This guest post was written by Chris Taylor. Chris (@tlrcustom) was our curator from December 24th to 30th in 2017. To learn more about Chris’ 3D art or to make a purchase, visit taylorcustom.com
This is the story of my artistic process, and how I came to it. While the process was laborious when lived in real-time, hopefully several decades will condense into one exciting page!
It began in my sophomore year of college. I was studying biology, but was beginning to find myself unequal to some of the more technical aspects of the subject. Procrastination is a strong motivator, and one night, wanting to pick up anything but my chemistry book*, I picked up a paperclip. I had recently read Edwin Abbot’s Flatland, and so inspired by this, I formed the clip into a hypercube (tesseract). I liked the hypercube as a subject, and used it frequently, since it seemed cool to represent a four dimensional object in a one dimensional medium.
What followed, was a gradual escalation in the scope and sophistication of my wire-bending projects, along with forays into drawing, and wood and soap carving. By the time I graduated (no longer a biology major), I had made some amateurish works in just about every artistic medium possible.
Thus armed with a history degree, and no clue of what to do with it, I began to take night courses in art while working as a cashier at the Science Museum gift shop. This shop was regularly overrun by groups of school- kids, huge numbers of whom would all buy dolphin necklaces. Seeing this necklace as something I, myself, could make, I quickly calculated that within two years I could be a millionaire dolphin-necklace tycoon! Within a few years, I had, indeed, created a variety of necklaces and other trinkets, which the shop was kind enough to sell for me, and so my plan was realized (minus the millionaire part).
The process of creating new products was arduous at this time, and involved getting books on inter-library loan, sketching cephalopods at the aquarium, buying plastic dinosaur figurines, and endless hours of carving tiny chunks of wax. For several years, I continued this way, adding a few products per year to my line. Since the museum was my main customer, the subjects of paleontology and anatomy were a natural fit, and so I began working back towards my original intended subject of science.
Concurrent with these events, I began to work part time for one of my art instructors, who is a prominent public sculptor. My work for this teacher, and his collaborator, who is an engineer/artist, lasted for many years. Although the term had probably not yet been coined, this duo were in many ways SciArt pioneers. Through my work in their studio, I absorbed lots of techniques and interests, and got an early exposure to computer sculpting, 3d printing, and other emerging technologies.
It seemed to me that one obvious outcome of these new technologies, was that my skill-set of painstakingly carving chunks of wax for weeks on end, was about to become obsolete, and so I did my best to adapt! Through years of tedious experimentation, I learned to use countless computer design programs, and worked with countless fabrication techniques, and by the end, I was able to create, in days, what once took months!
Of course, what I could do, many others could do as well, so if I was to keep my business advantage, I would need to do more than simply replicate what I had done before. And so with each new product, I have tried to push the complexity and detail to a new level.
Throughout this evolution of my product line, I have always worked towards increasing the degree to which they function as real educational tools, rather than just amusing trinkets. One important development was the creation of carefully researched scientific diagrams to go with my products. Also, I’ve often sought and received expert scientific help, and I am always grateful and gratified when I am able to include a degree of accuracy and detail in my products that exceeds that of other available educational materials.
And that is a very condensed account of my journey to SciArt!
This guest post was written by Joni Seidenstein. Joni (@artcollisions) was our curator from November 27th to December 3rd in 2016. To learn more about Joni’s textile art or to purchase your own, visit artcollisions.wordpress.com. All photographs in this post are by Ron Freudenheim.
My daughter says I have six social lives — quilting friends, art friends, twitter friends, dancing friends, and singing friends (and then of course whatever my kids are up to). I tell you this by way of introduction. In my creative work especially, I have a finger in every pot and I’m happiest when some of them interact.
In 2015, I worked for most of the year on 8 panels that tell a story of evolution. I was inspired by a specific call for entry on the theme of Diaspora (the spreading of a population outwards). As soon as I saw it, my mind went immediately to evolution — from the Big Bang throughout all of history to the future. I could see populations exploding outwards.
Then came the execution. Some of them were easy and obvious.
The first panel, The Big Bang was probably the easiest. I had an idea and it was simple and elegant and it came out exactly as I’d imagined it. People look at it and immediately know it’s a big bang!
The second panel, Primordial Soup, is much more subtle. The viewer can see lots of little sparkles from crystals that represent some elements. I placed them, so they are closer together in the center and radiate outwards in a somewhat spiral shape. On top of them, I put a strand of DNA made out of wire and beads. Even inanimate objects spread outwards.
I worked on this project from March to October of 2015. I knew that trying to tell all of history was a huge undertaking and I figured the only way I could do it was to break it down into panels (or chapters, if you will). Initially I had thought there were going to be 7 panels, but I wasn’t set on that number, which was fortunate because later I realized I’d left something out.
I do not work in a vacuum. I’m always talking about what I’m working on, which was a good thing because Kim Gibson (a quilting friend) told me about black smokers. I went home and researched them and oh my god did I fall in love with them. Clearly this was a concept that I needed to illustrate in my timeline, so that’s how Black Smokers happened (scientists think it was the heat from hydrothermal vents that may have triggered early life). In this one, as in the panels following it until the last one, the expansion outward is from the bottom of the sea floor to the top rather than from a sort of bird’s eye view with a bull’s eye in the middle (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor).
