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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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The Power of Images

Homophones by Bruce Worden“Bruce, you’ve demonstrated so clearly the power of images! Can you/will you gather some of your favorites for a Journal article?” How could any illustrator resist a request like that? Even if it does mean discussing images that are, at best, only tangentially related to the natural sciences. 

In 2011 I launched a blog in which I illustrate pairs of words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same (homophones). I post a new pair of images every week, so it’s called Homophones, Weakly. Get it? Har har. 

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Watercolor on Canvas

watercolor on canvasAs a watercolor artist, I have always wanted to create art that could be handled in the same way as an oil or acrylic (i.e., framed and hung without glass or backing). Works on paper are beautiful, and I love the way the paper and pigment interact. But when it comes to creativity, I want to stretch the boundaries so as to have as many options for expression as possible. Another consideration, for me, is the apparent value perception through which the general public views works on canvas versus those on paper. Those of us who work in the art field know that watercolor paintings are just as durable as works on canvas. We see plenty of evidence of these watercolors in museums, with over 500-year-old illuminated manuscripts, masters’ watercolor paintings, naturalist, and botanical paintings that are holding up just as well as oils. Despite this, the popular perception is that works on canvas or wood panels are more valuable, and the “Sold” price for canvas vs. paper (as reported by curators) reflects this perception.

The Ultimate Inspiration

Earlier this year, I visited the J Paul Getty Museum’s hosted exhibition, J.W. Turner: Painting Set Free. Within this exhibit, which included approximately 50 paintings on loan from the Tate Gallery and various private collections, there was a room of about twenty rare watercolors. While examining these paintings in great detail, I was amazed at the way Turner handled watercolor on paper much the same as oils on canvas. How did he achieve these visually stunning paintings?

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Member Spotlight: Marlene Hill Donnelly

Marlene Hill DonnellyI am not a plumber. My extended professional artist family hoped I would take after my great-grandfather, become a successful plumber and make a great living, but a different direction called.

My focus from a very early age was nature and science, though initially from a culinary viewpoint—my mother said that as a toddler I was an avid hunter-gatherer, focused on berries and fat insects in our wild backyard.  Fortunately, this pursuit soon gave way to sketching, where my early hunting skills still came in handy.

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Leaf Rubbing as Educational Outreach

Leaf Rubbing by Gail SelfridgeWhen I was a kid the best part of going back to school was getting all new art supplies: crayons, pencils, erasers, paper, and a set of Prang watercolors complete with brush. That was BC (before computers) when we had low-tech materials and used some pretty basic techniques. One day the teacher showed us how to make crayon rubbings. We ran around making rubbings of all kinds of things, but my favorite was finding and using leaves. From those humble beginnings, I developed an interest in making scientifically accurate plant drawings, so by the time I got to high school Biology class I had a corner on the market of plant illustration, and firmly believe it was what allowed me to actually pass the class.

Making rubbings is still a good way to introduce the appreciation of nature and science, and it can be used as part of educational outreach programs for both children and adults. As a one-time event, in which the rubbing becomes the end product, is particularly good for dealing with younger children who have much shorter attention spans and a need for hands-on activities.

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Book Reviews: Botanical Illustration

Introduction

Like many of you, I am curious when a book asserts itself as an authoritative survey of a favorite subject. Charged by Gail Guth with reviewing Martyn Rix’s The Golden Age of Botanical Art, I chose four other titles for comparison and will present summaries of each in chronological order of publication. The Martin Rix book is number four.

The Art of Botanical IllustrationThe earliest of the series discussed here is The Art of Botanical Illustration by Wilfrid Blunt (with the assistance of William T. Stearn), my volume published by Collins, London, 2nd ed., 1967 (1st edit. 1950). Compared to the number of images in the other books, this one has a modest 46 color plates; 32 black and white plates; 61 illustrations; and 18 figures to amplify the text. Having the 3 appendices and a comprehensive index contributes significant value to this volume. The 2015 reprint of the 2001 edition of the book has a steep list price of almost $70 but includes many more illustrations than the original. Of the four volumes considered here this one is the one most clearly directed towards educating the aspiring or even professional botanical artist in technique as well as offering an appreciation of the field’s history. It is also the most historically comprehensive (even trumping Rix with a photo of a Paleolithic plant carving). William Stearn is the notable author of Botanical Latin, so you can be sure this book brings both the expertise of the trained botanist as well as that of the professional artist. It’s important to remember that Blunt was born in 1901 and writes much in the insightful, detailed style of that day. Of all of them, it’s probably the most helpful to the intermediate and advanced botanical artist and teacher because of its comprehensiveness.

