The daily grind gives artistic inspiration

After the Field Museum Women in Science and Art blog post, many of you wanted to find out more about what is new about my job at the museum.   As most of you have read in one of my past posts (Yes, I do have a job to pay the bills…) a couple years ago, I talked about what my job at the museum entails as a Research Assistant and the opportunities I get offered to do what I love, illustrating.  Now, as the Mammals Collections Assistant and Preparator, I am doing much more than what I use to do within the Mammals Collection.

Bobcat skull that has been prepped and ready for cataloging (or sketching, hmm?).

How much “art” is in my daily routine?  I do not get to create illustrations or photograph specimens as much as in the past but I take what I do at work daily and incorporate what I learn on the job into my artwork. I take advantage of the many specimens at my finger tips to study and learn how their forms and textures can influence and INSPIRE how an art piece will turn out.  This makes it easier to visualize what I will see on paper when illustrating  the mounts in the exhibit halls.  It’s the LOVE and ENJOYMENT of what I do and where I work that INSPIRES and fulfills “MY CREATIVE PASSION” in the studio. Even if that means sacrificing my time before work, at lunch or on a weekend to come into the my office or lab to illustrate a specimen or a mount in the exhibit halls.

I’ve been in the new position for more than two years now. I moved from doing primarily research based tasks for the Collections Manager to doing more collections prep and maintenance of the mammals collection.  That entails skinning, stuffing, cleaning the bones, cataloguing, numbering and installing specimens within the collection.  There is still some time to take photos of specimens and illustrate for my colleagues but now I am training my volunteers to help me with many of the regular tasks that I use to do as well as train them to use the camera systems and finally, illustrate specimens (YEAH!)

The lab, where all the magic, I mean science happens. This is where the mammal specimens are processed before being installed into the main collection.

What is the difference in what I am doing now verses two years ago? Well, for one, any mammal specimen that needs to be cleaned has to go through my lab first.  I also take care of the mammals beetle colony (Mary Hennen takes care of the Birds beetle colonies).  I inherited thousand of little babies who depend on me (but mostly Mary) for food… and a home.  Check out the beetles Facebook page, Bird’s Bug Room here.  Most people think this is a disgusting part of the job but my time in the beetle room is nice, peaceful, and most importantly, quiet.

Cleaning the torso and femurs of a rodent. This rodent was born with a femur deformity. You can see that the left femur is slightly shorter and extremely wider then the right femur.

My volunteer staff has grown from five to ten volunteers/interns.  I guess mammals has become a popular place over the past two years.  I depend on them everyday to help with cleaning bones after the beetles have finished, skinning specimens and stuffing the viable skins for research, as well as, helping with database entry, scanning, numbering bones and photography work from researchers.

After all this you would think I would need lots of sleep but no, I still give myself time during the week to work on my artwork and sketching.  I am non-stop, the energizer bunny, the flash, a sugared up toddler. I have so much energy I need to release it so I work in the studio (as well as working out a lot).  I consider myself one of the lucky ones in the scientific/natural illustration world to be employed as the collections assistant and preparator.  I still get to use my artistic talent in some form everyday, in either skinning, numbering, Photoshop work, or photographing or illustrating specimens.  Thanks for visiting.  😋

The numbering and boxing area in the lab.

Crocidura monax specimen under a camera lucida microscope with the illustration on the right.

Crocidura monax specimen under a camera lucida microscope with the illustration on the right.

Rhinolophus illustration on a light table. Stipling on vellum from a graphite drawing.

Rhinolophus sp. illustration on a light table. Stippling on vellum from a graphite drawing.

Next INKtober….enough said:  The attempt to do a sketch a day for INKtober and my “failings” at it, LOL!.  Stay tuned.

Women in Science and Art

Women in Science and Art: Rebecca Banasiak, Mammals Collections Assistant and Preparator

In March, many of my colleagues and I, were asked to answer some questions about what it is like to be either a women in science or a women in art.  I am lucky enough to be one of the few who was highlighted as both a women in science and art.  I highlighted some of my answers below and you can read the full blog post here on the Field Museum’s website.

How did you get to where you are?
I received a BA in chemistry and fine art … from Lewis University in Romeoville, IL, in 1997. ….It wasn’t until I went back to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago …. that I was introduced to the vast collection of material and specimens here. While at SAIC, I started at the Museum as an intern with Bill Stanley, … then in 2005, I became a full-time research assistant. In 2015, the collections assistant, mammals preparator position opened up … and that is how I got to where I am now.

A woman in a laboratory-like space, wearing gloves to handle a fox specimen as children observe

Teaching visitors about mammal preparation at Meet a Scientist in the Science Hub.  Photo copyright the Field Museum of Natural History.

What does your job entail? What’s the day-to-day like?

Part of my day-to-day includes working with the dermestid beetle colony that cleans specimens … I also supervise volunteers and interns. I train them on different tasks like skinning, stuffing skins, and cleaning and numbering bones … how to use the camera equipment and the camera lucida for illustration, and help them get involved with different research projects. One of the projects we’re working on now is photographing the skulls of Grammomys (a group of rodents found in Africa). … Other tasks for similar projects have been to photograph or illustrate a specimen or create maps and graphs that my colleagues or Field Museum researchers may need for publications. … Other projects might include processing specimens that a researcher brings back from an expedition. …..

What has been your favorite part of the job, or a memorable moment?

One of my proudest moments was the day that Bill Stanley came down to my office and was holding the new Fieldiana (a scientific journal published by The Field Museum) that had various articles about the small mammals in the East and West Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. ….

The other moment was when one of my colleagues and a researcher at the Smithsonian, Mike Carleton, asked if I wanted to be an author on a paper about a new species of rodent in the Hylomyscus genus. …..

A woman with dark hair and glasses sketching a cougar in a museum gallery, with a specimen of a large cat in the background


What advice do you have for future women scientists?

I’m not a proponent of STEM, I’m a proponent of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). … Like the sciences, the arts also do not have enough representation by women. … Art does help with science; they work together. … Science and art work together.

If I had to go back to myself at the age of nine or 10, I would say, “Stick with science, and stick with art, and don’t worry about anyone making fun of you.” When you look at our Museum, we have a lot of female presence. But we need more female leaders in science as a whole. As we educate a new generation, we want to give them confidence. My message to future female scientists and artists is to have faith in yourself; this is really what it is. If you think you can do it, you can do it. If you do something incorrectly, you’re only human, so get back up and do it again. Learn from your mistakes. All it takes is a little education and practice, and you can do it. Take the criticism, learn from it, and keep improving. You will see that it all pays off in the end.

Full text of the original blog post can be found here at Women in Science and Art: Rebecca Banasiak, Mammals Collections Assistant and Preparator, Original published date: Monday, March 27, 2017, by Rebecca Banasiak, Sciences, Animals, Mammals, Collections, Women in Science

Next the daily grind at work:  What do I do at work? Well, you can find out in the next post.  Stay tuned.

Quote 4

“if the path you take
leads you to an
undesirable destination,
then change directions.”

— Rebe Banasiak —

 

Sketchbook Projects, part 1

Sketchbook Project 2016

This is my fourth year participating in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project. Opportunities in art don’t come very often, but something like this is an opportunity that all artists should take advantage of.

I came across this project by chance while checking out one of the other artist sites I follow on Facebook.  It started out with my first sketchbook titled “A simple place called…” I wasn’t to sure of what I wanted to sketch so I started sketching what I encounter on a daily basis at work (the museum).

The idea for my second book came from my many adventures to the Atlantic coast. See, I’m a beach comber. I like to collect shells so “Wandering shell” was developed from my shell hoarding habit, lol.  I decided to take one shell and have it travel, wander around, throughout the entire sketchbook.

Cover of "Familiar friends" for the Sketchbook Project 2016.

Cover of “Familiar friends” for the Sketchbook Project 2016.

This past year in 2016, was different. I wanted to create my sketchbook around my knowledge of mammals, particularly carnivores.  If you have ever been to the Field Museum, you would have ventured to the back area behind the bird hall and wandered into what is called Carnivore Corner.  This is when “Familiar Friends in our ‘backyard'” was started.

There are so many mounts in the carnivore room, I had to figure out what would be the best representation for the theme I picked. That is when the idea of sketching just North American species came to be.  All I needed to do was see how many NA carnivore mounts we had on display and then choose which ones to focus on.

Wolf, grey fox, raccoon, coati, grizzley, black bear, fisher, cougar, lynx, bobcat, jaguar.

After figuring out what species I was going to sketch, the illustrating began.  First, dogs and their relatives…..canids, procynids, ursids, mustelids…then cats and their relatives….felids.  The wolf and grey fox were no brainers. I added the kit fox to thee list as it shows diversity throughout North America. Then a raccoon and coati for the procynids.  Black and grizzley bears were representing the ursids.

There are many more species but as I only had so many pages to fill for the project I had to narrow my choices to the best representation of carnivores that roam our North American “backyard”.

My 2017 sketchbook is purchased and I have looked at this years themes.  Some time in the future I will post and tell you what 2017’s book is all about.

back-cover

Third show for 2016

As I get ready for major events at work and in my life, I have realized that the last four months have been hectic and very busy for me. Not only have I been preparing for this years member’s night at the museum, I’ve also been doing a lot of cleaning at my home and studio in preparation for something big in my life. But enough of that.  There have been plenty of good things happening since January 1st.

First, I was part of Lewis University’s President’s Show. Then, the Artist at the field had a mini-show at the Field Museum’s Harris Education Center. Now, I have three pieces in this year’s third show at Ryerson Woods.  I have never showed there before so this is a first for me. The World of Birds is the title of the show which is artwork of the Great Lakes Chapter of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.

As I drove up north, way up north, I realized it was in a setting like Mayskake.  This one building set in the center of a county forest reserve surrounded by nature and beauty.  The drive was long but well worth having my artwork in one more show for the year.

Most of the work is by local Illinois artists. “Birds” is the theme so every painting and illustration shows the gracefulness of sea birds, migratory species, and birds of prey, as well as, the stunning beauty of native Illinois species.

The show will be up until June 6th and is located at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, 21850 N. Riverwoods, Riverwoods, IL 60015.

Hours of center: Monday-Thursday, 9am-3pm; Sunday, 1-3pm.

This is the first year I have been in three shows (and counting). Hopefully, 2017 will be just as good to me.

Snowy owl, 2014, Dewent colored drawing pencils on Mi-tients paper, 19x25. Copyright Rebe Banasiak, The Brush Hilt and Banasiak Art Gallery.

Snowy owl, 2014, Dewent colored drawing pencils on Mi-tients paper, 19×25. Copyright Rebe Banasiak, The Brush Hilt and Banasiak Art Gallery.

AAF @ the Field Museum

The first two months have been crazy for me.  I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning, both at my regular job at the museum and also in my studio.  But there have been some good things happening as well.

First, I was part of Lewis University’s President’s Show.  Also had three pieces picked for a show in April (I’ll blog about that one later on). But this month is different.  The artist group I’m in, Artist at the field, has been having a mini-showcase at………..

(wait for it)……..

The Field Museum!

It is just in an exhibit case outside their Harris Education Center’s location on the ground floor but it is still something special for me.  As an artist in the group, I usually have to deal with crowds while working in the exhibit halls but that is trumped by the people I end up talking to who ask questions because they were unaware that the Field is an artist friendly location.  Even better is when they are very complimenting to whatever I am working on and want to know more about working at the museum.

This brings me back to the mini-show.

