It’s not often that students in a 200-level biology class get their work displayed in a state museum. But that’s what’s happened with the detailed drawings done by the students in Jennifer Landin’s Biological Illustration class.
Landin, a teaching assistant professor who received her Ph.D. from NC State in 2011, began teaching the class in 2010. The goals of the course, along with helping students learn about the diversity of life, are to emphasize the power of observation and how drawing can enhance it. Students use pen and ink to record their observations about structures and forms as they learn about how those structures and forms evolved.
Work from Landin’s students was on exhibit earlier this year at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island, and since May, 36 pieces have been on display at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. The detailed drawings include studies of the anatomy of a mosquito head, a comparison of two types of mushrooms, and the mechanism of toe adhesion in a gecko.
Landin says drawing skills aren’t necessary to succeed in the class. “I teach little tricks the very first week,” she says. “The important thing is getting them to observe closely.” Students who have taken the course include majors in biology and art and design and well as majors in engineering, history and English. The class started with only nine students. Today it is so popular that it fills to the maximum of 20; a second section is routinely added.
When Landin was growing up, she was torn between science and art. “I always enjoyed drawing and art and science — and then when I went to get my undergraduate degree, they didn’t allow interdisciplinary majors,” Landin says. She ended up choosing science, but put herself through graduate school by working as a graphic designer. She later got a job as a scientific illustrator at the University of Florida. At NC State, her doctoral research centered on using drawing as a tool to develop observational skills.
Landin loves the fact that biological illustrations allow students to use their art work to teach others. When they show off their portfolios and display their drawings, they also share excitement for biology.
The exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will be up until July 31.
—Sylvia Adcock ’81