Revealed

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

Archive for the ‘interviews’ Category

Interview with Jim Hoerricks

Posted by Janet on April 22, 2009

While working on a project, my internet search took me to a blog called “Forensic Photoshop.” Being a long time fan of forensics and a user of Photoshop, I was curious to find out more about the author behind this blog. It turned out to be Jim Hoerricks, a forensic image/video analyst who not only writes a blog, but is also the author of a book by the same name. I contacted Mr. Hoerricks two weeks ago and he immediately agreed to an e-mail interview.

forensicphotoshopbook1

me: “First, could you tell me a little about you and what you do with the LAPD? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?”

Jim Hoerricks: I’ve always been into art, the process of creation, crafting, designing, and so forth. I started out as an artist/designer. My first gallery showing and sale was in the 8th grade (some valuable lessons in contracting were learned there). I started out with art as a business in my shared flat in college, doing flyers for parties and so forth. I got a graphics job on campus that later lead to the editor’s job with the college’s daily newsletter.

Over time, I built up a client base. My primary function, my position with my clients, is to find out what they need and deliver it on-time and at a value that they and I can both afford. I’ve done everything from menu boards, to ad sheets, to Excel applications. Later on, with the advent of things like Microsoft Publisher, clients brought their art departments in house to save money. Some came back after a while. I still maintain a small list of clients whose accounts are more like personal relationships than business.

In 2001, I was offered the chance to join the LAPD as a civilian specialist and start the Forensic Image/Video Analysis lab. It took a few years of chasing down funding and equipment, writing SOPs, and whatnot, but I eventually got it all going.

To answer the “is this something that you’ve always wanted to do” question, I’d have to say no … inasmuch as the job, the technology didn’t exist to exploit images the way that we analysts do until I was already in college. Even then, I wasn’t aware of what was happening in the industry. I simply love to create, love the challenge of crafting something new. There’s a lot of technical cross-over between my background and this new industry … so it just fit. It just made sense. I could edit on an Avid, on Premiere, and Vegas … and these are the primary tools for a forensic analyst. Then there’s Photoshop. Everyone uses Photoshop, which is my real strong point. Then I can bring in all of the other software and hardware tools … and the Workflow was born.

me: “I’m sure when many people hear about your job, the first thing they want to know is “how close does it resemble forensic TV dramas such as CSI and NCIS.” Is your job as exciting as what we see on TV?”

Jim Hoerricks:
There is no “CSI” button, obviously. 🙂 The question is valid, and there is a “CSI Effect,” but I think of it in terms of another challenge. Instead of sitting by bemoaning the fact that these shows exist and people watch them, I look to them for research into what juries expect. If a jury expects to see a face resolved from a reflection in a nearby window, and I can resolve the image … great. If not, I can tell the story, my testimony, as if I was within that “CSI” episode. “In CSI, the latent prints are lifted from the whole car in a matter of minutes. Fade to black, off to commercial, and when you return, there’s a match … the reality is much different.” Then I explain why.

Is the job as exciting as TV? No. An unfortunate “side effect” of the work is vicarious trauma, the trauma that your brain endures as you watch (helplessly) as bad things happen to real people, over and over again. In one murder case, I watched the footage over 500 times during the course of my work. It has an adverse effect on your mental health. The trauma can lead to things like depression and PTSD if not recongnized and mitigated. Thankfully, I’ve got a former client who’s an expert in this area. He’s helped tremendously.

I don’t think people realize that there is a psychological difference between watching Arnold blow up a town on TV (then seeing him as Governor later in the day) and stepping around an actual dead body or watching someone actually get hurt on video. Remember the Faces of Death videos from the 80’s? Remember the public’s reaction? There is a difference.

(comment: I couldn’t agree more that there is definitely a greater distinction between the real work and TV drama than many people might realize. It makes me cringe whenever an illustrator delivers facial reconstruction in minutes, and *computers* magically reconstructs accidents without much input on the part of the visual specialist. I think sometimes it is difficult for people to grasp what we do because many don’t realize that sometimes the simplest images require months of preparation and research to produce. However, Mr. Hoerricks brings up a good point that TV is something that a lot of people relate to. So next time we see something impossible on TV, instead of thinking “this is impossible,” maybe we should think instead “how can we make this possible?”)

me: “What are some of the challenges you have come across in your work?”

