SUSAN LINDSTEDT'S DRAWINGS MELD ART AND SCIENCE
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
he wall-sized artwork is a bit much for most viewers, artist Susan Lindstedt admitted.
People stop to look and admire the sinewy sturgeon swimming diagonally across the work, she explained. They like the stages of the moon that border the work.
And then they notice the other creatures around the edges. Knots and masses of lamprey eels.
"People look, then look closer and yuck lampreys," she said, shuddering.
So far, Lindstedt hasn't had any offers for the watercolor, colored pencil and metallic acrylic work titled "Illuminated Sturgeon."
That's fine with her. She still likes the wall piece featuring anadromous species of fish and it looks great on her living room wall. It also gave her a chance to work in the metallic acrylics, a new medium for her.
But anadromous fish as an art subject?
For Lindstedt, who lives on Spruce Street not far from Riverside Park, the subject is a natural.
She's trained as a biologist and is working nights at a fish hatchery with the steelhead runs.
A scientific illustrator, she'd love to work full-time as an illustrator, but life hasn't worked out that way.
"I'm always hoping it will be steady work," Lindstedt said. So far she's needed supplemental income from biology work.
Lindstedt has "drawn since I could pick up a pencil," she said. With a mother who is a professional artist in the Portland area, Lindstedt said she's had a number of advantages.
"I thought all adults drew well," she remembers. Only later did she realize that artistic talent didn't come naturally to everyone.
And ideas such as color theory and perspective were shown her early. She didn't realize she already knew quite a lot until she took some art classes and found she had learned that information from her mother not from a college class.
Perhaps most importantly, Lindstedt believes, is that she grew up in a home where "I learned that art was a worthwhile thing for adults to be involved in."
Art was always part of Lindstedt's life. She remembers illustrating stories she read in fourth and fifth grade.
Art as a profession started during her freshman year in college and has been an intermittent activity ever since.
For her first professional job, Lindstedt did drawings of pseudo-scorpions. The work was to illustrate the scientific findings of a researcher she worked with doing field studies, she said, and involved a year of her time.
Eventually, not only were Lindstedt's drawing of pseudo-scorpions published, but one drawing of an invertebrate became the cover for a scientific journal.
"I don't advertise at all, I never have," Lindstedt admits. Most of her jobs find her by word of mouth among the local science researchers at the Forestry and Range Sciences Lab or from scientists she's met while working in the field who discover that she draws.
While she's discovered that illustrating for scientists can involve many styles both of artwork and of interaction with researchers there are basic points of scientific illustration that appeal to her.
She wants to get things right not just the subject of the illustration, but the details around it, such as the right types of plants and trees, or environmental features.
She's never been particularly fond of putting together the charts and lettering for science research reports, but computers now handle most of those details.
Artistically, Lindstedt hopes to learn more about manipulating her own illustrations on computers.
"A lot of illustrators now do their own work, then modify it on the computer," she said.
Lindstedt confesses to enjoying looking through science texts and seeing the illustrations. But get it right, she insists, or she quits reading in a hurry.
"Sometimes I see pictures that are not up to par," she said. "I'm just not up to poor illustrations."
Pen-and-ink illustrations and color pencils are Lindstedt's preferred medium, which are often highlighted with watercolors. But watercolor, her mother's prime medium, is approached with caution by Lindstedt.
"Watercolor can make you cry," she advises with a grin.
Involved and intense in whatever activity she chooses, be it art, art contests, biology, growing plants that fill her home, or competing in sheepdog trials with her border collies, Lindstedt has learned that there is value in stopping briefly and taking time to evaluate.
When she thinks she's nearing the end of a piece of work, she said, she often stops and studies it for a week of so.
"It's a killer to overdo a piece," she explains. "It's better to stop before it's quite finished."
And she likes to read even a rough draft of what she'll be illustrating, because, "I don't want to inadvertently contradict the report."
Contradiction isn't usually a basis for judging when Lindstedt enters her work in artistic competitions. Finding the time is sometimes the limited factor.
If she's been productive, she explained, she'll enter contests she learns about via e-mail or sees in magazines.
"I win some prize or sell a picture about half the time," when she enters, she said. "I consider that rip-roaring success."
Of contests and judges, she shrugs philosophically.
"You don't want to get your feelings hurt. Different judges have different tastes."
It's the same for subjects of artwork, she said.
Science continues to draw Lindstedt, but a very profitable piece of art was a poster done for a sheepdog trial in a more light-hearted fashion. The work became a popular T-shirt design.
What's next? Lindstedt shrugs and asks if you want to see her bummer lambs, rescued from a large Idaho lambing operation recently. It's time to feed them.