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Non-Photo Blue Pencils

I’ve only been using them to sketch for about four or five years since I discovered the artwork of John Muir Laws1,2—and became more inspired after attending the 2016 GNSI Conference in Santa Cruz where John was a presenter. I really like the freedom to work rough and loose without later worrying about the blue lines competing with the final sketch. This allows me to keep my final sketch and rough sketches together, i.e., in my sketchbook instead of using a separate sheet of paper (and light box/pad) to create the final piece. You can then digitally remove the blue sketch with Photoshop as I learned from Ikumi Kayama’s excellent demo on her YouTube channel. [The video is called Photoshop Tutorial for Scientific Illustrators: Separating Out Non-Photo Blue from Graphite.]


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Member Spotlight: Mesa Schumacher

Drawing archaeological excavation profiles in Chavin de Huantar, PeruMy artist origin story takes a form I think is fairly common for scientific illustrators. I grew up in Seattle with parents who didn’t study science, and knew little about art, but encouraged my interest in both. In our household, you could maintain a concentrated area of chaos in some corner by saying “don’t touch that, I’m in the middle of a project,” and my brothers and I usually each had several projects going at any given time, ranging from painting to rebuilding machines bought from the thrift store.

My family loved nature, and we enjoyed camping, hiking and outdoor sports. Travel was also a priority, and a few times during childhood we were pulled out of school for months at a time for “sabbaticals,” which profoundly impacted my goals for adult life.

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Member Spotlight: Dino Pulera

Dino PuleraI’ve always been inquisitive and fascinated by nature. I would spend many hours drawing as a child but, despite my interest in nature, I never thought to draw it. Instead, I spent my time reading and drawing Marvel Comics superheroes. Being the son of immigrant parents, I was encouraged to pursue a career that was stable and with a steady income; they didn’t want their son to become a struggling artist. So I set my sights on science with the hopes of going to medical school.

In my senior year in high school, my biology teacher noticed that I used drawings to record my observations in labs and mentioned that some people made a living from illustrating scientific concepts. Looking back now I’m shocked that I didn’t even consider a career in scientific illustration. I guess I thought since this vocation involved art, it would be a hard sell to my parents. So I put it out of my mind. 

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In Memoriam: Diane Dorigan

The first time I met Diane, she was interviewing me for a job. I remember thinking that Diane was really nice. I ended up getting that job, and over the years working with and being mentored by Diane, I found out I was wrong — Diane was not nice.

Diane was passionate, talented and thoughtful. She cared deeply for students. Caring about politics, art, animals, justice, and education, she was well-read and curious, proudly a life-long learner. She cared about her friends and family and lived her words with action, whether it meant standing up for someone, raising her own awareness, advocating for those being marginalized, or volunteering time and expertise to make a difference in her community. Diane was quiet about herself, and a cheerleader for others.

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2016 GNSI Educational Series Workshop: review

GNSI Workshop 2017Ever tried to teach an old dog a new trick? How about teaching two-dimensional traditional artists how to create a three-dimensional sculpture digitally? But everyone who attended the 2016 GNSI Education Series Workshop, Leveling Up In ZBrush®, was up for the challenge. The class was taught by David Killpack, Principal & Creative Director at Illumination Studios who uses ZBrush for science and medical illustration. We gathered at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW) University in the Walb Union Building on October 29 and 30, 2016, for an immersion experience. The workshop was an intense, challenging, and inspiring two days of solid work, and under Killpack’s tutelage, it did not disappoint.

ZBrush, the brainchild of parent company Pixologic™, is a computer program that allows the user to build 3D and 2D models. Unlike many other programs, ZBrush gives the user the ability to manipulate the form with a mouse or stylus much like a sculptor would work in clay. The high-resolution models created in ZBrush are used by artists primarily in the gaming, movie and animation industry. “ZBrush is even compatible with 3D printers, so you can print your models and bring them to life,” explains a Top Ten Reviews staff writer (12-9-16).

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Member Spotlight: Natalya Zahn

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”  
~Frank Lloyd Wright

Natalia Zahn, Portrait by Heather McGrathLike so many artists and so many more scientific illustrators, I have spent my lifetime wondrously inspired by the natural world. The path to my current career in illustration has been somewhat roundabout, and due to a lack of formal training in the sciences, I will likely always suffer from a little impostor syndrome when labeled a scientific illustrator. Nonetheless, nature has been a consistent guide throughout my life and work, and I have found a remarkably broad audience for my particular style. I am grateful daily for my role as an image maker and storyteller of natural histories.

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The Art and Science of Colorful Leaves

I was educated to be an illustrator in the old school tradition, and even though the professors did not come to class wearing academic robes and require us to rise to attention when they entered the room, I am certain they all entertained such fantasies. It was rigorous training, long before computers, but even though digital and electronic advances have greatly impacted the printing process and added new dimensions to illustration, much of what was taught remains relevant. For example, the development of a preliminary drawing is still the first step in creating a scientifically accurate illustration. They may be called working drawings, sketches, final sketches, or preliminary drawings but throughout the literature, they are always identified as the start of the illustration.

