In the magazine El Duende, they invite me to talk about what I am most passionate about, scientific illustration, together with Miquel Baidal Crespo (ILLUSTRACIENCIA), Hugo Salais López, Maddi Astigarraga Bergara, Laura Pablo and David Camerón.

Here you can read the article from El Duende magazine, and I take this opportunity to share our complete conversation.

¿What has been your university education? How did you get into scientific illustration?

I graduated in Design from the University of Aveiro, in Portugal. A career that focuses on design in a holistic way: strategic design combined with product design and graphic design, where illustration was one of the subjects we had throughout the 4 years of clases. After working for 7 years as a graphic designer in an agency, I decided to go freelance and dedicate part of my time to refining my illustration skills, since I missed it in my projects. I took several courses, where I came across the scientific illustration module and discovered a methodology and area that fit perfectly with my patient, curious and rigorous personality. I continued my training at the Illustraciencia academy and also self-taught, and I am sure that this is the path that I am passionate about.

What branch of scientific illustration do you work in?

I work mainly within the area of biomedicine, medicine and anatomy. I am fascinated by the intricacies of the human body and its functioning as well as the challenge of representing complex biomedical topics where many areas intersect. Science advances in this area at an overwhelming speed and I am sure that scientific illustration has the power to help transmit all this knowledge. I really enjoy illustrating popular science books aimed at children, such as “The human brain explained by Dr. Santiago Ramón y Cajal” or “Genetics explained by Dr. Barbara McClintock”, written by Dr. Pablo Barrecheguren. However, I love to venture into other areas of scientific illustration and infographics, especially zoology, insects are my favorites.

What is your work process when creating an illustration? What are your tools?

Having in mind my artistic training, to be able to convey rigorous scientific information in my illustrations, collaboration with the client, or with an expert, is essential from the beginning to the end of the project. We start by writing a complete briefing and understanding your objectives in order to define the best communication strategy. The client offers me support in gathering documentation and references that help me understand the information we want to represent, in addition to reviewing my proposals and sketches to ensure that the contents of the illustration are correct, before moving on to the final render and/or color. I currently work on my assignments with digital techniques (Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer…), due to the advantages they offer when editing and correcting, although I have learned and practiced drawing all my life using traditional techniques (graphite, ink, watercolor…). I think 3D modeling (or traditional sculpting) are very useful tools for representing some complex shapes and perspectives. I also really want to expand knowledge in animation.

What is your identity stamp? What sets you apart?

I never considered that I had a personal artistic graphic style, it’s always in process. I think I distinguish myself by my attention to detail and creativity to find original solutions. And for working on projects in a comprehensive way, from brainstorming, through concept, illustration, graphic design and Final Artwork.

With my background as a graphic designer, I apply the same philosophy to my scientific illustration work: I believe that the project should first reflect the personality and identity of the client and the audience, before my own. For this reason, I believe that one should allow a certain flexibility with the graphic style and I have used different techniques in my illustrations, to meet different objectives: more formal and realistic to document, more cartoonish for popular science publications for the youngest, diagrams and vector graphics to explain, more decorative styles to draw attention…etc. But it is impossible not to repeat those techniques and styles that one enjoys the most, in my case: those that inspire us and remind us of the scientific illustrations of the 19th century, with the techniques of stippling and engraving, or those illustrations that were colored by hand above the black and white print, where the textures of the pencil and brush are noticeable.

What should a good scientific illustrator have?

First of all, I believe that a good scientific illustrator must know how to make good creative decisions, and to do so, have knowledge of communication strategies, graphic design and good visual culture, combined with great curiosity and a desire to learn and investigate new scientific topics in each new project. Objectivity, rigorous and creative representation at the same time (not necessarily hyperrealistic), are the fundamental bases of our work. Drawing and observation skills are important, of course, but more important is knowing what is the best way to represent the information according to the client’s objectives, especially in those projects that require data visualization, infographics or non-figurative illustrations. Creative direction is something that no machine, or AI, can replace and represents the skeleton that supports a successful graphic project.

What do you think about AI in this field?

AI is nothing more than a new tool, which if used without criteria, generates bad or mediocre results. Generative AI tools have the ability to execute an order very quickly, but they do not have the ability to conceive that order, or understand the goals, the context, the errors or the quality of what it has done. Personally, I have not used AI in my illustrations (perhaps because I feel that they would not have the same value, and I would enjoy the process less), but I consider that in the hands of creative professionals, illustrators, designers… generative AI can be a useful tool to execute and streamline some intermediate steps of our work methodology (as long as it is not by stealing artistic styles or other people’s work), I do not think it has the quality to generate original final results. To achieve quality, original and rigorous creative work, it is not enough to know how to write a detailed prompt: it is necessary to consider many variables of the project, have imagination, good judgment, visual culture, knowledge about the scientific topic that is represented and propose the best way to do it, and this can only be conceived by professional graphic artists, not by AI tools.

To what extent is Scientific Illustration important?

To the highest degree! hahaha

Sometimes we don’t realize it, but in our lives we are surrounded by scientific illustration, it is essential to document and transmit human knowledge. We see it in textbooks, in museums, in natural parks, educational apps, in doctors’ offices…not to mention in specialized publications and scientific journals.

With scientific illustration we can learn about dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, know our body from the inside, understand medical treatments, see viruses and molecules, wormholes in space, the inside structure of an anthill or the migration of butterflies. …

It is true that we have photography, video, animations… but illustration continues to be one of the main resources to document and communicate Science and History in an accessible way. It serves to visualize data, to educate and inspire, to represent those facts and processes that we cannot see or describe in a thousand words.