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Book Review: Unfeathered Birds

The Unfeathered Bird CoverIn The Unfeathered Bird, Katrina van Grouw offers a unique treatise on bird anatomy that should be in every natural history illustrator’s library. Unique because she portrays her subjects in lifelike poses and includes examples from many bird orders and families -- two features most welcome to those with an interest in birds. Too, Katrina’s illustrations are superb and easily fulfill her wish to show anatomy, not describe it in an excruciatingly detailed text.

Katrina has been a self-employed artist, illustrator, and printmaker since earning, in 1992, a Master of Arts in Natural History illustration from the Royal College of Art. Her thesis was an illustrated treatise on bird anatomy, designed to aid artists in producing life-like drawings and paintings. So was born the idea for The Unfeathered Bird, a project which is, to date, a life work. She has also served as curator for the ornithological collections at the British Natural History Museum in London, a post which has provided the contacts she needed to continue her work.

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Book Review: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds book coverIt’s been said that unless one studies the structure of birds, one will never really portray them well. This is especially true for birds, for they are cloaked in a soft covering that conceals most of their anatomy. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is a book that will guide the new or experienced bird artist with an in-depth approach to drawing birds.

There is a certain fear factor facing the novice bird artist. Birds have shape and form that demonstrate light and shadow, which are apparent from viewing the outside. Artists must also study and investigate what goes on underneath the feathers, how the feathers attach, and how all of this benefits flight.

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Member Spotlight: Scott Rawlins

SCOTT RAWLINS, 2011Even before 1981 (when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released) I have been trying (in an unfocused way) to pattern my life after that of Indiana Jones —or at least his predecessor, Allan Quatermain. Both men were, to one degree or another, able to balance the sedentary world of the intellect with the dynamic world of travel and exploration.

Like Dr. Jones, I have some advanced degrees in science-related fields and teach at a university. I have traveled to unusual and/or exotic locations. I have studied grasses in Kenya, collected scorpions in Jamaica, examined the stomach of a patient in a Michigan OR and painted Amazonian plants in Brazil. Unlike “Indy,” I like snakes (and sometimes collect them) and have not been chased by natives with spears, giant boulders or beautiful Nazis.

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Science Illustration and New Media

As a guild, a group of like-minded professionals, we need to promote ourselves both for the benefit of our profession and our own careers. Using social networking tools is a powerful marketing strategy that if used collectively can bring more money and prestige to our field. I am very proud to be a science illustrator and unfortunately, most of the world has no idea who we are. People need to know who we are, why we are doing it and why this work is important. I’ll summarize a few of the most popular new media tools, including how to use them and why.

Image capture of Facebook page

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1957 job description for the paleo-Illustration position of GNSI Founder Lawrence B. Isham, 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


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Book Review: Joseph Hooker Botanical Trailblazer

Joseph Hooker Botanical Trailblazer

This richly illustrated little book follows Joseph Hookers career as he struggles to raise botany from a Victorian gentleman’s hobby to a recognized science. Through his world travels and a network of collectors he identified more than 12,000 new plant species, published several illustrated books and journals on plants and eventually followed in his fathers’ footsteps as Director of Kew Garden. His good friend and colleague Charles Darwin was so impressed with his work that as a legacy he funded the Index Kewensis, a comprehensive list of the world’s plant species which is still kept current today. The beautiful plant illustrations and landscapes reproduced here from his journals are accompanied by reproductions of lithographs and paintings done by Walter Hood Finch. This overview of Hookers life along with the reproduced illustrations, documents and photographs make this little Kew publication one any fan of the history of botany would enjoy.

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Book Review: Images of Nature–The Art of the First Fleet

First Fleet Falcon1787 “Two Naval Ships, the HMS Sirius and HMS Supply, three store ships and six convict transports set sail from Portsmouth bound for Botany Bay,” ‘the First Fleet’ as defined by colonial Australian historians. The brief but poignant introduction by Lisa Di Tommaso, the Assistant Librarian of the Natural History Museum in London, sets the stage for a series of images that portray the earliest encounters between European commerce and Australian aboriginal natives.

The collection exhibiting this summer in London highlights the illustrated works from three categorized sources: the works of George Raper, a midshipman on board HMS Sirius, the works of Thomas Whatling, a landscape artist turned convict for forgery, and works by unidentified artists who went by the name “Port Jackson Painter.” Given that the voyage or colony had no designated official artist, the collection’s unique depictions are a testament to the various artists, their unique character, and how they came to be in Port Jackson, Australia, in the late 1700s.

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Illustrating Atoms and Molecules

Abstract

Since atoms are smaller than the wavelength of visible light, it is theoretically impossible to “see” an atom, even with the most powerful microscope. Nevertheless, we recognize that atoms consist of “shells” of electrons buzzing around a central nucleus. Therefore, it’s common to depict an atom as a simple sphere, its diameter proportional to the size of its outermost electron shell. Furthermore, scientists have developed experimental methods, such as x-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy, to determine the geometric arrangement of atoms within a molecule. These data can be used to construct three-dimensional models of molecules, but the illustrator must be aware that such a model is an abstract representation and is not meant to show what the molecule really “looks like”.

