SCIENTIFIC ILLUSTRATION: outlines, abstractions and beautiful ideas

By Amanda Garcia. April 27, 2012


First I have two names: Nathaniel Lord Britton and Addison Brown. They opened The New York Botanical Garden, in 1891, and wrote the book An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British possessions from Newfoundland to the parallel of the southern boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the 102d meridian (vol. 1vol. 2,vol. 3). Whenever we look for illustrations of a specific plant, for whatever reason, the ones included in said volumes will be easier to find. Maybe because they are the clearest, maybe because it is the most complete catalogue, maybe for many reasons. The first of our characters was a devoted botanist and so was the second, but above all he was a lawyer and he obviously found time to spend in the great task of illustrating.

Then I have another name: Lukas Large, from whom we only know that he found the time to build, with the utmost dedication, the blog Scientific Illustration. Every day he uploads ten images, more or less, with their quotes, references and explanations.

None of the previously mentioned was or is a professional illustrator. Although the first two drew, although the second doesn’t, in the end they share the obsession to spread the schematic figure of what has been taxonomized. Of what we can name. Linnaeus said: if you ignore the name of things, what you know of them also disappears. And, after all, the pleasure of interpretation enters the scene, where what couldn’t be drawn is outlined in the mind. We cannot name it, we only know it is there, absent in the image.

I think that what I share with them is the pleasure of seeing the images that are not what they really are. Their outline, their abstractions, when things cease to be real and end up being a beautiful idea.

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