Thursday, March 13, 2014

#C4ward March Blogathon (Day 13): Contemplating my role as artist in my scientist husband's life

WHEN DID I BEGIN INTEGRATING MY ART WITH SCIENCE? I began claiming my role as a science advocate late in life, beginning in my forties when I met and married my paleontologist husband. We journeyed to magnificent places, ones where scientists go for field research. In order not to lose my identity as an artist in New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, Newfoundland, Bahamas, etc., I learned to embody science and to love everyone and everything about their research and to make it mine. As the years have passed, I have become a part of my husband's scientific community and beyond in my own unique way. (photo by Tony Martin in the Field Museum of Chicago)
Since the C4ward March Blogathon Day 13 Prompt is about contemplating the relationship between me, the artist, and my communities (see the end of this blog entry for the complete prompt) I am choosing to write about my involvement with the science community--specifically how I support my husband Tony Martin who is both a scientist and an artist.

Today, I followed Tony Martin, to the University of Illinois at Chicago so I could observe him talking with university students in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences about how to use images to expand and enhance scientific ideas, something he has done in his two most recent books, Life Traces of the Georgia Coast (2013) and Dinosaurs Without Bones (2014).

ON THE CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS CHICAGO. Voila! The quirky Science and Engineering building where Tony was invited to talk about scientific illustration. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Invited by Professor Roy Plotnick, an academic hero in his own right and colleague, Tony was delighted to eat pizza with the students at a brown bag lunch and to regale them with his humor, images, and ichnological knowledge.

ICHNOLOGICAL COLLEAGUES. Above Roy was kind enough to bring along Tony's books to show the students when introducing him to the class. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Using both photographs and line drawings, Tony explained how to communicate scientific information. He started with a comprehensive line drawing of an imagined landscape with a vast variety of dinosaur traces by asking the students what dinosaur behavior they could see or "read" from it.
A MENU OF FOSSIL TRACES. My husband has a vast imagination which lends itself to making "art" that is illustrative and fun. Here he is showing students an image from his book, Dinosaurs Without Bones, that contains an imagined landscape filled with many possible dinosaur behaviors. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
As he applauded their correct deciphering about nests, feces, and tracks, he coached them to discover the traces resulting from dinosaur behaviors that most people just don't think about--urinating, vomiting, and gnawing on other dinosaur bones.
EVERYONE CAN DRAW. Tony and I share this strong belief: Everyone has the ability to draw and stands to benefit from drawing regularly. Here, he is telling disbelieving students this message. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Part creativity coach and so much scientist, Tony cheerily told students that they could create such scenarios and draw them. After tossing a whiteboard marker to one student, which she caught, he encouraged all the students, "You have the hand-eye coordination to catch that. You can draw."

Also using photographs, Tony talked to students about how to express scientific concepts. He showed an image of numerous sauropod tracks. He said if you looked at this closely enough, you would see five sauropods moving in harmony, evenly spaced, parallel to one another, moving together.  What dinosaur behavior would you interpret?  Students did not immediately answer "herding," but they got it in the end. Seeing a dinosaurian behavior as it was recorded in the fossil record is a valuable and alternative way to understand that information.

"Look at patterns and translate them into something meaningful," Tony said to an appreciative group of students, as he took a bite of pizza. He went through slides of photos and illustrations depicting dinosaur behavior. We saw a photograph of 3,000 dinosaur tracks from Lark Quarry in Winton, Queensland, Australia, that were eloquently mapped.

DINOSAUR BURROW ILLUSTRATIONS. In the top photo, Tony points to a photograph of a dinosaur burrow found in Montana in 2005, one which he helped identify. Then in the bottom photo, he explains how drawing the Montana dinosaur burrow helped him identify and differentiate it from the dinosaur burrow he discovered in Victoria, Australia. (photos by Hallelujah Truth)
There was an illustration where Tony let his imagination go wild as he envisioned the traces that would have been made by sauropods or theropods having sex. And, yes, college students wake up a little bit when sex is brought up in the discussion! Tony told students that maybe traces of dinosaur sex haven't been found yet because scientists are too prudish and that maybe there is a need to get more "dirty."
IMAGINING DINOSAUR VOMIT. Humor is greatly appreciated among scientists and may well be an unused resource in science communication. Tony explained to the students how he had fun imagining what a fossil trace of projectile vomit from such a large beast would look like if it had been preserved in the fossil record. On the whiteboard, he is writing his twitter name "@Ichnologist" telling students how his diagram of a vomiting dinosaur went viral this past week when a reader tweeted it. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
He showed images of cocoons found in rims of dinosaur nests, dinosaur burrows, termite borings, healed bite marks in dinosaur bones, dinosaur urine traces, and imagined projectile dinosaur vomit.  Oh, what a brown bag lunch discussion it was! Good photographs and illustrations help everyone learn the search patterns that lead to future discoveries.

The hour went by quickly, dissolving into a flurry of pizza boxes being swept away, soda bottles, paper plates....

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me and tell me what your role as artist in your community is. Would you like to join my Facebook group, The Daily Creative Practice, that I created one year ago to establish a warm supportive community for us creatives? Click here.
RETURNING TO ART. Once we have finished serving science lovingly and joyfully, Tony and I feel no guilt in hopping on a bus and going into another community. Leaving the University of Illinois today, we ventured to the National Museum of Mexican Art and spent the rest of the day there fascinated by the diversity of Mexican culture, people, and history. (Selfie by Hallelujah Truth--see me in the reflection?)

CONTEMPLATING COMMUNITIES (The Rest of the C4ward March Blogathon Prompt):

Think about your relationship as an artist or artistic entrepreneur to your neighborhood, city, and region. Then respond to these two questions:
Question 1 (Artists Contributions):

  • What does your creative work contribute to your communities?
  • In general, what do the arts do for a city?
  • What do you do for your city or community?
  • What SHOULD you do, if anything, that you don't already do?

Question 2 (Cities Contributions):

  • How should communities develop and support their artists?
  • What is your city or community doing, if anything, to help you develop and support you as a creative?
  • What areas are creative communities nurtured in your area? Coffee shops? Galleries? Museums? Government spaces? Nonprofit spaces? Corporate spaces? Etc...


  1. I love scientists and have met some very talented and artistic scientists in Munich both writers and visual artists. I think it is harmful for people to label themselves as one or the other. You can be both and it is great that the two of you are promoting that idea with the students in the US. Bravo!

  2. How fun for you and Tony to be able to share so much of your lives...To be able to attend functions and meet so many diversified and interesting people is a dream come to life...Until I was invited to join the Daily Creative Practice I had no idea that there were so many artistically talented scientist of all types in the world...My world has grown threefold since joining the DCP even though it is only vicariously through reading and seeing other's works.

  3. You have both found you're very unique calling! Science (all its disciplines) is in desperate need of creative scientists who can translate meaning to those who speak completely different languages. We are fast becoming a society of tribal, group thinking bubbles that speak a unique language and either don't think to, know how to, want to take the time to, or don't care to consider whether anyone else cares what they're saying inside their domes. Your collaborative work (Tony's dino mapping and Paleontologist Barbie) help to bust open those bubbles. It is a great model--one that probably deserves it's own book! And Ruth, this is exactly what I was hoping you would find in your Blue Ocean--this is what your creativity coaching needs to be about, whether with scientists or anyone else. This is certainly what we're trying to do with CI--help people see when they get in a bubble and teach them a process and strategy for getting out of it. Have a great day and safe travels home!