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SciArt profile: Morag Lewis

Posted by , on 19 December 2023

In this SciArt profile, we get to know more about Morag Lewis, the scientist behind the artwork ‘Castle of Dreaming Dragons’, which was chosen as the Judges’ choice runner-up in the Node-BSDB virtual art exhibition.

Castle of Dreaming Dragons This began as a small pencil sketch in May 2019 and went through a series of transitions to the final piece, which was finished in June 2020. It ended up being inked digitally, and painted with watercolours, which was an odd combination to choose but I was pleased with how it turned out. I was really pleased to be able to exhibit it in the BSDB virtual art exhibition this year.

Can you tell us about your background and what you work on now?

I’m from the UK, and I study the genetics of progressive hearing loss in the lab of Professor Karen Steel at King’s College London. The project I have been working on most recently involved analysing sequence data from several large human cohorts and developing different methods to identify genes and variants which might be contributing to the different types of hearing loss observed in the participants.

This is one of the rare images directly based on my research. It shows SNPs from a region on chromosome five from a mouse of unknown background (leftmost column), 15 inbred strains and 7 wild-derived strains. Inbred and wild-derived strain data was obtained from Jax (Center for Genome Dynamics (CGD). SNP data from Mouse Diversity Genotyping Array, 582,000 locations for 72 strains of mice. MPD:CGD2. Mouse Phenome Database web site, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine USA., Nov, 2010.). The image was generated using perl (green=G, red=A, blue=C, yellow=T). It was exhibited at the the BSDB/GenSoc art exhibition in 2021, which I very much enjoyed being part of.

Were you always going to be a scientist?

I remember not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I studied the subjects I enjoyed most and I’m pretty happy with where I ended up. I did take a side trip through computer science between my undergraduate degree and my PhD, which turned out to be very useful further down the line.

And what about art – have you always enjoyed it?

I have always enjoyed doodling, to the point where I used to worry about being given a new rough book at school – the teachers always checked to make sure the old one had been used properly and I didn’t think covering the pages with horse doodles counted! And I have always told stories, but usually just to myself.

The chapter title page from another illustrated story I’m working on, “Looking for the Sun”.

What or who are your most important artistic influences?

I would say the most important artistic influences on me are writers such as Lois McMaster Bujold and Martha Wells, and artists like Kaoru Mori and Hitoshi Ashinano, but they are the tip of the iceberg. If I read something I like, it’s hard not to be influenced by it.

How do you make your art?

I mostly make comics, and I use coloured pencils to draw, then I ink over the pencils with a dip pen, brush, and ink. For colour work, I use watercolour paints and alcohol markers. But in both cases, I scan and edit the results digitally.

A page from my illustrated novel “The Emperor’s Hound”, showing the first meeting of the protagonists.

Does your art influence your science at all, or are they separate worlds?

I don’t think my art and science influence each other directly, but I find keeping a good balance between them means I can do both better, if that makes sense. When it comes to preparing figures for papers, or posters for conferences, my experience with making and printing comics is invaluable.

An illustration from my current webcomic, “Nobody’s Library”.

What are you thinking of working on next?

I actually started out wanting to write books rather than comics, because I was a novel reader as a child rather than a comic reader (that came later). I have recently been experimenting with prose again, and have produced an illustrated novel. I’d like to keep doing that, and I have an idea I very much want to develop… when I get some of my existing projects finished!

Find out more about Morag:


Instagram: @toothycat

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