Sunday, August 12, 2018

Scientific Illustrator? Part 1 : Kunimasu

While I was working at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, in my free time I had been experimenting with scientific-style illustration of fishes. In particular, I had drawn a bluespotted sunfish and a satinfin shiner on Procreate, a digital drawing app I use with my iPad.

Just for kicks, I decided to post them in some of the online fish enthusiast communities I am a part of, and one of my fish-related acquaintances noticed it. This particular acquaintance of mine is a graduate student working on his dissertation. We discussed matters for a little while, but soon enough I found myself commissioned for a project that would involve the digital illustration of 6 salmonids for a research manuscript. 

The first project was an illustration of a kunimasu, or black kokanee. This landlocked sockeye salmon variant, considered a separate species (Oncorhynchus kawamurae) by some, is endemic to Lake Saiko in Japan, orginally endemic to Lake Tawaza but now extinct from that waterbody. The species was thought to be extinct in 1940, but was found to be alive in 2010 in Saiko, where there was an introduction many years ago that was thought to be unsuccessful. Interestingly enough, this species spawns considerably deeper than other kokanee or sockeye salmon, at depths of up to 300 m!

While the fish was certainly fascinating, it presented some difficulty in trying to illustrate it. I did not have access to any specimens, and references online were spotty, but I managed to find some sources through primary literature. 

This chart was particularly helpful;  was able to find use scale counts, fin ray counts, proportion measurements, etc to make sure my illustration was scientifically accurate. 

I started with an outline to get the proportions of the fish set before moving in to the painting stage.

Then I got to work on the head. I like to start with it especially on salmonids in favor of attacking the body as a whole, because the flank scales present a different surface than the head, which is devoid of scales and thus has a different texture. 

Then, using a green filler for the flank, I started working on the fins. In later illustrations I would get the flank first, this seemed to be advantageous with regards to connecting the fins to the body.  

A glimpse into the different layers building up the fish 

Not a bad setting to be drawing!  

Taking care of minute details and making sure everything is scientifically accurate, including things like fin ray branching 

I then began work on flank coloration, this was simple as I mostly smudged color in as filler. 

Then came the difficult part: scaling. I ended up creating a custom brush on Procreate with which I could dot the scales onto the body, but it still took considerable time, especially considering that I needed to get scale counts as accurate as possible.  This was my first attempt at such a technique, so the results were less than optimal, but in later illustrations I got better at it. 

Body fully scaled, with spot patterns illustrated.

Adjusting coloration.

To ensure accuracy, I sent out copies of my draft illustration upon completion to experts on O. kawamurae, including the scientist who rediscovered them in 2010. With their feedback, I made necessary adjustments. 

This is the final version.

More to come!

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