Visualizing Science: Illustration and Beyond

Where does illustrator end, and infographer begin? How does data visualization fit in? And what does science have to say about the design decisions we make? With the goal of strengthening connections between communities, Jen hopes to get folks thinking about what they can learn from — and teach to — different visual sub-disciplines within the broader orb of science communication.

We are excited to learn about the role of science illustration in data visualization as we continue to feature our virtual exhibition of science illustration, The Art of Nature.

Jen Christiansen, senior graphics editor at Scientific American

About the speaker: Jen Christiansen is senior graphics editor at Scientific American, where she art directs and produces illustrated information graphics and data visualizations. She completed undergraduate studies in geology and art at Smith College, then happily merged the two disciplines in the scientific illustration graduate program at UC Santa Cruz. She began her publishing career in NY at Scientific American in 1996, moved to DC to join the art department of National Geographic, spent four years as a freelance science communicator, then rejoined the SciAm team in 2007. She writes on topics ranging from reconciling her love for art and science, to her quest to learn more about the pulsar chart on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover.

http://jenchristiansen.com/
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/sa-visual/

On the Subject of Seeds

Patricia Larenas loves seeds. With a background in horticulture and art, her work aims to inspire appreciation for this life stage of plants. She also works directly with seeds, helping others grow edible gardens and save seeds. This project explores the germination and growth of a Hopi red lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus). The following is written by Patricia.

A sample of Pala hatiko, a kind of lima bean
Pala hatiko (Phaseolus lunatus) is the Hopi name for this variety of lima bean. Lima beans originated in South America in the area now known as Peru, and were named after the Peruvian city of Lima.

Genetic Diversity

I’ve drawn three beans to show the diversity of the seed coat color: 1. solid red-brown, 2. red-brown with dark streaks and spots, and 3. mostly dark with red-brown streaks and spots. The diversity in color of the beans is an indication of  the genetic diversity in this variety. This is an advantage because genetic diversity means that this bean could have more ability to adapt to different environments.

For example, lima beans usually like to grow in hot areas like the Southwestern and Southern USA . My garden in the Bay Area is cooler than those areas, so with its ability to adapt, this bean may do just fine in my garden under cooler conditions. By growing it for a few years and saving seeds from the most vigorous and productive plants, I can create my own land race that is adapted to growing well in my area.

Germination

All viable seeds are alive. By viable I mean they have the ability to grow once they germinate.  Conditions that kill seeds are: exposure to warm or hot temperatures, old age, exposure to light, humidity that can cause mold to grow or seeds to rot, and diseases. Seeds can stay dormant, but alive, while they are waiting for the proper conditions that will induce them to germinate. Germination is the process by which a seed begins to sprout and develop into a seedling. The proper conditions for seeds to germinate vary greatly for different types of seeds and they have to do with temperature, moisture, and exposure to light or darkness. Additionally, some seeds need a period of exposure to cold, usually about the temperature of your refrigerator (called stratification) before they germinate. This could be from a few weeks to a few months. Other seeds need to have their seed coats abraded or damaged (called scarification) a bit so that moisture can penetrate to begin the germination process. Vegetable seeds rarely need stratification or scarification, but some flower seeds do.

An illustration of the germination and growth of a lima bean seed

Bean Seeds

Lima bean seeds need soil temperatures of at least 750 F to germinate (up to 900F), besides moisture (water). As shown in my drawings, first, the root radicle grows out of the seed, and the seed coat begins to retract as the bean swells with growth. The seed leaves, or cotyledons, are the two halves that make up the bean seed, these start to open up and the true leaves grow out from in between them, while the radicle develops into a stem and roots. The little seed is now a seedling ready to grow into a full sized plant that will flower and make lima beans!

Patricia Larenas is a featured artist in the 2020 exhibition of science illustration, The Art of Nature.
Find Patricia’s art on Instagram @plarenas_onpaper
See her website for tips on growing your veggie garden and saving seeds http://www.urbanartichoke.com/

Meet the Artist: Diane T Sands

A 4-panel comic from Life On Toast by Diane T Sands that says "Start Where You Are"

These pieces are a part of Life on Toast — a window into how I view the world. Essentially a one-panel comic, it is delineated into four frames. I had been enjoying other webcomics on Instagram and my favorites would show one panel at a time, with the fifth image being the whole comic. I designed Life on Toast for this medium. It followed from observations and doodles in my sketchbook, many with puns added but also bringing in elements of the scientific illustration work I’ve done and daily encouragements. Unlike other webcomics, I wanted mine to be hand-drawn and hand-painted, yet shared electronically. Little did I know how important this would become once shelter-in-place was established. On many days, this tiny window is my only contact with the world. 

