Illustrating our Collections | Digital Collections Programme

Seven illustration and reportage graduates and two tutors from the University of the West of England (UWE) recently visited the Digital Collection Programme. We took them behind the scenes showing them our innovative technology and the entomology and botany collection in order to inspire their love of nature. In return, the artists renewed our creativity and enabled us to see our work with fresh eyes.

 ‘Witnessing the digitisation process was fascinating and knowing about the digital archive means I have a vast and rich resource to access’ Jay Simpson, UWE graduate

We asked the artists to observe and document their day by creating a response to either of the two themes:

Setting natural history data free


The relevance of natural history collections to life today and in the future

A new found appreciation for wasps

We started the day by welcoming the students into the Specimen Preparation Area and introducing the digitisation team and setting some context. This included why and how we are tackling the challenge to digitise the Museum’s collection and why we want to tell new audience about our online resources.

We were then invited to poke around the nooks and crannies of the hymenoptera collection by Curator Gavin Broad. We were not only shown some fantastic metallic wasps (which received many oos and ahhs from the artists), but also beautifully intricate nests and examples of work that recent artists visiting the collection had sent us after their visit.

Curator Gavin Broad, showed the graduates the hymenoptera collection.

Edie Woolf told us that the day gave her  ‘a new found appreciation for wasps and a great deal of visual reference and inspiration.’

For Toby Williams the most interesting aspect was ‘the sheer vastness of the archives and also how the older specimens allow us to travel back in time before climate change.’

After regaling us with fantastic insight and stories behind the wasp collection, Gavin allowed the artists to select some drawers to study in further detail back in the Specimen Preparation Area.

Further study in the Specimen Preparation Area

‘Insects are always on the move or you wouldn’t want to get too near them, but the day gave me the opportunity to get as close as I wanted to them and watch the way the light glinted off of them, and how even when they look similar the colours tended to be subtly (or not so subtly) different. As an artist, I could find insect photography online but nothing ever beats a real live reference. After seeing them, I am more determined to make others see and understand the beauty of these specimens the way I saw it that day.’ Ang Hui Quig

Botanical Beauties

After lunch we were given a tour of the botany collection by Ranee Prakash and then graduates were able to see digitisation in action with botanical specimens from the brassica family.

‘The process of digitising the collections made me very excited. I believe that the sharing and accessibility of info contributes to a more open world, and pushes the boundaries of science and quite probably art too…Scientific insight could also help in understanding form and function, which gives the design more weight and believability.’ Ang Hui Quig

Behind the scenes in the botanical collection

We finished off the day by returning to the Specimen Preparation Area for some more sketching time and then photographing the artists’ work. Not only was it really positive for us to see the excitement and intrigue from our visiting artists. It was inspiring for us to see our specimens, equipment and our challenge represented in eight different creative expressions.

While we have an active and growing scientific audience downloading museum specimen data we think the reason to have a digital collection is the same as the reason to have a physical one. It’s to inspire a love of nature for everyone.

Seeing eight artists’ visual response to the importance of setting natural history data free and the relevance of natural history collections to life today and in the future helps us in the digital collections programme to tailor our communications to more diverse audiences. We had such a great day hosting the visit and just wanted to thank all the graduates for their time. We can’t wait to see what you do in the future!

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UWE graduates with their tutors and DCP programme manager.

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