Description of work for a mid-20th century paleontological illustrator at the Smithsonian Institution
This article is additional material to accompany the Larry Isham Biography in the 2012 no.3 Journal of Natural Science Illustration
— Researched and transcribed by Mary Parrish, Smithsonian Institution.
This is the 1957 job description for the paleo-Illustration position of GNSI Founder Lawrence B. Isham, Department of Geology, U.S.National Museum, Smithsonian Institution. It provides an interesting insight into the requirements for a museum staff illustrator position in the mid-twentieth century.
Official Position Description for Lawrence B. Isham dated 2/27/57
Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum, Department of Geology; author unknown.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 543
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution
Serves as Scientific Illustrator for the Department of Geology under the administrative supervision of the Head Curator.
1) The incumbent prepares for the members of the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology accurate illustrations of all types of vertebrate fossils, including skeletal material of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, the making of reconstructions of the complete animal from these skeletal remains, and its habitats, and the drafting of maps, graphs, and diagrams, under the direct supervision of one of the Curators of the Division;
2) prepares for members of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany accurate drawings of the detailed anatomy of various fossil animals without backbones, such as foraminifera, clams, snails, brachiopods, trilobites, etc., and also parts of fossil plants, including stems, seeds and leaves; uses skilled and careful manipulation of fragile microscopic specimens while drawing, utilizes specialized techniques of oiling, coating, and illuminating specimens to view details of anatomy not otherwise visible;
3) prepares for the Division of Mineralogy and Petrology illustrations of polished gems, crystal diagrams, retouched photographs, maps and charts;
4) prepares for members of the Department diagrams, maps and charts showing geological stratigraphic sections, facies diagrams, crystal projections, tables, stencils, and other tasks requiring drafting skill;
5) consults with members of the Department of Geology and furnishes advice and aid in art matters connected with technical illustration, non-technical art work, and exhibition;
6) keeps record of the drafting and drawing supplies and maintains the valuable and delicate optical instruments used in making the drawings of microscopic animals. Must make skillful use of these and other aids and devices to produce accurate illustrations of a desired magnification;
7) commands a wide variety of media for illustration and must use own judgment in choosing the best for a particular subject. Understands the limitations imposed upon these media by the various reproduction processes, and adapts the illustration to obtain the best results for a given method of printing; the incumbent receives assignments by the Curator through the Head Curator, but plans his own work and budgets his time for these assignments. He is responsible for scheduling his own work to meet reasonable deadlines set by Curator.
I. Vertebrate Animals.
Illustrations for the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology are, for the most part, detailed, carefully measured and proportioned technical drawings for publication, but also include reconstruction paintings, template tracings for model construction, photograph retouching and material to aid, explain or supplement the exhibition of fossils. The incumbent is responsible for drawings which must accurately depict in detail the intricacies of vertebrate skeletal anatomy. For example, in the illustration of a small mammal jaw, such as that of a fossil rodent or primate, the cusps of the teeth must be shown with fidelity and the difference between dentine and enamel clearly exhibited. With larger teeth it is necessary, while accurately depicting the wear-pattern, to show whether the surface of the tooth is glossy, furrowed or rugose, yet not let the surface texture obscure the shading which shows shape and contour. In laying out illustrations of vertebrate specimens, dimensions and proportions are most important, consequently, proportional dividers and other aids to measurement must be used. The layout must be very accurate because measurements corresponding to those of the specimen may be taken from the finished illustration. The illustration as a whole must be carefully planned and scaled with regard to reduction in size when published, so that a definite statement may be made in the publication as to the number of times the specimen was magnified (or reduced in the case of larger animals) for the printed illustration. Partial restorations must be made; for example, where in the left jaw to be drawn a tooth is missing, a corresponding tooth from the right jaw may be drawn in by carefully making a reversed or mirror-image of the tooth in question, thus depicting a complete dentition. In many cases the detailed features cannot be shown by photographs and must be drawn, the drawing having the advantage of emphasizing the essentials while eliminating cracks, fissures, adhering matrix, or other effects of fossil preservation which obscure or detract from important taxonomic features of the specimen.
In other instances it may be advantageous to photograph a small jaw or skull, in which case the incumbent will draw in or retouch the photograph to emphasize the important structures. In addition to retouching, the background in the photograph may be altered or removed by air-brush, tempera, or Bourges Solotone sheets to enhance the appearance of the photograph.
