scientific illustration

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.