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Interpretive sign illustration at Royal Botanical Gardens

November 23, 2015
Illustration of Princess Point settlement © Emily S. Damstra

Illustration of Princess Point settlement © Emily S. Damstra

A few years ago I created this illustration showing the first people to introduce corn to Southern Ontario around AD 500 – 1000. This culture was first identified (or at least, described) at Princess Point, part of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ontario. Now, the illustration is part of an interpretive sign at the RBG:

Photograph c/o Tÿs Theÿsmeÿer, Royal Botanical Gardens

Photograph c/o Tÿs Theÿsmeÿer, Royal Botanical Gardens

The photo shows a view of Cootes Paradise, with the T. B. McQuesten Memorial Bridge in the background. The interpretive sign was prepared under the direction of Barbara McKean, RBG’s Head of Education, who also wrote the copy. The right-hand panel on the sign depicts part of a Princess Point Complex pot; the photo was kindly provided by Dr. David Smith at University of Toronto – Mississauga. The layout was prepared by Irene Feddema of IFdesign Inc. in Burlington.

2016 Coin of the Year awards

November 17, 2015

Last week I was happy to learn that one of my coin designs received a 2016 Coin of the Year Award. It’s this colored silver coin showing an autumn view into the canopies of three tall silver maples:

1 oz Fine Silver coin - Maple Canopy: Autumn Allure - designed by Emily s. Damstra

1 oz Fine Silver coin – Maple Canopy: Autumn Allure – designed by Emily S. Damstra

See my original post about the coin here.

The Coin of the Year Award is a worldwide competition created and organized by the publisher Krause Publications. An international panel of judges chooses the award recipients. You can see all of the 2016 category winners from around the world, including the maple canopy, here. The 2016 competition is for coins minted in 2014.

We’ll find out in January which coin wins the overall Coin of the Year Award.

Krause Publications is known for its catalogs and guides to coins and currency, among other subjects. In fact, one of their recent offerings is a book showcasing all of the Coin of the Year Award winners from the contest’s inception in 1984 through the 2015 Awards. Coin of the Year: Celebrating Three Decades of the Best in Coin Design and Craftsmanship is a real visual treat. It contains superb photographs of every award winning coin and text by coin expert Donald Scarinci. Scarinci is a lawyer and numismatic enthusiast with a collection of coins that includes nearly all of those photographed for his book. He serves on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (which makes recommendations for United States coins) and is a nominating judge for the Coin of the Year Award.

Speaking as someone who cares about artists’ rights and has occasionally had to stand up for hers, I was disappointed to see that the book identifies only a small percentage of the artists and engravers whose works fill the pages. Perhaps this omission can be remedied in a future edition, at least as far as that is possible. Even so, I found the book to be an inspiring compilation of coin designs that had me wondering what type of direction each artist received and the thought process that led to his/her final design.


People’s Choice Awards from recent SONSI exhibit

November 13, 2015

The recent SONSI exhibit of nature and science illustrations has come to an end, at least for one location. During the exhibit, people who visited the Giants Rib Discovery Centre had the opportunity to vote for their favorite works of art by filling out a People’s Choice ballot. SONSI doesn’t typically offer prizes to the winners except bragging rights; this year, however, at least some of the winning entries will be published in the Spring 2016 issue of Niagara Escarpment Views magazine.

I’m happy to report that two of my works were among the winners. First place went to this beautiful painting by Kathryn Chorney. There was a three-way tie for second place, including another of Kathryn’s pieces and the following two of mine:

Trillium erectum

Red Trillium – watercolor and gouache painting © Emily S. Damstra


Illustration of Davisville, a settlement of First Nations peoples along Ontario's Grand River in about 1825.

Illustration of Davisville, a settlement of First Nations peoples along Ontario’s Grand River in about 1825 © Emily S. Damstra

We’re planning to move the exhibit to Ball’s Falls Conservation Area, but haven’t yet settled on dates.

Red, orange, yellow, GOLD

October 8, 2015

Like many people, I’m delighted by the colorful leaves autumn brings.

maple leaf illustration © Emily S. Damstra

maple leaf in colored pencils © Emily S. Damstra

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to develop a coin design that immersed me in autumn well before the season began. The Royal Canadian Mint just released this 2 oz. gold coin featuring the colored maple canopy that I designed. At the low, low price of CAD$4,889.95, it could be yours. 😉

Great Horned Owl bullion coin

September 23, 2015
My photo of the Great Horned Owl bullion coin I designed.

My photo of the Great Horned Owl bullion coin

Late this summer, the Royal Canadian Mint released the final bullion coin in a series of four Birds of Prey. It’s the Great Horned Owl.

You can see my initials ‘ED’ on the coin; yep, I designed this one! The skilled engravers at the RCM excel at showing fine details of their subject’s texture and color; this bird is no exception.

The 2015 SONSI Exhibit: The Natural and Cultural History of Southern Ontario

September 7, 2015

Once again, I’m participating in an exhibit with the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators.

This year, our exhibit is hosted by the Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre, the same place that now displays my recent illustration of three different Silurian environments of Southern Ontario (see previous post).

poster design by Kathryn Chorney

poster design by Kathryn Chorney

More details about the SONSI exhibit are here. Please note that the exhibit will NOT be on display the weekend of September 12/13 due to an event that the Centre is hosting.

Our exhibit reception will take place on October 17, coinciding with a somewhat informal “Grand Reopening” of the Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre. Anyone who wishes to see the newly redesigned GRDC, view the exhibit, and speak to the artists is welcome to show up anytime after 10 AM. Enjoy some refreshments in the morning and see the artwork. Artists will be participating in a hike from about 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM, after which there will be opening remarks and lunch (kindly provided by the GRDC), followed by more time to socialize and see the displays. Please join us!

