Burke Museum exhibit showcases scientific illustrations

  • By Sharon Wootton Special for The Herald
  • Friday, September 19, 2014 3:09pm
  • Life

hy use pen and ink or colored pencils to illustrate a flower, insect or skull when you have a digital camera? Why take hours of detail work when an image is just a click away? Why not use 21st century technology?

In the field of scientific illustration, the artist rules, and that’s a positive for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

Nature illustrations have been with us since humans sketched animals on cave walls. There was an explosion of the craft about 400 years ago when explorers on scientific expeditions started to cross the globe in search of “new” plants, animals and geology.

Tens of thousands of specimens came back with them, as did tens of thousands of illustrations, particularly important for capturing what could not come home. Photography was not an option.

Nora Sherwood is a graduate of the University of Washington’s Science Illustration certificate class, a mix of artists who wanted to improve their art’s scientific accuracy and scientists who wanted to create illustrations to support their work.

She summed up hands-on illustration’s strong points in an excellent piece for the Burke Museum in Seattle, where the students’ works are on display.

The artist can create the accurate ideal, offer a new perspective, deliver just enough — or the right — detail, or create the unseen or no longer seeable, Sherwood wrote.

Add beauty to that list, and it’s an admirable partnership that tops technology.

Katherine Moes, a 2003 graduate of Marysville Pilchuck High School who earned a biology degree in 2007, was one of 20 students in the Science Illustration class.

When she was a college sophomore, she still straddled the art-or-science dilemma.

“I loved art and I was always drawing nature, animals, feathers,” Moes said. “I loved birds and I would spend many hours sitting in a field to study them.”

She opted for science.

Then a friend told her about the scientific illustration class.

“There’s always been something in me that has been drawn to putting the arts with the science,” Moes said. “But it was funny that it never clicked to me that there was this genre of art, which was really weird because I have antique prints of birds and bird guides that I like to look at.”

Her class included some participants who have done just art and others who have focused on science.

“It’s so good to be in a class where if you’re struggling doing your chicken skull, someone else in class (can) give you a critique and say what works for her, and others can help you on the science part of it,” Moes said.

Moes’s contribution to the Burke exhibit is a graphite pencil drawing of a bison — from Marysville.

Visit the exhibit

The Way We See It: Science Through the Eyes of Illustrators” exhibit is at the Burke Museum through Oct. 26. To verify that the Burke Room is available for visiting, call 206-616-3962. The exhibit is included in the admission fee. For more information, visit www.burkemuseum.org or nsi2014.weebly.com/.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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