Submitted as part of the Women Mind the Water (WMW) digital stories project produced by Pam Ferris-Olson, in conjunction with Stories from Main Street and the traveling exhibition "Water/Ways." This story is one in a series created for a podcast in 2020, featuring regional artists whose inspiration blends conversation, activism, science, and water. Find earlier stories from the WMW initiative by searching for "Women Mind the Water" on this website.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:00): The Women Mind the Water podcast engages artists in conversation about their work and explores their connection with the ocean. Through these stories, Women Mind the Water hopes to inspire and encourage action to protect the ocean and her creatures. Today I am speaking with Kate Hruby. Kate describes herself as a sailor and artist who likes to spend her days looking for whales, teaching kids, and drawing marine life. Kate is the founder and creator of the website and podcast Go Forth and Science. Kate's creations are designed to communicate science in a fun and easily understood way. Welcome, Kate. Let me start by asking about your journey. How did you become an artist?
Kate Hruby (00:47): Well, hello. It is good to be here. And in terms of this question, I do have a stance in my brain that everybody is an artist, they just have to claim it and own it. And so I think that I claimed that I was an artist pretty early on in life. I started drawing when I was a kid and lots of art classes, kindergarten through high school, and then kind of went on a hiatus in college. I didn't really do a lot of art. I was really focused on science. And then after college, after grad school, I started drawing again and reclaimed my title as an artist really after grad school.
Kate Hruby (01:47): They kind of evolved together in the sense that I really jumped into them at the same time. I read a lot of, I guess I read a lot of comics and web comics. And so I really started getting into comic art after grad school. And then I also started thinking about doing a podcast right after grad school. And so they kind of happened at the same time. And initially I was going about them in two different ways. I really wanted to show science through art in my comics. And then I really wanted to tie in adventure and science in the podcast. And so they kind of were also two different things. And then, because they ended up happening at the same time, they came together to become Go Forth and Science, and now they're very closely tied together. And a lot of my art revolves around topics that I cover in my podcasts.
Kate Hruby (02:56): Yeah. I guess I call it comic art because I don't really know what else to call it. I definitely, my art style is really colorful and there's pretty bold lines and outlines and details are pretty simple. I mean, I do always love going outside and entering what I see, but in terms of the art that I produce for Go Forth and Science, it's all much simpler than that. And so I guess that's kind of why I call it comic art is because it sort of mirrors things that you might see in comics or in comic books or in cartoons. And so that's sort of the art style that I have been leaning into with Go Forth and Science.
Kate Hruby (03:49): So for this question I will be talking about my latest coral reef drawing. And it's sort of one still in a series of drawings and animations and comics that I'm currently working on. So this is my latest project, and I'm really focusing on the challenges to coral reefs, both in sort of the current destruction that they're facing through fishing and through climate change and through increased storm activity. And so I'm focusing on the challenges to coral reefs, and then I'm also working on showing the successes that coral reefs have been having. There are a lot of coral reef restoration efforts around the world. And so while I want to talk about the sad things that are happening to coral reefs, I also really want to talk about the exciting restoration that's happening with coral reefs and the things that people are doing to ensure that they survive.
Kate Hruby (04:51): So, my drawing is a landscape of a coral reef and it shows the sunlight filtering through the water and then hitting lots of different species of coral, lots of different animals that are inhabiting this reef. This particular image is a image of a healthy coral reef. So this is sort of the one that I based all the rest of my animations and comics off of, either the end goal of what we want reefs to look like or what the reefs look like, unfortunately before they are destroyed in some way, shape or form. And so there's rays, there's damsel fish. There's all these different types of coral, there's clownfish. And it's really just this colorful, exciting, diverse ecosystem.
Kate Hruby (05:42): I did a lot of basing my work off of coral reefs in Indonesia, but I've also never been to Indonesia. I've never seen their color reefs. So it is sort of, it started as that. But then I based my work off of a lot of other knowledge of coral reefs that I have been to, such as coral reefs in Panama or Hawaii. And so some of the organisms that I have in this drawing are from Indonesia, but sort of the vibe and the feeling, a lot of that is based off of my own personal experiences in coral reefs otherwise. And I do want it to be an art piece that is relatable to coral reefs all across the world, because these challenges that coral reefs are facing are global challenges. And the restoration efforts that they're seeing are also global in nature.
Kate Hruby (06:38): I'm always a pretty big supporter of keeping things fun and engaging, even if it's a serious subject. I think that the more we make serious topics engaging to everyone, the more likely that they'll actually get talked about and things will happen relating to those objects. So in the case of coral reefs, especially obviously there's a lot of really bad things happening to coral reefs. But if we talk about them more in ways that aren't specifically scientific, if we talk about them in ways like with comic art, that maybe they're a little bit more lighthearted and fun to look at then a sad photo of a bleached coral reef. Then hopefully that can engage more people and get people involved that maybe not initially were interested in science.
