Practitioners for the day, hosting either drawing workshops or talks, were: the illustrators James McKay and Beverley Young; paper engineer Andy Mansfield; fossil shell specialist Edine Pape; glass artist Shelly James; crystallographer Professor Brian Sutton, and historian Dr Sachiko Kusukawa.
On first impression an institution like The Royal Society may seem like a strange place to host an event for drawing, but on closer inspection the relationship between science and illustration becomes clear. Within glass cabinets, dotted discreetly against the walls, lay a selection of beautifully illustrated scientific manuscripts, that depicted various plants and animals in splendid detail and colour. Other cabinets contained manuscripts like those of Gregorius Reisch (1467-1525) the Medieval author of Margarita Philosophica (The Pearl of Philosophy) which depicted: 'An imagining of the human forms in unknown lands', a fanciful illustration, using a woodcut engraving, of a baby with two heads, a She-wolf with canine face and feminine body, a headless torso with a face on the chest, and a man with a giant foot. One illustration depicted in A History of Dragons and Serpents, by Johann Scheuchzer (1723) shows a walker in the Swiss Alps being pounced upon by cat-like-dragon. All of these cabinets are watched over by the various portraits of The Royal Society grandees, past and present.
Strange as these curiosities may have been, they fitted in neatly with the drawing themes set out for the children and adults.Participants were encouraged towards the basement of The Royal Society to take part in Drawing Dinosaurs and Pop Up Science. The Drawing Dinosaurs workshop seemed to take direct inspiration from Scheuchzer. The talented illustrator James McKay well known for his work on dragons, encouraged participants to create their own creatures with a composite of various illustrated body parts, that were inspired by birds and dinosaurs. Children and adults (myself included) sat at his table bedecked with images, and began to draw our composites with the pencils and paper provided. James McKay would take these, and then apply his skills and transform the drawings into fully painted illustrations. Assisting McKay in his efforts stood the lofty figure of Edine Pape, the Dutch fossil shell specialist currently studying her PHD at Leeds University, who entertained with the most recent speculations on dinosaurs, and a collection of fossilised teeth, claws, jaws, and dinosaur dung.
On another table, Andy Mansfield and the illustrator Beverly Young instructed enthusiastic participants in how to create their own pop-ups. The pop-ups although, due to time constraints, less detailed in design than the dragons, nonetheless, introduced participants into the basics of paper engineering.
Placed around the room on plinths the curiosities continued: the inscribed pointed elegance of Sir Christopher Wrens dividers, sat near a hunched bronze maquette of Sir Isaac Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi (1995), which was the study of the huge cast that sits in the piazza of the British library today, and a pioneering (but neglected in his day) wooden design for the catamaran by William Petty (1623-1687).
For the boffins or the curious, two talks were given upstairs, just off the marble gallery, in the afternoon. The First being that of the historian Dr Sachiko Kusukawa who introduced to the audience, via slide-show projections, the extremely accomplished illustrated studies of 'snake stones' by scientists Robert Hooke (the polymath), and Richard Waller. Using combinations of ink, wash, or brush stroke, both works would be the equal of any studies past or present. Dr Kusukawa enlightened her audience with details of the transference of the printed image to paper via woodcut, and copper engraving, and underlined the importance of the techniques to image making in general during the Enlightenment and beyond.
To finish proceedings for the day the Professor Brian Sutton and the glass artist Shelly James, gave a riveting talk about the nature of their creative collaboration on scientific/artistic projects. James detailed the creation of the mind boggling complexity of her glass sculptures, with engineered patterns of air bubbles, while Professor Sutton could barely contain his enthusiasm for demonstrating the key principles of crystallography diffraction: it's laws of pattern; crystal structure; the use of x-rays; and folding symmetry in the identity of DNA and antibodies. All this he done with a slide show, plus the use of a pen laser and a tea strainer pointed at the ceiling.
Both speakers left their audience dizzy with their knowledge, and kindly answered a breadth of questions in return. Perhaps the best statement that encapsulated the importance of drawing to science, in answering a question, was given by Dr Kusukawa who said:
'The act of drawing helps one to observe the study with much better understanding... As opposed to photography. Illustration is part of the intellectual understanding of the subject.'
As Dr Kusukawa's statement would suggest, that even in modern times, but especially in the past, the act of drawing is still critical to how we understand and interpret the world, and the Big Draw does it's best to maintain that great tradition. The Royal Society libraries are open to the public from 10am-5pm Monday-Friday.
Blog article written by Hogarth Brown for The Big Draw.