Our new illustrators

School of Ants has some new team members, including two very talented student illustrators. Danielle and Melissa started working with School of Ants as volunteers over summer, where their talents and interest in biological illustrations became clear. So come 2015 they have integrated their love of drawing with their degree and making their contributions official.

We love having them. Colour plates of common ants of the NSW New England Tablelands are in progress, and they look amazing.  They will contribute blog posts every couple of weeks so you get an idea of what a biological illustrator might get up to. Below, Danielle introduces us to her set up and the process she follows to create her images….

Danielle Mills-Waterfield

Hi, my name is Danielle Waterfield and I work with the School of Ants team as a biological illustrator.

Twice a week I come into the lab to work on coloured drawings of some of the more common species collected so far. The process is lengthy and requires me to learn and observe many specimens of the same species. I do this so that I can identify the main consistent features and ensure they show up obviously in the art works. This can be the hairs on an ant, or the length of their antennae, or spines on legs, but sometimes it can be less obvious things like the dips and indents on the thorax or abdomen.

To help me look at and analyze the ants, I need to see them close up! I use a stereomicroscope to sit next to my drawing paper with an ant pinned and mounted so that I can look back and forth between my drawing and the ant. I also use a powerful imaging microscope to take super close up pictures that I can keep on a computer to show me finer details I may not be able to quite see under the stereo microscope.

Danielle microscope set up

To draw and colour the ant pictures I need to use various tools. Firstly I use some large A3 art grade paper. This large scale workspace enables me to apply all necessary detail without it being too squishy and difficult to fit things in. I then scale out my drawing by making a light sketch with a hard pencil, such as a 2H, just to get the proportions of main shapes onto the page. This creates a stable composition for me to work with in. I then go back over the sketch with a bit softer pencil such as a HB to line in segments, joints, and other important features. Once I am happy with that, I start the detail and colour.

Danielle art resources

I choose an area that looks easy to begin with to allow me to get the idea of colours and texture of the ant. This usually begins with the abdomen but on some species such as Camponotus aeniopilosus which has both a hard black carapace, but golden hairs, it’s a bit trickier for me to start on, so I will begin somewhere easier like the thorax.

During the process I take pictures and scans so that if I do make mistakes I can go back to a previous copy and work on the picture from there. I also may do a bit of digital touch up such to alter colours like on Iridomyrmex purpureus where the colours I used were not quite red/orange enough.

Danielle Iridomyrmex purpureus

So far this has been an enjoyable experience and I’m learning a lot at the School of Ants, enjoying working in the awesome team I am a part of, and being able to do what I love.


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School of Ants has recently been exploring the ants of arid Australia, and sharing ant stories with those at the Alice

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