Nicely said Mesa. Those interested can find similar musings by me and others by searching the SCIART Forum archive. Hunt for keywords like “portfolio”, “education”, “career”.
The thing that I am still stuck on: Is it still best to start your learning with pencil and paper, to get the basics of what makes good art drilled into your head. Or do you think someone who is 16 years old can start with digital art programs and really internalize composition, color, perspective, and making the digital tools bend to your style, or does it all come out looking “generic digital” if you have used nothing else? Mesa, do you feel you would be digi-drawing as you do now if you did not start out traditionally?
Or maybe you just end up with a different universe of styles in a digital universe?
So true. Haven't touched a pencil for work in over a year.
One thing I think is not often stressed in natural science education is how a job generally works (freelance or in-house). Some formal education and talking with professionals can help you learn that as a student. Also some GNSI offerings can be helpful.
A typical job will involve communicating with a scientist, sketching and presenting ideas, modifying them, accepting feedback and edits, and then starting on the art. Once art is begun, you can expect more and more edits.
Digital tools are essential for the current price and pace of science illustration. People usually are not willing to pay for art that takes a long time, nor wait for the oil paint to dry. I realize there are exceptions, especially for the wildlife painters and fine artists among our ranks, and personal commissions vary greatly and can take a long time. But for my more commercial and institutional clientele, the ability and willingness to take on many late-stage changes on a quick timeline is essential. That said, they're pretty useless without a strong art foundation and ability to create good art.
This is where the question of "correct pathways" comes in I think.
To be a good and successful science artist, you need:
1. Solid technical art skills
2. Digital skills and tools
3. Background in and working knowledge of science and and scientific jargon
4. Communication skills, and the ability to direct a client through an art process (you're the professional, not them, and it is your job to help them get from idea to finished piece)
5. Network and business tools (differin depending on your specific niche)
The specifics and ranges of these different areas varies greatly from artist to artist, and how you acquire these skills does too! I suggest anyone considering or just starting a career in scientific illustration speak to people working in the field, especially those whose work and/or job you admire, and see what you can learn about their skillsets, background, and path. To some extent you can model your skill acquisition and road on theirs, though of course each path will be different.
You will probably find some skills you can teach yourself, some you can learn from online education, some may be better improved in a physical art course or program. Science can be a bit harder to get without going to a formal educational institution. Some artists find one mentor and rely heavily upon that person or institution, and others bounce around and learn from many sources.
I urge artists not to try and take shortcuts, but to enjoy the journey.
It has been my great joy as a science artist to learn from so many talented people, and explore so many tools. Some of my most fun work was done as a student, intern, and early stage artist. There are opportunities and things I got to do that being older and more established/tied down with family/expensive makes it hard or impossible to do. Go in with a goal of learning and becoming the artist you want to be and enjoy the challenge of mastering new skills. Because the learning never ends, and you can improve until your brain or body goes.
Someone told me that if you admire someone 5 years more experienced than you, remember you're only 5 years behind them on your own road, and in 5 years you'll be in that spot. And then there will be new challenges and goals. My early work now makes me cringe, but I needed to go through each and every one of those pieces to learn and grow, and at the time I wasn't ready to tackle the projects I am working on now. I still have a three page living document of goals and improvements I want to make to my practice and am always adding to it. I hope in ten years I'll cringe at my current work, as it will mean I continued to grow.
Hope some find this useful, and I wish you all happy art and science journeys. There are so many places for visual science communicators out there, it can be a competitive field, but there is a lot of room for expansion of the field, and solid training and skills can make it easier for each individual to carve out a niche for themselves in that landscape.
Sorry for posting so much, this is a topic dear to my heart. :)
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