I'm so thrilled my illustrations get to share the same pages as photos from Ted McCrae, Morgan Jackson, and many others.
My thanks to Morgan and his co-authors, Stephen M Paiero, Adam Jewiss-Gaines, Troy Kimoto, Bruce D Gill, and Stephen A Marshall.
For another look at the book, and details on getting a copy, check out Morgan's announcement post at Biodiversity in Focus. Make sure to read how this book came about, and learn about the changing beetle landscape.
Welcome to Day 5 of Beetle Week here on The Flying Trilobite!
Earlier this year I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published, honest-to-gosh dead-tree book about jewel beetles here in Ontario, Canada. The result? My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter, surreal science paintings I'm known for.
Today: The Exhibit - - Time to have a look at all of the final versions of the beetles. And a hearty thank you to Morgan Jackson for asking me to take on this project and being so supportive during the process!
Earlier this year I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published, honest-to-gosh dead-tree book about jewel beetles in Ontario. The result? My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter, surreal science paintings I'm known for.
When tackling a new illustration subject for the first time, I like to begin with mechanical pencil and bristol paper. They're my comfort zone. After that though, I have decisions to make. In my undergraduate degree, I worked mainly in oil paint. Since then, I sometimes find it more useful to paint digitally, especially for a project like these beetles. Adjustments and corrections to ensure scientific accuracy are much easier with digital media than with traditional paints.
I've tried a number of digital painting programs, and by far my favourite is ArtRage. If you're not familiar, it's a digital painting program with versions available for PC, Mac, iPad and the iPhone. Each one is relatively affordable (under $100 for the PC version, compared to several hundred for Photoshop).
The main attraction for me with this program has always been the interface. Instead of drop-down menus, ArtRage includes all the important tools right on the screen in two quarter-circles in the corners:
Screenshot showing the interface, from my original test of some of ArtRage Studio Pro's tools. Click to enlarge.
On the left, all your tools: oil and watercolour brushes, inking pens, pencils, erasers and host of other tools from technical to goofy. On the right, the colours, allowing you to adjust tones and how metallic the paint appears. These two palettes, tools and colours, mean everything to me as a classically-taught painter. I feel just like I'm dipping into my palette or brush box.
In ArtRage you can control the paper or canvas surface (or blackboard, or sandpaper or...) and the digital paint handles differently on each type. The big advance in Studio Pro (also known as ArtRage 3) over the previous 2.5 version is, in my opinion, the amazingly realistic watercolours.
I planned to use watercolours for the beetles early on. It can give the work the feel of old naturalist's studies. However, as the project went on, I realized that more than watercolour would be needed to bring out the richness of texture and metallic colour on some of these little animals.
This painting required a lot of stippling. The Intuos 3 graphics tablet has 1024 levels of pressure, so you can achieve some subtlety of colour depending on how hard you press. It's one of the main features of working on a desktop that remains superior to the iPad version.
Here's an up-close look:
Up close, closer than I look while actually painting, you can see metallic green pain near the top swathed in more liquid greens. The little greyish tadpole strokes in the bottom half show how varying pressure even in a single stroke can add to the detail.
A few of the beetles were shiny brown shades, others were multiple bright metallic shades. Another nice feature in ArtRage is you can store and name specific palettes. Here's one of mine, for Trachys:
Custom colour palette for Trachys, the most brilliant of the subjects. You can see the point of grey chosen on the colour palette at right that I've listed as "grey dots". I found that often, the colours I chose needed to be more brilliant than the ones in the photo references to "read" similarly to the eye.
I also saved a custom brush that I found was useful for fine detail, hairs and lines on a number of the beetles. Here's a sample of a few light-colour brushstrokes on a dark ground from the painting for Texania:
Custom brush menu. You can save multiple menus, and make them available to more than one file. I've placed some brush strokes on the white area beneath the menu so you can see what they look like without the rest of the bug's head.
If you'd like to learn how to save your own custom tools, I made a short video tutorial last year:
ArtRage is powerful for painting, but sometimes a little less perfect for editing. A couple of the beetles had a kind of "squashed banana" look to them as a result of me trying to inject more dynamic poses and bending them where they don't bend. When I went in to fix them, I used Photoshop Elements 6, the eraser, free transform and the clone tool.
Here's examples of the bent beetle Paragrilus (left), and unbent (right).
Paragrilus, in a dynamic, twisty, squashed-banana pose on the left, and fixed using Photoshop on the right.
There are selection tools in ArtRage Studio Pro, as well as some tools called templates that can be used and I suspect could have done the job in fixing Paragrilus's tilted back, above. I'll have to experiment some more. In this case, I went with tools I already knew to make the correction, and ArtRage allows you to save files in Photoshop's .psd format, even keeping layers intact.
Have any other scientific illustrators tried using ArtRage to do their work? I'd be curious to see other examples or get feedback on this project. I would certainly use it again, perhaps even with digital pencils as I become more comfortable with them.
Questions, comments and opinions encouraged below!
Welcome to Day 1 of Beetle Week on The Flying Trilobite!
Earlier this year, I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published dead-tree book. The result? My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter, surreal scientific illustrations I'm known for. Today: The Challenge of Scientific Illustration.
I've been painting for a couple of decades, and blogging my artwork for over 5 years. One of the joys of this career is that there's always more to learn, more challenges, more surprises.
When Morgan Jackson first approached me about contributing 7 Ontario jewel beetle illustrations for an upcoming publications he and researchers at the University of Guelph are working on, I was excited about the idea and also a little intimidated.
