‘Drawing life’

Free Drawing Workshop

Friday, September 13 • 18:00 – 19:30

With pen, pencil and paper, how can we represent the dynamic and constantly moving nature of life?

Led by award-winning artist and research fellow from the University of Exeter, Gemma Anderson, take part in this ‘life’ drawing workshop which offers a novel, creative and collaborative approach to depicting evolution on the page.

When the drawing is constantly evolving, who knows what kind of life will find a way…?

More info here

New Article: ‘Dynamic Form’ Published in Antennae Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Read the article ‘Dynamic Form: Klee as Artist and Morphologist’ by Gemma Anderson via open access here

Guided by the themes of formation and growth in the artist Paul Klee’s work, which resonate with those of my own practice, this essay has developed in parallel with my own progression from an empirical understanding of form as object towards a conceptual understanding of form as process. Here, I advance an original outline of the relationship between Goethe’s concept of morphology and Klee’s art. Central to this is the atypical consideration of certain works by Klee as morphological studies. Following Goethe’s concept of morphology as the study of form and formative process, I interpret Klee’s artistic representation of the dynamic nature of form and, based on particular examples, propose Klee as a morphologist.

Representing Protein Dynamics: An interdisciplinary approach

Conference Presentation

The International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) Conference 2019: July 7-12, University of Oslo, Norway


Gemma Anderson, University of Exeter, UK

John Dupre, University of Exeter, UK

Jonathan J. Phillips, University of Exeter, UK

This interdisciplinary conference presentation addresses protein dynamics, beginning with a treatment of the energy landscape associated with protein folding. Here, Anderson is collaborating with protein biophysicist Jonathan Phillips. The conventional image for representing protein dynamics in biology is the “folding funnel”, an irregular, roughly conical shape that corresponds to an energy landscape down which the nascent protein is imagined to transition as its structure achieves lower energy formations. While this image represents some features well, others are obscured. In particular, important aspects of the intrinsic behaviour of molecular species are absent, or poorly represented, such as stochastic change and parallel pathways. Thus, a gap exists in our ability to represent and interact with fundamental dynamic processes in a visual manner that is intuitive and instructive. The proposed presentation at ISHPSSB, Oslo will describe the methods of interdisciplinary collaboration and the objectives of the project, and then present the images developed for protein folding and some discussion of their significance. As with the mitosis project, a number of novel modes of representation are being explored. We will present a series of new images that function as visual metaphors for the protein energy landscape. These draw on the structure of a maze, and we also experiment with the maze as a metaphor for processes beyond proteins, such as mitosis and speciation. Anderson, Phillips and Dupré will jointly present this work, providing philosophical, art-theoretic, and scientific, perspectives on the project and its results.


Drawing Knowledge

Read the article ‘Drawing Knowledge’ by Fabian Oswold here on the European Molecular Biology Lab’s (EMBL) Newsletter

‘A conversation about art–science collaborations and the importance of drawing in biology…’

eLIFE Podcast

May 2019

Listen to eLIFE podcast discussing our project ‘Representing Biology as Process’ (at 19 mins in) here

‘Philosophy of Biology: Drawing and the dynamic nature of living systems’ in eLIFE

27/03/19 Open access article published in eLIFE:

‘Philosophy of Biology: Drawing and the dynamic nature of living systems’

Article Abstract

Representing the dynamic nature of biological processes is a challenge. This article describes a collaborative project in which the authors – a philosopher of biology, an artist and a cell biologist – explore how best to represent the entire process of cell division in one connected image. This involved a series of group Drawing Labs, one-to-one sessions, and discussions between the authors. The drawings generated during the collaboration were then reviewed by four experts in cell division. We propose that such an approach has value, both in communicating the dynamic nature of biological processes and in generating new insights and hypotheses that can be tested by artists and scientists.

Read article here

About eLIFE:

eLife is a non-profit organisation inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science.eLife publishes work of the highest scientific standards and importance in all areas of the life and biomedical sciences. The research is selected and evaluated by working scientists and is made freely available to all readers without delay.

