Happy Holidays!

Things have been busy here at Terrapin Studios lately and I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. Don’t worry – the ECO Art + Science Series will be back in the New Year – all the upcoming featurees have been so busy with holiday wassailing that we decided to take a break to enjoy our breaks. Until then, I’d love to share some of the work that’s come out of my studio recently, starting with my very first attempt at serigraphy! I’ve always had a thing for grackles – something about how they’re able to give us humans a taste of our own medicine when it comes to environmental domination kind of endears them to me. But also, they’re just really beautiful birds, vocally and plumistically. So…my husband and I thought it would be fun to let the grackles have a little holiday fun on our Christmas card this year:

Sweetbeak. 2011. Serigraph on recycled paper, series of 50 by H. Gillespie + C. Weatherby.

I’m not sure how he’ll get that down….it’s no french fry, but it’s a dilemma that I’m sure this little Quiscalus can solve.

I was also happy this December to get my first commission of monotype prints at Terrapin Studios. I chose the quintessential little chickadee as the subject for this winter-themed request on a colorful set of recycled papers:

Finally, I’m thrilled that these little monoprints of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander (also the focus of my dissertation research) were able to fetch some holiday donations for the Save Our Springs Alliance at their 2011 holiday party silent auction. Not the best photo, but….oh well:

Eurycea sosorum (The Barton Springs Salamander). 2011. Monotype print by H. Gillespie.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season, no matter what your traditions happen to be, and thanks so much for your readership and support of the biocreativity blog!

Biocreativity on the Road: Turtles + Architecture at the Tennessee Aquarium

A recent trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga not only left me in awe of the power of aquariums, but I was also pleasantly surprised to come across two biocreative exhibits to feature on the blog! If you’ve never been to the Tennessee Aquarium, go right now! The focus on local watersheds, flora and fauna was beyond impressive. The diversity of reptiles and amphibians on exhibit was also beyond compare with any other aquarium I’ve visited.

The first of the two biocreative exhibits I visited was Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures—Architecture in Bone, curated by Dave Collins who is also Curator of Forests at the Tennessee Aquarium. The second of the two exhibits – Jellies: Living Art – will be the subject of an upcoming post. I wish I had better photos to share with you, but I was limited to photography with my phone (with, unfortunately, no flash). But nevertheless, I think you’ll be able to tell how great this exhibit is!

"The turtle shell is a masterpiece of architecture. Like a Gothic cathedral, the domed shell provides maximum space within and the strength to withstand the ages."

So, what do turtles and architecture have in common? Well, really, quite a lot! Arches, buttresses, geodesic domes, keystones…just to name a few. Several specimens of turtle shell were on exhibit alongside illustrations of these architectural elements, with really quite eloquent accompanying text.

"Neural bones are the "keystones" of the turtle shell. As in a Roman arch, downward pressure is distributed through these key elements, strengthening the overall structure." Turtle shell displayed: South African Bowsprit Tortoise (Chersina angulata; http://bit.ly/w1fWSY)

"The flying buttresses of a cathedral strengthen its walls to support the massive weight of its towering cupolas above. In the moving fortress of a turtle shell, these buttresses are brought inside the arch." Turtle shell displayed: Painted Terrapin (Callagur borneoensis; http://bit.ly/uIt45F)

The exhibit featured live specimens of some of the world’s most beautiful and unusual turtle species – many of which I only knew from my herpetology books – including the South American Leaf-Headed Turtle or Mata Mata (Chelus fimbriatus) which has evolved to look like leaf litter and debris and the African Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) which can squeeze into incredibly tight spaces! To my delight, there was also a little homage to turtle sculpture from around the world (again, please forgive my poor little phone pics).

Another nice touch in this exhibit was the addition of live Tennessee music by incredible acoustic musician and Aquarium employee Matt Downer. I enjoyed visiting with him, discussing the local music scene (since I am from Austin, after all!) and listening to his banjo play!

This exhibit got me wondering about other ways turtles and architecture have been combined to teach, inform and explore the world we live in. Here are just a few fun examples:

Compilation of images from a University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design Science and Planning assignment.

