July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

For this issue, our Pictures Editor, Natasha Gertler, reached out to artists from within and external to Imperial for their artistic input for the Summer 2017 issue

For this issue, our Pictures Editor, Natasha Gertler, reached out to artists from within and external to Imperial for their artistic input for the Summer 2017 issue, Elements. Contributors include art students and graduates from Central Saint Martins, Camberwell College of the Arts, Winchester School of Art and Loughborough University.

Below, in order of magazine appearance, we look at each piece more closely, accompanied by a short description by the artists of their inspirations and creative processes.

We would like to thank all of our contributors for these wonderful pieces.

If you would like to be involved in contributing artwork for the next issue, please contact Natasha at natasha.gertler16@imperial.ac.uk.

periodic table of elements things

Front Cover – Alexander James

I love the idea of being part of a group where you are only represented by colour and patterns. Each Native American tribe had a distinctive look to intentionally stand out. Through this, I have created my own signature using brush strokes. By painting multiple colours I then went on create my uniform by combining colours in an arrangement with a variety of colours and patterns, superimposed onto materials such as canvas, fabrics and items of clothing, designed to capture their identity.

This is very significant to the periodic table, everything is ordered by their atomic number, electron configurations and recurring chemical properties. The ordering is then divided into columns and then separated by colour. When I was analysing the dissimilarities between articles all relating back to elements, I realised the division between the periods and columns isn’t too far away from my process when I start a new project or brief. This made me realise that my creative process is also divided in a similar format.

irridescent orb buried in black sand

Silicon – Lisa Pettibone

When exploring Iceland in 2016, I placed silicon wafers in the raw, beautiful landscape contrasting their bright technical sophistication with a seemingly untouched environment. This photo was taken in volcanic sand. I thought about the elemental materials that connect us with the stars and our dependency on digital communication.

sketch of the mad hatter

Mercury – Helena Spooner

This picture was created using watercolour pencil and black pen, and is of a mad hatter in reference to mercury poisoning, which is also known as mad hatter’s disease.


Lead – Maddy Dench

Watercolours and fine black pens were used to create this illustration, the pink parts represent healthy parts of the brain and parts showing grey cracking represent lead poisoning taking hold.

glass art of flame and bird

Phosphorous and Helium- Lois Liow

This artwork was inspired by the concept of Ying and Yang. Phosphorus and Helium, being two contrary elements that exhibit very different properties—phosphorus is very reactive and flammable, while helium is inert. In the painting, the flames are a representation of Phosphorus. Helium is depicted as a pale gas in contrast. The shape of the sculpture was laser-cut out of plastic, and acrylics were used to paint over the material.

sketch of car

Hydrogen – Lizzie Riach

A glimpse at a hydrogen future – acrylic paint and pen on white paper – a sketch based on BMW’s new hydrogen fuelled prototype. The image still has an in-production, design-only edge, emphasising the fact that these cars are not yet production ready and have a way to go before they rival their oil fuelled counterparts.

astronaut on moon element with american flag

Americium – Karolina Jankiewicz

Americium is not named after the United States of America, but rather the continents, the two Americas. It is however easy to assume the former knowing the typical spirit of USA patriotism. Hence the artwork references another historical instance where patriotism and science were intertwined. Both the flag planted on the moon and the name of the element are mere symbols, but their significance is so much more, at times overshadowing the actual scientific achievement they are tied to.

Science Behind the Photo – ‘Creativity and Curiosity’ conversations between astronomers and artists.

Three contemporary artists – Gillian McFarland, Ione Parkin RWA, and Alison Lochhead – are engaged in generating a body of work in connection with astronomers and space researchers from the University of Leicester, Institute of Astronomy Cambridge, Imperial College London and Cardiff University as well as further afield. The project received initial funding from the Royal Astronomical Society and is supported by the Arts Council England.

