From the Studio

How Scientific Illustration Shaped My Art (i.e. what I earned a degree in)

Did you know that I majored in scientific illustration at the University of Georgia?

Yes, that’s actually a major. 

Philadelphus inodorus  by Courtney Khail  Using a preserved horticulture specimen, I painted this in watercolors by hand. I mixed each color to match the exact color of the dried plant perfectly making sure to capture the different colors in the creases and the front and back of the leaves. If you look closely, you’ll even see that I painted the tape holding the branch to the paper! (And those stamps? Those are painted to resemble the original stamp as well.)

Philadelphus inodorus by Courtney Khail

Using a preserved horticulture specimen, I painted this in watercolors by hand. I mixed each color to match the exact color of the dried plant perfectly making sure to capture the different colors in the creases and the front and back of the leaves. If you look closely, you’ll even see that I painted the tape holding the branch to the paper! (And those stamps? Those are painted to resemble the original stamp as well.)

If you’re like 95% of the people I talk to, you very well have no clue what scientific illustration is (which is totally fine. The 5% that do know are probably scientific illustrators or else they knew me in college.) 

Canine Shoulder Muscles by Courtney Khail   This was part of a two piece illustration I created- one featured the bones of a dog’s shoulder and then this illustrated the muscles that would be on top of those bones. Each piece was first drawn in graphite, then I mocked up colors with watercolor, before scanning everything in to my computer to complete in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you look at the lateral head of the triceps, you can see where I “cut” one of them to show you how it connects to the bone and how it lays over the Brachialis.

Canine Shoulder Muscles by Courtney Khail

This was part of a two piece illustration I created- one featured the bones of a dog’s shoulder and then this illustrated the muscles that would be on top of those bones. Each piece was first drawn in graphite, then I mocked up colors with watercolor, before scanning everything in to my computer to complete in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you look at the lateral head of the triceps, you can see where I “cut” one of them to show you how it connects to the bone and how it lays over the Brachialis.

The simplest way to explain scientific illustration is to say that I studied to draw bugs, bones, botanicals etc. to a 100% level of accuracy. Like, imagine Realism and then up the reality factor. I would then use that art to teach- whether that be concepts (like the metamorphosis process of a butterfly) or specifics (like the various parts of a canine muscular system.) Those final illustrations would then (ideally) be used in educational places like museums and textbooks. (If you can remember the illustration of a plant cell in your HS biology book, that was most likely drawn by a scientific illustrator.) 

Detailed Illustrations of various pinecones ( Pinecones by Courtney Khail)

Detailed Illustrations of various pinecones (Pinecones by Courtney Khail)

Long story short(ish) scientific illustrators are just storytellers who use visuals instead of words. 

And when you look at it that way, it probably comes as no surprise that I now use my paintings to celebrate and share the complex stories of women. I’ve always been a storyteller!

It’s because of this background that all of my paintings combine intricate (almost scientific) line-work with vivid colors. I’m striving to balance the facts (the line work) with the emotional (the color) in order to most accurately portray the full story.

The opening for Cultivated - my solo show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

This past Thursday, my solo show, Cultivated, opened at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (and it was awesome.)

I normally have a lot of anxiety when it comes to showing my work. There is a vulnerability in displaying your artwork- all of the emotion, time, energy, etc. that goes into the work is just out there on display. And it's not that it's just "out there," as an artist you are actively inviting people into your personal space to comment, critique, and ultimately judge your work. (Anyone else always think about Jerry Seinfeld describing Elaine's new boyfriend, Aaron, as a close talker, when you think about personal space? No? Well now you will. You're welcome.)

Anyhow, back to the point. So normally, I'm nervous about openings, but this time I was really surprised at just how calm I was about the whole thing. I was (am still am) really proud of my work, how it all looked/came together, and was actually even kind of excited to share everything. (Awe, look at me growing up haha) But seriously, it was such a great experience. Even the opening itself was amazingly laid back. 

Cultivated | Courtney Khail | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Southern Artist

Seeing that this was my first solo show (I'm still amazed and humbled and kind of in shock that my first solo show is at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, but that's a whole other conversation,) most people probably would have thought I'd would have made a really huge deal about the opening. And it's not that I was opposed to that, but my main goal was to be able to be fully present and experience the moment. So I didn't really stress about it. I sent out a Facebook invite to some close friends who lived in town, posted about it on Instagram, and called it a day. (Side note- I did have the luxury of knowing that the show would be up for 5 months so that helped keep the stress level low and kept me from feeling like I had to do everything RIGHT NOW or I'd miss my chance. I may have done things differently if that was the case.)

Cultivated | Courtney Khail | Southern Artist | Atlanta Botanical Garden

And you know what? It was the best of times. Not even a hint of the worst of times. (Tale of Two Cities, anyone?) Not everyone could make it (some got sick, some were out of town, some had other obligations they couldn't get out of) but even so, I was surrounded by people who are a constant source of love, support, and inspiration. There was one moment I remember looking around and seeing old friends and new friends all surrounded by my work and just feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude.

I didn't get to talk to every person as long as I may have wanted (I talk a lot though so this really isn't new for me ;)) but everything just felt so... perfect. And the cherry on top of it all was that after the show, a group of us just wandered around the Garden, drinking, chatting, and looking at all of the exhibits that were lit up for Cocktails in the Garden (which was also that night!) So it was just art on top of art.

Cultivated | Courtney Khail | Southern Artist | Atlanta Botanical Garden

All this rambling aside, thank you all for your support. It means so much to me and I'm honored to create pieces that bring you joy.

As for the show- it will be on display until October 31st so you have plenty of time to catch it! (All of the work is also for sale in case you've been looking to purchase a piece.) And if you do go, I'd love for you to take photos and share them with me!

Day Trip to the Athens Botanical Gardens

Day trip to the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia (Athens Botanical Gardens)

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia   

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia
 

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I spent the day in Athens, GA and in addition to eating way too much and wandering the campus of our alma mater, we spent the morning visiting the Athens Botanical Gardens (technically it's called the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia, but I rarely call it that so bear with me.) 

Side note- When I lived in Athens I spent a lot of time there, both as a visitor and a student. (I even worked with them while writing my thesis on utilizing art to educate children on complex scientific concepts and procedures.) So now that I only live an hour-ish away, I try to make it back at least once or twice a year. While it's not the largest or the fanciest, there is just something about it that draws me in everytime. 

It was still relatively early in the season, so aside from daffodils poking out, most everything was still pretty dormant outside. Inside though, their orchids were on full display. (And unexpected happy surprise.) I absolutely adore orchids (they're actually the focus on an upcoming series) so I was especially excited to see so many different varieties up close. Here's a peek at what we saw:

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia   

Courtney Khail | Athens Botanical Gardens | State Botanical Gardens of Georgia
 

Beautiful, right?