  • Canadian artist Brian Jungen created this impressive eco-art piece called Carapace, made from industrial trash and recycling bins. If you like this, be sure to check out his hanging mobile of animals made of luggage, 2008’s crux.
Brian Jungen's 'Carapace' 2009 made from industrial waste bins, displayed at the Museum of the American Indian

Brian Jungen's 'Carapace'. 2009. Made from industrial waste bins, displayed at the Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.

  • Ceramic artist John Menzel (who also has a degree in biology) creates these amazing life-like turtle carapaces in his ceramics studio (and I hope he will soon be featured in the ECO Art + Science Series).

“I have always been very interested in turtles, which led me to biology as a major in college, but while in college I took a ceramics course and of course I became addicted once I combined turtles and clay. I begin with a ball of clay and then slowly and methodically move the clay to create a vessel which resembles a turtle (or tortoise) shell with a complementary reflection of the lines of the turtle shell pattern on the inside. In this way I can show the impressive beauty of the turtles I adore on the outside and on the inside, show the simple beauty of the turtle shell pattern amplified by the effect of glaze over the pits and ridges.” -John Menzel

All-in-all, I am a big fan of turtle art in any form, including just the turtles themselves. This little guy – the Four Eyed Turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata) – was also on display at the Tennessee Aquarium, and is quite the work of art himself!

And, if you’re a sucker for perhaps the cutest of all baby animals – turtles – then I’ll leave you with this fun video about baby Four-Eyed Turtles from the Tennessee Aquarium. But better yet…go see them for yourselves!

Many thanks to the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute for my very fun trip to the aquarium!

ECO Art + Science: Printmaker Lisa Studier

When I was looking for artistic representations of Houston Toads a few weeks back for my post AFTA Goes to Texas I ran across a very talented printmaker who I am happy to feature on today’s ECO Art + Science post: Lisa Studier. Lisa’s work in woodcut reduction printing is not only beautiful, but also educational, as she does a great deal of background research and strives to provide information about the plight of each species she prints. Lisa’s lively and engaging portraits help people build a connection with each species, which may help them to better appreciate the conservation messages embedded in her work and to better understand global threats to biodiversity.

Houston Toad. 2010. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] Hi Lisa, welcome to the biocreativity blog! What type of work do you do? How would you describe your interests and profession?

[LS] I’m a printmaker, and I make woodcuts. I’ve been working exclusively in this technique for the past eight years. I love it, but I don’t make a living doing it—just fit it in as best I can in my free time. I’ve always worked full-time, until recently in jobs that were not art- or science-related in any way. But since 2006 I’ve been working as a librarian at the New York Botanical Garden, which has one of the largest plant science research collections in the world, so it’s nice to have my “day job” and my interests intersecting a bit more. My science interests are kind of broad: natural history, ecology, conservation, biodiversity, endangered species.

Platypus. 2008. Woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] Where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum? Closer to the arts end or the science end? What is your primary training (art or science)?

[LS] Definitely closer to the arts end, although I don’t have much formal training. I have a B.A. in History and a Masters in Library Science. I took a lot of art history classes as an undergrad, but didn’t do any studio art until I moved to NYC in the mid-90’s and started taking drawing  and painting classes. Eventually I stumbled upon a woodcut class and just took off from there. I had some fantastic teachers and all those years of drawing classes were a great foundation once I started making prints. Also the collaborative atmosphere of a printshop is something I love about printmaking: the need for shared equipment means you’re around other artists all the time rather than working alone in your own studio, and that offers a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as an artist. I don’t have any science training beyond doing lots and lots of reading, although this semester I’m finally taking a botany class at my workplace, which is very exciting.

Orang Roughy. 2004. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] That sounds like a lot of fun! Lisa, how do you view the interaction of arts and sciences?  Can they be separated? How does one inform the other?

[LS] I don’t think they can be separated at all. For one thing, the visual display of information is vital to learning. When I look at my botany textbook, for example, I can’t imagine really understanding it without all the illustrations and photos and diagrams. So art is an important teaching tool, that seems like a no-brainer. But the interaction can be so much more: images are very powerful, and people have an emotional reaction to them that can really make an idea or concept stick. Science can seem detached and dry; I know when I talk about endangered toads in the abstract I often see eyes glazing over, but when someone is looking at my toad prints they’re suddenly much more engaged, and they want to know about the toad and the issues affecting it, and I think (hope?) they retain the information better and maybe care more about the issues than they would without the image.

