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The Mottled Duskywing life cycle: one reason Your Camera Won’t Steal My Job

Life cycle of the Mottled Duskywing butterfly © Emily S. Damstra

Life cycle of the Mottled Duskywing butterfly © Emily S. Damstra

Last summer, a local scientist developing a recovery strategy for the endangered Mottled Duskywing butterfly (Erynnis martialis) commissioned me to illustrate the life cycle of the insect. Apparently these types of reports usually include photographs, however,  she was unable to find adequate photos of every life stage, which is why she contacted me. I was delighted at the opportunity to illustrate an invertebrate and grateful for a chance to demonstrate why illustration is sometimes a much better choice than photography. In this instance, even if my client had been able to find photos of a typical example of every life stage, the images would all have had different lighting, the lighting may have been uneven or inadequate, parts of the subject may have been out of focus or obstructed, and unnecessary background elements may have been distracting. Additionally, she may have had to seek publication rights from several different photographers.

By working with an illustrator, my client could provide guidance and feedback along the way to result in a single image that concisely conveys all of the information she wants to include. With an illustration, I was able to eliminate all unnecessary information, make each element consistent in terms of lighting, detail, and style, and arrange them in a logical and pleasing way in a small space. Some parts of the illustration are based on written descriptions because there were no reference photographs available.

For more reasons why photography cannot replace illustration, read 5 Reasons Your Camera Won’t Steal My Job at Scientific American’s Symbiartic blog. Photography is a wonderful thing but it has its limitations.

As a bonus, this assignment took me out of the studio and into “the field” – a favourite part of my job. It is an uncommon instance when a subject I need to illustrate is actually available locally and it happens to be the right season to find it. My client gave me directions to a local population of New Jersey Tea, which was a pleasant hike through a natural area during the perfect time of year to find the species blossoming. I was able to take numerous reference photos of the Mottled Duskywing’s host plant from the angle I wanted to illustrate it. While there are many photographs of Ceanothus americanus online, none are taken from the angle I needed and none show the entire plant from its base.

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