I create my illustrations for two very different audiences, with two very different definitions of beauty and success.
The first audience consists of scientists, who hire me to draw highly detailed, traditionally composed plates of specific species. When working with a scientist, I consider the drawing to be a collaboration between them and myself. They enumerate a list of traits that they would like to see highlighted in the drawing: the number of ribs on an extinct lizard, the microscopic hairs on the back of a leaf. The scientist proofreads my drawings, going over them with a red pen to ensure that every measurement is correct, every shape precise. I love drawing at this level of specificity and detail. By the time I have finished the illustration I feel that I know the plant or animal intimately, both inside and out.
The second audience that I create illustrations for is myself. This process is completely different than the one employed when I am working for a scientist. When I am painting for myself I still begin with a list of traits that I am hoping to capture, but instead of highlighting microscopic hairs or structures, I am pursuing more emotional goals. What is the history behind this half-withered blossom? Can I inject a note of humor or sympathy into the glance of a rabbit,
With the paintings that I create for myself, storytelling rises to prominence over scientific accuracy. Since storytelling is a two-way interaction, I consider these pieces to be collaborations as well - collaborations between the viewer and myself. I tell stories that are wordless and open-ended; it is up to the viewer to decide what these stories mean and how they will end.
Emma Skurnick is a full-time artist, illustrator, and teacher of illustration and design. Her paintings have been exhibited nationally and published internationally. She received her undergraduate degree in Fine Art from Binghamton University in New York, and her graduate certification in Science Illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
She currently lives on the banks of the Haw River, in central North Carolina.