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Ready, Set, Sell! Proactive Marketing Strategies

Visual Analogy GuideI am an Anatomy & Physiology professor, and the author/illustrator of a four-book series called The Visual Analogy Guides with Morton Publishing. These books cover the fields of anatomy, physiology, and chemistry and are sold to college students nationwide. In the publishing world, my books are classified as stand-alone supplements. Think of them as a combined study guide/workbook/coloring book all rolled into one. They are very visual and contain all the useful study tips not found in a typical textbook.

The inspiration for these books was born in the classroom. In the anatomy lab, I used to draw sketches for students comparing anatomical structures to things from everyday life. For example, a thoracic vertebra looks like a giraffe’s head. This comparison allowed the student to superimpose the known (giraffe’s head) on the unknown (thoracic vertebra) to better visualize and learn the anatomical structures. I called these comparisons visual analogies which are based on an effective form of learning called contextualized learning. My students used to joke with me that I should compile all of these visual analogies into a book. Initially, I brushed aside their suggestion, but I took it more seriously when I tried to find a book containing these visual analogies and found nothing. This was the motivation I needed to write and illustrate my own books.

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Where Have All the Kolinsky Sable Brushes Gone?

This blog post compiles background information, history, rumors and facts about the shortage of kolinsky sable brushes. There is a lot of information and misinformation about the disappearance of Kolinsky brushes from art suppliers in the US. Here we attempted to gather everything together... read on!

Portable High Resolution Imaging System

The information below is a follow up of the article about the Visionary Digital BK Plus Laboratory System for photographing insect specimens, included in the Journal of Natural Science Illustration 2013 No. 1.

A Connecticut start-up, Macroscopic Solutions, has created a portable insect photography system, using high-quality off-the-shelf components. They also donate one system to schools and non-profit groups for each 10 they sell.

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RIP: Camera Lucida

In grad school, I was assigned the task of drawing a series of teeth using a camera lucida attached to a microscope. This was the best tool EVER! I knew the measurements were correct, knew proportions were accurate… because I’d traced it. Fast and simple. Alas, the camera lucida faded into obscurity as more microscopes were equipped with cameras.

camera lucidaSo when a Kickstarter campaign launched to create a new kind of camera lucida, I eagerly awaited the result. When they released to the public, I bought two (I teach a course in Biological Illustration and thought the tool would be useful to show (or check) contours, proportions, or values. After all, the camera lucida turns 3-D images into 2-D traceable elements).

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Book Review: Beetles and Other Insects

Introduction

On the introduction to Beetles and Other Insects, Gerhard Scherer writes “There is (…) something mysterious about these objects, these small organisms with many hidden secrets. This aura of mystery and the fascination exerted by insects’ physical appearance are no doubt what has repeatedly induced artists to depict them.” Indeed it was only at thirty-two years of age that artist Bernard Durin (1940-1988) stumbled upon insects for the first time, during a walk in his native region of Provence. But the experience was so transformative that it set him on a journey to illustrate these animals with a passion and precision that are unparalleled in the representation of insects.

FROM THE BOOK COVER: BEETLES AND OTHER INSECTS BY BERNARD DURINBeetles and Other Insects includes all known and currently available images produced by Bernard Durin. It is the fourth expanded edition of the book published in 1980 with the same title. About half of the sixty watercolor plates in it portray a variety of beetles, from the widespread seven-spotted ladybug and the expected Hercules and rhinoceros beetles to the rare alpine borer and exotic flower scarabs. The remaining plates put the spotlight on a few species from the wasp, bees and ants group, cicadas, tree and jewel bugs, grasshoppers, a crane fly, butterfly and praying mantis. There are also one spider and two scorpion illustrations, which, by being outside of the insect group, should have called for a different book title. Each plate is complemented by a historical and anatomical text, the majority of them crafted by the head of the beetle section of the Zoologische Staatssammlung in Munich at the time of the first edition.

