By Kathryn McKenzie
As has been said many times in many places, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In the case of science illustrators, these images are not only beautiful works of art, but also illuminating scientific ideas and principles.
The public will once again be able to view magnificent examples of scientific illustration in person at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Features “Illustrate nature” a curated selection of capstone projects of 2022 graduates of the Science Illustration program at CSU Monterey Bay, and will open with a public reception from 6-9 p.m. this Friday, May 6.
The jury exhibit showcases 50 works of art in a variety of media, including charcoal, pencil, watercolor and acrylic, in addition to showing clay and wire models from artists, digital animation and art, and student sketchbooks, according to Nate King, museum collections and research manager. The exhibition is visible until June 12.
When people think of science illustration, they probably envision intricately rendered animal portraits, and of course there are plenty of those in the series. But King notes that there are a wide variety of other subjects featured in the exhibit, such as graphics that compare and contrast.
“There’s one of the whale tails, which is useful for whale watchers who want to know what type of whale it was,” King said. “It compares different whale tails and helps you figure out which species it is.”
And these types of infographics are one of the things that make scientific illustration so valuable and necessary, said Ann Caudle, director of the Scientific Illustration Program at CSUMB.
“Scientific illustrators can create cutaways to show what’s going on inside a tornado, or the Earth’s core, or the muscles of a moving animal, or inside the human body,” Caudle wrote in an email. “Illustrators can also create speculative illustrations that can show the viewer the moons of a distant planet or what the Earth might look like with runaway global warming. Illustrations can simplify a complex concept in order to educate the layman.
Caudle said the science illustration program originated at UC Santa Cruz and was a sister program to science writing in the science communication program. She began teaching there in 1986 and assumed the role of program director in the late 1990s, and transferred the program to CSUMB in 2009. CSUMB science illustrators still collaborate with UCSC science writers to create an annual online publication of illustrated scientific essays, Scientific notes.
the Scientific Illustration Program is intended for students who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree and wish to improve their skills. At the end of the one-year program, they receive a certificate. Graduates of the program have found jobs as illustrators or art directors at National Geographic and Scientific American magazines, writing and illustrating field guides, creating paleo illustrations for display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, creating animations for the NASA or interpretive signs for national parks, illustrating children’s science books and the design of everything from science murals to medical information brochures.
There are many details an artist can bring to light where photographs cannot, Caudle noted.
“Photographs look perfectly accurate until you really need to look closely to study specific details (Wait! The feet are in shadow, or that’s not the pose we need, or the camera has distorted this view to shortcut, or this behavior has never been detected on camera.)
“What if you want to depict something that can’t be photographed because it’s so rare, or elusive, or, in the case of extinct species, no longer exist?”
And aside from those who make a living as scientific illustrators, Caudle points out that an artist’s eye and skill are useful for fieldwork, both in recording findings and in refining the observation.
“You really have to look carefully at something to be successful in drawing it,” she said. “I’ve heard many stories of science illustrators pointing out details that the scientist missed.! Illustration is an integral part of science communication.
This year is especially exciting after two years of digital exhibits, said Andrea Dingeldein, speaker and museum program manager. “This year’s cohort of students have spent countless hours honing their skills as science illustrators – we couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate their accomplishments.”
Along with the exhibition, an artist demonstration will take place on Sunday, May 22, with a special hour for museum members from noon to 1 p.m. and public hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., when members and guests can see the art in progress and speak with the artists. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will also be able to purchase original works, prints and merchandise from the artists and in the museum shop.
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