A 4-panel comic from Life On Toast by Diane T Sands depicting 3 ducks and 1 goose
A 4-panel comic from Life On Toast by Diane T Sands saying "You choose: One day, or day one."
A 4-panel comic from Life On Toast by Diane T Sands saying, "No, I DON'T know the words."

For years I have taken photos — many of them blurry or cluttered — as a way of keeping track of nature I see on hikes and dog walks, or the growth in my garden, when my sketchbook is out of reach. I use these reference photos later as part of Life on Toast and other art, like the piece I have in this year’s The Art of Nature exhibit. I draw the items I have collected over the years and keep around my house — rocks, bones, paint tubes — the detritus of my life as inspiration. Art can be made anywhere out of the things you see in the world around you. Take a look inside my electronic window and share my Life on Toast.

Diane T Sands describes herself as “illustrator, librarian, writer, nerd.” Explore her website and the virtual exhibit, The Art of Nature, featuring her piece Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia).

Lecture: Exploring Science Through Art

Art is essential to increasing scientific knowledge and inspiring conservation. This lecture from Andrea Dingeldein, a local artist and educator featured in the Museum’s 2020 exhibition of science illustration, The Art of Nature, explores science illustration, both historical and contemporary, and its importance as a tool to observe and connect with nature.

Andrea Dingeldein is a marine biologist, naturalist, and general lover of nature. Andrea’s focus is in marine illustration, but she enjoys drawing insects, reptiles, and any other creepy-crawlies she can get her hands on. She specializes in illustrations for peer-reviewed science articles and has published illustrations in Ecological Modeling and Bulletin of Marine Science. Other clients include NC Department of Marine Fisheries, Friday Harbor Laboratories, and Western Society of Naturalists. Explore her work.

Andrea has two pieces in our 2020 exhibition of science illustration, The Art of Nature. Explore the virtual exhibit.

Meet a Painting: Plovers in the Dunes by Megan Gnekow

Science Illustrator Megan Gnekow shares the story behind her piece, “Plovers in the Dunes,” featured in this year’s The Art of Nature exhibit.

This is an excerpt from a longer conversation with Megan hosted live on Facebook on April 10, 2020. Watch the full program here.

Science Illustration Prompt: Engage Your Senses

Explore science illustration with artists featured in our annual exhibit, The Art of Nature, and get tips for how to make your own science illustrations at home. This post is from Yvonne Byers.

A watercoloring kit lying on the sand

As they say, “curiosity killed the cat”. Luckily I’m a human with one life to learn as much as I can about the amazing world we live in.
—Yvonne Byers

Yvonne Byers painting a watercolor of a cluster of cacti

Prompt: Engage Your Senses

There are so many great ways to use a nature journaling project to connect to your local habitat(s). One of my favorites is sequential observations — making notes and sketches about an organism you observe over time. Spring is a great time to do this because there are so many visible changes happening in our environments.

Your yard may look like a bunch of weeds but somewhere hidden amongst the chaos is an oasis you can indulge in for a little while.

The finished painting of the cacti

Find a sit spot in your yard where there is something that has caught your eye. Take a comfortable seat and before even putting pen to paper just sit and take everything in. Use all your senses to hear, see, smell, feel, and maybe even taste the elements, plants, and critters that surround you.

Do a quick free write to get your brain juices flowing and then sketch away and enjoy the comfort and beauty of your own home! 

Explore more of Yvonne’s art here.

Science Illustration Prompt: Sequential Observations

Explore science illustration with artists featured in our annual exhibit, The Art of Nature, and get tips for how to make your own science illustrations at home. This post is from Megan Gnekow, recipient of the Museum’s 2019 Laura Hecox Naturalist Award.

A watercolor of a bird of prey feeding a chick

I make scientific illustrations because I want to inspire folks to look closely at the world around them. I want to make complexities and relationships more clear, helping people understand that all organisms are connected to each other. — Megan Gnekow

Prompt: Sequential Observations

There are so many great ways to use a nature journaling project to connect to your local habitat(s). One of my favorites is sequential observations — making notes and sketches about an organism you observe over time. Spring is a great time to do this because there are so many visible changes happening in our environments.

Choose an organism that you can observe regularly over a period of time (the period of shelter-in-place is a good place to start!). Observe the organism you have chosen as frequently as you are able to and make notes and sketches about what you observe. Note date, time, location (macro-habitat and micro-habitat). Use as many of your senses as you can and record what you learn!

Recording your observations over time gives you insights into an organism and the environment in which it lives. Hopefully this plants a seed for further observations and exploration. Don’t worry about making beautiful drawings. Just sketch and/or note what you observe! 

If you can’t get outside or have other limitations to observing organisms, there are plenty of webcams available to inspire you — I would suggest a bird camera hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the falcon cam at UC Berkeley.

Read more about Megan Gnekow here and visit her website here. Explore all of her illustrations from this peregrine falcon series here.