Drawing & Thinking

How drawing helps you think

Ted Talk by Ralph Ammer | TEDxTUM

Ralph Ammer shows how drawing can support our thinking in five ways and why drawing doesn’t have to be perfect. In his opinion drawing, like language, is a way to think and get in touch with other people. For him, drawing is not about art – it is bigger than art. It’s a way to think visually. 

  1. Drawing can ignite our intuition
    By doing little repetitive exercises we can improve the connection between our hand and eyes as well as give our hand a physical workout. The stronger the hand, the better we may control it to draw. These exercises can also function as some sort of meditation and soothe our minds. This can give more room for intuition. 

  1. Drawing can make the world more beautiful
    Normally the brain tunes out any unnecessary information. When we draw, we actually have to look and concentrate on the world around us. We see what is actually there. By drawing our surroundings we can store information in our mind and remember far better than as if we had just taken a photograph.
    One problem we might encounter is that our drawing doesn’t end up looking like our reference. The reason for this is that we tend to draw what we already know and not what we really see. By drawing the spaces between objects instead of the object itself we can trick our brain into not recognising shapes and make it easier for us to observe.

We don’t find beauty. We make the world beautiful by paying attention.

  1. Drawing helps us understand
    We can try to draw what is unseen, like our thoughts and emotions. By choosing a subject and placing it on different positions within our canvas we can create different contexts. Ammer tries to draw his thoughts every day. They represent his thoughts about the world and can be grouped and rearranged to see connections and patterns.
  1. Drawing can help us to imagine new things
    For Ammer an idea is what happens if two or more thoughts collide. By combining one thought with many other different thoughts you get a lot of ideas. After just writing everything down that you came up with you can sort out what might not work. An idea that seemed bad at first might turn out as the one that fits best for your purpose. 

Creativity really is like breathing. You take in information and knowledge and you combine it to new ideas that you emit.   

  1. Drawing helps us communicate with others
    Images help to make words stick in your mind, because words alone are sometimes hard to take in. With drawings you can lead others through your thought process and help them to connect the dots and understand your idea. For that to work, the drawing has to be original and personal.

Our drawings do not have to be pieces of art. If they help us to think, they are good enough.

Ralph Ammer

On Ralph Ammer’s website he writes about about all those topics and many others more in detail. Some interesting articles of his:

Science & Art

The art of science and the science of art

Ted talk by Ikumi Kayama
Medical and scientific illustrator

Ikumi Kayama shares what scientific illustration means to her and what motivates her to keep going. In her work she creates illustrations of “dead things”. They could be plants, animals or humans. One of her focuses is human anatomy and she loves to give new insight about the human body to other people. Kayama emphasizes that the advantage of illustration over photography is that she can breath life into her drawings, make things see-through and direct the viewer’s eye to a specific point of the picture.

Some of Ikumi Kayamas work:

Integration of Art and Science

Ted talk by Yoko Shimizu
Contemporary artist and biochemist

Yoko Shimizu talks about the beauty of science, the way it inspires her and how she uses scientific principles to create fascinating installations. In her talk she shows three art installations about gravity, surface tension and sound waves. With her work she wants to show everyone that inspiration is all around us and that combining things that seem on different ends of a spectrum can lead to astonishing and beautiful creations. Visualizing the unseen is one of her key motivations.

Inside Futurelab – BioArt

Video by Ars Electronica

In this video Yoko Shimizu presents the Ars Electronica Futurelab, where they create creative and innovative technology with clients from around the world. Shimizu gives the viewers a quick tour of the Ars Electronica Biolab, which consists of two floors, a museum/galerie and laboratory. Afterward Shimizu talks about BioArt, her motivation and projects. She loves that in BioArt you start with something you designed but in the end you end up with something you couldn’t even imagine by co-creating with nature and living things.

It’s much more beautiful than something that you could’ve created on your own.

When science meets art

Ted talk by Fabian Oefner

Fabian Oefner presents two of his projects inspired by science. The first one is based on sound waves. Tiny crystals are placed on a plastic foil above a speaker. They jump in the air once a sound is played. Using a camera that can take 2000 pictures per second he photographs this phenomenon. In his second project he uses ferrofluids (fluids that react to magnetic fields) and watercolors to create amazing organic images. Each of his projects is somehow inspired by science, because he doesn’t just want to create stunning images but wants to make people curious as well. His goal is to make the viewer stop for a moment and wonder how he did it and what the physical properties are.

Scientific Illustration 02

The American Museum of Natural History created two informative videos about Natural Histories, an exhibition about scientific illustration, naming historically important pieces. Curator Melanie Stiassney states that illustration is able to subtly highlight the features which are important for a particular species in a way photography necessarily can’t. In some cases the depicted species is extinct today, so our only way to learn about them is to read and look at the historic illustration.

Natural Histories: Scientific Illustration on Display by the American Museum of Natural History
Natural Histories: Rare Books from the AMNH Library by the American Museum of Natural History

Additionally they created a video about printing techniques for historic scientific illustration. It explains how woodcut, engraving, lithography and chromolithography work.

Woodcut: Originally used as a fabric printing technique, but got adopted by book illustrators. It worked like a stamp.

Engraving: Gravers or burins were used to inscribe lines into copper plates. Ink would be spread onto the plate. Excess ink would be wiped off and a damp sheet of paper would be placed on top of the plate. A roller would be used to put pressure on the paper to press the ink onto the sheet.

Lithography: For lithography very fine grained stone, usually lime, was used. 

Chromolithography: Printing in color by using multiple stones: one stone for each color. Later on a technique using only four stones (three colors + black) was invented.

