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!
I am super excited to be setting up a booth and selling products featuring my mushroom paintings at this year's Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, PA on September 7-8. Living on the east coast means I get to explore a whole new environment full of new and different species of mushrooms. Unlike California and Switzerland, New Jersey gets rain throughout the summer, so there are mushrooms to be found even in summertime! I have never attended this festival before, but Kennett Square calls itself the mushroom capital of the world, so I can't wait to check it out. Come say hi!
Since I have moved back to the US, I decided to open an Etsy shop for selling fine art prints, mugs, totes, and fun home goods featuring my watercolor paintings... mostly of mushrooms. The store is still growing and I will keep adding new items. Check out the shop and follow me on Instagram (@lifesciencestudios) to see when I add new products!
Hello from my new little art studio in Princeton, NJ! My husband's job moved to Princeton University, so we made the big international move from Switzerland. We are all settled in and I am working hard to finish painting all species of cichlid fish from Lake Tanganyika for the Salzburger Lab back in Switzerland. I am so thankful to be working in a profession where I am location independent. It will be exciting to be immersed in the cool academic research happening here at Princeton.
With the start of the holiday season, friends sometimes ask me to create paintings to give as gifts. This year, my friend from college wanted to give her husband a painting of his favorite species of deep sea urchin, Echinocrepis. As a marine invertebrate biologist, he worked on these very cool echinoderms. In addition to Echinocrepis, she also wanted the painting to feature a sea pig. Because... sea pigs! The challenge here was that there are so very few (only 2 or 3) reference photos and videos of Echinocrepis. I used a combination of watercolor and gouache to create this deep sea landscape and show Echinocrepis in the foreground and the funny little sea pig foraging in the background.
The Life Science Studios website has a new makeover! You can now see details on completed projects, including the full pages where illustrations have been published in journals or magazines. I will continue adding more projects to the portfolio with some of my digital work and personal paintings soon. I have also created a store page that displays a few of the items for sale on my Red Bubble shop. As I add new items, I will feature them on the store page so they can be found more easily. You may also notice an Instagram feed on the Updates page here. It has been fun uploading progress photos, time-lapse videos, and new products on the @lifesciencestudios Instagram feed. I hope you will follow along!
This past weekend, I took the whole family to Antwerp, Belgium for the AEIMS (Association Europeenne des Illustrateurs Medicaux et Scientifiques) meeting. It was nice to see some familiar faces from last year and to meet new people doing interesting and innovative work in the field of medical illustration.
I spent the first day at the beautifully woodsy Wilrijk campus where two rooms were set up for sketching. One was for human anatomy and the other for comparative animal anatomy. I don't consider myself a squeamish person, so I was a little shocked that I found it difficult to stay in the human anatomy room. I had expected dried cadaver specimens, but the university provided us with a dissection of very fresh arms and legs. Medical illustrators often observe surgeries and dissections, so they were very interested and less shocked than I. I spent my day with the animal bones instead.
The second day was full of talks from a wide variety of people from heart surgeons to sculptors to forensic anatomists. One of my favorite talks was by Carlos Van der Perre. The natural history museum in Brussels houses a mammoth skeleton that was discovered in Lier, Belgium. Van der Perre and his collaborators wanted to bring the skeleton back to Lier, but it could not be moved because of its age and fragility. Instead, they decided to 3D print the skeleton for display. They took each bone and did surface scans in order to collect the data necessary to print the skeleton. Then, using a company that usually prints large items for industry, they printed all 320 bones, finished them, painted them, and then put them up on carbon fiber posts for display in Lier. The printing process took two continuous weeks of printing to complete. While this was a mammoth undertaking, it shows how 3D technology could be used for museum displays and replication of fossils or other artifacts.
The AEIMS conference is primarily for medical illustrators, but the process, collaborations, and challenges faced by medical and natural science illustrators are very much the same.