In addition to working as a professional illustrator, I also teach drawing classes but the students are not, as we were back at the university, a captive audience agreeing to be there for a lengthy period of time, pay a lot of money, and eventually work in the field. My classes are part of educational outreach programs and the participants do not have either the time for rigorous training or the inclination to become professional illustrators. They are there to learn about nature drawing as a means of enjoyment. 

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Member Spotlight: Kris Kirkeby

Kris Kirkeby; photo © John CarterI love remembering two things from my childhood. One, there was never enough drawing paper and two, I treasured hearing my parents say, “We had a young daughter who liked science and we didn’t quite know what to do with her other than encouraging her.” What a gift!

I am happy for the chance to share with you some of my professional experiences demonstrating things I feel a passion for as well as ones that have impacted my professional life.

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In Memoriam: William Badger Tibbits Ronalds

Bill Ronalds illustrationWilliam B.T. Ronalds III (Bill), of Rockland, Maine (b. July 29, 1943), passed away on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

I first met Bill in the mid-1980s at a GNSI summer workshop at Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine. He was generous in his nature, funny, and he clearly loved art and sharing his passion for it. He happened to notice I had a picture of my dog with me, and through that, I learned he was a devoted dog owner as well, and our friendship began. 

Bill was a Professor of Fine Arts at St. John’s University in New York for over two decades, and taught illustration, cartooning and drawing. He served as department chairman for 9 years. Teaching was a joy for him and he often maintained relationships with students long after they left the university. He won numerous awards, including a University-wide Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship (2004). One of his works is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Book Review: Dining With Dinosaurs

Dining With Dinosaurs book coverGNSI member Hannah Bonner is adding to her already long list of children’s books (see here for an example) with the upcoming Dining with Dinosaurs, A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching. The book takes you on a tour of who ate who (and what) in the Mesozoic. You will learn all about the ancient food web, from enormous long-neck herbivores to teensy blood-drinking fleas. Along the way, you’ll encounter Spinosaurus on the search for fish, raptors hunting in packs, plants telling you how they eat sunlight, and scientists sharing their knowledge in comic-book style interviews. Get ready to be amused, surprised, and maybe even a bit grossed out when you learn what was on the prehistoric menu.

"In Dining With Dinosaurs, the award-winning author of When Fish Got Feet and When Dinos Dawned serves up a full-course meal of mouthwatering Mesozoic food facts. Travel back in time for a tour of the “vores” of the dinosaur world, from mega carnivores to itty-bitty herbivores and everything in between.”

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Interpreting Five Fingers, an interview with Sharon Birzer

An interview by Audrey Freudenberg with artist Sharon Birzer.

Photo of Five Fingers Lighthouse with breaching Humpback whale in the forground, © 2014 Jane RuffinAF: Sharon, Five Fingers Lighthouse in Frederick Sound, S.E. Alaska, is by definition, off the beaten track. How did you find yourself there?

> Photo of Five Fingers Lighthouse with breaching Humpback whale in the foreground, © 2014 Jane Ruffin

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Product Review: Handy iPad Holder

In the course of renovating my studio space, I opted to recycle my old cumbersome morgue files, as I now use the internet regularly for reference photos. Using the iPad is great, but I had no good place to set it to refer to while I work at my drawing table. Putting it on the edge of the drawing table isn't very secure (I've knocked it down several times), it's in the way, and the angle isn't very good. I have a smallish taboret of sorts next to the drawing table that is loaded up with the essentials, no room to prop up an iPad there either.

iPad holderSo I hunted on the internet for a tiny table to wedge in next to the taboret, with no luck (too big, too expensive, or all of the above). Then I came across a flexible, adaptable clamp-on iPad holder that has turned out to be the perfect solution for me.

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Product Review: Faber-Castell colorful kneaded erasers

Faber Castell colored kneaded erasersI first saw these kneaded erasers a little over a year ago and ordered some from Cheap Joe's. I use kneaded erasers all the time so I wanted to test if these were - aside from their color - any different from the gray ones I've always purchased. They came as a set of three, one each of blue, red, and yellow. The Cheap Joe's website description said that the erasers will not leave a color stain on the drawing surface, and I have found that to be true. As one might expect, the bright colors do not last long; they quickly become mixed with whatever one is erasing. My latest order arrived with each of the three erasers in its own plastic box, which seems to me like excessive and wasteful packaging. My first order didn't have the boxes.

Major Disadvantages:
The Faber Castell erasers do not last as long as the traditional gray kneaded erasers. They become sticky after awhile. I went through all three in about a year. They are softer than gray kneaded erasers so they do not erase stronger marks as readily as the gray erasers.