Kate Hruby (07:32): And I feel like I've kind of look at the world in that way too. I try and find the best things, even in sad or difficult to talk about things. Climate change is a big one. I always try to look at the positives with climate change. Part of that might just be because I need to figure out ways to stay happy, even when I am talking about and studying all these really depressing things. But I think that's important for everybody to do as well. I think it's important for us to keep hope alive when we're talking about these hard things, because otherwise it's really easy to get lost in the sadness of it all.
Kate Hruby (08:13): I actually had never thought about doing animations until I worked with a nonprofit over in Washington State, Friends of the San Juans, to work on a campaign that they're trying to do in the San Juan Islands in Washington State to get people to be more aware of where they're anchoring and how that's disturbing ecosystems in that area. And so I was working with them specifically on sea grass and eelgrass in that area. And they were like, "Hey, do you think you can do some animations to show like hey, this is what happens when you anchor at eelgrass. This is what happens when you put moorings down in eelgrass."
Kate Hruby (08:53): And I was like, "Oh, hey, that's a really great idea," because these are really dynamic subjects and topics." And so to show the movement involved as well is really important. And so that's kind of where I got started on the animation things. And now I've been doing them with the coral reefs as well, sort of the same idea showing what happens when you toss an anchor down on top of a coral reef. And that's been really, really fun. It takes a different kind of work than the still images, though I do reuse a lot of things. So like the still image of the healthy reef that I was just talking about, I also use that for all of my animations as well.
Kate Hruby (09:34): But it's just the difference between, "Hey, here's a pretty still image," versus, "Hey, here is a dynamic image that shows what happens in these ecosystems when you throw an anchor down onto the reef or when you replant coral and it starts to grow back."
Kate Hruby (09:50): I do it pretty old school. So there's probably innovators out there that are like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe she does it this way." But I actually, I create GIFs. So each frame in the animation is a different image. So the way that I do this is I actually sort of build that still image for each frame and then plop that together.
Kate Hruby (10:15): All of these drawings that I've been doing lately have been digitally done on the computer. And so that makes it easier to build these animations as well, because I have each, like each of the animal and the drawing is like a separate layer and the water is a separate layer. And then I can go in and manipulate all of those different pieces of the image to then have those still images and make it look like it's moving.
Kate Hruby (10:45): I think it probably does subconsciously for sure. I think that ... I mean, I am the first to admit that I think that my working with kids has also just brought out a love of like teen novels and comics and TV shows and stuff like that, like probably are more along the reading level of the high schoolers that I teach rather than the adult scientists that are my colleagues. And so I think that to some extent that probably gets put into my art as well. And maybe one of the reasons why I love doing comic art so much, and I love drawing these highly, bold, colorful things is because a lot of the kids that I work with also enjoy reading comics and looking at those things as well.
Kate Hruby (11:45): Audience is important. I think audience is definitely important to every artist, even if they don't think about it consciously. I mean, especially in the time of social media, audience is what sustains a lot of us and during COVID, I mean, I can't say that I've worked with that many kids this year, but I interact with a lot of them over social media and through my art over central media. So I think that yes, audience is important. And I think that I, when I first started Go Forth and Science, my podcast has kind of generated more for like the millennial audience, me, like we're the ones that listen to the podcasts on our 45 minute commutes to work.
Kate Hruby (12:31): And then we go in our weekend ways and try and go have adventures outside on the weekends and whatnot. So I think that my podcast was kind of originally for that. But that being said, it's also been used in classrooms and stuff like that. And I love whenever classrooms can incorporate my podcast. And that is an important part for me in creating my podcasts is to make sure that it's also understandable for students who might listen to it in a classroom setting. And with my art I think that, I mean, I'm an adult who likes reading comics for kids. So probably I would like to hope that my art audience is diverse in terms of age, from kids to adults. Hopefully there are more of you out there who share in my passions of liking to read things like that.
Kate Hruby (13:36): Yeah, I think that for me, both with my podcasts and my digital drawings, I think it's really important just for me to inspire the people who are listening to it or looking at it to go and have an adventure or learn more about the world. I want people to get excited about science, even if they don't know that they're getting excited about science. And I want people to be encouraged to just go out, just step outside your door and look at the world in a little bit of a different way. You know, notice the worms on the sidewalk, and notice the birds flying in the sky, and notice how the rain runs off your roof and through your lawn. And just kind of look at all of these things that maybe before you listened to my podcast or looked at my art maybe you didn't notice as much.
Pam Ferris-Olson (14:32): All right. Well, Kate it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for participating in the Women Mind the Water podcast. I have been speaking with Kate Hruby for the Woman Mind the Water podcast series. This series can be viewed on womenmindthewater.com. An audio only version of this podcast is also available on the Women Mind the Water website and on iTunes. This is Pam Ferris-Olson. Thank you for listening.
Asset ID: 2020.01.05
Themes: Women Mind the Water, art, artists, science, digital art, COVID, climate change, science education, STEAM
Date recorded: November 6, 2020
Length of recording: 14:58 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Women Mind the Water Digital Stories Project, Maine
More information: https://womenmindthewater.com/