Career training?

I am interested in Natural Science Illustration. I have no formal art training other than in calligraphy. I have a master's degree in physical education; have worked as a physical therapist assistant and now work in a public library. What suggestions do you have in terms of training? I appreciate any information you might have. Thank you for your time.


Additional schooling is always helpful, but there are few programs directed toward natural science illustration in the same way medical illustration is.  California University at Monterey offers a one year certificate. The Guild offers a one or two week course. This is how many get started: taking their art training and their interest in natural science and blending the two.

  • You need to have very good drawing skills and understand how to draw realistically. If you have that, you are over a big hurtle.
  • You must be interested in communicating facts, not just making stuff up. Then you must learn the vocabulary and practices of science illustration. The Guild Handbook of Science Illustration is a good bible for learning about these things.
  • You need to brush up on current illustration methods, which almost always involve the use of computer graphics programs to allow you to generate the type and quantity of illustrations requested these days.

There is no formal standard for a biological illustration certification. Because the banner of biological illustration covers so many specialies, it would be very hard to fashion a certification program akin to the one for medical illustrators (who generally go through a masters program at one of 6-7 certified schools around the country).  You best course of action is to improve your art skills any way you can and study the science matter that interests you.  Learn to work the business of dealing with a variety of customers, from scientist to publisher and exhibits houses.  All these things are important to making it as a science illustrator.  There are relativly few full time positions.  Most make their living from a variety of sources.  Many who do have full time positions will be in fields related to communication of science, and might not have a title like "Staff Artist". You end up being a jack of all trades.  Freelance jobs are similar.  Pure science research art contracts are small in number and not alwarys the best pay.  But you bring the science atitude to commercial projects that are in the field of science communication.  That is your edge.

Britt Griswold

From OC Carlisle:

I am in an undergraduate scientific illustration program at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA with Professor Gene Wright, Department Chair.  I am in the sixth illustration course.  Additionally, in our program, there are science courses, anatomy drawing class, art history.

I understand that Savannah College of Art and Design are discussing an undergrad scientific illustration program, perhaps graduate.

A number of major botanical gardens offer some illustration programs in addition to their master gardener's programs.

I have found the GNSI handbook an enormous help.  GNSI conference in North Carolina this past July, a  fantastic help.  

As Professor Wright has stressed; lighting the subject, giving it form, three dimensionality.  And as Michaelangelo said to his apprentice..."Draw, Antonio, draw, draw, draw!"

Classes with our GNSI members, an absolute "gold mine"!  The talent here is incredible.