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

[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:!

[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! If you or someone you know should be featured in this series, please send an email to

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