Wasp Microbial Landscape – Art Process

Our bodies are made up of the trillions of cells encoded by our unique DNA–right? Current research is diving into another rabbit hole, with suggestions that the microbes that coexist with us are just as much US, as our ‘own’ DNA encoded cells. For every one of our DNA encoded cells, 10 microbes exist. For Science News magazine’s special feature on animals’ microbiomes I created a wasp ‘composed’ of microbes. Check out SN’s reporting here, Microscopic Menagerie for more on the science and links to other artists’ great illustrations. In this blog post, you’ll find insights into the my process creating the wasp art.

wasp microbes drawing

Wasp microbiome art created for Science News magazine © N.R.Fuller.

 

wasp-sketchGetting Started on the Art: I almost always start with a sketch to confirm both composition and accuracy. In this case the wasp was a Nasonia wasp (a small parasitoid). After sketching the wasp itself, I sketched microbes onto the very front of the specimen as an example of where I was headed. Science News agreed that it was on track, but gave me some feedback like avoiding monoculture areas like I originally had in the eye.

wasp-zsphere

On the top are the underlying Zspheres used to create the model, and below is the sculpted wasp.

Even though we wanted the final style to look more hand-drawn and less computer generated, I decided to use 3d software to help me with the overall shading and the nuances of the microbial shading. My plan was to spend some time sculpting the wasp, then harness computing power to scatter the microbes, and finish up with sketched details in Photoshop. I started out using Zbrush’s zspheres to create the underlying shape of the wasp. If you’re not familiar with zspheres, they’re a fantastic way to quickly create a mesh (model) without traditional polygon modeling skills. It’s basically like stringing together beads to create your shape.

Zspheres remind me a little of the newish kid’s building toy Zoobs; essentially balls with connectors, of which any of the balls can become a joint. As I built my wasp I kept each major part separate as a Zbrush subtool so that I could easily modify the pose. Once the structure was created I sculpted the details of the wasp, using primarily a combination of the sculpting slash, inflate, and move tool. Since I knew that I’d be adding the microbes I didn’t need a whole lot of detail, I just wanted to define the body contours.

Next up, sculpting microbes

microbes-inprocess

When I first envisioned creating this art I planned to use zbrush to sculpt a base wasp, and then Cinema 4d’s mograph module to populate the surface with microbes, or perhaps even Vue’s ecosystem function (*TIP* Vue’s ecosystem function, meant to populate trees and plants across a landscape, also works well to scatter objects).  I quickly realized that the scattershot microbe approach wasn’t working. For the microbes to really look integrated and one with the wasp, I needed to selectively place the microbes according to the contours and the specific part of the body–more rod bacteria on the legs, strings of cocci along crevices, etc… It’s of course possible that if I had the programming knowledge I could have made the shotgun method work, but I don’t, so… my quick computer solution quickly turned into a VERY time consuming process of hand placing each microbe using Zbrush’s insert mesh tool (still very cool that it’s even possible with Zbrush).

I sculpted each variety of microbe (a few different rod bacteria, cocci, spiral…) and created a custom insert brush so that I could place them across the wasp’s body. In some places where less detail was needed I used an alpha brush with a mix of microbes as a texture, although in most places this proved to be too low resolution. After I had most of the microbes placed I turned on polypaint, so that I could individually paint the color of each microbe, and further added texture with noise textures (alpha brushes).

Putting it All Together

Now that I had my wasp composed of microbes, I rendered several different styles using zbrush’s built-in materials and imported them into Photoshop. Different materials emphasize different lighting, reflection, highlights… so I ended up compositing several different renderings to get the mix of colors and shading that I was looking for using several photoshop layer mix modes (overlay, color, multiply…). In the image below you can see several of the different lighting/material renderings from Zbrush that I composited in Photoshop.wasp-head-3ds

With the base microbes-wasp complete I continued to refine the art in photoshop. I used the photoshop stamp tool to duplicate some of the microbes into spots that were left a little bare in the zbrush renderings and I added some extra color to help it pop a bit more. With the help of Science News’ great art direction, I looked for parts that were flattening out and  then hand-drew (on my cintiq tablet) hatched shading to emphasize the distinction between microbes and highlight the overall body shape. Below left is the final color base made up of several different composited renderings. Below center is the line-work I drew and on the right is the final art with the drawn line-work on top of the color.

wasp-head-final

Thanks for checking out my work and my process. If you happen upon this and would like more info on specific programs or techniques in future posts, please let me know and specify what level of information in the comments.