Article in Leonardo Journal: Drawing to Extend Waddington’s Epigenetic Landscape

Gemma Anderson (Artist), Berta Verd (Mathematician), Johannes Jaeger (Biologist)


We describe a collaboration between an artist, a mathematician, and a biologist, which examines the potential of drawing for understanding biological process. As a case study, it considers C. H. Waddington’s powerful visual representation of the “epigenetic landscape,” whose purpose it is to unify research in genetics, embryology, and evolutionary biology. We explore the strengths, but also the limitations of Waddington’s landscape and attempt to transcend the latter through a collaborative series of exploratory images. Through careful description of this drawing process, we touch on the epistemological consequences it had on all participants, artist and scientist alike.

Find out more about article here

Research Visit to European Molecular Biology Laboratory

04/03/19- 08/02/19

Research Visit to European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany

I will visit the Leptin Lab at EMBL with Historian of Science Janina Wellmann for one week to study cell formations in gastrulation (early embryogenesis) with specific focus on drawing and movement as modes of enquiry.

Exhibition Talk at the Exchange Gallery












Lively exhibition talk at the Exchange Gallery ranging from music of the spheres and wisdom traditions to to cell division and pluralism- with artist Serena Korda, cell biologist James Wakefield and Camden Arts Centre curator Gina Buenfeld -‘GÄA: Holistic Science and Wisdom Tradition’ is now open!

Art Science Interest Group meeting at the Natural History Museum London












Delighted to have historian of Science Janina Wellmann and Bio-Artist Anna Dumitriu as guest speakers for the first Art Science Interest Group meeting of 2019. Blog post to follow.

*Founded in 2016 by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, the Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is a bi-monthly forum that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of ‘Art/Science’. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group.

Art/Science Interest Group (ASIG), Natural History Museum

15th November, 2018 

Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, Natural History Museum, London

Speakers: Dr Chiara Ambrosio (UCL) and artist’s Caroline Ward and Michiko Nitta present their work followed by group discussion.

*Founded in 2016 by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, the Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is a bi-monthly forum that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of ‘Art/Science’. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group.

Lecture and Workshop at Falmouth School of Art


Lecture about the relationship between process philosophy of biology and artistic processes, based on current AHRC project ‘Representing Biology as Process’


Drawing Workshop – ‘Isomorphogenesis, drawing algorithms and symbiosis’: a full day collaborative drawing workshop with FSA BA Drawing students


Lecture at Plymouth College of Art (PCA)


10am-11am, PCA Lecture Theatre, Plymouth

Gemma Anderson talks about the AHRC project ‘Representing Biology as Process’ – Lecture open to BA and MA students and staff at PCA.

Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP): Representing Biology as Process

Conference Presentation at the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice: ‘Representing Biology as Process (+Re-presenting Process)’ Alternative format session.

29 June – 2 July 2018
University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium


This session developed out of our interdisciplinary project involving an artist (Gemma Anderson), a cell biologist (James Wakefield) and a philosopher (John Dupré). The overall goal of the project is to develop better ways of representing biological processes. It also continues earlier work by Anderson (2017) on drawing as a way of knowing. As Wakefield will argue, the decline of drawing as a practice in biological research has had deleterious consequences for some aspects of biological research.

In the first stages of the project, Anderson and Wakefield have worked together to produce images of mitosis, the process that is the central research topic of the Wakefield lab. The aim was to produce a two-dimensional image that somehow represented the full sequence of transitions involved in mitosis. A method was developed that translated Wakefield’s understanding of mitosis into an image in which the vertical dimension represented time, and a number of features (colour, thickness of line, distance from the centre, etc.) represented crucial aspects of the mitotic process. A number of different images have been generated, representing different organisms with differences in their processes of mitosis. The process of producing these images and its rationale will be presented in fuller detail during the session.

