Illustrating Science

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interview by Cyrus Nuval

photography by John Dijulio

Skye Young’s sketchbooks are filled with diagrams. Alongside the messy sketches of buildings and the backs of people’s heads, there are plants, animal and insect parts and other objects, drawn with vivid detail, and labelled, like a textbook. There are organs and bones meticulously re-created on paper.

The illustration that one finds in a science textbook is not always seen as art, even though it takes just as much time and dedication to create those pieces. Yet while looking through Skye’s sketchbooks, there is no question: She is an artist. You can see her work on her tumblr here. Skye Young majored in communication arts, specifically medical and scientific illustration along with a minor in biology. Her more traditional work was published by Poictesme and Cobblestones last year, and it was a surprise to find out that what she actually prefers to draw is very different. We interviewed Skye to find out more about the process of her more deviant art.

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When did your interest in art begin?

My mom likes to tell the story from when I was little, about two or three, and she saw me sitting on the floor and she said that I just looked at light and shadow differently. My I dad and my mom both took art classes in high school and a little bit in college so they decided to provide me with all of the art things that I needed and I’ve been in art classes ever since I entered school. Except for what my mom calls “the dark years,” in 7th grade, and last semester when I didn’t have any art classes.

Do you have any artists that you look up to? Or styles you prefer?

 I prefer highly naturalistic and realistic stuff which, if you look at the stuff I do with the scientific and medical illustration, it makes sense. But I’m a big fan of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, and I love Vincent van Gogh. I know it sounds so cliché, but I do, especially after learning more about his life and his story, he’s just really tragic.

Why do you prefer scientific and medical illustration? 

I use art less to express myself and more to study. I really like biology and I’m really interested in the natural world and how beautiful it is. I think that being able to draw it and to study it and to really understand it is really important. As a scientific or medical illustrator, the whole goal is to communicate things that people either have a hard time understanding, like an illness, or to help others learn about it through that medium. It’s learning and teaching.

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Have you drawn human bodies from life?

I haven’t done as much human from life, just because we have limited availability to cadavers and stuff, and I don’t think we’re actually allowed to draw from them in the class. But I have been frequented the butcher shop and got some weird stuff there. One thing I did was a lamb hip joint and I dissected some rats. But they are not preserved, so it’s bloody and kind of gross. But pretty cool the same time.

What inspires you to begin a piece of art?

 The object itself and just how unique it is. It’s the little things that have extraordinary detail. I use this huge, ancient magnifying class I got at the thrift store to look at them closely. I like being able to look at the tiny details and then draw them larger so everyone can enjoy them.

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