Panama

PORTFOLIO UPDATE!

FINALLY! I've just completed the first set of illustrations from my Panama project with STRI. The Bocas ARTS project has been incredible to work on, and I've had fantastic colleagues to work with on it! I'm happy to say that this round of images is finished. The phyla this set of illustrations covers includes sponges, sea anemones, and tunicates. 

If you'd like to look at them in full, here's the new portfolio category

Here's a slideshow of the work so far. In a few months I hope to add on the other groups we are working on, including hydrozoans, nemerteans, and algae!

I hope you guys enjoy them! I learned so much about these groups while I worked on these. Which one is your favorite? I think my favorite is the sea anemone cutaway! 

The Field Station: a Science Illustrator's Schedule

In the last week and a half I think I've done more science illustrations than in the last six months. My daily schedule here is pretty intense.

Around 7:30 my alarm gets me up. Some mornings I'm tired from a late night in lab and I might sleep in until 9, but on days when I have a colleague waiting for me I'm out the door and on to the dining hall. I grab a quick breakfast of toast with goat cheese or cereal with trail mix and then I'm off to the lab.

 The view from the dining hall--at lunch there are often iguanas sunning themselves and a nest of some kind of white, long-necked birds that are busy grooming.  

The view from the dining hall--at lunch there are often iguanas sunning themselves and a nest of some kind of white, long-necked birds that are busy grooming.  

In the lab I check my list for the day and who I'll be working with. Often my colleagues are out in the field diving in the morning so the night before we've gone over what I'll be doing and where my specimens/files to review are. A key part of most mornings is going over preliminary drawings so I can nail down the subject for a more in-depth piece in the afternoon.

 Preliminary drawing for several illustrations I needed to do with this organism-- Xestospongia bocatorensis.  

Preliminary drawing for several illustrations I needed to do with this organism--Xestospongia bocatorensis. 

Preliminary drawings are a step I sometimes want to skip but I always regret not doing them. You can send yourself down the wrong path if you don't take time to study and make notes bfore starting on a larger piece. There have been several times on this trip alone where my preliminary work gave me new ideas for how to show a structure in an illustration or a new view to try.

For lunch I like to take a longer break and make something hot (usually with lots of greens, as the local catering service we have for dinner can't always get fresh greens in our area) and then I contemplate what's still on the docket for the afternoon. For most of our trip there's been a puzzle in the dining hall for all of us at the field station to work on, and that is a good way to take a break from drawing.

 We finally finished the puzzle last night! But now I have nothing to do. Rats! 

We finally finished the puzzle last night! But now I have nothing to do. Rats! 

In the afternoon I'm back to the lab to start in on the meat of my illustration work. The majority of my work here so far has been traditional pencil or pen on paper, just because my set up for digital art mostly stayed at home. I spend about 4 hours working in the afternoon, with various breaks to get water or go grab something else from the sea tables. 

 Yesterday afternoon's work was pretty complicated and I had to learn a bunch of new terms to figure out this illustration of different sponge families. 

Yesterday afternoon's work was pretty complicated and I had to learn a bunch of new terms to figure out this illustration of different sponge families. 

Usually my head PI will stop by with at least one interesting bit of wildlife to go see around the campus around 5 as dusk hits and a whole new swath of creatures come out from the forest and the lagoon. Sometimes I take my time between wildlife-watching and dinner to myself, but often I'm back to the lab to try and get something done. 

 A three-toed sloth hanging from the branches of a tree. It was pretty fun to watch this guy and I was glad of the break from drawing anemone mesentery arrangements.

A three-toed sloth hanging from the branches of a tree. It was pretty fun to watch this guy and I was glad of the break from drawing anemone mesentery arrangements.

Dinner is a great affair. For our grant we decided to have one meal a day catered, at dinner, and it means all of us get back together and talk about the day and what needs to get done the next day. It really fosters the group camaraderie and it's nice to catch up on what happened and what everyone else did. 

After dinner it's usually back to lab for another 2-3 hours of work. Depending on what I've gotten done I might be able to knock off early, but often I'm reviewing illustrations with my colleagues to see what changes I have to make and figuring out my to-do list for the next morning.

 This drawing was pretty complicated to figure out and took most of the day. My final step for the night was to draw in some more realistic tentacles. 

This drawing was pretty complicated to figure out and took most of the day. My final step for the night was to draw in some more realistic tentacles. 

Finally, around 10 or 11 I'm off to my bedroom. It's a long day but after a week and a half of work, I have a LOT to show for the stuff I've done. I have around 45 pages of lab notes and preliminary drawings from the camera lucida, and a whole stack of more finalized pieces.

When I get home, you can bet I'm gonna need a day of napping and relaxation.  

What is your work schedule like when you've got a big project?  

Panama: T-Minus One Month!

I'm officially less than a month away from my trip to Panama. (Insert me screaming on the inside here!)

I'm busy getting my art supplies ready, packing sun screen, and figuring out my blog schedule while I'm away. 

One question my taxonomists had is what they needed to bring for me, and it got me thinking this would be a great blog post for you all!

First the don'ts: 

Don't ask me to copy an existing diagram. This is against copyright laws and is illegal (except in a very few special circumstances). I can take inspiration in the layout, the way the original artist rendered the subject, and how the data is presented, but I can't reproduce someone else's diagram in good conscience. 

And the do's:

I love when my scientist collaborators have though about and can answer the following three questions!

  1. What does the illustration need to convey? A specific character trait or the set up for your lab equipment? 
  2. What does your ideal illustration look like? Do you want something classic and stippled or a modern digital drawing?
  3. What materials do you find yourself referring to when you have to present on the subject? Do you use big sweeping diagrams of a life cycle or a specific photograph of your lab equipment? 

Keep this in mind when you're looking to have an artist illustrate something for your research!

What do you ask your illustrators when you're looking for scientific illustration work?

Panama!

Do you ever have a project you're so excited about that you're afraid if you talk about it or even think about it that it will somehow magically go up in smoke?

This is me and Panama, guys.

To start the story, a little over a year ago I was contacted by a friend of a friend about going to Bocas del Toro, Panama, and helping create an educator's taxonomy guide to six of the more cryptic phyla. Naturally, I said, "Yes, I'd love to," as calmly as possible while trying not to jump up and down screaming.

But the problem was it was an NSF grant we were applying for. I drafted my price quote for the grant and with a lot of work from our PI and all the participating taxonomists the grant application got sent off into the bureaucratic black hole* that so many other NSF grants go off into. Last December I got the news that it looked like we were in the clear with our grant and we would be leaving for Panama in the near future!

Naturally, when you're trying to arrange for six working taxonomists, a videographer, and a science illustrator to travel from all over the world to the same remote field station, it takes a lot longer than expected to figure out the details. But may the fates bless Rachel Collin, our fearless leader and PI, because she has done just that.

Fast forward to today: I've spent the last two months in paperwork purgatory (and again bless Rachel Collin and her lab manager, because they've been trying to get me through paperwork purgatory) and it looks like all my ducks should be in a row any day now.

Which leads me to feel like I can finally talk about going to Panama without feeling like it will fall through in the next breath. We even have a website for the project!

The Bocas ARTS Project

I have my plane tickets! I have my assignments! All I need now is for October to be here!

* It's not actually a black hole, but there are a heck of a lot of other applications that get sorted through and it takes several months to hear back about it so it feels kind of like a black hole.