This month a project I have been working for a few month was finally published. It’s a series of ‘animated’ illustrations commissioned by the Scuola IMT Alti Study di Luccafor a series of introductory videos about the brain called Il Cervello a Fumetti (Brain in Comics).
I know, it’s not technically a ‘comic’ but still I’m really happy with the result. Especially considering I made all these before seeing any of the footage. I was involved from the very beginning and worked on a script written by professor Emiliano Ricciardi in collaboration with AD Chiara Palmerini.
If you’re curious about how these were actually done: they are time-lapse video made straight from an iPad by ProCreate. It’s deceptively simple but it means that every single line I draw went straight into the final video, so I had to be very careful not to make any mistakes. I was tracing from (invisible) sketches previously agreed with the team, but even then I ended up redrawing some of them multiple times.
PS: on my website you can find stills of some of my favorite scenes!
To continue my exercises in observational drawings, I have started working on this mushrooms illustration a few weeks ago. It was partly inspired by Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life (which I have reading over the Winter) and also by my wife’s ongoing passion for mycology (she’s has been making some pretty amazing mushroom-inspired art herself).
This one is less researched than previous drawings. Nothing is at scale and these are not meant to depict real mushroom species (and even if they were, they would probably never grow together). Rather than doing realistic portraits of mushrooms, my goal was to capture some the amazing facts I’m learning about them: how the mushroom caps we normally see are just the tip of the iceberg of a vast underground network of interconnected hyphae. How fungi blurs our definition of ‘organism’, constantly growing and merging with each other. How they close the cycle of growth: feeding off dead trees and animals, but at the same time helping to feed the forest around them.
I think mushrooms may become my second favorite subject, after brains!
Since the holidays I have suffered from a bad tendonitis in my right hand so I was forced to stay away from drawing. This temporary break made me appreciate how much I missed drawing on paper. I have been increasingly moving to digital for my work, and although I appreciate the new tools, selecting layers and keyframes is not quite the same.
Last weekend I was finally healthy enough to hold a bush again and – although I have many things on my to do list – I decided to do a little celebratory drawing. Just good-old fashioned neurons (and glia) in black ink on paper. I have added some color digitally but you can see the original on my Instagram.
It was a lot of fun and I’m feeling very grateful for my motor neurons right now so I’m determined to carve out more time for this kind of pleasure drawing this year.
This year is going to go down as one of the worse in many people diaries, and it is certainly a very sad time in history, but personally I have many things to be grateful for.
For one thing, 2020 will always be the year my daughter was born and although working from home has its challenges I am very privileged to have a job that I can do remotely. This allowed me to see her grow everyday, and leave our cramped Brooklyn apartment for upstate NY.
For the first time, after a whole life spent in cities, I live in country house and I got to witness the Fall foliage in all its glory. So, in the spirit of observational drawing that I picked up last Spring I decided to do a celebratory painting of the trees outside my house. All the leaves are gone by the time I finished it, but I hope the memory will keep me company thought this long Winter.
It was a real pleasure to draw the poster for this year edition of the Treviso Comic Book Festival, happening later this month with events happening both in Treviso and online.
This is the first major Italian comic festival in this pandemic year, so the news that it was happening at all was a great relief. Also, the fact that most of the events are going to be online means that for the first time in years I will be able to ‘attend’ as well, and other international cartoonists will have a chance to discover some amazing Italian artists.
It’s a bittersweet victory and of course I hope festivals are going to return ‘in-person’ soon. There is nothing like coming together for a big festival a few of times a year, especially in a solitary profession like comics. For me in particular this commission meant a lot because even if I’m somewhat use to be an ‘expat’ of the Italian comic scene, I still have many friends there and this is going to be the longest time I have ever been away from my home country (I was there last in October 2019 for yet another festival). I’m very lucky to have a job that I can do remotely, and I was able to shelter at home in these months, but it hasn’t always been easy…
A quick note on the illustration: TCBF asked me for one of my more ‘ornate’ illustrations so I decided to draw some white blood cells fighting coronavirus, inspired by Gothic stone carvings, gargoyles and other apotropaic decorations. I think science communication has a lot to learn from these magic traditions, especially in these times in which science totally dominates our lives (not in a good way) and it should offer comfort, not just data.
Anyway, I really like these characters and I hope to do more with them, if I will ever find the time (see sketch below).
Stay safe folks and I hope we’ll soon meet at some festival or other!
Early on during the pandemic I learnt about Mary Wortley Montagu, who pioneered variolation in England (inoculating her own son) after observing the practice in Turkey. This was almost 80 years before Edward Jenner, who I have always been taught was the ‘inventor’ of the cowpox vaccine. Yet another case of women being overlooked or deliberately written out of the history of science.
