Art + Science Series: Prints of Ruthie Powers

Mail Stops 1_12 adjustedDSC_0255 2400 x 3000 RGB

Mail Stops
Painted Intaglio
©Ruthie Powers

I am pleased to welcome printmaker Ruthie Powers to the biocreativity blog as a continuation of the Art + Science Series. Ruthie will be joining Annell Livingston, Landry McMeans and Laura Moriarty in our GEO_____ show! Ruthie’s current work takes its cues from maps and geography.

[biocreativity] Ruthie, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

[RP] I am a printmaker who also creates complex surface design with dye on textiles. My art education has been pieced together over time beginning with photography and graphic design classes in the university and community college setting. I also have taken many workshops: art quilting, textile dyeing and surface design. Workshops in the last several years include a week-long Painted Intaglio workshop at Making Art Safely with Lennox Dunbar, four days with Debbie Little Wilson at Hill Country Arts Foundation and many one- and two-day printmaking workshops through Women Printmakers of Austin (Texas). Very recently, I took a 2-day workshop at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio with visiting artist Aimee Lee about hanji, the Korean paper.

[biocreativity] Here on biocreativity, we’re always curious to know, what is it about nature that inspires or excites you?

I love being an artist and am interested in science through nature. I am constantly amazed with ways nature presents beautiful designs and compositions. I enjoy learning and naturally ask “I wonder why…”. So when I am in nature I am constantly observing plants, animals, and the environment around me.

My science and nature learning usually comes when I see something that interests me that I cannot explain or do not understand. Once I planted passion vine, thinking it was so beautiful. Then I noticed the leaves were being destroyed. I was upset until I saw that a butterfly was coming often to the plant. I learned it was the gulf fritillary. More observation let me see the chrysalis, a strangely-beautiful shape hanging from the vine. With more patience, I was able to watch the female gulf fritillary place her honey-colored eggs on the passion vine plant. That was the full cycle, learned over several weeks of observation. Right now (early April in Austin, Texas) I am watching my rue plant which is larval food for the giant swallowtail butterfly or one of it’s close cousins. The caterpillars are all over the rue plant in various stages of growth.

Contour 16x20   Painted Intaglio   ©Ruthie Powers

Painted Intaglio
©Ruthie Powers

[biocreativity] It’s great to see the ways science and art can lead to questions and then maybe provide some answers, how do you view the interaction of arts and sciences?

 [RP] Both involve creativity, exploration, and observation. It is not unusual to find an artist who is interested in the sciences such as the watercolorist who paints plant life.

[biocreativity] This series seems to be inspired by more than just the outdoors, there are a lot of linear and geographical elements. What inspired you to do this series?

[RP] My current printmaking series, GeoTopo, is inspired by maps and geography both real and imagined. Living in central Texas, I have any opportunities to observe the land—the Texas Hill Country with all it’s shapes—hills, valleys, waterways, and dry creeks.

As a child, I was the navigator on family road trips so I became very familiar with map reading and symbols. I have travelled a lot and enjoy having a map to guide me as I go. I bring the maps back home to add to my collection. I also have enjoyed reading about travel and looking at landscape photos throughout my life.

One serendipitous day about a year ago, I found an Encyclopedia Britannica World Atlas from 1960 that was being thrown into a trash bin. I grabbed it and took it home. I tried doing various art projects with this oversized volume, but nothing seemed to catch my interest until I decided to create GeoTopo, a series of prints based on Map, one of my prints. The atlas then became a great visual resource. I studied it, browsing forward and back, and realized that I could use specific maps as visual models for prints. For example, the Kansas state map shows the even spacing of towns between mail stops from the days when postal service was by stagecoach. This visually translated into the Mail Stops print. I also found maps of airline flights in the atlas. This reminded me of times looking over the maps in the back of airlines magazines. So, the print Flight Paths became part of the GeoTopo series.

