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Illustrator enjoys capturing the natural world

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Mark Klingler is a scientific illustrator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. His new book, “Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C.,” is coming out in April.

When choosing a career path, Mark Klingler was torn between his two very different loves: art and nature.

Fortunately, he found a profession that's allowed him to do both. Klingler, a scientific illustrator for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, creates images for research publications, lectures, media and international exhibits.

“I try to depict them in a manner that tells a story that engages you somehow,” says Klingler of Lower Burrell.

Klingler, the son of a landscaper father and florist mother, grew up in New Jersey. His parents had 11 children, and Klingler's family played an important role in his love of nature. A few brothers practiced taxidermy as a hobby, and one also raised butterflies.

“I was enamored with that,” Klingler says.

Then, a 50-cent purchase led to a lifetime love. His brother bought a field guide to butterflies and moths. Klingler spent hours poring over the material, learning all that he could, and replicating images in his drawings. He went on to study graphic design at Carnegie Mellon University, then received a master's in arts management also at CMU. He also holds a post-baccalaureate certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in painting and sculpting.

“I chose art because it is a gift,” he says. “I wanted to develop that and see what happens.”

Today, Klingler raises butterflies and moths with his daughter, and creates informational booklets on moths with his wife, Cathy, who also works at the museum.

When drawing a “critter,” as Klingler likes to call his subjects, he pays particular attention to each organism's facial features and posture.

“People connect with the eye,” he says.

If he doesn't have a specimen, he relies on photographs or online images. Sometimes, he'll build small sculptures to help him capture angles. Drawings can take many hours, depending on their complexity.

In addition to his work at the museum, Klingler does freelance work for scientific publications. His latest venture for Johns Hopkins University Press, “Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C.” by Howard Youth, will debut in April. The book features 100 illustrations of plant and animal species found around the D.C. area. Klingler also illustrated 2007's “Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City.”

Youth describes Klingler's style as “vibrant.”

“His combination of accuracy and colors brings the subjects to life,” Youth says. “His work very much complements what we're trying to do with the text. The end product is something unique.”

Klingler can find inspiration anywhere. One picture in the guide depicts a wood duck, based on a memory Klingler has of watching one on a creek. The idea for its setting in the water came from a photograph Klingler took of fall trees reflecting on a parking-lot puddle.

Klingler also hopes to generate enthusiasm for his field. He teaches classes and gives lectures on his work around the region.

“I hope to inform people about the critters and scientific illustration and, hopefully, inspire them somehow,” he says.

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