In our fourth SciArt Profile we meet Priyanka Oberoi, an illustrator, artist and photographer whose work often features scientific themes.
Where are you originally from and what do you work on now?
Originally I am from India, and am an illustrator and photographer by profession. After spending five years studying art in the College of Art in New Delhi and National Institute of Design in Paldi I started my career as a staff photographer for the magazine ‘Sports Illustrated’ in New Delhi, India. From there I moved on to freelancing as an illustrator and photographer full time. This gave be creative freedom to explore and time to increase my skill set. Studio pottery and wall murals are some of the few skills that I added to my portfolio. I started making scientific illustrations 4 years ago in Germany and currently continue the same in Brussels with my husband and five month old baby boy.
When did science first come in to your life?
I studied science and math in school about fifteen years ago. Deriving physics equations and finding the square root from a hypotenuse taught me that I was better suited for something else. While being an artist was never a childhood dream, it definitely became so after school, and I feel extremely fortunate to have found my forte in art.
Science came back in my life when a few scientist friends asked for some drawings. What started with scientific illustrations for journal papers went on to posters and merchandise for conferences, journal covers, gifs explaining various scientific concepts, lab wall art and more. The scope of scientific communication has really caught my imagination.
Who are your artistic influences?
The impressionists with their bold and confident brush strokes have always left me in awe, and Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Surat adorn my home walls. The Indian artist from Goa Mario Miranda is someone I look up to for inspiration for my pen and inks. The pop colours in Andy Warhol’s screen prints gives me confidence to go crazy with my colour palettes.
What do you think of the relationship between science and art?
I am not a scientist, but the process of creating art certainly has an impact on scientific process. With art, one needs to distil an idea into a single, coherent visual representation. For instance, when I work with client to create a cover art or graphical abstract, a lot of thought goes into which elements faithfully represent the finding, not just for the author’s peers but for the broader audience. This certainly helps streamline scientific thinking. In-fact, I would suggest scientists create graphical abstracts of their work or progress, as it would help with understanding the major focus of the work and improving the planning of experiments.
“With art, one needs to distil an idea into a single, coherent visual representation”
How do you make your art?
Pen and inks are my specialty when it comes to illustrations. While I make most of my scientific illustrations digitally the comfort of the simple pen and paper are undeniable.
Be it a commissioned work of art or an idea that I want to bring to life, I always start with my little sketch book. I start by writing key words of a particular project, and if the client has any specific requirements then I note them down too, but if not I start with my favourite, a blank canvas. Then comes the mood board: this generates the basic feel of the artwork which includes the colour palette, sketch style, canvas shape and many such details. This gives the client an idea of the route I will take for the project. With these approvals I start with the artwork. Rough sketches start to adorn my sketch book. Some concepts take days to formulate while some just click instantly. These steps give me a clear passage into my final work of art.
I work on a variety of techniques. Sometimes if the requirement demands a painterly quality that I cannot achieve via digital platforms I go back to the traditional canvas or paper with high resolution scans. The bottom line is that the process is super intoxicating and so when one project comes to an end I cannot wait to begin the next!
What are you thinking of working on next?
I am currently working on a board game for the Deutsch museum in Munich – acompletely new challenge with its new set of rules.
Also filling up my sketch book pages is a self initiated project called ‘Danio & Rerio’. A weekly comic strip that I recently started on twitter that embarks on the adventures of two zebrafish and their stints with various fun science experiments.
Apart from commissioned works of art I conduct team building and exploratory workshops. One such workshop includes traditional wooden blocks that I got made in India. These wooden blocks are science themed with a twist used for block printing on bags, t-shirts and pretty much any surface. These workshops are open to any lab that want some reclamation time. This inexpensive activity is fun and refreshes all the members of a lab without planning a formal retreat. One set of workshops are going to be offered to an international school in Brussels for their extra curricular spring and possibly summer sessions.
Scientific conference posters
Lab Wall Art: ‘Bottoms up life forms’. Commissioned by Dr James Saenz, B CUBE – Center for Molecular Bioengineering, Dresden
Assorted pieces – click for captions
Check out Priyanka’s homepage:
And her official scientific illustration merchandise shop:
Follow Priyanka on Twitter: @PriyankaObero16