Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

GDS 273/274 Illustration I & II
Project 7: Scientific Illustration


Instructor: Liza Wynette


To develop conceptual thinking skills. To explore illustration styles. To apply composition and illustration skills to real-world visual communication problems. 

Secondary objectives

To utilize the Adobe Creative Suite as an illustration and production tool.


Create an illustration for the Illinois Natural History Survey that will be used in a field guide. The subject is your choice.

Required elements:

  • an original illustration of your subject
  • name of subject, common and scientific
  • no larger than 5 x 8"
  • must accuracy depict the species
  • reference photos or actual specimen


  • black and white, gray scale, or color
  • digital or traditional techniques

You will be graded on craftsmanship and accuracy.

Your final design must show an understanding of unity, emphasis and balance. When appropriate, utilize rhythm and depth as well.


1. Research for inspiration: Research existing field guilds. Look at examples found in book stores, libraries and museums. Also look at illustrations from publications such as National Geographic and Nature. Organizations such as the Guild of Scientific Illustrators can also be a source of inspiration. Scan your favorite examples and publish your research on your personal process page for critique (be sure to caption each image and cite the source). Be prepared to explain why these examples are successful. 

2. Marketing research: Choose a subject you have a personal interest in. Collect reference photos from online and printed sources. If possible, take your own photos or ethically acquire a specimen. What is the scientific name of your subject? What makes it unique? What features should be emphasized? Are there species that are similar in appearance? What technique would best represent you subject; continual tonal, line, full color? Summarize your research in the form of a memo describing your choice (see sample). Use this information to develop your concepts. Have your brief reviewed by the Writing Lab, then email your brief as an attached Word file or a shared Google Doc to (instructions).

3. Incubation: Absorb the information you have gathered and sleep on it. Allow your unconscious mind to make connections for you.

4. Develop the concept: In your sketchbook begin to conceptualize ideas for this project (see examples of sketches). Make at least 10 sketches of all possible directions you might take this project. Edit your concepts down to your best three ideas and redraw them on 8.5 x 11 white paper using a felt tip pen. Scan (scale/crop in Photoshop: no wider than 1000 pixels), increase the contrast (see tutorial) and publish your concepts on your personal Process Page for critique. Be prepared to discuss how your design fulfills the client's marketing objectives. Also print your sketches for your Process Book.

5. Proof: Based on the critique of the above, use the computer to execute at least two versions of your best idea (present at least one proof with an alternate font choice). Publish one multi-page low-res PDF (instructions) linked from your Process Page for critique. Be prepared to talk about what design principles are utilized in your design. Also print a high-quality color proof for your Process Book.

6. Final critique: Based on the critique of the above, revise your design (if needed), then print a final proof on 11x17 paper for critique (see printing tips). Prepare a presentation to justify your design decisions. Also publish one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) on your personal Process Page.

7. Grading: Based on the critique above, refine your design (if needed). Submit two copies of your work for grading. One proof will be returned to you after grading. File the graded proof in your Process Book for individual review along with all the preliminary work you did for the project (research, brief, sketches, preliminary proofs, final proof). Review your Process Page and make sure you have an accurate record of your process. Also submit one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) via Cobra's dropbox. You will not receive full credit for this project if any of the above elements are missing.  

Note: For this project, you will also be graded on the accuracy of the illustration.

8. Portfolio preparation: If you are happy with the results of this project, consider including it in your portfolio. If necessary, continue to make refinements until you are 100% satisfied with the project. Be sure to back-up all your files for future editing.

9. Extra credit: Submit your project into next year's student show by printing an art gallery quality proof and mounting it on foam board. Also prepare an archival quality JPEG (see example) (1000px wide, no larger than 200K) and submit your project using the online entry form at Your project may win a cash prize and be published in a showcase of student work on Parkland's website.

Last updated: 8/11/17 ■ Webmaster: Paul Young