Illustration by Molly Keller. Courtesy of Liz Broughton.
Illustration by Molly Keller. Courtesy of Liz Broughton.

The two different fields of art and science come together through a process called science illustration. Science illustration combines both by giving artists a chance to teach others about science through their artwork. This may involve drawing rare specimens, designing maps displaying the distribution of species, developing 3-D models and more. The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History (SCMNH) allows artists to teach their work as science illustrators through “The Art of Nature.”

The 24th annual series of “The Art of Nature” is coming back to SCMNH on April 6. The program, originally called “Illustrating Nature,” used to display work from the graduating classes of UC Santa Cruz’s science illustration program before it moved to CSU Monterey Bay. Now it displays artwork from the California Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI), a nonprofit organization of people who are employed or interested in the field of natural science illustration. The guild provides professional and scholarly development and holds events that teach the public about the field.

Liz Broughton, the museum’s visitor services manager, said “The Art of Nature” is one of the most popular exhibits every year.

“Scientific illustration is really a great marriage of both science and the arts,” she said, “It’s really a way of conveying scientific information through images. It’s an important tool to scientists because it can sometimes show details that aren’t readily visible in a photograph per se, or it can bring to life the skeletal anatomy that you can’t see from looking at an animal. It can bring to life things that don’t exist anymore, that are extinct.”

The exhibit will provide information on the tools and techniques used to create the artwork, hands-on stations where visitors themselves can create museum specimens, and stations where visitors can classify the different museum specimens. These activities will be among over 40 pieces of artwork from about 20 different artists until June 9.

One of these artists is Sondra Cohelan, a UCSC alumna and graduate of the science communication program. Cohelan has sent in work to SCNHM’s annual exhibit since 1999, and her interest in science illustration stemmed when she first attended the exhibit.

“I graduated from UCSC with a major in art and I really loved going to exhibits,” she said, “I learned about the exhibit of natural science illustration at SCNHM and went over and saw the amazing work which was produced and just fell in love with it.”

This year Cohelan sent in three pieces of art, one being a recreation of a Towhee nest, called “A Garden Gift.”

“One of the ladies I draw with found a nest in the yard and it was a beautiful nest,” she said, “It had a beautiful feather coming out of it’s side on the top and I thought, ‘Wow, I wonder if I can put that down on paper and make it look real.’ So it was a challenge to produce.”

Cissy Freeman, a Santa Cruz resident and freelance artist, found the nest for Cohelan’s “A Garden Gift” piece. Freeman has been involved with the GNSI since 1995 and has three California native plant pieces in the exhibit.

“I like doing California natives because it fits with my concern about the natural environment and preserving native plants,” Freeman said.

One of the native plants Freeman worked with was coffeeberry. She clipped branches of coffeeberry, drew preliminary drawings from different angles, put together the parts she liked and transferred the drawing to a watercolor painting.

While Freeman said her artwork is more traditional, there will be other pieces at the exhibit that are computer generated. Freeman said visitors will see a whole range of the way artists work in the field.

“What everything will have in common is a concern with detail, combining accuracy with aesthetics, and producing something beautiful,” she said.


“The Art of Nature” will be open April 6 – June 9. Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 for students, $4 for the general public, and free for those under 18.