Student interested in Science Illustration Career

Hello, my name is Addison Sani. I'm currently a student and am trying to plan out an educational path that can help me to get into the field of Scientific Illustration. I am having difficulty, however since the branch of science I feel most drawn to (pardon the pun) is Geology. The majority of the programs listed on your own site, as well as the programs I have looked into on my own, have all been much more geared toward life science and biology, especially medical illustration. I am wondering if it would be more prudent to get my undergraduate degree in something more related to those fields, or is there a place for geological knowledge in the field of scientific illustration? Thank you very much for your time and any advice you may give me. Your organization's website has already been exceptionally helpful to me.


Addison Sani

Dear Addison,

There are many ways to a illustration career. One of the things that sets science illustrators apart is either a rigor in figuring out how to create art with accurate details, or actually having a focused knowledge in a subject area of interest (the second usually means you can do the first). If you have an affinity for a particular subject, there is absolutely nothing wrong in focusing on that as a formal degree. The most important thing is that you have access, either formally or informally, to the tools and time to practice your art skills. It is almost like a double major. Basic art skills are readily transferable to an art profession. The main thing is to move toward design and illustration once you have the basics down (instead of fine art classes). But if you find you really have an affinity for landscape painting (probably a good thing for a geology person) Fine arts techniques could set you apart in the field. Many choices to make.

Many of the science art programs can be very flexible about the content of your illustrations, it is the process and the business sense that is the same no matter what the subject. But if you really want to know your Geology, and perhaps find clients who also love there geology, then study geology first and bring the art along as you can. I of course would encourage you to join the GNSI at some point, as it is a friendly and sharing group that provides knowledge and community. If a national meeting ever comes within travel distance, I would jump at the opportunity to attend if you can.

Britt Griswold

I'm a strong advocate of understanding the science and improving and understanding perspective, light on form, chiasrascuro drawing skills, even before working with the computer.   The more you understand the science and work to develop the skill set to convey the information visually the better you will present information.  In this day and age, people depend too much on the computer to provide the perspective and will often allow the software to make the decision in design, composition, layout.  When in fact I would rather you work through the problem quickly in thumbnails so you can see the various options of problem solving before locking yourself into one direction.  I believe it is important to  understand the basic principles of how light on form works.   I don't know a single person who doesn't continue with their education throughout their career and work to improve their skill set.  So don't consider determining a career path is set to a certificate or BA/BS program.  It's by doing that we learn. 

My suggestion is as Britt says,  follow your passion, you are not going to develop a portfolio based off of a few years of undergraduate work.  Consider this the springboard of a life long learning and developing your skills.  Take every opportunity that allows you to pursue your interest even it at the time it may seem obtuse.  You may never know where the road less travelled may lead you. 


I am in a very similar situation. For quite some time, I have been very interested in the idea of a career involving scientific illustration, along with related research, writing, and photography (at least). My focus might not be geology, but I would like to have a broad focus. (That seems dichotomous, I know, but I mean involving biology, physics, and others -- more about providing information however needed without confining it, but even relating areas to each other and using means/formats that complement and cross-reference each other.) I, too, am trying determine good coursework that will fascinate me and be a useful basis for such a career; I have been part-timing for several years and am early enough in my credits to plan my path.
I wish I could help you more, but I am trying to know about it for sure myself and explore this as (potentially) a major part of my career.
All the best to you.
~ Kelly Michelle McMorrow-Hernandez

There will be certain things that form the tapestry of your life or neural net and those topics will sustain you throughout your career.  Being a science illustrator in of itself is will need various skills and techniques in fine arts/graphic design/digital/computer/animation/lettering etc and as for the attention and validate your natural tendencies...they will guide you.  We do form alliances with folks in our 'tribe' and they will most likely be the very ones that will guide and lead you to the very folks that will pay you for your skill set.  If I were a client, I would want a specialist illustrator just like I would want a specialist surgeon working for me.  If geology is your thing....expand your perspective on just what geology means to the general public as well as the scientific community and you will find your niche.  Example...if I were into geology, I would be following what Google Earth is doing now with it's underwater applications as well as going on a science expedition with NOAA exploring the ocean floor and the technologies that are being developed as we speak to help us understand the last frontier of our planet~

Hi Addison,

I just joined today, but here are some thoughts from my store of 30 yrs.experience: Your passion to work in this, or any, field can be the fuel to drive you to draw (practice, practice) and seek out the information you need from departments in educational establishments, museums, nature centers, etc. Stop in in person and see what/who they use now. Describe what you want to do. Interview staff directly and get a feel for what they might look for (may give you ideas for educational direction). You may or may not need more education. Your portfolio will speak volumes, as will your passion. I have found work this way and expanded my skills through my committment, and by simply the doing of it. The process teaches, your portfolio will reflect your skill. I've been hired/contracted, on the spot this way, in my career, and developed my skills along the way. Draw, draw, draw!

Put together your own collection of your best geological drawings in several of your favorite media. Use these to garner work and /or show to student services in school. There are related fields of scientific discipline, like archaeology, that utilize geological related specimen drawings. You can do some drawings on your own of arrow heads, adzes, pots and sherds, occupation sites, etc. for your portfolio. Often the gift stores of museums have nice souvinirs of such things to take home and draw from.There may be work awaiting you in museums or regional visiting centers at places of geologic interest. This can be interesting and exciting work, too, and you may do a lot of traveling to these interesting places in the bargain.

Best wishesfor your success!
Sheryl Ives-Boynton