What is Natural Science Illustration?
Natural science illustration is a way of visualizing the natural world that clarifies various concepts in order to educate its viewers about everything from describing biological diversity to diagramming the fabric of space and time. Similar to the work of classic Naturalists like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, I strive to record the morphology, behavior, and ecological connections of various organisms but take my studies one step further to focus in on the uniquely devastating environmental issues our world is currently facing that the classic Naturalists were largely oblivious to.
Recording the way the organisms that co-inhabit the earth look and act is no longer enough–what matters are the issues the environment is facing, how ecosystems are changing, and what the future may hold for life itself if these current destructive trends continue.
For more information on scientific illustration visit the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators website.
What is Naturalism?
Naturalism is the study of the natural world as a whole and places value on the reality we live in. It is a beautiful combination of observation and research and the best part is that anybody can be a Naturalist. You just need to be open-minded, curious, and ethical in your study of nature.
How long has Specimen Illustrations been around?
Specimen Illustrations was conceived during the summer of 2013 around the time I moved to Portland, Oregon. I had been developing my skills as an artist for over 10 years at that point and was in the middle of earning my degree in biology. I didn’t have any idea how I was going to put my scientific knowledge to good use without sacrificing my love for visual art. Eventually I realized I could have the best of both worlds by blending natural science with illustration and haven’t looked back since. The opportunities for experimentation, research, and development in both art & science are endless and I am never boxed in or bored with my work. Over the years that I have been developing my illustration business I have had the privilege to work with scientists, taxidermists, gallery owners, musicians, entrepreneurs, and authors from all over the world. Every day is completely different and I live for the change.
Which materials do you use?
I use extremely simple supplies so that I can draw wherever and whenever I want (and also minimize clutter and waste). For ink work I use black Sakura micron archival pens in sizes .01-.05 as well as P.H. Martin Bombay Black India Ink with a size 18/0 round series 7000 Loew-Cornell brush. Graphite work calls for Cretacolor Monolith pencils and a plain old mechanical pencil. I generally use Fabriano Artistico hot press watercolor paper or acid-free Canson bristol paper for their smooth surfaces and sturdiness. Lately I have been experimenting with gouache, watercolors, ballpoint pen, and acrylics on a variety of fine Fabriano and Canson papers.
Using sustainable materials in my work is really important to me and you can read more about the types of things I use over on the “Materials” page.
How long does it take you to finish a drawing?
It depends. #1 on the size, and #2, on how involved I get with researching the subject matter. This could range from a few hours if I already am familiar with the subject or literally weeks if I am fascinated, intrigued, or still searching for the best ideas and composition for the particular work. I scour my bookshelves, the internet, my personal photo archives, and the brains of people smarter than me for any and all useful information that will help flesh out ideas.
How long have you been drawing?
Since I could hold a pencil, like every child. Most kids eventually stop drawing–I didn’t.
What are you driven by?
The natural world and the comfort that I get from knowing that it was here millennia before humans and will continue to flourish long after we are gone regardless of the damage we do to it. The resilience of life is astonishing, and its constant struggle for survival inspiring. Nothing has given me a bigger sense of purpose than figuring out how the world works, documenting the awesomeness of it, and exploring life beyond humanity.
Because life is better when you explore it. It is much larger and complex than you can ever imagine, and the reality of life on Earth is by far the greatest story ever told. I need evidence, I need logic, I need to ask questions. Blindly believing in superstitious, “magical” things never made sense to me. It’s far more thrilling and fulfilling to discover the how and why of life rather than making uneducated, uninformed guesses and sticking to those beliefs even in the face of new knowledge that disproves them. The truth is often stranger and far more fascinating than the fictions that people have been making up for centuries. I am far too independent, stubborn, and curious to let any unsubstantiated beliefs prevent me from experiencing as much of the living world as possible. Really, it’s too beautiful to miss out on, and never gets boring because it’s constantly changing, adapting, and moving forward. Science demands rational thinking, forces you to reasses your beliefs when new evidence is presented, and questions authority. All of which are essential for freedom and a progressive society. And the great thing about being scientifically-minded is that anybody can do it.
Aren’t art and science, like, polar opposites?
Absolutely not. Both subjects require creative thinking and innovation, attempt to explain the world we live in, and fight against authority and oppression. I love that I have the freedom of an artist as well as the constantly developing knowledge of a biologist and am able to use both to tell Nature’s story, how it exists now, how we humans are connected to it, and how life will continue to exist even if all of mankind were to perish tomorrow.
Who and what have your influences been?
Leonardo da Vinci for his genius and innovation. Classic Japanese ukiyo-e artists who depicted man as a powerless figure against the power of nature as a whole. Andrew Wyeth’s lonely paintings that make me feel at home. Ernst Haeckel, Aaron Horkey, and Arthur Rackham. Comic books like Sandman, Preacher, Moore’s Swamp Thing, too much Batman to name, We3, Moonshadow, Saga, etc. Punk and folk tunes. Anarchism, dissent, and critical thinking. Richard Dawkins. Astronomy. The history of the dust bowl. Sagging bookshelves lined with dusty tomes. Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Cormac McCarthy and Ray Bradbury. The library in my hometown that I couldn’t stay away from as a kid and their small collection of art books that started it all. My dad, our many science fiction/nature documentary marathons, and his intense intelligence and love. My family and their ongoing support of my life-long erraticness. A good whiskey-ginger with mint. Pizza.
How can I get involved?
Easy. Take a look at my blog, follow me on social media through the links at the top of the page, or shoot me an email. Purchases can be made through the Specimen Illustrations Shop. Available originals and limited edition prints can be viewed and added to your cart and will be reserved for 60 minutes. All transactions are securely made with PayPal or with a credit/debit card for your convenience.
At the very least, just explore, create, live, enjoy, and remember to teach the facts (and let go of your beliefs when there’s new evidence against them).