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SONSI member Barry MacKay’s illustrations featured in new cormorant book

April 12, 2014

Congratulations to member Barry Kent MacKay for his wonderful illustrations in the new book: The Double Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires, published by Yale University Press. Read a detailed summary and review of the book here. The reviewer, Steven Donoghue, says [T]he whole book is enlivened by gorgeous illustrations by Barry Kent Mackay, who not only captures the cormorant in all its moods and actions but also offers accompanying pictures of many of the cormorant’s fellow estuarine birds, including an especially ominous drawing of a bald eagle, and a haunting illustration of a great heron.

Cover Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Cover Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

The illustration above appears on the book’s cover in colour and the images below are printed inside the book in black and white, along with a number of other illustrations by Barry.

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Illustration © Barry Kent MacKay

Barry is an accomplished bird illustrator and is passionate about animal welfare, so this project suited him well. Read SONSI’s 2010 interview with Barry here.


SONSI member Celia Godkin’s new book

March 24, 2014

During the last year, SONSI member Celia Godkin has been working hard on the text and illustrations for a new children’s book about peregrine falcons. The book is about to be released by Pajama Press. An image of the cover and description of the book follow. Congratulations Celia!

Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World
By Celia Godkin

Canadian Publication Date: April 15, 2014 (On sale April 1, 2014)
U.S. Publication Date: July 15, 2014

The inspiring story of how the peregrine falcon was saved from the brink of disaster.

High in the sky, a peregrine falcon joins her mate for some swooping and diving before returning to her nest to guard her eggs. The couple doesn’t know it yet, but they will lose most of these eggs; the first clutch to a volunteer scaling the cliff, and the next to the harmful effects of DDT. Told against the backdrop of scientists’ efforts to understand the raptors’ decline in the wild, this illustrated non-fiction book tells the story of several generations of falcons as they’re taken to a sanctuary, reintegrated into the wild, and ultimately relocated to the ledge of a city skyscraper.

With dynamic oil illustrations, author and wildlife artist Celia Godkin effortlessly captures the detail of the falcons and brings to life the different landscapes they inhabit. Skydiver will delight and inform readers with a passion for species preservation, as it documents the struggles and the eventual success of the efforts to save the fastest bird in the world.

[image and text from the publisher's website]

SONSI at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

March 24, 2014
The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

Yesterday, a handful of SONSI members gathered at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory to enjoy a respite from the cold, to socialize, and to sketch and photograph the scenery in the butterfly conservatory. It was over 30 degrees in the conservatory – quite a change from the frigid outdoors! Here are a few photos from the outing:

SONSI member at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

SONSI member at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

SONSI member at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

SONSI member at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

bird at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

bird at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

SONSI members at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

SONSI members at The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, enjoying the gallery




SONSI members escape winter for a day in February

March 4, 2014

2014-02-22 15.15.38

SONSI_members_on_the_trail_at_RBGRecently SONSI members met on a crisp, sunny morning for a day at the Royal Botanical Gardens. The day began at the Arboretum for a hike along some of the many trails with the hope of finding some peckish birds to feed.







A short walk, which became a cautious scale as soon as the icy path began to decline, led to success.

Everyone was able to feed the chirping swarm of chickadees, along with a few downy woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatches.

SONSI member feeds downy woodpecker

SONSI member feeds downy woodpecker

Chickadee in hand at RBG

Chickadee in hand at RBG

White-breasted nuthatch at RBG; photo by Steven Potter

White-breasted nuthatch at RBG; photo by Steven Potter

Along to spy fallen seeds were red-bellied woodpeckers, sparrows, and a beautifully bright pair of cardinals, providing many opportunities for photographs.

Cardinal at RBG; photo by Steven Potter

Cardinal at RBG; photo by Steven Potter

From here the group reconvened in the RBG’s restaurant to warm up and catch up. After a typically successful meal, members ambled over to the Mediterranean gardens for some sketching.