The incumbent is called upon to manipulate, measure, arrange, and illuminate for drawing, rare and fragile vertebrate fossils without damage to the specimens. In addition to teeth, skulls, jaws, and limb bones of very small vertebrates, where the microscope is employed, the skeletal remains of extremely large vertebrates, such as the ground sloths and dinosaurs, must also be illustrated. The incumbent is also required to make large, life-size plan drawings of skeletal parts of these larger vertebrates to aid in the laboratory preparation of disarticulated skeletons.
The drawing of fossil fishes requires the attainment of great accuracy of detail, even though the specimens are generally only two dimensional. Where the fossil fish is distorted in the matrix, the drawing must be reproportioned, with the advice of the Curator, so that the illustration assumes a more realistic outline while retaining the proper number of scales, scale rows, fin rays and spines. In addition to working with fossil material, it is necessary to prepare illustrations of scales of recent fishes for comparison to establish relationships with extinct groups. Where a finely preserved fossil fish skeleton is imbedded in the matrix, the delicate nature of the fossil may preclude its preparation by removal from the rock. In this case many successive peels or sections are made through the rock, furnishing a series of sections through the skeleton, of fine microscopic detail. (Peels are really sections of a skeleton made by grinding a cross-section of the skeleton in the rock, then pouring collodion on the flat surface. After the collodion hardens, an impression of the bone is left on it.) From these peels the incumbent must draw up magnified tracing templates, using the focalmatic-projector and the delineascope opaque projector. These tracings are used in making models of the fish skeleton either for taxonomic or exhibition purposes. Where specimens are not available, it is necessary for purposes of comparison to make accurate copies of illustrations from literature previously published.
In all instances the incumbent is expected to make recommendations to the Curators as to the best media in which to represent the materials to be exhibited, the best to show details required, and the best for purposes of reproduction. Recommendations will include media such as; pen and ink, in stipple or contour shading, craft tint, wash drawings, shaded pencil, stipple-board or retouched photographs, the recommendation in each is designed to bring forth the best possible depiction of the subject animal.
The incumbent is also required to prepare, under the supervision of the Curators in Vertebrate Paleontology, pen and ink, wash drawing, shaded pencil, or tempera painting reconstructions of animals, based on skeletal material. To depict reconstructions, even though aided by expert technical advice and supervision by the Curators, requires some knowledge of the basic skeletal and muscular anatomy of the vertebrates. The incumbent must work from information in the literature, from disarticulated skeletons, and the anatomy and habits of comparable recent animals to draw and pose the reconstructed animal naturally, and in suitable surroundings. In preparing the drawings, consideration must be given to the size at which intricate details can be properly drawn and still be visible after reduction for publication. The incumbent must determine the placement of completed illustrations with the view of reasonable economy in page size and publication. The incumbent must determine the placement of completed illustrations with the view of reasonable economy in page size and publication. He also assembles in the completed illustrations into plates, taking care to arrange the pictures artistically and at the same time insuring that the plate space is used intelligently. (NOTE: the drawing of these complicated animals requires some knowledge of the basic anatomy of the vertebrate and its skeleton. The variety of subjects to be depicted requires library research and references to literature on the anatomy of vertebrate animals, and probably consultation with the Curator before the pictures are drawn.)
II. Invertebrate Animals.
Illustration of invertebrate animals, like the vertebrates, requires some knowledge of anatomy and zoology, the habits of the animals, and the special techniques in the study of these small fossils. A special requirement of the work performed for this Division is the drawing of microscopic animals for the specialist on fossil Foraminifera, a group of animals greatly used in research in stratigraphy and in the dating of rock strata deep underground in oil wells. These little animals thus have a practical and economic value which makes the need for accuracy in their depiction compelling. Many of the Foraminifera are minute and must be studied under a high-power microscope. The drawings are sometimes made three or four hundred times the size of the specimen. Several views are required of some of these specimens and the incumbent must orient the specimen on the slide, using a very small, soft brush with moistened tip, taking great care not to lose or damage the specimen. It is also necessary in some cases to coat the specimen with oil to bring out details otherwise not visible. These operations must be done very skillfully while observing the specimen through the microscope, since the specimen itself may be nearly invisible to the naked eye. Other drawings must be made from specimens preserved in liquid, care being taken not to allow the specimen to dry.
In order to obtain accuracy of outline needed in their illustration, use of the camera lucida is required. This instrument fits over the ocular of the microscope and is a prism that brings an image of the artist’s hand and pencil into the field enlarging the small object. The use of the camera lucida at high powers requires the exercise of great skill, concentration and experience.
