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Deborah Mills-scofield's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
Tuesday
Dec032013

The Art of Science

I met Nick Mayer when ordering a gorgeous Blue Lobster print of his.  I have this thing about Blue Lobsters, seeing them in Maine and as a metaphor for innovation in that this rare phenotype results from serendipity and random collisions of genes. Nick's art is an amazing and beautiful integration of art and biology in watercolor.  Here is Nick's powerful story of how Science is Art and Art is Science.
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Art and science have played an analogous, ever-present role in my evolution as a person, like two arms of a chromosome swinging in a cell’s cytoplasm during metaphase, at times distant then colliding and exchanging information. 

As a child I always was interested in nature. I remember summer days catching frogs and turtles that in my nostalgia appear as a deep uninterrupted trance.  I recall hours studying the illustrations of deep-sea fish in my Time Life Series book The Sea.  Between the turtles, the illustrations in The Sea, and the romance of Treasure Island, I was launched on a trajectory that needed to seek out adventure, The Seaanalyze the world through intense observation, and then make sense of it through drawing. 

I rejected the status quo for a while seeking adventure aboard commercial fishing boats in Alaska and elsewhere, but eventually that adventure seeking turned inward.  After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, I spent two decades working as a scientist.  I wore the hat of fisheries biologist, science teacher, environmental scientist, and even worked on an extraordinary robotics project, but in the end while the science jobs paid the bills, what I was really passionate about was painting.  A year and a half ago I simply could not hold the cork on my 24/7 geyser of creativity any longer and took the plunge into working for myself as a full time artist.  All of my experiences as a scientist have given me the background to be the artist I am today.  The transition to being an artist was a natural progression. 

In my mind art and science are so similar—the cornerstone skill of each is astute and reflective observation.  Both science and art are ways of making sense of the world, physics could not exist without 3D modeling, anatomy could not exist without illustration.  In early days science WAS art and pretty much that was it.  Look at the painstakingly scientific, yet beautiful art of Ernst Haeckel. The work of the naturalist in Darwin’s time was to be an illustrator.  Biology was the study of form and function and its resulting taxonomy.  In Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle Part IV: Fish, the entirety of the text is a description of W Hawkins’ illustrations, “There are no scales on the snout or jaws, or between the eyes, or on the anterior portion of the suborbital  . . .” (pg 4). The entirety of Grey’s Anatomy is the same, painstakingly astute descriptions of observations and the associated engravings. 

All this connectivity makes me scratch my head and wonder why STEM wasn’t always STEAM and why such aHaeckel Crinoid distinction is made between science, stereotypically left brained/ logical/ necessary and art, seen as right brained/ touchy feely/ optional.  My twenty years of work as a scientist has lead me to the conviction that science is subjective, based on context, and completely dynamic.

At first glance it is obvious that my work is highly influenced by science.  It is influenced by the master pioneers in this genre like Haeckel, Hawkins, & Audubon, who inspire my work.  While I am not the first person to have observed, painted, and classified a blue lobster, painting is the process by which I understand the blue lobster.  Once I’ve stared at a seemingly random pattern on a fish’s back for hours and hours, there is always a point at which I realize that it is not random; there is a pattern here, its just a very complicated one.  And then I paint it.

My most recent commissioned painting, a coelacanth, is a great example of this.  The coelacanth is essentially a living dinosaur—based upon the fossil record it was thought to have gone extinct 80 million years ago and then a live specimen was caught in the Indian Ocean in 1938.  They are the closest link between fish and the first amphibians, which made the transition from sea to land in the Devonian period. There is no other fish that looks remotely like a Coelacanth with their large head of bony plates, missing backbone, triangle-shaped spots, and small arms with hand-like fins on the ends.  Since sightings are relatively rare, especially of live, unstressed specimens, I had a real struggle trying to find some accurate reference photos for the color of these creatures. 

Nick Mayer: Pencil of CoelacanthOddly enough upon discussing the dilemma with my good friend Jon Council, the scientific consultant for a book I recently completed illustrating (Catalina Dive Buddies by Mike Rivkin), I learned that a friend of his, Laurent Ballesta, had just completed the world’s most extensive coelacanth expedition (speaking of serendipity and random collisions).  Jon made the introduction. The coelacanth is a slow-growing deep water fish, inhabiting depths from 300 ft-1,000 ft.  I was shocked to hear that Laurent Ballesta et al. as part of his Projet Gombessa dove to these depths with his team to gently capture the coelacanth in its natural habitat on film. Laurent shared his observations about the coelacanth’s color as well as some of his soon to be released photos of the coelacanth.  These photos are without a doubt the best images of the species the world will have ever seen when they are released in his upcoming book on the expedition in 2014.  The interplay of serendipity, science, and art resulted in the finished painting here.  Nick Mayer: Coelacanth

Of course, as with most rare species discovered these days, the current status is not a pretty one.  Despite the creation of a Marine Protected Area, the coelacanth are now being dredged from the depths by Japanese deep trawlers and the Tanzanian Port Authority has plans to create a deepwater port in the vicinity the sanctuary.  I will be donating a portion of my entire Coelacanth print sales to Oceana, one of the most solid organizations dedicated to protecting the worlds oceans.

