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Summer fun at GNSI Santa Cruz conference

If you haven't yet attended a national GNSI conference, we hope you'll consider coming next year! Here's a recap:

The annual GNSI conferences are always leave attendees with wonderful memories of learning, sharing, and spending time with friends from across the USA and the world. This year, the GNSI conference in Santa Cruz also left us with memories of brilliant sunshine, redwood trees, the Pacific coast, and the famed banana slugs!

From our Finger Lakes chapter, Lucy Gagliardo, Gretchen Halpert, Bridget van Otterloo, Elizabeth Morales, Frances Fawcett, and Marla Coppolino attended.

Splendidly pulled together in a relatively short amount of time, Robin Carlson and her conference team kept the program moving in a well-orchestrated fashion throughout the week. One very different aspect of the schedule was that everyone was gathered in the auditorium for every morning of the week to hear two or more speakers. This way, all members had a chance to congregate together in one place every day, and this was a convenient time for anyone who needed to communicate messages for all members at the same time and place. Organizers remarked that this format worked so well that it will likely be implemented for future conferences.

Instead of a keynote speaker, there were several plenary speakers. One of the highlights was the talk by John Muir Laws, who reminded up that we should “start every day by practicing engaged observation and journaling, looking for the wonder and beauty in ordinary places”. He explained that to get rid of our "mind loop", we need to eternalize our thinking by drawing (which has a better effect on memory than writing) and then also to write it. He calls this "dual coding" -- the combination of drawing and writing.

Members old and new shared their expertise. A few highlights from my experience:

  • Octogenarian Nancy Halliday presented on the perspective of landscapes, including clouds and water reflections

  • Business panelists Natalya Zahn, Deb Shaw, and Nicole Fuller caught everyone up to date on the latest software and social platforms that work best for scientific illustrators' needs, including MailChimp for newsletters, and the use of blogs as a "sandbox" to test new artistic styles. Natalya actually got a huge job contract from a pet food supplier from one of her sandbox blogs!

  • Ikumi Kayama provided invaluable reminders and new info on using Photoshop's tools, and how to live with its hidden buttons!

  • Artist Jane Kim, who painted the world bird families mural at the Lab of Ornithology, gave a talk called "Science Illustration can enhance any environment". We were encouraged to paint our favorite animals and plants in large format in public places.

  • From giant-sized to micro, David Goodsell talked on the "Machinery of Life", or protein molecules. His goals are to tell the structure and function of molecules in an easy-to-understand way.

My own talk this year was titled "The non-charismatic microfauna: How we as illustrators can illuminate appreciation for snails and other 'unlovely' living things". Since invertebrate comprise about 97% of all animal species on earth,yet are often underrepresented and misunderstood, I used this time to share some ways in which we as artists can put the lowly invertebrates into the public spotlight. My current project: to levitate the Chittenango ovate amber snail to the status of New York's state snail!

Other conference highlights include the Techniques Showcase, in which multiple artists demonstrated their modes of working in diverse media, and allowed participants to look on and try their own hand at techniques.

The chalk murals were a new activity for all participants. Large rolls of primed paper were laid out on the ground for all to render a plethora of sea creatures, from sea stars to sharks. It was a great way for us to loosen up and have some fun with friends. The end result were three long panels of chalk/pastel drawings that were hung on exhibit at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. We had a fun reception there with wine and delicious chocolate cake!

Towards the end of the week, so many excellent workshops were offered that it was difficult to choose which to take. Lucy and I took Scott Rawlin's pastel dust workshop, which gave us a new way to quickly sketch a specimen or even a landscape in color. Gretchen, Bridget, and I took Marjorie Leggit's field sketching workshop using the NOTAN technique, a great way to block in the main shapes of your landscape using grey values before even thinking about adding color.

Field trips were another favorite time. I attended the Natural Bridges trip, which allowed us time at the tidal pools to observe and draw sea anenomies, sea stars, snails, limpets, and other interesting critters.

The trip to the Henry Cowell State Park was a dreamy walk among the oldest redwood trees of the Pacific coast. They can grow to 300 feet tall, yet their roots only extend 6 to 10 feet underground! Instead of growing deep, the roots grow wide, as wide as the tree is tall, and intermingling and communicating with the roots of surrounding trees. We learned about the ecology of the trees and also that of the beautiful banana slugs that live at their feet.

Although it was hard to leave Santa Cruz and our friends there, we can now look forward to next year's GNSI conference, to be held in Asheville, NC from June 25 through July 1. I hope to see you there!

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