By Kerry Breen
Mark Klingler started his career as a scientific illustrator in his own backyard in Whippany. After childhood years of sketching insects and butterflies, he continued to pursue a path of art and graphic design, and soon found that the intersection between art and science was more possible than he thought.
One of 11 children, Klingler grew up in an artistic family that only encouraged his creativity and interests. Although his family moved several times, he spent his junior and senior years of high school enrolled at Whippany Park High School, where he credits several teachers – Michael Truss, John Perry, Joe Krufka, and Frank Neubour – with helping him go further and explore his interests even more. He later attended Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts.
Now, he works as a scientific illustrator. There are two components to his work. The first focuses on paleontological reconstruction work – he collaborates with scientists to visually tell the stories of extinct prehistoric creatures. He also depicts the plants and wildlife of the modern world – when drawing animals and other creatures, he often places them in a rendering of their habitat.
“One of the things I try to do in my imagery is not just depict the critter, but I try to make it aesthetically appealing as well, and a lot of times it’s just there in the story of the critter,” said Klingler.
When working on paleontological reconstruction, Klingler does his best to learn all the details possible about the creature in question. He takes steps such as reconstructing the fossil, talking with scientists and doing extensive sketches and notes. In the end, it all comes together in a beautiful artistic rendering.
While it is difficult to name a particular favorite rendering project, “…one pops out just because it’s unique and odd,” Klingler began.
“I was working on a project for Zhe-Xi Luo,” a curator at the Carnegie Museum, where Klingler worked for several years, he says. “He gave me a project; it was this tiny little skull – they thought it was a piece of skull, a little piece of fossil found down in China. They prepared it and found out it was a whole skull that was less than an inch long. Luo was describing the skull and asked me to do the reconstruction of it. He liked to do all his own technical drawing, but he asked me to do this skull reconstruction; it was estimated at the time to be 150 million years old. Did the reconstruction, we submitted it to “Science,” we got the cover. They reduced the image to the size of a postage stamp, on a whole white cover, and paired it off with a paper clip to show the size, and the skull. That made the cover of “Science” that year. That was neat- It was the most bizarre, cool project.”
The image of that creature – known as “Hadrocodium wui” – was also featured in prestigious publications such as National Geographic. Klingler said that he was told that “there were hundreds of thousands of uses of the image”.
Klingler worked at the Carnegie Museum – where he met Luo – for a total of 11 years, and it was there that he really found the combination of art and science, and how he could turn it into a living. While in college at Carnegie Mellon University, he visited the museum and saw an exhibit of bugs and insects; he eventually began volunteering in the entomology department, where he was later hired. In the autumn after his graduation a position opened at the museum; he worked in the department for another six years.
He later went on to help produce two field guides with the Johns Hopkins University Press, including a book that focused on the flora and fauna of New York City.
“I’ve been very fortunate in this field,” said Klingler. “I’ve had the opportunity to produce artwork that gets out to bigger audiences; I’ve been sharing my work in art shows like this.
“One of the amazing art shows I did was in Science Headquarters, for “Science” magazine – we came up with a Braille component to the show so people who may not be able to see the show could understand how it was produced, and that made it easy even for non-blind people to see the process pretty easily – going from the fossil, to the skeleton, to the muscles, to the fleshed-out version; we had a 3-D bronze model and a fossil cast,” he says.
“It’s kind of neat to see how just a small field of science illustration can reach out to the public and show how art can be applied to concepts,” he continues. “It’s great to be able to share this with people. You never know. There might be some youngster out there going ‘I like drawing nature, but I can’t make a living out of this’ – but you can!”
Klingler will have a variety of events in the Whippanong Library in October. On Sat., Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. he will present a PowerPoint lecture on how he creates his art and illustrations. On Sun., Oct. 2 at 1 p.m., he will give a hands-on workshop on how to create wildlife art. Registration is required; call the library or visit their website for more details; only open to students in grades nine and above, and adults.
Supplies will be provided but those interested can bring their own materials if they’d like. His work will also be displayed in the library’s Petit Gallery from Sept. 2016 through Nov. 2016.