May 10, 2013
The worlds of architecture and scientific illustration collided when Macoto Murayama was studying at Miyagi University in Japan. The two have a great deal in common, as far as the artist’s eye could see; both architectural plans and scientific illustrations are, as he puts it, “explanatory figures” with meticulous attention paid to detail. “An image of a thing presented with massive and various information is not just visually beautiful, it is also possible to catch an elaborate operation involved in the process of construction of this thing,” Murayama once said in an interview.
In a project he calls “Inorganic flora,” the 29-year-old Japanese artist diagrams flowers. He buys his specimens—sweetpeas (Lathyrus odoratus L. , Asiatic dayflowers (Commelina communis L.) and sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus Cav.), to name a few—from flower stands or collects them from the roadside. Murayama carefully dissects each flower, removing its petals, anther, stigma and ovaries with a scalpel. He studies the separate parts of the flower under a magnifying glass and then sketches and photographs them.
Using 3D computer graphics software, the artist then creates models of the full blossom as well as of the stigma, sepals and other parts of the bloom. He cleans up his composition in Photoshop and adds measurements and annotations in Illustrator, so that in the end, he has created nothing short of a botanical blueprint.
“The transparency of this work refers not only to the lucid petals of a flower, but to the ambitious, romantic and utopian struggle of science to see and present the world as [a] transparent (completely seen, entirely grasped) object,” says Frantic Gallery, the Tokyo establishment that represents the artist, on its Web site.
Murayama chose flowers as his subject because they have interesting shapes and, unlike traditional architectural structures, they are organic. But, as he has said in an interview, “When I looked closer into a plant that I thought was organic, I found in its form and inner structure hidden mechanical and inorganic elements.” After dissecting it, he added, “My perception of a flower was completely changed.”
His approach makes sense when you hear who Murayama counts among his influences—Yoshihiro Inomoto, a celebrated automotive illustrator, and Tomitaro Makino, an esteemed botanist and scientific illustrator.
Spoon & Tamago, a blog on Japanese design, says that the illustrations “look like they belong in a manual for semiconductors.” Certainly, by portraying his specimens in a manner that resembles blueprints, Murayama makes flowers, with all their intricacies, look like something human-made, something engineered.
February 14, 2013
Happy Valentine’s Day, Collage readers! I’ll be brief. I just wanted to pass along this cool find—a print by artist and designer Jacqueline Schmidt. In a style that smacks of scientific illustration, Schmidt depicts 12 species that, generally, remain loyal to a single mate over the course of a lifetime.
With gray wolves (#1, in the diagram), couples pair off Sadie-Hawkins style. The female determines her mate. The alpha female and alpha male are the only pair to breed, from January to March each year, in a pack of wolves, and they keep things monogamous. Meadow voles (#6) are quite loyal. The rodents make the most of their short lives; a female lives less than a year, on average, but starts breeding with a single mate about 28 days into life. Males are sexually mature by 35 days. Termites (#7) have been found to use a “honeymoon” period to welcome other suitors to the log, but they ultimately settle down with one partner. Sandhill cranes (#12) also form until-death-do-us-part bonds. A male and female perform unison calls to solidify their relationship; then, leading up to mating, there is an elaborate dance ritual. Both cranes take care of the nest.
As the founder of Screech Owl Design, Schmidt is known for taking on natural subjects and delivering calendars, t-shirts, stationary and posters in an urban-chic kind of way. “This ability was first shaped by childhood migrations between New York City, where she was born and raised, and her Catskills summer home,” says Schmidt’s Web site. This particular print, made of 100 percent recycled paper, is titled “Mates for Life.”
February 5, 2013
When Pupa U. P. A. Gilbert, a biophysicist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her colleague Christopher E. Killian saw the scanning electron micrograph that they took of a sea urchin’s tooth, they were dumbstruck, says the journal Science. “I had never seen anything that beautiful,” Gilbert told the publication.
The individual crystals of calcite that form an urchin’s tooth are pointy, interlocking pieces; as the outermost crystals decay, others come to the surface, keeping the tooth sharp. In Photoshop, Gilbert added blues, greens and purples to the black-and-white image to differentiate the crystals. The resulting image calls to mind an eerie landscape in a Tim Burton movie.