Flight Paths 16x20   Painted Intaglio   ©Ruthie Powers

Flight Paths
Painted Intaglio
©Ruthie Powers

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

[RP] Printmaking itself is a very tactile and kinesthetic experience. My whole body is involved in the process, from touching the paper, to inking the plate. All my muscles and joints are involved.

I really enjoy the process–the plate making, the adjustments to the plate while proofing, and the printing itself. I enjoy playing with the different colors of ink to see how they combine on the print to make new colors. This is a continuation of the color mixing I learned while dyeing fabric, which I have brought to printmaking on paper.

Flight Paths 16x20   Painted Intaglio   ©Ruthie Powers

Flight Paths
Painted Intaglio
©Ruthie Powers

[biocreativity] Before you go, one last question. What is your advice to young artists and scientists who might be thinking about getting into art-science projects?

[RP] Take a process you enjoy and do it over and over and over. You will get unexpected results. You will find your style.

[biocreativity]Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! Where can we hope to see you go next?

[RP] I currently have five prints in the BioTopo series. I have at least three more in process, so I will continue with them. I am printing editions of 12 prints for each plate, so that is a lot of intense studio time.

I always have many more ideas for projects than I am able to do. Perhaps I will work with designs inspired by historical insect prints. Maybe I will work with a process I learned in a workshop that I have yet to explore. I am just not sure!

Map 16x20  Painted Intaglio   ©Ruthie Powers

Painted Intaglio
©Ruthie Powers

 Find Ruthie elsewhere on the internet!


Art + Science Series: Paintings of Annell Livingston

Fragments #166
Gouache on w/c paper
©Annell Livingston

I am pleased to welcome artist Annell Livingston to the biocreativity blog as a continuation of the Art + Science Series. Annell’s work takes its cues from her current home in Taos, New Mexico. Her paintings feature geometric patterns inspired by the tension between urban landscapes and natural environments.

[biocreativity] Welcome to the biocreativity blog Annell! Tell us a little about the kind of art you create.

[AL] I am a painter and have painted in most every medium. Now, I choose gouache, for it’s inherent qualities of saturated pigment and flatness. I love to paint. It is what I do, and have been doing for the last 50 years. Unless I have other responsibilities, I am in the studio.

[biocreativity] What is your educational background?

[AL] In the early 1960’s, I began studying art at the Lowell Collins School of Art, in Houston, Texas, with an emphasis on painting and drawing. Then I studied at the University of Houston, where the late David Hickman was my experimental teacher. And I studied at the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Art in Houston. I think the way of the artist is a lifetime of study. The artist is always reaching for something, just out of reach, always challenging herself.

Fragments #164
Gouache on w/c paper
©Annell Livingston

[biocreativity] As an artist, I agree that it’s a lifetime of study, always learning something new. I find that science can teach us a lot how to explore our world and challenge us. How is your work inspired by science?

[AL] Science can be thought of as knowledge attained through study or practice. And the way of the artist is the same. My work is based on geometry and the observation of the material world, especially light, and color.

In the 1980’s I asked myself the question, “What do I know, and how do I know it?” I lived in the city, I drove to work at the studio each day on the freeway. My studio was downtown in a warehouse, and the sounds that came into the studio were from the cars and trucks on the freeway. All day I stood on concrete. The answer to my question was, “My experience was the city, building with exposed skeletons. If you looked down on the city, you would see it is based on the grid. And we are informed by the light, which is often reflected on manmade materials.” I began observing the light, and keeping notes about it. I allowed the square to be a metaphor for the urban experience.

It was not long, before I moved to Taos, New Mexico. My work did not reflect the rural experience that was Taos. This little Northern New Mexico town was not urban. How do I talk about this experience? The square seemed too much ‘man over nature.’ At last I randomly added the diagonal line, this broke up the grid to allow shapes that allowed me to think of the irregularity of the landscape; rivers, mountains, and canyons. This diagonal line seemed to be the perfect answer, and can been seen in the weavings of the Navajo people. I choose the color from nature, which required careful observation of the world around me. I was speaking in a contemporary voice, but reflecting what I saw in nature.