Sonoran Green Toad. 2010. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

So art has enormous potential for communicating scientific information because it can have such an emotional pull on people, and I also think science can inform art by making it more rigorous and informed and giving it depth. Walton Ford’s artwork is a good example: his technical skill as a painter is extraordinary, but what I like about his paintings is how smart they are, with layer upon layer of history and science behind the imagery.

[biocreativity] Tell us more about your current art-science work.

[LS] I think of my work as portraiture, but focused on animals rather than people. I’ve done a number of series, such as fish and other sea creatures, sea turtles, walruses, toads, and wildlife found in New York City. Each print is a collective portrait of a species, although they’re often based on photos or observations of one individual. In very broad terms, the purpose of a portrait is to allow the viewer to know the subject, to convey a sense of identity. And at the risk of anthropomorphizing animals (which is not my intention), I want my prints to allow the viewer to get to know the animal. I like to focus on the obscure (most people don’t know much about the variety of toad species), the unexpected (wild animals in urban areas that are not pigeons and rats), and species that are endangered or face serious conservation concerns.

The Time Has Come. 2006. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] I love your NYC wildlife series! I also think your prints are a great way to get people thinking about diversity and endangered species. What inspired you to do these portrait series?

[LS] I started out with a fish series, and was inspired by a lot of reading I did on environmental issues affecting the ocean and destructive fishing practices that are endangering marine species; two books that stand out are The Empty Ocean by Richard Ellis and The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts. I’ve also been inspired by natural history illustrators like John James Audubon, Mark Catesby, Ernst Haeckel, and Maria Sybilla Merian (and I’m very fortunate to be able to look at some of their work in my library’s collection), and contemporary artists like Walton Ford, Chris Jordan, Kiki Smith, and Brandon Ballengée.

Wolf Eels. 2004 Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] It must be wonderful to have access to so much great art at work! I think the biocreativity readers will also love learning more about the contemporary artists you mention. Lisa, what is the most important thing that you want others to know about your work?

[LS] People respond well to my artwork because animals are often endearing and they touch something in us, but I strive for my prints to be more than just cute animal pictures. I do a huge amount of reading and research about each species so that I can talk intelligently about it, and when I show my work I try to include information, particularly about any conservation issues, whenever possible. Of course people take away what they want from it, and that’s fine, but it’s important to me that the work comes from an informed place.

Mexican Burrowing Toad. 2010. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] I think that providing that information along with your art is a great way to help communicate science (more on that at the end of the post…)! What is the most common question or comment you get about your work?

[LS] How do you have the patience to do that?? Which is funny to me, because I don’t necessarily think it takes more patience than any other artistic medium, but I guess printmaking techniques can seem mysterious and complicated, and multi-color woodcuts have a lot of steps in the process so it might seem like it requires an exceptional amount of patience. But when I look at scientific illustration, the level of detail and precision just amazes me, and I don’t think I’d have the patience for that!

Eastern Box Turtle. 2009. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] Can you tell us a little bit more about the woodcut process?

I work primarily in the reduction printing technique, where a single woodblock is gradually cut away in-between each color pressing, leaving it destroyed by the end of the process with a closed edition of prints. Working with the wood grain and watching the image emerge and become more defined as each color is printed gives me a sense of getting to know the creature, and a feeling for its fragility and sentience. I hope that my prints will spark an interest in the animals and a desire to learn more about them. There is an excellent video on YouTube featuring Santa Cruz artist Bridget Henry demonstrating the reduction printing technique.

[biocreativity] It’s a really great video and definitely illustrates the patience and skill required for reduction printing! Lisa, what’s next for you in art + science? Will you be expanding your portrait series?

