[Taxacom] Scientific illustration

Mary Barkworth Mary at biology.usu.edu
Wed Jul 22 06:12:53 CDT 2009

Being one of those folks who cannot draw, my response has been to figure
out some way to pay someone who both knows plants and can draw. One of
these invested in a dissecting microscope plus camera and built in
micrometer. She takes a photograph and uses that to guide her
illustration. She figures that the combination enables her to make
accurate drawings more rapidly. I had a lot of work for her - and pay by
the completed plate so being able to work more rapidly made the
equipment a good investment. She also works as a botanical consultant so
the dissecting microscope is used for that also, but she had an adequate
microscope for that purpose. 

We scan the line drawings at 1200 bpi for publication, do any cleanup
needed in Photoshop, and label with Illustrator. I still really like
good line drawings. I have found, as I am sure others have, that the
illustrator needs to understand the structures being drawn. Botanist
first, illustrator an additional and valuable skill. I am sure that it
can work the other way round but I find it difficult to explain to a
non-botanist why their illustration is not quite right. 

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Bob Mesibov
Sent: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 3:39 AM
To: aharvey at georgiasouthern.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Scientific illustration

Alan Harvey wrote:

"So my question is: these days, how are systematists generating
illustrations for publications? Traditional pen-and-ink or computer
line-and-stipple (or perhaps some edgier approaches, e.g., digital wash
effects?...)? And who is doing the illustration, the author or a hired

Interesting questions. Among my poor underfunded lot of specialists, the
pen-and-ink work plus all the digital follow-up as well as composing and
labeling the plates with their SEMs, etc is done by the aforementioned
specialists. I suspect we're not alone. In the same way that the
'electric broom' (vacuum cleaner) marginalised housekeepers in the 1920s
and 1930s and turned housewives into domestic servants, the computer has
marginalised scientific illustrators and turned many a taxonomist into a
graphic artist.

The drill here on Planet Millipede for line art is:
(1) do preliminary drawings of key structures using a microscope
eyepiece grid and correspondingly gridded paper, or camera lucida
(2) adjust drawing size if necessary with a photocopier
(3) 'ink' drawings on good-quality tracing paper using a good-quality
pen of appropriate nib width; stippling optional
(4) scan tracings
(5) open scans in image editing software to
(a) edit and touch up the line art
(b) adjust resolution and plate size to suit journal
(c) add labels and scale bars

SEMs and photomicrographs come digital off the 'scopes these days, so
they go straight into imaging software for cropping, adjusting levels,
labeling, etc. Ditto digital photos.

Zootaxa has a nice guide at
http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/imaging/index.html, but it assumes the
contributor has a copy of Adobe Photoshop. (Users of the GIMP, like me,
have some translating to do.)
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Website: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html


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