Barriers are meant to be broken ! In today’s Career Pathbreaker series, we speak to Ipsa Jain, Postdoctoral Fellow at Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine about breaking the barriers between Science and Art. Thanks Ipsa, for giving us a peek into your work of bridging Science and Art through Science Illustration!

Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal talks to Ipsa Jain, Postdoctoral Fellow at Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine about breaking the barriers between Science and Art.

Ipsa, a bit about yourself?

I grew up in a town called Karnal, Haryana and studied at Tagore Bal Niketan, Karnal. Growing up i used to draw, make models and participate in quizzes. My father is a Doctor and mom was a housewife.

What did you study?

I did my BSc Zoology H. Gargi College, University of Delhi and MSc Zoology at Hindu College, University of Delhi.

I then did my PhD from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Post-Doc at Institute of Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bangalore

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

My school teacher fostered and nurtured my curiosity about life forms around me and their behaviour. It was during a school organized trip to National Dairy research Institute, Karnal that I saw a bright glow of EtBr stained DNA. And I knew that I wanted to be a scientist. That is how my journey towards a scientific career started.

But at the end of my PhD training, the charm for bench science was lost and I looked for things I would like to do, want to do and can do. I started doing sketching and doodling to relieve stress. Due to encouraging feedback from colleagues and friends, I started sharing my work online and things took off from there.

I always liked to tinker with inks and paints. I spent some time practicing some art tools and read about work of the masters and several peers. After practice and work with several clients, I continue to grow my ideas about the confluence of art and science. 

How did you plan your transition from Research to Science illustration?

Once I realised that I wanted to combine art and science, I interviewed and wrote about other people around the world who were doing such work. Work of Ina Schuppe Koistinen, Abhishek Krishnagopal, Sangeetha Kadur, Pooja Gupta etc gave me the inspiration to do what I wanted to do. Along the way I got exposed to more art and science creators like Gemma Anderson, Monica Zoppe, Drew Barry, Ina S. Koistinen, Christian Sardet, Sandra Black Culliton, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. My learning continues.

The opportunity to work for ClubSciwri gave me the initial courage, visibility and network to make the transition.

I got the opportunity to exhibit my work at Pravega in 2017, a student led festival at IISC, Bangalore. I presented my work and people purchased some of it.

In November 2017, I joined the Lab of Dr. Minhaj Sirajuddin at inStem, Bangalore. They allowed me to make my work as a part of institution, gave me visibility, and connections.

I used and still use Facebook and Instagram to connect with scientists and artists respectively. I am listed on Indian Academy of Sciences website as a science illustrator. All these avenues have helped me find collaborators, clients and friends

I try to conduct courses, workshops and give talks at schools, colleges and other public avenues. It allows me to reach more people with my work.  

What are the challenges you face as a Scientific Illustrator?

The biggest challenge is that the kind of work I do, there are only a few in the country that do similar work. Thus, a very small clientele appreciates the value of work some of us do. And fewer value it enough to provide monetary compensation that does justice to the effort we put in. There have been so many instances that people have requested me to work pro bono or work on really short deadlines. It takes some effort to make people realise that this work is not my hobby and it takes time to work on projects.

Another challenge I face in creative work is that a lot of clients come with a very vague vision of their needs and requirements. Such projects are tough to work on, as there is no clear direction. Such projects take several iterations for it to come to a state where you understand the direction you need to take.

Tell us a little about what you do currently?

I currently work as a freelancer under my own brand name, Ipsawonders.

I had been sketching, painting and doodling for some time. Ipsawonders seemed the natural culmination of it. A platform to share and now sell my work.  There are a lot of artists who draw animals and plants. I wanted to share some bit of science with those paintings. Being a nerd, I always tell nerd stories about things I see around me, or listen to such stories. I wanted to share that with everyone.

With feedback from scientists, science students and non-specialised audience, I have realised that science can be communicated in more engaging ways, more thought provoking ways using visuals. 

I collaborate with scientists, scientific institutions, publishers, bloggers and other clients to create artwork for different usages.

My work is ultimately about bringing science in a more engaging and joyous way to the audience. So I am creating a space for scientific community to reach out to wider audiences through my imagery.

Here is a portfolio of Ipsa’s work

What do you love about your job?

I love that I get to meet and work with diverse set of people and work towards very different goals. I learn a lot, about myself, about my audiences, about my collaborators and about science itself through these collaborations.

It is great that I have flexibility to work from my own house. Though sometimes it can be challenging to not have peers around that can give you instant feedback.

How does your work benefit the society?

Science is wonderful, inside the lab, outside the lab. It is the tool using which human curiosity and wonder can find its answers. Sometimes, education robs us of the compassion and joy of curiosity.  Teachers and science communicators are engaging with each other, increasingly, to overcome this. 

My work is ultimately about bringing science in a more engaging and joyous way to the audience. So I am creating a space for scientific community to reach out to wider audiences through my imagery. We need more scientific temperament in our society, an acceptance for inquiry based method and ability to distil anecdote from evidence. My work is a small way of making science acceptable and relatable through the joy, simplicity and beauty of images.

With workshops and courses I am able to share ideas on confluence of science and art with a younger audience and potentially future science artists and illustrators.

 Your advice to students based on your experience?

Think more about learning rather than scoring marks. Scoring marks without really learning is not really useful.

Talk to a lot of people. You should learn more about people, their stories not only as an inspiration for your career development but to also understand how to be a better person.

Your goals should be aligned not only towards professional growth but also towards personal growth.

Make friends with people that are smarter than you. Challenging yourself allows growth. 

Read more than is expected from you for school.

It is always okay to change your mind and your path. If today you are studying science, you can do humanities tomorrow. World processes need knowledge from different ‘subjects’, so you can study different disciplines at the same time or across time and be relevant to the world.

When thinking about college and education after school, do not just look for brand names. Look for resources like libraries, good faculties, rich subjects, decent college atmosphere and so on.

Please read more about Ipsa’s work: