Tag Archives: vector illustration

Teaching Science with Art


This fall, I’ve been teaching courses at two universities.  One is a biogeography class – the science of plant and animal distributions.  I find myself drawing pictures on the white board to explain concepts.  I’m a visual learner and I know some of my students are too, so I think it’s helpful sometimes.  I do know that some of the silly little pictures help people remember things because, on exams, the students often reproduce the doodles and give the correct answer.  Some students don’t seem to like the drawings at all though.  I wonder if the sketches make the concepts seem too simple or easy or unrefined.  I would rather the students find the concepts easy than struggle, so I keep drawing and try to ignore the little comments I get from students every now and then.  As a side note, when did it become ok to chide your college professor?

The other class I’m teaching is an art class for wildlife science majors.  In the class, the students learn how to illustrate science concepts using a vector illustration software (we chose Inkscape because (1) I know how to use it, (2) it’s free, and (3) it works on all 3 major operating systems).  In the process, they learn the skills they can also apply to creating their own scientific figures for publication.  The benefit to their coursework is that they really need to understand the concepts in order to illustrate it properly.  The end result of the class isn’t a series of diagrams, as you might imagine, but rather richly colored artistic graphic posters.  Through critiquing their classmates’ work the students also have to draw on their knowledge of other concepts to help their classmates refine their work.  It’s been quite the amazing process.  The science aspect of this class is far greater than I anticipated.  In just a few short weeks, the class will be finished and I am really excited to see the end results.


Open Source Tools for Art + Science

I was thinking about how many software tools I use that are somewhat off the beaten trail and thought I would make a list of the tools I use often.  I thought it might be a good reference so in case I forget to link something later, the information is here.

I like using open source tools.  Not only are they free, but I find in many cases that the development and bug fixes go much more quickly in open source projects than in their proprietary cousins.  I’m not a programmer (well, I program in R, but that’s not the same kind of programming as big applications), so I appreciate that others are and that they put their time into these tools and that they do it free of cost.  The following tools come highly recommended by me for use in graphic art, photography, geospatial science, and their intersection – cartography.

  • Quantum GIS – a powerful geographic information system program for spatial analysis and data visualization
  • Inkscape – a vector illustration software similar to Adobe Illustrator (so I’ve heard… never worked with AI myself).
  • Gimp – a raster editor similar to Adobe Photoshop (again, I haven’t worked with Photoshop)
  • XnView – a photo organizer and editor, good for quick fixes and batch processing
  • Hugin – a photo panorama stitching software that I use to stitch my air photos into one scene; works much better on standard panoramas than what I try to get it to do
  • R – Stats software; you can get graphical interfaces for it, but writing scripts isn’t too complicated (and this is coming from a person with a loathing for command line).