A trip back in time

In 2004 I made a series of drawings from old microscope slides on loan from the Bell Pettigrew Museum at the University of St. Andrews, for a project organised by artist and illustrator Jeannine Osborne. I worked with a beautiful set of insect wings, collected and prepared by biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948).

Thompson published his famous book ‘On Growth and Form’ in 1917 and it has influenced thinking about natural structures through to the present day. I remember borrowing an old well-used copy from the St. Andrews University library in the 1970s, struggling with the text and thoroughly enjoying the illustrations.

In 2004 we exhibited our drawings and paintings alongside the original microscope slides in the Cooper Gallery at University of Dundee and I was delighted when two of my drawings were purchased for the University collection: ‘Diptera’ (a bluebottle wing) and ‘Odonata’ (a lovely dragonfly wing with a little break on one edge). 

A few weeks ago I received an email from Dundee University Curator Matthew Jarron, letting me know that my drawings were to be included in a new exhibition at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, showcasing artwork inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s work. I visited the exhibition last week and found my drawings in great company. I feel very proud to be in the same show as Wilhelmina Barns Graham, not far from one of her lovely ‘geology’ drawings.

I asked Matthew if it was ok to photograph my work so here it is, with authentic fluorescent-lighting stripeyness:

The label says these are ‘mixed media’. I must have been less specific about materials back then. I remember using pencil, pen and ink, red and yellow ochres from the Fife coast and shellac varnish. I enjoyed adding the shellac. I used it to give the drawings the same antiqued look as the old microscope slides and had a smile to myself at the time, knowing that shellac is a resin made by insects.

‘A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson’ is on at the City Art Centre until 19 Feb 2017.


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