In 2003 I was illustrating animals for Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia; while doing research for the chapter on hydrozoans (relatives of jellyfish), I learned that one of the species I was to illustrate was named after Frank Zappa. As it happened, the author of the Hydrozoa chapter was the same man who’d described and named that species. Italian scientist Ferdinando Boero (who enthusiastically provided me with guidance for the illustrations) had named one of these animals with the hopes that he’d be able to meet the musician. Of his plan to use taxonomy to meet his hero, Boero said:
“My strategy was a simple one:
that fauna was (and is) not well known;
I would find some new species for sure;
once I had found them I would have to give them a name;
I would dedicate one of them to FZ;
I would tell him about it;
He would invite me for a visit.”
Here is my painting of the medusa stage of Phialella zappai:
You can see my painting of the polyp stage of Phialella zappai at here my website.
Last weekend I visited the McMichael Collection with the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators to see the exhibit “Vanishing Ice.” As described in the promotional material, this exhibit “…offers a glimpse into the rich cultural legacy of the planet’s frozen frontiers. International in scope, it traces the impact of glaciers, icebergs, and fields of ice on artists’ imaginations. The exhibition explores connections between generations of artists who have adopted different styles, media, and approaches to interpret the magical light and fantastic shapes of ice.” Occasionally throughout the exhibit, a quote related to the subject was emblazoned on the gallery wall. One such quote caught our eye. It’s from a 1937 letter to Admiral Richard Byrd written by David Abbey Paige, who was the official artist on Admiral Byrd’s second expedition to Antarctica:
I believe that after the heroic part of the expedition has been forgotten, these colour records which I have will long be remembered by the future generations. I say this as a student of history: art and science always are more successful when they are joined together, because without graphic illustrations of its results, science is less comprehensive and sometimes very dry. All through the ages, the civilized world has left its best results graphically whether in print or in pictorial form.
One of my favorite artists, Caspar David Friedrich, was represented in this exhibit with his piece “The Sea of Ice” or “Wreck of the Hope” though it seemed a rather dull reproduction of the original painting:
The piece that made the biggest impression on me was a large painting of a beautifully rendered block of ice with some penguins on it by Alexis Rockman. See it in this slideshow of the artist’s work (#5).
This piece by Spencer Tunick prompted much discussion with others in my group. Six hundred naked people lying down on a glacier! I hope it didn’t take too long for the photographer to direct that shot….
The Royal Canadian Mint is now shipping this silver coin bearing my illustration of a beaver about to slap the water with its tail to warn other beavers in the colony of potential danger. Beavers do this when they detect the sound or the scent of a potential predator, such as a bobcat, a human, or in this case, the wolf standing on the shore in the background. This warning will prompt other beavers to seek the shelter of the pond.
A clearer, nicer image may be seen at the Mint’s website here.
This coin comes in a folded cardstock “package” bearing an image of the coin’s reverse on the front:
And on the inside, my original drawing:
The Mint’s talented engravers used this illustration to make the coin. The drawing of trees and branches that surrounds my coin illustration was done by someone else; unfortunately the packaging does not identify that artist.
Someone recently asked me what my favorite coin is (that I’ve designed), and I replied that my three favorites include this beaver, about to slap its tail. (The other two favorites are here and here).
Last summer, a local scientist developing a recovery strategy for the endangered Mottled Duskywing butterfly (Erynnis martialis) commissioned me to illustrate the life cycle of the insect. Apparently these types of reports usually include photographs, however, she was unable to find adequate photos of every life stage, which is why she contacted me. I was delighted at the opportunity to illustrate an invertebrate and grateful for a chance to demonstrate why illustration is sometimes a much better choice than photography. In this instance, even if my client had been able to find photos of a typical example of every life stage, the images would all have had different lighting, the lighting may have been uneven or inadequate, parts of the subject may have been out of focus or obstructed, and unnecessary background elements may have been distracting. Additionally, she may have had to seek publication rights from several different photographers.
By working with an illustrator, my client could provide guidance and feedback along the way to result in a single image that concisely conveys all of the information she wants to include. With an illustration, I was able to eliminate all unnecessary information, make each element consistent in terms of lighting, detail, and style, and arrange them in a logical and pleasing way in a small space. Some parts of the illustration are based on written descriptions because there were no reference photographs available.
For more reasons why photography cannot replace illustration, read 5 Reasons Your Camera Won’t Steal My Job at Scientific American’s Symbiartic blog. Photography is a wonderful thing but it has its limitations.
As a bonus, this assignment took me out of the studio and into “the field” – a favourite part of my job. It is an uncommon instance when a subject I need to illustrate is actually available locally and it happens to be the right season to find it. My client gave me directions to a local population of New Jersey Tea, which was a pleasant hike through a natural area during the perfect time of year to find the species blossoming. I was able to take numerous reference photos of the Mottled Duskywing’s host plant from the angle I wanted to illustrate it. While there are many photographs of Ceanothus americanus online, none are taken from the angle I needed and none show the entire plant from its base.
This recent coin from the Royal Canadian Mint features a minute but detailed engraving of my illustration of a grizzly bear, photographed here in its protective case. You can see another, more detailed image of the coin at the Mint’s website here. This is the fourth coin in the RCM’s 11-millimetre gold coin series. It’s tiny!! I designed two previous coins in this series; see here and here. Like the cougar and the bighorn sheep, this design is also minted on a larger platinum coin. I haven’t had a chance to photograph that, but one can see it at the Mint’s website here.
My illustration of a bald eagle carrying a fish can be seen on two different silver coins recently made available by The Royal Canadian Mint. The first is a very detailed engraving in a proof finish, seen above and at the Mint’s website here. The second is a bullion coin, pictured below. This design is the second in a series featuring birds of prey. (See the first here).
Beginning today,* The Lindsay Gallery in Lindsay, Ontario is featuring an exhibit of artwork from members of the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators. I am exhibiting five works, including the fish in the poster above. Please join us at the Closing Reception October 18!
*Please note that the Gallery hours have changed since we originally organized this exhibit. The poster above has the correct hours and dates.