Who is she and how did she get here?
As someone with 18 years experience in the fashion industry, Liz Ewings has spent most of her life drawing and painting. It wasn’t until sitting down in Southern California with, “Oh gosh, what was it called, it’s Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman and… Oh, The Core. It’s called The Core.” and a 40th birthday spent whale watching in Australia that she truly realized her passion for whales and oceanography, the main theme of her creative work today.
“It was out in the early 2000s and a bunch of scientists were going to figure out what’s going on with the earth’s core … somehow they ended up following whales down to the bottom of the ocean to find out what’s going on and” before she knew it, she found herself back in Seattle enrolled in the Natural Science Illustration program up here at the UW. It is a program focused on “really precise, hardcore illustration which [she] liked and has inspired [her] natural science artworks.” This led smoothly into oceanography school and even her acceptance into a masters program in Marine Sciences down in Louisiana. Eight months into the program, however, she realized that “[she] didn’t really like it so came back to Seattle and decided to paint plankton. Hahaha so that’s what all this is.”
It was while taking painting classes for fun at Pratt, that she met Jane, the founder of the ’57 Biscayne studios now located here at the Good Arts Building in Pioneer Square. “I’ve taken several classes from [Jane] and started coming to her life drawing group and I sorta kept an eye on this studio. Glad I did!”
What is she working on now?
Oil paintings of magnified plankton species! How niche is that? Speaking of the still drying paintings hanging in her studio, she said they were “from plankton that I caught in Puget Sound. I was out with Ocean Inquiry Project – a nonprofit that take school kids out. They do ocean education so it’s oceanographers that take mostly school kids but sometimes teachers groups out … and let them see what it’s like. So while we were out there I was like trying to man the plankton station, or woman the plankton station, and I took some home with me.”
To catch them, they use a big mesh net and drop it down into the water. They use a winch for part of the process because zooplankton – animal plankton – like to go deep during the day so you have to tow up from about 50 meters. To catch phytoplankton which photosynthesize, they can scoop them up with a hand net since they hang out closer to the surface. “They don’t swim away [like zooplankton] so it’s a little easier,” she laughs.
From there, she takes the plankton to the UW and photographs them under a microscope in their oceanography lab. Everything she’s working on now was from plankton that she collected last spring.
Where does she see herself in the future?
“Oh wow. What’s next, well I’m applying for public art projects because I want to do a mural. Or maybe do a storefront installation because I do these multi-panel pieces mostly and I think it would be fun to have those in a storefront.” She’s also exploring the possibilities of incorporating some of her smaller pieces into textiles but is still developing what that might entail.
If she could paint a mural anywhere, she would want to have it someplace near the new waterfront construction, right next to the Puget Sound. While she jokes about never being able to reach the peak she felt that first time she saw whales in person in Australia, there is no doubt in our minds that Liz has many more thrilling natural science stories ahead of her.