Death of Ötzi the Iceman: A graphic novel in National Geographic

One of the biggest pleasures (and challenges) of working at National Geographic’s graphics department is to be able to art direct amazing artists from all over the world. Data-driven graphics, cartography and diagrams share the space of the magazine with paintings of historical events and depictions of the natural world. A long tradition carried over for 124 years that has showcased masters like N. C. Wyeth, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Charles Knight, Ned Seidler, James Gurney, Bruce Morser, Jon Foster and so many others.

Most of our contributors specialize in scientifically accurate and detailed illustrations of paleontology, archeology, geology, technology, natural science and so on. Each of these fields has its own specialists.

But sometimes we need a special edge to keep us fresh and even surprising, taking a leap of faith to try out artists that haven’t done scientific illustration but whose skills are unique. One such case is Alex Maleev, a Bulgarian comic book artist well known for Marvel series such as Daredevil and Spider-Woman. For our November 2011 issue we decided to make a new story on Ötzi the Iceman and the new hypothesis about his death based on a recent thawing and autopsy. We knew we could approach the art as a true “noir” graphic novel: What happened during the last few minutes of Ötzi’s life 5,300 years ago, 10,500 feet high in the remote Italian Alps? Who murdered him, and how?

Here is the finished piece (click a couple of times for a hi-res version). The version with text is at the end of the post. Unusual for National Geographic to say the least! But still informed by the advice of multiple experts regarding the clothes, weaponry and landscape:

My brother Martín, an avid comic book collector in Spain, had alerted me about Alex Maleev’s cinematic and realistic compositions, his mastery of human figure, and the edgy, dark, textured scenes. His paneled scenes and rhythmic composition create the motion and drama we were looking for. See some of his Marvel work (copyright by Marvel):

Like everyone else, we had covered the Iceman before, most recently about 6 years ago when it was discovered that Ötzi was killed by an arrow to the back. In that occasion, we used the more traditional illustration style of Kazuhiko Sano, the Japanese master that created so many iconic illustrations for National Geographic in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

But this time we were looking for a true paneled graphic novel approach. The following images show a bit of the process of working with an artist in the magazine.

The fist rough sketch (below) had 4 panels with a nice variation of camera angles showing the basic premise: At some point during his climb, Ötzi had probably stopped for a quick meal (we know he was killed very shortly after eating based on the undigested food found in his stomach). There, the new theory goes, he was ambushed by an individual or a group that not only shoot the most famous arrow in history at him, but also hit him in the head with a blunt object. The perpetrator/s fled the scene without taking any of Otzi’s possessions, and after retrieving the shaft of the arrow (locals would have known other people’s highly prized and personalized items, revealing the murderer).

The panels are nice, but the identically sized boxes seem static and don’t work together. We needed more rhythm and variety of sizes, and maybe having something go across the gutter to integrate both pages more fluidly.

A second sketch moved nicely in that direction, but still a bit timidly. You can see more energy and motion:

The next iteration, however, started to look confusing, with all images blending into each other. At this exploratory phase, we are happy to see really quick roughs to set the composition.

Forthe next version, I asked Alex for a more organized layout that would place the second step of the sequence (Ötzi being hit by the arrow) in the second page for a more integrated spread. A closeup of the arrow would add drama and pace:

But I still knew something was missing. Our A-HA moment came when Design Director David Whitmore and I went through the layout David was creating. The well-defined blue and gray color palette of the photos took us back to some of the samples we had seen of Alex work. The image below was not only an example of a color scheme that would be ideal for the story. It also made us realize the entire layout was in itself very cinematic.

The bold photographs (some examples below) follow each other with dramatic zooming-in and out, black panels and short text call-outs that follow each other throughout the pages, sequencing the images like a comic book.

So we suggested Alex to go for well structured rectangular panels on a black background and a blue-gray color palette. When we saw the next sketch, we knew it was the way to go:

Alex developed the panels further but I thought the panels sizes, relatively similar to each other, made it still a bit static. In a quick Photoshop rough, I played with the panels and indicated Alex areas where each panel could expand to have a variety of more vertical, more horizontal and larger/smaller images.

Here is the finished page (see the nice hi-res, color corrected at the beginning of the post):

Alex is a fantastic artist and easy to work with. Below is another illustration he recently finished for us: this time a full spread opener scene for a story on the rising sea levels of Northern Europe thousands of years ago, for our December 2012 issue.

