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Elvia Esparza or the pictorial mimesis of nature

Text by Mar Gámiz

First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies […] Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the colouring, or some such other cause.

-Aristotl, Poetics, §4.


Límulus visited Elvia Esparza in her study at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) Biology Institute, where she has worked since the seventies. In constant dialogue with other researchers, Elvia has learned from them, while her eyes and hands have become essential for the popularization of “barren” topics (although speaking of hot and humid climates, the scientific language may be hermetic and sometimes heavy) even to reveal to the researcher certain texture, bump or cavity, that he or she failed to see before.

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The talent and experience of Elvia make her the best and most prepared Mexican scientific illustrator. If Helia Bravo Hollis is considered as the pioneer of scientific illustration in Mexico (aside of being the founder of the Biology Institute), Elvia Esparza has multiplied the efforts to create spaces for training new scientific illustrators. Since this discipline has no college degree, but merely a specialized program that artists or biologists with multidisciplinary interests attend… a specialization acquired in the courses and workshops Elvia has imparted.

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Although the descriptive writing of species has changed throughout history, their illustration has remained true to its original techniques: graphite for general sketches, but also for animals that aren’t defined by their color, but by certain parts and textures, such as insects; and watercolor and ink for the difficult task of representing color.

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She has also been true to her goal: the recognition of species that are being represented, for although the same plant or the same animal has been drawn, variations characteristic of each illustrator’s style may be found; but the objectiveness must prevail for the illustration to be called “scientific” and serve the purposes of divulgation and support.

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There is no doubt that photography is also an important support for the popularization of scientific research, and occasionally even serves as reference for illustrators. Nor is there any doubt about the time saving the computer allows for these purposes. However, Elvia is convinced that manual and artistic scientific illustration will not disappear, mainly because of the detail it accomplishes, the beauty and the hard work that each drawing encloses.

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Elvia knows that she was born to dedicate her life to represent nature. She is observant, patient and talented; she recognizes the power behind images and is actively involved with the pictorial mimesis of nature.


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