Look and feel

I am a scientific illustrator.

A lot of people confuse that with being an artist.

That’s like telling a journalist who covers politics that he or she should write a novel. Because words. Everybody knows instinctively that those are two completely different species. One can’t take over the role of the other, not easily anyway. And maybe never.

Not so with my profession. Anyone who can make something visual is an artist in the eye of the public.

In the past I got angry with that. How could they not see the difference!

But since it didn’t go away, it got me thinking.

Almost every scientific illustrator I know makes images, still and moving, in which appearance is way less important than content. It’s beautiful, no doubt, but most of it isn’t cutting edge (sorry guys, I am also or even mostly talking about my own work).

And yet..

Although there are some conventions within a few fields of scientific illustration, most of them aren’t written in stone. Still, you will not see a lot of scientific illustration that deviates from what is commonly accepted within the community.

The reason for that has something to do with history and with the way scientific illustrators are raised. Although it is very different in my own country, where there is only one course for medical illustration and that one has a short history compared to other courses in other parts of the world, most scientific illustrators worldwide are scientists first and illustrators second. So most visualizations are approached with a mind serving science.

And that is how it should be, that is the reason why we are asked in the first place.

But what if..

What if we did do something different? What if we gave appearances the same attention as content?

And with this suggestion I am not aiming for good old fashion illustration, but a focus on modern techniques and insights. Using techniques mostly used for advertising and the movie industry.

Then you would see Pluto with lens flares, botanical illustrations from strange angles and animal illustrations that are not only informative but also cute.

Or terrifying.

Or strange.

And that appeals to me.

The underline of my site is “Communicates (complex) scientific subjects in a beautiful, accessible and visible way”.

So there you have it.

I am still a kind of scientist by heart, but I want my work to be beautiful.

And outstanding.

So gradually I am changing the way I look at my work. I still follow as much as scientists as possible and I do read most science communication available, and continue to do so, but my field of view is widened.

I am cherry-picking from some great artists that are specialized in Blender, ZBrush, the Adobe cloud and other tools.  I am watching movies with a different view: If a scene makes a big impression, can I guess how they did it and could I do it myself? Or at least: could I make work that breathes the same sentiment?

I still am very cautious about using the knowledge I get from that in my assignments. Some of it is and some of it isn’t accepted of course. The work still has to be accurate. And people have to get used to it.

But in the mean time I do use realistic colors for blood, muscles and organs, I use the knowledge of composition to give tension to a scene, use lights and shadow to dramatize an illustration and I use post production techniques to give my illustrations an edge.

And with every assignment or illustration that I make to practice I try to go a little bit further.