Sketching in the RBG; Photo by Elizabeth Pratt

Sketching in the RBG; Photo by Elizabeth Pratt









The garden is always a heavenly experience for the senses, offering a number of mature specimens to capture, such as the bird of paradise tree (Strelitzia nicolai), and cork oak (Quercus suber). The adjoining gardens offer a wide variety of cacti, and seasonal plants, which for this visit consisted of a heady mixture of spring bulbs and blossoms.  spring_at_RBG




After getting in a few sketches, and enjoying the benefits of the gardens, members dispersed. A few stragglers were able to visit another exhibit in the RBG, Savage Gardens and Nature’s Ninjas, featuring an assortment of giant sculptures of carnivorous plants and a selection of animals with interesting defensive adaptations.

SONSI members as carnivorous plants in a not-so-scientific "illustration."

SONSI members as carnivorous plants in a not-so-scientific “illustration.”

photo by Elizabeth Pratt

photo by Elizabeth Pratt


Though it was more akin to a freak show, the creatures on display were captivatingly beautiful. The most unusual award certainly went to the detailed video demonstrating the unique ability of the hag fish (Myxine glutinosa).

Not for the first time, the RBG provided natural respite in this seemingly endless expanse of winter.

-Elizabeth Pratt

Please join us for the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators’ 2013 Presentation Day.

September 18, 2013

When:  October 19, 2013, 10:45 AM to 5 PM. (Please arrive between 10:30 and 10:50 AM; the presentations will begin promptly at 11 AM).
Where: Production Room 2 at the Central Public Library at 120 Navy Street in Oakville, ON. Map
RSVP to (or to Emily) by October 15.
There is no fee for SONSI members. Non-members* are asked to reserve their seat by making a $15 donation to SONSI (to help cover the costs of facility rental and food) by credit card via PayPal (send it to Space is limited! *Registration is open to non-members after October 1. Please note there are no refunds offered after October 11.

SONSI will provide lunch as well as modest refreshment for a short afternoon break.

Following the presentations, all are invited to convene at The Queen’s Head Pub for dinner (not provided by SONSI). Please indicate whether or not you intend to join us for this so appropriate reservations may be made. The Pub is a 5 minute walk from the Library. See the menu here. Map to pub.

Presenters and Topics:

Kathryn Chorney
Bird Illustration — A Bit of History

Kathryn takes us on a brief but enjoyable historical tour of bird illustration, an art form that has fascinated artists and delighted viewers for literally thousands of years. Developments in bird illustration parallel the history of print and reproduction technologies.

Kathryn Chorney is a full time professor in the Illustration program at Sheridan College, Oakville, and an award-winning medical and scientific illustrator. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Master of Science in Biomedical Communications program.

Lori Dunn
Scratchboard as applied to Natural Science Subjects.

Lori will discuss the process and challenges of her scratchboard artwork and bring an example to show.

Lori Dunn is one of Canada’s primary scratchboard artists. These black and white engravings produce works with incredible realism and detail. With a B.Sc. in zoology, she has turned her background with science into a career in fine art.

Dino Pulerà
Illustrating the Neuroanatomy of the Great Hammerhead Shark

Dino will discuss the process he used for creating an illustration of the neuroanatomy of a hammerhead shark including research, references and technique.

Dino Pulerà earned his B. Sc. from the University of Toronto, and his MSc.BMC from the Division of Biomedical Communications (U of T). He works full time for Artery Studios, a medical legal & animation studio, as an associate art director and medical illustrator. His current freelance work includes the third edition of his co-authored book, The Dissection of Vertebrates.

Illustration © Dino Pulera

Illustration © Dino Pulera

Elizabeth Pratt
The SONSI Logo!

At three and a half years old, SONSI is in dire need of a logo to represent it. SONSI’s Logo Committee recently solicited sketches from members with the idea that one will be selected and refined to serve as our logo – a difficult prospect, given that SONSI members are a busy, diverse and keenly visual group of people. Elizabeth will present the discussions of the Logo Committee and at this time, SONSI members will vote on a logo design.

Elizabeth Pratt is SONSI’s Vice President and Secretary as well as Chairperson of the Logo Committee.

Emily S. Damstra
The Unexpected Challenges of Interpretive Sign Illustration

Emily will talk about some of the interpretive sign illustrations she has worked on over the last few years, including a reconstructed Neutral Nation village, turtle habitat in four seasons, and a little girl stepping in dog poo.

Emily Damstra has been a freelance illustrator for 13 years, exploring a diversity of subjects and projects along the way. She has an MFA degree in Science Illustration from the University of Michigan.

