Just thought I’d share some of my most recent illustrations. These will soon be appearing on signs at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
Focus on Nature (FON) is a biennial juried exhibit of nature and science illustration. The exhibit is organized and hosted by the New York State Museum in Albany; this year the artwork is on display from April 28 to December 31.
The piece I entered in FON XII is a gouache painting of a fossil brachiopod that I did on my own time, not as a commission. Fossil invertebrates are my favorite subjects to illustrate because their forms are so varied and interesting, and reconstructing how they would have looked in life can be a challenge. Little may be known about them and what is known may have been published decades ago. In this case I had some excellent specimens and found relatively extensive information in the scientific literature, although a paleontologist I consulted disagreed with at least one of the conclusions in the literature. I chose to follow the paleontologist’s guidance.
Here is the description I wrote for the FON catalog:
This species of brachiopod is from the Middle Devonian Silica Formation of the Michigan Basin. Two different views at the bottom are idealized depictions since the fossils are rarely found in such perfect condition. Most are weathered, broken, encrusted with hard debris, pyritized, or deformed in some other way. Measuring up to 2.3 in (6 cm) wide, this species is large for a brachiopod. The top view is my conception of what the animal might have looked like alive, based on a specimen that bears the predatory boreholes as well as epifauna. Near the opening at the top are three cornulitids, tube-forming invertebrates of uncertain affinity. Spread across the side of the shell is a colony of bryozoans. Although brachiopods still exist today, the order Spiriferida, to which Paraspirifer belongs, is extinct. So, there were no close relatives to serve as a model for color or position. I consulted a paleontologist who studies brachiopods in order to determine the correct position, and I used colors typical of modern marine bivalves.
Celestial Eye Goldfish: “Image of the Week” at Scientific American Blogs. Also, a bit about protecting one’s artwork online.
My colored pencil illustration of a Celestial Eye Goldfish is the ‘Image of the Week” at Scientific American Blogs, thanks to science artist and blogger Glendon Mellow who quoted me and included the image (with my permission) in his recent Scientific American blog post “How Do Artists Protect Their Work Online?” Thank-you, Glendon!
My goldfish image is an example of my attempts to prevent copyright infringement and protect my clients’ investments; the image bears my URL and there’s a copyright symbol partially covering the image. Additionally, it’s only 300 pixels wide. The idea is that a small, watermarked image is less likely to be pilfered than a large size or unmarked image. Of course, the only perfect system for preventing online thievery is to not put them online, but I have to promote my business somehow!
Most infringements are relatively harmless. People use my illustrations in their personal blogs, and sometimes they cite me as the illustrator and/or link to my website. I would like folks to ask for permission first, but I don’t get bent out of shape if I come across such infringement. One reason I’d like people to seek permission is that I do not own the copyright to or there may be licensing restrictions on some of the illustrations at my website; they are in my online portfolio solely to promote my business.
Other infringements are not so innocent. Unauthorized commercial use of my illustrations has occurred on a number of occasions that I know about, and I’m none too pleased to discover that someone else is making money using my livelihood. These infringements have not given exposure to my business because they are not credited to me. Interestingly, in all but one instance (that I know of), the pilferer took my illustration(s) from a legitimate website where they are not watermarked for one reason or another (not my website). To me, that’s a good reason to keep using watermarks where possible.
I decided I needed to answer that question after a recent thread on the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Listserv hinted that there are many potential clients out there who may not fully understand the value of a professional illustrator. Almost everyone knows a budding artist or hobbyist willing to work for peanuts (or less), so why pony up the $ and hire a professional?
To those who may be considering “hiring” an amateur with promises of experience or exposure as “compensation,” I offer the following compelling reasons to work with a professional illustrator instead. These remarks would also apply to hiring other creative professionals, such as graphic designers, website designers, or photographers.
A professional illustrator has a portfolio of existing work by which you can judge her potential success with your project. While it’s true that every professional illustrator begins her career with little experience, she will still have a modest portfolio of work she’s created to demonstrate her capabilities. If you don’t see some competent existing work, you may end up wasting your time engaging the services of an amateur who is not serious about her career – or your project.
A professional illustrator works with you to give you the result you want by your deadline, expecting your feedback along the way. A paid professional has a reputation to maintain. If you find an amateur willing to work for free , she may have her own agenda and schedule and there’s nothing you can do about it.
A professional illustrator understands copyright law, which protects you from liability. I once found a small business website using some of my illustrations without my permission. Turns out the business owner had his son create the website, and since his son was not a professional web designer who knew or cared about copyright law, the business owner was liable for the copyright infringement. Considering the number of instances I’ve discovered such infringements of my own work, it’s clear that there are a lot of amateurs out there who don’t realize or don’t care that their client may pay dearly in the future. Avoid the perils of copyright infringement by hiring a professional!
A professional illustrator will be able to explain the different types of licensing arrangements available and offer one that best suits your needs for your budget. You should expect usage rights to be laid out in writing before you hire someone. You cannot expect an amateur to know about these things and it may be risky to make assumptions.
A professional illustrator knows the standards and conventions applicable to your project, or they at least know how to find out. Whether it’s how to count the scales on a fish, how to position a butterfly’s wings, or what file format and resolution are best, a professional is most likely to know what you need, even if you do not.
The bottom line is: The value a professional illustrator offers is well worth the fee she charges.
This week the Royal Canadian Mint released a new $20 pure silver commemorative coin featuring my illustration of a swimming polar bear. You can see it at the Mint’s website here; however I’m not sure how long that URL will last because the previous two coins in this series sold out quickly. Here’s my photograph of it:
As you can see from the photograph, the part of the bear above the water line is shiny, and the sky has a different finish than the water. I like the different finishes. The card that comes with the coin includes my original sketch of the bear. Below is my photo of one side of the trifold package:
My design was inspired, in part, by a visit to the Detroit Zoo a few years ago. There, a clear tunnel through the polar bear enclosure enables one to get a close-up view of swimming polar bears. This photo shows a bear standing in the water on top of the tunnel.
I entered three images into the inaugural ScienceOnline 2012 Digital Art Show, and one of them received a prize in the category “Best science art having to do with daily life.” It’s this image of an earthworm dissection that appeared in a recent post. You can see all of the artwork in the exhibit in a slideshow here.
Rob Dunn of Your Wild Life was very generous in funding the prizes; thanks for your support of science art, Rob! And thanks to Glendon Mellow and Karyn Traphagen, among others, for organizing the show.
UPDATE: Glendon wrote a nice piece about the exhibit winners at Symbiartic.