Judges of the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, a competition sponsored by Science and the National Science Foundation, as well as the public who voted online, were equally ecstatic about the SEM image. Enough so, in fact, that they selected the micrograph as the first place and people’s choice winner for the contest’s photography division.
The 10th annual Visualization Challenge received 215 entries across five categories—photography, illustration, posters and graphics, games and apps, and video. The submissions are judged based on visual impact, effective communication and originality.
And…drum roll, please. Here are some of the the recently announced winners:
Kai-hung Fung, a radiologist at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong, captured this image of a clam shell (on the left) and a spiral-shaped sea snail shell (on the right) using a CT scanner. The image won honorable mention in the photography category. The multi-colored lines represent the contours in the shells. Fung told Science that he took into account “two sides of a coin” when making the image. “One side is factual information, wile the other side is artistic,” he told the journal.
Viktor Sykora, a biologist at Charles University in Prague, and researchers at the Czech Technical University submitted three miniscule (we’re talking three millimeters in diameter or less) seeds to high-resolution, high-contrast x-ray imaging (on the left) and microscopy (on the right). The above image also won honorable mention in the photography category.
Earning him first prize in the illustration category, Emmett McQuinn, a hardware engineer at IBM, created this “wiring diagram” for a new kind of computer chip, based on the neural pathways in a macaque‘s brain.
Maxime Chamberland, a computer science graduate student at the Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab in Canada, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to capture this ominous image of a brain tumor. (The tumor is the solid red mass in the left side of the brain.) Science calls the image a “road map for neurosurgeons,” in that the red fibers are hot-button fibers that, if severed, could negatively impact the patient’s everyday functions, while blue fibers are nonthreatening. The image won honorable mention and was the people’s choice winner in the contest’s illustration category.
A team of researchers (Guillermo Marin, Fernando M. Cucchietti, Mariano Vázquez, Carlos Tripiana, Guillaume Houzeaux, Ruth Arís, Pierre Lafortune and Jazmin Aguado-Sierra) at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center produced this first-place and people’s-choice winning video, “Alya Red: A Computational Heart.” The film shows Alya Red, a realistic animation of a beating human heart that the scientists designed using MRI data.
“I was literally blown away,” Michael Reddy, a judge in the contest, told Science. “After the first time I watched the video, I thought, ‘I’ve just changed the way I thought about a heart.’”
Be sure to check out the other videos below, which received honorable mention in the contest:
Fertilization, by Thomas Brown, Stephen Boyd, Ron Collins, Mary Beth Clough, Kelvin Li, Erin Frederikson, Eric Small, Walid Aziz, Hoc Kho, Daniel Brown and Nobles Green Nucleus Medical Media
Observing the Coral Symbiome Using Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy, by Christine E. Farrar, Zac H. Forsman, Ruth D. Gates, Jo-Ann C. Leong, and Robert J. Toonen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii, Manoa
Revealing Invisible Changes in the World, by Michael Rubinstein, Neal Wadhwa, Frédo Durand, William T. Freeman, Hao-Yu Wu, John Guttag, MIT; and Eugene Shih, Quanta Research Cambridge
For winners in the posters and graphics and games and apps categories, see the National Science Foundation’s special report on the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.
January 18, 2013
Katrina van Grouw’s new book The Unfeathered Bird is a work of passion. A former curator in the ornithological division of London’s Natural History Museum, the fine artist, based in Buckinghamshire, England, has used her experience in ornithology and taxidermy to draw, over the course of her career, 385 beautiful illustrations of birds—all, as the book’s title suggests, without their feathers. Her work shows the skeletal and muscular systems of 200 different species, from ostriches to hummingbirds, parrots to penguins, in life-like poses.
Collage of Arts and Sciences interviewed van Grouw by email.
When did you draw your very first bird illustration for this book?
Twenty five years ago! But it was a couple more years before the idea for the book became a burning ambition. I was an undergraduate fine art student with a passion for natural history, and I wanted to produce a set of anatomical drawings as background research for my images of living birds. I found a freshly dead mallard washed up on the beach and began stripping off each layer of muscle, before boiling up and reassembling the skeleton. I drew everything from several angles. It took months! I decided—if you’re going to spend several months intimately involved with a dead duck, it’s got to have a name. So, I christened her Amy. Her skeleton still stands in a glass case in my living room, and the book is dedicated to her.
What have you done in your illustrations of birds that hasn’t been done before?
