A brief history of the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators

In 2009, freelance science illustrator Emily Damstra was feeling a need to connect with other regional science illustrators. As a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, she wanted to join one of its chapters for the professional development and social opportunities, but none were near enough. So, with the idea that she’d form a regional chapter, or something like one,* Emily began searching for other natural science illustrators in Southern Ontario.

Her search led her to 28 names, two of whom (Jennifer Osborn and Dave Cheung) enthusiastically agreed to help organize the first meeting, a portfolio sharing introduction in February of 2010. Due to its location, inexpensive rental fee, and easy cancellation policy, the meeting took place in the basement of Knox Presbyterian Church in Milton, ON. It was a varied mix of people, including medical illustrators, wildlife artists, children’s book illustrators, professors, and recent graduates—but all had an interest in nature and science illustration. Shortly thereafter, they commenced irregular meetings (every couple months or so), agreed on a name, elected a Coordinating Group, established goals, and created a website.

SONSI’s first exhibit filled the Mezzanine at the Royal Botanical Gardens in 2011, and yearly exhibits followed until 2016. Around that time, Emily, who has served as SONSI’s President since its inception, needed a break from the time spent organizing exhibits and events. It was also clear that members needed a break from the frequent calls for participation in exhibits and events. Ever since then, SONSI exhibits have been on hiatus, and events are fewer (usually around 3 a year). This seems to work well, since members are widely distributed around Southern Ontario and some face long drives to attend events, which are typically held in the general vicinity of Toronto (though not always). A browse through the archive of posts at this website gives one a sense of the variety of events SONSI has organized.

Membership has changed significantly since that 2010 meeting, but it tends to hover around 30. Several Founding Members are still part of SONSI today, and we welcome some new members each year.

Our website was revamped in 2020, with a new focus on a Gallery meant to showcase member’s work with links to their personal websites.

*Although SONSI has never become an official GNSI chapter (there’s never been a need to), it operates in much the same way and exists for the same reasons as official GNSI chapters.