A birthday and the illuminated “Origin of Species”

March 23, 2012 • 6:18 am

Today’s the birthday of artist and biological illustrator Kelly Houle, who will spend the day working on her stupendous hand-lettered and hand-illuminated copy of The Origin of Species. The project will take several years, and, though I’ve mentioned it before, I thought I’d bring it up once more while giving her a shout-out.  You can wish her happy birthday, but I bet she’d like it better if you’d donate to the project!

I’m a huge fan of this endeavor and have supported it in both on this website and in a pecuniary way. You can donate here, either via a direct PayPal contribution or by purchasing some of the great spinoff items that Kelly has created to support her work. For only $250 you can get an 8″ X 10″ hand-painted and illuminated version of a beetle of your choice.  And the greeting cards, with an embossed gold “tree of life” (the one drawn by Darwin in his notebooks), are less pricey but lovely.

Follow the work’s progress at Kelly’s “Illuminated Origin of Species” Facebook page. I’ve taken the liberty of lifting two posts from her page:

Here is a snapshot of the stages of a typical beetle painting. You can see the beetle specimen in the top center, the line drawing and color map in the lower left, my watercolor sketchbook in the upper left with color studies in stages with notes (so I can easily paint it again on the table of contents page later), paint mixes in the upper right, and a Daniel Smith “dot card” with small amounts of iridescent paints on the lower right.

And her latest beetle:

I finished three more beetle paintings this week! This Photuris lucicrescens, or firefly, really glows with a halo of shell gold. Framed prints of this adopted beetle painting will be available by next week. I’ll post more information soon.

19 thoughts on “A birthday and the illuminated “Origin of Species”

  1. I wish I could afford the book…Oh well, it’s Ric Ocasek’s birthday today too and I can afford something by him, so let the goodtimes roll…

  2. Wow – ‘A Beetle of my choice’ –

    I’ll take George Harrison if he’s still available?

        1. It took me a day, but I got it. Woah, Ben, that is obscure. My sister drove a single-oval-window Beetle, lemon yellow, pre-petrol-guage. When it ran out, you turned on the reserve tank with an L-shaped tap on the footboard in the middle by the pedals.

    1. Sorry, only choices left are Ringo or Paul. Of the two, I’d go with Ringo.

      Of course, if you’re lookin for a deal, I don’t think Pete Best is doing anything…

  3. Just back from Stockholm, where I happened to pass the Gärdet station on the (orange) T13 line – last station before the end at Röpsten. I didn’t have a chance to stop, but the relevance is that much of the artwork on the platform there is based on beetles, some looking much like the illustration above. Why a beetle theme there I have no idea, and unfortunately, there seem to be few pix of this online.

  4. A gene luciferase (Lucifer the light-bearer), coding for an enzyme in fireflys, is co-transfected into a mammalian cell line along with some other gene’s promoter region to indirectly quantify that promoter’s strength as the bursts of light emitted (and measured) are proportional to mRNA levels.

  5. Isn’t there a risk that the existence of such a book will be used by the theists as evidence that evolution is just as much a faith as creationism, and OtOoS[bMoNSotPoFRitSfL] is its Holy Book? But it’s a lovely idea. Will there ever be an unlimited edition?

    1. Thank you, Shuggy. I’m sure they’ll say that, but this book has nothing to do with the supernatural. This project celebrates the natural world and the ability of science to help us understand it. Anyone who believes that science is equivalent to faith does not understand science.

      The Illuminated Origin will be published as a free eBook, and I hope there will be a print edition published as well.

      1. [T]his book has nothing to do with the supernatural.

        I wouldnt’t be too sure about that…I mean, have you looked at any of the illustrations? Definitely not the work of a mere mortal.



  6. I think what she (Kelly) is doing is just great. I am waiting for my full-size, 22×30-inch hand-painted, handwritten, hand-gilded title page of The Illuminated Origin of Species. I figured I would treat myself, since I may not be alive to witness the completion of the entire book. I imagine it will take her more than several years to complete the book.

    I want to frame the title page and hang it in the entry way of my home. Kind of like the idea of announcing to visitors that this is a house of reason.

  7. For only $250 you can get an 8″ X 10″ hand-painted and illuminated version of a beetle of your choice. 

    I’ll have one of a young John Lennon thanks.

  8. The greetings cards I got for my contribution are very nice too. I was abroad last New Year, so we didn’t distribute my half dozen. Maybe this year?

  9. Vaguely related, Ted Nield (editor, journalist and general writer-dogsbody for the Geological Society of London’s “in house magazine”) recently posted about this site :
    Which contains a collation of moaning marginalia written in hand-copied books by dispirited monks over the millennia.
    I like

    As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.

    Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.

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