3 March 2021

#DrawnToGeoscience: Inspiration in Geoscience

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, Erin Stoesz.

Stone Fabric. Credit: Erin Stoesz

For me, combining science & art always made natural sense. My foray into deliberately combining them came in junior high & high school when I delved into a 3-year long self-directed investigation into “What makes rocks ring?”.  The inspiration for studying sound transmission in rocks came from hearing the varied musical (or non-musical) tone quality of indoor wind chimes my grandmother made using nephrite she found during family rock-hounding expeditions in Wyoming.  Beyond inspiration, musical understanding of pitch, harmonics, timbre, and overtones led me to creative ways to quantify quality of sound generated by striking rock slabs and to relate that sound quality to microtextures of the rocks.  I took this research to the International Science & Engineering Fair and did well, which gave me the nudge I needed to choose geology as my profession.

While music was the artform that piqued my interest in geoscience, microtextures got me hooked.  As an undergraduate student I first became captivated by the colorful patterns and textures that result from grain intergrowth, variable compositional domains, anastomosing phyllosilicates, and crenulations.  As I learned how to probe this mesmerizing beauty scientifically, the microtextures became critical to answering questions about tectonic history, rheology, and to tracking a rock’s evolution through changing P-T-t conditions.  As a geologist and lecturer, I’m a rock interpreter seeking to decipher and share the stories captured in the complex microtextures.

I realized that rocks are dynamic; beneath their hard & seemingly unchanging exterior they have histories, stories and complexities just like the humans who use them as doorstops, paperweights, countertops, and pocket rocks. As an artist, I create needle-felted pictures that bring these textures and their geologic stories into the personal spaces of those who enjoy rocks simply for their aesthetic beauty, functionality, or emotional comfort.  My geology art brings to life the rocks under your feet, on your desk, or in your pocket.  I highlight the geologic equivalents of genealogy (i.e., Who IS your mother?), the epoch battles (Which came first?  Chicken? Egg?), the unanswered questions (i.e. Who dunnit?). 

To make each piece, I start with a photomicrograph or a peak through the microscope to find textures that suggest flow and change.  With the image in mind, but never trying to recreate it exactly, I take a flat piece of wool felt (usually grey or white to represent quartz) and add small colored wools on top to represent the stand-out minerals (garnet, feldspar, amphibole) and textures (smears of fine-grained mineral aggregate). I make subtle relief by repeatedly and vigorously poking the needle in some places (low relief) and less in others (higher relief), balling the wool, or using yarn to define lines. I needlefelt the wool up-close, then inspect the piece from ~10 ft away and modify it until the essence of the rock is captured both up close and from a distance.

~Erin Stoesz, “a Wyoming woman who has had rocks in her head and hands since the day she could walk.” You can find her artwork here