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.
On the first day, we assembled at the Hotel Management School for our first round of talks. Several of the lectures centered on history. Bill Andrews of Augusta University and Lorraine Daston of the Max Planck Institute demonstrated the importance of illustration through time. Illustrators have worked closely with scientists throughout history. The images they created not only founded our knowledge of anatomy and biology, but also had a great influence on the science that came after. Scientific images are always the product of four eyes; the scientist's and the artist's. As a result, every scientific or medical image leaves a trace of conflicts in differing epistemic virtues of the people involved. Esmee Winkel, from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, then gave us some modern examples of this type of conflict in her work with botanists today.
This year, the conference was held in Maastricht during the prestigious TEFAF art and antiques fair. After our talks, we had the opportunity to explore the giant TEFAF exhibition. We quickly narrowed in on historic science illustration. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the rare books, illustrations by Maria Sibylla Merian, hand-painted lithographs of birds and mammals, and spectacular anatomical paintings by d'Agoty from the 1700s.
We heard about a number of exciting science illustration programs in Zurich, Dundee, France, and a fledgeling program starting this year in Spain. One of my favorite talks was by a new freelance illustrator, Jessica Koren. Jessica is a medical illustrator and presented us with a beautifully honest talk about sticking her neck out, piloting her business, and overcoming fears in order to grow. I think we all responded to her talk because we all share these fears, doubts, and challenges when finding clients and valuing our work. One of my favorite tidbits from this talk was her method of keeping a Captain's Log for her projects, writing down all that happened, went wrong, and how to fix it next time.
We also heard from Pancras Dijk who gave us a window into the history and editorial process at National Geographic. While most people immediately think of stunning photography when they think about National Geographic, the magazine relies heavily on information graphics to tell stories, bring the past to life, and visually communicate complex concepts. Pancras presented a very clear argument for why illustrations are so important and how they accomplish communication in a way that photographs often cannot.
Our final talk came from Erik von Ommen, a bird painter, who showed us beautiful videos about his process. His talk was very inspirational as he explored many techniques including etching, wood cuts, watercolor, sumi-e ink, oil, and even gold-leaf. His advice is to take risks, show who you are, and don't be afraid to think outside the box.
"You have to finish a fish? Did I hear that right?" my friend asked when I told her why I was running late. Yep, I have been painting fish every day since I moved to Switzerland. This latest batch of fish will accompany a new research paper on fish evolution, and this project follows a previous research paper by the same group that had me painting around 65 different fish species.
The greatest part about working with the Alfaro lab at UCLA is that my painting assignments include some of the world's weirdest, rarest, and most beautiful ocean fish. That also means it can be a bit challenging to figure out how to accurately represent fish that have rarely been photographed. Each species requires a lot of research in order to make sure the illustrations depict accurate morphology and coloration. I start with Fish Base online, a website that includes descriptions, illustrations, and photos of fish species from around the world. Many of the photographs are of dead fish, which works well for understanding the anatomy, but results in dull or false coloration and often damaged fins. Further online research helps provide live photos of the fish in most cases.
One of the most challenging fish to paint was the tube-eye fish, Stylephorus chordatus. This species is a deep sea fish that looks like something out of an alien movie. It is rarely seen and there are very few photographs. My illustration had to be based off of the very limited number of illustrations and photographs I could find. I did not have a clear sense of what the coloration should be, but some of the deep sea researchers I asked described it as silvery-black.
Most of the fish species are much more straightforward. For example, there are endless photos online of pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), and I have the advantage of having caught salmon recreationally for most of my life. I had a pretty good idea of what it should look like.
For all of the fish paintings, I always start with a number of reference photos to create the most accurate sketch of the animal. After sketching on the computer, I then print out the sketch and refine it on paper before transferring it to watercolor paper using carbon paper. I can then use layers of watercolor followed by white gel pen to create the coloration, texture, and highlights.
Here is only a small sampling of the 80+ fish that I have painted so far. Stay tuned for links to the research publications once they come out. They are sure to make a big splash!