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Biological illustration assignment


Biological drawing assignment (2017)
Sections A1 and A5, March 7, 2017 before 4:00 pm
Sections A2 and A6 -
March 8, 2017 before 4:00 pm.
Sections A3 and A7, March 9, 2017 before 4:00 pm
Sections A4 and A8 -
March 10, 2017 before 4:00 pm.
Bonus assignment for all sections is due date is February 27, 2017 before 4:00PM

Please note: Late assignments will not be accepted and will result in a mark of 0. You and your partner may not use the same specimen, they must be different slide numbers. You may not use your lab partner to peer review your assignment. You may only use pictures that you and your lab partner took and saved to the H drive of your computer station. These will be forwarded to you. This step is necessary to insure that students submit their own pictures and that we have backed up copies of your files if you loose your material. By all means transfer the files from the H drive to a jump drive if you have one, but be sure that they stay on the computer's drive. If not they can't be used. You may not use anyone else's pictures.

The Digital Dog ate my assignment: Computer failure or malfunction is usually not an excuse for a late assignment. There are circumstances where this will be accepted. Just like a doctors note is acceptable for personal illness, if you have a computer malfunction take it to a specialist, have it fixed and present the bill describing the problem and fix - a digital doctor's note. You should be backing up regularly so "I lost everything" won't be acceptable. Here's a hint, keep the critical material on your Science account and access it from home using web folders. This way the University is doing the back-up for you.


The biological illustration assignment is not as easy as you might think. There are a lot of things to look up, read and do. Be sure you understand just what you need to do, how and when it has to be done by. The secret don't leave it until the last minute. There are lots of resources to help you find your way through the assignment. They include the marking grids that will be used to evaluate your assignment, samples of good and bad drawings along with an explanation of why they got the mark they did. There are also my own comments about the submissions with suggestions for improvement.

Biologists still have to draw things and it's actually a lot easier  than you might think, or have been lead to believe from previous experiences. For this lab ignore everything you've been told about drawings! Even when I was an undergraduate they had us staring down a scope and trying to create a masterpiece "free hand" on a blank piece of paper. It's not the way its done and you'll find out more in the BioLabo module on biological drawings.

In this lab we're going to create a biological drawing of a cross section through the anemone Metridium and include with it a detailed view of the free end of an incomplete septa. Because of the size of the cross section it is impossible to get it all into one shot on the compound microscope and you will need to take a series of pictures and use them to create a whole cross section. You need to use the compound scope to see the details of the body and septal walls that will be an important part of your illustration - detail you won't get with the dissection scope. What are some of the other times when a drawing has to be used instead of a photograph? Quite often it is impossible to see all of the specimen because it is too thick. As the focal plane moves through the specimen different parts are in focus at different locations. A series of pictures can be used and just the parts that are in focus can be traced giving a illustration in full focus. That's one of the things that you might not have know. Most biological drawings are traced. 

Here is a second bit of information that never seems to make it to students. The biological drawing is usually drawn at between one and a half to twice the final size. That way any minor imperfections in the lines are not as obvious and the detail appears much finer. So in this assignment we're going to prepare a biological illustration that would span a column in the scientific journal - The Canadian Journal of Zoology. Visit the Canadian Journal of Zoology and look over the instructions to authors, in particular the instructions concerning illustations. In the instructions you'll see how a scientist has to prepare illustrations and a manuscript.


  • Learn about when and why biological drawings are used.
  • Learn the steps required to make a publication quality biological illustration.

Drawing 35/50 pts

Specimens that you will use to photograph for your biological illustration will be available in the Cnidarian lab. Make a note of the slide number that you use and be sure you take enough pictures to have all the parts in focus. Remember lab partners may not use the same slide. If you need to take additional photographs during the lab on February 1,2 and February 8,9. For this part of the assignment hand in your final illustration and caption along with a cover page with your name students number and lab section.

  • The drawing consists of a single illustration with two components or panels: a cross section of Metridium and a detailed view the free end of an incomplete septa. The two panels are labeled panel A and panel B and the whole is a single figure. Because the magnification will be different between the panels each will require its own scale bars.
  • The final drawing you hand in will be a reduced copy of the ink sketch with hand written labels (Note: Canadian Journal of Zoology does not allow hand written labels but we will permit them for the assignment). The original ink drawing will be handed in with the portfolio but we need a photocopy of this with the drawing part of the assignment.
  • The final drawing you hand in is a labeled illustration is designed to fit in a maximum 3.4 inch wide and, a maximum9.2 inch high column of Canadian Journal of Zoology. Remember that this includes the labels! You don't have to fill the whole space you can be either one or two columns wide. The width and  height will vary depending on the illustration. Take a look in the Canadian Journal of Zoology for examples. Many drawings in the journal are a quarter or half page and this size may be more appropriate for your drawing.
  • Canadian Journal of Zoology uses two conventions for labels. One is to sequentially label the structures as A, B, C, D etc. The second, which is the common practice for studies in morphology, is to incorporate the letters from the structures name into the label. Since our drawings are morphological drawings we will use the latter convention for our labels.
  • Includes a scale bar as required and in a form acceptable to the Canadian Journal of Zoology
  • Includes a figure caption consistent with captions in Canadian Journal of Zoology. Note Canadian Journal  of Zoology requires that Figure captions be placed on a separate page titled Figure captions. (Indicate in the caption the slide number of your specimen)

Portfolio 15/50 pts

The portfolio part of the project is something you may not have seen before. It's a way for us to follow how you get from the start to the end of an assignment. It's also an opportunity for you to take a moment or two to think about what it is you are doing in the assignment, and why.

