have, artist-in-residence kind of. Contribute to this type of atmosphere in a company.

Briand Monteiro: Yeah, absolutely. I think having artists and residents, it adds this sort of feeling of freedom and, and contributes to this like creative energy, like you were saying.

And I think the type of company that would have an artist in residence is also going to want to give the employees, that sense of freedom and that like availability of creative space and [00:06:00] time. Um, planet I think is unusual because, you know, they there is like, no, there is no PTO. You have like infinite time off.

If you choose to take it, you take it on your own time. Whenever you feel like, and you just do not. Get removed from your salary, have no limit. And there is no like normal, like really working hours. Like at least when I was there, I am sure that is changed somewhat as the company’s grown, but I mean, I would be there super late at night.

And like Seth would be there like all night long and then like, he would not show up until like, you know, 3:00 PM the next day. And like just, you kind of make your own schedule. And that I think lends itself to having that, that openness for like, Ingenuity and creative problem solving.

Nir Hindi: Let us assume we have now a listener business camp, business manager at a company owner, listening to you and want to know from you.

What do you think are the benefits? For having artist-in-residence inside your company, [00:07:00] besides maybe this creative energy that

Briand Monteiro: we spoke. Yeah. I think the benefits of having an artist in residence in a company, there are many, but, um, I think kind of along the lines of what I was saying before with this like diversity of thoughts and process and being able to share and collaborate on ideas across disciplines.

Is it just opens, I think, a different way of thoughts and different sort of like brain spaces? So, it just sort of frees you from maybe one combined way of thinking and, um, inspires you to think in a different way.

Nir Hindi: Great. So, so my next question would be to about your own work. How did the fact that there are artists in the, in your space contributed to your own technical work?

Briand Monteiro: I think having. Being surrounded by [00:08:00] artists, you know, after, and for speaking like the director of the artist and residency program or whatever, it was like, w he brought in, you know, many different artists after that. Um, several of whom I am still in touch with and communicate with. And, and yeah, I think for me, it, like, it sorts of normalized this internal, um, like thing of importance for me, which is like aesthetics and, um, having.

Having other people who are creating things that are of like aesthetic importance, as well as delivering on this and communicating this, you know, this concept. You are creating something beautiful. And to me that is very important. And, it was, it was just great to have other people there that were creating something beautiful.

And it is so important for me in my engineering that I create something that is like functional, that is going to meet the requirements. And it is also beautiful. And then I, I take pride in, I want to look at like, and [00:09:00] it gives me like a deeper sense of meaning.

Nir Hindi: And now I am interested. Do you think that this need, that you must make it functional, but also beautiful it is because you been in art school or you have this connection to the arts?

Briand Monteiro: I think it is a combination of, I mean, I have this intrinsic desire to create something beautiful. Um, that is also functional, but I, and I think having an artist in residence, um, at planet, like helped me in that process. If that makes sense. So, yes, like it is an intrinsic sort of like desire, a need of mine to make beautiful things.

But having artists there made that so much more like accessible that, that aspect of myself and like, and, and made me feel, I guess, more inspired to do it instead of just getting caught up in braiding a product that meets requirements.

Nir Hindi: Yeah, amazing. You know because I always say that creativity is kind of a new as [00:10:00] process.

It is like, if you are surrounded by other creative people, you want to do creative things. Great.  Brianne, first, thank you very, very much.  So, on that level, how do you see maybe? Or maybe not? Yeah, that is the question I am always interested. Like someone that has this out. An engineering connection.

How do you think are contribute if at all to your engineering and maybe what are the similarities you see between engineering and, and out?

Briand Monteiro:  No, I think that is an interesting question. Um, and I think there are a lot of. Similarities between the creative process of art and the creative process of design engineering.

Um, you are, you know, you are trying to translate something a theoretical into something understood. You are trying to communicate your concepts to your audience, and you want to meet the objective that you [00:11:00] set out to meet. I think. You know, I kind of touched on this before, but I guess a little bit where the, these kind of diverges that in engineering, it is easy to get caught up in just meeting that objective and an art it is easy to get caught up in the process.

