Profile: Sketching with a scientific touch

2022-November-14 14:19 By: Xinhua

CHENGDU, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Li Jian is a professional sketcher who values accuracy over creativity and draws to record, not to make art.

The 61-year-old is a senior lab scientist at the Chengdu Institute of Biology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and has dedicated himself to scientific sketching in the area of animal and plant taxonomy.

"My job is to draw amphibians and reptiles from the best angle and with the most accurate morphological features and colors for the readers," said Li.

Over the past 40-plus years, he has sketched thousands of animal and plant drawings with a scientific attitude and superb skills, presenting to readers more than 730 species on the planet.

Over decades of work, Li has developed a particularly keen eye that helps him identify even the tiniest features of animals and plants.

"It is impossible for an animal to arrange every part of its body in the way we want it to be so that we can take a clear picture of it," Li said, explaining the necessity of scientific sketching in research work.

"Different from works of art, my drawings require a high level of scientific rigor," he said.

In animal and plant taxonomy, species are often identified through tiny features. Take frogs, for example. Some have long fingers, while others have short ones. Some have fingers that are unwebbed, some partially webbed, and others fully webbed. The tip of their fingers can be pointed or round, and with or without grooves.

"When I sketch, I must sketch accurately. Sometimes, I need to study the structure of my subject under a microscope before getting down to draw," he said.

Usually, it took Li about ten days to draw a palm-sized animal. For complicated animals like snakes covered in scales, it would take him more than half a month.

A big obstacle Li encountered in his work was the fading of the color in specimens as a result of long-time immersion in chemicals. In this case, he would need to rely on known morphological characteristics of the specimens and text descriptions to make his sketches more accurate.

Fei Liang, a famous Chinese zoologist, has spoken highly of Li's sketching skills and the significance of his work.

"With the assistance of Li's large number of high-quality drawings, China's illustrated scientific publications rank among the best in the world," said Fei.

Editor: WJH
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