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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moving on, moving in

whoops, the months have slipped by yet again! here’s what’s happened since March:

i knew i would soon be leaving the museum— i was starting fulltime work, juggling a couple projects, moving into an apartment in Brooklyn… the time had come!

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but like this howler monkey, my heart was sayin nooooo

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no more walking into a room to perplexing scenes like the above

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or watching the painters and model makers do their thing. over the course of a month this had been evolving at Steve Quinn’s desk. it’s the Chaco Forest mural for the upcoming Poison exhibit. there wasn’t the time or budget to create a full scale painting, so he did a mini painting, to be blown up and Photoshopped much like my Livia Drusilla garden room fresco. the reason there wasn’t enough time is because the man was retiring! i was sad to know this.. he pretty much represents the last of the Golden Age diorama makers at the AMNH, and has been working here ever since he started as an intern about 40 years ago (!). i had hoped to witness a diorama mural start to finish, but alas i came too late. 

imagethe modelmakers are a funny, thoughtful bunch, and wanted to create a custom goodbye present for Mr. Quinn. i was assigned to make a teeny tiny bottle of his favorite scotch whiskey, Lagavulin. i carved this out of a plexiglass rod. i carved it four times because the neck kept snapping on me.  image

so many people showed up for the retirement party! there were speeches, and kind words, and funny stories, and presents and cake, and a skit. i was lucky to nab a picture with the guest of honor. above with me is Angela, painter of the Aztec marketplace mural, and my intern friend, P.

in all of Steve Quinn’s speeches/response toasts it was clear the man was dedicated to nature. the urge to protect it and conserve it, and get other people excited about it is what drove his work all these years. now that he’s retiring, he and his family have bought the piece of property adjacent to their home in New Jersey with the intention of turning it into a sanctuary for migrating birds. awesome. 

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here was the culmination of the preparator’s efforts: a mini diorama of Steve Quinn painting a diorama, for his mantlepiece. i am proud to say my bottle (by his feet) will rest there too! the risque subject matter alludes to James Perry Wilsonanother diorama preparator even before Steve Quinn’s day who was said to paint in the nude.

some shots from my last day: 

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rainforest leaf workshop

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intern lunch

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outside the exhibition dept portal

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a book i thrifted while out to lunch.. it’s the art from that nat geo art exhibit i documented a while back, plus much much more. 

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borrowed bibles from the preparators— one about the art of diorama-making, and this, a document put together by the one and only Steve Quinn about the background painters and mural artists of the exhibit halls in AMNH!

it’s unfortunate that many of the museum’s artists (and exhibit writers) go unacknowledged, especially since their work is what people have come here to consume. as i slowly scan these pages, i’ll try to work in a post here and there about the many AMNH artists that have been a part of the exhibit halls, because they definitely shouldn’t be relegated to obscurity.

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central park from my lunching spot— spring is coming

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and spent the evening of my last day at a lecture about conservation, a fitting end. 

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anyhow, Feb-March i had the most intense, anxiety-ridden apartment hunt of my life, but it paid off. he’s my little spot in Brooklyn, where i live with five other roommates. amazingly we all get along. there was a tiny flooding incident back in April, but no problems since, knock on wood. 

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this accompanied me on those anxiety-ridden train trips, to apartment prospects, and job interviews. i still haven’t figured it all out.. making art as a fulltime thing is for the lucky ones, but this book provided some comfort. 

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so i guess i should let you in on what i have been working on? this is a sketch for a children’s book i’m illustrating for the Friends of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. written by a wildlife biologist, it’s about a girl who rescues a lost butterfly (the endangered Lange’s metalmark), and all the wildlife they see in the Antioch Sand Dunes as she brings it back to its host plant. the story is really beautiful, i just hope i can do it justice!

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i’m also working for a designer in Brooklyn, Roots in Rust. she designs planters for air plants (plant that don’t root in soil), mostly from repurposed items. i got this lovely housewarming gift, my favorite design too! i’m calling it Osha (the Wildling). 

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here’s a shot from a job i just finished up. i was working in a sweet office in Manhattan’s Union Square, making quick illustrations for a K-5 textbook. i’ll share more about that later. 

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here’s a sneaky pic from the Audubon (Part I) exhibit that was showing at the New York Historical Society. ohmagod it was amazing. i liked seeing his talents progress (there was a section on his childhood drawings), and inspecting his methods. I was surprised to learn he wasn’t a watercolor purist.. he used whatever combinations of materials that got the job done. he regularly employed pastel for fluffy down feathers, and the richest dark spots, and he used graphite pencil to give the feathers their sheen.

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apparently the Japanese loved Audubon, because of his reminiscent refined compositions and painting style. here is a Japanese painting of him, a scene in which Audubon has returned to England with his extensive bird notes from his first trip to America only to find them destroyed by the ship rats. amazingly he was able to muster the strength and will to return and restart his birds studies anew.