Charting weather disasters

Sandy was a painful reminder of extreme weather events becoming more frequent all over the world. Our September issue featured a story on the topic with this original chart by Senior Graphics Editor John Tomanio (click on it for a detailed view):

The chart shows all weather events since 1980 that caused at least one billion dollars in damages. We chose to measure all events in terms of economic damage to have comparable data for very different events, which are color coded by type (drought, flood, etc). The events are represented by half circles, an unusual chart type seen more often in election charts. I anticipate professor Alberto Cairo (see his terrific blog The Functional Art here) may not be thrilled with it!. As he explains, readers are used to compare visual differences with charts that grow in one dimension only (as a bar chart) rather than two (as any area chart like a pie chart or this one). I fully agree with that but in this case the overall pattern of distribution over time is more important than the individual values: We are seeing more extreme events, and more intense, in recent years. That is apparent in a quick look and the quick take-away message the chart tries to convey. Area charts tend to visually de-emphasize the differences between different values, and that was helpful in a graphic that needed to concentrate so many data points in a small space.

The half circle format provides a common baseline to all events in each year, a terrific idea John had when full circles proved to look too disorganized in the page.

EARLIER VERSIONS: John’s analysis of the 32 years of $1 billion weather disasters
from NOAA led to this first approach: the first 16 years of data (from 1980 to 1995) showed 46 weather events, while the next 16 year period (1996 to 2011) showed 87 events. John roughly plotted the events on two maps, each representing the two time periods. Although subsequent visual approaches would vary quite a bit, this original analysis informed the structure of all versions, comparing the two
time periods. (The “Why is weather extreme?” panel eventually moved to
another part of the story.)

This rough is a bolder, more graphic approach that still geo-locates the weather events on the small maps at bottom. While this proved to be the quickest read of all the versions, John wanted to explore another idea that added a time element to the weather events.

Below is the first attempt of roughly plotting all the weather events by the month and year which they occurred. We liked to see how the frequency of events builds over time, but while the center of each circle corresponds to the month and year of the event, the range of circle sizes made it hard to see that. It needed more order.

By using semi-circles, the final version (first image in this post) makes much clearer to see how the weather events build year-over-year. We called out the ten most expensive events, and added a bit of analysis. The graphic proved popular with the readers, and John keeps receiving requests for copies. A detail is shown below.

John added the exquisite sense of typographic design, color balance and superb editing that is typical of his data graphics. The clear structure of the graphic, comparing two consecutive time periods, is the basis for its success.

IPAD: Our iPad version (see screen grab below), took full advantage of the device’s ability to expand on any given data set. Readers can touch each of the vertical columns and a full scrollable list of all the events that happened that year appears on the left side of the screen:

Artist profile: The incredible Kennis brothers

Few people, if any, have impressed me more during my career than the Dutch twin brothers Alfons and Adrie Kennis, also known as Kennis & Kennis. Specialized in meticulous, extremely accurate and awe-inspiring beautiful paleontological reconstructions and paintings, the talent of the Kennis brothers is as amazing as their personalities.

Adrie Kennis, Wilma, and Alfons Kennis

Alfons and Adrie started publishing in the magazine in the early 2000’s, brought in by former Art Director Chris Sloan (see Chris’ new company here). I remember vividly the lasting impression their series of paintings of extinct mammals of the Jurassic left in me, a couple of years before I started working for National Geographic. I wanted to meet them right away!

Adrie and Alfons work simultaneously in all their paintings in an organic process where it’s impossible to know which one of them worked in the different phases or areas of a canvas. Their feature textured white backgrounds are beautiful and the exquisitely lightning and sculptural feel of their figures reveals their technique: they first build every animal they paint as a three dimensional, small-size, clay model for reference of volume and lightning.

As it turns out the Kennis brothers are terrific sculptors and their anatomical knowledge is sought by natural history museums all over the world.

Most paleo-reconstructions of extinct hominids feel stiff and lifeless to me, but not theirs. The emotion and expression of their figures is unique. As examples, see their “Lucy’s baby” below. The playful 3 year old Australopithecus afarensis was our cover in November, 2006. Below it, the weathered face of a Neanderthal male:

I was fortunate to work directly with the Kennis brothers in the reconstruction of a female Neanderthal we created for our October 2008 cover. The story had it all. Terrific science (the neanderthal genome was being decoded, offering new clues), picturesque fossils sites in Siberia and Spain and the unfolding drama of a species being cornered into extinction in Europe as homo sapiens quickly occupied their former range in Europe.