Jim Hoerricks: The biggest challenge is staying on top of technology. As an example, every time Adobe comes out with an upgrade to the Creative Suite, it costs me a couple of thousand dollars. I’ve then got to find a way to pay for it.

People just assume that these things happen somewhere, by someone. But budgets, priorities, and finding time for things like a life and family all add up.

(comment: Indeed, equipment is expensive and it’s all a big balancing act. I was a bioengineering major before, and I didn’t realize how much more it costs to become an illustrator compared to becoming a scientist. Textbook costs are nothing compared to the Adobe Create Suite, and there appears to be such a limited source of funding for travel. I am jealous of my friends in engineering who get all their conference fees and travel expenses covered for by the school. I would love to attend every single conference that’s relevant to what I do in order to stay on top of the trend, but we simply cannot.)

me: “Can you name one thing you do that sounds fascinating but is in fact very mindless and repetitive?”

Jim Hoerricks: There’s very little that’s repetitive. Every case is unique. Different recorders, different lighting, different circumstances, different law being broken, and so forth. Having a set of procedures and a Workflow helps keep everything in order and keep me on track.

(comment: I used to draw insect anatomy every day for a year and people would ask the same thing:) No, it did not get repetitive.)

me: “You have a website, a blog, and a book called Forensic Photoshop. Are some Photoshop techniques unique to the field of forensics?”

Jim Hoerricks: They really aren’t. Photoshop wasn’t written for forensics. I’ve just taken what I know from the design/photography world and applied it to forensics. Sometimes, there are those who disagree with a particular technique, like dodging/burning for example. But it can be done in such a way that preserves the original, happens on its own layer, and does not change the content or context of the image. It can also be documented and explained to the jury … so I’m comfortable with it.

A friend at Adobe told me once that there are over 7 million “consumer” photographers and about a million professional photographers in the world. That’s a big customer base for Photoshop. There are less than 100k potential customers in “forensics” at this time. They really like us and support us as much as they can, but the art/photography world rules the day as far as Photoshop is concerned.

me:Did you ever encounter any ethical or legal issues with enhancing and manipulating images? One can argue that the more you manipulate an image, the more it deviates from the original. Does a manipulated image lose its validity in court?”

Jim Hoerricks: Words have specific meaning. It depends on what you mean by “manipulate.” Here’s how I would explain it. An underexposed image … nothing to see … all darkness. Is it useless? Not hardly. With Photoshop’s tools, I can potentially correct the exposure, adding light to the image. Did I manipulate it? Yes, of course. Did I add anything? Certainly, I added light. Did I change the content or context? No. I only added light to assist the judge and jury in ascertaining the contents of the image. Open the door to a dark room and turn on the lights. What did you do? Did the process of turning on the lights arrange the room as you see it? No. It merely increased your ability to resolve the details in the room. So you see, it all depends on how you define things.

I want to thank Jim Hoerricks again for this interview and his quick response. To view his blog and learn more about him, visit http://forensicphotoshop.blogspot.com/ and http://www.forensicphotoshopbook.com/about_me/about_me.htm.

Advertisements

Posted in digital 2D/3D, forensics, interviews | Leave a Comment »

Interview–Walter Tschinkel

Posted by Janet on May 22, 2008

Last Sunday I saw a segment on the morning news about Dr. Walter Tschinkel, an entomologist at Florida State University who studies ant nest architecture. On the news, Dr. Tschinkel and his team melted pieces of aluminum in a large can, poured it down the opening of an ant nest. When the metal hardened, the team then excavated a large beautiful cast underground that represented the tunnels and chambers of the ant colony. After seeing this, I became fascinated by the process and immediately contacted Dr. Tschinkel to find out more about his work:

me:How did you become interested in ants?
Walter Tschinkel: “I first became interested in the chemical communication in [social] insects and began working with ants. This then led to [the study of] social biology of ants and eventually I started studying the architecture in nests (about 15 years ago). I began casting nests first using dental plaster, and 6 years ago started using metal.”