At least for me, um, for me, one of the hardest things about art school was having to communicate my concepts. And have that concept ahead of time, as opposed to discovering the concept through the process. Whereas with engineering, you must have that sort of concept ahead of time. But I think that where they can sort of like benefit each other is, is allowing yourself to, to allow the process to also like feed into that end [00:12:00] results.

Um, because. I think for both art and engineering, having this objective that you must communicate before you start, um, is, is like very restrictive and it can, it can get you sort of like blocked in some ways. Um, but, but yeah, I also think art in engineering, um, it is like an act of creation. You are bringing something.

Into the world into life that was not there before. Um, and you are always, you are trying to create something new, like you were saying. Um, you want, like, you would not be a good artist. If you were just copying other people’s work, you would not be a good engineer. If you were just creating the same shit that someone else created, like the objective is to make something new.

Um, [00:13:00] so.

Nir Hindi: Why it is like so separate. It is like people. And it is interesting because, um, Marissa Mayer, eh, in a conversation, she said engineering and out, out the different, and she spoke about the fact that her mom is an art teacher, and her father is an engineer, and she got the education for both. And the thing is that if you are not someone with your profile, for example, that study out in engineering, often, if you do not have this at home or have this internal passion, it is like distinctive world.

It is like engineering out, you know. No, they are not connected. So why, why, why we cannot find more people like you that see the similarities.

Briand Monteiro: I guess I would disagree with you. I think that the similarities are understood by a lot of [00:14:00] people and that, like, I know a lot of engineers that also studied art.

I am.

Nir Hindi: very happy.

Briand Monteiro: What that makes you happy?

Nir Hindi: Very happy.

Briand Monteiro: Good. Yeah. I think, I mean, they are everywhere. They are in my engineering school, they are in my company now and there, you know, at planet and I think, yes, there are lots of people who are, for example, surprised when I tell them that I also went to art school, but I know way too many people who have similar stories.

Um, of, you know, studying music or, you know, art and going to school for it and getting degrees and, you know, like, and just doing both that, that I think that there is a much broader understanding of the similarities then I think a lot of us might think, I do not know.

Nir Hindi: No, I am very happy to hear.

I mean, because I want to see [00:15:00] more of this way of thinking that understand that it is not either or. It is, it is better to have both. What made you go to an art school and what made you leave out at school? If I may ask? Yeah. Yeah.

Briand Monteiro: Um, yeah. So, in high school, um, I was not a fan of school. And just sort of despise the education system and did not feel like it, um, totally suited me.

And the only thing that I really loved doing in school was yeah, art and I did all kinds. Like I w I, my favorite class was art class and did all the experiments and all kinds of media. But then also, um, I did like apprenticeships in graphic design and web design and sort of exploring, you know, the more digital side of art.

And, whenever I would have like substitute teachers in high school for classes, I would skip those classes and go to my art class and said, so I could like work on projects and [00:16:00] create. And, and I graduated a year early from art school. So, I did not actually get to a very high level of math. And math was always something that was like came naturally to me and felt, you know, easy, but was not, at that time, particularly inspiring for me.

Um, I think mostly just because I was so like, angsty about hating school. Um, so I graduated a year early to get out of school because I just hated it. And, um, and then. Went and saved up money for a year, working and then went and traveled through Europe for five months by myself and met a bunch of people who, you know, had studied like astrophysics and cosmology and engineering and all sorts of things.

And I would talk to them for hours about, you know, about space and science and thought it was just incredible. Um, but I still had sort of like no real objectives for school and. Um, and decided that really, the only thing that I would be interested in going to school for was art. So, once I came back, I applied to art school, one art school, [00:17:00] Massachusetts college of art, which was.

Um, at that time and maybe still is, I am not sure the only public art school in the United States. And I wanted to go there because it did have like, you know, the same requirements that other schools had. So, you, you still had to take some sort of like general education courses, which I thought was important to me.

Um, and I also liked the public nature of it. And so, I got into that school and went there, and it was very structured and felt. Like very boring and very stifling. Um, there is a school next door, museum school that was basically the opposite of mass art. And I think if I would have gone there, things could have gone very dark differently, but, um, but yeah, I found it to be boring and I hated being told how to think and what to do.