Illustration © Emily S. Damstra

Illustration © Emily S. Damstra

Hall Train
Anyone Can Draw a Dinosaur – But Should They Be Allowed To?

Hall Train presents some of his pet peeves in dinosaur depiction through the decades. Eyes, skin, colour, locomotion – we have the evidence, but why do so few artists use it?? Above all, an illustration should have some meaning, and not be just another picture of one dinosaur killing another.

Hall Train is one of the world’s most renowned illustrator/sculptor/animator/recreators of dinosaurs and other extinct life forms. Part of the secret of his success is analyzing what the real fossil evidence tells us – even if it comes as a surprise to some paleontologists!

Karen Reczuch
Illustrating Non-fiction Picture Books

Karen will discuss the process of creating a children’s book.

Karen Reczuch studied at Sheridan College and has been illustrating Canadian picture books for over 25 years, including the award-winning books “Salmon Creek” and “Loon.”

Kathryn Killackey
Reconstructing the Past: Archaeological Illustration at Çatalhöyük

Archaeological illustrators draw on many different skills and disciplines to create engaging and scientifically accurate reconstructions of the past. Kathryn will discuss her experiences with the reconstruction process using examples from Çatalhöyük, a 9000 year old Neolithic site in Turkey.

Kathryn Killackey is a science illustrator with extensive experience illustrating archaeological subjects from a range of time periods and geographic areas. She has been the project illustrator for the Çatalhöyük Research Project for the past 7 years.

Marianne Collins
The Art of fact: Illustrating the Creatures of the Burgess Shale

Marianne will demonstrate an evolution of the illustration techniques used to create reconstructions of over 75 fossilized Cambrian species. Demonstrated techniques range from pen and ink at the beginning of a pre-computer timeline to digital art in the present. The process of getting from the fossil to the animal reconstructed in life will also be explored.

Marianne Collins first became acquainted with the 500 million year old fossils while employed as staff artist at the Royal Ontario Museum. Marianne is now internationally known for unlocking previously unknown creatures from thin slabs of Burgess Shale and bringing them to life in her reconstructions. Does that make her a Rock Star?

Jacqueline Mahannah
The China Project

Jacqueline will discuss an ongoing project for the Shanghai Museum of Natural History, and the challenges of working with clients abroad.

Jacqueline Mahannah is a Medical and biological Illustration graduate of the University of Michigan, currently living in Sarnia Ontario. She is both a freelance science illustrator and a busy mom of two young boys.

The year in review: 2012 – 2013

June 5, 2013
Photo: Elizabeth Pratt

Kathryn, Trish, Nellie Sue, Hermione, Robin on Spring Ephemeral walk. Photo: Elizabeth Pratt

The first event of the SONSI year in 2012 took place at, by now, the well known Hall Train Studios, and as usual the reason for the gathering was more than enough to prick a few ears.  This time members were invited to view two of Hall’s newest models just before they were sent off for permanent display The Museum of Natural History (the one in New York where the displays come to life after closing time, according to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation).  If this were true then there would be an extra forty foot Golden Orb spider and eight and a half foot Trapdoor spider to deal with.  Thankfully, for all in attendance, the only live spiders at the studio were in jars and of a regular size.

The second June event followed suit with one of the world’s (genuinely) largest spiders, the Giant or Goliath Bird-eating spider.  This time the spider was being shown en plein-air to simultaneously amazed and trepidatious members by Tom Mason, the curator of birds and invertebrates at the Toronto Zoo, as part of a special behind the scenes tour.  The tour included two fuzzy baby African penguins, a West African scorpion, Whip scorpion, Eastern Fox snake, Babirusa and aside from the velvety spider, petting an awesome Indian rhinoceros and hornbill.

