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

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

ECO Art + Science: Scientific Illustrator Emily M. Eng

This week on the biocreativity blog I’m excited to feature my second illustrator in a row in the ECO Art + Science series. While I’m sure you’ll be able to see the parallels between the goals of illustrator Kevina Vulinec and this week’s featured artist-scientist Emily M. Eng, the two have come from different backgrounds in art and science. I connected with Emily’s background right away, as we both earned bachelors degrees in Biology and minors in Studio Art and Environmental Studies (though Emily added an impressive third minor in Religious Studies!). Emily then went on to earn her Science Illustration Graduate Certificate from California State University, Monterey Bay and has been dedicated to making science more accesible for people of all ages through her art ever since.

[biocreativity] Hi Emily, I’m excited that I have the opportunity to feature two illustrators back-to-back! Can you begin by telling the biocreativity readers what type of work do you do? How would you describe your interests and profession?

[EME] I’m a science illustrator and am lucky enough to be able to create art that helps explain science. I currently work at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA for several of their curators along with freelancing on the side. As an illustrator I’m a generalist. Some days I find myself drawing snake scales in the Herpetology department and other days I’ll be refining fish fin rays in the Ichthyology department.

Elysia Sea Slugs, colored pencil and acrylic by Emily M. Eng

“Through art I have the universal tools to introduce scientific ideas, theories and current research to a much wider audience.” Emily M. Eng

My goal as a science illustrator is help supplement science. I feel that science should be made approachable for everyone in a form that is easily comprehendible. That is why I became a science illustrator. Through art I have the universal tools to introduce scientific ideas, theories and current research to a much wider audience.

[biocreativity] That sounds like an incredibly fun job! Where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum? What is your primary training (art or science)?

[EME] From the middle of the spectrum, I’d place myself slightly towards the art side. While I am creating artwork, it has more to do with the science behind the image than of pure artistic qualities. I’m trained in both science and art, with my B.S. in biology from Santa Clara University and my Masters certificate in science illustration from California State University, Monterey Bay.

[biocreativity] The science illustration program at CSU Monterey Bay sounds incredible. What was it like working toward that degree?

[EME] The Science Illustration Certificate Program ( is an intensive year program. During the program I focused all of my time and energy on creating new illustrations. I thought I knew what it was like to work hard in undergrad but this was a whole new ballgame, and in the end it paid off. I improved beyond my wildest imagination as an artist, while learning the professional side of science illustration.

Melibe nudibranch by Emily Eng.

[biocreativity] Sounds like the ultimate art/science combination! What was the curriculum like? 

[EME] The curriculum started with art basics. Learning to draw what you see (field sketching), correct shading and values and proportions. We then began applying the basics in black and white medias, graphite, pen and ink, coquille, and scratchboard. Not until second quarter did we begin using colored media, watercolor, colored pencils, acrylic and gouache. Throughout the entire year we took a digital class to learn Illustrator and Photoshop.

The assignments dictated different parameters like learning a specific medium or incorporating a special view. But the actual subject matter and what you choose to illustrate was up to the student. It was really fun as not only were you immersed in different styles from your classmates but also their different interests in subject matter. You definitely could see trends among students as I saw more spiders and skulls than I would have otherwise chosen.

Esturarine Fouling Community Formation, illustration by Emily M. Eng.

[biocreativity] What were your favorite and least favorite experiences in the program? 

[EME]One of my favorite experiences from the program was learning new medias. What I thought I knew about colored pencils flew out the window. While the colored pencil use didn’t change dramatically what I learned about the colored pencil substrate was revolutionary. Toned paper to drafting film can create starkly different results from the same colored pencil.This may sound weird but the hardest part of the program for me was drawing for the field sketching class. I’m not a big fan of drawing and sitting in one place just making sketches was a challenge for me. I much prefer the “finishing” of a piece, whether that is adding the color or adding in the shadows.

American Lobster Fishery. Homarus americanus. Watercolor by Emily M. Eng.

[biocreativity] All of that probably leaves you well-prepared for my next question. Emily, how do you view the interaction of arts and sciences? What’s your take on how these disciplines interact? 

[EME] I feel that art and science are firmly rooted together. In order to create a realistic representation of an organism you have to know the science behind it. For example if I am drawing a kelp crab in its natural habitat I can’t just plop the crab anywhere in the ocean, I need to know the crab’s natural history. Does the crab live in the benthic zone or the pelagic zone? Are kelp crabs solitary or social organisms? Are they nocturnal or diurnal? Even the coloration of an organism is dependent on scientific understanding (coloration often varies with diet, environment and seasonality). Therefore, to have a successful and accurate scientific illustration you not only need to be able to draw but also understand the underlying science.

Giant Kelp Home (Macrocystis pyrifera), coquille and watercolor by Emily M. Eng.

[biocreativity] Described like a true natural historian. Can you please describe your art + science work in more detail for the biocreativity readers?

[EME] At the California Academy of Sciences, my work varies with each curator and the goals of their research. For Dr. Terry Gosliner, I help illustrate new species of sea slugs and nudibranchs discovered during his dive trips. I focus on morphology for comparison with other known species. I illustrate these in pen and ink for journal publications. Dr. Alan Leviton is writing an identification guide on the deadly and venomous snakes of the Philippines. I help illustrate the scale patterns on the heads of different snake species, some of which have never been illustrated before. To keep the snake images uniform I create them digitally using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Finally my work with Dr. Tomio Iwamoto adds to his identification key highlighting the differences between species within the Coelorinchus genus. These I do in traditional pen and ink and stipple to indicate the presence or absence of scales.

Coelorinchus divergens by Emily M. Eng.

[biocreativity] I guess I hadn’t thought much about scientific illustrators using digital workspaces to help create their art (even though the software is named illustrator!). How does that process work for – let’s say – illustrating a venomous snake head?

[EME] I start off looking at the snake specimen under a microscope. I position the snake as uniformly as possible ensuring that the head isn’t leaning to one side or another. This is somewhat tricky as all of the specimens are preserved in ethanol filled jars and their heads tend to get squished. Then using a camera lucida (drawing tube attached to a microscope that allows the viewer to not only see the specimen but also their pencil/paper) I trace the specimen.

Emily makes use of a camera lucida in her snake illustrations.

Once I have the sketch done I scan it into the computer and compile the dorsal and lateral views. I align the views in Photoshop to make sure that their eyes, nostrils, and scales line up when stacked vertically. Then I take the combined image into Illustrator and digitally trace over the lines. After this preliminary drawing is done I print it out and compare/ recheck it to the specimen. I look at several specimens to make sure that the scales I’ve drawn are descriptive of all of them and not of the individual that I traced. I make the necessary changes in blue pencil and then scan the changes into the computer. I then adjust the Illustrator line work to reflect the changes. After the lines are completed I export everything into Photoshop and add the finishing details like snodgrass (divots of shadow) and eye shading.

Preliminary sketch of Laticauda laticaudata laticaudata by Emily M. Eng

For me all of my work starts out as a traditional drawing/sketch which is then converted into a digital image. I consider something completely digitally made if all you see in the final version are the digital marks. I do enjoy digital coloring as the textures and brushes in Photoshop are just fun. And who doesn’t like an Undo button? If I move between digital and traditional medias a lot I catch myself thinking “Command Z” in my head even when I’m painting a watercolor.

I prefer traditional medias as there is just something nice about being able to hold your finished piece at the end. But depending on the goal of the illustration and time constraints digital often works best.

The final image of Laticauda laticaudata laticaudata by Emily M. Eng

[biocreativity] Emily, what inspired you to become a science illustrator?

[EME] My inspiration to become a science illustrator sprung from my realization that my scientific knowledge and understanding relied on the information from illustrations. I noticed that I spent more time flipping through my biology textbooks to look at every diagram and illustration than I did actually reading the text. Without the illustrations presented in textbooks, I still would be lost to the anatomy of a cell or how proteins are folded.