Atom Colors

Because an atom is smaller than the wavelength of visible light, it cannot reflect light and, therefore, has no color. The colorful atoms you see in chemistry textbooks are based on conventions that have been adopted by chemists over several centuries. The alchemists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance used iconic symbols to depict the different elements (Figure 1). They also associated certain colors with each element based on its physical properties, although these colors never appeared in print because of the rarity of color printing prior to the late 19th Century.

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In Memoriam: Larry Isham

Larry Isham, 1987 (photographer unknown)Larry Isham, scientific illustrator for the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution for 30 years, died on 18 September 2011 of congestive heart failure at his home with hospice care in Arlington, Virginia. Larry helped found, drafted the first constitution, and was the first president of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.

> Larry Isham, 1987 (photographer unknown)

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Using Engineering Principles to Reconstruct Leaf Shape

Abstract

In reconstructing the elements of a convincing prehistoric landscape, some approaches require engineering equations while others depend on subtle nuances of personal observation. The reconstruction of a fossil taxon can be strongly supported with reference to a related extant species. Where no such living plant exists, visualization and imagination are not enough; creating models using structural engineering principles and in-depth field study of living analogs is vital to both accuracy and artistic authenticity. All images copyrighted by Marlene Hill Donnelly, unless otherwise noted.

Introduction

This was a genuine collaboration between art and science: questions about color and form had a significant part in directing research. All plant reconstructions were done for paleobotanist Jennifer McElwain of the Field Museum and University College Dublin. As an ecologist specializing in climate change, Jenny needed accurate landscape reconstructions of Late Triassic and Early Jurassic Greenland. The results provide a strong visual description of the long-term devastation of global warming.

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5 Reasons Your Camera Won't Steal My Job

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.

By far the most common question I get when I tell people that I am a scientific illustrator is one variation (some more tactful than others) of, “They still use illustrators? Why don’t they just photograph everything?” In fact, it’s a great question. Although photography is fantastically impressive and can offer glimpses into worlds both big and small, it has limitations just like any other medium. That’s where we illustrators get to fill in the blanks.

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2011 GNSI Educational Series Workshop: review

2011 GNSI Educational Series WorkshopThe “Illustrating Birds” workshop, held April 2-4, 2011, in Kearney, Nebraska, combined all the best elements of a typical GNSI education experience: intensive content that provides a great foundation for illustrative work, wonderful mentoring that promotes accurate and exceptional art, and artistic camaraderie that inspires all who participate.

Workshop participant and Susan W. Frank Scholarship recipient Nancy Gehrig summarized it well: “The Bird Illustration Workshop was a wonderful immersion into the world of birds. I really enjoyed the three days and feel I have a good sense of how to improve my work. The lecture on bird anatomy was a perfect start for me, and I found the sketching of the live birds very challenging. I am pleased to say that I am looking and thinking of birds a bit differently, checking out the anatomy and structure and thinking of the shapes and landmarks—thinking about which feathers I am seeing and that structure lies underneath. Linda Feltner is a marvelous teacher, and I really appreciate her passing on her vast knowledge and experience. It was a great class and a fun group of people. We even practiced figure 8 flapping!”

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Copperplate Etching

Copperplate image1It’s all about attention to detail and process— things scientific illustrators thrive on. How could I not be entranced with copperplate etching? But beyond the detail, there is so much more. For all the attentive control that one can impose on the copper, there are variables created by acid, paper, ink, and press that allow surprises both discouraging and rewarding, and each print pulled off the press is a remarkable experience. There is a tactile pleasure to working on copper, and there is the added appeal that comes from being able to rework a plate with more marks and more techniques, and results planned and unplanned enhance the art and satisfy the artist. A fortuitous encounter with a master printmaker provided me with an introduction to the medium and I was hooked as soon as I pulled my first crude print. A few years later two women opened a small print studio in my town. I rent time there, bringing my own paper, copper, and ink, while sharing chemicals, solvents and a printing press in a well-lit ventilated space. Several of us occasional printmakers interact there, learning from, inspiring, and teaching one another.

Creating a print is a labor-intensive process involving many stages, beginning with a sketch. I plan my composition carefully, choosing an image (usually a plant) that I feel intimately connected to and will be content to look at over and over again. My design needs to fit within the confines of a piece of copper and must allow for the fact that the image will be reversed when printed.

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Magic on a Plane: Lenticulars

Not Just for Crackerjacks Anymore

Those little stamp-sized cards in a box of Crackerjacks introduced this technology to many of us. The card bore a surface of fine parallel plastic ridges on the front; a cartoon would move when the card was tilted at varying angles.

