About

hello! i'm nicole, a science illustration student living by the sea. this blog will document my learning curve.

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i am currently available for freelance. you can view my official portfolio at nicolemwong.com

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south of the border

i am back! 6 days in Costa Rica was far too short, but C and i packed in enough adventure to get through the rest of these winter blues. here’s some pictures of our journey:image

following a 7 hour taco-filled layover in Mexico City, we touched down in San Jose, CR only to take the next morning flight out to Drake’s Bay in the Osa Peninsula. the miniature plane shook with the wind as it carried us down the Pacific coast to the southern end of the country, which is known for being one of the most biodiverse places on earth!image

we hit the beach right away, a short, dusty (it being dry season) walk down from our lodge. the place was paradise, quite literally. there were lush green trees filled with epiphytes, and giant prehistoric scissor-tailed birds swooping about over the ocean (later ID’d as Magnificent Frigatebirds)

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i tested out the underwater camera i scored on ebay for $15. the water was too cloudy, unfortunately— something to do with the mineral composition— but it was bathwater warm so it was enjoyable anyway  

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while treading out, i fell in love with a tree 

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and found a toothed jaw on the beach. from a fish perhaps? 

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come evening, we grabbed some cervesas and waited for our first Central American sunset. 

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day 3: we took a tour of the Corcovado forest in search of wildlife. a 40 minute boat ride got us to Sirena, where we met our guides and broke down into groups. it was 5 hours of constant hiking, necks craned upward. the air was so hot and humid, at times it was difficult to breathe. we were successful though! our guide was a local herpetologist, used to helping non-local herp people find venomous snakes for their studies of antivenom. he had a trained eye, and collectively we saw Scarlet Macaws, coatis, a tamandua, a black iguana, trogans, anoles, hummingbirds, a Crested Guan, a Tiger-Heron, hawk-eagles, vultures, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, howlers… 

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and a golden orb-weaver who had set up camp at the ranger station. the giant spiders are known for their super-strength yellow silk, which has even been used to make cloth. we didn’t find the elusive tapir though, to the great disappointment of our guide.  

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all this took place in the secondary forest— that is, younger forest— as only decades ago the trees here had been cleared by logging. when the Corcovado National Park was established, people were essentially booted out to allow the forest to regrow. contrast this with the primary forest we hiked on day 4:

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uncut, old-growth rainforest. absolutely incredible. this part of the Corcovado was called Paraiso Verde. the man who owned it gave us a private tour through the trails, pointing out interesting plants along the way; describing their medicinal uses, or how their forms inspired modern technology. the undergrowth was so dense, and the canopy so high, animals were much harder to spot. a highlight was watching a Crested Guan hop vertically up a tree. also memorable was the giant ant we found gorging on a butterfly. 

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eventually our guide led us to his jungle bungalow, where he’d been living for 35 years. the inside walls were covered in laminated field guide pages, crop circles and new age-y art. most amusing was his special shrine room dedicated to the gods of psychedelic classic rock— Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Rush, et al. plastered floor to ceiling. his eyes lit up when we told him we were from New York, and he made us promise to send back a photo of the “Physical Graffiti” building. 

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after snacking on some bread and coffee, he took us down to the river for a swim. i don’t have pictures since my p&s camera broke at this point, but it looked a little like:

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soooo pretty, waterfall and all. this is a spread out of Insectos Tropicales, a children’s book about Costa Rican insects i picked up later on the trip. the illustrations are by Alina Suarez Cowley. it has stickers!

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tour finished, we set off via boat and shared taxi towards Manuel Antonio National Park, where we had planned to spend the second leg of our trip. the place is located in the Central Pacific part of the country, near the town of Quepos. we heard it was “the Disneyland of Costa Rican rainforests,” dismissively, by other travelers we met in the Osa, so we braced ourselves. the touristy part was right— there were lots of fancy hotels and restaurants lining the main road that seemed to cater exclusively to tourists— but whether the forest was as manicured i’ll never know because that night we rode into town i came down with a terrible bout of food poisoning. day 5: still suffering stomachaches, we decided to take it easy, going into Quepos for a gallo pinto breakfast (best meal of the trip actually) and buying our advance bus tickets to San Jose, which we would take later that afternoon. 

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we spent the interim hiking down to the beach, and just our luck, along the way we crossed paths with a troop of squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins (!). it’s true that the wildlife weren’t as shy here. the beach, when we finally got to it, was also just breathtaking, and at least for a little while my pains subsided. the rest of the day was spent riding northbound on the bus (at one point a giant bird crashed into our windshield, r.i.p.), exploring the city of San Jose, and finally getting back to our room in Alajuela. with no appetite, we carved up a fresh watermelon and pineapple for dinner. day 6: we hiked the nearby Poas volcano and wandered around Alajuela for food (ceviche: yes!, ice cream topped with shredded cheese: wtf no!). day 7: we took an early morning flight back to New York

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WELL, not exactly. what actually happened: again we had a 7 hour layover in Mexico City, and so again we navigated the subway in search of good street food. the Cipro was finally kicking in, so my appetite was up, so we had a field day consuming tortas, flautas, fresh fruit juices, tacos, popsicles, and pulque. we reluctantly returned to the airport to board our flight, when… over the intercom they asked if any passengers would be willing to be bumped off for a later flight, with good compensation. we immediately volunteered, and that’s how we ended up with an extra day in Mexico City— with comped hotel room, meals, upgraded first class tickets for our NY flight (economy class is ruined for me forever), and free roundtrip tickets back to Mexico to use any time within the next year. what?! 

so all in all, a good trip. 

in less than 2 weeks i am getting far from this polar vortex and embracing the sweet sweet wildlife of Costa Rica! it’s only a short trip and i want to see everything, so hopefully i can still squeeze in some field sketching while i’m there. here’s my travel palette i customized with the help of John Muir Laws’ DIY palette tutorial. a calming activity for a snowy day.  

in less than 2 weeks i am getting far from this polar vortex and embracing the sweet sweet wildlife of Costa Rica! it’s only a short trip and i want to see everything, so hopefully i can still squeeze in some field sketching while i’m there. here’s my travel palette i customized with the help of John Muir Laws’ DIY palette tutorial. a calming activity for a snowy day.  

i picked up this beauty at the GreenFlea Market near the American Museum of Natural History last Christmas, a present for myself! it came from the Phyllis Newman Collection booth. the lady there had a bunch of wonderful science illustration prints, torn right out of the books. she told me AMNH scientists sometimes came to her looking for prints of their study species. sadly, she had no titi monkeys :’(
this print didn’t come with much info, but after reverse Google image searching i found out the cutaway illustration is of the Leopard moth (Zeusera pyrina Fabr.) life cycle, originally published in the Annual report of the Commissioners of Fisheries, Game and Forests of the State of New York (1898). no info on the artist, unfortunately. 

i picked up this beauty at the GreenFlea Market near the American Museum of Natural History last Christmas, a present for myself! it came from the Phyllis Newman Collection booth. the lady there had a bunch of wonderful science illustration prints, torn right out of the books. she told me AMNH scientists sometimes came to her looking for prints of their study species. sadly, she had no titi monkeys :’(

this print didn’t come with much info, but after reverse Google image searching i found out the cutaway illustration is of the Leopard moth (Zeusera pyrina Fabr.) life cycle, originally published in the Annual report of the Commissioners of Fisheries, Game and Forests of the State of New York (1898). no info on the artist, unfortunately. 

book release!

just wanted to quickly share some pictures of the Sardis and Stamm book release event at the Antioch Dunes a couple weeks ago. we had a pretty great turn-out. a big THANK YOU to all those who came to support us and the park! image

the day first consisted of a dune tour, where we got a glimpse of the ongoing habitat reconstruction (step one: big piles of drying sand)..

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…and then snacks and storytime with the book’s author, Matthew Bettelheim, at the Big Break visitor center…

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finally, Matthew and I signed some books (and got our books signed)! i was a bit nervous. googling, “how to do a book signing” didn’t prepare me for this experience! it was all a little overwhelming. luckily everyone was very patient and kind and i had a great time!

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now i’m back on the East Coast, back in Brooklyn, back in snow. i’m working on another short illustration project, this time for a story that takes place in San Francisco. i’m looking forward to drawing some sun(!) as i sit here huddled, a sad, shivering blanket burrito. 

a day at the zoo

a few weeks ago, my old program roomie, H, and i went to the Bronx Zoo to celebrate her birthday!

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here we are together with a mangy sloth friend we picked up..

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my favorite part was Jungle World, partly for the monkeys, partly for the beautiful exhibit background murals (i want to do that!), partly for the creative signage:

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i liked how the displays employed loose watercolor sketches of the animals to depict their character— much more interesting than a photograph or digital graphic! (no offense to the zoos that do use them)

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they livened up the “animal facts” accompanying every species, and made me wish i had brought along my own sketchbook (though i was happy to just stand and gawk)

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whoohoo, shout out to zoochory!

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these Ebony Langurs were a hoot. they didn’t do much but lounge about like lazy humans, or plot to sneak past each other to reach the top of the fake mangroves, but H and i probably spent the most time getting to know them. the little guy scratching his armpit reminded me of Clint Eastwood with his distinctive squint. 

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i’ve always felt a little conflicted about going to zoos. on the one hand they can be incredibly depressing when it’s clear they’re catering more towards the human visitors than to the animals barred inside. on the other, they can be sanctuaries for injured or abandoned animals, or a place of study to improve conservation efforts. they can also show us how much is still out in the world (for the time being anyhow), beyond our cities and suburbs, and hopefully inspire us to act.

alls i know is, looking at even the best photographs of animals from the pages of National Geographic, or admiring my beautiful collection of scientific illustrations perfectly pinned to my Pinterest board, severely pales in comparison to standing inches away from the living, breathing thing. 

these leopards had a presence i tell ya!

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i loved this drawing, it captures their movement

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of course we had to check out the African Wild Dogs. i loved their signage too. they were peppered with realistic drawings on toned backgrounds. 

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Spotted Hyenas, one of my favs. i wish i knew the artists! they receive no credit. from googling, i came across this article by the New York Times on the Bronx Zoo exhibit-makers. what a cool job!

a favorite quote:

"They once fashioned a prosthetic beak for an injured hornbill in Jungle World, using a specimen from the American Museum of Natural History for the mold. Another time, they were asked to craft protective rubber sheaths for the horns of an ibex after it had gored a baboon."

here are some more pictures from the rest of my visit:

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turtle breathing, fish says hello

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this cutie-pie