There are tons of ongoing projects happening at Life Science Studios. My to do list of paintings was 63 at the end of January and has now shrunk to 29. Whew! Here is an update on a few of those projects:
I am getting so close to finishing paintings of all of the cichlid fish species of Lake Tanganyika, and there are a lot of them! This week, I spent some time working on sketches of fish for which we have very little (sometimes zero) reference images or information. It's tricky, but having done hundreds of these fish already, I have become pretty good at interpreting how a fish should look, even based on a poorly preserved specimen or blurry photo. I'm looking forward to painting a few of these sketches next week.
This week, I painted a number of mobulid (manta and devil) ray species for a client at UC Santa Cruz who studies these beautiful creatures. These paintings have been so fun to do, and a bit difficult because of the subtle shading and markings on some of them. I am looking forward to seeing my client use these in her work, and I think they will do a lot to enhance her message.
Bees and More Bees
Bees have a very special place in my heart, so I am excited to be working on two different bee projects! One of them is for interpretive panels here at Princeton University campus and the other is for an upcoming scientific paper. The interpretive panels will be created using watercolors, while the journal figure is done entirely digitally.
Life Science Studios has a new collaboration! I have been painting tons of new mushroom species for this project, and this Sunday, I will have a big announcement about the launch of Mycomestible. Stay tuned!
New From the Shop
I share a home office with an ecologist. My husband is a research associate at Princeton University, and his home desk is right next to mine. This means that I often look over my shoulder and end up saying "are you publishing your figure like that? What does it even mean? Hold on, let me see what I can do."
This happened the other day as he and his collaborators were finishing up a really exciting experiment they had recently completed in the Swiss Alps. This experiment involved moving entire plant communities down mountains in order to see how the plant-pollinator interactions would change under climate change. As the world warms, alpine plants would experience warmer temperatures. Moving the plants down the mountain is a super clever way of warming them and simulating climate change. The challenge was to create a figure that showed communities moving downslope and the different climate change scenarios faced by alpine plants.
Here is the first version of the figure:
This figure shows plants being transplanted downslope, where they will experience warmer temperatures. And then migrating upslope to escape hot temperatures as the climate warms from minor to moderate to extreme. As he explained the figure to me, it was clear that there were some things I didn't understand and that didn't make sense to me from what the figure showed. It is always a good idea to get fresh eyes on a figure because often the scientist is so familiar with the work that they become too close to the project and can't see what it looks like to someone reading this for the first time.
Here is what I came up with:
This figure now shows the mountain slope and different plant communities with pollinators, to give the reader context. The colors more accurately represent a conventional heat gradient and match the colors of each plant community. By creating the big panel on the left, showing the Experimental Manipulation, it gives context to the smaller panels on the right, showing Climate Change Scenarios. As the climate warms, those warmer zone communities will be forced to move up the mountain to escape the heat and will interact with colder zone communities. Showing the communities overlapping helps the reader understand the novel environment in which these species will exist.
This new illustration was added to the final paper, which just was published this week in Global Change Biology. This type of work is where science illustrators can make a big difference for scientists. By sitting down with an artist, the scientist can communicate the main message and the most important aspects of a figure, allowing the artist to bring a visual language to the figure and communicate the science more effectively to the reader. This is especially important for very complicated experiments or concepts where the diagrams are often a more effective form of communication than writing.
So when your schematic looks erratic, enigmatic, or problematic, consider hiring an illustrator who can make it more dramatic, diagrammatic, and even polychromatic.
Check out the really cool and important work done by these scientists. Their paper is: Asynchronous range shifts drive alpine plant-pollinator interactions and reduce plant fitness by Sarah K. Richman, Jonathan M. Levine, Laura Stefan, and Christopher A. Johnson in Global Change Biology.
If you’ve looked at my portfolio, you are probably surprised to see me painting something microscopic! I recently had the opportunity to create this piece for the launch of a brand new company, DeepBiome Therapeutics. This innovative company is studying the human gut microbiome to create novel drugs and therapies.
Hiring a science illustrator was the best way to depict their company’s mission. The founders wanted an eye-catching image showing the interaction of bacteria with the human intestines. I worked closely with the scientists to come up with this painting of bacteria on a mucus layer coating the microvilli, and placed in the context of a sea of intestinal villi. The way the villi fade into a dark mysterious space is meant to play off the title of their article, “Inventing Medicine by Accessing the Hidden Treasure in the Human Microbiome’s Dark Matter.”
This is not the first time I have illustrated for a company such as DeepBiome. I also did a handful of illustrations for the blog articles of a human skin microbiome company, Mother Dirt. For companies that work with microbes, science illustration can be a valuable tool in telling their story and reaching a wider audience. The interactions I have depicted are impossible to capture in a photograph or under a microscope. The artistic interpretation allows me to play with the scale of things and show molecules next to structures that are much larger, like villi. I hope I will have the opportunity to do more work like this in the future. I have loved bacteria ever since working as a lab manager for a microbiology class where I spent every day growing cultures. Microbes are so fascinating, and I enjoyed the chance to learn more about them through this project.