Although I sometimes head to the Royal Ontario Museum to work on realistic drawings of fossil skulls, they are mainly exercises for myself, and not overseen by researcher in the field. I assume they do add a little to my professional street cred since this blog is frequented by paleontologists and paleo-art fans. Morgan's request was different. These needed to be spot-on scientific illustrations, useful for the purpose of identifying some of Ontario's diverse species.
So, I did what I usually do when trying to depict a new subject: got out my Strathmore Bristol paper and trusty .3mm mechanical pencil and started to draw in high detail. The project called for 7 species, and I decided to start in alphabetical order, with Agrilaxia.
As I mentioned above, Morgan is an amazing nature photographer (seriously. Check this out. Or this.) Though I wasn't able to visit his lab, he provided me with stunning dorsal, ventral, side and genitalia(!) views of the beetles to illustrate.
And after scanning the drawing above, and opening up my favourite digital painting program, ArtRage Studio Pro, that's when I got cold feet. I mean, how realistic does the painting need to be? You can zoom almost an infinite amount in a digital painting, and the high-res macro photos Morgan zipped and sent to me allowed a huge level of detail.
As I was zoomed in, I starting getting that creep of imposter syndrome. How could I possibly match a photo with a painting?
A cup of coffee later, and I started to relax. Morgan and his team were looking for scientific illustrations, for paintings, and I know he's viewed my portfolio. Making everything super-hyper-photo real wasn't the goal. I hoped.
I settled in and began to paint.
Screenshot of painting Agrilaxia in ArtRage Studio Pro, with Morgan Jackson's photo references on the left.
I'll say more about the process of painting with ArtRage tomorrow. It's enough to say I employed a wide variety of that robust program's painting tools, and started to enjoy myself. I emailed some in process shots of Agrilaxia to Morgan, and to a couple of artists who's opinions and discretion I could trust. I can count on them to keep me honest, and the reactions were positive.
Part way through the process of painting the beetles, I recall Morgan letting me know some of the other researchers were getting accustomed to my art style, or some words to that effect. Important feedback that sends me into a hyperactive state of focus, trying to ramp up my accuracy and tighten up the work.
It was a lesson for me as an illustrator, and also one for researchers considering hiring an illustrator. Chances are, if you are not going with photography, there will always be a little of the artist's style - the movement of their hand, the colour associations in their eye - that is inherent in the final illustration. It's the sum of the illustrator's experiences up to that point in their career coupled with doing something new.
That said, being a scientific illustrator carries the responsibility of taming style in the service of the twin aspects of accuracy and clarity.
Earlier this year, I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published dead-tree book. The result? My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter surreal scientific illustrations I'm known for.
(While thinking a lot about copyright over on Symbiartic, I thought I'd repost this piece from a couple of years ago. Originally appeared May 2010 both here on The Flying Trilobite and at ART Evolved.) - -
In the past few posts of Going Pro, we've looked a lot at copyright. Again, a lot of people have opinions, but it's important to see what the legal definitions -and what steps you can take to protect your creations- really entail.
Today though, I want to propose a question.
Suppose you post a nifty image of a prehistoric critter online. It's awesome, you're proud, people give you kudos. You put it under a Creative Commons Licence, the most restrictive one that says your image a) must be attributed to you, b) cannot be altered, c) others cannot profit from it, and otherwise, it's okay to post and share.
1. Then someone copies it. Another blogger. Does their own riff. Are you okay with that?
2. What if they're more famous than you, getting lots of illustration gigs, but they notice it, do their own version, and give you a nod for your cool idea. Still excited, feeling the attention?
3. What if your painting happens to hit the zeitgeist and goes all viral all over the interwebs. Everyone is sharing it. There's a day on Facebook where all the users switch to you image. But you haven't made a dime. What do you do?
We're in interesting territory. Personally, I don't believe overly restricting images (insanely huge watermarks, disabling right-clicking) are helpful to make a successful career anymore. But neither is completely open sharing.
It makes a strong case about question number 3, doesn't it? But how do you capitalize on that image going viral? How does it put food on the table?
I suggest it's how you parlay that viral dinosaur image into getting newcontracts.
As for questions number 1 and 2, consider the post-modern, remixed, mash-up, variant-cover culture we live in. Think an Indiana Jones video game is fun? What about Indiana Jones Lego! Like Batman? Sharks? Lightsabers? Ta-da! (artist here) Authoring mash-ups and riffing on others' work is an integral part of pop culture.
Painting gets started at about the 4 minute mark in the video above.
In the past, I've sometimes been the dissenting voice here at Art Evolved about all those posts showing past-art about upcoming themed galleries. I dislike them because sometimes attribution to the artwork cannot be easily found - though yes, as Peter and Craig have pointed out to me, sometimes we attribute an "orphan image" after the post goes up when a reader identifies it.
I'm uncomfortable with those posts because in a world of remixes and fun Photoshopped images, attribution and authorship can sometimes be your only coins to bank on. Literally.
Everyone has different comfort zones. Where do you feel comfortable with your images on questions 1-3 above?
This post is mainly a supplementary series of links and points accompanying our discussion, "Illustration blogging: why it's essential" at SONSI's 2011 Presentation Day.
"...The big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity." - Cory Doctorow after Tim O-Reilly.
What is a blog? -Definitions -Creators, Groups and Curators (example1example2example3) -Netiquette in the blogosphere (blogrolls, rss feeds) Selected reading: Blogs: face the conversation, by Bora Zivkovic, A Blog Around the Clock. Why do artists and illustrators need a blog? -Self-promotion (Art Mondays) -Community (#10oclockart) -Who is it for? (remember the audience, pull back the curtain)