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How Art/Design Competitions Exploit Artists - and what you can do about it

As an illustrator, I’m frequently confronted with work “opportunities” that do not merit consideration, and I know I’m not alone. The impetus for this article was my frustration at being invited — yet again — to enter a contest where I don’t get paid to submit a design and if my design wins, the prize isn’t worth my effort anyway. These types of contests exploit artists. (I’m using “artists” here to refer to all types of creative professionals, including illustrators, graphic designers, fine artists, and photographers). It’s called “spec work” — work done without guarantee of any compensation, though usually with the hope of gaining some reward. I’ve been thinking that it would be worthwhile for the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators to make a statement on such exploitative contests, and for its website to offer advice to the organizers of such competitions — many of whom don’t realize that they’re exploiting anyone. That way, artists like me can refer contest organizers to the website instead of typing up a long explanation or worse yet, saying nothing at all. We can make a difference in how artists are treated, one competition at a time.

What types of competitions am I referring to?
The contest I mentioned above was a t-shirt design contest held by a not-for-profit scientific organization. The guidelines were thorough; the design needed to be very specific to a location and event, and the organizers even went so far as to say “[We] shall have the right to edit, duplicate, or alter the entry design for any purpose which it deems necessary or desirable, without the need for any further compensation, and/or permission.”  So what compensation could one expect for one’s creative efforts? In this case, a free t-shirt. Seriously.

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In Memoriam: Dr. John Cody

John Cody portrait photoIt is with great sadness that we report the passing of one of the GNSI’s shining stars, Dr. John Cody. Dr. John passed away July 11, at the age of 91.

It was on a tree-lined street in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York, where John Cody first encountered a large and colorful moth from the saturniid family. He was five years old. He still recalls in detail that magical moment, which would launch a lifelong interest and ultimately become what he calls his true vocation: painting moths.

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An Evolving Career in Scientific Illustration: Part II

You may remember the first installment of my story (included in the Journal of Natural Science Illustration 2013, number 1). After attending the GNSI Summer Workshop at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings, MI, I realized Science Illustration was the career for me. I finished my undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto and enrolled in the Science Illustration program at Monterey Bay. Now on to Part II!

After my time in the Science Illustration program in Monterey Bay, California, I completed two internships—one in the Herpetology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, and the other in the Entomology Lab at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. At the same time, I worked on a project illustrating an article on cardiovascular health associated with Scientific American and continued to accept commissions and develop my portfolio. That summer, I decided to try to pursue illustrating science in the even more specialized field of medical art. I ended up applying to the MSc in Medical Art program at the University of Dundee, Scotland, after researching a number of schools around the world. With a renowned Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, the University of Dundee boasted a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education—what better opportunity to study and travel to the U.K.? Before I knew it, I was accepted and I was flying across The Pond to my new home for a year. 

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Explaining Complex Problems Through Interactive Science Illustration

The web creates a unique forum for storytelling that is well suited for explaining complex problems. Science illustration, when combined with interactivity, opens up unique possibilities for presenting clear, digestible bits of engaging information. As the interactive world becomes increasingly sophisticated, so do possibilities for presenting visual content in ways that offer alternative paths to traditional storytelling. We are seeing exciting developments in digital storytelling through online newspapers and magazines, as they experiment with interactive infographics and data visualization charts to communicate content.

What is digital storytelling? Simply put, digital storytelling (also referred to as online documentaries or interactive storytelling) entails designing a linear story within a non-linear environment. In traditional media such as books, magazines, or even movies, content is structured with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and the audience is passive, only their attention is required. However, in the online world, the audience controls the path of their experience. The nature of the online world fosters participation and requires user input. 

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Pocket Handbook for the Twitterilliterate

During the first week of March, the Twittersphere becomes an orgy of science-related art as the Scientific American Symbiartic blogging team (consisting of Glendon Mellow, Kalliopi Monoyios, and Katie McKissick) lead the charge for their annual #sciart tweetstorm. Some brave GNSI members took the opportunity to see what Twitter was all about with varying degrees of satisfaction. If you're still scratching your head about what all the Twitter fuss is about, this article is for you.

So what exactly is Twitter? Perhaps you have the impression that it's a way for you to update everyone who cares (is that nobody?) about what you had for breakfast, who just flipped you off in the parking lot, why you desperately need a coffee, etc. If that's your impression, I don't blame you for ignoring it! But maybe you've heard friends and colleagues who appear slightly more "in-the-know" when it comes to social media wax poetic about the power of Twitter. You trust these folks and are intrigued, but good grief, is it just another instant messaging thingie? A group texting tool? A Facebook wannabe with the weird constraint of 140 characters?

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In Memoriam: Carolyn Gast

Portrait of Carolyn Gast, painted by her husband, Michael Gast in 1984. Photo by Michael Nicholson.Carolyn Bartlett Gast, the primary founder of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, passed away in September 2015. Carolyn may have left us, but certainly, her efforts to establish an organization to bring scientific illustrators together has flourished beyond her expectations since GNSI became a reality in 1968.

> Portrait of Carolyn Gast, painted by her husband, Michael Gast in 1984. Photo by Michael Nicholson.

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Book Review: Nature Mandalas

Leopard Frog Leaping, Tim Phelps

There is no doubt that Tim Phelps is a very talented natural science artist: a quick glance at his faculty website at Johns Hopkins University reveals meticulously accurate illustrations of the dog musculoskeletal system, alternative routes for venous outflow from the human brain, techniques for carotid artery anastomosis, and others. 

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