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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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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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