The artists are interested in exploring the fabulously rich imagery and bewilderment of space and engaging in creative dialogue based on current thinking and research about the Universe.  Through on-going interactions with astronomers and planetary geologists they will interpret the universe through the materials of their own disciplines – painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing.

photograph of crystals

Alison Lochhead

Alison Lochhead is a sculptor and works with the transformation of materials such as iron, rocks, clays, minerals and silica in a kiln or furnace and is inspired by the impact of heat, explosion and disintegration – creation and destruction inextricably linked.  She pours molten iron over different materials – some fuse together, some pull apart, some melt, and some retain their integrity, even though their melting points are way below that of iron.  “I want to explore all these different materials and many more still unknown to me – both artists and scientists are working with the ‘unknown’. I want to understand how these materials are identified within the scientific process and look at the images produced which indicate the presence of differing materials; where, and why, these materials are where they are; how they link back across time and have resonance with our planet.

Change happens through destruction and trauma. The resonances between what happens in the continuing ‘creation’ of galaxies, planets, stars, and earth and the inevitable decline and then re-transformation through process into another form and experience. This has resonance with the human condition.

Lochhead is also pursuing ideas about extremes of scale – the micro/macro perspectives that are played out over vast distances. She looks at microscope slides of slithers of meteorites and views the fantastic images created through molten metal. “Space is constantly changing through explosions, impacts, altering forms and materials which transform from solid to gas to a huge range of states of being”.

Explorations are ongoing looking at the rhythms of iron and other identified materials through the body of the planets and I plan to map these into sound and image.

Alison’s approach is courageous – daring, even – and it is particularly this quality that is profoundly exciting to witness.  In her workshop in the wilds of West Wales, explosions are happening that echo those in deep space – almost as if she is cooking up meteorites and asteroids in the kiln – it shatters any comforting view of art and the activity of making work, and it challenges us to contemplate broader truths about our fragility in the grand scheme of things.

blown glass planets

Gillian McFarland

Working with Master Craftsman Graeme Hawes, the work explores the process of glass blowing in an enactment of post-Big- Bang events. The extremes of heat, rotation, expansion and contraction are at play alongside an exploration of chemical elements found and introduced into the Glass; McFarland used coloured glass and Batch (batch being the clear glass in the furnace)

There are several different chemical components in the recipies for the coloured glass used in the formation of the blown work. Copper and Colbalt are elements in the blues and Gold, Copper-tin and Selenium-Cadmium are involved in the reds. Iron, Uranium and Chromium are used in the prodution of greens. McFarland also introduced Silver Chloride, Silver Nitrate and Silver Sulpher to the surface of some of these globes. All of these colouring compents are mixed with the Soda Lime Glass (batch), which is the most common type of glass used in this country.

The soda lime batch is made up of Silicon Dioxide, Calcium Oxide and Sodium Oxide.

The work is research based, with an interest in the experience of creation and the subsequent ‘making sense’ of what has happened in this process. Making art allows McFarland to be still with things in a reflective process, allowing connections to develop and stengthen. The material of Glass invites investigation and the desire to draw closer and connect in understanding. Enquiry and process impacts in the artmaking and  integrates the viewer and the maker with the piece. These Planetary Globes are pieces made for an Arts Council Supported project, working in conversations with astronomers  called “Creativity and Curiosity”.

metal sheet

Ione Parkin RWA

‘Heavy Metals’ (74cm x 104cm) is a mixed media work on paper involving ink, PVA, acrylic, powdered iron oxide pigment, powdered oxidised copper and graphite. It is part of a group of abstract works exploring my interest in planetary surfaces and the dynamic processes of extreme heat, compression and chemical reactions of raw elements. This is a restless process-driven image, richly textured through the tactile exploration of materials and the physical fracturing and compacting of the surface.

art with planets and elements

Top Five: Elements We Thought We Knew – Victoria Westerman

As a scientific illustrator I found myself on the inevitable path of using science itself to better enhance my communication skills. This has resulted in me studying subconscious visual languages along with the concept of archetypes within my work and how this can be applied to abstract concepts. Marrying infographics and logic with art in a format that appeals to the human eye is my ultimate pursuit which currently I process personally through pen and digital, however I am also exploring means to harness technology and software to do this for me through “art creating” AI systems and social memetic processes.

The piece I have created for “The Top 5 Elements We Thought We Knew” is meant to represent a visual map of the specific elements mentioned and their synthesis within the universe (or more specifically our galaxy). The geometry used is a symbol of their complex marriage which can go on to create further complexities such as the essential elements for life; symbolized by the sacred geometry like symbol of the flower of life at the centre.

photograph of grass

Nitrogen – Emils Gedrovics

I’ve chosen this image as it represents how in nature all of the organisms are interconnected. Animals and particularly humans by being a part of any environment have a direct or indirect effect on everything else within it’s network of members. It is essential to remember this responsibility.

I started playing around with double exposure technique roughly two years ago and it quickly became my favourite way of capturing memories. As with many people, I regularly struggle with mindfulness, finding myself in one place whilst mentally wondering somewhere else. I realised that double exposure can portray my mind being in two or even more different realities, often being more accurate in representing my memories than a single exposed photo. There also something comforting in seeing that these clashing different worlds can result in something beautiful where both of the components are complementary to each other.

sketch of carbon structures

Carbon – Allison Tau

For this piece, I was inspired by the structure of carbon and the impact it has on everything. Its ability to form up four bonds with itself and other elements is central to its identity as an element, and responsible for the diversity of carbon-containing compounds. On the left, I depicted an atom forming four other bonds, which acts as a prism to give rise to a common macromolecule, a trans fat, but also every other molecule and organic compound contained in our bodies and in our food. The hexagons in the image reflect another common structure of carbon found in many organic compounds, the shape of a benzene ring. Finally, I chose to mostly illustrate this piece using pencil because the graphite in it is one of the two common basic structures of the element.

sketch of man

Tantalum – Madeleine Finlay

When I read the article on tantalum, and its contribution to the violent and deadly conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was on my laptop. My hands were resting on the keyboard, and immediately I felt a sense that just below them was something filled with a dark history. I could see women weeping at lost children, men beaten and surviving simply to provide whatever life they could for their families, farmers bodies toiling in dirt and sweat. All right there, in my laptop. Hidden in my preference for cheap technology above all else. So, when producing the image, I wanted to show the humanity of the story. It needed to be a person hurt and ravaged by war, working in the coltan mines, simply facing the reader – asking them to look back and face the choices they make.

black and white photograph of scuba divers

photographs of mountains around lakes

Oxygen – Kalyani Lodhia

Worlds away, these photos were taken at the Cozumel Barrier reef in Mexico and the Lofoten islands in Mexico, respectively. The differences between the two environments are striking but they’re also two of the most extreme environments, since oxygen is the most important thing for life. I took the one in Mexico whilst scuba diving in the second largest barrier reef in the world. The reef is on a slope which goes down to blackness, almost the opposite of the peaks of Lofoten that are lit by the sunlight.

various shades of blue on stucco

Sodium – Judit Agui

For this painting I have used three types of salt: table salt, Maldon and rock salt. I chose the colours blue and white because neuroscience research shows that we associate them with saltiness. Many brands use these colour associations for marketing. In this case, I’ve used this association to modulate the saltiness of sodium chloride to pair it with the article. Using different types of salt helps create a rougher three dimensional texture, unachievable with just acrylic paint. I have also used tissue paper and glue to enhance the shapes and curves of the colours. This painting is part of a series of food paintings that aim to raise awareness about the cross modal relationships between visual cues and taste.

photograph of woman with blood veins superimposed on top

Molybdenum – Annabel King

Inside every human body is a beautiful yet unseen network of branching vessels.  The vascular system is vital to life, bringing essential nutrients to every cell of the body via the blood. However, it is generally only represented in abstract, schematic diagrams in biology textbooks.  Nuclear imaging makes the invisible, visible; bridging the gap between anatomy in the textbook and in vivo.  My illustration, inspired by angiograms captured by nuclear imaging techniques in medicine, represents the vasculature of the body in its context. My intention is to encourage the viewer to appreciate the wonder of the structure of their own body, beneath its more familiar surface.

sketch of doctor with vaccine

Potassium – Maddy Dench

Acrylic paint and fine black pens were used, which gave this illustration of euthanasia using KCl a cartoonish feel. The man was made to seem disturbing and the solution within the syringe strongly suggestive of a poison.