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Arts & Science

By: 
Jena Donnell
Sunday, December 12, 2021

The studies of arts and sciences are often thought to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, utilizing either the left brain or right. But in the field of biology, art and science have long gone hand-in-hand. Early naturalists often sketched their discoveries, field guides are typically built around illustrations, and science courses have occasionally incorporated sketching into the curricula.

This illustration of a northern hog sucker, a fish found in northeastern Oklahoma streams, shows the fish's downturned mouth, barring, and overall body shape. (Kurt Kuklinski)

When Wildlife Department supervisor Kurt Kuklinski arrived in Oklahoma in 1999 to study ichthyology at the University of Oklahoma, he anticipated long hours in the field studying minnows, bass, and darters. And while he logged plenty of time wading our state's streams and rivers, he also spent several hours learning about fish in the Sam Noble Museum

"Sketching fish was a requirement of my ichthyology courses with Dr. Bill Matthews," Kuklinski said. "As part of our weekly labs, the entire class would go over to the museum and pull fish specimens from the collection to sketch." 

Kuklinski not only became familiar with the museum and its collection, but he and his fellow classmates also learned the distinguishing features of the various fish they sketched. 

"There were probably 15 students in the class. As we sketched, we were talking about which field marks should be accentuated in our drawings. That later translated into being able to more quickly identify our field collections." 

When Kuklinski first began the assignment in Jan. 2000, he initially struggled with the basic outlines and proportions of his sketches. But by the end of the semester, he felt much more comfortable with those aspects and was including many more details in his sketches. 

"I didn't realize that at the time. But when I showed my 13-year-old son the sketchbook, it was one of the first things he noticed. He told me 'Dad, you got a lot better sketching over time.'

Scroll through pages of Kuklinski's sketchbook.

“And it’s true. The first illustrations are pretty simple, but by the end I was adding more distinguishing features and details. I can flip to the lab where we drew buffalofish and actually pick out the differences between the smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo, and black buffalo.

“This sketchbook is just another example of how Dr. Matthews and his wife and fellow professor Dr. Edie Marsh-Matthews influenced my life and career. I was really fortunate to have ended up in their orbit.”

Looking for more fish tales and facts? Swim along with the @OkWildlifeDept on our social media channels for #25DaysofFishmas!

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