my art

My art background

This is a question from formspring.me. Go ask me something!

Have you ever had art classes or did you learn on your own? ‘Cause you’re pretty good!

Thank you! And the answer is both! My mother was a middle school art teacher (just retired), so I was surrounded by art my whole life. My bathroom back home is decorated by watercolor paintings I did when I was 2 years old – basically just blobs, but my mom thinks it’s as good as some modern art. I was an introverted kid, so I would always sit around and draw for fun. People who knew about my artistic ability always thought my mom sat me down and trained me, but she really didn’t. I was way too stubborn to listen to her then, and I mostly figured it out on my own. But if I did want advice on how to make something look better or more realistic, she was there for the tips.

Priorities – This is hanging up in my high school because it won a major award.

Even though I didn’t like to listen to her personally, she really enriched my life with art. We went to the Art Institute of Chicago nearly every year, to the point where I could have given you a tour of the exhibits by age 10. I was well versed in the history and style of most famous artists. In addition to art classes I took at school, I also took some summer classes.
Lift-off painting of Jude Law I did during my sophomore year of high school. Had no idea who he was at the time, just found a pretty magazine photograph of him.

School classes were my favorite though. I always looked forward to art, and teachers gave me a lot leeway. I was an honors student and good in most subjects, but in art I was years ahead of everyone else. Every year since first grade I had at least one piece in the Northwest Indiana art show, and I usually won at least something. Whenever there was a class project that needed an illustration, I was the go-to girl.
Oil painting and colored pencils are my favorite medium. And if you can’t figure it out, I love drawing people. And yep, this one is a self portrait.

My mom was actually my art teacher from 6th through 8th grade, which was a little awkward in the beginning (especially since it took everyone forever to figure out that she was my mom!). At the time I was annoyed that she graded me tougher than the other students, but in the end it made me a better artist. My high school art teacher was wonderful too – she was so spunky and creative, and had a good mix of teaching skills and encouraging creativity. I took AP Studio Art my senior year, with a class size of one – I just sat in the corner and painted while another class was going on (by the way, I got a 5 on my exam – woot). And on top of all that, I was the Art Club President for two years. Yep, I was more of an art geek than a science nerd!

My favorite piece from AP Studio Art – Pygmalion

So how did I end up a scientist? Well, I liked genetics and art equally. My logic at the time was that art can be a hobby, but genetics kind of can’t. Not to mention I like doing art my way, and I couldn’t imagine doing it as a job. So here I am, a geneticist. I’m very happy with my decision, even though I don’t do as much art as I would like. Regardless, that artistic ability still helps me in science. I have labmates come to me to help with figures and posters (No, do not use neon green and orange for that figure…). But more importantly, art has trained me to think creatively. You can do science without it, but to ask the innovative, cool questions you need to be able to think outside of the box. So to all those people who don’t see art as a worthwhile class to have – think again!

Proof that I’m actually doing these!

I haven’t updated my art much since high school, but if you want to check out my other stuff, I have an old deviantART page.

What we can learn from ancient human DNA

What can we learn about a person just from looking at their DNA? As our knowledge of genetics continues to grow, we may even be able to figure out what they look like. Research published in Nature looked at the genome of an ancient human using 4,000 year old hair that had been preserved in Greenland’s permafrost. From looking at genes that cause known traits, we can learn a lot about his appearance.

  • Male
  • Type A+ blood
  • Brown eyes
  • Darker skin
  • Stocky body
  • Dry earwax
  • Shovel shaped teeth
  • Thick, dark hair
  • Tendency toward baldness

Okay, as an aside: Who is the lucky artist who gets to draw a reconstruction of an ancient human, or the feather patterns on dinosaurs? Is this someone’s profession, or does a grad student do it? Maybe I can finally find a way to combine my art skills with my biology skills!

Anyway, it’s pretty cool that we’re able to learn about the actual physical appearance of someone just from their genes. Think about the implications in forensics cases when all that’s left is tissue that’s beyond identification. But that’s not the thing that made this paper Nature-worthy. All of these genotypes are very similar to modern Siberians, which tweaks our current understanding of human migration. Jerry Coyne summarizes it well over at his wonderful blog, Why Evolution is True:

Oh, and the really interesting result is this: the DNA suggests that the individual had components of genes still present in East Asian and Siberian populations, but not found in modern-day Inuits or people from South and Central America. This suggests that there were two separate invasions of North America from Asia: the one that gave rise to native Americans, South Americans, and modern Inuit on the one hand, and that leading to the presence of Saqqaq in Greenland. Those latter individuals probably came across the Bering Strait, and then, hugging the Arctic, made their way eastward across North America and then to Greenland.

That conclusion is of course tentative because it’s based on only this single genome. Still, based on the sequence, and the tentative phylogeny showing that this individual’s ancestors split off from the ancestors of their closest living relatives (the Chukchis of eastern Siberia) about 5,000 years ago, anthropologists may have to revise their conclusion that there was one invasion of North America from eastern Asia around 18,000 years ago.