Rare Book Collection: Printing Techniques for Scientific Illustrations by the American Museum of Natural History

Scientific Illustration 01

Discussing with an artist how best to depict a mechanism or process — what to include and exclude, how molecules, stars or fossils should be positioned relative to one another — can help researchers to hone their hypothesis, reveal points of disagreement between authors and even identify holes in understanding.

Jyoit Madhusoodanan

In her article Science illustration: Picture perfect Jyoit Madhusoodanan wrote about the experiences different scientists had while working with (scientific) illustrators for their papers and how “enlisting the help of an illustrator can add impact to research papers and outreach projects”.

Lost Worlds by Victor Leshyk

One of the mentioned scientists was the palaeobotanist Christopher M. Berry, who researched the Gilboa Fossil Forest in New York, the home of the Earth’s oldest forest, for years. The tree trunks fossils found there are roughly 380 million years old and the only known survivors of their type in the world. 

The illustrator Victor Leshyk was commissioned to create an illustration of this forest, which was to accompany a 2012 research paper by Berry and his colleagues in Nature, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal since 1869. It also was to appear on the cover of the journal and Berry features it in his talks as well. 

The cover of Nature 483

The digital oil painting titled ‘Lost Worlds’ was based on a sketch from researchers and made it possible for Berry to experience what the living forest might have looked like so many millennia ago.

Credit: Left: Frank Mannolini/New York State Museum. Right: Victor Leshyk

Furthermore Madhusoodanan also talks about other scientists in different fields and how their cooperation with illustrators turned out. There are many benefits for scientists working with illustrators:

  • Visually stunning images help raise the visibility of the scientist’s work and generate more online views
  • Papers including scientific illustration are more likely to be shared digitally or written about
  • They attract more students to a lab
  • They attract a wider audience than non-illustrated papers
  • Researchers are able to show a better the public-outreach, when applying for grants or funding
  • Working with the illustrator can reveal gaps in knowledge and inspire new experiments

Illustrators mentioned in the article

Victor Leshyk

Emily Damstra

Mary O’Reilly

Jessica Huppi


Illustration Techniques 01

Linoleum print

How to make a linoleum print and possible outcomes.

Linoleum print is made by using tools to cut a design into a linoleum plate. Once the design is finished a roller is used to spread colour onto the plate. A sheet of paper is placed an top and pressed down on the plate to transfer the print.

One colour examples

Multi coloured prints

Linoleum prints with multiple colours are made by using multiple linoleum plates.

Using linoleum print to create patterns

Linoleum print in communication design


Was ist Illustration?

Die Illustration ist ein unterstützendes visuelles Medium. Einen Gegenstand allein durch Worte zu beschreiben ist schwierig, da Text von jedem anders interpretiert werden kann. Die Illustration visualisiert und bestärkt den geschriebenen Text und ermöglicht es sich der Wirklichkeit anzunähern. Zu den Anwendungsbereichen der Illustration zählen sowohl analoge also auch digitale Medien. Sie hat ihren Platz in Büchern, Magazinen und Zeitschriften, aber auch in Videospielen, Storyboards und Animationen.[1] 

Anfänge der (Natur-)Illustration

Die Felszeichnungen in der Höhle von Lascaux können als erste Illustrationen bezeichnet werden.[2] Sie sind ca. 30.000 Jahre alt und beschäftigen sich grundsätzlich mit drei Themen: Tiere, Menschen und Zeichen. Die Tiere überwiegen jedoch mit etwa 600 verschiedenen Darstellungen. Am häufigsten sind Zeichnungen von Pferden zu finden, gefolgt von Auerochsen und Hirschen. Der Mensch, sowie fleischfressende Tiere werden nur sehr selten dargestellt. In Lascaux gibt es nur eine einzige anthropomorphe Darstellung eines Menschen. Viel häufiger ist die Darstellung der Menschen durch negative oder positive Hände. Bei den Zeichen werden zwei Kategorien unterschieden: einfache Formen (Linien, Punktierungen, usw.) und ausgearbeitete Formen (Vierecke, baumartige Zeichen, etc.).

Für die Zeichnungen wurden zwei Techniken angewandt: die Malerei oder Zeichnung mit Farbstoffen oder die Gravierung. Die Wahl der Technik und Ausdrucksformen war von den Eigenschaften des gewählten Untergrundes abhängig. Als Farbstoffe für die Malereien wurden gemahlene Mineralien, welche mit Talk vermischt wurden, oder auch Holzkohle verwendet. Wasser wurde als Bindemittel benutzt.[3] 

Illustration vermittelt Wissen

In den Büchern des Mittelalters wird neben detailgetreuen Abbildungen von Pflanzen und Tieren auch Magisches, Mysteriöses und Unbekanntes wie Alraunen, Drachen und Co. dargestellt. Durch die Vermischung von Realität und Fantasie ist es schwierig die Wahrheit zu erkennen. Die Werke von Maria Sibylla Merian bekunden einen Aufbruch in ein neue Zeit. Anstatt aus anderen Werken zu kopieren, benutzt sie ihre eigenen Beobachtungen als Grundlage für ihre naturwissenschaftlichen und künstlerischen Illustrationen. Wegen ihre genauen Beobachtungen und Visualisierung der Metamorphose der Schmetterlinge wird sie als Wegbereiterin der modernen Insektenkunde bezeichnet.[4]


[1] Was ist Illustration?

[2] [4] Mit Bildern Wissen schaffen: Kleine Geschichte der Naturillustration

[3] Die Höhlen von Lascaux

(1) https://archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/de/die-techniken

(2) https://archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/de/thematik

(3) Neües BlumenBuch: http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id375355022/7
Abbildung: http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id375355022/7

(4) Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung, und sonderbare Blumen-nahrung: https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:bvb:29-bv009519002-3
Abbildung: https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:bvb:29-bv009519002-3#0035