Alfons and Adrie worked for 6 month on our female Neaderthal, in a meticulous process that started with the reconstruction of an entire skeleton based on the existing fossils of different specimens scattered around the world. I art directed from Washington, and visited in their amazing studio-warehouse near Amsterdam during the process.

Since the best existing reference for the thorax was a male specimen, Adrie and Alfons painstakingly disassembled a model of the thorax, shaved off a few millimeters off each rib and each vertebra and put it back together to obtain an appropriately sized smaller female thorax.

We worked closely with scientists at Duke University, the University of Washington in St. Louis and the Natural History Museum of London for accuracy. Despite the enormous amount of work involved in creating a life-size, articulated and scientifically accurate skeleton, at the end it would not be visible. The purpose was to serve as a base for the external layers of the body, knowing that the proportions given by the bones were right. The next step was to add all the muscles and skin, in layers of plasticine clay:

And this is the external appearance of the clay model before casting it into the final silicone figure:

The finished model incorporated real red hair of Scottish Highland cattle (DNA evidence pointed to many neanderthals being red-haired) and a carefully crafted outer layer of skin that included wrinkles and pores the Kennis brothers obtained by transferring skin impressions of their own faces into the model. Alfons and Adrie finally added black pock marks, a tan face tonality and reddened cheeks after studying the faces of Mongolian nomads and other populations that spend a lot of time outdoors in climates as cold as Europe was when it was inhabited by Neanderthals.

Being National Geographic, we couldn’t just photograph Wilma (our reconstruction’s nickname) in a studio. The Kennis brothers took her all the way to Spain in the back of their truck, and I joined them there along with photographer Joe McNally and our Creative Director to do a photo shoot next to the cave where some of the evidence was found.

The adventures of the photo shoot were best narrated by then Design Editor Oliver Uberti in his former blog. Among other things, we were evicted from a National Park by guards for conspicuously carrying a large naked female figure without permission to do so, and chased by a wild bull on the way to the cave!

And all of that just to show a cover and two other pictures in the magazine, plus the accompanying graphic I did with artist Bruce Morser. You must think we are crazy, and we do feel that way sometimes!

In case you are curious, here are three of the many sketches the Kennis brothers did at the beginning of the process. The first takes were too feminized and idyllic to my taste. We wanted a neanderthal female that was defiant and strong, as some of the new scientific evidence pointed to the fact neanderthal may have participated in hunting along with males, unlike homo sapiens.

I’ll finish with another painting by Alfons and Adrie for a more recent stories on extinct Australian megafauna. As in any art direction project involving this odd pair of geniuses, there were some heated arguments about the direction of the project, with me and former Graphics Editor Hiram Henriquez working on it from Nat Geo’s side. It’s not unusual for them to refuse ANY changes to their artwork but I see that as an expression of how deeply they care about the integrity of their artwork and the scientific accuracy behind, and we always ended up agreeing. Can’t wait to do it again!

Check the Kennis brothers’ website here, I hope you’ll love their work. Also, here is a video where they narrate their process for a reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman. This one was not commissioned by National Geographic, be we used a picture of the model in our November 2011 issue.

The stylish radial chart

Traveling in Saudi Arabia a few months ago I couldn’t help to notice there were many people carrying two cell phones around. Typically, one for personal contacts and another one for business. Indeed, Saudis boast a national average of almost two cellular susbcriptions per person. As the chart below shows (find it in our November issue), the U.S. lags most of the world in mobile subscriptions, especially developing countries that simply skipped the land line phase when phones became widespread. For this chart, Senior Graphics Editor Jason Treat used an interesting radial chart format:

I often wonder if readers often stop paying attention to simple charts, or whether they become invisible out of familiarity. This circular form is a pleasing design element and, in this case, a surprising and inviting way to present what otherwise would be a typical bar chart.

The three radial layers in the graphic show the number of mobile subscriptions by year, offering an additional layer of interest. For example, you can see the explosive growth in Africa since 2001 compared to Europe.

For the longest time in our production process, our chart looked mostly like the version shown below. We thought the different colors by continent helped codify and understand the information faster, but not true! Sometimes less is more. The three levels by year and the rainbow of colors were too much to digest in addition to the unfamiliar circular design. Well past our deadline, Jason was able to change the color scheme towards a more monochromatic approach. We also made a series of small edits that emphasized the organizing principle of the chart (the red lines showing the number of subscriptions) and de-emphasized the text notes around the chart, which were secondary content. Small moves like those are often what separate good from great graphics.

