Scientific Sketching—amazing artwork in the bio labs of IDIBAPS, Barcelona

An urban life drawing event in Barcelona inspired the staff at IDIBAPS, a center dedicated to research in the field of biomedicine. In the fall of 2014, the doors to the labs were opened for drawing artists—with stunning results.


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This book is the result—link below. Image by Sagar.

Sketching is the art of urban life drawing. In July 2013 Barcelona hosted the Fourth International Symposium of this discipline. From a subject linked to Barcelona, anyone was invited to enjoy and learn sketching and show his or her personal view of the city. These workshops included an introduction to drawing and a guided tour—notebook in hand—to draw on location.

The promoter was Zahorí de Ideas and the company was also responsible for the campaign BCN Dibuixa, a series of workshops held from different civic centres in Barcelona for the City Hall. The staff at IDIBAPS found the idea very attractive:

“These experiences led us to consider organising an action of sketching in our laboratories,” says Marta Vidal at IDIBAPS Knowledge Management. “This could be a good adventure to open our doors to the public to draw our research center from inside.”

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Sketching by Swasky.


The IDIBAPS staff got in touch with Zahorí de Ideas and together they worked on the proposal to do something different and innovative: a sketching action about scientific topics.

According to Marta Vidal, there are few previous experiences of scientific sketching as was proposed in this project where people visit the IDIBAPS, draw the activites, and while learning produce drawings with annotations and project the knowledge acquired from the experience. This knowledge will be then presented through a book and an exhibition.

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Sketching by Christina Curto.


“The only necessary equipment for participants is a notebook, pencils, eraser, marker, pen, box of watercolours and brushes,” Marta Vidal says.” These are not new ingredients, it’s just an innovative and original recipe mixture resulting from this unique proposal that incorporates a form of street art in an environment of biomedical research. Art and Science hand in hand!”

Marta Vidal is sure that Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Charles Darwin would be scientist sketchers if they were alive:
“One with his laboratory notebooks full of drawings of neurons, and the other with his travel diaries, filled with animals from the Galapagos.”

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Sketching by Swasky.


Today, the sketching is a very trendy urban art, but has not yet entered the research centres as such:
“It’s an excellent and fun way to open research to the society and also an original project that links art and science,” Marta Vidal says. “It offers young scientists a unique opportunity to learn how to explain scientific concepts to a lay audience.”

• • • • •

Marta Vidal’s three pieces of advice to scientists who want to cooperate with sketch artists:

  1. Be simple, visual and graphic. Don’t be too abstract, choose items or tasks which are visually appealing and interesting to draw because sketching art is about reporting what you see in situ.
  2. Get prepared ahead of time and adapt your scientific vocab to “normal” words.
  3. Learn from sketchers!

• • • • •

Urban Sketchers Manifesto:

We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel. Our drawings are a record of time and place. We are truthful to the scenes we witness. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles. We support each other and draw together. We share our drawings online. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

• • • • •

“Good drawings, like good slides, are pieces of reality, scientific documents that retain their value indefinitely and whose review is always helpful, whatever the interpretations given.”
Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Nobel Prize in medicine 1906)

• • • • •

The book is published in pdf format under the Creative Commons license. You are most welcome to distribute the link! The Scientific Sketching project is an initiative of IDIBAPS, in collaboration with Zahorí de Ideas and the support of FECYT .

About IDIBAPS: L’Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer is a translational research center founded in 1996 in Barcelona. We are a public entity, part of the Research Centres of Catalonia (CERCA), with a community of more than 1,000 professionals, including researchers and technical and management support staff, working to improve people’s health.

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