In July members congregated at the home of fellow member Fiona Reid for a night of mothing, it isn’t even a word, but it is the type of activity which creates the reaction of excitement in a very select group of people, including nature and science illustrators.  A delicious sounding concoction of various ingredients including banana and Reisling was smeared on nearby trees to attract moths buffet style after nightfall.  White sheets with lights shining through were set up in order to catch glimpses of the moths as they fluttered towards the light.  Members were able to identify some beautiful moth species, a few other anthropods and a porcupine. Read more…

Member news

June 5, 2013
Maayan Harel: Pandaroo

Maayan Harel: Pandaroo

Congratulations to member Maayan Harel for having her work featured on and recently! The following story is a gallery of fantasy hybrid animals composed by readers and contributors on It includes Pandaroos contributed by Maayan:
Congratulations to member Barry MacKay for having designed this year’s International Migratory Bird Day poster! It is a lovely illustration showing the life cycle of the American Redstart.
See the art here:
Read an extensive and impressive biography of Barry here:
Congratulations to member Celia Godkin for some wonderful work on coins from the Royal Canadian Mint this year:
Member Emily S. Damstra did some maple-themed coin designs that came out this spring:
Celia also has 2 paintings in the Ottawa Society of Botanical Artists BOTANICA exhibiton, currently showing at the Herb Garden near Almonte in Eastern Ontario. 2013 BOTANICA Invite and their website is:

Kathryn Chorney’s Polypore fungi drawing in GNSI exhibit.

June 5, 2013
Kathry Chorney, Polyphore fungi. Watercolour and graphite.

Kathryn Chorney: Polypore fungi – Tyromyces. Watercolour and graphite.

Kathryn Chorney’s piece “Polypore Fungi - Tyromyces” was juried into the GNSI’s summer exhibit taking place at the Dorr Museum at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, from July 08 to August 24, 2013.

Kathryn says: “I found these fungi in High Park, Toronto, in October 2011. I was fascinated by their forms, and as always, there was the reward that comes from taking notice of the natural subjects that present themselves in the course of our daily lives – even the humblest subjects offer such a big opportunity. I supported my observational drawing with research in field guides and several internet mycology sites, to determine that my specimens were Tyromyces, a common polypore fungus of dead wood.

“I spent many hours working on colour palette and drawing style, having quickly realized I was not just illustrating fungi, but also the maple tree bark, which is very craggy seen this close-up. I ultimately used a mix of techniques including graphite, watercolour washes, masking, sponging and spattering, as well as opaque gouache and casein. I also decided to add a calligraphic element: I chose the only Shakespearian reference to mushrooms — a short quotation from The Tempest.”

A gallery of the exhibition is planned for the GNSI web site - <>

Illustrating a Symphony: a new application for science illustration

April 12, 2013

“Pteranodon illustration © Hall Train”

SONSI member Hall Train created some wonderful illustrations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life for a symphony, composed by Dean Burry and performed by the North York Concert Orchestra.

Called Carnival of the Dinosaurs, the symphony premieres this weekend at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto. For more information:


Battle of the Titans at RBG

March 26, 2013

Battle of the TitansMany SONSI members will be able to recall visits to the Hall Train Studios for past events.  There is always something fascinating to look at some point in the transformation from concept to reality, though the destination is often far away.  This year the destination of one of Hall’s exhibits was a hop, skip and a jump away for many members in Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens.  Battle of the Titans is an exhibit focusing on two well loved titans; the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex.  SONSI members gathered in larger than usual numbers for a tour of the exhibit by no other than Hall himself.  The exhibit opens through a relatively small entrance, flanked on either side by life sized models of the heads of T-Tops and T-Rex.  This opens into a clear, bright, wide space.  Following the hint at the entrance to pick a side, turning left of the entrance around the head of the T-Tops will acquaint you with this creature; walking around the right side of the gallery will bring you up to speed with the T-Rex.  In the centre of the exhibit, the lower level is dominated by life sized replicas of the two, clashing.  Each display area has a specific focus, from what was eaten and why, to what came back out and why that it is important.  There are really interesting interactive skulls demonstrating how each creature saw, wonderful images of their young and how they might have experienced their early lives and even information on just how brainy they were.  In keeping with the location of this exhibit there are specially selected plants all around the exhibit both living and fossilized, all of which were present during the era of these dinosaurs.  The blood, gore, and horror of past impressions seem to be swept away with this exhibit, it feels fresh and engaging with current research and discoveries, told in videos of lively, prominent paleontologists throughout the exhibit.  The result is an impression of two animals with relatable circumstances (such as the challenges they faced due to the changing climate), instincts and motives, not the other-worldly, blood dripping from their fangs, monsters that have been the accepted image for so long. Read more…


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