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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: General

May 21, 2019

SEA PROFILE: Victoria Smith, Alumni Coordinator & Illustration Instructor

Doug Karlson,

SEA Semester

Above: Students of Class C-284, Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, make sketches at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Below: Victoria Smith, SEA alumni coordinator and illustration instructor; Journal illustrations by C-284 students Delphine Griffith (left) and Alexandra Brown-Law (right).

As many mariners and naturalists do, SEA Semester students make sketches and keep journals. For members of the Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean program, illustration and journaling are part of the curriculum.  Leading the instruction this past winter with Class C-284 was Victoria Smith, SEA’s alumni coordinator, and an accomplished artist in her own right.

Lessons began on campus during the shore component, and Smith then joined the class at sea for the first 12 days of their voyage, from St. Croix to the Dominican Republic.

“Keeping a field notebook is a valuable skill for scientists, or anyone who does field work. It’s more than just sketching, there’s an observational element,” explains Smith, who studied visual art at Union College. 

The illustrator must pay attention to details to accurately describe the subject, such the right number of legs on a horseshoe crab, which inform the animal’s sex, or the long needle-like teeth of a viper fish, which reveal how it catches its prey. Often sketches are highly technical and are carefully labeled.

On shore, the students made a daily practice of drawing the same thing every day - maybe a tangerine, a pencil, or clouds - to train themselves and develop muscle memory.  “The more you do it the easier it becomes. I saw improvement across the board,” says Smith. 

“The idea is to get the brain, eye and the muscles of your hand to sync up together so you draw what you see and not what you know,” adds Smith. 

Using pencils or watercolors, the students continued their daily practice at sea. Each student chose a theme, and documented something related to that theme at every port stop.

While natural history illustration is clearly an important tool in the scientist’s or naturalist’s tool box, Smith says there’s an additional benefit. With illustrated journals, students who complete a SEA Semester can go back again and again and reflect on their amazing journey.

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