 

Adjusting Work Motivations – Freelancing as a New(ish) Parent Part 2

In my last post on balancing parenthood with freelancing I talked about maternity leave logistical realities. This week I want to talk a little bit more about the emotional side of things. After defining myself by my work for so long, I was shocked to find myself not loving work after g-pterodactyl (preschooler girl) was born. I took 5 months of maternity leave after g-pterodactyl was born, which I needed for both the physical recovery and the mental adjustment to parenthood. Returning to work was a bit of a shock, and it was the first time my ‘work’ felt like ‘work’.

Giant Galaxy swallows small galaxy.

A giant elliptical galaxy swallows up a young spiral galaxy. Recently created during the kiddos’ naps and after bedtimes for All About Space magazine. © Nicolle R. Fuller

It really bothered me that I wasn’t working purely for the love of it anymore. Before my pterodactyls, people used to give me a wink-wink, nudge-nudge when I told them that no, really, I didn’t do it for money–but I meant it. That shifted a bit when g-pterodactyl came along. I had to force myself to sit at the computer. Once I got going I enjoyed the work, but there were still other things I’d rather be doing: watching her learn to crawl, making yummy food, sleeping… I never got to a point where I wanted to quit, but I finally understood why many women do want to focus entirely on their families. We financially needed me to keep working, and I also knew that I’d worked too long and hard building both my skills and my client base to give it all up. Even if I’d wanted to take a temporary break beyond my maternity leave, I knew I would have had a long road re-establishing myself.

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Nanolipogel Art: Winner of AOI Illustration Awards 2013 Research & Knowledge

Nanolipogel's attacking cancer, by N.R.Fuller for the National Science Foundation

Nanolipogel’s attacking cancer, by N.R.Fuller for the National Science Foundation, recently won it’s category in the AOI illustration awards.

I’m pleased–and surprised and humbled–to announce that my artwork created for Dr. Tarek Fahmy’s laboratory and the National Science Foundation won in the Research & Knowledge category of the 2013 AOI illustration awards. www.aoiimages.com

From the AOI:

Visual showcase for recently published research to evoke interest from the non-science public and describe how nanotechnology might help combat cancer.

Judges Comments: From a very diverse and impressive range of work in this category this image impressed us because it combined accurate, compelling and significant scientific data with a strong aesthetic appeal. It is a medical illustration that remains accessible to a popular audience. The colour palette works well and it has drama. We liked that it had visual and cultural references from other fields such as 1950’s sci fi movies which provide a richness and humour alongside the hard science.

One of three of my pieces shortlisted, (see AOI shortlist post or the AOI shortlist) the judges picked the most technical, information dense piece of the triad. You can read more about the nanolipogel science in NSF’s pres release here, and some of the funny places the illustration ended up being used here.

I don’t have all the information yet, but it sounds like I’ll be traveling to England’s Somerset House this October for the awards ceremony. Oy ve, I guess I’ll need to figure out what to do with the then-8-month baby… bring him with, leave him with bottles, big sister and Dad…. hmmm… I have time to worry about that later :-).AIO_Logo_small2

Science Art Gets Some Love: AOI Shortlisted Illustrations

3 science illustrations in the AOI competition

Three illustrations by N.R.Fuller of Sayo-Art shortlisted in the AOI images competition.

Us science artists don’t get no respect… at least that’s what I thought until now. When I heard that the AOI (Association of Illustrators) added a Research & Knowledge category to their prestigious, international ‘Images’ competition, I was stoked to have a chance. Beyond the respect for my professional niche, I’m excited to share that my work has been recognized on their shortlist.

