An X-Ray Device for Natural Science Illustration

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I’ve been working on ways to combine my natural science illustrations with tangible interfaces. This demo shows an “X-ray device” I created using an Arduino, a Raspberry Pi, a little screen, a few sensors, and a wooden box I created out of poplar. For our class assignment, we had to draw the skeletal layer, musculature and fur/outside of an animal of our choice. This demo features drawings from a few of my classmates: Angie Peace (cougar), Megan Ellis (tree kangaroo) and Kristina Krajcik (rattlesnake).

Black Bear Skull


Black Bear Skull, graphite on drawing paper

This is another drawing I made at the Burke this past Thursday.

My original plan was to do a drawing of both a bear skull and a seal skull, because I’d learned on a recent whale watching trip in the San Juan Islands that bears, sea lions and seals are all closely related. I was going to draw a bear skull and a seal skull to compare them.

But at the Burke, these skulls looked more dissimilar than I had expected. A couple of those differences are that the bear’s skull is much larger, and that the bear’s back teeth are meant for grinding, rather than the seal’s sharp back teeth, which are meant for tearing.

While the black bear skull was far larger than the seal skull, I was surprised that the black bear skull seemed much smaller than how a bear’s head seems in real life. Jeff Bradley (from the Burke’s mammalogy collection) pointed out that the muscles and all that fur add up to make a living bear’s head much bigger.


I might still get to that seal skull, or maybe one of the cool seal skeletons they have there hanging from the back rooms at the Burke…

Sun Bear Skeleton


Sun Bear Skeleton, graphite on drawing paper

I again visited the collections at the Burke Museum Mammalogy department, and Jeff Bradley, the collection manager, generously took this skeleton of a sun bear down from a high shelf so I could draw it.


It came from the Woodland Park Zoo, but the Burke Museum is uncertain whether this particular bear actually lived at the zoo, or whether the zoo got this skeleton from another zoo. The zoo used this skeleton for educating kids and visitors. It had been handled quite a bit, so you can see it is missing a couple of feet!

Jake the Lion


Jake the Lion, graphite on watercolor paper.

I had the privilege of drawing again today at the Burke Museum’s Mammalogy lab. Jeff, who runs the place, asked me what I’d like to draw, and I gave him only the vague answer of “some kind of interesting skull.” He suggested a carnivore and brought out the skull of a lion.


This lion turned out to be not just any lion, but Jake, who lived at the Woodland Park Zoo for about 20 years. He passed away in May, 2011.

Jake started out at the zoo living alone, but after a few years he was introduced to a new female lion named Juanita. The two became close and got along very well their whole lives.


I can’t help wondering about the animals I draw, and now I know exactly whom I was spending the day with today. I read that Jake loved to roar, and that made me smile. What a beautiful, amazing animal.

Pronghorn Skull


Pronghorn skull from the Burke Museum, Mammalogy Collection, University of Washington, Seattle. Colored pencil on watercolor paper, cleaned up in Photoshop.

(Antilocapra american, family Antilocapridae)

I wanted to capture the roughness of the sheaths on the horns versus the smoothness of the ivory skull. (Pronghorns shed their sheaths annually, but underneath is a horn made of bone.)


Spinner Dolphin Skull


Skull of a spinner dolphin, Stella longirostris, Order Cetacea, from the collection of the Burke Museum, University of Washington, Seattle.

Colored pencil on watercolor paper, cleaned up in Photoshop.

The Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus is like a slightly smaller version of New York’s Museum of Natural History. The museum has excellent natural history exhibits as well as an incredible collection of skeletons, pelts and information about mammals, insects, reptiles and birds.

As I am interested in scientific illustration, Jeff, the Mammalogy Collection Manager, generously let me visit “backstage” and draw something from their collection. This spinner dolphin skull was sitting out from a previous researcher, so I decided to draw that.


One lovely part of the experience of drawing something for hours is really connecting with the thing it is you’re drawing. I fall in love with my subjects every time. Who was this dolphin? What was its life? What did it experience?