[LS] I plan to expand on my toad series, and I’m also looking into and reading about endangered snakes (my first print for this series is the New Mexican Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake) and sharks. And last year I had a show where I created a big wall installation that combined statistics on amphibians from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with layers of cut-out prints, so I’m mulling over some ideas on how to expand and improve on that piece.

Great Plains Toad. 2010. Reduction woodcut print by Lisa Studier.

[biocreativity] Snakes and sharks sound great! You know, all of this reminds me of an ECOLOG (The Ecological Society of America’s listserv) thread this week, “Global Emergency: What Can I Do?”. It started with a forwarded message (originally by Paul Erhlich) which called on scientists to help “do something” to help make the world more aware of the current global crises of overpopulation, climate change and biodiversity loss. A few responses have been uplifting, but I have found many more to be rather pessimistic or at a loss for what to do in a world where ecologists are so vastly outnumbered by non-ecologists. It seems to me that we should all be using our own individual and varied talents and affinities to help spread awareness of global ecological issues. I believe artists like yourself have a tremendous power to engage people who otherwise might ‘glaze over’ in response to a strictly science approach. I suggest that one thing we can all do is to spread the word about you! Lisa, do you have a website that you’d like the biocreativity readers to know about?

[LS] Sure, it’s www.lisastudier.com

San Francisco Garter Snake. 2007. Reduction woodcut prints by Lisa Studier. Click on the image for a slightly larger version.

[biocreativity] Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your prints with us on the biocreativity blog. I really can’t wait to see what comes out of your studio next!

Stay tuned for more ECO Art + Science interviews each Thursday right here at www.biocreativity.wordpress.com! If you or someone you know should be featured in this series, please send an email to biocreativity@yahoo.com.

ECO Art + Science: Nature Illustrator Stephanie van Ryzin

Well, it seems that I’m on a role with scientific illustrators on the ECO Art + Science series here on the biocreativity blog! Back in October, I got an enthusiastic email from a recent graduate of Bennington College in Vermont who studied both Natural Science and Visual Art. Her illustrations of natural objects blew me away and I immediately suggested we get started on a post for this series. Her work is so hot-off-the-press that we had to gather some images of her work first. “Some of my work is currently hanging in a show at Bennington College,” she informed me. So, now that we have digital images of the work of this budding illustrator to share here on the biocreativity blog, and her website is now up and running, I’m thrilled to feature the work of illustrator Stephanie van Ryzin.

Crow. Colored pencil on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin

Her work channels some of the great animal still-life artists with modern and elegant simplicity. I even see some of Georgio Morandi’s proto-minimalism and Georgia O’Keefe’s work with animal skeletons. In fact, Stephanie’s recent work would be right at home in an exhibition entitled Of Beauty and Death: Still Life From the Renaissance to the Modern (or, Von Schönheit und Tod: Tierstillleben von der Renaissance bis zur Moderne, in the exhibition’s native German) that opened this month at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany. The exhibition traces the evolution of the still life from its origins in the 16th century through 20th century works and runs through February 19, 2012. Given that Stephanie just graduated from Bennington College, it’s safe to say that her’s is some of the most modern work in animal still life there is. Here’s a video describing the exhibit and featuring some of it’s paintings. If you don’t speak German I recommend looking at the paintings and reading today’s article about the exhibition from ArtDaily.org)

[biocreativity] Welcome to the biocreativity blog, Stephanie! I think I’ve taken up enough time with my impressions of your work. How would you describe your work, interests and profession?

[SvR] I recently graduated from Bennington College where I studied both Natural Science and Visual Art. My true love lies in the natural world, and is where my interests in both science and art originate. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the natural world and the built environment, and conflicts between people and wildlife. I intend on going back to graduate school in a few years for either wildlife or conservation biology. However, I am also interested in scientific illustration, and would hope to eventually use these skills in conjunction with my research.

Racoon Pelt. Colored pencil on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

[biocreativity] You should check out the scientific illustration program at California State University, Monterey Bay that I discussed in the last ECO Art + Science article with illustrator Emily M. Eng. I think you’d be a stellar candidate. Stephanie, where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum? What is your primary training (art or science)?

[SvR] The arts and sciences are very much intertwined in my mind, but I think I do fall closer to the science end. In college my coursework always fell heavier on the sciences, as do my intentions for graduate school, but I find the more I am involved in the science the more inspiration I have with my art.