Essentially a portfolio contains key information to demonstrate how you completed your assignment. It's always been a bit of a mystery to me how different students can take exactly the same set of instructions for an assignment and come up with totally different submissions. There are a variety of possible explanations. One I've come across is an analogy to the party game where each person whispers to the next a phrase and as it passes down the line what was said at the start doesn't match what comes out at the other. This happens when students assumes that someone else has properly summarized the instructions for an assignment. Another explanation, trying to get it done the night before and being unable to master the tools required to complete the assignment in the time available.

The portfolio part of your assignment should only contain relevant materials. Notice how it says relevant materials! It's not a catch all for everything that you did, it shows the steps with selected examples. For example you may actually do that first tracing more than once to get it down right. I found it hard to get comfortable with the using a pencil to get a nice smooth line or to make two joining lines close nicely. I had to practice that a bit. We don't need to see this, but would like to hear about it in your written part. Similarly if it takes you six tries at the photocopier we don't want to see all six copies but might find it interesting to find out what was causing the problem.

Some things that are typically included in a portfolio:

  • The original copies of the photos you took and a log of why each was taken - what were you highlighting in each?
  • The file names for  the photos used to create your drawing. We will be checking them so be sure they match.
  • The final pencil tracing composite from the photos before reduction.
  • The final ink copy of the drawing and all labels before reduction
  • A time log of what you did and when, or better yet a timeline of what you'll do to get the assignment in on time
  • Information on how you calculated the scale bars
  • Results of Online searches related to the assignment. Notes from reading materials - what you learned, what was new and its source. A photocopy doesn't indicate that you extracted anything from the materials that were copied. Photocopies or highlighted photocopies of research will not be accepted.
  • For the peer review of your work, email a copy of your final images along with the captions to another student in the course, NOT your lab partner, and include PORTFOLIO2135 in the subject line of your email. Send a CC to me ( so that we have a record of the email. The material you send out for peer reviews should be what you hope is the final material, NOT the intermediate steps; it’s a waste of reviewer’s time if they see the material in bits and pieces.
  • You will also be asked to review another student’s final images and captions. When you do this use ‘Reply’ to the email you receive and include my email address in the CC field. Don’t create a new email, this way the PORTFOLIO2135will remain in the subject line.
  • Do not include copies of emails in your portfolio; instead, have the feedback for peer reviews organized as a single document. This should include filename and what advice you chose to use or ignore for each image. A problem in previous years was the mountain of paper we had to wader through to actually find the reviews. Check out a sample of 'Reviews Given' and 'Reviews Received' here. These samples are of photographs but the layout applies for this assignment as well.
  • Things you liked or disliked about the assignment, suggestions for improvement
  • How did you decide on the labels, on what did you base your information on.
  • A table of contents for the portfolio
  • A copy of the marking scheme showing you knew what was required.

Some things you wouldn't put in the portfolio:

  • A print out of every picture you took
  • Every single sketch you did as you prepared the illustrations
  • Photocopies of websites or Acrobat files summarize them in note form.
  • We will be counting up the total number of pages in your portfolio and how many of them actually meet the requirements of the assignment. The ratio will be used to adjust your final mark. If you have 25 pages and they are all relevant there will be no reduction in the grade. If you 100 pages and only 25 are relevant to the assignment you will have your marked reduced.

Bonus: increase your grade by 20%

If you have everything in place the biological drawing can be done in a couple of nights. For those of you who are organized and want to get this done and out of the way so you can move on to other things you can hand in your assignment early and get a bonus of 20%. If you get 75% we'll add another 15% to your grade

What to hand in

Your final biological illustration is handed in separately from the portfolio. Each should have a cover page with your name, student number and lab section. The marking grids clearly indicate what should be included in each..

Illustration resources

  • BIOLABo - Biological drawing
  • BIOLABo - Illustration essentials includes important information on labeling, scale bars and captions that will help with this assignment.
  • Tracing testimonials - Here are the thoughts and suggestions from three people that test drove the assignment.
  • Sample biological illustrations - The good, the bad and the ugly." A look at illustrations that made the grade and others that quite simply didn't.
  • Calculating scale bar length from photo from the compiund scope - PDF
  • Copy of the marking grid for the illustration  in PDF and MSword formats (Grids have been updated for 2017)
  • Copy of the marking grid for the portfolio in PDF and MSword formats (Grids have been updated for 2017)

© Jon G. Houseman. Permission required to reproduce or display this material