Art Meets Science

Anyone who has taken pictures of insects under the microscope knows the difficulty with 3 dimensional objects. The features we wish to include in a single photograph are invariably in different planes of focus. When we make one feature in focus, other features of interest are fuzzy and out of focus. There are some microscopes with computer software that can create better images with more planes in focus by stitching a series of images together. However, for much of the past, Entomologists have relied on scientific illustration.

Scientifica illustrators study the features of insects under a microscope, focus in numerous planes, and draw the features, all in focus. Scientific illustrations are especially useful accompaniments to taxonomic descriptsion. The illustrations can turn ambiguous prose into unambiguous images.

Scientific illustration is definitely an art. Many of the illustrations are elegant, beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Scientific Illustrators often publish their drawings in textbooks or manuscripts. The original drawings often get tucked away in an unused drawer.

The University of Kentucky Entomology Department will be celebrating 120 years of history this year. While rummaging through some drawers, they unearthed scientific illustrations from the early 1900s by William C. Matthews. The department made arrangements with The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY to display some of the illustrations. The exhibit is appropriately titled: “The Art of Insect Illustration” and is open from now until the end of October. Those who are in the Lexington area or traveling through the area may wish to stop by.

Metallic Wood Boring Beetle
Artist: William C. Matthews

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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5 Responses to Art Meets Science

  1. Asya Ayrapetov says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by scientific illustrations! I love sketching, but I’m far from being any good. I always admire others who have the talent, though. One of my friends from high school actually went to college and is now a medical illustrator. She is great at it and really loves what she does!

  2. Alex Holland says:

    As a photographer, I can see how photographing using a microscope can be difficult. I am glad that there are illustrators there to help lay out all of the details of these insects. I admire these artists for their work. For them to be able to sit and study an insect, and then produce it onto paper truly is a work of art. Even the image pictured in this post by Matthews is very inspiring from an artistic standpoint. Someday I would love to get to see how illustrations work firsthand.

  3. Hannah Schwegman says:

    I am really surprised there are not as many insect illustrations in art muesuems. These artists are truly talented and should really try to get more exposure of their work. I think that should have more exhibits specifically for Insect Illustrators!

    • jjneal says:

      Some of Purdue Illustrator, Arwin Provonsha’s drawings are on display in Smith Hall. An insect illustration display somewhere on campus in honor of 100 years of Purdue Entomology is in the works for 2012.

  4. Pingback: Art Meets Science 2 | Living With Insects Blog

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