Gretchen Halpert’s Scientific Illustration Distance Program – Session I

What is Natural Science Illustration?

Put simply, natural science illustration is “art in service of science”. The artist “uses scientifically informed observational, technical, and aesthetic skills to portray a subject accurately.” (The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration, by the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators). Illustrator, Diana Marques, refers to herself as a “Visual Science Communicator”. This title aptly describes the key role of a scientific illustrator — communication! Shapes, anatomy, details, and concepts that cannot be conveyed with words alone, and are often ambiguous in photographs, are visually described by the artist with clarity.​

Gretchen Halpert's Scientific Illustration Distance Program

​Scientific Illustration Distance Program, or SIDP, is an online distance course offered by Gretchen Halpert in four 10-week sessions. The course is designed not only to teach students the art and conventions of scientific illustration, but also the skills for professional business practice.

“I have loved and combined art, science, ​and teaching
throughout my professional life.”

To discover more about Gretchen, as a botanist, biological researcher, scientific illustrator, artist, and teacher, follow

SIDP Session 1

This introductory course builds drawing skills with the use of graphite.

​Recently I completed SIDP Session 1. I would like to offer you my thoughts. SIDP 1 has excellent progression, moving through material logically, from what is introductory to that which is more advanced. Gretchen communicates the subject matter with clarity and offers evaluations that are sensitive to individual development. She makes the most of every opportunity to prepare students for professional work. Classes, delivered via Skype, allow for students to practice presentation and to learn from one another’s work through assignment evaluations. The course length is ideal – long enough to see growth, yet short enough to fit into the rest of life. And for Gretchen, . . .

Thank you for filling the need for instruction
​in scientific illustration through distance education!

My visual description of Session 1,
a ten week progression

graphite value scales

Tone, Form & Proportion

graphite still life pear
light on form drawing in graphite
tonal drawing with conventional light in graphite

​Conventional Lighting

line drawing foreshortening Rhamnum cathartica leaf

Foreshortening / Perspective

photos foreshortening Common Buckthorn leaf
line drawing foreshortening Calystegia sepium leaf
photo cone Pinus strobus Eastern White pine

Tools include: 0.2 mm Pentel HB mechanical pencil, Canson transparent transfer paper, divider, clear 6” ruler, large box, thread, plexi-grid with 1 cm squares, 01 Pigma Micron

initial pencil sketch Pinus strobus cone

Bringing These All Together

tonal graphite drawing Pinus strobus cone
Scientific Illustration, cone of Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine), graphite on bristol © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.
anatomical research pencil sketches Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
macro photos Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae  New England Aster

Research into Anatomical Structure

microscopic photographs anatomical structure Bombus impatiens
anatomical research pencil sketches of Bombus impatiens

Bombus impatiens  Common Eastern Bumble Bee


composition thumbnails Easter bumble bee New England aster
Thumbnail pencil sketches of Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumblebee) with Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) for 'Late Autumn Forage' composition © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.
photo various compositional drawing tools/techniques
Photograph of various compositional tools/techniques used for 'Late Autumn Forage' composition © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.
graphite textural study Bombus impatiens
Habitus Illustration of Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumble Bee), graphite on bristol © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.


black white Notan technique
Establishing compositional negative/positive balance with Notan technique © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.
line drawing Eastern bumble bee New England aster
Final line drawing of "Late Autumn Forage" © 2018, Suzanne M Matheson

Final Assignment - Fully Rendered Tonal Composition

graphite illustration Eastern bumble bee New England aster
"Late Autumn Forage", Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumble Bee) feeding on Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster), graphite on bristol © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018

To discover when the next SIDP Session One begins, or
for information about all of Gretchen’s SIDP sessions, follow
Gretchen Halpert Distance Program

crow quill techniques
Crow quill and india ink exercise for Gretchen Halpert's Scientific Illustration Distance Program © Suzanne M Matheson, 2018.

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