me:How did you come up with the idea of making casts of ants’ nests?
Walter Tschinkel: “I was trying to pioneer the study of nest architecture by describing the range of architecture between species and within species. I would find nests and make plaster casts. The disadvantage of plaster casts is that they break easily so after you dig them up, you have to glue the pieces back together again. But the advantage is that you can break them into pieces, soak them in water for about a month to break the pieces further, and study the ants. Occasionally we use metal [casting] for display, or we use them for nests with narrow channels. Zinc is what we use. The disadvantage is [in addition to] sacrificing all the ants, you can’t count them afterwards.”

Above: Stereo Images of casts of ant nests. Cross your eyes to see the form in 3D.

me:Wow. So when you break apart your plaster casting, do you place different chambers in separate containers to compare the ants?
Walter Tschinkel: “Sometimes we do, but mostly we look at all the ants at the same time. Usually we look at all the ants together when the chambers are close together, but if the species’ nests have a long vertical shaft with horizontal chambers on the bottom, we may separate the part and look at it on the side.
I have three or four papers on this topic. Did I send them to you? They’re posted on my website.”

me:I don’t believe I got those links, but I’ll definitely look for them on your website later. *brief silence* Did you have any unexpected findings the first time you saw the cast?
Walter Tschinkel: “Ohh yes. At the time I was studying fire ant colonies and had theories about their nest architecture, so I decided to take a plaster cast [to compare with my theory]. The plaster cast showed something completely unexpected, which shows just how complicated the nests can be and how difficult it is to study something three-dimensional that you can’t see. So after that I expanded on that idea and started making casts of other species.”

me:How do the nests of different species compare with nests of the same species of ants? Is there anything else that’s interesting and you would like to share?
Walter Tschinkel: “A typical ant nest is made up of one or more vertical shafts that link together the horizontal chambers. Details vary between species. [In general] different species have different nests architecture; related species have similar nest architecture. Also interesting is the strong [positive] relationship between the number of ants [in the nest] and size of that nest…actually, the nests are built by different ants, so the majority of the ants living in a nest are not the ones who built that nest, but the relationship holds anyway. *brief pause* The ants are born in bottom of the nest. During their life cycle they gradually move up and change jobs. Near the last part of their lives they go out onto the surface and these are the ants that we usually see looking for food.”

me:That’s very interesting! How do you experimentally determine their age in relation to which part of the nest they occupy?
Walter Tschinkel: “We do so by tracing the pigmentation of the ants—the ants are pale when first becoming the adult, so we can look at color of ants throughout different parts of the nest and find that there are more pale ants near the bottom. Or we look at mandible wear—the older the ant, the more wear there is on their mandible. With this method we judge their relative age based on relative wear.

*long pause as I go through my list of questions to make sure I didn’t miss anything*
me:Ummm…ok….can you share the details about the process and materials of casting the nest?
Walter Tschinkel: “I use orthodontal plaster because it’s cheap and you can buy it online in any dental supply store. For metal I chose zinc for its low melting point. I get the zinc free from old anodes at marine shipyards. Zinc corrodes and steel doesn’t, so they attach zinc bars to the hull of the ship, and replace them when they are about half corroded away. Sometimes I use aluminum from old aluminum scuba tanks. We place charcoal in an insulated garbage can, and put the aluminum in the bottom half of a steel scuba tank to melt metal [placed in a smaller container within the tank and then pour the molten metal down the nest opening].”

Above: Materials used for metal casting, including the kiln (big metal container in the center).

Above: Pouring metal into a nest opening.

