Message from Webmaster Glendon: In this series of interviews I’ll be doing with our SONSI members, I hope we’ll learn more about what drives each of us in our new, diverse, organization.  A great place to read about an illustrator you’d like to commission, or who inspires you.  Anyone can post a question or comment, and please do!  We love the feedback.

SONSI Interview with Emily Damstra.

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Hello and please introduce yourself, Emily!  

Emily S. Damstra

B.F.A. degree from Alma College (Michigan)

M.F.A. degree in science illustration from the University of Michigan

Full-time freelance science illustrator since 2000, currently living in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

And now, you are also the founder and President of SONSI (by unanimous vote)!  Thanks for doing this interview.

Do you consider yourself a fine artist, or a science illustrator?

For now the latter, although I think there is a great deal of overlap.

As illustrators’ many of us are blown where the wind takes us, so to speak, in taking on jobs.  Do you have a favourite subject?

My favourite subjects are invertebrates (living and fossil), though the winds have swept me into illustrating numerous fishes, a group of animals I’ve really come to appreciate.

Quillback, Carpiodes cyprinus. Coloured pencils. Emily Damstra.

Do you have a favourite medium to work with?

Watercolour and gouache paints are my favourites. I’m also a fan of plain ol’ graphite. Nonetheless, I can appreciate the advantages of working entirely or partially digitally.

Sectioned rattle of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox. Gouache paint. Emily Damstra

Why did you get into this field?  What do you hope to do with your work?

For me, science illustration is a natural synthesis of my predilection for realistic, observational drawing and my interest in nature and science. Faithfully representing my subjects gives me an appreciation for their complexity, and the range of forms in nature presents a continual challenge. I see art as a way to learn about something, for both the creator and the viewer. I’m constantly gaining knowledge about a subject through my creative process, and it’s always my hope that the images I create give others a better understanding of the subject.

Your images certainly have a stunning clarity. Where can interested art fans and institutions find you online?

My website as well as

What do you like to listen to while you work?

Mainly podcasts. My favourites are NPR’s This American Life, NPR’s Fresh Air, CBC’s Vinyl Café, and The Moth.

Do you have a fantasy assignment?

Almost anything where I’d have access to specimens and be paid well to spend a considerable amount of time doing research, consulting experts, and creating a beautifully detailed painting. Reconstructing invertebrate fossil life is an area that I find to be particularly rewarding, and I’d love to do more.

Platyceras arkonense, fossil snail, reconstructed in color. Gouache paint. Emily Damstra. This fossil gastropod is from the Devonian of Ontario, Canada


In addition to SONSI, I’m a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, The Botanical Artists of Canada, the North American Native Fishes Association, and I volunteer at the rare Charitable Research Reserve.

Thanks for doing this interview Emily, and for all the hard work making SONSI so lively these first few months!

Glendon Mellow

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Emily Damstra’s site

Emily Damstra at