In this blog, we interview the fabulous Anna Doherty. Anna is a Scottish freelance illustrator based in Cambridge, England. She primarily works as an illustrator and author on children’s books and does other science illustrations, too. Anna loves non-fiction projects and drawing for things that can educate people! Anna currently has nine children’s books out in bookshops and is working on some more – so keep your eyes peeled! She is also the artist behind our Women in STEAM who Inspire series.
Anna has an MA in Children’s Books Illustration from Cambridge School of Art, England, and completed her undergrad degree in illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Scotland.
Tell us a little about yourself! How did you get into art?
I’m an illustrator from Edinburgh in Scotland. I always have loved drawing since I was very small, so when I finished school I studied Illustration BDes at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and then Children’s Book Illustration MA at Cambridge School of Art. My main job as an illustrator is working on children’s picture books. It’s my favourite thing to do, and I currently have 8 published. I didn’t expect to end up also working also with scientists and in SciComm – but it came about because of a book I did about the mathematician Ada Lovelace, and I’ve very glad it did!
The fantastically feminist (and totally true) story of the mathematician extraordinaire – Ada Lovelace
Photograph courtesy of Anna Doherty Illustration
What are your favorite things to illustrate?
I love illustrating brave, amazing, inspiring women – and I’m very lucky because I get to do that a lot! Both in the Lifeology Gage Scientists who Inspire project and in my children’s book series Fantastically Feminist. I really like drawing people who inspire me because it means I can share how brilliant they are with other people through my illustrations.
What art formats do you work with?
I usually work digitally with a graphics tablet plugged into my computer. When I draw on the tablet, the line appears on the screen. It’s really good for being able to work anywhere, and for editing and changing your work easily. I like that digital drawing gives me the freedom to use lots of different colours and textures easily!
Can you describe what your creative process usually looks like? Where do you draw inspiration? What tools do you use? etc.
I always start by sketching and drawing out scrappy little initial ideas in a sketchbook or straight on the computer. Once I’ve settled on what I like, I like to dive straight in. Working digitally gives you the luxury of being able to edit and move things around as you go, so I like starting a drawing and tweaking it to make it work as I draw. I think a good way to keep inspired for me is to work on more than one thing at once, so I can take breaks from projects by working on others. Sometimes if you’re stuck on one illustration, working on another will give you an idea! I like to listen to podcasts or audiobooks as I work to keep me from getting distracted and wandering round my house in a moment of procrastination.
Rough sketches for the cover of the book Best Test by Anna Doherty
Photograph courtesy of Anna Doherty Illustration
What has been your favorite science art project to create so far? Can you tell us a bit more about it?
I love the ongoing Gage Scientists who Inspire because every month I get a snapshot of the life of another amazing scientist, and each is more brilliant than the last. The variety of jobs and the good these people are doing in the world means I always feel so lucky to get to illustrate them and their work.
That being said though, I also adored the spin off project we did from that – a project on Evelyn Nicol because we started from absolute scratch, researching her work and life via talking to her friends and family, and it was so lovely to see the passion and love they all had for Evelyn while talking about her, so getting to help write and illustrate that project – and shine some light on Evelyn – was a huge honour.
Gage Scientists Who Inspire cards and an illustration of Evelyn Nicol by Anna Doherty
How can scientists or others work with you? And what does a successful collaboration look like for you?
Anyone can get in touch with me to work! Through my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or my social media is how I start off most projects. A collaboration for me is all about communication and sharing ideas. It’s successful when everyone is happy with the result!
When you are getting started with a new science art project, what is the first thing you do? How do you get your inspiration? What are your first considerations/questions?
When I am starting a new project I like to start with a storyboard or draft drawing, and have a think about the colour palette I will use. I also think about who the audience is going to be – drawing for different ages or different communities might change what you’re going to draw. If the project is on a topic I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll do a little visual research to get used to what the things I’ll be drawing look like.
An original storyboard for Anna’s picture book Fair Shares published by Tiny
Can you talk a bit about visual storytelling, why it is important to you, and how you approach it?
I think storytelling can help a person remember things more, so with things like science communication it can be a great tool to teach about a topic and make it memorable. Characters can be very useful for the audience to have someone or something to associate with what they’re learning, and someone to identify with.
Visual storytelling can sometimes explain concepts easier than words, or it can add more detail that the text doesn’t have time for. To me, a good visual story compliments the text rather than exactly portraying it or being too abstract from it.
A cute heart character that appears in health and wellness courses.
The “good’ HDL cholesterol is scrubbing the floor whisking away LDL cholesterol.
You better watch out for Inflammation!
What tips do you have for scientists wanting to work with artists or get into science art?
I would say just go for it! There’s so much out there now, and especially with places like Lifeology, it’s very easy to find a science art community. Just have fun!
For scientists who want to get into art, it’s an area where you can only learn by trying, and if you don’t know where to start then try making art about your own science first to try it out! It can take some time to get used to describing things visually, but I think it can really help you to learn to talk about your work in layman’s terms because science illustrations are not diagrams so you have to visually simplify!
For scientists wanting to work with artists – I say just ask one that you like the work of! Communication is key, making sure you understand each other’s work. I think it’s important to go into a collaboration with an idea of what you’re looking for – it doesn’t have to be a fully finished idea but at least some starting points for the artist to kick off from.
What tips do you have for other science artists? For their careers or how to create visuals that broader audiences can relate to, enjoy, learn from, etc.?
I think the most important thing is not to compare yourself to others, both in style, workload and journey. Everyone’s path is different and it’s important you find what is right for you! For example, find a way to draw that comes naturally to you rather than following trends or pursue projects that fit with what you enjoy drawing rather so that you love what you do.
What do you think are some important aspects of art/illustrations that help people better understand or enjoy science?
I think art can make science seem more approachable for people to understand. It can make learning about a new topic less daunting if there are pictures to look at, and illustrations can help explain concepts and ideas. I think sometimes having illustrations can make the understanding more fun.
Why should more scientists work with artists?
I think scientists working with artists is a great way to make their projects more accessible – to both people inside and outside their science field. It can create a fun talking point to open up conversation about their work, or an easy way to demonstrate their ideas, or just add interest and colour to a presentation. There are so many ways artists and scientists can work together! I think what also is interesting, is working with someone in a different field to you can sometimes help you see your work from different angles – not just the scientists but the artists too!