This month, I am featuring one of my favorite edible species. Craterellus cornucopioides is commonly called the Black Trumpet or Horn of Plenty fungus. In France, they call it trompettes-des-morts, which translates as "trumpet of the dead". But do not be fooled by the ominous names! This little fungus is delicious and safe to eat.
Craterellus cornucopioides has a thin skin that is dark brown or black on top and lighter gray underneath. It can be very difficult to find because it blends in with sticks and leaf litter so well. In fact, I have been hunting for these with a group of people where everybody walked by a large cluster of these right next to the trail. Luckily the last person in line spotted what we all had walked past!
Cap: Infundibuliform (funnel-shaped) with a wavy margin. The cap surface is dry with fine scales and dark brown, gray, or black.
Hymenium: The spore bearing surface is smooth or slightly wrinkled and pale gray. This fungus lacks gills.
Stipe: The stipe is a hollow cylinder that tapers down.
Spore Print: Pale buff. Taking a spore print would be challenging due to the shape of the fungus.
Ecology: Saprotrophic, getting its nutrients from decaying organic matter. This fungus is found in mixed conifer and hardwood forests in the spring.
Last week was certainly a busy one! I have been working on many different science illustration projects for different clients, while also updating my shop, negotiating new projects, and some boring stuff like accounting. Here are a few of the ongoing projects in the studio:
Lake Tanganyika Cichlids
I continue to make progress on painting all of the cichlid species of Lake Tanganyika. Last week, I focused my efforts on the Trematocara genus, finishing three new illustrations. Here is a little animation to see how a fish gets painted:
Manta and Devil Rays
There will be ten species of mobulid (manta and devil ray) rays to paint for this project. Last week, I finished up all of the sketches and this week I will be painting some of them! I’m really excited about this project. I started my career as a marine biologist and I have always wanted to see a manta ray. Someday!
New Mushroom Project
I have just started working with a new client in France to produce two mushroom playing card decks for edible species of Europe and North America! This is going to be so much fun. Some of the cards will have species I’ve already painted for Mushroom Guide App, but there will also be a ton of new paintings, and I’m going to have a lot of fun learning about European species and some new North American species as well. I will share more about this project once it gets under way!
You're My Honey
I loved making punny holiday mushroom cards and couldn’t resist making one for Valentine’s Day. Mushrooms just lend themselves to punning so perfectly. You can find this You’re My Honey card, featuring a romantic pair of honey mushrooms, in my shop here: www.lifesciencestudios.etsy.com
This year, I will be adding a lot more products to my Etsy shop, and I can't wait for you all to see what I have in the pipeline! This week, I added my very popular Edible Mushrooms design to my favorite women's T-shirt. I have done a bunch of testing, and have decided this shirt is by far the best women's fit and gives a more feminine look than the men's cut. The Edible Mushrooms design includes five of my favorite wild edible species: oyster mushroom, morel, porcini, shaggy mane, and chanterelle. Each mushroom was painted using watercolors and then printed using Direct To Garment (DTG) printing technique, which is clear and durable, and doesn't peel over time.
Also new in my shop: Rainbow Mushroom Shirts! This design was a suggestion from my good friend, Rani Davidson, and I just love it. I got to see her over the holidays, and she was kind enough to model some of my designs for me, including the one she came up with! Keep an eye on Instagram for more photos of my favorite new model, and follow her @the_rani_d to see her hilarious stand-up.
I also have prints of my watercolor paintings up for sale. The prints come in 5x7" or 8.5x11", matted, and signed.
Click the button below to visit the shop. And stay tuned for new stuff!
We took a trip to see my in-laws in Tucson over Christmas and New Years. The desert there is truly spectacular, and I always am amazed by the diversity of cacti and birds that live here. Whenever we visit, we make sure to get out and hike. This time, I brought my sketchbook. Many of the sketches I filled in with color and detail at the dining room table, as I’m sure other nature journalists will relate. It’s hard to spend enough time on one subject when the family is off to the next thing!
My strategy, which I learned from the wonderful John Muir Laws, is to sketch everything very roughly in non photo blue pencil first, in order to get the general shapes right. I then go back over with graphite and finally watercolor. The non photo blue pencil is a color that cannot be detected by copiers. This means nothing for sketching because I won't be using a copier, but there is something about using a light blue pencil that is very freeing and allows you to sketch without feeling like you need to erase all of the wrong marks. It is also easily hidden by the watercolor paints.
We also took a trip to one of my favorite places: the Sonoran Desert Museum. This living museum is a wonderful place to discover the local wildlife and plants. The raptor show, in particular, is really awesome. Owls swoop over your head and Harris hawks team up to demonstrate a hunt during the show. The birds are way too fast for me to sketch, so I sketched a toad instead. You can see some of the blue pencil marks that I later adjusted, but never erased.
I have decided to create a post that focuses on a different mushroom species each month. Welcome to the first Mushroom of the Month! For January, let’s take a close look at Agaricus augustus, also known as The Prince.