This type of radial chart is useful to present long data sets that would otherwise look a bit intimidating in a more conventional chart format. And the unique design allows them to carry the weight of a page as a design element when there are no additional visuals. The biggest shortcoming is that the rotated labels may be harder to read, and that’s something to ponder carefully. What do you think?

Here are two other examples, a couple of years old, by former Senior Graphics Editor Sean McNaughton, always a brilliant designer and editor when large data sets were involved.

COMING SOON To create a graphic about the amazing speed of cheetahs, we had the entire skeleton of a cheetah scanned to create an impressive 3D model. Read it later this week in National Infographic (provided I don’t lose power with the hurricane, which is very likely!)

A map that helped reshape the world

“Germany and its approaches”, National Geographic supplement map, July 1944

Along with photography, fascinating maps are possibly the first thing that comes to mind when generations of readers think of National Geographic. Although I’m not a cartographer by training, I have the pleasure of working with some of the best. New and old maps will be a common feature in National Infographic.

In 1915 Albert Bumstead became the National Geographic Society’s first Chief Cartographer, with a mandate to establish a map-making division. Bumstead had recently assisted Hiram Bingham in mapping Machu Picchu during Bingham’s famous expedition. He had also designed innovative instruments, such as the Bumstead tripod and created cartographic techniques that would be used for decades in National Geographic.

In the spring of 1932, when Editor Gilbert Grosvenor requested a new map of the United States by the end of the year, Bumstead realized that there was not enough time for his staff of four to hand-letter the thousands of places. Bumstead invented a machine — appropriately called the Bumstead Lettering Machine — able to mass-produce hand lettering photographically. From a series of hand-drawn typefaces, individual letters were photographed, and the resulting film positives can then be set like conventional type. At the same Charles Riddiford, an Englishman who had joined the staff in 1923, designed a series of typefaces remarkable for their grace and legibility. Many of them are still in use today. The resulting map supplement, the “United States,” appeared in May, 1933, and displayed 8,686 completely legible place-names. Bumstead’s invention inaugurated a Cartographic golden age for the magazine.

National Geographic would make an influential cartographic contribution to the war effort. The Library records at the Society explain:

“Only weeks after the June 6, 1944 Allied landings in Normandy, a map supplement, ‘Germany and its Approaches,’ would provide a means for tracing the final campaign against Nazi Germany and also helped to chart the postwar world. This work shows the international boundaries as of Sept. 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, and boundaries as of Jan. 1, 1938, before Germany seized Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Drafted on a larger scale than any previous Society map of Europe, ‘Germany and its Approaches’ quickly becomes the most useful general small-scale map of the approaching battlefields widely available. All the principal roads, railroads, and canals are clearly shown, and there are more place-names per square inch than the Society has ever managed to put on one of its supplements before. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers borrowed the original drawings of this map and made enlarged copies. Nearly 20,000 of them were posted at crucial road junctions for the use of truck and ambulance drivers. Soon the British War Office, in turn, reproduces 50,000 copies for distribution to its own front-line officers.

But ‘Germany and its Approaches’ is not only used in the field: it is being constantly scrutinized by Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who carries it with him in the map case the Society presented him in 1944. Reportedly, it also serves as Churchill’s personal briefing map, and hangs in the Cabinet War Rooms in London. President Franklin Roosevelt uses it in the White House Map Room to follow developments in the Battle of the Bulge. And during the Churchill-Roosevelt conference in September of 1944, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall (a future Society trustee) places this map on the table before the two heads of state, who proceed to mark it up so much that another copy needs to be obtained.

One of the results of this conference is tentative agreement on the division of postwar Germany. Lt. Arthur Robinson, chief map officer for both the O.S.S. and the U.S. Chiefs of Staff (and later to become an influential American geographer), plots these divisions onto a copy of ‘Germany and its Approaches.’

The Society’s ability to supply timely and accurate small-scale maps of strategic areas allowed the U.S and British military to concentrate all their resources into making large-scale, detailed ones of battle areas .”

Between 1939 and 1945, more than 37 million copies of different National Geographic maps were distributed to Society members and Allied forces.

The Mustang caves of Nepal

Watching Fernando Baptista, one of our Senior Graphics Editors, at work is a fascinating experience. The October issue of National Geographic features just another impressive reconstruction graphic born out of his endessly creative and perfectionist mind. The story is about a series of caves in the Nepalese district and former kingdom of Mustang. Although spectacular complexes of cliffside caves were already known in the area, a new key find was the so-called Tomb 5 in Samdzong. A powerful leader was buried there 1,300 to 1,800 years ago in a wooden coffin, surrounded by sacrificed animals, ceremonial objects and, mysteriously, a child.

Here is Fernando’s finished graphic, a photographed model painstakingly built with papier maché, clay, plasticine, wood, and many weeks of research. The map at the bottom is by Senior Graphic Editor Martin Gamache.

And this is the video Fernando and Video Director editor Hans Weise created for our iPad edition (for subscribers only):

THE FIRST IDEA The original idea was to focus on the cave city complex of Tsarang. Fernando created several pencil and watercolor sketches, but it turned out information on the interior of the caves was insufficient to attempt a detailed reconstruction. I love the look of unfinished and rough sketches. Today these are all drawn in paper or on the computer, but we have quite a few old sketches in the office painted with oil over canvas! and mailed by artists. I’ll photograph a few one of these days to show you.

FOCUSING ON TOMB 5 Our main consultant, Dr. Mark Aldenferder, was part of the team of archeologists and mountaineers working in the area. He pointed Fernando to the sensational find of the funerary cave complex of Samdzong. The first pencil sketches were made (above).

Fernando has a Fine Arts background and worked for Spanish daily newspaper El Correo for 14 years before coming over to Nat Geo. He is an exceptional illustrator. Fernando often creates small clay models just as reference for his illustrations. This allows him to investigate the volume and lightning and to find the best point of view possible. What others may do with 3D software, Fernando does with plasticine, clay and carving tools from the art store or from his kitchen. The model above was created for this purpose but when our Creative Director Bill Marr saw it, the concept was born. Why not create a larger, very accurate model of the cave and photograph it?. We thought this would not only have a striking presence in the printed page, but it would allow us to play with a moving camera and create a video for our iPad edition that would immerse the readers into the tight, claustrophobic cave space as they looked at the different offerings and remains.

Fernando and Senior Design Editor John Baxter worked on several layout possibilities. Two early examples are shown below. We thought we would have bigger impact on a vertical spread (the reader must turn the magazine to read it). At this point we are mostly dealing with hierarchy, flow of information and determining which elements will be essential in the storytelling and which can be eliminated or more effectively shown elsewhere in the layout. Usually we start with quick pencil sketches.

We were still planning to show the city cave complex in Tsarang (the larger block), but we realized this could confuse readers because the tomb shown in the main art is actually not part of that complex.

Fernando enlisted our talented art research intern, Fanna Gebreyesus, to dive into the details of the cave, and ultimately also to help build it. The large model wall structure was created in papier maché, using glue to hold dozens of layers of newspapers together. Here you can see it at an early stage.

To create the rock and earth texture, Fernando and Fanna gathered six different types of sand and earth of different colors and grain texture (from the park, from the street, from a weekend visit to Alexandria, VA…). Fernando’s wife Begoña helped eliminate the biggest particles with a cheesecloth and then they were sprinkled them around the cave on top a layer of adhesive spray.

To create the different mummified animal skulls found in the cave (probably ritual offerings) Fernando calculated the exact size needed, printed out photographs of the same species in three views (front, side and top) at the same size and carefully sculpted them in clay. To complicate things, we had to calculate how much the skulls would shrink after baking them (in Fernando’s oven at home!), which turned out to be about 20 percent.

The idea was to represent the cave as it would look around 20 years after the burial, with mummified skin still attached to the skulls. To create that effect, Fernando applied a thin layer of paper, glue and leather from an old jacket, and then he painted them. The metallic objects were made in clay, painted with metallic shine paint and then “aged” with acrylic colors. Fernando molded iron wire to create the low tripod that sustained one of the vessels.

A stunning gold mask covered the face of the man’s remains. After careful observation, it was apparent that there were traces of paint in the nose but also a series of thin lines around the face. Fernando pointed this out to Dr. Aldenderfer, suggesting a way of reconstructing the original design of those lines. After several rounds, the expert archeologist was really excited. It’s not unusual for us to collaborate with an expert as they investigate, helping visualize and solidify their theories.

Fernando used copper to sculpt the mask. To create the hood covering the mummy head (see the first picture in the post) Fanna brought a piece of ethiopian cloth, which Fernando aged with watercolors and coffee. Then Fanna sewed the mask to the cloth using metallic thread through extremely thin holes following Dr. Aldenderfer’s instructions.

The skeleton of the adult male was a plastic toy that had just the right size. Fernando applied the same aging technique he used with the skulls. However, we had to add the smaller skeleton of a child, also present in the cave. It was found laying close to the wooden coffin, on the floor. Fernando and Fanna looked for the right size plastic skeleton all over the Internet and in city stores for over a week, with no result. Utimately, Fernando decided to buy another plastic skeleton like the one he used for the adult, and then proceeded to cut almost every bone of the body,  (that’s right, manually and one by one!!!) shorten it, reshape it and reattach it. Insanity! That is how far Fernando will go to achieve accuracy in his reconstructions.

The row of beads that once adorned the mask of the chief turned Fernando’s office into a workshop for tiny jewelry work (below). I think he missed his work with large canvasses more than ever…

We kept looking at different layout options, but none of them was really convincig us. The one shown above had a somewhat clunky stacking of two horizontal layers of context information. It was too much work before the reader could reach the main image, and the lack of hierarchy given by so elements of similar size was apparent. On top of that, the very realisitc model could have been read as an actual photograph of the cave. At the end, we decided that it was important to show the edges of the model itself to present it as a hand-made recreation. The structure of the graphic (below) was now much simpler.

The wooden box that served a coffin (the original is shown below) was recreated by Fernando in wood working closely with the expert, as Fernando wanted to use the same assemblage technique to hold the four walls together with wooden rivets. We also recreated the decoration.

Our work with consultants continues to the very end of a project, and they are continuously sent new versions for revision. . Below is one of many files sent by Fanna and Fernando to Dr. Aldenferder to get his approval on the different details of the cave.

Staff photographer Mark Thiessen (below) made final photographs of our model with multiple angles and light settings in our photo studio. Here you can see the actual size of the model. The small plates contain the different types of sand and earth Fernando used to texturize the cave walls.

Most people are surprised to learn National Geographic magazine only has two photographers in staff, to do studio photography. Nearly all stories are shot by freelancers. But Mark is an award winning photographer that has done several feature stories for the magazine.

With a finished model, it was time to work on the video the video. Fernando had the idea of having the flickering light of a candle illuminating the scene to get a mysterious ambience and some motion in the light and shadows to bring the inanimate object to life. Here you can see him making a test, filming a short scene with his iPhone and a candle light. Ultimately, we decided that a hand holding a candle would be visible in the video. Without its presence, the scene would have looked all too real and perhaps confuse readers.

A new blog

Hello! I’m Juan Velasco, Art Director of National Geographic magazine, and formerly a Graphics reporter at El Mundo (Spain) and the Graphics Art Director at The New York Times. I’m also an information graphics consultant and speaker. I decided to start this blog to share a bit of the process, challenges and hopefully successes of creating art, maps and graphics for a broad, international audience. We combine journalism, art and design to turn on the light for our readers and transform difficult concepts into clear, transformative learning experiences. The Graphics Department of National Geographic is a multidisciplinary team creating award-winning information graphics, geographic and thematic cartography, scientific visualization, historical paintings, and anatomically accurate three-dimensional reconstructions of extinct creatures. We spend months producing original research and working with experts and consultants. It’s a unique process, often closer to scholarly research than to the usual reporting style in media. People are often surprised at how far we’ll go. We pour through tens of thousands of data points in spreadsheets and geographic databases to find the visual story behind the numbers and to map relevant patterns in global or small and remote areas. We painstakingly build every layer of muscle in the reconstructed body of a newly found hominid to obtain the right proportions. We hire satellite companies to redirect their eye on the sky and take the image of a hot spot in the world because it was almost right but not quite. We consult with ornithologists about the shape of an almost invisible bird in the background of a historical painting. The quest for perfection never ends. From rough pencil sketches to sophisticated final renderings, I hope you’ll enjoy an inside peek at what we do. Along the way, I’ll also look at some vintage art, maps and graphics and I’ll report from the field, from conferences, or share any ideas about art and graphics that cross my mind. All views are my own, and I will also invite colleagues and freelancers to write about their work. I hope you are interested enough to follow and I would love to read your comments!