A blog about scientific and medical visualization and all that’s involved.

  • Recent Posts

  • February 2008
    M T W T F S S
    « Jan   Mar »
  • Blog Stats

    • 200,125 hits
  • Subscribe

  • Advertisements

Interview–Trudy Nicholson

Posted by Janet on February 14, 2008

I am absolutely thrilled to have Trudy Nicholson, one of the top scratchboard artists in the field of natural science illustration, as the first person I interview for this blog. Her name comes up over and over again when people talk about scratchboard art, so I decided to contact her and she kindly agreed to an e-mail interview.

Trudy Nicholson majored in fine arts at Columbia University and turned toward medical art school at Massachusetts General Hospital. During the thirty years she worked at the National Institute of Health, she also accepted freelance assignments in natural science illustration. Having established relationships with clients with her natural science illustrations, she continued to focus on the subject after retiring from the NIH. Here are a few examples of her works in both medical and scientific illustration.


Poster design, ink with overlays for color
Surgical illustration for Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, ink on scratchboard
Sycamore Annual Cycle, ink on scratchboard
Cat and Locust, graphite pencil on scratchboard

In addition to sharing her artwork, Trudy Nicholson also shared details about how she approaches her work:

me: “Did you do much self-promotion when you first started in the field? What can you recommend for people to get their names out there?
Trudy Nicholson: “When I first looked for freelance assignments I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and talked to any curators willing to listen. This finally lead to connections and some work. Becoming a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators was a great help, which continues to this day as networking within the Guild informs me and others of prospective jobs. Despite internet marketing, which wasn’t available when I started freelancing, I think that networking is an important method for finding either staff or freelance work.”

me: “What kind of references do you use when researching for your next project?
Trudy Nicholson: “To start an illustration I determine which animals and plants are to be used in what kind of setting. I get photographs of the subjects and if possible see the animals. Observing animals gives a sense of their anatomy, movements, behavior, stance and expression that photographs can’t quite give. With source material in hand I compose a very rough sketch of the whole composition concentrating on light and dark areas and keeping the emphasis on the main subject. Dark subjects or shading placed next to light areas gives contrast and drama to the scene. I gradually refine all elements until the final illustration has fine detail and the subjects are portrayed accurately. A book on scratchboard that I refer to often and that I recommend for those looking for varied approaches to the medium is Scratchboard for Illustration by Ruth Lozner, Watson-Guptill publications, 1990. The author has interviewed and included the scratchboard art of 75 illustrators giving a perspective of the many directions that artists can go using the same surface and tools.”

me: “You are best known for your scratchboard works in natural science illustration. Is scratchboard your favorite medium and why?
Trudy Nicholson: “My art has centered on animals in their habitats for publication, usually in nature related books. I work almost exclusively on white scratchboard using ink or, less often, graphite pencil. I started using scratchboard for medical work because of the ability to easily make corrections, either large or small. Gradually it has become my media preference, as I’ve become captivated by the beauty of black and white and the potential for a wide range of textures, using white and black lines and dots combined or juxtaposed in multiple ways. Since most of the books that use my illustrations are financed by grants, which are notoriously not ample, I can’t expect the same compensation that I would receive doing medical art. These books give the public information and understanding about nature that I would like to contribute to. Black and white art, being less expensive to publish than color, is preferable for books that have a smaller budget.”

me: “What tools would you recommend for someone who wants to experiment with scratchboard?
Trudy Nicholson: “It’s necessary to use good quality scratchboard such as Claybord made by Ampersand or Essdee, an English scraperboard. All tools should also be high quality. When using ink I prefer Gillott 290, 291 or Hunt 103 pen nibs and Higgins Black Magic ink, or Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pens with their own ink. These tools can be substituted by other good quality makes. As a scratching tool I use x-acto blades #16 and holder. This blade can be held at different angles to make extremely fine white lines or wider lines. It takes practice to master textures. When starting to use scratchboard, patience is helpful.”

me: “Since you work mostly on a white surface, how do you make a flawless transition between light and dark tones?
Trudy Nicholson: “Since scratchboard is a correctable medium, it’s possible to experiment with compositions and textures, which adds to the excitement of doing the artwork and also to the final results. Adjacent textures can be blended eliminating a visible border between them. Even the joining of solid black and stark white can be softened with graduating grays created by crosshatching and stippling. Crosshatching has become for me the staple for creating many textures. Crosshatching is made by crossing a series of parallel lines with another set of parallel lines at an angle. The degree of that angle will determine the resulting texture. A very acute angle will produce a moiré pattern that can give the effect of fur, feathers, distant foliage or water. Other textures can be built on the foundation of crosshatching using either white or black lines or dots over the crosshatched texture.”


One Response to “Interview–Trudy Nicholson”

  1. If anyone is interested in seeing more of Trudy’s work, they can visit her online portfolio at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: