Outdoor Palette: David Goodsell

“Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero. The Ebola Virus, 23” x 12,” watercolor on 300-pound Arches paper, 2014

Like many artists, David Goodsell’s work is born of careful observation of the natural world; his landscapes just happen to be molecular – the world he presents is measured in nanometers. Unlike many artists, Goodsell is also a scientist, in his case an associate professor in molecular biology at the Scripps Research Institute in California. His research focuses on the study of cellular structure and function. By combining art and science, Goodsell is able to achieve a powerful teaching tool – an image that can realistically express a spectacularly complex organism that is beyond our ability to see. Most images depict the subjects at a magnification of 1:2,000,000.

Goodsell culls information from the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank – a repository of protein structures that have been discovered over the last half-century by biologists and biochemists around the world. Using this scientific support, along with artistic license, he paints large, highly detailed watercolor paintings that show the complex structure of a cell. In order to do this, some information must be eliminated. The resulting images balance scientific research and intuitive understanding to create gorgeous images of the building blocks of life. For students, scientists, and laymen, his watercolors beautifully describe an enormous part of the world heretofore hidden from us.

Goodsell is the winner of a 2016 Wellcome Image Award for his painting of the Ebola virus. The painting was created for the “Molecule of the Month” series at the Protein Data Bank. The awards recognize the creators of the most informative, striking, and technically excellent images that communicate significant aspects of biomedical science. A video about David and his art can be seen here.

David Goodsell is the author of several books, including Atomic Evidence: Seeing the Molecular Basis of Life (Springer, 2016) and The Machinery of Life (Springer-Verlag, 2009).


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