But who truly made me pursue illustration as a career is the artist John D. Dawson. I fell in love with his EPA poster “Estuaries: Scenes of Transition.” In this poster Dawson arranges organisms in different estuary environments around the United States. He does this with amazing artistic detail, all the while ensuring that all the organisms are scientifically correct and represented accurately in their specific estuarine environment. Once I saw his blending of artistic beauty and scientific information, it sealed my fate in becoming a science illustrator.

Estuaries: Scenes of Transition by John D. Dawson. Created for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Poster available free from

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

[EME] Science illustration is not a dead occupation and it can’t be replaced with photographs. Illustration still holds an important role in scientific understanding.

Florida Gopher Frog. Rana areolata aesopus. Photoshop by Emily M. Eng.

[biocreativity] Very well said! I think if Ernst Haeckel were alive today he’d agree with you (and be relieved that you’ve found a way to balance art + science in a way that he struggled with early in his career). Emily, what is the most common question or comment you get about your work?

 [EME] The most common question/comment I get is, “why don’t you just take a picture?” Science illustration provides so much more than photography. An illustrator can highlight parts of an organism that a camera may not capture. We can also take the viewer into special views where cameras cannot go (example: layers of the earth, inside a volcano, or back in time to prehistoric eras) and also create idealized environments (all organisms within a food web or multiple stages within a life cycle). Photographs are wonderful and remain important in science but it cannot replace the illustrator.

Platypus. Photoshop by Emily M. Eng.

Here are examples of why researchers choose me over the camera:

1. Dr. Terry Gosliner- Nudibranchs: To prove that an organism is a new species you need to be able to compare it to know species. In order to do that the specimen needs to be displayed in a way that you can see all of the body parts (morphology). As invertebrates, nudibranchs tend to fold and bend while alive and with so many certa (appendages) it becomes confusing which body part is which. I am able to illustrate the idealized organism. I can average several individuals and repair broken parts along with rotating the body so that all important features are visible.

Phyllodesmium nudibranch. Pen and ink drawing by Emily M. Eng.

2. Dr. Alan Leviton- Snakes: I focus on the snake scale patterns/shape, to help identify the species. While you can take a photograph of the specimen, scales on dark snakes/ very pale snakes are tough to see. By drawing out the scale patterns I can remove shadows and coloration that would be confusing in a photograph. Also since the little guys are round, not all of the scales are in focus. As an illustrator I can make sure that all the scales clearly defined and are in focus making them easy for identification.

Naja naja philipinensis, drawing by Emily M. Eng.

3. Dr. Tomio Iwamoto- Fish: I draw fish for species comparison, specifically I indicate scale presence versus bald patches (a differentiating identification feature). The scales are tiny in places, overlap and translucent, making them extremely difficult to photograph. In fact, even I have a tough time determining if there is a scale unless I actually touch the questionable area. Also scales have a tendency to fall off the specimen giving false areas of bald spots. By illustrating these fish I am able to fill in the scales if they have fallen off, emphasize important scales/ features, and average multiple specimens to create an idealized organism.

Lateral view of three species of Coelorinchus by Emily M. Eng.

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

[EME] My next plan as a science illustrator is very similar to a scientist, I want to be published. I hope to one day have an illustration in Science Magazine, National Geographic and Scientific American. There I hope my illustrations can help others better understand science or inspire them to investigate further.

[biocreativity] Do you have a website, blog, facebook page, twitter account, etc. that you’d like the biocreativity readers to know about?


[biocreativity] It’s a beautiful website! Emily, thanks so much for sharing your talents with us on the biocreativity blog. You do amazing work!

Hermissenda nudibranch on Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), colored pencil and acrylic by Emily M. Eng

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

ECO Art + Science: Sculpture of Ecologist Gary Grossman

When I posted about the biocreativity blog on the Ecological Society of America’s listserv Ecolog back in July, I got a lot of replies from biocreative people who are doing some really great work at the intersection of art + biology. I’m happy to say a short series of featured artists from my Ecolog interactions are finally making their way onto the biocreativity blog! I hope this series will serve to illustrate the many ways in which artists and scientists are using their talents in the modern world, to provide inspiration to any of you readers who are considering picking up the biocreative torch and to give artist-scientists (both experienced and new) a platform to showcase their work.

The first featured artist-scientist is aquatic ecologist and sculptor Gary Grossman, professor of animal ecology at the University of Georgia. Gary and I ‘sat down’ for an e-interview this week to discuss his work, his inspirations and his advice for new biocreatives.

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[biocreativity] Hi Gary, welcome to the biocreativity blog! Tell me about the type of work do you do.

[GG] I am an aquatic ecologist who works on problems of community organization, population regulation and resource use (i.e. habitat and dietary selection). Artistically, I am a stone carver who works primarily in harder stones like marble and limestone but also in softer stones such as alabaster and steatite. I love learning new things and I love teaching students that are interested in learning. Several years ago I developed a Natural History of Georgia course that is a large lecture course for non-science majors. I have had more fun teaching that course than any other course in my 30 years of teaching. Introducing students to science and making it fun is a great experience.

[biocreativity] Where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum?

[GG] My primary training is in science and I did not start making art till my late 40’s. Since then I’ve decided that this whole left-brain right-brain classification scheme is not really helpful and may inhibit people from trying activities on the other side of the spectrum.

[biocreativity] Well said, I quite agree! That leads in to my next question, which is how do you view the interaction of the arts and sciences?

[GG] Conceptually, art and scientific research have an identical goal, which is to see the world in a completely new way. Before I started carving I wrote poetry for about 10 years and there were very strong similarities between a great poem and a great scientific paper – both succeed by reducing complicated topics to easily understandable prose that has high impact. The same is true for my sculpture which is cubist abstract in form. I seek to reduce a form to the minimum necessary for visual recognition while retaining a visually and tactilely pleasing form.

[biocreativity] What you said about your sculpture reminds me a lot of Charley Harper, who was known for having said of his bird art, “I count the wings, not the feathers.” What inspired you to begin your work in sculpture?

[GG] After many years of wanting to do art but thinking that I had no talent, my wife bought me a book on soapstone carving, 20 pounds of soapstone, and a set of hand tools. I was hooked and have left a trail of dust in my wake ever since.

[biocreativity] I think a lot of people are trepidatious about getting into art for the same reason you described. What is your advice for others considering a foray into the arts?

[GG] First, don’t ever be afraid to make art and second, art is for you and for no one else.  There is no better feeling than making a piece of art and being completely satisfied with it.  It is exactly the same with writing a really good scientific paper, you read it and feel, “I am just incredibly happy that I made this.” The joy of creativity is likely the same for all creative outlets and is one of the true pleasures of life.

[biocreativity] That’s stellar advice! I’ll have to remember it next time I get a rejection notice for a scientific article! What is next for you in the art-science realm?

[GG] I’ll keep carving, there are lots of pieces that I would like to make.  I would also like to mention the therapeutic/meditative  value of sculpting.  I stopped writing poetry because it kept me “in my head” which is where I am all day for my scientific work.  For me, carving is an intuitive process that gets me out of my head completely and keeps me in a completely experiential mode.  So when I carve I free myself from all my day time stresses and worries and just work on the stone to the exclusion of everything else.  Hours can go by and I don’t even realize it.

[biocreativity] Thanks for talking with me about your work, Gary. Before we close, where can the biocreativity blog readers go to learn more about your work?

[GG] I have a web site but it’s mostly out of date. I am mainly using Facebook as a platform for my work because it has such a large audience. Readers can go to my Facebook sculpture portfolio to see some of my work or friend me on Facebook to see a greater sample. I’m the only Gary Grossman with a sculpture for a portrait photo.

Stay tuned for the next ECO Art + Science feature and if you’d like your work (or someone you know) featured here, please email and tell me about it!

Biocreativity on the Road: Biology + Art in San Antonio, Texas


This gallery contains 4 photos.

I had a great time in San Antonio this weekend and discovered some really fun biocreativity on display. One of Donald Lipski’s F.I.S.H. in San Antonio, TX. Photo by Cole Weatherby. First, riding the water taxi up to the San … Continue reading