Update on Silurian Mural at Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre

September 2, 2015

My six-foot-by-four-foot illustration of three different Silurian environments in Southern Ontario is now on display at the Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The Centre is open on weekends from 10 AM to 3 PM.

Silurian environments of Southern Ontario © Emily S. Damstra

Silurian environments of Southern Ontario © Emily S. Damstra

From left to right, I’ve illustrated a muddy bottom community (the Rochester Shale), a reef (the Guelph Formation) and near-shore lagoon (the Williamsville Formation). Included are trilobites, eurypterids, cephalopods, megalodont bivalves, gastropods, cystoids, crinoids, a brittle star, brachiopods, bryozoans, tabulate and rugose corals, stromatoporoids, stromatolites, and algae. See the names of all 43 different creatures here.

These ancient seas existed in the Silurian period of Earth’s history, near what we now call the Niagara Escarpment. Find out more about the ancient seas and the fossils I’ve illustrated here.

This graphite and digital color illustration is the product of some pretty intense research, and I’m extremely grateful for guidance from paleontologists Carlton Brett, Frank Brunton, and Matthew Vrazo. Some valuable reference photos also came from fossil collector Paul Chinnici, who along with Kent Smith authored a just-released book about the Rochester Shale fossils. This beautiful new book also includes a detailed chapter on the stratigraphy and paleoenvironments by Carlton Brett, illustrated with the Rochester Shale portion of my illustration above. The book is available here. I write more about the book and describe my visit to the Caleb Quarry (Rochester Shale) in an earlier post.

All are invited to the Grand Reopening of the Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre on October 17, 2015. The opening will coincide with a reception for an exhibit of science and nature illustration by the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators. I’ll post details when I have them; the agenda is not yet settled.

Gold lobster

July 11, 2015

Last year I visited a local seafood store and brought home this live lobster:

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

The Royal Canadian Mint had invited me to submit a coin design showing a Canadian lobster, and I needed a specimen to draw. Having never handled a live lobster before and unsure of what to expect, I first put her in my empty bathtub to take some photos.

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

I needn’t have been so cautious! Since air was not her natural environment she barely moved at all. After a number of photos from all angles I concluded that I needed to manipulate her appendages and body position to achieve a pose that would work on a 13.92 mm diameter coin.

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

So, I put her in the freezer. As far as I could determine, this was the most humane way to kill her. Once frozen and then slightly thawed, I could pose her in a variety of ways and view her from different angles in order to determine the best composition for a small circular canvas. To be sure I was positioning the lobster in a natural stance, I viewed photos of live lobsters underwater. My specimen curled up her abdomen while in the freezer, and I never managed to uncurl it; fortunately I had taken some good reference photos of her relaxed abdomen while she was alive.

Here she is, fresh out of the freezer after having been frozen, then thawed and manipulated and propped, then re-frozen:

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

As she thawed, she got a bit frosty:

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

Lobster photo © Emily S. Damstra

It’s always a pleasure to have a specimen to draw from. Very often, that’s not an option, such as when I draw polar bears or whales. Despite my distaste for seafood, I had intended to eat her so as to avoid wasting her life. However, after a number of freezing and thawing cycles I decided it wouldn’t be prudent to consume her. I hope that having her portrait engraved on 7,500 pure gold coins is a good enough legacy:

1/25 oz. Pure Gold Coin - Lobster; design by Emily S. Damstra

1/25 oz. Pure Gold Coin – Lobster; design by Emily S. Damstra

This is the third coin in the Mint’s Sea Creatures series; it is available now from the Royal Canadian Mint. To see the first and second, click here and here.

Sea Urchin spines

June 29, 2015

I recently had an opportunity to visit the Ramsay Wright Zoological Laboratory on the campus of the University of Toronto. The lab houses an impressive collection of zoological specimens and I was able examine them at leisure. This event was a sketching opportunity with the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators, so at some point I did stop peering into specimen jars to sit down and draw. Perhaps because I don’t live near a marine coastline, I rarely see echinoderm specimens in local collections; that’s one reason I chose to draw these sea urchin spines:

Sketch of sea urchin spines © Emily S. Damstra

Sketch of sea urchin spines © Emily S. Damstra

I really like echinoderms (as I’ve mentioned before), and the surprising diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors of these spines only reinforced my interest in the phylum. Subtle shades of brown, purple, gray, and orange combined with a texture and weight like fine porcelain gave these subjects an irresistible appeal. Unfortunately I didn’t have my gouache paint with me, so I did my best to capture their character with graphite.

The loose spines were in a lidless box that also contained the urchin’s test with some spines still attached. Judging from the other labeled specimens nearby, it was probably collected many many years ago. Unfortunately this echinoid was not accompanied by any collection data; I don’t know the species or locality. However, it was the only sea urchin of its kind in the box, so I believe all of the spines came from one individual.

Stickleback Limerick

June 22, 2015

The Threespine Stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, inhabits northern coastal streams in North America along both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Because the fish is so variable, some taxonomists have suggested that it comprises more than fifty species. Some years ago I wrote a poem about it. Here’s the limerick, along with my illustration:

The Threespine Stickleback
This stickleback’s armor is nifty;
Compared to the Ninespine it’s thrifty.
While three spines might seem
A taxonomist’s dream,
This species might really be fifty.

Threespine Stickleback © Emily S. Damstra

Threespine Stickleback © Emily S. Damstra