Mexican Grey Wolves. Colored pencil on cardboard by Stephanie van Ryzin.

Mexican Grey Wolves (detail). Colored pencil on cardboard by Stephanie van Ryzin.

[biocreativity] How do you view the interaction of arts and sciences? What’s your take on how these disciplines interact? 

[SvR] I believe the arts and sciences both sit on the common ground of observation, and can be powerful combinations when used together. For me, drawing is about seeing. It is about being able to observe something and accurately document it, and in this way serves as a tool for scientific inquiry. A lot of art and design I am interested in attempts to replicate images and ideas found within the natural world; I think both art and science share this similar curiosity.

“I believe the arts and sciences both sit on the common ground of observation, and can be powerful combinations when used together. -Stephanie van Ryzin”

[biocreativity] Can you please describe your art for the biocreativity readers? 

[SvR] Within the visual arts I studied both drawing and architecture. The kind of drawings I tend towards are highly detailed observational drawings of natural objects that isolate a specific pattern or system within the object. In my work with architecture I have been particularly interested in connections between biological systems and architectural ones, and applying isolated systems from my drawings to larger architectural concepts.

Pine Cone Sections. Graphite on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

Pine Cone Sections (detail). Graphite on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

[biocreativity] I think you’d love one of the current exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium about turtle shells and architecture (a biocreativity post about that exhibit, Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures—Architecture in Bone, is coming soon)! What are your other inspirations?

[SvR] My inspiration has been an evolving process, and one that I think has benefited greatly from my experience at Bennington. I was challenged in my education at Bennington to synthesize my own connections between the natural sciences and visual art, which has manifested in my studies with architecture as well as scientific illustration. I have come across several influential people and projects that I have found confirmation and further inspiration in. Nature and the Idea of the Man Made World by Norman Crowe, and The Evolution of Designs, Biological Analogies in Architecture and the Applied Arts by Philip Steadman are two books I have found extremely relevant to my work. I have also been very interested in the work of Patricia Johanson, who uses similar applications of drawings to architectural design in creating ecosystems for both people and wildlife.

Ruffed Grouse. Colored pencil on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

[biocreativity] What is the most important thing that you want others to know about your work?

[SvR]  Observation, curiosity and patience are words that really resonate with me. Having your eyes open, being aware of changes and patterns and consistencies in the natural world, practicing patience and having the curiosity to keep looking I think are foundations for living, let alone good science and art.

“Observation, curiosity and patience are words that really resonate with me. -Stephanie van Ryzin”

[biocreativity] That may be the most beautiful statement yet to appear in this series, Stephanie. I completely agree. When you show your work to others, what is the most common question or comment you get about your work?

[SvR] A lot of times when I show someone a drawing the response I get is, “How much time did that take you”? I don’t think I spend an absurd amount of time on one particular drawing, but I can be a bit obsessive over detail.

Rabbit Skeleton. Graphite on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

Rabbit skeleton. Graphite on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

[biocreativity] Stephanie, do you have a website where readers can see more of your work?

Yes, I just created a website: http://www.wix.com/sjvanryzin/naturalart#!

[biocreativity] What’s next for you in art + science? Where do you see your work going, or what would you like to do next?

[SvR] I am currently looking to become involved with either wildlife or conservation biology research, and get more hands-on field work experience before I commit to graduate school. I would ideally love to be able to use my art in conjunction, and something that I am wanting to work more on are drawings that speaks to issues in wildlife and environmental conservation.

[biocreativity] Well, I can’t wait to see what comes next, Stephanie. Best of luck to you in your graduate pursuits. I think your skills as an artist will really serve you well in graduate school, especially when it comes to communicating your work to others. Thanks so much for sharing your talents with us on the biocreativity blog!

Grey Squirrel. Colored pencil and graphite on paper by Stephanie van Ryzin.

Stay tuned for more ECO Art + Science interviews each Thursday right here at www.biocreativity.wordpress.com! If you or someone you know should be featured in this series, please send an email to biocreativity@yahoo.com.