Stephen Nash at his drawing table in Stony Brook, New York. (© Paula Katharina Rylands)
This is the fourth and final post in our “Why Monkeys Matter” series, which has been examining how field research on primates — not just monkeys, but apes, lemurs and more — is illuminating their role in natural ecosystems and helping us protect the places we all depend on..
For today’s blog, I talked with Stephen Nash, a wildlife illustrator who drew every known species and subspecies of primate for the recent primate volume of the “Handbook of the Mammals of the World.”
1. How did you become a professional wildlife artist?
I started out wanting to be a medical illustrator, because I thought that it would be a profession in which I would learn how to draw “from the inside out” the way artists did in the past, studying the underlying anatomy first, so that surface structures were accurately and meaningfully rendered. However, I soon found out that medical illustration is less about drawing realistic anatomy these days than, say, producing images of dialysis machines.
I had always had a great interest in animals and nature, and of course admired the works of such artists as John James Audubon, Edward Lear and Peter Scott, but had no idea about how to proceed. Then, while at college in London, I had a chance conversation with John Norris Wood, who was the tutor for the Natural History Illustration course at the Royal College of Art. He encouraged me to apply first to the Scientific Illustration course at Middlesex Polytechnic, and then after completing it, to his course.
Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx). (© CI/illustration by Stephen Nash)
While drawing one day at the London Zoo, I came across a group of cottontop tamarins, a squirrel-sized monkey from South America. For some reason, they utterly fascinated me. Years later, I discovered that as a child, I had had a stuffed toy that strongly resembled these monkeys. Although I had forgotten about it, I believe that subconsciously I was influenced by that toy when I saw the tamarins.