The artist, Annell Livingston, and her work

[biocreativity] How has this experience lead to your current work?

[AL] My current work, “Fragments, Geometry and Change”, continues the ideas I have been investigating in past work. I break the picture plane into small pieces, metaphors for my experience of life, memory and thought. It seems to me, it is never experienced as a whole, but in bits and pieces. My compositions are based on geometry, which I draw with a ruler. I began with one color randomly selected, then each color selected after is based on simultaneous contrast, which is the use of two colors, painted side by side, that interact with one another and change the visual perception accordingly. This affects the viewer’s sense of the color. Though the shapes are not altered, patterns appear, disappear and change in their appearance.

This is based on the observable phenomenon in nature of changing light and color. An example might be the way the color of the leaves seem to change as the winds moves through the trees.

Fragments #168
Gouache on w/c paper
©Annell Livingston


[biocreativity] Thanks so much Annell for the interview! If you loved Annell’s work, she will be featured along with three other artists in our latest exhibit, Geo_____! The show will run from April 12 – May 18th, 2014. Opening reception will be held April 12th 7-11PM. 

Guest Blog: Use Art (yes, art!) to Enhance Your Science

Hi there biocreativity readers! I’ve been hard at work putting together our new brick-and-mortar gallery space at Art.Science.Gallery. (we’re plannign to open with an awesome entomology show in November!) and I thought you might like this guest post I did for the Broaden Your Impact blog. How have you used art to enhance your science!?

Broaden Your Impact

In great anticipation of the Broaden Your Impact symposium, I wanted to share some of my experiences and thoughts for sharing your science from what many of you might consider the dominion of “that other half of my brain”. I use art to communicate science, because art can be a very compelling and often tangible way to communicate science to a broad audience. The visual nature of most art forms can help to engage people with science in new, exciting and perhaps even (gasp!) non-quantitative ways. In many instances, artwork can help to visualize abstract concepts in science. In others, art can be a vehicle for cultivating science appreciation and the beauty of the natural world. Science art can also tackle questions of scientific ethics, environmental justice, the ideas of “progress” and “innovation” and the role and perception of science in popular culture. Combining art with science can help to…

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systematic poetry

Tree of Life (~3,000 species, based on rRNA sequences) by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas.

Tree of Life (~3,000 species, based on rRNA sequences) by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas.

It’s not often that I have featured poetry here on the biocreativity blog, but there’s a first time for everything. And, there is a lot of great science poetry out there that I hope to feature someday. Thanks to my friend and colleague David Hillis for pointing me toward this one, which was published in the journal Systematic Biology yesterday. This is the first poem published in the journal, and I hope this is a trend that will continue. What are your favorites in science and nature poetry? What are some other journals that are incorporating the arts into their publications?

The Tree of Life

by David R. Maddison (Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331 USA; E-mail:

I think that I shall never see
A thing so awesome as the Tree
That links us all in paths of genes
Down into depths of time unseen;

Whose many branches spreading wide
House wondrous creatures of the tide,
Ocean deep and mountain tall,
Darkened cave and waterfall.

Among the branches we may find
Creatures there of every kind,
From microbe small to redwood vast,
From fungus slow to cheetah fast.

As glaciers move, strikes asteroid
A branch may vanish in the void:
At Permian’s end and Tertiary’s door,
The Tree was shaken to its core.

The leaves that fall are trapped in time
Beneath cold sheets of sand and lime;
But new leaves sprout as mountains rise,
Breathing life anew ‘neath future skies.

On one branch the leaves burst forth:
A jointed limb of firework growth.
With inordinate fondness for splitting lines,
Armored beetles formed myriad kinds.

Wandering there among the leaves,
In awe of variants Time conceived,
We ponder the shape of branching fates,
And elusive origins of their traits.

Three billion years the Tree has grown
From replicators’ first seed sown
To branches rich with progeny:
The wonder of phylogeny.

© The Author(s) 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Eco Art + Science Series: The Inked Animals of Adam Cohen + Ben Labay

Several years ago I attended a Texas Herpetological Society meeting which focused on Texas salamanders. As many biologists are apt to do when encountered with art featuring their study species, I flipped out over the poster for the event, which depicted several species of salamander found in Texas (and of course, I bought several copies for all of my “salamander friends”). Last fall, when I started volunteering at the Texas Natural History Collections for the Fishes of Texas project, I was delighted to meet and work with the artist who created that poster – biologist Adam Cohen!

Texas Salamanders poster © 2007 Adam Espelee Cohen

One of the striking images when you enter the Texas Natural History Collections (besides the jars and jars of dead things) is a fish-print of the state-record tarpon – a 210 pound 11 ounce behemoth of a fish, immortalized on fabric and ink using the Japanese Gyotaku fish-rubbing technique. After helping fellow biologist Andy Gluesenkamp create the tarpon print, Adam Cohen and Ben Labay were inspired to begin a collaboration to create more prints, and to expand the subject matter well beyond fish! In fact, Andy recently told me how Adam simply came alive with excitement when he participated in printing the tarpon. (And, just FYI, you can view another edition of the record tarpon print at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX). Well, I’m pleased to say that Adam and Ben have now officially joined forces by opening their online gallery and blog Inked Animal, featuring stunning prints of a diversity of animals (and soon-to-be plants) using ink, clay, paper and fabric. It’s now my dream to just happen to be volunteering one day when these two are making a print, so I can do one too [**hint, hint, guys**]!

Tarpon head | Megalopidae. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Welcome to the biocreativity blog, Adam and Ben! What type of work do you do?

[AEC] I make most of my living as a biologist working at the Texas Natural History Collection’s Ichthyology Collection on our Fishes of Texas project. The building I work in is basically a warehouse full of jars of dead fish mostly collected from Texas. It’s pretty creepy to lots of people, but I never had that feeling about it. We do lots of collecting for work, which means going into the field with collecting gear such as seines, gill nets, and shockers. But, I also think of myself as an artist. After high school I thought I might go to art school and pursue a career in art, but figured I was less likely to find a job in that field so stuck with science. My brother and I started a concert poster business in 2001 called Silverfish Art – I was the artist and he did marketing and sales. I am now working with Ben Labay on a new project called Inked Animal. In this project we are essentially taking the classic Japanese fish print Gyotaku concept and expanding to all kinds of animals, like birds, mammals, reptiles etc. There is essentially no animal or plant off limits. Being field biologists means we get lots of opportunities to encounter dead animals often as road kill or just random encounters.

[BJL] I am a fish biologist and researcher as a profession, art and nature enthusiast as a hobby. My profession and hobby come together with Inked Animal. It’s a place for me to explore the reasons and inspirations for why I chose to study biology.

Alligator Gar | Atractosteus spatula. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Where do you see yourselves on the biocreativity spectrum? Closer to the arts end or the science end?

[BJL] Science end of the spectrum, I think.  My primary training was in science, I got a BS in biology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Masters from Texas State University – San Marcos.

[AEC] My primary training is definitely science and I have no real training in arts except for taking some classes when I was a kid. I went to undergraduate school at the University of Texas at Austin and continued to get my Masters there as well. Both are biology degrees. Regarding the spectrum, I shift around depending on my mood or recent events in my life. I’m pretty much never at one end or the other though.

North American Beaver | Castor canadensis. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] How do you two view the interaction of the arts and sciences? What’s your take on how these disciplines interact? (I’m curious to see how different your answers are.)

[AEC] I think a lot of people separate them and would come to this blog thinking this were an unusual line of questioning. But, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Personally I think a lot of my interest in biology was kindled by an artistic side. I remember keeping aquaria when I was younger and watching the fish for hours. There was an appreciation for the way they looked that drove me to learn about how to keep them alive and healthy. Now in the museum I often see a shelf of specimens and am struck by how they line up to create great repeating patterns. I have a one and half year old daughter at home and I’ve been watching for signs of artistry in her, but have not been able to see it yet.  But, when she explores the back yard it seems to me that she is purely curious like a scientist so maybe that develops first.

[BJL] I don’t think they always intersect.  For that reason I don’t know if they need to be taught together, but for the same reason, when they do come together it is that much more special. Not sure that they inform each other, rather they complement each other, like how left- and right-sided brain activities can complement each other.

Western Diamondback | Crotalus atrox. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Tell us a little more about your art-science projects.

[AEC] Most of my own art is done with colored pencil and paper, but I’ve also worked with acrylic paint. I went through an experimental insect art phase where I arranged real insects into various compositions. But most recently, I’ve been working with Ben Labay on our Inked Animal project. You can see my illustrations at and my concert posters at

Minckley’s Cichlid | Hericthys minckleyi. Pencil illustration © 2004 Adam Espelee Cohen, used here by permission.

[BJL] I have been focusing on impressions of nature, right now limited to inking animal specimens and creating a pressing/impression of it on paper or cloth. For fish, this is commonly known as the Japanese art of Gyotaku or “Fish rubbing”.

Minckley’s Cichlid | Herichthys minckleyi. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Just to give a little context here, Gyotaku originated so that fishermen could record the size and quantity of fish they caught before taking them to market. It has now become a beautiful and culturally important art form. What inspired you two to get into this technique and begin your Inked Animal project? 

[AEC] My art has always had a biological component. Not sure why exactly, other than that I have no interest in working with other subject material. I’d done the ink prints in the past when I was younger (with octopus and flying fish), but got back into it again after a co-worker [biologist Andy Gluesenkamp] asked if I was interested in helping him print some large fish he had recently acquired. I did some printing with him and sort of got the bug again. Shortly after that I did a concert poster which was an ink print of a nestling white winged dove that I found dead in my front yard and got hooked into doing this with all kinds of other animals.

Concert poster for The Raconteurs © 2008 Adam Espelee Cohen,

My partner in this project, Ben Labay, who I also work with at the museum soon called me saying that he had found a grey fox on the side of the road and pretty soon we were off and running. It helps to have a good partner since you can get so much more done and you get to feed off each other’s energy.

[BJL] I saw the fish rubbing done with a large tarpon by Adam Cohen and Andy Gluesenkamp. This started Adam and I on a path to do more and more.

Gray Fox | Urocyon cineraergenteus. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] The fox print is so beautiful; very ethereal, much like living foxes seem to be. What is the most important thing that you want others to know about your Inked Animal work?

[BJL] That we create the work out of respect for what creates the impression, trying to capture a special and unique version of it that simultaneously acknowledges the corporeal and spirit of the animal.

[AEC] I always worry about people thinking we are going out there into nature killing animals rather callously and selfishly for our personal project. I don’t think that’s accurate. In fact doing this project has forced us to confront how we feel about committing animals to death. It turns out that neither of us has much trouble killing fish, we do that for a living after all at the museum. But neither of us has much of a stomach for killing much else, so almost all of the other material are found dead on the road. Whenever it is possible we donate specimens to the museum after we have printed them.

European Starling – Windshield Pose | Sturnus vulgaris. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] What is the most common question or comment you get about your  work?

[AEC]  Specifically regarding the Inked Animal project, people often ask us about our methods. We are still experimenting with the methods and I’m not sure that will ever stop. Basically animals are painted with ink or clay (I am starting to prefer clay) and then pressed against paper or other material. Sometimes we handle the specimens (leaving the paper in place) and other times we handle the paper (leaving the specimen in place). Then manual touch up with a brush or pen is often needed.

But I think people are really most interested in knowing how we deal with dead and often rotting animals. We sometimes wear latex gloves, but gloves make it hard to feel what you are doing so usually we don’t wear them. It is an art done best if you have a strong stomach and a bad sense of smell. Some of my favorite prints of ours are the ones with blood stains where components of the animal are included as part of the print.

Virginia Opossum – version 1 | Didelphus virginiana. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[BJL] Yes, it’s probably about the process.  People wonder how we do it.

[biocreativity] I read on the InkedAnimal blog that sometimes in the process of printing an animal (especially fish, since that’s primarily what you study), you might notice new and different characteristics that you can use to help identify different species. Can you tell us more about this and how it can feed back into your science?

[AEC] Through working with specimens as objects of art we’ve noticed bits of specimen anatomy that we’ve overlooked before or otherwise never took the time to take a close look at. Some come to mind immediately: sensory pores on alligator chins, dense hair in opossum pouches and their fingerprints, bifurcating genitalia of snakes, unusual mutated scales on fish. The most striking kinds of things we notice are related to various pores and crevices which become very obvious once ink fills them in. I’ve started keeping my camera close by when printing to catch some of these things and those pictures are included on some of our blog posts. We inked a menhaden recently ( and as the ink settled into the pores we noticed the incredible network of sensory canals of the head that allows the fish to sense near-by fish and form dense schools. Also recently while printing a Guadalupe bass we noticed the relatively small cheek scales that the ink made much more evident. This is a character used to differentiate this species from the largemouth bass. Interestingly enough, we first learned about that character from Joseph Tomelleri, a well-known fish illustrator. I’m guessing he knew about that character due to the careful observation needed for his art. That’s a character I haven’t seen in any fish ID books. Fish biologists often use inks and dyes as tools for intentionally doing these kinds of things, so I don’t think we are doing anything cutting edge or making new discoveries for science (although we could), but it certainly helps in my education and makes me a better observer and scientist.

Guadalupe Bass | Micropterus treculii. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[BJL] I think Adam really summed that one up. For me, I’m not sure that there’s much of a direct impact of the art onto the science, but the main point I like that Adam makes is about using the printing process to help be a better observer, which is what science is all about. So looking at it that way, it’s not any details, but the process that helps us make better identifications, maybe remember certain characters, and generally have more respect for the animals we deal with and nature in general.

[biocreativity] What’s next for you guys in art + science? 

[AEC] As with most of my projects I don’t know exactly where the Inked Animal stuff will go. We basically do it because we like to. We are currently focused on building up our online gallery and have a lot more material to get up soon. Once we build up the gallery we’ll work on trying to make a little money from our work.

[BJL] Oh, and we have an immediate goal of creating a “Spineless” gallery that will at first feature insects, but hopefully get some mollusks in there as well.  The next big step is to get a show at a gallery.

Jack Crevalle 2 | Caranx hippos. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] An invertebrate gallery sounds very cool! Where can the biocreativity readers learn more about your project and see more images?

[AEC] Our Inked Animal project ( also has a Facebook page at

Blacktip Shark 3 | Charcharhinus limbatus. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Any advice to young artists and scientists who might be thinking about getting into art-science projects?

[BJL] Don’t think, just do.  Ready, Fire, Aim.

[AEC] No specific advice. Honestly, I feel like I don’t really know what I am doing.

Atlantic Stingray | Dasyatis sabina. Gyotaku print ©, used here by permission.

[biocreativity] Well, Adam, it sure seems to me that you do! And, I suppose I will interpret Ben as not being afraid to experiment (I agree). Thanks so much to you both for sharing your work with us on the biocreativity blog! I’m sure the readers look forward to seeing what comes next. I know I do!

The biocreativity blog’s ECO Art + Science Series illustrates the many ways in which artists and scientists are combining their talents in the modern world. Stay tuned for more interviews right here at! If you or someone you know should be featured in this series, please send an email to