Gentian Creek Preserve Nature Murals
Gentian Creek Preserve’s mission is cultivating an appreciation for native flora and fauna; particularly for younger generations to come. Gentian Creek Preserve (GCP) contacted us with an epic nature art installation in mind. The preserve celebrates the rich biodiversity that Georgia state has to offer, protecting 255-acres with a conservation easement acquired in 2016. With their nature center’s construction nearly complete, GCP needed anchor exhibits to invite students to look closely at the plants and animals around them. They found us, and two mural projects were born:
- an illustration of a beaver pond to highlight wetland creatures, both above and below water,
- and an accurate painting of mixed wood forest transitioning into meadow grasslands.
The size of these murals is a statement unto themselves; printed roughly 8’ wide and 5’ tall. Printed you may ask? Murals and exhibit art aren’t always created the way they used to be. In fact, it’s much more common to utilize modern digital painting technology, easing the costs associated with on-site hand painting and site preparation (although we can help you with on-site painting if that’s what you chose!). GCP chose to digitally render the art, print on vinyl for durability, and frame in wood. Read on to learn more about our process, and to see the final science art in action.
Research and Sketching the Ecosystem Drawings
SayoStudio worked closely with GCP throughout the creation of preliminary sketches and beyond. To start, we worked with GCP to narrow down their initial species list. Even then, we had a total of 53 distinct species to depict across the two murals, along with a mix of hardwood and pine trees.
In order to create the detailed ecology art in these two exhibit illustrations, four of SayoStudio’s science artists came together to cooperatively create the nature art. To do so successfully as a team, we communicated constantly; sharing photo references and discussing drafts. As trained science illustrators, one of our first tasks is research. Starting with GCP’s thorough list and incredible photo references by their cofounder Jerry Turner, we built off that base to supplement the references needed for illustration accuracy. We researched which species and variants were common in the area.
Some of the bigger players you’ll see in our aquatic ecosystem are species like herons, turtles, and dragonfly nymphs below the water’s surface. Plants like duckweed, cattails, and root systems under the dirt are also important parts of school kids’ educational programs during their excursions to Gentian Creek.
For our terrestrial ecosystem, we had many insects, reptiles, mammals and bird species native to the forests of the southeastern US to draw. In total, SayoStudio illustrated over 23 distinct animal species for the aquatic mural, and over 30 species for the terrestrial mural.
Color and Design of the Ecology Mural Art
After confirming the sketched composition, we got to work digitally painting. One of our goals at SayoStudio is to create scientific communication pieces that function as fine art and spark curiosity. To anchor the 2 pieces, Creative Director Nicolle Fuller began work on the landscape backdrops. The landscapes were primarily 3d creations, using tree and plant models to compose the landscape. Simultaneously, science illustrators Ari Gea, May Jernigan, and Natasha Mutch ‘hand-painted’ the animals, albeit on digital tablets.
As pieces were finished, May Jernigan helped bring everything together in Photoshop. Giving the plants and animals a sense of depth, by pushing and pulling animals in the foreground, middle and background was paramount. The smaller animals and plants had to be visible for identification, but also sit convincingly in their environment. Posing each animal, and adding shading and highlighting was quite a puzzle.
One technique to pull the artwork together was adding light-rays streaming from the left side of both murals. We always welcome client feedback; and in fact, this idea came straight from their resident biologist. Not only did this addition create depth and space in the composition, but it also serves as a teaching tool for students visiting the nature center to learn about photosynthesis and energy transfer through an ecosystem.
Final Wildlife Mural Art as a Teaching Tool
While our artists haven’t yet made it down to Georgia to see the murals installed, we’ve heard from GCP that the murals are a resounding success.
The ecosystem murals are at the center of teaching and outreach. Students have the opportunity to participate in lessons on entomology, herpetology, avian ecology, aquatic ecology, and botany. These murals will also help students identify native species and learn about the importance of local ecosystems and habitats.
We’re so proud to support GCP’s mission, and hope that our art can help encourage the many visitors to become strong stewards of Georgia’s wild spaces. We encourage all those inspired by Gentian Creek Preserve’s mission statement to visit their website, where you can donate to provide more free classes to Georgia students.