I had the idea that the next panel would depict life growing slowly from the bottom of the ocean, gaining speed as it went, pushing at least one animal out of the ocean, but there was just no way I could make that work 2 years ago, so I had to scale back my ambitions. Instead, I just loaded the ocean as full as I could at the top with a few of the critters escaping the confines of the border.
After life forms in the ocean, I moved to land. (Apologies to the botanists — I focused on animal life rather than botanical or even smaller forms of life.) I had originally thought to put primates and dinosaurs on the same panel and was having a heck of a time trying to figure out how to make that work, so I went to the fabric store looking for help/inspiration/something-to-save-me. I ran into Kim (who works there), and she said “but primates didn’t live at the same as dinosaurs” at which point I kicked myself and said, “oh, right” and beat a hasty retreat. This simplified some issues, but complicated others. I realized I needed to make an 8th panel (which turned out to be #6). Luckily I had screwed something else up and so it was able to sneak in quite tidily (thank you sub-conscious).
Panel 5 is called Complexity because I wanted to convey this idea that evolution was producing more complex life forms and also because life had become more complicated, with more species vying for niches. I also had initially wanted there to be just outlines of dinosaurs, since they had gone extinct, but that didn’t work. Placing a dinosaur just on top of the shadow seemed to convey that idea much better. And the branching structure that goes through the quilt represents the idea of species evolving into different branches as well as DNA being part of that since there is stitching over the main trunk that is spiral shaped.
In Grandpas in the Trees, I was able to feature the primates on their own panel. I made the best stab I could at putting them in evolutionary order, with the oldest at the bottom. In order to do this, I consulted with my science friends on Twitter since I know nothing about primate evolution. This panel references a song about Darwin by Dillon Bustin that I learned at dance camp a few years previously (see lyrics at the end of the post). This is also the most 3d panel as I used little plastic figurines for the primates. It was impossible to find suitable primate fabric and I didn’t have the skills to make my own.
Scorched Earth brings us to the present. We’ve heated up our earth, used up many resources, and overpopulated it. We see some glimmering stars up above, in the sky. I wanted to portray population overgrowth in a similar way to the fish with there being fewer people at the bottom, but when I previewed that, people said it looked like 9/11, so that representation went out the window.
The last panel, Warping the Fabric of Space and Time, was made more than 6 months after I started. I had actually dyed the fabric shortly after starting the whole project and knew I wanted it to be the last panel. Someone suggested I quilt it in the same big bang starburst pattern, which I thought was a fabulous idea, but I didn’t go back and look at what I had done before. I quilted it much more densely and ended up with a wrinkled quilt. In the end, I love how it’s wrinkled and warped, but in the quilting world, a non-flat quilt is Not Good. Cutting the hole in the middle was supposed to flatten it, but that didn’t work. Instead, it opened up a space to hang the earth. Finally, I happen to know a rocket scientist and I checked with him that the trajectory I was depicting was one that made sense. It’s good to have science buddies.
In the end, this project combined my interest in science, my passion for textile arts, and the social connections I have, much to my satisfaction. My whole life, I’ve always felt like an outsider — until I was encouraged to make art and then found other people who were also making science-themed art.
Dillon Bustin’s song about Darwin:
I am sailing on the Arafura Sea,
Where Charlie Darwin went before
Saw that every creature had a form of self protection,
Trying to adapt in the natural selection,
It seems that every species has an itch
To try to find itself a better niche.
(Chorus) Oh, nobody stays where they should anymore, Nobody is happy where they are. Fish try to fly, birds try to swim, Snakes leave the dry land and slip beyond the brim And the crabs crawl ashore and look around, Wanna dig a hole in the ground.
I am sailing on the Arafura Sea, Where Charlie Darwin went before I notice that the air is full of flying fish, To escape the tuna is their fondest wish, But when did the first fish decide, To spread his little fins and try to glide?
I am sailing on the Arafura Sea, Where Charlie Darwin went before The blue footed booby’s in a power dive, Hit the sea so hard it’s a wonder they’re alive, But I guess that the boobies know the best, They’ve got a hidden airbag in their chest.
I am sailing on the Arafura Sea, Where Charlie Darwin went before Looking down I’m suspecting a mistake Every wave is full of swimming snakes And I must say it scares me half to death To think a snake could learn to hold its breath.
I am sailing on the Arafura Sea, Where Charlie Darwin went before I do believe if he says it it is so, I am descended from an ape long ago But here I am a’sailing o’er the seas, Pondering my grandpa in the trees.
Immy Smith curated the @IAmSciArt account from April 9th to 15th, 2017.
