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Student's artwork to be displayed in St. Cloud offices

An assignment for a biology class is now a work of a art

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May 16, 2014

By Annie Dittberner '17

Mackenzie Kelley '16

When College of Saint Benedict sophomore Mackenzie Kelley registered for a biological illustration class, she wasn't sure what to expect.

"When I signed up for the course, I thought that we would sketch internal muscles, bones and other things that you can't see very clearly," she said.

Instead, Kelley ended up sketching seven illustrations of microorganisms. And now those sketches are going to be seen in the offices of the St. Cloud Water Treatment Facility, which sits along the Mississippi River.

Biology professor Jim Poff teaches the biological illustration class. Throughout the semester, there are four rendering techniques introduced to students — graphite, pen and ink, color pencil and watercolor.

Kelley's major and minor combination of biology and art is a near perfect blend of subjects for the class. 

"I took the class because I knew it would be a great combination of art and biology. I didn't really know what exactly the curriculum would cover, but I was very intrigued to be able to combine my major and minor together," Kelley said. "And I really like being able to use both sides of my brain. My science courses require me to use the left side of my brain and think logically. Being able to use the creative side of my brain helps balance me out a little bit."

For the first five weeks, each night was dedicated to one of the four rendering techniques. Then, students were able to begin their individual projects as the semester progressed.

"Dr. Poff set me up with Erin McMahon, the utilities laboratory technician at the St. Cloud Water Treatment Facility," Kelley said. "I had a client consultation with her and she hired me to illustrate for their offices."

The St. Cloud Water Treatment Facility invites college students to visit and tour their offices while working in lab and research facilities. McMahon plans to feature Kelley's illustrations in brochures and on posters for guests.

Kelley's illustrations were of microorganisms that feed on the waste in the water — which in turn — cleans the water.

McMahon provided Kelley with photographs of organisms that are currently in the water. When they met at the lab, Kelley was able to draw a few samples that were actually from the water and observe those live samples under the microscope to see the actual process of a feeding organism.

"I wasn't able to do that for every organism, but I was able to do that for a few of them," Kelley said. "That made it easier for me because I was able to see it live while the photograph was being captured."

She took those photographs to class and began with a graphite sketch of the organism.

"An illustration of that photo is often more appreciated because of the time spent on it. It is also easier to draw attention to those features that you would not be able to see otherwise," Kelley said. "So, I started to outline the dark features, sketching the highlights and lowlights to find the contrast. After that, I picked the medium that I wanted to draw it in and moved forward with that medium to create my final illustrations."

Throughout the course, Kelley was able to integrate her knowledge of biology and art.

"I learned how waste water is treated," she said. "I always thought they used chemicals to clean our water. To now know, that it is actual organisms that clean our water and that it is something more natural and biological, it makes me feel like the water is cleaner and not infused with chemicals."

Kelley also learned the strengths of each medium of art.

"Combining those strengths of each medium can be really beneficial in the end," she said. "It reveals a different view for each organism or plant that you are trying to illustrate. I was expecting more of things that could not be photographed, however I was surprised to find that a lot of what we are illustrating are things that could be photographed. My illustrations captured different qualities and features of the organism."

Kelley, as well as other students enrolled in the class, had their artwork featured at the Paramount Gallery and Gifts in St. Cloud during the month of May.

"It's just a great opportunity that Dr. Poff was able to give us," Kelley said. "I feel lucky to have been in a class that can bring you to an opportunity like that."