PACIFIC GROVE — The popular “Illustrating Nature” exhibit has returned to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, the first time the show has been in-person since before the pandemic.
The exhibit features over 50 pieces of student work from California State University Monterey Bay’s Science Illustration Program.
“It’s not the same for the students as it is when it’s face to face and they can see people’s faces light up when they look at the work,” said Ann Caudle, director of the university’s program.
The science illustration program is a one-year, master’s certificate postgraduate program for about 18 students. The program moved from UC Santa Cruz to CSUMB in 2009.
In the program, students learn about different illustration techniques as well as professional practices that will help them launch their careers – like how to draw up a contract, design business cards and network with other illustrator professionals. Students study for three terms, one full fall semester and two quarters in the spring, and then go on to complete a 10-week internship of their choice.
“In everyday life, there are so many things that are actually science illustrations,” said student, Nicole Kit. “Anything that captures science and delivers it in a visual sense would be called scientific illustration.”
Kit, who is from Hong Kong and studied ecology at university, said she found her way to the program at Monterey Bay when she merged her love for nature and science with her passion for art. She explained that art is a great way to connect people who may not have access to nature – like her friends and family back home in Hong Kong – to science and the outdoors.
“I think art is a great way to connect people, but also make people feel connected to a cause,” student, Cady DeLay agreed. DeLay said she saw scientific illustration for the first time when she was at SeaWorld. Now she loves aquariums and dreams of one day working at SeaWorld as an illustrator.
They pointed out that science illustration is a great way to visualize a complex theory in a more accessible and understandable way. Sometimes photography can’t grasp the necessary finite details of a species that researchers or illustrators need to show.
“I think a lot of times these topics are hard to talk about, but if you turn it into a piece of art, if you turn it into a scientific illustration, not only is the information easier to digest, but it’s also easier to approach that topic,” DeLay explained.
Each student has three illustration pieces displayed in the show and some sketchbook work from their first two terms in the program. The program’s professors picked the artwork for each student, but students were responsible for framing their work and preparing for the exhibit. Each student was given a task – some were responsible for labeling artwork, others designed name-tags or worked on the exhibit’s online “virtual sneak peek” and some wrote articles to promote the exhibit. Students were also responsible for pricing their work, which is available for the public to purchase at the show and all proceeds go to the artist.
“They learned part of their training is actually going through this experience,” Caudle explained. “So, they came away with a lot of practical experience in case they do find themselves doing other exhibits. Everyone was thrilled.”
Caudle estimated that around 300 people attended the opening reception, based on past years’ numbers. She said that the science illustration exhibit is considered the most well-attended show that the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History has each year.
For DeLay, having her artwork exhibited is proof of her hard work and affirms her ability as a scientific illustrator.
“I think it’s the moment where it becomes real. We’ve spent so much time learning, practicing, making these pieces. It’s a certain amount of gratification knowing that you could do these things, but to put them up and see how people react to it – it’s almost like the moment where everything clicks and you go, ‘I made the right choice. This is why I’m supposed to be here, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she said.
The opening reception served as an opportunity for the students to present themselves as professionals entering the workforce. But it was also a chance for them to celebrate their hard work together.
Kit described it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to celebrate with her cohort – students who have come from all around the world and formed a bonded community within the program.
“I think that while having class during COVID-19 has definitely been a struggle, the show was kind of the perseverance through that,” DeLay agreed. “Being able to see everyone in person and everyone’s supporters in person, it almost felt magical.”
The exhibit will be open at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History until June 11. Four students will be demonstrating their illustration techniques and available to answer questions from the public Sunday, May 22 from noon to 4 pm More information and a “virtual sneak peek ” of some of the work exhibited in the show can be found at https://www.pgmuseum.org/illustrating-nature-2022