Author: Marco Garbelli, Phd - Affiliate Artist | Visual Science Artist
Exploring the Intersection of Science, Art, and Imagination
Do you remember what you wanted to be as a “grownup” when you were a kid? Often the ideas change with age, passing from a fleeting interest to the other, leaving us with literally no clue of what we really want to do or to be, until the moment we have to make a choice.
During my childhood I went through this exact process of exploration, dreaming to be an astronaut, an archeologist, a palaeontologist, a zoologist, an informatician, an artist and finally a researcher. While my hyperactive mind was seeing myself in a varied assortment of professions, most of them belonged to some field of science. I was a curious kid, looking at the world in wonder, with a burning desire to understand the how and why of everything around me. I can recall very defined memories of a young self collecting books from any kind of scientific topic, hunting insects to study them, or begging my parents for a small microscope. All the incredible things passing through my curiosity-inspired mind I would then transfer to paper as drawings of, back then, dubious quality.
While interests often disappear with adulthood, science and art remained two equally big parts of my life until now. I still remember the struggle I faced when having to choose between art or science school, an event that led me to keep art of any kind as a hobby for the following years and set me on the path of becoming a biologist.
Transforming Complex Concepts Into Understandable Visuals
Fast forward 14 years and I was in the middle of my PhD in molecular life sciences. Apart from knowing that I did not want to stay in academia to become a group leader, I had no idea of what to do next. Research and development in a pharma company? Consulting? Move to clinical trials and data management? I was looking around, attending seminars and asking professionals about their careers, failing to find something that would strike me as “the Job”. It might be a delusion of our generation, but at the time (and still nowadays) I believed in “the dream position”, something that would both keep me interested and let me prosper in my professional and personal life. Up until then, art was always with me in different forms and media, but as an intermittent and strictly personal form of expression.
After a suggestion from a friend, I decided to step up and involve myself in some extracurricular activity to become more “interesting” in the eyes of a potential recruiter. At the time, some of my colleagues were involved in a volunteer-based science communication project, called Facts & Reasons. This group, built by young scientists with the noble mission of fighting misinformation, would take complex topics and translate them into understandable language. At that time, I was not interested in writing, but something that Facts & Reasons was missing were compelling graphics, both to spark curiosity and to provide visual access to the most essential information. Having always kept art as a hobby, I have never considered my skills to be applicable to something like science communication, but the desire to be part of an organised group pushed me to volunteer myself as the team artist. For the first time I found myself translating an article into an illustration. I was ecstatic, I could use something I loved doing to help transmit science.
Drawing Inspiration from Discovery
It was only a few days after finishing my first piece when during a networking workshop, I discovered that “science illustration” was a growing field with plenty of artists making a living out of it. My mind was blown. After spending many years between science and art, I could bring them together once more and adopt it as my career. I immediately understood that I had to at least try to make this happen. The mere concept filled me with energy and excitement: I finally knew what I wanted to be as a grownup!
Since then I used my free time outside of the lab working on my graphic skills, I tried to get in contact with as many artists as possible and to make my work known. Through social media platforms and online events, I started approaching science artists and organisations such as the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI), finding some of the most welcoming and supporting people that I have ever met, to learn and get inspired by them. Finally, after two years of hard work I am confident enough to call myself a science artist.
What’s the take home message of this post? If you find yourself thinking about a career move and do not know where to go next, do not settle for the well-trodden path, but consider all your interests and skills. You might find hidden paths and new destinations that you were not aware of!
Author: Marco Garbelli, PhD - Affiliate Artist | Visual Science Artist