Albert Einstein said, “The greatest scientists are always artists as well.” And many great artists (think Leonardo da Vinci) were also outstanding scientists. For many Etsy sellers, this connection between art and science feeds their curiosity and creativity, leading to an amazing assortment of one-of-a-kind shops and items.
“I am not a scientist, and I have never really studied science,” says Hiné Mizushima of Hiné, “but when I look at the world of science as an outsider, I see things that were made to be functional but which are, in fact, beautiful. I like to take those things and make them easy for other people to see by amplifying that intersection between form and function, and adding a twist!” What kind of twist? From embroidered microbe jewelry to needle-felted fungi, Hiné has offered handmade, whimsical, and acutely observed elements from nature in her shop since 2007. A few years ago, she branched out, directing a science themed stop-motion music video about the sun for the Brooklyn-based rock band, They Might Be Giants.
“I kind of backed into science via art,” says watercolor artist Michele Banks. Since 2010, her Etsy shop artologica has astounded shoppers looking for unique gifts that can brighten the most serious situations. “Some people who buy my EKG paintings and scarves have or treat heart disease, people like doctors, nurses, and EKG techs,” said Michele, “One lovely woman who had a heart procedure bought EKG scarves for the whole team that took care of her.”
While many of her paintings depict scientific subjects in a relatively straightforward manner, others unveil deeper levels of life and connection. For example, her piece “Love and Death: Beauty” explores major life themes and how they are expressed at microscopic levels. “When people are in love, their skin glows and their eyes shine. The painting looks at how that manifests in our cells,” says Michele. “I love it when customers find me by Googling the name of some random microorganism expecting to find a scholarly article or graph, and instead they find a watercolor,” she says.
“I think the idea that art and science are separate is unfounded,” says print maker Ele Willoughby of minouette. “It takes creativity to be a good scientist and experimentation to be a good artist.” In her Etsy shop, Ele explores art and science through a series of portraits of scientists inspired by the bi-monthly challenges of the Mad Scientists of Etsy team. “I love hearing from parents who want to inspire young children with portraits of scientific heroes or heroines,” she says.
Etsy shops have been named for cats, kids, schemes, and dreams, but for original shop names, you can’t top jeweler Shirlee Liberman of Delftia. “Delftia Acidovorans is a bacterium that turns water-soluble gold ions into microscopic nuggets of solid gold,” she says. “In other words, Delftia is a germ which excretes gold.”
From caffeine to neurons to DNA, Shirlee addresses many disciplines of science through jewelry. For Shirlee, turning scientific concepts into wearable art requires knowledge, technical skill, and a disciplined aesthetic. “Although it is really important to me that my pieces are first and foremost beautiful and wearable jewelry,” she says, “it is also very important that my jewelry will say something. I call my jewelry ‘conversations starters.’ People ask questions and it is a great way to communicate and spread science.”
Nervous Systems’ Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg met as undergraduates at MIT and started collaborating on projects almost immediately. “Jesse’s background is in math and computer science and I studied biology and architecture. Working together as Nervous System, we experiment with combining those disciplines into a strange hybrid that exists at the intersection of our interests –– nature-inspired generative software systems that grow designs.”
Jessica learned about patterns in nature early in life, while exploring a neighborhood pond with her father. “We would cook up a strange mixture of hay in the kitchen and ‘feed’ the pond water to culture the creatures we had caught, then examine them with his antique microscope. It was completely fascinating to see an entire universe of odd creatures living out their lives in a drop of water,” she says.
Just as fascinating as that world in a drop of water is discovering the diverse ways these Etsy artists use science to inspire their creations. Want to discover more artist scientists (or scientist artists) on Etsy? Here are just a few teams that blend those interests:
Do you have an interest in art and science? Tell us about it in the comments.