The technology of lenticular printing like this has become more sophisticated over the years. There are a variety of visual effects that one can achieve, from 3D to morphing to animation. These effects are set up using image-editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, that allows for layered files. The resulting product can be a great attention-grabbing device for delivering a science message or for inspiring the imagination of a young scientist.

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Painting with Gouache

Editor’s note: The 2010 reissue of this article is a modification of the original. Two of the illustrations are replaced with different subject matter for purposes of better color reproduction. All illustrations in the original print edition are in black and white.

The field of Scientific Illustration often demands the production of highly detailed, accurate renderings that must survive the less-than-perfect world of photographic reproduction. The collaborative efforts between artist and researcher/author require the illustrator to adopt a most flexible approach so as to accommodate the likely revisions that are inherent in such arrangements. Additionally, it is the nature of the illustration field to impose deadlines that preclude the use of time-consuming approaches and techniques, favoring instead those media that can be handled with relative speed. Gouache is a medium that addresses these concerns and is an excellent choice for scientific illustrators finding themselves challenged by these considerations. Gouache is perfectly suited for precise, detail-oriented paintings in both full color and black and white. Its predictable tonal quality, vibrant hues, and fast drying time combine to make it a popular choice among designers and commercial illustrators. Opaque qualities allow for the layering of details that permits multiple revisions, and because of the picture's flat surface it is easily reproduced photo-mechanically.

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Scanning, scanning, scanning

This installment of Ripped from the List reviews three recent listserv threads that dealt with techniques for converting traditional art to digital media, preliminary considerations, and subsequent manipulations of the scanned images.

Scanning Large Artwork

Rick L. Simonson: Does anyone have a good method for getting large (maybe 24” x 36”) traditional artwork into the computer? Scanning seems like a good idea, unfortunately, large format scanners are quite expensive. I suppose I could scan it multiple times and stitch it together in Photoshop. Or send it to a large format scanning service?

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Sharpening Colored Pencils

This installment of Ripped from the List reviews a recent listserv thread that dealt with techniques for sharpening colored pencils.

Question from Bruce: Glendon, have you ever had someone burst into the store you manage announcing loudly, “I found it!” A way to sharpen color pencils without the leads breaking!” If so, would you kindly pass along the specifics of this person’s discovery? Many of us, I suspect, are not amused by this constant annoyance. It appears that a bump forms somewhere along the sharpening line that causes the pencil to wiggle. I should probably note that I use the little red General sharpeners. Does anyone have any experience with the Dahle pencil sharpener? If it works as stated it might be worth the $50.

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Cleaning Clayboard

This installment of Ripped from the List reviews one recent listserv thread that dealt with techniques for cleaning clayboard.

Question from Jeff: Does anyone have experience cleaning smudges off of clayboard? Specifically, I put a thumb print of newspaper ink into one of my projects.

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2010 GNSI Educational Series Workshop: review

CLASSROOM OF STUDENTS AT WORK. PHOTO BY D. K.B. CHEUNGThe Smithsonian Natural History Museum was once again the setting for the 2010 GNSI Educational Series workshop, which took place March 18-21, 2010. Here, at an institution “dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning,” a wide diversity of participants from traditional media illustrators to scientists to comic book illustrators, gathered to engage themselves in new techniques that will help them succeed in an increasingly digital world. Many previous students returned this year to further refine their skills and take advantage of the diverse learning community.

Lessons were organized and led by Marie Metz, GNSI educational director and former Smithsonian Illustrator, Jennifer Fairman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and David Clarke, president of the Washington D.C. chapter of GNSI. The workshop began with a talk about the synergistic relationship between science/technology and illustration, by guest lecturer Dr. James Giordano, University of Oxford. Beginning with a discussion of prehistoric cave drawings and our innate human ability to communicate visually, Dr. Giordano explained the role illustration plays in the communication of scientific knowledge. He also gave examples of how illustration furthers science and vice versa. Participants left the lecture inspired and ready to begin learning.

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Shipping Artwork

Artists love to show their work: it’s an artist’s stage and performance. Transporting artwork to a local gallery is comparatively simple, usually involving only the time to carry the pieces to an exhibition. Shipping to a distant location, however, can be more difficult. And more disappointing if the artwork is returned damaged. Or not returned at all. A modicum of planning should make this process more successful, and relatively anxiety-free. However, one should remember Murphy’s Fourth Law: Mother Nature always sides with the hidden flaw in the system. Since the “system” includes a huge transportation network, one should be prepared for the occasional, often incongruous, surprise.

Timing

Whenever possible, give the preparation, packaging, and shipping of artwork the time it deserves. And well before the deadline so you won’t be hurrying. Uh-huh. And the rest of us humans should seriously consider shipping to an exhibit at least a month before the opening. Imagine a gallery operator receiving a hundred pieces of artwork the same week as an exhibit opening, and I’m certain you can also imagine that some of the artwork won’t receive the care and attention it deserves.

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