Q & A - Sophie Banspach
How have your public health studies influenced your botanical and wildlife illustration endeavors?
Throughout my career I have found that my interest in public health and my visual art training can work to complement one another. Communicating public health messages effectively is often dependent on the use of human-centered design-thinking principles and information visualization strategy.
My undergraduate degree is in scientific illustration, which is the art of visually representing scientific concepts for educational learning (via textbooks, scientific posters, diagrams, etc.), and I am currently working on my Master’s of Public Health degree at Columbia University. Prior to graduate school, I worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at a local health district, where I began to see a need for effective communication methods to educate the local community about health information, such as vaccination. I grew interested in the interaction of science, culture, and health communication, and how public health professionals can better communicate information to influence healthy-decision making in diverse populations. At Columbia, I am working as a fellow at Columbia’s Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, helping implement a program that bridges academia and the broader Manhattan community. This program works to grow community engagement and build organizational capacity by training health professionals in effective communication approaches.
In both public health communication and scientific illustration, the core goals are the same – to take complex information and make it accessible and usable to a broader audience. In this sense, my background in art and health continue to be complementary disciplines for communication science.
“In both public health communication and scientific illustration, the core goals are the same – to take complex information and make it accessible and usable to a broader audience”
Please tell us about how you developed your frog illustrations. What references did you use to capture their anatomy?
My Scientific Illustration thesis was “An Illustrated Selection of Diversities in Frog Propagation”.
After deciding on this topic, I met with a herpetologist at my university to learn more about frog biology.
I also spent hours researching and reading about frog propagation. Once I selected the frogs I wanted to draw, I used references from the internet and videos to help me accurately represent the subjects.
My drawing process first involved a graphite pencil illustration of each frog, which took dozens of hours to perfect. Following this, I scanned the drawings into Adobe Photoshop where I digitally hand painted each frog. From start to finish, each frog drawing took an average of 15 hours to finish.
Today, I update and adapt my frog illustrations to fit into various contexts. During our current coronavirus pandemic, I put a mask on a frog to create an amusing and relevant health message – “don’t jump to conclusions – wear a mask!”
Your time-lapse videos on your YouTube channel really capture your creative process well, using a range of media, with paints and pens. For somebody new to art, what media do you recommend they use?
While my YouTube channel is still in its beginning stages, I have many ideas for future tutorial and timelapse videos. For new viewers, I would recommend my “postcard painting” playlist – these are time-lapses of various illustrations I paint on postcards! In addition to YouTube, I livestream myself painting postcards on a weekly series I call “Wine & Paint”. A lot of my art centers around wildlife, insects, and botanicals.
For new artists, I recommend starting out with Winsor and Newton (Cotman) paints. You can buy the paints as a kit – it’s very handy and easy to carry around with you. I would also recommend starting on cold press 140lb watercolor paper. You can find relatively inexpensive paper in this weight, and it is a great to use when you are just practicing or playing around with the paints. What I wouldn’t go all out on are brushes; I have used inexpensive watercolor brushes my whole career and I haven’t run into any problems! If you want to spend more, you can purchase sable brushes.
“If interested in purchasing my frog cards or other art prints, stickers, or stationary, my Etsy shop is Sophie Bee Art”
Please tell us more about your teaching experience and the online art classes you offer. Are these suitable for beginners or those who are more experienced?
My joy for educating started in high school, when I began to teach summer art camps. I quickly learned how fulfilling it was to work with students who have a great passion to learn, grow, and express themselves through art. I taught summer art camps into college and began private tutoring.
Post-graduation, I moved to Nevada and worked part-time as a Natural Illustration educator at the Nevada Museum of Art.
During this job, I was invited to teach a Natural Illustration seminar to art teachers at a national STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering,
Art, Mathematics) conference hosted by the museum. Over my years of experience teaching, I have learned personally, through students, and at an academic level, how special it is to be an educator and how transformative the act of creating artwork can be.
Currently, I take art tutoring requests from students of all ages and experience levels.
I also facilitate art workshops, what I call “art parties”, for groups. At the moment, I am planning on creating online, self-paced art classes on a variety of subject matter (i.e., beginner watercolor, drawing basics, wildlife painting, natural illustration, etc.)