Don’t forget to draw – 4 reasons why!

By Sally Thorsteinsson, UNE Discovery

Here in the UNE Discovery Voyager team, we’ve been thinking a lot about scientific art recently. We brainstormed “What is scientific art?” and came up with a plethora of ideas, including: scientifically accurate botanical or zoological illustrations; charts or graphs representing data; cartography (we particularly love the old maps that also illustrate features); cartoons communicating a scientific message; sculpture (for instance, Luke Jerram’s beautiful glass sculptures of the SARS-CoV-2 virus); musical interpretations (think Bjork’s Biophilia); mesmerising photographs of space; even biomedical animations (a new and innovative way of communicating what is happening in our bodies).

Credit: original by Sally Thorsteinsson

This brainstorm helped us understand that, at its core, artists and scientists are essentially doing the same thing – researching, experimenting, problem solving and bringing things into existence that weren’t there before. True scientific illustration, whilst often beautiful, is primarily precisely accurate, as is needed for educational purposes. We wanted to think about scientific art more broadly, to capture a range of other creations that can communicate scientific ideas. Facts, figures and technologies give us a lot of information, but don’t always draw an emotional response or even understanding. Or perhaps you are like me, and look at all the pictures before reading the words. Visual interpretations are invaluable to help us understand complex scientific concepts and processes.

Credit:  Edward Lear – Macrocercus aracanga, Red and yellow maccaw. Circa 1832. Public domain.

Today, we want to encourage you to draw – it’s a skill that helps us discover, communicate and create. Here are 4 good reasons we think you should pick up a pencil in your science lesson (or anytime really…)

  1. The process of making art, such as drawing, can teach us about our subject. It helps us see details, colours or perspectives that we may not otherwise ‘see’ – the observation and understanding needed to complete the artwork can reveal things to us that we may not have otherwise noticed.
  2. Artistic activities can help us develop creative and divergent thinking, useful skills in science and across research disciplines. If there was ever a time the world needed creative thinkers to solve problems in new and exciting ways, it is now.
  3. It can help us overcome a lifetime of lack of confidence in drawing skills, which many of us have. Be kind to yourself and believe in the power of practise! And learning to accept our imperfect doodles can help accept our perfectly imperfect selves (Dr Ali Foxon, The Green Sketching Book) and improve our self esteem.
  4. Doing something creative with your hands can help calm a busy mind, as can the sight of natural beauty. So many things we draw in science can be straight from the natural world around us. Nature journalling has seen a resurgence recently as a way of tuning in and relaxing.

Our Science Meets Art activity is having a makeover and will be available for booking soon. It will cover syllabus outcomes in both Science and Visual Arts for K-10, and students will be able to explore observational art, palaeoart and design thinking. Stay tuned!

We hope this encourages you to find some pleasure in drawing, as there is no shortage of inspiration in the wonderful world of science!

 

Some resources to help:

The Green Sketching Handbook (2022) by Dr Ali Foxon

NatureArt Lab – online and face-to-face natural history illustration workshops, blog and inspiration central!

University of Newcastle – free open online short course in Drawing Nature, Science and Culture Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration / Online learning / Study / The University of Newcastle, Australia

 

References

Art illuminates the beauty of science – and could inspire the next generation of scientists young and old (theconversation.com)

Foxon, Ali. (2022) The Green Sketching Handbook – Relax, Unwind and Reconnect with Nature.