Agaricus augustus, is a huge, HUGE! edible mushroom that can be identified by its fragrant almond extract or anise smell. It has pink-brown gills that darken with age, a ring around the stalk, and brown scales that cover the cap. This species can be found on the west coast of North America in late summer, early fall, after periods of heavy fog. It prefers to grow under conifers. I used to find these in parking lots where I used to work in California. The massive size is so impressive!
Cap: convex, becoming flat with age. 2-12.5 inches in diameter. Light yellow-white, covered with brown scales.
Hymenium: crowded gills that are free from the stipe. Pinkish brown, becoming dark chocolate brown with age.
Stipe: straight or slightly tapered up. 4-14.5 inches tall. Has a ring with a long white skirt. Smooth above the ring, but covered in brown scales below the ring.
Spore Print: dark brown
Ecology: A. augustus is saprotrophic, getting its nutrients by breaking down decaying organic matter.
Happy new year! 2020 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year for Life Science Studios. The year will start off with an upcoming publication launching a new business focused on the human gut microbiome. The publication will feature my watercolor illustration depicting the interaction between microbes and the microvilli in the human intestine. Working with DeepBiome will be challenging and really interesting as I find unique ways to communicate complex human-microbe interactions through art.
I am also excited to work with Melissa Cronin at UC Santa Cruz. Her conservation research helps understand the impact of bycatch on manta and devil ray populations. I will be completing some digital drawings to show how the mantas are caught and sampled, as well as detailed paintings of ten different ray species. This work will be really interesting as it gets me back to one of my true loves: marine biology.
If you visit Princeton University, you may also soon see some of my work around campus. I am collaborating with Dr. Sarah Kocher to create interpretive panels highlighting the diversity, behavior, and importance of native bees in restored meadows around the university. Native pollinators are something I care deeply about, so I am thrilled to start work on this in the spring.
I will also be finishing up the Tanganyikan cichlid project. I’m so excited to see this huge body of work (over 200 species) completed and published in scientific journal publications. It will be bittersweet to say goodbye to my beloved cichlids. I have learned so much about them along the way.
I also have big plans for my Etsy shop in 2020. I want to create a ton of new designs and products for mushroom lovers, and maybe even some non-mushroom products as well.
2020 will be a big year in my personal life as well. We will be leaving Princeton sometime in the summer. As my husband’s job wraps up and he starts a new one, there is a lot of uncertainty as to where we will live next. Such is the life of an academic. But I can’t wait to experience a new place, and I am particularly excited to be reunited with all of my artwork and studio equipment and furniture that has all been in storage the last 3 years. Oh, fancy ergonomic chair and high-end printer, how I have missed you.
I plan on posting a lot more blogs in the new year, so I hope you will follow along. Happy 2020!
This year saw a lot of change as I moved, participated in some festivals and fairs, started an online shop, and a started a bunch of new exciting projects. In May, we packed up our apartment in Zurich, Switzerland and moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Being back in the US opened up a bunch of new art and business opportunities that I didn’t have in Switzerland.
One of my favorite things to do is go to mushroom festivals, and one of the largest festivals is only an hour away in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I quickly got some mushroom art printed and made into T-shirts and mugs and set up a booth for the weekend at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival. It was a blast! The festival sees over 100,000 people come through to eat mushrooms and learn about fungi. I met some really fun people and discovered that my T-shirts were pretty popular.
I Started an Etsy Shop
I left the festival feeling like I should do more with my mushroom artwork, so I set up a shop on Etsy and have been really enjoying creating mushroom shirts, mugs, cards, and prints to sell online. It has allowed me to get even more involved in the wonderful online mushroom hunter community. I have a ton of ideas for the shop and I can’t wait to get more designs out there!
Science Research Illustration
I have also continued to work with scientists to help communicate their research through art. I am very close to finishing a giant project to paint all species of cichlid from Lake Tanganyika in Africa. To date I have completed 218 species paintings in watercolor. Many of the remaining species will be tricky because they are rarely seen or cryptic species. We saved the most challenging ones for the end. Luckily, years of painting cichlids has prepared me for tackling these difficult species.
I also had the chance to work on some bird species paintings for an upcoming research journal publication by the Drury Lab at Durham University. I love painting birds, and this project had me painting some gorgeous plumage. I can’t wait for this paper to come out.
Digital Science Illustration
In addition to all of the watercolor work, I also do quite a bit of digital illustration. This year, I worked with the Kristen Davis at UC Irvine to make a logo for her physical oceanography lab. My husband has also been doing a lot of presentations and talks, so I had a great time making digital drawings of his plant and insect species, as well as some illustrations showing experimental design.
This year is the first year I decided to participate in Inktober. The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators put out a science illustration themed Inktober prompt list. It was a ton of fun thinking of quick ink drawings to do for each subject, pushing me to draw things I have never drawn before.
I have a ton of new projects and clients in the works for the new year, and I can’t wait to see what sorts of art for science I will create in 2020. Happy New Year to all!