Black & white drawings

Geoff at desk Geoff Thompson using a camera lucida to position details on his drawing of Aoupinia pseudohelea, a rare darkling beetle from New Caledonia. The species was named as a new genus in 2003. It lives in rainforest leaf litter at 850 metres altitude in the Aoupinie reserve and resembles the unrelated Australian Pie-dish beetles, Helea.

Scientific insect drawings have to be very accurate, with legs and antennae shown flat, so their measurements are correct. To achieve this, a specimen is placed under a microscope with a camera lucida attached. The camera lucida uses a system of prisms, lenses and a mirror to allow the artist to see shadowy images of the pencil and paper at the same as the specimen. The light levels on the paper and the specimen have to be adjusted carefully to make this work.

A rough outline of the body is then traced with a pencil. The traced outline is folded down the middle and the average of the two lines is traced on the other side of the tracing paper. The original is rubbed out and a copy of the averaged line retraced on the other half to give a symmetrical outline. The legs and antennae are then added.

This outline is then transferred to scraperboard – a special board with a white clay surface. It is inked in and the darker areas are painted with black ink. The edges of the painted areas are then densely dotted (stippled) with a technical pen. This helps smooth the transition to the lighter areas, where the shading is all done with dots.

When the black areas are dry, they can be scraped white again in little dots, patches and sometimes lines to finally blend the shading completely with the lighter, stippled areas. This blending of stippling and scraping can produce a very realistic effect. In darker insects it is possible to draw nearly all the shading and highlights using a scraper on a painted ink surface.

Aoupinia pseudohelea</em> Matthews, 2003 [Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae] Ink on scraperboard by Geoff Thompson. Aoupinia pseudohelea Matthews, 2003 [Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae] Ink on scraperboard by Geoff Thompson.

The illustrator can compensate for hard-to-see features by looking at the specimen with different lighting and viewing angles. Distortions and damage can also be ‘repaired’. The important features which help identify a species can even be emphasised.

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