After the plan of the Foraminifera is laid down, the details are sketched in and then the relief is brought up by pencil shading or ink stipple. In the process of drawing, the specimen may be coated with oil to emphasize the inner sutures, and the microscope lamp moved about many times to alter the illumination of the specimen and throw into relief, by shadows, fine details otherwise obscured. Because of the minuteness of the subject and the special techniques necessary to bring out the details of the specimens, these tiny objects cannot be successfully photographed, consequently, they must be illustrated by drawings. The line and contrast qualities of these drawings must be sharp enough to be suitable for regular publication processes, for photocopying or for making lantern slides.
In other types of invertebrate fossils the problems of illustration are similar to those described for Vertebrate Paleontology, with the exception that many of the animals are small, usually less than an inch in size. Consequently, the work requires the use of the camera lucida, but at lower powers on the microscope than are required for the Foraminifera. Some small shells are provided with unusual and complicated details which must be accurately illustrated and which require some knowledge of anatomy and the ability to discern all of the details. Other types of animals that the incumbent is required to draw are brachiopods, pelecypods, gastropods, starfishes (which are most intricate because they are composed of interlocking limy plates to form a complicated skeletal framework), sea urchins, crinoids, trilobites, corals, and other less common types.
In drawing brachiopods, diagrams and ink stipple drawings are required to be made from specimens and photographs. Many of the brachiopods, in addition to being externally textured with spines, grooves and lines, possess complicated interior structures of great complexity and delicacy. These interior details, of taxonomic importance, are extremely fragile and difficult to draw. Usually these are illustrated by photographs, but it is necessary at times to supplement them with pen and ink stipple drawings or diagrams. Great care must be exercised while drawing specimens of this type. The incumbent also prepares pen and ink and pencil illustrations of gastropods, some of which are quite tiny and delicate. The illustrations must accurately depict shape, angle of whorls, surface sculpture, teeth within the aperture, and growth lines. Frequently the fragile line at the lip of the aperature is broken or missing and must be restored on the drawing by inferring its shape from the growth lines. Some illustrations for these fossil snails are made from other previously published illustrations when no perfect specimen is available, due to the type of fossil preservation or fragile nature of the shell. The drawing thus made is a synthesis of several specimens, other illustrations, and guidance from the Curator. Accurate depiction of the hinge area of pelecypods is made through stipple-shaded drawings. The delicately contoured teeth and sockets of this region of the shell show variations which differentiate one group of bivalves from another. In depicting gross morphology with pen and ink, the problems and techniques are similar to those for gastropods. The incumbent retouches photographs and photocopies of illustrations. He is expected to advise on the selection of the most advantageous medium to illustrate any particular animal and to select the proper enlargement that will best depict the necessary details. Pictures are prepared to suit the type f reproduction to be used, whether line cut, half-tone, or full tone, and the final size at which it will be published. He consults the Curator as to the journal, bulletin or book in which the illustrations will be published, so that the pictures or plates make the best use of the page size. He also assembles the pictures into plates artistically and economically arranged, labels and numbers illustrations on plate, by template, free-hand, past on, or cellulose-sheet numbers.
Illustrations for the Division of Mineralogy and petrology require little contour shading, but include certain specialties. Crystal diagrams are required where the angles must be accurately laid out and intricate line drawings made. Drawings of cut and polished gem stones, for example, require pen and ink or scratchboard illustrations sufficiently detailed to depict asterism, the shape and size of the stone, and the manner in which it was cut. The incumbent prepares large and small maps, patterned to show the distribution of minerals, collecting stations and principal geographic features; retouches photographs of sections to emphasize certain areas; squares, trims, and assembles photographs into plates. He also advises on matters concerning publication of illustrations, labeling, and other matters concerning the exhibition of mineral specimens.
All three divisions of the Department of Geology are concerned with geologic and topographic maps, stratigraphy, or the study of rock layers, and deformation of rock layers. It is necessary, therefore, for the departmental publications to have maps drafted. The incumbent is responsible for the preparation of all such maps; he also prepares stratigraphic correlation and facies charts. In the preparation of black and white geological maps, he blocks in the rock patterns with zipatone, rescales maps to larger or smaller size, letters legends ad labels features of importance. He prepares graphs, tables, diagrams, illustrated charts, histograms, and phylogenetic relationship charts. He is required to make stencils for blank charts to be typed and reproduced by mimeograph, and to draft blanks for charts where the text is to be typed or set in type for publication. He is called upon to alter finished drafting and photocopies of drafting by the Leroy lettering device, freehand lettering, Art Type cellulose letters, gummed letters, and paste-up of type font lettering. He prepares crystal diagrams, which are mathematically drawn in such a way that the angles between crystal faces must be precise; also petrographic and metallographic drawings are made from polished and thin sections with a camera lucida. He prepares terrain sketches from field data or from photographs, (maps, stratigraphic charts, and diagrams may be drawn from sketches, or they may have to be constructed from field data). All line work is done with the standard drafting instruments, contour pens, dividers, compass, triangles, squares, drafting curves, protractors and proportional dividers, used as necessary to fit the drafting and mapping needs of the Department.
