Pint of Science Collaboration - Irene Wilkes and Dr Graeme Buchanan

Creative Reactions is an art-related event organised by Cambridge Creative Network  and the Cambridge Pint of Science team, that is going to be the grand-closure of Pint of Science 2015 in Cambridge on 21st May. In the build up to Pint of Science, 55 local artists are creating artwork in response to the talks and often in collaboration with the scientist they have been paired with. One such collaboration is between artist Irene Wilkes and Dr Graeme Buchanan, Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB. Here, Irene tells us of her experience and the resulting artworks...

Pint of Science – creating artworks, remotely: without the mud.

Ping, an email arrived from Creative Reactions, Cambridge. Did I want to get involved in a Pint of Science 2015? OK, I am up for it – but what do I have to do, as I am an artist and not a scientist? 

Art and Science are definitely weird bedfellows. I would be paired up with a scientist to produce artwork for his/her Pint of Science talk between 18th and 20th May 2015.

I was given a list of disciplines I could choose from. As I am 'doing' trees this year, I though Plant Science would be something I could put a few tree images into.

Trees were not available – instead my partner would be Dr. Graeme Buchanan, Senior Conservation Scientist from the RSPB. His talk is entitled : “Beyond boots : conservation without the mud”. For more on Graeme do look at this link

So we got in touch, via email. I live in Cambridge, Graeme is based in Edinburgh. This creative exercise would all happen remotely.

Graeme sent me some of his research papers – phew – over and above what my brain could handle. I asked for images. Out came the maps and a Power Point presentation – with more maps and stats – AND a few pictures of birds.

I asked Graeme about the birds and he talked of the most charismatic bird on the planet. I knew that one: it was on Facebook that morning – the singing budgerigar! Wrong: it is the spoon-billed sandpiper. So there was my light bulb moment.

I composed several designs around the sandpiper and passed them over to Graeme – he was concerned that this bird would end up being the focus of my painting… and the talk. So I checked the title of his talk 'Beyond boots: conservation without the mud'. It all came together as 100cm x50cm painting of a spotlighted sandpiper (after all this bird is so charismatic) – and let's give this bird some mud!


Next challenge was to incorporate Graeme's passionate topic: remote sensing of forest loss. Satellite maps came across via email. Green with squiggly lines, and white pixelated blobs. Graeme explained: the white section is all the area of the New Britain forest in Papua New Guinea taken over by palm oil plantations. I really had to get that point across.

Thinking cap went on. iPad out. I thought colour and shapes, Graeme thought birds and maps. I thought kingfisher, Graeme thought New Britain kingfisher and supplied me with an image.
I layered the kingfisher image over the map – took out bits, did a bit of reduction, abstraction and the design was approved!


Now for the easy part : the painting up. It took two days and I loved every minute of it.
Irene Wilkes, Artist

To see the full list of participating artists visit

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