The AOI Research & Knowledge Communication category is pretty broad, and described by the AOI below:

Research & Knowledge Communication–Illustration commissioned for the purpose of undertaking research and communicating knowledge. Illustration that is used as a research or investigative tool and that represents, explains or seeks to understand information or data…

Cancer Research Art

Artwork recently shortlisted in the AOI Images competition,  created for the AACR‘s annual meeting. ©2012 AACR / Nicolle R. Fuller

Different illustrations have different purposes, and even within the genre of science illustration there is a wide range of styles and applications. I jive on trying to create illustrations that help someone new to the subject imagine what it might be like to really see the things beyond our vision–teeny-tiny cells to exploding universes–while still staying true to the scientists’ research. Unfortunately, that often means my work just doesn’t fit into most of the big name illustration competitions.

Most of the broader competitions–like Communication Arts or 3×3’s–don’t explicitly exclude science art with categories like “books, editorial, for sale…”, but if you take a look at the previous winners from the past few years it’s clear the likelihood of recognition in their comp is slim to none for an artist like me. Can’t science art compete in the general categories? Sure, some can… but on the whole the goal of communicating science is so different from other editorial art, that it’s just a different beast and can’t be compared easily. To stay accurate and true to scientists’ work while pulling in the ambivalent viewer, a certain level of visual clarity and realism is often needed; leading to style choices diverging from many of the more mainstream popular illustrators.

Science illustration man coughing

If you do have a chance to check out the work in the Research category, you’ll see there is quite a bit of variety in the pieces, from 2 beautiful botanical pieces to some innovative videos. The 3 pieces I submitted include:

  • A piece created for the American Association for Cancer Research’s Annual Meeting branding, meant to honor both the researchers and patients working toward a cure,
  • Artwork for Science News magazine on the science of a cough, using extreme exaggerated perspective of the tracheae to show the cilia on the cells that are irritated by foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria,
  • And finally, an illustration for Dr. Tarek Fahmy at Yale University, released by Yale and the National Science Foundation as a press release to explain the lab’s exciting research on nanolipogels that release drugs to combat cancer and other diseases. (see blog post: Nanolipogels Huffington Post…)

Out of the 10 total professional pieces that were shortlisted for the “Research & Knowledge” category, 1 winner will be chosen. Clearly, I’m pretty excited that my work has been recognized, but moreover, I’m grateful that the AOI has opened up their competition to the international community, and decided it’s time to recognize the art in visual information communication.

Artwork for “Higgs: The God Particle, Found”

Sayo Studios: Science News - Higgs Boson Cover Image

Cover artwork for Science News article on the Discovery of the Higgs Boson, by N.R.Fuller of Sayo-Art LLC.

The Higgs boson has been the Holy Grail of physics since its proposal in the 1970s, so the announcement of its discovery on July 4th from scientists at CERN marked a watershed moment within the history of physics.

I’m excited to be a small part of the history by getting to create the artwork for the Science News cover and article on the subject.

When I first began my illustration career I interned at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and got a crash course in particle physics.  I don’t get to attempt the impossible and draw sub-atomic particles as much as I used to, so this was an exciting return. And luckily for me, the editors at Science News had clear ideas on what they wanted illustrated for the topic — as much as I love tackling conceptually difficult subjects, it’s great to have some help when it comes to particle physics.

The cover artwork for the July 28th issue of Science News shows the vigorous shaking of the field needed for the Higgs particle to ‘pop’ out.

The Higgs particle has been sought for 20 years, since 1973 when it was first proposed. The Large Hadron Collider was completed in 2008, at a cost of 9 billion dollars, largely with the hope of discovering the Higgs (or not). Billions of dollars to discover one particle? The Higgs particle isn’t called the God particle for nothing. It is the lynchpin of modern theories, that couldn’t be verified until now.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson particle could be an important first step towards understanding the 96% of our universe that is made up of dark matter and dark energy, the 96% that still remains mysterious and unknown.

Still, whatever comes in the future from this discovery, July 4th 2012 will certainly be remembered as a landmark day within physics and the scientific community as a whole.