It was too late to include her in the Massive Science Tarot, but I decided to draw her portrait nonetheless. Dan Samorodnitsky wrote her story for Massive. Unfortunately, her views on slavery were not as enlightened, but I still hope she can provides some hope in these difficult times. May we defeat COVID soon and get back to fighting more important battles.
It has been a while since I did a drawing just for my own pleasure.
Since I started a new job in September I spend most of my days drawing, and I couldn’t be happier about it! However, as my creative work has become intertwined with my job the goal has inevitably shifted from pleasure to efficiency. I find myself thinking “what would the fastest way” to draw something, rather than my ‘favourite’ way (which is usually also the most elaborate). Drawing has become a mean to an end. I’ve also started drawing digitally because it makes things easier to edit, but sometime I really the meditative quality of drawing on paper, where every mark is there to stay. There is no undo button. Especially as I find myself wishfully tapping on the page whenever I make a mistake!
When I made the transition, I promised myself I would slow down on freelance work. Save my free time for personal projects. But to be honest, after 8 hours at work, it’s difficult to find projects that excite me enough to use my the desk at home.
One of the few exceptions is observational drawing, which I picked up back in the Summer, when I was spending a few weeks in upstate NY. It reminded how much I used to love sketching from life, without the pressure of ‘communicating something’ or being ‘creative’. It forces you to slow down and pay attention to the tiniest details (like the marks made by insects on a leaf).
Around the same time I was also reading How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, one of the most inspiring books of the year (seriously, go and get yourself a copy). Odell talks a lot about birdwatching and ‘Bioregionalism’ as a form of resistance in our attention-driven economy. Focusing on the here and now as a space of “critical refusal”. It immediately struck me how observational drawing could serve a very similar function.
So I decided to do more of it. Over the past few weeks (as away to avoid the news mayhem) I slowly inked this composite drawing, based on my Summer observations around a creek in Woodstock, NY (with the Bartleby’s quote as subtle homage to Doing Nothing). I added a bit of digital color but otherwise it was good old fashioned pen on paper, it was one of the most satisfying drawings I made in a long time.
I hope to find the time for more of these, and if I’m happy with the results I may even post some here. Stay tuned and take some time ‘do nothing’, in your own way.
Over the Summer, between the end of my postdoc and starting my new job (did I mention I have a new amazing job as multimedia producer for the Zuckerman Institute?) I have been drawing a short story for ERCcomics: The (over)Exciting Brain Zoo.
I have been following ERCcomics with fanboy excitement since its first inception (pairing ERC-funded researchers with internationally renowned cartoonists and give them complete creative freedom? Yes, please!) but because of other commitments I never found the time to draw a story for them. This year, when I heard that a former colleague was applying as one of the scientists, I decided that the timing couldn’t be better and I applied as an artist asking to be paired up with him.
Since I was already somewhat familiar with Koen research I was able to take a bit more creative freedom with the comic. For a long time I have been wanting to experiment more with fiction, finding ways to tell stories about science that are not just educational but also entertaining. As usual I decided to turn the brain itself into the setting but this time I have also tried to developed characters that are not just a prop to present the science, but also embody different approaches to the study of the brain.
In the story the theoretical knowledge of a rich collector, clashes with the more practical expertise of his workers, who lack the ‘academic’ credentials but have often developed a very nuanced understanding of nature. In short, yes , t’s a comic about inhibitory neurons, but it’s also a subtle critique of scientific practice and reductionist modelling in neuroscience.
The relaunch issue of Science for the People magazine is amongst us! It’s printed and being shipped to our Kickstarter supporter as I write this, so I can finally share my cover illustration (and there is more in the inside).
It was a daunting task to choose an image for the cover. The topics covered within the issue are so varied and all seem so important which didn’t feel right to pick one for the cover. I opted instead for a celebratory illustration, which tries to capture the spirit of revitalization with an explosion of different flowers/ideas. I imagined the seeds of radical science laying dormant in offices, laboratories and classrooms around the world for decades, and I hope this magazine will be a platform for them to grow and pollinate each others.
You’re still in time to get your own copy (and future issues as well) by subscribing to the magazine. And if you are an illustrator interested in working for us please let me know, I’m still looking for for contributors for the next issue ‘The Science We Need’.
PS: Also, I still haven’t received my deck, but you can start to see pictures of the Massive#sciencetarot online and they look great! These are the two main project that kept me busy last year so it’s great to see them coming to fruition.