And, and I felt like that was happening there in this way, where I was being like, you know, told that I had to come up with this concept and then communicate it. And that was how you do art. And like, I was being taught how to do that in this very structured way in classrooms with, you know, just. [00:18:00] I do not know, it felt very like linear and in concrete.

And I felt like my art was the opposite of that. Um, so I decided that if I wanted to continue doing higher education, that, um, the only thing that I would like personally to be able to accept was like, Did have more of an answer to it. So, like math and science. So eventually I went to community college and just started taking some like low level math classes and physics, which I had never taken.

And I took physics, and I was just like, you know, mind blown. It was just the most incredible class I had ever taken. I was just like, this is, this is amazing. You can explain all these things and it is like magic, but it is science. And I sort of combined my passion for. Space. And, and like this realization that if I wanted to go to school, that I wanted it to be like, something that had answer is even though you can like creatively to come to those answers, they are like, there is something that I felt like I personally was open to being [00:19:00] taught.

Um, and I think this also comes from like some weird authority thing, you know? Not liking people and it is already telling me how to think that. Um, yeah. So that is the long story.

Nir Hindi: Good. Ask you another question. Yeah. The things I find interesting is that often artist leads lead with questions in one of the things that you see.

I never attended the out education. Okay. So. I can only speak as an outsider for the, the world, but from conversations that I had from artists out education, or at least good art education is a, it is an education that focus on not what to think, but how to challenge or to kind of observe the world, ask questions, and offer alternatives.

What, what do you think about that?

Briand Monteiro: Um, my experience was in our school was [00:20:00] much less about technique and much more, um, about sort of these rules around the concept and you and communicating that concept. And so, I think in that way, it is somewhat about like, how do you ask these questions?

But it was there. It felt like there was no room for like alternative methods of. There was no room for having asking questions. And then through your process, like finding more questions and like, you know, maybe you would never have an answer and maybe you, your product means something totally different to every single person, but like they are getting something out of it that they need to get out of it.

And to me, like, that is just as much art as having a concept. And then executing that concept and then having your audience read your concept when they look [00:21:00] at your piece.

Nir Hindi: I think that is the power of out in many ways, if you can create a concept and people either understand what you meant, either take it to their own place or connect on a different level with the work.

Um, yeah, no, it is very interesting to hear your, your experience.

Briand Monteiro: Yeah, it is interesting. Um, I think just now in having this conversation, I am sort of like connecting that to engineering in a different way in the, in those parallels and how probably that experience at art school was beneficial for me in engineering school and in my engineering profession of being able to.

Sort of thinking that way of taking a concept and bringing it all the way through to [00:22:00] communicating that concept and the product. Um, even if that was not my favorite way to like, think about art. Um, I think that it is a very appropriate way to do engineering.

Nir Hindi: So just for me to make sure that I understood your lessons is what you are saying.

Is it? The fact that you learn how to communicate concept in our school, you brought it into engineering to communicate your own concepts. Did I understand correct or?

Briand Monteiro: no? Yeah. I think that is, that is correct. Yeah. Like I think that, that, that, that process of learning, um, how to come up with a concept and then.

Like stick with that concept and communicate that concept that you, you know, began your piece with the intention of, um, and then delivering that to your audience in a way [00:23:00] where they receive that message, that intent. Um, I mean, that’s kind of that, like in a lot of ways is design engineering. It is.  Very similar, um, like methodology, I guess.

Nir Hindi: Yeah, very interesting. One of the episodes that I published on the podcast is with the, the founder of the artist-in-residence program at the CERN and she is. Yeah, so they started an artist-in-residence program that still and 11 years after, which is amazing. Um, so it is, yeah, it is interesting to see the intersection of art and science.

There are more and more into it. So, first, thank you very much, for sharing your thoughts. It is very interesting a conversation to, to have a worth publishing it so people can [00:24:00] kind of learn.

Briand Monteiro: Yeah. Yeah, that is fascinating what it, what a cool project you are doing. Um, so inspiring that you, you know, get to have these, um, eye-opening conversations with so many different diverse people.

Um, cool. Thank you.

Nir Hindi: Thank you. Thank you for your time. You know, it is like people like you, that makes it interesting.

Briand Monteiro: Um, great to meet you. Thanks for talking to me. This was a lot of fun.

Nir Hindi: Great. So have a wonderful weekend.