Rates in a Bad Economy & Tracking Hours

Cougar, Grey Wolf & Grizzly Bear Skulls

My early work was largely done by hand. This piece, depicting three types of carnivore skulls (cougar, grey wolf, grizzly bear), was painted with acrylic. © Nicolle Rager Fuller

Rates in a Bad Economy

Ideally on this blog I’ll talk a little bit about my work, giving you a behind the scenes look at the process that goes into creating my art. Along the way I’ll also offer some advice, although sometimes it may fall under the criteria of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Tracking Hours

I’ve just spent the last hour recreating my calenders for the past week,because I didn’t do a good job tracking hours as I went. This happens far too often. Luckily, I can keep a pretty accurate record by going through my email history and  when I opened and saved different files–but that process needlessly wastes time and isn’t really the point of tracking hours in the first place…Why am I being so lax?

Laziness, that’s the easy answer. If I really fess up to my crimes, it’s not so much laziness, as much as avoidance. Avoidance of tracking my hours. Sounds silly, huh?

As I’m happy to preach to anyone starting out, it’s REALLY important to track your hours so you can tell if your rates are fair. For most of my clients I charge a flat rate, so it doesn’t make a difference in my final billing–but it should make a difference to my future estimates and billing.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t/hasn’t. I haven’t raised my rates in years, partially because of timing: when I went out on my own it coincided with the economic sky falling. I feel lucky to have survived as a new, full-time business owner in this climate, but it’s also meant I’ve been afraid to try to move up my rates.

Now here is the real rub–and the reason I don’t like examining my hours–my ‘official rates’ may not have changed, but if I actually compare my estimated hours vs. my actual hours, my rate has actually fallen dramatically. I’m working more for less money. Which isn’t smart business-wise–but then I’ve never claimed to be the smartest business gal–but throw a kid into the mix who sometimes doesn’t get as much attention when I’m trying to meet deadlines and make ends meet, and my priorities feel all mixed up.

How did this happen?

Sayo Studios: Growing Life In A Biosphere

Most of my illustrations, like this one of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, are now drawn and painted digitally, using programs like Eon Vue and Adobe Photoshop. These computer programs open up whole new possibilities for what I can create and they make the editing process far less painful, but surprisingly increase the amount of time I spend on each project. © Nicolle Rager Fuller

I dare say, that part of the increased time is from a change in my expectations.

When I first ventured into the freelance world and then the full-time small business world, I felt confident (as confident as one can) about my venture because I knew I was efficient at my work. How did I know? Because I closely tracked my hours and I was always able to deliver on time. On time: meaning a few days before deadline so that we’d have plenty of time for any last minute tweaks. I felt good about my work and my clients were happy. And don’t get me wrong current and potential clients ;-), I’ll still deliver quality on time, but it’s taking a lot more work and a lot more late nights.

I’ve gone from using physical pencils and paints, to using Photoshop and Illustrator, to using the 3D-program Eon Vue and Photoshop/Illustrator, to my current arsenal of Photoshop, Illustrator, Eon Vue, Cinema 4d, Zbrush, Modo and the occasional Poser. The list has become long and there’s always more to learn. I thought using 3D programs would help me speed up, but instead I’ve found my own expectations of detail and intricacy keep increasing with each new tool, and so does the time spent! 

So where do I go from here?

Try to be more efficient? Easier said then done. Or do I just have to accept that my rate has decreased? In the following months I’ll try to follow-up on my quest to improve my efficiency while continuing to keep my work fresh, and keep you posted as I do.

Cancer “Smart Bomb” Art Featured in The Huffington Post and The Mirror

An illustration of a nanolipogel releasing cancer fighting drugs, by Nicolle R. Fuller for NSF.

It’s not everyday that science illustration gets picked up by publications as varied as the The Huffington Post and The Mirror. In this instance a story about a cancer “smart bomb” seems to have sparked some interest.

It’s a funny thing, creating artwork for press releases–you never know where it’ll get picked up. The perfect mix of a good story, a good head-line, good artwork ;-), good timing and a sprinkling of fairy dust… and sometimes it gets picked up by the broader media.