Hi there SciArt-loving people, I’m Immy Smith, and I’m an artist and scientist. I make SciArt on subjects such as animal camouflage and mimicry (like the cards below) and you can find me on Twitter as @DrImmySmith and @Cartoon_Neuron. I recently spent a week running @IAmSciArt, which was the first time I’ve taken part in a Twitter RoCur! I’m sure each curator has their own take on managing Twitter accounts like this, but here’s my experience; I hope it will encourage other SciArtists to try it.
RoCur stands for ‘rotation curation’; social media accounts curated by a different person each week. Examples I follow include @WeTheHumanities, @realscientists, @biotweeps, and @iamscicomm. Weirdly, I haven’t found many art RoCurs, let alone SciArt ones, so I was very happy indeed when @IAmSciArt came along. I knew I’d eventually want to have a try. This spring I finally got my buns in gear, applied via the very simple web form, and was allocated the week of 9 to 15-Apr-17.
I tweet a lot on an average day. Twitter is both my community, my place of work (a big % of my art sales come via Twitter link clicks), and my support network. I’m a disabled nonbinary spoonie insomniac, and most of the coping strategies, ideas, solidarity, and encouragement I get (particularly since becoming disabled) comes from other people in similar situations via Twitter. It helps that I’m self-employed – I’m a full-time freelance SciArtist, and Twitter is with me in the studio as well as on my desktop (I often lose my phone, and rediscover it under papers where I’ve had it leaning on my drawing board!) So, the idea of having to come up with a week’s worth of tweets didn’t seem too daunting, and @IAmSciArt admins also provide each curator with tips, and advice from previous participants (which was super-helpful.)
Since Twitter is already part of my everyday work, I decided to roll my week at @IAmSciArt into my normal working activities. Knowing several weeks in advance when I’d be curating was a great help; I planned what I would tweet about each day, and organised my week ahead of time to ensure I knew what I’d be doing. On my own feeds, I try to talk about the downs as well as the ups of SciArt life. I tweet my fails and facepalms as well as successes – because I find it helpful when other people share these things! I also love to get a peek at other people’s studios when they share their work. Tweeting honestly about both the good and bad of SciArt as a job is my way of returning the favour to my Twitter community. With that in mind I tried not to filter out admin tasks, and to include photos from the all the places I worked.
On my first day (Sunday) I was tweeting live as I digitised one of the giant books I work on. This gave me ample chance to share some photo fails and laugh about ad-hoc tripod modifications (including weighting things with bottles of plant food on coat hangers!) On Monday I was researching plant mimicry at Herbarium RNG (@RNGherb), and on Tuesday I was at Oxford Museum of Natural History (@morethanadodo) studying their insect collections. I love both places and could shout endlessly about how we need to preserve these scientific collections for future generations – around the word, such collections are at risk! I tweeted live while I painted for #WIPWednesday, then shared historical SciArt and how I became a SciArtist for #Throwback Thursday. For #FollowFriday I talked about my amazing SciArt collaborators and how collaboration helps me as an artist. I wouldn’t be doing the job I do now without other fantastic artists and scientists who walk the polymathic line. Then on Saturday for my last day I had fun tweeting cartoons, and shared some new illustrations.
Curating @IAmSciArt fitted easily into my working week… I think some forward planning, and the fact that I tweet as part of my work anyway probably helped though! I’d recommend having an outline plan for your week ahead of time, and making sure you have some images you can use uploaded onto your mobile devices if you’re travelling. While it’s impossible to plan every last tweet, it’s handy to have backup material ready for when your train is late, or you have some unexpected work land on you. There weren’t too many questions that popped up during my week – @IAmSciArt is a relatively new RoCur, so it may be that more interaction gets generated as time goes on, and their audience grows. Either way it also helped me to have some prepared material handy, to keep the feed going when things were quiet, and to share across as many time zones as possible. I’m in the UK but I know that a big chunk of @IAmSciArt’s audience is in the US, so I tried to spread my tweeting out as much as I could.
Sounds peachy! So, what didn’t go so well? One word; TweetDeck. While it provides the handy ability for admins to assign users to a team, I did not enjoy using TweetDeck on a mobile device, particularly while I was travelling on Monday and Tuesday. The air around me was blue at times! That aside, I didn’t have any issues with using the account. All the tweeps I interacted with via @IAmSciArt were polite and friendly, I knew which time zones the admins were in if I needed them, and I enjoyed my week. Having to plan ways to discuss my work with new people, (who aren’t necessarily following my personal accounts) made me think about what I do in different ways. It was a great refresher on describing my job for a lay audience… And at articulating myself in an informal environment without swearing, heh! I found it rewarding in the sense that it was a chance to give back to my online SciArt community, but it also generated a bunch of new followers for me, and extra traffic to my online Etsy and RedBubble shops.
Overall I recommend trying a RoCur. Whatever your field, it will give the chance to think differently about your work and find new audiences, and to participate in social media communities in a broader way.
Hey, #SciArt fans! We are pleased as punch to announce that we will be starting a new feature here on the site – SciARTicles – written by your favourite @IAmSciArt curators! They’ll cover a diverse range of topics from business strategies to profiles of science artists they admire, and much more. You can expect new articles every few weeks, so tune in to the Twitter feed and we’ll let you know when a new one is posted.