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Nature Art: Color, or No Color? - Explore

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Nature Art: Color, or No Color?

Swine flu
Photo by Luke Jerram

When artists interpret nature, the results can be beautiful. Sometimes that interpretation includes color, and sometimes it doesn't.

British artist Luke Jerram works in glass, sculpting viruses and bacteria with the help of other scientists and glassblowers. The photo above shows several of his glass viruses; the largest sphere, measuring about eight inches in diameter, is swine flu.

Here is E. coli, supersized 500,000 times:

E. coli
Photo by Luke Jerram

This horseshoe crab-like sculpture is actually three feet long. Jerram keeps the scale of the original virus or bacterium but enlarges its size to help us see the complexity of these microorganisms. And, he uses no color in his glass. He says, "If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured?"

He goes on to say, "...what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t?"

Felice Frankel, a photographer and senior fellow at the Institute for Innovative Computing at Harvard, believes in using color: "To me," she says, "the idea is to engage somebody to look at something." Frankel photographs objects on the nanoscale and colorizes her images to teach us how these tiny objects work. She's written three books that capture her images on this microscale: Envisioning Science, No Small Matter, and my favorite, On the Surface of Things.

In this video, she explains the techniques she uses to color her photos.

What do you think? Do these changes in actual size and color help you understand what you are seeing?

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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