At this point we concluded the bulk of the interview and began chatting a little about other things. I learned that Dr. Tschinkel used to do pen and ink illustrations for his own publications, and now does color pencil illustrations while traveling. Here is a color pencil drawing he shared with me:

For more information on Walter Tschinkel and his work, go to:
http://www.bio.fsu.edu/faculty-tschinkel.php
http://www.insectscience.org/4.21/
http://insectscience.org/5.9/ (there are a few stereo images on this site)
http://bio.fsu.edu/~tschink/publications/2003-3.pdf

Posted in biology, interviews | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Visiting Edward S. Ross

Posted by Janet on April 27, 2008

A month ago I paid a visit to Dr. Ross. I had done some illustrations for him over the past year for publications in Annual Review of Entomology and Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (see No. 29) and was warmly welcomed by him and his wife Sandy. During this afternoon visit, we sat down with tea and bread in the Japanese style living room which he built. As always, he was very eager to share stories from the safari and spent much time showing me his illustration and photography works. To my surprise, he is building yet another annex to the main house to store the massive amount of work. I had brought a list of questions for the interview, but in the end I just decided to take lots of pictures and let the pictures speak for themselves.

Dr. Ross sitting in the Japanese style house. He is very fond of Asian cultures and knows a lot more than I do about my own culture.

After our afternoon snack, we went to his home office to see how he keeps the massive amount of information in order. File folders are the key. I’m not sure how I would’ve kept information about 350,000 species of insects. By coincidence, he pulled out an illustration I had done a year ago.

Next we took a walk outside. This is truly the work of someone who loves the outdoors. Everything you see here was his idea–either he built it himself when he was younger, or he built it more recently with the help of others. Either way this is pretty amazing. The cabin (left or top) was where I stayed for a year when helped illustrate new species. It was pretty relaxing to stay in such a beautiful place with a flexible work schedule. Of course, you have to be disciplined, but there was no strict 9am-5pm schedule and you can take a walk whenever you want. It’s very different from the overworked grad student life I’m living right now.

This is the lab that houses the entire collection of embiids. There is an estimated 350,000 specimens in there. The lab is much smaller than you would expect, but insects are tiny, aren’t they?

Here is the office where I did all my illustrations. It is not the inside of the lab, but rather a garage converted into a work space.

Dr. Ross showing his pen and ink illustrations of insect anatomy (shaded drawings beneath are the works of a different illustrator). The labels were all cut and pasted onto the illustrations by hand. Now illustrators are scanning these files to create a digital archive. As part of this process the hand-glued labels are removed in the computer and new labels inserted digitally. This is done not only for consistency with the new illustrations, which are entirely labeled in the computer, but to allow room for change if any of the old illustrations are to be republished. Not only the font can change from publication to publication, but sometimes classification methods change as well.

Picture of Dr. Ross and me as I’m about to head home.

Posted in interviews, pen and ink/line | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Edward S. Ross

Posted by Janet on April 22, 2008

Edward S. Ross, curator emeritus of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences, is the leading entomologist studying insects of the order Embiidina, web-spinning insects related to stoneflies, termites, and earwigs. Now ninety-three years old, Edward Ross continues to publish his lifelong study in comparative anatomy of embiids.

Lifetime Expedition
As a young boy, Edward Ross collected numerous insects–over 50,000 by the time he graduated high school. However, due to the influence of his father, an artist specializing in pen and ink illustration, Ross initially planned to become an illustrator. When he realized that illustrators spend most of their times indoors, he took a quick turn to entomology and eventually earned a Ph.D. at U.C. Berkeley for the study of Embiidina in 1941.

During World War II, while serving as a 1st Lt-Major, Ross worked on mosquito identification and malaria surveys in New Guinea and Philippines. It was during this time that he met and took interest in tribal cultures. This interest continues and over the next few decades he would photograph people of all ethnicities on his travels.

After the war, Ross returned to the California Academy of Sciences where he previous worked for a brief period. For his studies, he traveled to Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia while publishing numerous works. Upon his return from the Andes in the early 1950s, he took up insect photography and wrote the book “Insects Close Up” based on his photographs. The majority of the 50s and 60s were spent outdoors. From 1970 to 1975, Ross taught insect biology at U.C. Berkeley.

Ross now has approximately 350,000 embiids in his collection and works in the home that he began to build following World War II. He continues to build additions to the house (with some help from others) to house his works. Until the past few years, the majority of embiid drawings were made by Ross himself. With the help of many illustrators in recent years, new illustrations of unpublished species are being made and his illustrations are being archived into digital format.