Several things, in fact. Of course, I’m not the first person to draw skeletons. There are some utterly gorgeous anatomical illustrations from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At this time however, natural history was preoccupied with taxonomy, and the emphasis was on showing obscure features that were thought to reveal evolutionary relationships. If whole skeletons were pictured at all, they would probably have been drawn from specimens mounted in static and inaccurate postures.
What I wanted to do was combine the aesthetic beauty typical of these historical images with information about living birds—their behavior and lifestyle. I wanted to focus on the effects of convergent evolution, or how different bird groups have adapted to similar niches. The skeletons in The Unfeathered Bird are shown flying, swimming, feeding—each in the way typical for that group.
What museum collections did you work from?
I used museums for many of the drawings of individual skulls and for skeletons of the species that I wasn’t able to obtain freshly dead. I’m indebted to the many curators and collections managers who allowed me to use their research collections, issued loans or sent photographs. (I only used photographs in conjunction with actual specimens, but they were nevertheless very useful.) Most articulated museum specimens, however, are not in a reliably lifelike position, and certainly not in active or characteristic poses. For that, we’d have to prepare our own.
When you collected your own specimens, where did you collect them, and how did you prepare them?
No birds were harmed in the making of the book. We approached aviculturists, taxidermists and conservation charities and received, as donations or on loan, a large quantity of birds that had died of natural causes. This way, we could prepare the skeletons at home in the required position. I say “we” but my husband, Hein, did all the work. (Hein, too, is a museum curator and ornithologist, with many years’ experience in preparing bird specimens.) He prepared most by boiling, then would clean and reconstruct the skeleton in whatever position I dictated. Actually, we discussed each at length and usually arrived at a decision we’d be mutually happy with! Our tiny house was soon completely taken over with skeletons in various stages of preparation—from pans boiling on the kitchen stove to toucans in the sink, and penguins in the bath!
How did you keep the skeletons in position?
Once they were re-assembled, with a wire through the vertebrae and all the other bones either wired or glued in place, Hein’s skeletons are as robust as any museum specimen. Drawing the musculature of skinned birds as though they were alive, however, was much more difficult. Sometimes I’d rig up the carcasses on a Heath Robinson-esque maze of wires, pins, thread and blocks of wood to make a faintly grotesque artist’s mannequin. Otherwise, I’d just sit with the bloody carcass draped over my lap and use references of living birds to re-animate it directly on the drawing.
How did you determine which species to include?
It was more difficult to decide which species not to include! I could happily have gone on adding drawings forever. The more I researched, the more I discovered things I felt I simply had to put in.
I tried to cover as many of the traditional groups as possible, with at least one bird shown as a complete skeleton and sometimes additional drawings showing the musculature or feather tracts of the whole bird. Extra drawings of skulls, feet, tongues, windpipes and other bits and pieces were included to show variation or adaptations of particular interest.
What types of information did you want your drawings to convey to viewers?
When I first had the idea for the book I’d intended it to be aimed primarily at artists and illustrators. Therefore, I wanted to focus on the way a bird’s anatomy affects its outward appearance—what’s actually going on underneath the feathers when a bird is moving. It was only afterwards that I realized that it would have wider appeal.
It might be easier to say what I didn’t want, and that can be summed up in two words: annotated diagrams. If you want to know the names of individual bones, look in a textbook! For The Unfeathered Bird I felt it would only clutter up the images and, worse still, make readers feel obliged to read and learn them. My aim was to convey general principles about the way birds are adapted to their lifestyle.
Some people might be surprised to find the arrangement of chapters based around Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae. There were several reasons for this, but it was chiefly so that I could compare similar adaptations in unrelated birds, whilst still following a recognized (albeit antiquated) scientific order.
About how long did you spend on each drawing?
The more practiced I am, the faster I get, or, more accurately, the better the eye-hand coordination with fewer rubbings out! But on average, a skull will take an hour or two and a whole skeleton may take up to a week, or even longer. Backache, neck ache, eye-fatigue and sore fingers are the things that slow me down.
What specimen presented the most challenges? And why?
Without a doubt, the greatest challenge was drawing lifelike skeletons from bones that were not articulated at all—the ones in scientific reference collections in natural history museums. As a former bird curator at Britain’s Natural History Museum, I know that the people using skeleton collections—mostly zooarchaeologists—need to study the articulating surfaces of individual bones, so they’re not much use if they’re glued or wired together. However, this makes it quite difficult for artists!
I worked out a clever solution: I would draw the skeleton of another bird already prepared in the position I wanted, then rub out and re-draw each bone in turn, with reference to the respective bone of the desired species. It works remarkably well.
Probably my favorite picture in the book, the Magnificent Frigatebird, was drawn in this way, from a disarticulated skeleton loaned to me by the Field Museum, Chicago, modelled from the position of the tropicbird it’s chasing. I’m a huge fan of both frigatebirds and tropicbirds (with feathers on), so it was important for me to get it right, and do justice to the dynamism and excitement of a real-live aerial pursuit.
January 15, 2013
When I phoned Bryan Nash Gill last Thursday morning, he was on his way back from a boneyard. The New Hartford, Connecticut-based artist uses the term not in its traditional sense, but instead to describe a good spot for finding downed trees.
“I have a lot of boneyards in Connecticut,” says Gill. “Especially with these big storms that we have had recently. Right now, in the state, the power companies are cutting trees back eight feet from any power line. There is wood everywhere.”
Gill collects dead and damaged limbs from a variety of indigenous trees—ash, oak, locust, spruce, willow, pine and maple, among others. “When I go to these boneyards, I am searching for oddities,” he says, explaining that the trees with funky growth patterns make the most compelling prints.
For almost a decade, Gill has been hauling wood back to his studio. He saws a block from each branch and sands one end until its smooth. Gill chars that end, so that the soft spring growth burns away, leaving behind the tree’s distinct rings of hard, summer growth. He seals the wood and covers it with ink. Then, he lays a thin sheet of Japanese rice paper on the cross-section, rubs it with his hand and peels the paper back to reveal a relief print of the tree’s growth rings.
Gill recalls the very first print he made of an ash tree in 2004. “When I pulled that print off, that transfer from wood to ink to paper,” he says, “I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was.” Years later, the artist is still splitting open tree limbs to see what beautiful patterns they hold within.
In 2012, Gill released Woodcut, a collection of his prints—named one of the year’s best books by the New York Times Magazine. His cross-sections of trees, with their concentric rings, are hypnotizing. Nature writer Verlyn Klinkenborg, in the book’s foreward, writes, “In each Gill print of a natural tree-face—the surface sanded and the grain raised—you can see a tendency toward abstraction, the emerging of pure pattern. In their almost natural, black-and-white state, you can read these prints as Rorschach blots or as topographic reliefs of very steep terrain.”
The artist has attempted to draw the growth rings of trees. “You can’t do it better than nature,” he says.
Gill grew up on the same farm in northwest Connecticut where he now lives and works. The outdoors, he says, have always been his playground. “My brother and I constructed forts and lean-to villages and rerouted streams in order to make waterfalls and homes for the crawfish we caught,” Gill writes in the book. After graduating from high school, the creative spirit studied fine arts at Tulane University in New Orleans. He then went on to earn a master of fine arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in Oakland. “In graduate school, I concluded that art is (or should be) an experience that brings you closer to understanding yourself in relation to your surroundings,” he writes.
In 1998, Gill built a studio adjoining his house. Initially, he experimented by making prints of the end grains of the lumber he was using—four-by-fours, two-by-fours and eight-by-eights. But, soon enough, he turned to wood in its more natural state, intrigued by the wonky edges of the slices he’d saw from tree trunks.
“I am kind of like a scientist, or a dendrologist, looking at the inside of a tree that no one has seen,” says Gill. His eye is drawn to irregularities, such as holes bored by insects, bark that gets absorbed into the core of the tree and odd outgrowths, called burls, formed by viruses. ”It is a discovery process,” he says.
In earlier days, in much the same way, Gill would study the growth rings in carrots he’d pluck and slice from his parents’ garden on the property. “I am just fascinated with how things grow,” he says. “It is like being a kid again.”
Gill has made prints of tree boles measuring from an inch to five feet in diameter. According to the artist, it is actually easier to determine a tree’s age from his prints than from trying to count the individual growth lines on the wood itself.
“Some of the simplest things are the most complex things,” says Gill. “I like that binary. This is very simple, but it has taken me 30 years [as an artist] to get here.”
More than 30 original prints by Gill will be on display in “Woodcut,” an exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden from January 19 to April 14, 2013.