6 May 2020

#DrawnToGeoscience: Drawn In

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#DrawnToGeoscience is a series of posts by artists who draw about science and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. This week, Olivia V. Ambrogio.

Drawing was never my thing. All through high school, I took ceramics (and a couple metals) classes, and in college I added film photography to my suite of hobbies, but for me drawing was mostly just doodling.

I’m not sure exactly when that changed. Maybe when I started using doodles in my grad-school research talks to illustrate my methods or make a point. Maybe there just came a point when spending a little more time on the art that required the least (and lightest) equipment seemed like a good idea.

In any case, in the past few years I’ve become an enthusiastic amateur, using drawing for everything from science communication to silly seasonal cartoons.

It’s fascinating to learn about other people’s use of art to communicate their research or observations of nature—like nature journaling or natural-history and science illustration.

Thanks to that, I’ve realized there are so many different ways and styles to create SciArt, from comics to detailed, technical illustrations, from infographics to sketches and diagrams of field sites.

I like to use humor in scicomm, and that’s how I draw, too. Sometimes I start with a concept I want to inform people about; sometimes I just want to draw a cool animal (biologist by training!)—sometimes I want to help AGU share its members’ enthusiasm for its science.

In any case, no matter how simplified or cartoony my final drawing, it’s important to have a good understanding of my subject: whether it’s a piece of equipment, a geological formation, or a shark. I don’t always need to be able to draw it in detail, but knowing what those details are makes the simple version more believable.

Most importantly, though, I just keep drawing, even when it’s something I don’t know how to do (like quick sketches of people on the subway, or planets’ moons)—and that’s what I’d encourage anyone else to do, too. Not only do you get better at it over time, but you lose your fear of the drawings not being perfect—because they’ll never be, and yet people will like them, and get something from them, anyway. There’s something very freeing in realizing that.

-Olivia V. Ambrogio is the Manager of Sharing Science at AGU, where she conducts workshops and webinars and makes resources (and silly cartoons) to help people communicate science. She shares her science art on Instagram as @BaggageClam (yes, “clam”).