The incumbent is called upon to furnish artistic and technical advice in departmental matters pertaining to graphic presentation of information and planning exhibits; is required to prepare labels, placards and signs for exhibition; prepares colorful information backgrounds for specimens with maps and diagrams in tempera colors, incorporating matted photographs, sign lettering, air-brush and poster techniques; is required to letter on glass, wood, and other exhibit materials, information related to the specimens; drafts ink diagrams of layouts to aid in setting up traveling exhibits; mats photographs for exhibit purposes; prepares sketches and spot illustrations for popular publication booklets; makes large scale diagrams for aid in laboratory preparation of fossil materials for exhibition; prepares sketches and diagrams in black and white for television transmission to supplement informational telecasts by department members; may be required to paint foregrounds and backgrounds and make drawings of animals and plants; may also be required to contribute diagrams or drawings for exhibition when his special skills will be of advantage.
The incumbent is responsible for the care and maintenance of valuable instruments, such as the monocular microscope, stereoscopic microscope, camera lucida, ocular and stage micrometers, focalmatic desk projector, delineascope opaque projector, illuminated tracing table, microscope lamps, drafting instruments, Leroy lettering device, proportional dividers, air-brush and air-brush pressure regulating system. He is required to use to advantage the various magnifying devices and their components in such a way as to achieve the desired magnification of the specimen; calibrates the ocular micrometer for the microscopes by use of the stage micrometer, in conjunction with oculars ranging from five to twenty power and various objective lens elements, making possible, at many different ranges of magnification, the accurate determination of size of the microscopic specimen, in micra or larger fractions of millimeters. He establishes with these measuring devices a size relationship between the original specimen and the printed illustration so that the magnification of the specimen may be stated on the illustrations; uses stage micrometer to check for image distortion when specimen requires wide field; uses focalmatic projector to enlarge or reduce illustrations or tracings; uses delineascope projector to rescale illustrations or enlarge photographs for illustration purposes; uses and adjusts to large scale, or detail work, the air-brush pressure regulating system. He is responsible for supplies required and makes recommendations for replacements when needed, and for new equipment or supplies which appear on the market from time to time, and which will improve the qulity or quantity of illustrations for the Department.
VII. Techniques and media.
Uses judgment and taste in choosing best medium effectively to illustrate subject, depending on th specimen and the method of printing to be used for the publication. Adapts qualities of medium to suit desires of scientist and obtain best results in type of printing used; prepares finished illustrations shaded to show contour and details, maintaining proper proportions through use of plan view orthographic or axonometric perspective, or the parallel and angular perspective systems. Uses understanding of basic principles of letterpress, lithography and gravure printing to adapt artwork to type of reproduction. Utilizes wide variety of media, including brush, pen and litho-crayon with Ross board, scratch board, coquille board, craft-tint, zipatone, or line and stipple on non-textured, untreated illustration board for line cut reproduction. For half-tone or full tone reproduction the incumbent uses wash drawing, scaled grays, graphite, litho-crayon, stumped pencil, tempera, Bourges Solotone sheets and air-brush. Has recourse to knowledge of layout and design in combining illustrations into plates of tasteful arrangement with economical use of space, and in exhibit layouts. Is called upon to retouch photographs and photocopies and to repair damaged or aged photographs. Copies and converts for modern printing methods, previously published illustrations, such as old lithographs and engravings. Is required to use color for exhibit work, using pastel for preliminary roughs, and rendering in water color, tempera, colored inks or oils. Uses judgment and training in color compatibility, complements, color neutralization and values. In duplicating fossil specimens with plaster casts, utilizes understanding of ground preparation, tinting strength, relative transparency and drying qualities of artists oils. Is required to command control and flexibility of many media or order adequately to satisfy the illustration needs of the Department of Geology, which encompass such a great diversity of types of specimens to be illustrated.