Very neat stuff! Though I would like to see a study using modern humans to see how accurate these sorts of predictions are. Take maybe ten individuals with various phenotypes, sequence their genomes, have the researchers try to reconstruct their appearance without previous knowledge of what they look like, send it off to an artist, and see how close we can get! I’m not sure what profound result this would show other than if this method is useful or not – just seems like a really cool thing to try out. Can’t we do science for fun every once in a while?

My first atheist wedding art commission!

My friends Julie and Don are getting married this summer, and instead of including a dorky photograph with their wedding invitation, they asked me to draw a cartoon of them! (Click image for higher quality)
If you can’t tell, all of my friends are a bit nerdy. Julie is working towards vet school and takes care of shelter animals, especially exotics – hence the snake. And apparently Don is just a big super hero dork on the inside, because he requested the Spiderman outfit.

They’re also both active atheists and skeptics, which is why they’re getting a little plug here. Julie is a frequent member of the Society of Non-Theists and often comments here at the blog. And some of you may actually know Don – he blogs over at Action Skeptics and gave a talk at TAM 2009 on Kids Thinking Critically, a “strategy to bring critical thinking skills to at-risk and underprivileged youth.” He’s also working his butt of organizing speakers for the upcoming Skepchicamp in Chicago, which Julie and I are speaking at.

An early congratulations to you to! Who says us godless heathens aren’t capable of love?

New Merch: Evolution of Christmas

There’s new a new design up at Blag Hag Swag, titled the Evolution of Christmas (click for larger image):Who can deny the resemblance between Darwin and Santa Claus? Except his sleigh is a bit different. I need to include stuff like this in my grad school apps to show how passionate/geeky I am about evolutionary biology.

You can buy it on t-shirts, mousepads, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and postcards. I think the coffee mugs look especially nice, since the design wraps around the whole mug:And this is a bit late, but you can get 50% off if you buy 10+ greeting cards or post cards if you enter the code 12DEALSCARDS at checkout before 11:59 pm PT tonight! Even better, you can customize the text of the cards however you want. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Monkey, witty evolution pun – whatever your heart desires. Go spread some nerdy love for the holidays!

If you’d like this available on any other sort of merchandise over at Zazzle, let me know and it shall be done.

Darwin finds the best evidence against his theory

Like always, click for larger.Disclaimer: This is not supposed to mean evolutionary biologists are hostile to any contrary evidence. It’s a joke. I hate to have to include this, but I know if I don’t this comic will get picked up by some creationist site as proof that we’re all dogmatic Darwinists. Actually, that’s probably going to happen anyway, so oh well.

I Squid Science

I needed something lighthearted after yesterday’s drama (which is apparently still continuing today) so I decided to make the PZ/Ham comic a t-shirt. Then I realized I accidentally saved over the large file, so I don’t have a shirt-quality image. Fudgenuggets. Don’t worry, I’ll redraw it as close to the original as possible – you’ll get your shirt soon!

But until then, I thought I’d draw something else for a shirt/mug/merch/etc:After seeing the comic, someone wanted a shirt that says “I (squid) the Creation Museum.” Not sure if I want to do that – most people will probably not get the reference and think of it as an endorsement of the “museum.” But I liked the image in my head. So what do you think? Would you actually be interested in buying this, and if so, what phrase would you want? I (squid) Science? I (squid) Biology? I (squid) Squids? Let me know!

What atheists wish would happen at the Creation Museum

What atheists wish would happen at the Creation Museum (I partially blame Mark for this insanity).

Click the images for a bigger image (it’s so big I couldn’t fit it as one comic).What did I learn from making this? …It is impossible to draw Ken Ham NOT evil looking. I mean, seriously. Compare this comic to a photograph and you’ll know what I mean.

And I know Cthulhu fhtagn is two words. My handwriting just sucks. Sigh.

EDIT: Shirts of this comic available in the store!

Drawing Challenge

There’s a new challenge at the Blogathon for $5 – draw something related to Blogathon! Well, this is basically how I feel right now: going insane and jacked up on caffeine.
Though it’s a bit of a stretch. I really only have a couple Pepsi cans surrounding me, and they’re not ginormous. Unfortunately I didn’t have to take too much artistic liberty with the deranged look on my face.

This is post 32 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

In honor of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince…

Here’s some old artwork I did in 2005, when I had just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I call it the Half-Blood Prince of All Cosmos (click here for larger version on deviantART):

Oh the good ol’ days of coloring things with a mouse.

A billion points to anyone geeky enough to get both references.

The Difference Between Normal People, Scientists, and Chocoholics

Alright, I had to do it:…And now that I’m embarrassed by my crappy tablet drawing skills, go check out my artwork from high school so I can redeem myself a bit.