The outcome of this activity has been a series of images, which we refer to—for reasons that will be obvious on seeing them—as mitosis pots. These are, perhaps needless to say, very different from familiar textbook depictions of mitosis. The causal connection between features of mitosis and features of the mitosis pots gives us confidence that the images could be used to represent common features and specific differences in mitosis, though it is also clear that such use would require a degree of training. We shall discuss the costs and benefits of introducing such images into the practice and teaching of biology. Preliminary exploration of this question has involved soliciting reactions from other scientists.

We feel that a standard format of three 30 minute presentation representing distinct disciplinary perspectives would not do justice to the interdisciplinary nature of the project. Instead, we propose three brief introductions to aspects of the project by each of the participants, followed by more detailed presentations of the first completed sub-project, which is collaborative work by Anderson and Wakefield. We will allow some time for discussion at the conclusion of each part of the session. Dupréewill also chair a concluding 15 minute discussion session.

‘Molecules of life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami’ – Art/Science/Philosophy Workshop at the Eden Project, Cornwall

28th May 2018

Artist Gemma Anderson, Philosopher John Dupré and Scientist Johnathan Phillips from the University of Exeter, bring an experimental and multi-modal art/science/philosophy workshop ‘Molecules of Life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami’ as part of  the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds Launch Week. Please note that you must pre-book a place for the workshop on the afternoon of Monday 28 May. This workshop is part of a packed timetable of science-themed talks and workshop in the Eden Projects brand-new ‘Lab’.

Details of how to book will be added to this page soon.

Gemma Anderson delivers ‘Biology and Art: Investigations through Drawing’ course at Grinnell Liberal Arts College, Iowa, US

‘Biology and Art: Investigations through Drawing’ course at Grinnell Liberal Arts College, Iowa, US


From anatomical studies to the biomorphism of surrealism and the abstractions of Klee and Kandinsky, the biological realm historically provided a significant resource for numerous artists while many scientists like Haeckel and Hooke produced works of artistic merit. This course focuses on the twin themes of morphology and drawing through an exploration of intuitive and experimental drawing methods. The aim is to develop and share new ways in which drawing practice can enhance morphological insight, specifically within the contexts of art and the natural sciences. Central to this is Goethe’s concept of morphology, which he defined in 1792 as ‘the study of form and formative process’ (Goethe and Naydler 1996) combined with a narrative of the development of ‘drawing as a way of knowing’ in my own artistic practice.
The path of the course arcs from observation to abstraction as a range of morphological drawing methods will be tested through a series of practice-based workshops using drawing as a method to investigate in diverse contexts; from fieldwork and microscopy to classification and simulation. We explore the relationship between art and biology through artists, scientists and thinkers such as Goethe, Klee, Waddington, Thistlewood and Mundy. As part of a wider cultural movement in Art/Science and STEAM, this course will highlight historical and contemporary of practices towards the development of independent investigations in Biology and Art.

Student Reflection:
‘I have left this class with a reinvigorated perspective on Biology and Nature in general. I find myself more attentive to forms and similarities among plants, especially.I also plan to exercise a lot more care and precision with my drawings. Our discussions on bias and our practical exercises on drawing from observation, made me realize just how extremely DIFFICULT it is to accurately capture an organism on paper, and how much skill it takes to be keen at observational drawing, being able to distinguish and incorporate details, patterns, textures, and lines in an unbiased and informative way’.

Exhibition: ‘Making Life Visible’ Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell Liberal Arts College, Iowa, US

Making Life Visible explores the processes of visualization and description in art and biology by featuring work by 16 contemporary artists and scientists, as well as historical material from the 16th to 19th centuries. In the past, biologists and artists had similar training in observation and drawing. Though the fields have diverged, individual practitioners on both sides continue to draw inspiration from one another, finding new ideas in the process of creating images. The exhibition asks: what do artists and biologists see, and how do their ways of seeing challenge and stimulate one another? Subjects addressed in the exhibition range from molecules and cells, to organisms and ecosystems, and the artists/scientists work in labs, studios, museums, and in the field.