Tuesday
Nov262013

What are You Grateful For?

Thanksgiving - time to spend with family, eat, watch and play football, the Macy's Day Parade, traditions - old and new. New studies scientifically show how an 'attitude of gratitude' actually makes us healthier and happier ~ focusing on how being grateful is better for 'me' instead of for 'you'.  This season, forget that stuff.  Start being grateful because it's the right thing to do - for others, not for ourselves.  So what are you grateful for this year? how long can you make that list? Give it a try - from little things like always knowing when you flip the switch the light goes on to the unconditional love of a parent, spouse or child. Perhaps just try for a list of things you're grateful for this month! Here's my abbreviated list!  

Have a very blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving... as you are a blessing to others. 

 

 

Tuesday
Nov262013

Lean Startup Conference Pre-Workshop 

I'm excited to do a workshop on Business Model innovation before the Lean Startup Conference simulcast atLeandog in Cleveland on December 10th! Come join us on the boat!!!! 
 

Thursday
Nov212013

Benefits of Being a Young Entrepreneur

The Founder Project is a new type of venture fund run by students investing in students' startups to create a global student startup ecosystem.  The founder of Founder Project, Ilan Saks, did a guest post and asked me to return the favor, which I did here.  Currently, Founder Project is only in Canada - Montreal & Toronto, but Ilan has plans to expand to the USA... I sure hope so!!!


 

 

Tuesday
Nov192013

Result of a #RCUS? Libyian & California Kids Sharing Art

Have you just started grinning when reading something? This post by Tomas Quinonez-Riegos will do just that! While being the international program director for iTeach, using video to teach English to kids all over the world (e.g., Cambodia, Panama, etc.) and spending his first semester junior year in Japan, Tomas has started yet another new venture, which he shares with us here.  How did this come about? By Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects #RCUS!  Read on, revel in his excitement and in the impact it can have.
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Just over two months ago as I wrapped up my preparations for a semester abroad in Kyoto, Japan, I decided to take a quick look at the TED activity in the area.  I am an unashamed fanboy and was curious to see how I could get involved in the TED community of Japan.  To my utter delight, I discovered that there was to be a TEDxKyoto conference during my second weekend in the city.  I applied immediately, held my breath, and let out a shout of joy and excitement a few days later when I was accepted.  On the day of the conference I arrived nearly an hour before the doors even opened to make sure that there was absolutely nothing I would miss, nothing I didn’t experience.  I had to make sure that I was able to soak up every last drop of TED that was offered.  I was not disappointed.  My twelve hours at the conference was an unbelievably stimulating torrent of inspiration, passion, and elegance that began with the gorgeous piece by a 13th generation Noh performer and continued with a series of Japanese and foreign speakers giving talks on their incredibly innovative work and honest personal stories.  From the artist who sat next to me to the people I met during the intermittent break periods, I found only openness and warm hearts.  One particular encounter, however, has carried on well beyond the conference.

During the lunch period we were served small, boxed meals and encouraged, in the collaborative spirit of TED, to sit and converse with other attendees we had not met or did not know.  After I received my lunch box, the man "Introduce Yourself" Drawing by California kid to Libyian Kidwho happened to be behind me in line met my eye and he complimented me on my bowtie.  I thanked him and as we started to walk toward the dining tables he asked me if I was sitting with anyone.  I told him that I was recently arrived into Kyoto and knew almost nobody, so I suggested that we sit together.  As we made light conversation I learned he was a 30-year old salary-man working at a pharmaceutical company in nearby Osaka.  When I asked him why he came to the conference, what he hoped to gain, he completely lit up.  He told me that although he is more or less satisfied with his day-job, he is a staunch believer the idea of art as a means of universal communication and dreamed about somehow connecting communities of children around the world through their artwork.  I was absolutely thrilled by the idea and could hardly contain my excitement as we bounced ideas off of each other, and furiously brainstormed the potential of the concept until the end of the lunch period.  The remainder of the conference fanned the spark we had ignited such that before we parted ways, we had decided on a follow-up meeting in Osaka a few days later.

From that meeting, the organization He(ART) Exchange was born.  The concept behind the project is that dialogue between communities that share neither cultural, geographical, nor linguistic commonalities is not only"Introduce Yourself" Drawing by a California kid to a Libyian kid possible, but critical to developing well-rounded understandings of today’s world.  By using weekly art projects as the “language” of this dialogue, students have a “conversation” with their partners abroad and in so doing are not only exposed to the lived reality of other cultures and peoples, but also develop an understanding of art as a valid and powerful tool of self-expression.  This, I believe, will have lasting effects as participants will perhaps one day be able to use their art to deal with and confront the various obstacles they will face throughout the remainder of their life.  From this idea, we developed a rough organizational model, and as my partner worked on developing the website and the legal documents, I began reaching out to schools, teachers, and educational non-profits in my network.  After three weeks we had finalized our first partnership between two middle schools in California and Libya, with schools in Panamá, Argentina, Indonesia, and Japan also interested in the project.  At this point we are still not sure what the impact of the project will be, yet based on the enthusiasm thus far from the teachers and students, we will try it out regardless.  I, for one, look forward to observing what eventually will sprout from the program.  I expect we may be pleasantly surprised. 

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