The cancer smart bomb is a nano drug delivery system under development by Dr. Fahmy and colleagues at Yale University. They are developing a new cancer treatment that simultaneously attacks cancer cells and boosts the patient’s immune system. The treatment, which has successfully been tested on mice, uses small hollow spheres, called nanolipogels to deliver the two-prong attack. Some nanolipogels become stuck in leaky tumor blood vessels, where they rally the body’s own immune defenses by releasing interleukin-2 (green). Nanolipogels continuing into the tumor unleash an anti-cancer drug to attack the tumor cells. The original research was published July 15 online in the journal Nature Materials. Check out the press releases from the National Science Foundation and Yale University to learn more.

How It Works – Extinction, Ecosystems, & Traffic Jams

These new illustrations by Sayo-Art for How It Works Magazine demonstrate the ways graphics and text can be integrated to create features that are simultaneously compelling and educational. SayoStudios works hard to create illustrations custom fit to your layout and space needs for text. Below, each image is shown by itself and then in the magazine layout, exhibiting how the client incorporated the artwork with the captions and labels. There are various ways images and text can enhance each other, and Sayo-Art can help by giving you the art as a framework to build upon, work the art around already formatted text, or insert and design the copy you provide.

Below is an illustration depicting the chain of events set off by the asteroid credited with killing the dinosaurs over 65.5 million years ago, sans any labels or supporting text.

The asteroid credited with killing the dinosaurs set off a long series of cataclysmic events. Modeled using Eon Vue and digitally painted with Adobe Photoshop for How It Works Magazine. © Nicolle Rager Fuller

And here it is within the magazine:

Sayo-Art works with each client to decide what illustration style best suits the particular topic. From the detailed, technical illustration demonstrating the science behind shock absorbers in cars:

To the more natural, but equally detailed illustration for the myriad connections within a pond ecosystem:

To view the full project of images in high quality please check out Sayo-Art’s portfolio website at: sayostudio.com. You can also like Sayo Art’s facebook page and follow on twitter: @SayoStudio.

Career Talk: Finding Your Niche

Following Your Passions to Find your Niche; Career Talk at Lewis and Clark College

Sayo Studios: Protein Synthesis Inside a Eukaryote CellI’m excited to share my story of transition from science-geek to a science-art-geek-hybrid at my alma mater, Lewis and Clark College, on Friday the 13th (oooo) at 3:30pm. I’ll get to talk a little bit about combining two seemingly disparate subjects (why, science and art of course) and hopefully offer some inspiration to those searching for their own weird combination. On Saturday I’ll follow it up with an introductory workshop on 2d and 3d Digital art. If you’re an LC student find-out place, time and register here: college.lclark.edu/offices/alumni/saa/events/.

Career Talk N.R. Fuller Lewis & Clark

Career Talk from N.R. Fuller of Sayo-Art LLC on combining your passions and finding your niche at Lewis and Clark College, April 13th, 3:30.

In light of the upcoming talk, I’ve been contemplating how my career path may be applicable to those with differing interests. The more I think about it, the more I realize that career happiness on a day to to day basis (and thus success… but that’s a whole ‘nother post) is largely based on PROCESS. Yes, I’ve found a way to combine two subjects I’m interested in, but I’ve also found a job that suits my personality for day-to-day activities.

From a young age we’re encouraged to think in terms of subject matter, and the jobs that relate to those subjects (well, perhaps other than the Village People’s set of careers) . Often it’s not even related to what subjects you ENJOY, but instead focused on what you’re good at. Of course, what you’re good at and what you enjoy are often one in the same, but for those out there searching for their (next) career path I’d argue reassessment might be helpful based on a couple of other factors…) A few examples that have been relevant for me:Sayo Studios: An Asteroid Finds an Unlucky Dinosaur

  • Detail or Generalist? Are you detail oriented and like plenty of time for a thorough job (mildly anal-retentive), or like me are you a big picture person who wants a quick turn-around so you can be passionate about a project for a defined time, and then BE DONE (mildly messy, flighty, and easily bored)?
  • People Person? Do you thrive being part of a team, or are you content being a lone wolf (like me, which is why I may go days not talking to anyone other than my 2yr old and husband)?