Participating artists:
• Gemma Anderson, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
• Jaq Chartier, Seattle, WA
• David Goodsell, Scripps Institute, CA
• Inked Animal (Adam Cohen and Ben Labay), Austin, TX
• Ellie Irons, Brooklyn, NY
• Daniel Kariko, East Carolina University, NC
• Isabella Kirkland, San Francisco, CA
• Barrett Klein, University of Wisconsin, WI
• Damien Laudier, City College of New York, NY
• Tara Shukla, Grinnell, IA
• Liz Ward, Trinity University, TX
• Gail Wight, Stanford University, CA
Fred Hagstrom, Carleton College, MN

Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum, London

Founded in 2016 by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, the Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is a bi-monthly forum  that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of ‘Art/Science’. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group.

At the NHM, the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research (CAHR) has promoted interdisciplinary collaboration, but its future is currently in doubt. By collaborating with scientists at the NHM and contributing to Art-Science events with drawing workshops, and with the final ‘Representing Biology as Process’ project conference hosted at the NHM, we aim to sustain and cultivate the arts-science museum culture.

*ASIG NHM webpage is forthcoming.

Gallery Talk at Faulconer Gallery: ‘Representing Biology as Process’

Gallery Talk: Gemma Anderson, ‘Representing Biology as Process’

Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, Iowa, US

April 12, 4 p.m.

‘Artist in residence Gemma Anderson will introduce her work at Grinnell in the context of the current collaboration with biologist James Wakefield and philosopher of biology John Dupré on the Arts and Humanities Research Council project Representing Biology as Process  (2017-2020). Dr. Anderson has collaborated on a number of innovative art/science projects including Hidden Geometries with the Mathematics Department at Imperial College London; Isomorphology with the Natural History Museum, London; and Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists (Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2009) in collaboration with psychiatrists and patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Engagement and the Biology Department’.

Modular Exhibition Structure at the Royal Institution, London

Process Biology: Final Conference of the ERC Project ‘A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology’
The Royal Institution, London, 21-23/04/18

In response to the need for a format to show the transdisciplinary research project ‘Representing Biology as Process’ beyond the art-space, this is the first experiment with a flexible and mobile modular structure for exhibiting work in academic and scientific spaces. The structure has been inspired by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) exhibition ‘On Growth and Form’ (1951), especially Richard Hamilton’s experiments with ‘plane-by-plane’ constructions organised around a modular hanging system with the intention to give viewers an opportunity to generate their own image relations in space.

Read more at https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/sociology/events/probioprojectconference/#8PcSTWFR7cHcE7R1.99

AHRC grant awarded

The grant application for the project “Representing biology as process” has been awarded funding. The project, based at the University of Exeter, will be led by Prof. John Duprè, with Dr. Gemma Anderson and Prof. James Wakefield as co-investigators. The project will run for three years until 2020.

Updates on the project will be published on the project website www.probioart.uk and The Big Draw website, where it was introduced.

Artist talk: Ordering Nature: Fabulous Alternatives

Invited Artist talk for the event Ordering Nature: Fabulous Alternatives, part of “Making Nature: How we see animals”, jointly organised by Wellcome Collection and Grant Museum of Zoology, London.
Event webpage here, exhibition webpage here

Northern Ireland Science Festival

Artist talk by first artist-in-residence of the Northern Ireland Science Festival, Gemma Anderson. Gemma talks with Niccolò Tempini, at Naughton Gallery from the exhibition ‘Drawn Investigations from Art and Science’.


Society for Experimental Biology Keynote: Drawing as a way of knowing in biology

Dr Gemma Anderson presents drawing as a way of knowing for art and science to extend the understanding of, and engagement with, the diversity of natural form. Dr Anderson focuses on how she developed this practice and explores some current research projects.

This lecture was filmed at the Society for Experimental Biology on the 13th December 2016.