My recent trip to San Diego Comic Con was a cavalcade for the senses. Especially the visual parts of the old brain vat. Only there for a day, I felt the urge to see as much as I could, which meant dashing past a lot of interesting oddities. The one oddity that I found myself kicking myself for not stopping to really check out was the table for Doctor Mew — a fan art mash-up of Doctor Who and cats by the incredibly skilled illustrator Jenny Parks.
Since I didn’t take the time to talk with Parks at The Con — and even worse didn’t bother to pick up a set of the buttons which would have made me the most decorated of hipsters in Silver Lake — I did the next best thing and reached out to the artist afterward. Parks is an amazing artist who makes her living as a scientific illustrator, with work that can be found in iPhone apps for the National Parks service. I asked parks about the inspiration for Doctor Mew, her technique, and why she chose scientific illustration as her career focus.
TurnStyle: So when did the spark hit to mash up Doctor Who and cats?
Jenny Parks: Doctor Mew was born years before the new Doctor Who series began in 2006. I was a fan of (perhaps obsessed with) the old show when I was a teenager, and I did a lot of Doctor Who fan art at the time. The inspiration to make them all cats wasn’t something new to me, however. When I was much younger, I started drawing my favorite characters as cats for the simple reason that I didn’t draw people too well yet, so it was natural to me to turn them into cats instead. The logical progression from there once I became a Whovian was to do the same. I did find though, that there was something inherit about the connection between Doctor Who fans and cat lovers, and so I kept improving on the Doctor Mew image until it became the one it is today.
TS: How did you go about matching cat breed to Doctor incarnation? Because I have to say they are scary good.
JP: I did a lot of image searching for this. I knew all of their incarnations pretty well already and I’d been a cat-lover all my life, so I mostly acted on instinct when choosing the kind of cat to use for each. Sometimes I would match the fur color with their hair color, but at times that wouldn’t work, and so I chose a color that simply seemed to suit the character. Tom Baker was easy to figure out, with his head of curly hair and wide eyes, but I seem to remember the 2nd and 3rd Doctors to be particularly challenging. Matt Smith’s Doctor was an interesting one, but as he seemed quite tall and lanky, some sort of long, lean cat like an Abyssinian only seemed appropriate.
TS: For the Doctor pieces, are you doing traditional illustration or working digitally in some manner?
JP: It is all digital, drawn and painted in Photoshop. I found this the most effective and efficient way to draw them, especially considering it makes it far easier to add on extra Doctor-specific items, such as the 11th Doctor’s fez, or the 10th’s nerd-glasses.
TS: Which came first for you: science illustration or fantasy fandom?
JP: Considering I have been drawing since I was very young, I would have to say that both of them grew together. But I didn’t think about going seriously into science illustration until my senior year of art school, when I realized that all I really wanted to draw was animals. Once I got my BFA from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, I took a yearlong certificate program at UC Santa Cruz for scientific illustration, but while I enjoy the technical aspects of real subjects, it is always fun and refreshing to delve into the fantastical and indulge in my fandom. So I have always kept that part of my art alive, both sides often feeding into each other.
TS: With science illustrations – do you work from photo reference? Extensive observation?
I do use a lot of photo reference, which is handy for a few reasons. One is that animals hardly ever hold still (unless they are sleeping of course, but that isn’t always too interesting), and two, there are plenty of subjects that I draw that are hard to find first hand observations of, like critically endangered species and other elusive animals. But I do use plenty of observation of the real thing when I get the chance, like if I know the animal I am researching is at the zoo, or if the nearby museum has a stuffed specimen or a fossil I can work from. But overall, watching an animal in real life is very beneficial for capturing that animal’s essence, the way it moves and how it carries its weight when it walks, all things that are very hard to see when looking at a simple photograph.
TS: Dinosaurs must be different, is there a degree of artistic leeway there, or some kind of intense forensics going on?
JP: It is a little bit of both. I definitely use a lot of research for the bone structure and the skin texture, but for most dinosaurs, we don’t know the coloring or pigment of their skin (with a few exceptions due to some recent discoveries), and so it becomes largely up to the artist. But while it can be up to one’s imagination, I also take into account the environment the animal would have lived in, whether it was a carnivore, omnivore or herbivore, and what kind of lifestyle it could possibly have lived. All of these factors could contribute to a dinosaur’s coloring. So, what I usually do is turn to living animals that have similar environments or eat the similar kinds of things, and consider what the colors do to help that animal survive. By doing that, I can reasonably hypothesize that the dinosaur may have a similar color. Even so, in the end it is all kind of a big guess. But to me, that is part of the fun of it.
TS: You’ve covered The Doctor, Dexter, and Lord of the Rings… are there other fictional universes we might see your work inspired by soon?
JP: I have asked fans of Doctor Mew what they would like to see made into cats or some other animals, and some of the suggestions I have gotten include: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Firefly, and I have been toying with the idea of Game of Thrones… In other words, much to look forward to!