Category Archives: In the Arts

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The Biology / Art Intersection

Tanya Rogers FSU Coastal & Marine Lab

Blue crab – colored pencil

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150Art is something I’ve always loved almost as much as biology. If I hadn’t been a biology major in college, I probably would have been an art major, and it is the fusion of the two that I like in particular: the realistic artwork of plants, animals, other living creatures, and their environments. There is something I especially enjoy about drawing plants and animals, because to draw them accurately, you have to look at them with a closeness and a consideration beyond the everyday. You notice the forms and structures and beautifully intricate details you would have never seen otherwise. I find that you see the organism in a new light, with a new appreciation, understanding, and respect.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I discovered the field of scientific illustration – that this  marriage between biology and art was in fact an entire line of work. Artwork of biological organisms is used for a variety of purposes, including field guides, identification keys, scientific papers, descriptions of new species, textbooks, educational displays, brochures, and posters. A number of people work as full or part time scientific illustrators, often for museums or publishers, or as free lancers. Beyond the fine arts, it appears there’s a market for the exact types of drawings I’ve always loved to create.

Sand dollar and sea urchin – pen and ink

You may wonder why scientific illustrations are still important today given the ubiquity of photography. It is mainly because there are limitations to what photographs can depict clearly. With illustrations, important details can be captured and highlighted, the background and unimportant details omitted, photographic artifacts eliminated (like obscuring highlights and shadows), and the organism best positioned to convey its important features in a way that is easily interpreted. Interactions, behaviors, and assemblages can be depicted that would be difficult or impossible to capture on film. Fossil and other extinct plants and animals can be portrayed as they would look in real life. Illustrations are also very useful for schematics and diagrams, and are very commonly used to depict medical procedures.

Scientific illustration differs from other forms of art in that accuracy is imperative, but aesthetics are also of consideration. Composition is important, as is skillful use of the artistic medium and the portrayal of three-dimensional form, light, shadow, and depth. Great illustrations should look both realistic and visually appealing, capture the right amount of detail, and perform well the interpretive function for which they were created. The medium itself can range widely depending on how the illustration is to be used. Pen and ink, colored pencil, watercolor, and other traditional media are common, and digital artwork is increasingly common today.

The whelk Busycon spiratum – graphite

Last summer I decided to attend the annual conference of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators held that year in Olympia, Washington. It was a fabulous conference where I met many phenomenal scientific illustrators, all far better artists than me, and all wonderful and friendly people with a common love of both science and art. The talks, workshops, and field trips at the conference, like the interests of the attendees, were a mixture of art and biology, encompassing everything from techniques (like how to draw fish scales accurately) to interesting local natural history (like research on crows’ ability to recognize human faces). I picked up many new techniques and ideas to take back with me and try. Having previously attended college in Washington state, it was also wonderful to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest for a week.

Ultimately, I plan to go into biology rather than illustration as my primary career, but I hope that illustration might be a fulfilling side venture. I hope you enjoy the illustrations of mine I’ve included in this post, which are all of species found in Florida.

For more information on scientific illustration, visit the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators webpage, or Science-Art.com, where you can peruse the work of many of its members. There are also a number of blogs on science and art, such as this one, which has links to several other blogs on its homepage.

Hughes/ Kimbro (Hug-Bro) Labs Poster

Hughes-Kimbro Lab poster and t-shirt design – pen and ink

Green sea turtle – not actually an illustration, this is a sand sculpture I made on a beach (one of my more bizarre artistic hobbies)

Paint Every Feather

Wednesday, January 18 at 7:30 PM/ ET, watch WFSU’s latest EcoAdventure on dimensions, as Green Guides George Weymouth, Jim Dulock, and Cynthia Paulson guide us down the Wacissa River.  Birds, springs, and art- you can read more about that below, and enjoy this video looking at how George- a well known painter and sculptor in our area- creates his hyper-realistic works.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
George Weymouth paints black-necked stilts

In the interest of being intensely accurate, George's painting area is surrounded by field guides and nature magazines.

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150

George Weymouth is telling me how he is going to paint the ripples caused by a black-necked stilt’s (Himantopus mexicanus) wading in a river, and how the the avian subjects of his painting reflect over the disturbed water.  When he’s done getting the shape of the bird’s body, and the general coloration, he’ll add various feathers- primaries, secondaries, and tercials; all located at the anatomically appropriate places on its body.  Something occurred to me as I edited this footage into the above video:  when I had accompanied George down the Wacissa River the week before, he was looking at whole different world than I was.  A man who can accurately paint every feather on a bird is likely to have a unique perspective.

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Wakulla Green- by Hot Tamale

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150The Wakulla Ecotourism Institute has a program to certify qualified nature guides called “Green Guides.” On October 1, 2011, my musical group Hot Tamale is putting on a special show at Posh Java in Sopchoppy that will honor the green guides with the release of a new song called “Wakulla Green.”

-Excerpt from a comment by Craig Reeder.

Above is the song  Craig was talking about in his comment on our EcoAdventures North Florida page.  Thanks to his comment, we found out about the Green Guide program, and we produced a couple of EcoAdventures where we were guided by Green Guides.  On last night’s dimensions, we were taken down the St. Marks River by Captain James Hodges.  We featured portions of the song in our piece, and I thought some of you who saw the piece might like to hear the song in its entirety.  In January, we’ll have a video about our trip down the Wacissa with George Weymouth and Jim Dulock. Continue reading

In the Grass, On the Reef, Over the Airwaves

In the Grass, On the Reef

June 29, 2011 at 7:30 PM/ ET

WFSU-TV

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

A little over a year ago, when the FSU Coastal & Marine Laboratory and WFSU-TV – a TV station – started this online enterprise, the understanding was that at some point this would end up being a show.  And so here we are.  As you may have gathered from that video up there, this will be about predators and prey: who’s eating whom, and who’s scaring whom.  We will of course be doing this through the prism of David and Randall’s studies: the consumptive and non-consumptive effects of predators in salt marshes and oyster reefs, and the methods used to shine a light on these interactions. Continue reading

A Year of Sunrises

Mike Plummer WFSU-TV

John Spohrer, early morning Apalachicola

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150

I have known John Spohrer since the late 1980’s, when he was introduced to me as one of the locals who lived year-round on St. George Island. I often rented houses with friends for weekends on the island back in those wacky 80’s and 90’s and he was always a welcome addition to whatever revelry would breakout in our kitchen, on our deck or on the beach.

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