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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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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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