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here my friend P threw a surprise birthday party for me! it was 3 weeks early. needless to say, i was surprised. 

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almost suffered another heart attack when my mom showed up at my work one day! she flew across the country to visit me without saying a word. another birthday surprise. here i am still kind of shocked. i was happy she could finally see my painting at the museum!

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me and my momma Facetiming with family back home

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watching my sister’s production stage management of Hamlet. she wrapped up her Juilliard internship and is interning for an operahouse in New Mexico now. miss ya sis!

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family outing with my old program roomie H for Xi’an’s killer spicy cumin lamb noodles

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awesome birthday present #1: a print by Jane Kim, supporting her Migrating Mural Project. a portion of the proceeds benefit the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundations— get yours here!

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awesome present #2: the Where the Why and the How, a book filled with modern illustrations interpreting science questions. i especially like the link-backs to illustrator portfolios. 

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and finally, my room today. furnished with Ikea, Craigslist, and sidewalk refuse. i have to tumble over my bed to reach my bookcase, but i like how cozy it is.

now… to get some work done!

nat geo

last weekend my friend and i went to see a National Geographic art retrospective at Steve Kasher Gallery. it’ll be up until february 16th, so people of new york: it’s well worth a visit if you have the time. 

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i was surprised to find that so many pieces were rendered in gouache instead of oil or acrylic. even though it makes sense since gouache has the best reproduction qualities (important for magazine print). but still… the way the artists handled the paint resulted in many different looks, so it was fun to study them up close and imagine their techniques. 

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this piece by the Kennis Brothers was exciting to see! i had just read about them on the National Infographic blog. i liked how their sculpting background carried into their application of paint.

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detail of Roy Anderson’s Tyrannosaurus Rex

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Louis Glanzman’s Mayan Sacred Ball Game

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H.M. Herget detail— loved the pointillistic background, i’m stealing this idea.

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Walter A. Weber’s Birds of Paradise

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here, a botanical watercolor by Mary E. Eaton

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this piece, Freshwater Pond Life, by Ned M. Seidler was tied for my favorite. i could stare at it for hours, there’s so much going on! if i ever have an extra 12K to drop (ha), this is where it’s going.

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this was my other favorite, also by Mr. Seidler, called Marsh Life. goodbye 24K.

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after we were through, we moseyed on over a block to the High Line, my favorite place in the city to get away from the city.

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twas a very good day.

wrap up

clearly i’ve been terrible at keeping this up. but new year, new start… you can look forward to regular updates to this from now on.

so. what has happened since October, when i finished my internship and officially graduated my scientific illustration program?

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Our Global Kitchen opened. read all about it in The New York Times. the above is the Livia Drusilla corner, what i like to call my corner. there’s my painting all blown up! isn’t it cute. you can see the full composite here. it is the reconstruction of this Roman fresco.

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if you peek through the furniture you’ll find my mosaic floor design, which i illustrated based on photos from LD’s excavated villa.

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this is Angela, the amaaazing painter who single-handedly finished up the Aztec marketplace mural in the weeks leading up to the exhibit opening. she likes to listen to heavy metal as she paints, hence the face. check out her gorgeous portfolio here.  

here are some more shots of pre-opening preparation:

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food waste tower in progress…

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since my internship wrapped up, i have been volunteering on the model-making floor. here i am painting blemishes on pumpkins. they later took a roll in the dust to diminish their plastic sheen.

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here are baskets of beefsteak tomatoes painted all shades of golden for the natural, biodiverse look.

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here is a naughty iguana, ready to be strung up.

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i got to paint in small details, like the eye, after the model-maker airbrushed the initial layers of color.

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hang in there lil’ buddy

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designing and creating these original exhibits is costly, so the museum sees some returns by lending them out to other museums. therefore the exhibit is built with travel in mind, and comes with instructions on how the props within them are to be displayed. another intern and i contributed to this instruction packet by digitally mapping out every food basket on the marketplace floor (approximately 400 units) so that in a distant country it could be set up according to the original artistic vision.

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these are some of my intern friends! i feel so fortunate to know them. they were good company on days when i was doing less photogenically interesting tasks, like background internet research on pterosaurs, trilobites, poison, etc. above, P is building a model ship, to be later enlarged by the preparators for an upcoming exhibit.

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the North American Hall of Mammals is now open to the public so i haven’t spent much time there lately, but while it was still undergoing renovation last fall, i found it to be a safe haven to practice drawing (sketching in front of visitors still makes me anxious). how could i not take advantage of alone-time with the dioramas?! H if you’re reading this, this baby mountain goat is for you.

