What Goes Into Field Guide Illustrations
Dr. Justin Sipiorski presents a portion of his presentation entitled "Artistry in Field Guide Illustration," in which he described some of the techniques he has picked up through his journey of field guide illustration. Photo by Ross Vetterkind

What Goes Into Field Guide Illustrations

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Letters and Sciences is hosting a monthly lecture series in the Pinery Room of the Portage County Public Library.

The purpose of the lecture series is to give every person that comes some knowledge on a subject they may not know much about, regardless of education or background.

October’s lecture was held on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The lecture was titled “The Art, Science and Philosophy of Field Guide Illustration.” It was given by Justin Sipiorski. Sipiorski is an associate professor of biology at UWSP.

The lecture was a unique and interesting take on field guide illustrations from Sipiorski’s perspective.

“A lot of this will be from my experiences, which is not necessarily conventional,” said Sipiorski.

It may have not been conventional, but Sipiorski has the background to make for an educational lecture.

He has graduate training in population genetics and molecular systematics. He also has done hundreds of illustrations for field guides.

Spiorski’s lecture entailed his beliefs into the three parts of field guide illustration.

“My thesis tonight is that field guide illustrations contain artistry, scientific information and philosophical constructs,” said Sipiorski.

The lecture entertained the thought that science, philosophy and art are all factors in the creation of field guide illustrations.

The philosophical aspect of field guide illustrations is human’s inherent need to identify organisms into species.

“We can ascribe species to groups of organisms, but those are ultimately a human construct,” said Sipiorski.

This organizing of organisms into species is also within the biological part of illustrations. There has been a long history of scientists and philosophers trying to understand what exactly constitutes a species.

There are multiple concepts that have been brought up as possibilities of how to correctly label a species. These range from ecological to genetic concepts.

The artistry of the illustration of field guides began when a question was posed as to whether or not the illustrations could be considered art.

“My short discussion on this is that yes, it is art and yes, it is fine art,” said Sipiorski.

He showed pictures of his own work. He showed the specific detail in every single illustration and discussed how he had to take multiple different sources and create an illustration that captures what most organisms of a species look like.

Sipiorski’s illustrations have been on display in multiple field guides including the Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fish. He also illustrated the children’s book “Fish Hotel.”

The next lecture in the College of Letters and Sciences Lecture Series will be “Planning and Public Interest in a Developing Country” by Assistant Professor of Geography Ismaila Odogba. It will be held on Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Corey Collins



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