I’ll stop with the comparisons before getting too myers-brigg-ish, but you get my point. In retrospect it’s pretty clear why a bench scientist job wasn’t my perfect fit. The ideals of science–like learning how things work–great! Doing it in a methodical way and daily troubleshooting why your results are unintelligible? Not the perfect fit… for me. You may have noticed in the bullet list I included some negative descriptions in parenthesis. I think we’re sometimes handicapped from seeing and truly understanding ourselves, because Sayo Studios: An Ocelot Hunts An Agouti in Panamawe’ve learned to equate a specific trait with the negative description rather than the positive (what, me messy?). If you can learn to consider the positive side, it may allow you to accept the direction of your true potential. I know, a lofty goal. On the flip side, if we can learn to accept the negative description as well, it’s easier to recognize potential pitfalls, AND easier to laugh at ourselves. (Here’s to trying!)

Since we’re discussing negativity, another hang-up that took me awhile to get past were my narrow definitions of different fields. When I was younger I definitely fell into the rigidly idealistic category. I didn’t see art as a viable option, because I saw it as a black and white choice between being a poor, misunderstood ‘true-artist’ (yet another post for another time), or a commercial artist whose career and work would be entirely dictated by others’ wants (commercial = bad, to my young brain). Obviously, my sweeping generalizations were way off, but moreover it kept me from really learning what the jobs entailed. I crept into the commercial art field through the side-door, and it wasn’t until I turned around and realized I WAS a graphic artist that I really understood what it was all about and what I really digged: visual problem solving and communicating and taking someone else’s story to depict it visually.

So I guess in the end, remember to reassess what your limits are… they may just be your strengths, and reconsider paths you might have initially rejected.

Welcome to Sayo Studios

Welcome to Sayo Studios, the blog of Nicolle Rager Fuller, the artist behind Sayo-Art. The aim of Sayo Studios  is to provide you with the latest updates on the newest artwork from Nicolle, along with news updates, behind-the-scenes features, advice for young artists, and opinion and analysis on the latest developments in the worlds of art and science.

As an introductory post we have included some examples of the different kind of work that Sayo-Art produces. From taking you down into the world of molecular cancer research to helping you imagine the end of the world scenario known as the “big rip,” Sayo-Art presents you with new ways of seeing and imagining the world. Sayo-Art makes old ideas new and exciting and gives you the ability to understand complex ideas and theories that you could only read about before.

In order to view the rest of each gallery, merely click on an image, and you will be transported to Sayo-Art’s portfolio website and the accompanying images. Included in each image is a brief description of the kind of work that can be found within each gallery. To view more of Nicolle’s work you can check out her portfolio and you can purchase prints and posters at her store. For any questions or comments, Nicolle can be reached via email at: info@sayo-art.com.
Prehistoric Creatures: Dinosaurs, from the plesiosaur to the Majungatholus atopus, shown in their natural habitats. Here, an unlucky dinosaur looks on while an enormous asteroid hurtles towards earth’s surface.
Sayo Studios: An Unlucky Dinosaur Waits for Asteroid ImpactUnique Digital Landscapes: Stretching from the distant past to the theoretical future, this gallery serves up various imaginings of conceptual landscapes. Images include an illustration of a world connected through smart-grid technology and another illustration that depicts the crashing of an asteroid which led to the formation of a crater within the Chesapeake Bay.
Sayo-Studios: A Blue Globe Representing Smart-Grid Technology

© Nicolle Rager Fuller

Wonders of Space & Cosmology: These images take complex, theoretical astrophysicsand makes them tangible through art. Ideas like string theory and the creation of the universe are illustrated in this gallery. Below, an example of what the end-of-world scenario known as the “big rip” might look like.

Sayo Studios: One End-Time Scenario: The Big Rip

© Nicolle Rager Fuller

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A selection from the over 1,000 original drawings in the graphic adaptation of Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species, published by Rodale. Illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller and written by Michael Keller. Nominated for 2 Eisner awards. The book can be purchased from Amazon here.

Sayo-Studios: Cover, Darwin's On the Origin of Species

© Nicolle Rager Fuller

Advances in Cancer Research: Sayo-Art provided all of the illustrations for the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011, which depicted the newest advances in cancer research. This gallery depicts the various ways Sayo-Art takes complex molecular-level science and makes it easy to understand.

Sayo Studios: Cancer Treatment Drug Design

© Nicolle Rager Fuller