In Which I Illustrate
by Sarah Gillig -- January 18th, 2013

Greetings all in the new semester! I’m excited about my new classes.  Conflict Resolution, Economic Evaluation of Sustainable Development,  Marine and Coastal GIS, GIS Field Skills, Program Management, and Conservation Ethics. Lots of good stuff!

I’m also working on a little project that I thought might interest you.  While I was at the Shoals Marine Lab  as an undergraduate, I took summer courses in Biological Illustration with Bill Ober, Claire Garrison, and Jim Gibson.  I actually liked the course so much I took it three different times!

I drew this flower in Photoshop.

You find this all over coastal New England. I did this watercolor in the summer; in the fall the berries turn bright red.

A very colorful nudibranch in colored pencils.








Since then, I’ve tried to keep my hand in and do at least one project per year, whether it’s for a project or just for fun.  Something that I’ve really been meaning to do is to make myself a business card with a nice illustration on the back.  I thought I’d share a little bit of the process, and then maybe you all could help me decide what the illustration should be.

My subject: a branch with red berries and a bow. The berries have withered a bit since I did the first sketches.

First, I have to find a subject of some kind.  I’ll take pictures, but it’s always best if I can take it with me and have it in front of me (obviously this works better with shells and plants than animals!).  I also have to decide what medium I want to use — pen and ink, computer, watercolor, colored pencil.  I tend to favor pen and ink, since Mom gave me a set of Koh-i-noor pens for my birthday some years ago, and the colored pencils that are best are super expensive.

I should really clean them, sometimes the ink gets messy!


Next, I do sketches.  This part is really important; you have to have a good sketch to go off or else the finished piece will never look right.

Pencil sketch of the branch with the berries and the bow.

After the sketch is to my liking, I’ll transfer it to paper and start inking.  Shading is accomplished by making many many tiny dots, a technique called ‘stippling’.

Transferring the sketch to the paper. A sheet of tracing paper helps me finalize the sketch; rubbing graphite onto the back side and then tracing the front lets me transfer it to the heavier paper.

I never know which part will take the longest–the sketching or the stippling (though of course things that require lots of shading will have a lot of stippling involved.)  It generally takes me longer to do things on the computer, because color is of course more complex than just using black and white. On the other hand, you can do really cool things with color!

The finished product, at least for this step. I’m playing around with adding color to the berries and the bow in Photoshop for a nice seasonal touch. Too bad it’s a little late to send as a holiday card!

Sometimes it is hard to decide when the piece is done…but eventually I have to sign it, of course!

And there you have it.

So, what do you think I should have on the back of my business card?  I’m inclined towards a pen-and-ink shell, since I’m interested in ocean and coastal issues and pen-and-ink is the easiest to reproduce at high quality.  I could also draw a pine cone, since the Loblolly pine is a big deal in the South, but I feel like that might make people think I’m interested in forestry, which is not really the case (I mean, it’s interesting, I just don’t want a career in it). Thoughts?



Tides for Friday, January 18th, 2013, Beaufort, NC

High: 12:35 AM, 2.94 ft

Low: 6:56 AM, 0.27 ft

High: 12:47 PM, 2.66 ft

Low: 7:06 PM, 0.03 ft

From NOAA Tide Predictions




  1. Christine Chen
    Jan 18, 2013

    You did a great job in sketching! They look beautiful and absolutely useful in biological studies.

  2. Alex Osteen
    Alex Osteen
    Jan 20, 2013

    I think a shell would be sleek.

  3. Cindy Van Dover
    Jan 21, 2013

    Wow – beautiful art work! I stumbled on your website while following the Duke team at sea with Professor Johnson.

  4. Tawnee
    Jan 22, 2013

    This is awesome, Sarah; your illustrations are fantastic! I agree that a shell would look good and be concentration-appropriate. Plus, shells have such unique shapes that your design options would be endless!

  5. Sarah
    Jan 29, 2013

    Thanks all! I’m in agreement about the shell, and I wound up drawing a new one from my shell stash. However, I’m not sure where it came from–it actually might be a terrestrial snail shell. Any snail experts out there? The colors were pretty cool, so I might do a version in color, but I’m keeping it simple for the business card–pen and ink.

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