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Memories of John Gurche at the National Museum of Natural History

The paleo halls at the National Museum of Natural History are undergoing a major renovation. The exhibit Life in the Ancient Seas, which opened in 1990 (see Deck 1992), closed on October 28, 2013; the remaining paleo complex, which opened in stages in the 1980s (for example, see Park 1981), closes April 28, 2014. The new paleo halls will reopen in 2019.

John Gurche’s original acrylic paintings currently enhance the paleo halls in three areas – but only for a few more months. His innovative Tower of Time stands majestically in the main entrance of the exhibit; his painting of a Devonian landscape provides the background for a diorama in the Conquest of Land hall; and his delicate and well-designed Evolution of the Horse spans half of the interior circumference of an intimate enclave in the Mammals in the Limelight hall.

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Member Spotlight: Sandy McDermott

Sandy McDermottBushwhack. One definition says “to make one’s way through woods by cutting at undergrowth, branches, etc.” This is how I ended up rolling through life. 

Born into a family with an alcoholic father and a mother busy working to pay the bills and raise three children, “nurturing” was virtually non-existent in my rearing. We hear this sort of story all the time and most certainly there are people who had it much worse than I. But, this environment guided my early years and led me to seek attention and acceptance outwardly, have poor study habits in high school, low self-esteem, no long-term vision, etc. Fortunately, I soon realized the surrogate environment and bad attitude were just more dead ends and not the life I wanted. It took a while for this lost soul to find the confidence to start a journey completely alone. But I did. And that’s what matters in this story.

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Book Review: Shaping Humanity

Shaping Humanity book coverGray-bearded John Gurche has been in the paleo-reconstruction business for a long time. His paintings, drawings, and sculptures are featured in numerous books, magazines, and exhibitions in the National Museum of Natural History, the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, National Geographic magazine, Natural History magazine, and The Guild Handbook of Natural Science Illustration (see Hodges 2003, 1989), just to name a few. He teaches and lectures about his work to public and scholarly audiences, including the GNSI.

John, who I consider to be the best in the business, has just published his first book: Shaping Humanity. Now, all of us can begin to understand the technical, scientific, aesthetic, and spiritual travels that take John from the fossil remains to his completed sculpture. Beautifully designed by James Johnson and lavishly illustrated in full color, Shaping Humanity is sure to become a classic in the field of paleo-reconstruction.

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Five Tips to Get You Started as a Science Artist

This is a summary of the post originally published in Symbiartic , a Scientific American blog, run by Kalliopi Monoyios and Glendon Mellow. Read the full article here.

How do I get started as a Science Illustrator? Kapi breaks it down into five steps:

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Developing A Portable Studio

If you attended the past two conferences and stopped by the Technique Showcase, you were treated to a display of field kits presented by a number of our members. It was obvious that the choice of equipment and supplies is as varied as the artists who use them, and depends on their preferred way of working, locale, subjects, etc. And of course, different circumstances may require different kit compositions. All agree, though, that the best way to choose and use your own field kit is to just get out there and try various items out. Keep sketching! We will feature more field kits in future issues.

Laurel Mundy’s Field Kit

I almost always use the same small set of tools, regardless of whether I am working in the field or sketching at home. My most important of those is my blue lead mechanical pencil (along with extra lead), which I use for making all of my preliminary drawings. It is easily erased and hides well under ink and watercolor, which are the two media I most commonly work in while field sketching. I like to bring two erasers; a gum eraser to lighten outlines I don’t I want showing, and a fine eraser with a plastic holder. I usually sketch over my preliminary with a more final version in a regular graphite pencil before moving to the color or ink stage. I also bring along a black and a white color pencil, both very soft, for adding shadows or highlights (along with a quality pencil sharpener, of course). For finalizing dark outlines I usually use a 01 size Pigma Micron, occasionally using the even smaller 005. I like having a Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pen as well if I plan on using a lot of ink in the drawing, as it flows better and is a darker black.

