Science Illustrated – Q&A with Aviva Reed

April 11th, 2019

Aviva Reed is a visual ecologist and children's book illustrator whose exquisite illustrations can be found in the Small Friends Books series. We've asked Aviva to tell us a little about her inspiration and creative process.
Aviva Reed working at desk with plant leaves in foreground

Aviva at work in her studio (photo: Briony Barr)

Aviva Reed is a visual ecologist and collaborator with the art-science collective known as Scale Free Network, who have partnered with us to release the Small Friends Books series.

The series, which so far includes Zobi and the Zoox, and The Squid, The Vibrio and The Moon, combines cutting-edge scientific research, rich narrative and exquisite illustrations, to tell stories that describe symbiotic partnerships between microbes and larger life forms.

Black and white headshot of Aviva Reed

Aviva Reed – visual ecologist, artist and illustrator (photo supplied by illustrator)

We asked Aviva to share with us a little bit about her inspirations and her creative process.


Who or what inspired you to become an artist and illustrator?

I became an artist/ illustrator for a few reasons. I actually have a science background and drawing the information helped me to understand the complexity of ecology and also to remember the information. I also realised that it was an amazing way to inspire people about scientific ideas. I was also inspired as a child by Jeannie Baker, the collage artist who made Where the Forest Meets the Sea, and as an adult by Shaun Tan who made The Rabbits.


Do you think science illustration requires a different creative approach?

A lot of research. I spend nearly as much time doing the research as I do drawing the images. With Small Friends Books we spend months researching, imagining and discussing how to portray certain ideas. We do use a little bit of creative license, but predominantly try to respond to scale and make visible the invisible ideas around matter cycles, energy and relationships.

Can you share a photo of your studio or work space and tell us why you like to create there?

I like to create in nature, in the field. Otherwise, I work in my studio with great light and plants around me.

Artist table in outside location with river view

Inspired by nature (photo: Aviva Reed)

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

Actually, it is the eyes closed part, the bit where I have done the research and try and put it all together in my mind’s eye, using my imagination. Every work I make, I visualise the image in my mind before I start. I seek to visualise the composition and palette before I start to try and capture a story.

Sepio, a baby bobtailed squid, from The Squid, the Vibrio, and the Moon

Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring illustrators?

Keep drawing every day, surround yourself with inspiration, and stay curious.


The Small Friends Books are a series we’ve co-published with Scale Free Network (external link) – be on the look out for more titles in the series, later this year!