Ross is in the process of writing a book on insect-flower relationship. He also plans to write a book on people of the world. He still publishes journal papers and holds exhibits for his photography works.
_____________________

The next post will cover my recent visit with Edward Ross, including images of his illustrations and a recent publication. Here is a list of links on Dr. Ross:

Publication list: http://research.calacademy.org/research/entomology/personnel/CVs/ross.htm
Interview by Bay Nature, 2005: http://www.baynature.com/2005julysept/edwardross.html
Entomologist David Rentz’s blog entry: http://bunyipco.blogspot.com/2007/10/mentors.html
Some insect photography work: http://www.enature.com/fotog/fotog_gallery.asp?fotogID=636
An Article by Ross in California Wild: http://research.calacademy.org/calwild/2003summer/stories/rafflesia.html

Posted in interviews, photography/imaging, zoological | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Interview–Robert J. Lang

Posted by Janet on March 26, 2008

annas_hummingbird_2.jpg

Robert J. Lang, one of the top origami artists in the world, is well known for his highly realistic and elegant designs in natural subjects. Unlike many other origami artists, he is also a scientist with an extensive engineering background. Over the years, Robert Lang has published many of his design patterns in origami books. His more recent 500+ page publication “Origami Design Secrets” is a serious book on the mathematical theories and underlying principles of origami design. Here, Robert Lang shares his experience as both an origami artist and a scientist.

me: “Tell me a little bit about your background in both science and art.
Robert Lang: “Science-wise, I’ve always been interested in natural history (a love that arose from a childhood of tramping through the woods, playing in the creek, and collecting plants and animals). In high school I became interested in mathematics through books and articles by Martin Gardner. For college, I went to Caltech on the advice of a hiking buddy, and, once there, cycled my major interest through mathematics, computer science, and eventually settled into Electrical Engineering for my BS. After getting my MS from Stanford (also in EE), an interest in lasers led me to Applied Physics, back at Caltech for my PhD. This then led into a career in lasers and optoelectronics, first at NASA/JPL, and then for 9+ years at Spectra Diode Laboratories, a Silicon Valley company that developed and manufactured semiconductor lasers.”
“Artistically, as a child I was interested in various crafts which I took up and abandoned (sometimes several times), but I’ve never really had any formal artistic training. But after folding representational figures for 40-odd years (and drawing tens of thousands of diagrams of same), I’ve started to get a little bit of an eye for form.”

me: “What was your first experience with origami like?
Robert Lang: “My first experience happened when I was 6 years old, so I don’t remember it all that well. A teacher gave me a book that had some folding instructions in it. I saw it as a fun puzzle to try to work out. I do remember that origami seemed like a great way to make toys from free materials, i.e., scrap paper.”

me: “When did you begin designing your own origami compositions?
Robert Lang: “It’s always hard to draw the line between “modifying an existing design” and “designing one’s own composition.” Certainly I tried modifying the designs I was folding from my books almost immediately. But I would guess that by my early teens I was coming up with my own figures.”

me: “Can you summarize the general steps you take to design a new piece of work?
Robert Lang: “It varies a lot, depending on whether the figure is simple or complex. For a complex figure, I try to break down the subject into its component parts, figure out how to attack the individual parts, and figure out how they’ll all interact with each other in the overall design.”

me: “How has the process of designing your work refined over the years?
Robert Lang: “When I started out, I designed origami the way most people did: somewhat by trial and error. Over time, I built up a collection of techniques for solving individual problems: how do you turn a flap into a leg, or how do you make a rounded shape. Eventually, I began to recognize common principles that lay behind many different techniques, which allowed me to construct my own techniques; and even later, I figured out how to describe those principles mathematically, which led to further design advances.”

me: “Do you make everything out of one sheet of square paper?
Robert Lang: “Certainly not! There are many genres of origami, including modular origami (many identical units from multiple sheets, such as my K2), composite origami (different parts of the subject from different sheets, such as my Orchid), and different shapes (such as my recent pots, which are from regular N-sided polygons). I fold in all genres, but probably 80-90% of what I do is from a single square, what is called in Japanese, fu-setsu sei-hokkei ichi-mai ori.”
orchid.jpgk2.jpgallosaurus.jpgallosaurus_1.jpg
Above: “Orchid,” “K2,” and “Allosaurus Skeleton” (side and front views) are examples of origami that are not made from a single sheet of square paper.

me: “Why do you choose to make natural subjects more often than objects and geometric shapes?
Robert Lang: “Nature, and natural subjects, inspire an emotional response that objects don’t. When I’ve folding an animal, I’m not trying to create a photograph of the animal; I’m trying to create an emotional response in the observer that is the same response I feel when I see the actual subject. So while I’ve done plenty of geometrics and objects, the subjects I get passionate about are natural.
tree_frog.jpg

me: “Which designs and books by you are you most proud of and why?
Robert Lang: “The book I am most proud of is Origami Design Secrets. The part of origami that I find most satisfying is creating a new figure, and by teaching people how to design, ODS allows others to experience that same rush.”
“As far as origami designs, usually one of my most recent ones is the one I’m most proud of! At the moment, that would probably be my Barn Owl, opus 508.”
cover-thumbnail.jpgbarn_owl.jpg

me: “In your opinion, how does origami contribute to the field of technology, mathematics, or other types of science?
Robert Lang: “There is a general contribution in that I think that origami exercises the parts of the mind that are often used in technology, mathematics, and other types of science. But it has also turned out that many origami structures have been found to be useful in technology in fields ranging from medicine to space exploration.”

me: “How does your background in science help you develop your works in origami and vice versa?
Robert Lang: “There is a principle in science, most famously expressed by Newton: ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants.’ I like to put it a little bit differently: ‘the secret to productivity is letting dead people do your work for you.’ Meaning, if you can figure out how to relate your problem to an unrelated problem that someone else has already solved, you can make use of their results to advance your own endeavor. By casting certain origami problems into mathematical form, I’ve been able to make use of existing solutions to those mathematical problems, and thus advance my origami artwork.”
“So in that way, science has aided my origami. Now, the reverse direction is less clear-cut; I can’t point to a specific way that origami has assisted my work on lasers and optoelectronics. However, I would say that a lifetime of visualizing complex 2-D surfaces (in origami) has been good practice for visualizing the optical fields, electronic wavefunctions, and complex functional forms that arise in theoretical laser physics. I am pretty good at mathematical analysis, but I have always visualized mathematical concepts as physical shapes and surfaces. So while origami may not have contributed directly to my work in those fields, it kept my primary instrument well-exercised.”

me: “Is it common within the field of origami to have an extensive science background? If not, do you feel that it puts you in an advantage?
Robert Lang: “There are other scientists in origami, to be sure: Brian Chan, one of the rising stars of American folding, is a mechanical engineering graduate student at MIT, for example. But internationally, most well-known origami artists are not scientists. In fact, perhaps not surprisingly, given origami’s growing status as an art, many of them are trained as general artists. As origami gains respectability within the wider artistic community, I would expect that more and more origami artists will come to origami with a mainstream art background.”
“For myself, though, my scientific training and approach has allowed me to accomplish artistic goals that I could not have accomplished otherwise. This is not to say that others couldn’t accomplish the same thing without science: just that, given my own mix of talents and limitations, my scientific talents have enabled me in some cases to overcome certain artistic limitations.”

Thanks to Robert Lang for sharing his thoughts and artworks. His website can be viewed at http://www.langorigami.com/index.php4. Here are a few more of my favorites (they can all be found on his website):

aechmea.jpgbanana_slug.jpgflying_walking_stick.jpg
sand_dollar.jpgmaine_lobster.jpglion.jpg
bfcc.jpg

Posted in interviews, math/engineering | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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.jpgsurgical.jpgsycamore.jpgcat-and-locust.jpg

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 moirĂ© 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.”

Posted in interviews, pen and ink/line, scratchboard, techniques | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »