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No offense meant Dorie, hope none is taken!  

I think there is quite a place for science illustration programs and fundamentals, and my experience at UW was and is very valuable to me.  I would do the same again, and might have chosen YPM had I been on the opposite coast at the time.  I agree that speaking to instructors and past students of any program is the best way to find out if it is right for you.  

There are many pathways to science illustration, and I think right now, these programs do offer technique and specialized knowledge that is hard to find in other art programs.  No one path is the correct one, as people come to this field from many different backgrounds - some strong in art, some in science, some in both, and finding how to get from A to B can be sometimes stressful without a defined roadmap.  At the time I went to a certificate program it was exactly what I needed for my career, and my specific program also offered flexibility and an affordable price tag. It of course could not offer the same rigor that a full time course commitment would have given me, but that wasn't what I needed nor wanted at the time.

Disclaimer if not clear in my last email - 
I'm not personally familiar with YPM's coursework and offerings, so I'm speaking more generally from my experience with cert programs, grad programs, and potential choices out there.  I am not an instructor and can only speak to my experience and colleagues anecdotally!

Best,
Mesa

On Tue, May 4, 2021 at 10:09 AM Dorie Petrochko <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
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I am one of the senior instructors at the Yale Peabody Museum Scientific Illustration Program and we have been in existence since 2009. We have developed a comprehensive program, which includes traditional course
offerings in Drawing, Colored Pencil, Watercolor, Pen and Ink, Plant Morphology, Vertebrate Anatomy,
Invertebrate Anatomy, Digital Illustration,
Composition and Design and many other electives and online offerings. Our instructors are highly trained artists in the field of Botanical and Scientific Illustration and we have very high standards of excellence in our curriculum and teaching. Before any judgements are made publicly about our program, it is best to communicate with the 
program directors directly. www.peabody.yale .edu/education


On Tue, May 4, 2021 at 9:54 AM Elissa Sorojsrisom <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
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Hi Sam,

I will preface this by saying I did not attend the Scientific Illustration Program at YPM, but I was an employee at YPM and worked with the ladies that run the scientific illustration program. 

The answer to your question depends on what you’re trying to get out of it. The program at YPM is very new in that it has only been associated with the museum for a few years. Before that, it was an independent program taught by 4 ladies who established it about 7 years ago. They often bring in guest instructors to fill out their course offerings. I worked with them for about a year to design a few courses, but their student pool is so small that the courses didn’t run in the end because there weren’t enough people signed up. From what I’ve seen, the introductory courses are pretty solid so if you need basics (e.g. representational drawing, intro to colored pencil/watercolors/etc…) then you would get something from the program. However, the people who run this program are older and they come from a different era (this is basically true of all the scientific illustration programs in the USA, including the programs at CSU Monterey Bay, RISD, and University of Washington). There is an emphasis on traditional techniques and also no digital offerings, unless a guest instructor offers it (e.g. Rebecca Gelertner sometimes offers a digital drawing course through the YPM program - which I understand is fantastic). I was also disappointed by their lack of a solid curriculum/program requirements for their scientific illustration certificate program. When I was there I pushed them to develop a more robust curriculum, but they said it was hard because they can only offer what students want to take. Many of their students are older, often retired people living in the New Haven area and this dictates the kind of courses they tend to offer. Because the program is new, it has no name recognition and there is no career building/support to speak of in the program. Having a “certificate” (I put this in quotes because there is no ‘official body’ that certifies these programs, so the certificate is basically meaningless to anyone not familiar with the program) from the YPM program will not win you any points with potential clients or help you find clients, etc. Getting scientific illustration work is almost completely word of mouth and portfolio-based. Furthermore, the courses are often offered during the day on weekdays, so it is not necessarily conducive to working, although you definitely can work part time. I don’t know how long the program would take to finish, since it is not very structured and requirements are a little loose, but I would guess 1-2 years. Finally, the cost of the courses (in my opinion) is prohibitively high. 

If you need to develop your illustration skills I would probably suggest a different program. I attended RISD’s program and it was great for this purpose, although I’m not sure how much it has changed since I attended. The main instructor, Amy Bartlett Wright, is fantastic and you will definitely become a better artist under her instruction. The Natural Science Illustration program is offered through RISD’s Continuing Education (CE), so courses are offered in the evening and on weekends, which will allow you to work part- or even full-time. For this reason, the program takes 2-3 years to complete (but to give you an idea, I was a full time undergraduate at Brown when I attended and finished in 2.5 years, so the workload is doable with a full time job). Because RISD is an art school with many CE programs, they offer a lot of digital courses such as Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. Although these courses won’t be scientific illustration-specific, you will have a lot of opportunity to learn how to use digital media. They also offer career-oriented courses such as courses on using social media and developing good business practices/accounting/etc. You can browse all the course offerings on the CE site. I would also argue that RISD has national name recognition, although the certificate is technically still as meaningless as the one from YPM. I found the courses to be affordable for the most part, but the prices vary a lot depending on the subject. 

If you need to develop your network and you are interested in becoming a scientific illustrator full time, I would suggest the program at CSU Monterey Bay. This is an expensive program, but only a year long. It is considered a “masters” level program (they used to award a Masters degree), but the certificate - again - is technically meaningless. What you get from CSUMB, along with a decent illustration education, is a strong network. They will help place you in an internship at the end of the program (required for program completion), and they will help you find job opportunities and build connections with industry clients (e.g. Smithsonian Magazine, zoos, aquariums, state parks, etc). This is a full-time program, so you will not be able to work…although, right now it is being offered online and I’ve been told some of the students are working this year. CSUMB has the same issues regarding their digital course offerings (very limited), but the program may be changing. It’s quite a commitment, but right now it is the best way to establish a scientific illustration career. 

All that being said, if you already have a strong illustration portfolio you don’t necessarily need to attend a program. I get most of my clients through word-of-mouth and I have met most of them through my jobs. I worked as a lab tech at two universities for a few years and then I was a museum assistant at YPM. Most of my clients come from meeting people through those jobs, so in terms of a good fit - if you can get a part time lab tech position or work at a museum, zoo, or aquarium that will likely serve you best because you will be meeting potential clients or people who know other people who may be potential clients. Establishing yourself as a scientific illustrator right now is incredibly difficult, and I know very few people who are able to do it full time. Most successful scientific illustrators seem to work as lab techs, and this is actually a very flexible and stable way to have a part-time scientific illustration career. If you are struggling to get a job at those kinds of places I would suggest volunteering, which will have you similar access to clients and may eventually lead to a job (that’s actually how I got my job at YPM!)

Feel free to ask any further questions you may have - I know people who have attended most of the scientific programs available and I’m always happy to talk to people about establishing a career in scientific illustration. One thing I’m hoping to do in the future is start a new scientific illustration program, so it’s always helpful to hear from people trying to make it in the field. I would suggest you check out sciencefindsart.com to learn more about how different artists have built their careers and examples of strong work. I offer portfolio reviews through SFA, so if you want advice on how to improve your portfolio I am happy to provide that as well. Hopefully SFA will have more resources for early career artists such as yourself, but for now I am happy to help in any way I can. 

All the best,
~El


On May 3, 2021, at 3:51 PM, Samantha Dilday <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

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Hi there GNSI!

I'm looking to begin the Scientific Illustration Program at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT and wanted to get your opinion on this program. What are the pros and cons, how long does the program usually take, etc.

I'd like to be able to work part time during my time in the program and wanted to see if anyone knows of any part time gigs that would be a good fit for a budding scientific illustrator?

I'm finishing my Master's in Environmental Science so I have a very strong understanding of the scientific field. I'm just not sure how to get my foot in the door when it comes to illustration work.

Thank you all for your help! Feel free to reach out to me using the contact info below.

Cheers,
Samantha (Sam) Dilday

--
Sam Dilday
709.685.3651

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Dorie Petrochko
Senior Instructor-Natural Science Illustration Program
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
170 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511



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Mesa Schumacher, MA, CMI
650-353-1018


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