GNSI History

First GNSI logo (1972-1988), designed by George VenableThe Guild of Natural Science Illustrators began as a series of luncheons at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum. Staff illustrators Carolyn Bartlett Gast and Elaine R.S. Hodges organized the gatherings, which led to GNSI’s first constitution, completed on December 2, 1968.

Larry Isham, an illustrator of paleobiology at the Museum, was GNSI’s first president. The group shared ideas and information at monthly meetings, which evolved into a newsletter. These newsletters evolved into a GNSI landmark, the Journal of Natural Science Illustration. The first edition of the Journal was published in 1988, followed by new issues roughly every year. Recently, the Journal became a quarterly publication. 

 The early newsletters described illustration techniques that were copied and sent to new members by Elaine Hodges. In 1982, they evolved into a packet of Technique Sheets, which formed the basis for The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration. When finally published in 1989, the Handbook contained the collective wisdom of 45 artists and authors and 176 illustrations —  all the information needed to master scientific illustration. In 2003, a second edition of the Handbook was published, containing considerable additional information about computer graphics.

Portraits (circa 1968) of some of the founders and first officers of GNSI – from left to right: Elaine R.S. Hodges, Art Cushman, Elsie Froeschner, Larry Isham and Carolyn Bartlett Gast. Illustration by Trudy Nicholson.

In 1974, GNSI held its first Summer Workshop of Scientific Illustration in Washington D.C., supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School Special Projects Division. In 2009, the workshops took on a new form as the GNSI Educational Series. The first workshop in the Series was “Beginning Digital Illustration.” Today, workshops are held at many different locations usually once a year. 

Since it was founded in 1968, GNSI has expanded its membership 100-fold including many international members and formed local chapters across the U.S.