Peggy Macnamara was talking with the HEC manager, Wendy, and she liked the idea of us hanging our work up to show what we do on the Saturdays we are all in.  This mini- show has most of the original (core) members included but I am hoping that when I am done completing the AAF website, we can garner some interest in getting more opportunities for the group as a whole to show all of the memeber’s work. 

I think the case looks great and with the advertisement of the Artist at the field website, the Facebook page and Leonard’s email, hopefully our little group can be noticed and grow to be a recognized group throughout Chicago.  I want to thank my friend Ella for helping Peggy and I hang the show and take photos.

I can now say that I have had my artwork hanging in the Field Museum.  How many artist’s can say that!

You can see the mini-show located outside the Harris Education Center in the west hall of the ground floor of the museum.  Artwork will be on display until the end of the month, March 31st, 2016.

AAf member artwork in display case outside the Field Museum's Harris Education Center.

AAF member artwork in display case outside the Field Museum’s Harris Education Center.

Lewis University’s 8th Annual President’s Show

This year’s first show was yet again one of my favorite places to visit, the Lewis University’s 8th Annual President’s Show.  I have also taken part in the past three years and have loved every second I step back onto campus.  I love going back there when ever I can.  It feels like I am going back to one of my “homes” from my past.

Brown pelican, 18x24, colored pencil on matte board

Brown pelican, 18×24, colored pencil on matte board

The five years I spent at Lewis were some of the best I will remember.  Most of the art department has changed physically but the small family bonding experience is still there.

Thanks in part to my old classmate and friend Mark Swain, professor and head of the art department, and his wife Natalie, the gallery manager (who once again put up an awesome display of artwork), the place still has that family friendly feel to it.  Our old mentor and teacher, Paul Mitchell, was one of the best professors that guided me to create what I do today.

I went to the opening of the Presedent’s show this past February.  I spent some time talking to some of the students and was happy that they are getting the same wonderful education I did back almost 20 years ago.  It makes me proud to say I am an alumni from Lewis U.  What was also nice was the fact that we got to celebrate Brother James’ last year as president of the university and his last time hosting the annual show.  He hasn’t changed all these years.

Me with fellow alumni and Brother James.

Me with fellow alumni and Brother James.

I cannot wait until next year and what will be brought to the show from all the alumni and students.  If you want to check out more photos from the show, you can visit the gallery’s Facebook page here, www.facebook.com/LewisuArt.

Quote 3

“fall in love with the

process of creating,

it will only make your

life more interesting”

— Rebe Banasiak —

Where has the time gone…

Wow! It has been about nine months since the last post.  Too much has been going on at work that posting what I am doing in the studio and in the exhibit halls has taken the back burner.  I have been trying to set time aside but to no avail, the time escapes me.  You all know what I am talking about.  Just when you think you have the time to paint, write, update files, etc., etc., etc., the time seems to pass so fast that it is time to go to bed.  Well, that is how it has been for me since mid-June.

My regular job has taken the front seat since the division is short staffed.  When you are down one person, all the others pick up the slack.  I was balancing all my time perfectly; regular museum work, artwork in the studio, artwork in the exhibit halls, working out (got to stay healthy people), and time with family and friends. Probably the only thing I was not able to keep up with were my blog posts here.  Keeping the Facebook and Instagram active is easy.  Basically, you take a photo of what your working on and post.  Not much work there, lol.

Painting and drawing, I have had no problem staying focused all summer.  Focusing on updating my posts, website, and blog, that is where my biggest problems have been.  As many of you know, I consider myself a working artist. To me that means, I work my ass off to do my art but have a regular job to pay the bills (which I wrote about here, “Yes, I do have another job to pay the bills…”).  Well, the full-time job has needed me more than ever this past October through February.   We had an unexpected tragedy happen to someone we work with and someone I look up to and admire as both a mentor, boss and friend.  I have been helping out with taking care of what he used to do with the other three members of our division.  It has been hard but when “everything happened” I went into a slump, a kind of mini-state of parent neglect to my artwork.  Yes, this “mother of drawings” (pun intended) placed down her pencils, pens and brushes and forgot to finish work that I wanted to have finished before the end of the year.  Many things have been left on the sidelines, oil pastels needing glazing, mini-ink paintings needing layers added, drawings looking for pastel to start covering them.

Well, since the first of the year, everything has slowly been coming into place.  I have been able to go to my Artist at the field drawing dates to continue on paintings and drawings from this past couple years.  Slowly but surely, artwork will get finished this year.  I do not know how many posts I can write to update you all on the progress but I will try.  Until the next posting.  Happy days!

IMG_20151218_232806

 

Ink is for the birds…

Today I am going to focus my post on ink painting, specifically, ink painting with acrylic inks and ink pens.

I have fallen in love with my acrylic inks and ink paint pens. They are amazing and so versatile.  The wolf portrait I have been working on now for over a year (due to lack of some time in the studio) is being painted all in ink.  I started with Derwents inktense pencils as the base coat and then went on to Daler Rowney F&W acrylic inks.  I am also using Molotow and Montana ink markers.  Can I tell you that if you have never used or only used once or twice inks and didn’t like them, you are using the wrong inks. All of these brands (and not to sound like a commercial) work like either watercolors (depends on the amount of water added) or liquid acrylics.  I started using them on watercolor paper but soon found out the using boards is so much better with the inks.  I am going to highlight a step by step from my holiday in Florida for how I use the inks now.

So, first things first, I always draw my picture out.  I chose the majestic crowned crane.

Drawing of the crowned crane with palette, ink and pen set up.

Drawing of the crowned crane with palette, ink and pen set up.

I actually drew this out as a sample for my teen students when I was teaching them how to use inks.  I figured I would finish it at some later date.  I realized that since my holiday was about relaxing and rejuvenating, I would be able to get some sketching and painting in.  The resort I was at had tons of animals and guess what majestic bird.  Yep, that’s right….The crowned Crane!  So I was able to use the bird in the flesh to continue and finish my painting.  Most of the first base coat I did in class for the students.  When I got to the resort, however, I went into full-fledged painter mode.  My studio went from being in my home and the museum to the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort down at Walt Disney World.  My balcony became my zen zone with all the animals outside my window.  It may have been hot and humid but I stayed outside to finish this little guy using the live bird as my color guide.

My travel studio at my resort on holiday.

My travel studio at my resort on holiday.

Nyala antelope outside my balcony.

Nyala antelope outside my balcony.

View from my balcony.

View from my balcony.

First base coat, done before I got there.  Second base coat, started and done.  Since these are base coats I just watered my brush down and used the ink thin like watercolor.  Next, I started to add less water so that more bold color would start to stand out on the painting.  Shadows, highlights, anywhere I want overlapping color to come through is next.  Usually with watercolor, for shadows I water down slightly but for the inks I went back to watering down like the first base coat.  Inks are very opaque so using this method to add the shadows works perfectly.

Since I was outside painting, it did not take long to wait for the inks to dry.  Surprisingly, inks dry at around the same rate or faster than watercolors.

After all the base coats, shadow and highlight layers, I started adding detail.  Now, the fact that I was painting the colors from the live bird meant that I would have to be patient.  The bird is moving around, at a far distance so I would sometimes have to look through my camera lens to see the detail on the bird.  I started adding little by little strokes from both my brush and directly from the markers.  After overlapping many layers I finally finished.  The result is a colorful portrait of the crowned crane in all its majestic and radiant glory.

Finished painting. Crowned crane, 6x6", inks on aquaboard. Resource from my own photos and from life painting.

Finished painting. Crowned crane, 6×6″, inks on aquaboard. Resource from my own photos and from life painting.

I hope you enjoyed seeing my how I use inks as much as I love painting with them.  See you all really soon!

Rebe