Scientific illustration exhibit at Love Library through November

Friday, September 23, 2016

by Lana Koepke Johnson

Cover illustration for General Biology Laboratory Manual by Rick Simonson and Sara Taliaferro
Cover illustration for "General Biology Laboratory Manual" is by Rick Simonson and Sara Taliaferro. 
White-breasted nuthatch in graphite by Donna Schminotiz.
Graphite illustration of a white-breasted nuthatch is by Donna Schminotiz.
Melissa Sinner
Melissa Sinner, UNL Libraries exhibit curator and designer, points to two of her illustrations. 

Imagine having only words to communicate the silvery complexity of a fish gill, the differences in the occlusal views of rodent teeth, the variations in a tree's striated rings or the inner workings of a cell. Even wordsmiths find it difficult, especially if they are teaching visual learners. Scientific illustration, whether it's done with pencil, paint, ink or computer, helps learners understand both simple and complex concepts when words alone won't do.

"Celebrating 10 Years of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators – Great Plains Chapter" exhibit of scientific illustrations by Great Plains Chapter members is on display through November at the University of Nebraska Love Library. The exhibit includes over 40 works of art along with tools, specimens and educational information about scientific illustration.

Artists include:

  • Christine Bielski, agronomy graduate student, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Brooke Bristow, art director and illustrator, Colonial Patterns Inc., Shawnee, Kansas
  • Dana Clements, student, Lincoln Southeast High School, Lincoln
  • The late John Cody, medical/scientific illustrator and psychiatrist, Hays, Kansas
  • Sally Cox, calligraphy, printmaking and book artist, Lincoln
  • Jeanetta Drueke, professor, UNL Libraries
  • Patty McGrane Harms, freelance artist and illustrator, and graphics specialist, Schawk!, Ames, Iowa
  • Donna Hendrickson, food service director, St. John Lutheran School, Seward, Nebraska
  • Melissa Heberer, veterinarian, Emerson, Nebraska
  • MaryBeth Hinrichs, science and educational illustrator, Stellaria Art Studio, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
  • Lana Koepke Johnson, design and communications specialist, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, UNL
  • Donna Schimonitz, graphic designer, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln
  • Rick Simonson, freelance illustrator, and senior lecturer, Department of Biology, University of Nebraska at Kearney
  • Melissa Sinner, web content and design specialist, UNL Libraries, artist at Red Path Gallery & Tasting Room, Seward, Nebraska
  • Sara Taliaferro, natural sciences illustrator/artist and owner of Happy Beetle Studio, Lawrence, Kansas
  • Judy Wu-Smart, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UNL

Exhibit coordinator and designer is Melissa Sinner.

Also on display is the exhibit "Beautiful Bugs", a collection of entomological illustrations from the UNL Libraries archives and special collections.

Art and science have been intertwined since the beginning of scientific discovery. As the sciences developed, scientific illustrators have helped visualize the natural world.

"Scientific illustration is a marriage of science and art in a way that's elegant and informative. I want the information to be beautiful, but if it doesn't deliver the information, it's ultimately a failure," said Edward Bell, former art director of Scientific American magazine.

Scientific illustration is about communicating very specific details and information in the best possible way so there is no misinterpretation of the written or spoken word.

Illustrations can range from infinitesimal images — molecules and microscopic organisms — to larger items like the internal anatomy of an animal or plant, the reconstruction of an extinct dinosaur, geological cross-sections of an area or the comparison of different insect or fish species. Scientific illustrations should supplement a body of scientific information and help the viewer "see" the particular concept or theory being presented.

According to the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, a natural science illustrator is an artist who works in the service of science, creating images of animals, objects and complex processes that teach, inform, and create understanding of our world.

Scientific illustrators produce realistic and detailed drawings as well as more abstract conceptual images that help an author/scientist communicate a specific message. A scientific illustrator must have a strong interest and a solid background in both art and science. They must have knowledge about the illustration subject or have a strong interest in learning about it, in addition to knowing how to correctly, accurately and beautifully render the final illustrations.

Using practiced observational skills, learned through detailed examination of specimens offered through science classes and field work, scientific illustrators must create drawings that are not only accurate, but are also aesthetically beautiful. They strive to make their artwork realistic, detailed and scientifically accurate while at the same time aesthetic and visually pleasing.

However, any illustration's aesthetic value is always secondary to its primary function — accurately representing a subject and communicating specific information.

GNSI is a nonprofit organization founded at the Smithsonian in 1968 to provide education, sharing of ideas and knowledge of visual science techniques for the science illustration community.

The Great Plains Chapter, founded in 2006, consists of professional scientific illustrators and educators from Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota with an informal goal of education and outreach to generate awareness of our unique regional Great Plains ecosystems. Through their art and educational programs about the incredible environments of the Midwest, they encourage conservation and preservation while creating great art.

For more information about scientific illustration and the GNSI Great Plains Chapter see, or contact Lana Johnson at

Colored pencil illustration 'Old Pine and Blue' is by Patty McGrane Harms
Colored pencil illustration "Old Pine and Blue" is by Patty McGrane Harms.
Watercolor and graphite illustration 'Begonia Cultivar' is by MaryBeth Hinrichs

Watercolor and graphite illustration "Begonia Cultivar" is by MaryBeth Hinrichs. 

Scratchboard illustration of red-tailed hawk skull is by Dana Clements.

Scratchboard illustration of red-tailed hawk skull is by Dana Clements.

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