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one of the great things about New York that makes it so enticing and difficult to leave is the large artistic community that’s coalesced here. what’s more, everyone i’ve met has talent! it’s sick. i do find there’s a lot of support, or at least opportunities, around the city to improve skills and whatnot, so i’m not really complaining. 3rd Ward has been one of my best discoveries. with membership you can attend free figure drawing sessions: they provide the model and drinks, you draw. wonderful.

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alright, hyper-speed tour through the rest of my year— commence:

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H came to the city for Halloween weekend. i’m Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, she’s Gabby Douglas.

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Hurricane Sandy happened. we were fortunate to be just above the disaster line of the storm (areas below us lost power, were flooded…)

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in the days after, a lot of comfort food was devoured, like my cousin’s magical toaster oven apple pie

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a President was reelected

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i saw my sister’s stage management skillz in action

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we checked out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons (Kermie arms!)

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the AMNH had its tree lighting ceremony with this year’s theme of collective nouns. i learned one spots a lovelyness of ladybugs, a prickle of hedgehogs, a cast of crabs, a bunch of deer.

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another great NY (ok, BK) thing: the Secret Science Club. usually a series of free monthly lectures, November hosted the Imagine Science Film Festival. i wasn’t a fan of the opening musical performance (pig fetus and mice hooked up to electrical wires to be played like instruments), but some of the documentaries were great. like Flutter, a dreamy portrait of an amateur butterfly collector. or Periodic Table Table, which is about a man who, yes, built a table containing the periodic table elements:

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here is a shot from when intern friend L and i attended a Lego architecture competition. after a few drinks, we built animals instead. we call this “Llama, Giraffe and Bird: A Love Story.”

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an AMNH hosted lecture with entomologist E.O. Wilson and poet Robert Hass, discussing the intersection of science and art!

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i have no shame. a sneaky pic from the astrophysics holiday party, where the ever-charismatic Neil deGrasse Tyson was demonstrating his sommelier skills.

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aaand extremely belated, but this is my holiday postcard from me to you! dinohedge in front of the museo.

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finally, the face i’ve been waking up to lately. a lovely morning back home with my little satellite.

last leg

yesterday (monday) i finally sent my paintings off to the scanners in preparation of the enlargement!

here’s panel one, still with the painter’s tape:

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i’m sure you’ve heard of the botched jesus restoration that happened at a church in Spain this summer? because of the nature of my project, my dad was the first to pass along that story, to which i laughed until i cried. here’s my homage, i just had to:

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since it’s in the far right foliage, it won’t be seen by the public for the exhibit, so the museum can’t get mad at me. i hope.

here’s the second panel. because of tight deadlines, i knew i wouldn’t be able to complete it in time, so i just focused on the main trees.. the rest will eventually be photoshopped together using elements from the first panel. hopefully it all plays out as planned..

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meanwhile, the upstairs aztec marketplace mural is blowing my mind..

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this was how it looked 2 weeks ago. they’ve since started on the color

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FOOD, created from scratch by the amazing model-maker preparators

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coming along, coming along.

these past few weeks have been full of fun. thanks, friends, for visiting me and letting me show off!

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special appearance by sci ill program roomie, H!

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sis and cousin, my gracious NY hosts

lastly, a song i’ve been obsessed with. anyone walking by my painting corner will have heard it repeatedly. excuse me while i listen to it again right now.

pacific-atlantic

sorry for the lack of updates, i’ll get all my final course projects up soon! earlier this week i relocated to the east coast to begin my internship at the American Museum of Nautral History in new york! my official start date is this coming monday, dun dun dunn. so far i’ve been exploring and enjoying this crazy city on my own. there’s so much happening i don’t think i can ever get bored (though i do miss my view of the ocean). not sure how much i can divulge while i’m working there, but i’ll try to keep you in the loop! for now enjoy some pictures:

(west coast)

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our pigeon babes, all growd up! i could tell it was them because they weren’t as flighty as their parents and let me observe them for a while. the fleshy flap on the upper portion of their beaks was also still gray, indicating a juvie rather than an adult (the flap eventually turns white)

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celebrated PRIDE and other summer festivities in the city. had to squeeze in as much as i could!

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friends and visitors and pastries in dolores park

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got fit with my buddy

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publication of a cat i drew for the SF SPCA Our Animals Magazine (summer 2012). the organization has been collaborating with artists to illustrate animals in need of a home. i’m happy to say this girl was adopted out!

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ferry ride to oakland for art murmur— can’t wait to experience this again! tons of art galleries and live music open for the public. with free shuttle buses, inconvenience is not an excuse.

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giant bubbles amid warehouses and the packed crowd watching below

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congrats to my friend who got into her dream grad program in europe!! hopefully we’ll see each other again before you go..

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a fortune found crumpled on my doorstep, my mantra as of late

a five-hour red-eye later…

(east coast)

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hello new york!

and, as i’m currently obsessed, here’s my soundtrack on the subway.