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I’m not the savviest when it comes to art. I like a lot of it, but there’s also plenty that I don’t get. Did I have to remove myself from the Modern Art wing of Chicago’s Art Institute after being struck with a fit of giggles? Yes, yes, I did. I’m not proud. So, it was with a sense of elation that I realized that there is a type of art that I am genuinely drawn to: scientific illustration. I particularly admire the women who broke into the field of science at a time when it was dominated by men, though I’m still waiting on a book dedicated to the marvelous mycological studies of Beatrix Potter—if you know of one, drop me a line. While many of these women were making waves in or around the Victorian era, talented women in the field continue to make important contributions today, which is why I’m including both books about historical women illustrators and a handful of artists currently working in science illustration who have caught my eye. For even more contemporary working artists, check out #SciArt, #WildlifeArt, #BlackAFinSTEM, and #WomenInSTEM on Twitter and Instagram.
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATORS OF OLD
America’s Other Audubon. By Joy M. Kiser. 2012. Princeton Architectural.
Inspired by Audubon’s paintings, seen at the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair in Philadelphia, Genevieve Jones began her own book of meticulous paintings of birds’ nests and eggs. Colored plates of Jones’ artwork are included.
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs. By Fiona Robinson. Illus. by the author. 2019. Abrams.
Robinson’s beautifully illustrated picture-book biography presents the life of Anna Atkins, a nineteenth-century botanist, artist, and early adopter of the cyanotype. As an adult, she created cyanotypes of her impressive plant collection, resulting in the first-known books of photographs.
Fearless World Traveler: Adventures of Marianne North. By Laurie Lawlor. Illus. by Becca Stadtlander. 2021. Holiday.
Gorgeous reproductions of Marianne North’s paintings of tropical plants and birds form the end papers of this new picture-book biography about an intrepid Brit who didn’t let conventions hold back her feet or naturalist passions.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. By Joyce Sidman. 2018. HMH.
Considered by many to be the world’s first ecologist, Maria Merian broke ground through her meticulous observations of insects and beautiful depictions of them within their natural habitats. This children’s biography can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and it includes reproductions of Merian’s artwork.
Rosa’s Animals: The Story of Rosa Bonheur and Her Painting Menagerie. By Maryann Macdonald. 2018. Abrams.
She’s not technically a science illustrator, but nineteenth-century French painter Rosa Bonheur specialized in lifelike animal portraits and scenes, spending time in a slaughterhouse to observe animal anatomy and disguising herself as a man in order to sketch at the Paris horse fair, where women were not allowed.
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATORS TODAY
Allis Markham (Twitter: @AllisMarkham; Instagram: @allis): An award-winning taxidermist, with a particular fondness for birds, Markham owns Prey Taxidermy, where her work includes art and museum commissions and teaching classes. Look for her in the 2019 documentary Stuffed.
Jamey Redway (Twitter: @jredway95; Instagram: @jameydraws): Using watercolors and Indian ink, self-taught Redway captures a gentle joy in the wildlife she paints.
Simone Des Roches (Twitter: @DrSimoneDr): This lovely environmental ecologist zeroes in on herpetofauna and variations within species making her snake and lizard watercolors a treat.
Liz Wahid (Twitter: @lizart217; Instagram: @lizart217): With a focus on ornithology, Wahid creates beautifully detailed renderings of birds and other wildlife.
Assata Caldwell Worrell (Twitter: @thebiostudio): A science illustrator and communicator, Worrell founded LEGACY BioStudios to put these talents to good use, offering clients everything from paleontological line drawings to anatomical, 3-D animation.
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