Darwin wouldn’t draw. Seriously.

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He said so himself. And he regretted it.

Exhibit A, from The Autobiography of Charles Darwin:

“[Not being urged to practice dissection] has been an irremediable evil, as well as my incapacity to draw.”

It was actually Darwin’s shipmate on the HMS Beagle, Conrad Martens, who made the sketches best known from that expedition. And, it wasn’t until well after Darwin’s famous voyage to the Galapagos that a publisher sent an artist back to that region with the express responsibility to illustrate Darwin’s observations.

Most publications from Darwin’s era were similarly professionally illustrated, with many of the illustrations based on specimens he collected. However, these illustrations were not Darwin’s own work.

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“Tree of life” sketches (Charles Darwin, in the public domain)

Mind you, Darwin did occasionally sketch, as can be seen in his diagrams of “trees” roughly indicating how organisms were related.  And, there are a handful of rough sketches of plant cross sections and geologic formations scattered through his myriad notebooks. But, these few sketches pale alongside the copious volumes of written notes and manuscripts he made.

Darwin maintained he couldn’t draw.

So he didn’t ever do it.[1] Continue reading Darwin wouldn’t draw. Seriously.

Drawn to Science & Sustainability workshop (Oct. 28)

I am really excited about this workshop – it’s taking the ‘Artful Science’ workshops I’ve been leading to a new level, by introducing and addressing the question of how to use drawing for professional work in sustainability design.

Please note: This is a late-breaking workshop, and is primarily for students at Chatham University. However, anyone in Pittsburgh, PA who is available and interested is welcome to join us.

Sketches of Mount Olympus cabinet of curiosities

Drawn to Science & Sustainability: a crash course in sketching and hand‐drafting tricks, tips, and techniques

Whether you are a trained scientist, a science educator, or a sustainability professional, you can enhance your work with a strong foundation in basic sketching techniques. This fast-paced, hands-on workshop will help you develop urban and/or nature sketching habits, visual note taking skills, and systems mapping tools. Join us as we look back at the historical connections between art and science and look forward to the usefulness of sketching for modern science and sustainability initiatives. Continue reading Drawn to Science & Sustainability workshop (Oct. 28)

What a frog in pants taught me about good visual communication

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I recently filled out an artist database profile, and one of the questions was both great and thought-provoking. It was also deceptively simple:

“What kind of work do you want?”

 

After mulling that over for a while, this is what I came up with:

I’m looking for projects that combine fascination with the natural world and a deep appreciation for visual communication. 

I’m particularly excited about illustration for adults and children that doesn’t obscure how ecosystems work; editorial projects that connect readers’ everyday lives to the natural world; and collaborating with researchers interested in incorporating drawing into their research, teaching, and public communication efforts.

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The database form also requested links to samples of previous projects, the kind I’d like to do more of. A set of illustrations from early this spring immediately sprang to mind.

I made the following drawings to accompany a 300-word nugget about the history of science – how an Italian priest made an important breakthrough in our understanding of animal reproduction. That might not sound terribly exciting, but the nuances of that not-so-priestly experiment are.

Lazzaro Spallanzani, Italian biologist

Frog in Pants details how a Renaissance-age priest dressed frogs in taffeta pants, and in so doing, (partially) demystified sex.

My illustrations, coupled with the text by American Scientist associate editor Katie Burke, were published by www.buzzhootroar.com in March.

The piece went viral.

” Just wanted to say thank you again for the great piece. Among many other things, you made it onto Boing Boing and iO9, and tens of thousands of people visited the site, thanks to your excellent talents.
All the best,
Eleanor and the rest of Buzz Hoot Roar”
Equally delightful was the response by the American Scientist art department. They ran the “frog in pants” illustration along with a book review in their May/June 2014 issue.

Frog in pants_American Scientist cover (2014)

Sure, it’s nice to have people look at my work. But is that what makes Frog in Pants an exemplary project?

Nope. The real reason is that it’s a fantastic example of what is possible when custom illustrations are melded with the right science story. In this case, we checked all the boxes in a simple SciComm equation:

     Compelling illustrations tailored to the project 
+   Science story about something (nearly) everyone can relate to

=   Dynamite SciComm

10s of thousands of people viewed and interacted with Frog in Pants. They learned something about themselves, in the context of how science works (building on centuries of exploration, experimentation, and discovery).

That’s why I point to some seemingly simple line drawings as an example of what I want to keep doing.

Frogs mating2_sigFrog in Pants epitomizes the synergy we can generate when we merge artful visual communication with engaging stories about science and the people who do it.

What’s your favorite example of great visual science storytelling?

Drawn to Natural History: A sketching workshop in Quebec City

I’ll be leading a workshop on the synergy between art and science in a couple of weeks! If you’re in Quebec City and want to join us, scroll down for all the details.

Looking for a workshop near you? Check the calendar for upcoming workshops, or contact me to schedule a workshop in your area!

Polyphemous moth (02.2014)_sigDrawn to History: Exploring the synergy between art and the natural sciences.

Turn back time to an era when art and the natural sciences were inseparable!

Frog in pants_v4_rs_wmJoin local artist Bethann G. Merkle for a rare event held in the Morrin Centre’s Victorian-era science lab.

Following an illustrated talk with special emphasis on local natural history and scientists, you will enjoy a series of facilitated sketching and observation activities.

Bethann will teach you how to record your observations of nature specimens using a combination of sketches and notes. Continue reading Drawn to Natural History: A sketching workshop in Quebec City

Bouma Post Yards – 60th anniversary re-branding

BPY_old sign_reference photoBouma Post Yards (BPY) started by accident, sixty years ago.  Founders Harold and Johanna Bouma needed some posts for their property, and had to drive several hours to buy them.  The area where they live in Montana has plenty of trees – wind-warped pines and water-logged cottonwoods – but not many that make good fence poles.

Before Harold could get the fence built, his neighbors, having spotted the posts sitting out near the road, stopped by asking to purchase the whole load.  So he sold it. Continue reading Bouma Post Yards – 60th anniversary re-branding