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  • Cecilia Kramar

When Science meets Illustration or how Audrey Desaulniers created her very own dream job

By Jihane Mossalim

At the age of 8, Audrey knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. It only took one documentary on the Giant Pacific Octopus to convince her that she would become a marine biologist. And people say children shouldn’t watch TV… With that one goal in mind, Audrey pursued the not always easy path of science studies, while overcoming even bigger challenges including her stuttering and the premature passing of her mother.

She made it through only to realize that working full time in laboratories was unlikely to be the type of creative outlet she was searching for.

So what’s a girl to do? You might ask. Well, I have yet to mention the very artistic side that Audrey always had; at a young age Audrey took painting lessons but it wasn’t until she reached her teenage years that art making took a whole new importance in her life. Given that stuttering limited her ability to communicate as freely as she desired, the arts gave her a way out. She needed to express herself and the pencil and paper became her voice. By grade 10, her mind was set. She was going to pursue a career in both arts and sciences.

Xenopus laevis tadpole, 2020

Unfortunately, life sometimes has other plans. Wanting to please her mother, Audrey put the arts aside, and pursue science-oriented studies knowing that one day she would come back to the arts. She loved her 3 years of biology studies in University. She loved learning about the different ecosystems and organisms.

She did not love the laboratory work.

Thanks to this realization, Audrey went back to her love for the visual arts. After 4 years of studying the arts and loving the variety of possibilities the illustration world and visual projects could bring her, she felt that science was now missing in her life… I believe it is safe to say that Audrey truly couldn’t live without arts or science. She needed both to feel complete. So what did she do? She combined her science background with her skills in art and became what she is known as today: a brilliant scientific illustrator.

Entomological illustrations. Personal project. 2020

While she was still studying illustration and visual arts, Audrey was working as a science communicator for the Montreal’s Biodome and Botanical Gardens. Communicating science in a way that could reach a wide audience was always very important to her. A value she definitely shares with the Convergence Initiative.

So how Audrey and Convergence did came together? She had recently started Orcéine, her scientific illustration service, and had the brilliant idea of setting up a contest where the scientific community was invited to submit projects to be illustrated by her. Then came Fernanda Pérez-Gay Juárez; Audrey and Fernanda had very similar ideas and interests when it came to art and science. Fernanda’s project was ultimately selected as the winner of Audrey’s contest and in the fall of 2020, Audrey started working on the illustration of the posters for the Sinapsis series "Cafés scientifiques" hosted by Fernanda and presented by the Convergence Initiative. Keep an eye out for them on our website!

Poster for the first Scientific Cafés, with illustrations by Audrey Desaulniers and lettering by Cristian Zaelzer

Audrey is the woman behind Orcéine, where she enthusiastically put her love of science and the arts together to offer her services as a scientific illustrator. Her website is a beautiful world where one can find multiple examples of what she does and how she translates sometimes very dry scientific information into beautifully designed and poetic illustrations. She is versed in multiple artistic styles and techniques ranging from realistic illustrations to comics, schemas and soon, 2D animations.

A glimpse of a comic for a fundraising about research on a rare disease in children.

When asked how and why she came up with the name “Orcéine” Audrey says that she was looking for a nice sounding name that had a good story behind it and that sounded good in both French and English. As for the meaning behind it, orcein is a pigment created from a by-product of some species of lichens, used in the past to dye fabrics for clothing and used today in laboratories to dye biological tissues. As Audrey pointed out, there are 2 very nice metaphors between what orcein is and what she does; not only is orcein a pigment used to color things, just like Audrey’s use of illustrations to color the scientific world but it is also derived from lichens which are a symbiosis between algae and fungus. It’s the combination of 2 unlikely organisms that create beautiful things which become visible to the human eye just like Audrey and her merge of arts and science which creates beautiful images that aim to reach a wide audience.

When asked what she likes best about what she does, Audrey answers that it is the variety of all the work that comes to her that keeps her inspired. She doesn’t have a favorite style of project; she likes having a balance of very technical contracts to more story-like illustration requests. Her clients are just as diverse as the projects she works on, ranging from Universities to Museums and scientific publications. She thrives on the collaborations she entertains with both the client and the public; also a favorite part of what she does.

Schematic for the chemistry department of Université de Montréal.

Life wasn’t always easy for Audrey but she seemed to have held on to the belief that in the end, everything will turn out ok. The best advice she has for anyone who would want to follow in her footsteps is to take everything one step at a time, to always have a vision of the end goal, to ask for help when you need it and to never think that you won’t have enough time to do all the things that you want to do. Life is longer than you think and in the end, it will bring you where you need to be.

I think Audrey is exactly where she needs to be; she overcame multiple challenges, and is now actively participating and enabling collaborations between arts and science while closing the communication gap between scientific information and the general public. We need more “Audreys” in this world we live in; she is a true inspiration for the young and the not so young alike.

For more information visit Audrey’s website: Orceine or follow her on social media!! Instagram or Facebook
And don't miss our Scientific Cafés aimed to host open dialogues between artists, philosophers and neuroscientists on the links between art and neuroscience.

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