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2013 GNSI Educational Series Workshop: review

GNSI Ed Series Workshop 2013It was a rare treat to spend four days with botanical artist Carol Woodin during the 2013 Education Workshop, “Painting Slipper Orchids in Watercolor” May 31st - June 3rd at the beautiful Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. Carol is a wonderful botanical artist whose breathtakingly beautiful artwork has been exhibited and collected around the world. She has exhibited at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and has her artwork in the Shirley Sherwood collection.

We had class participants come from Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, and Vancouver, British Columbia. One participant, Matthew Constant, is a very talented high school student who is looking into scientific illustra­tion as a possible career. This was Matthew’s first time working with vellum and his first time seriously working with watercolor paint. He has a lot of potentials.

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Book Review: The Big Apples of New York

The Big Apples of N.Y. CoverThe Big Apples of New York takes the reader on a wonderful journey that includes apples. It teases the senses. It is filled with rich history related to the apple, from the beginning with Adam and Eve to the people who brought the seeds to America. The book contains myths, medical uses, history, and a wonderful mystery.

The Big Apples of New York is a great addition to the library of a hobbyist, gardener, history buff, botanical artist or any person who loves apples. Even the domestic chef would be surprised by the recipes at the end of the book. The book is filled with beautiful botanical apple plates that visually distinguish the varieties through color and textural look. Descriptions of history and how the portrayed apple might be used are written on the back of the plates. At the back of the book, you will find a list of apple orchards in the state of New York. I found the book easy to read- and thoroughly enjoyable. Just make sure you have apples on hand for a snack.

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Sydney Prentice (1873-1943): The Art of Drawing Fossil Whale Bones

 

Parietobalaena palmeri Kellogg (USNM 10677) dorsal view (with detail). Published in Kellogg, 1968. Original drawing: 70 cm (h) x 36 cm (w); published drawing: 19 cm (h) x 8 cm (w).

Abstract

Sydney Prentice (1873-1943) was a paleontological illustrator and a master of the pen and ink thick/thin (eyelash) technique. A collection of his rough sketches, finished art, drawing equipment, zinc engraved printing blocks, and published drawings in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution document a historic scientific illustration process and serve as an instructional model for artists working today. The drawings were prepared for Smithsonian cetologist Remington Kellogg (1892-1969). A gallery of images may be seen at paleobiology.si.edu/paleoArt/prentice/prentice.html


The Department of Paleobiology in Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) houses several beautiful collections of historical scientific illustrations representing a wide variety of paleontological subject matter. One of these, the Kellogg Illustration Collection, focuses primarily on fossil whale skeletal anatomy and comprises more than 250 pen and ink line drawings and rough sketches of over sixty species of whales (Fig. 1). Sydney Prentice, a master of the pen and ink line technique, prepared most of the drawings. They appear mainly in publications by the Smithsonian cetologist, Remington Kellogg.

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The COM.EN.ART Experience

Abstract

Huyck preserveCOMmunity . ENvironment . ART (COM.EN.ART) is an artist-in-residency program for natural history artists. Each year five to seven professional or aspiring natural history artists are selected to spend one to two weeks at the Huyck Preserve biological field station and nature preserve. Artists are free to produce artwork in their chosen manner and medium. The institution provides housing and studio space. In exchange, the artist is asked to contribute an original work constituting something appropriate for exhibition and publication. Here is my experience…

Years ago in western Kansas, there was a sign on Interstate 70 that read Next McDonald’s 100 Miles and when passing it I would say to the kids, “We are really in the wilderness.” Of course, creeping commercialization has long since removed the need for that sign, but when the announcement for COM.EN.ART arrived, I went online to check out the Huyck Preserve and discovered that this place really was the wilderness. Now I have never been much of a traveler or thrill seeker preferring instead to let Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa do all the hard work while I just sit back and vicariously tour the world. But the kids are grown and Medicare (if it still exists) looms on the horizon. It seemed like the perfect time to experience living on the edge. Besides, I would only have to give up my urban comforts for two weeks. So I put together the required materials and sent in an application.

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