Spotlight: Jill Pelto - DATA, ART & A CAUSE

When I recently read about Jill Pelto an artist and scientist and her work I was instantly captivated.  Why, you ask?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  Pelto a graduate of the University of Maine with a double major in Studio Art and Earth Science brings awareness about our beautiful planet, nature and the wilderness by taking climate data and turning it into art and she is doing this by combining two areas of studies: Art and Science. This excites me because being a student of both fields myself I have often pondered about how I could combine the two to create something that spoke to me and to others and it's encouraging and wonderful to see her fuse her love and passion for both. Art is a great way of explaining science, showing us the facts and nuances in a different perspective and that is exactly what Jill Pelto has done. Her art has a serene and soft feel but at the same time has impact. It is literally integrated with scientific data by way of graphs. There is a balance of beauty and message in each piece. It is absolutely beautiful. 

I recently had the privilege of asking her about her work and getting her thoughts on art, science and creativity. She was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions after returning from her research trip recently on the British Columbia Glaciers.


CS: Why choose the form of art to talk about your scientific research?

JP: Most simply because I have always been foremost an artist, and art develops a lot of creativity and observation: two skills that translate really well in the sciences. The Earth Sciences revolve around our natural world, and I feel that art is the only thing that can truly capture the wonders, severities, and oddities of our planet. The visual is very important: many people respond to art, but not to a scientific paper. My art can show the basic important information of environmental issues, but is also expressive through its beauty and story. My hope is that this combination of intellectual and emotional content will be meaningful to a broad audience. 

CS: How did you come up with the idea of integrating graphs and data into your artwork and what was the creative process behind that.

JP: I have been exploring effective ways to communicate both my and other’s research through art for several years, and plan to continue to do so throughout my whole career. I had the initial idea to incorporate graphs after I returned in August 2015 from my 7th consecutive year working on North Cascade glaciers with my father, Dr. Mauri Pelto, and his North Cascade Glacier Climate Project (NCGCP). The drought in Washington had absolutely devastated the glaciers and the surrounding ecosystem that summer, and I returned to Maine determined to create a series that could show people just how drastic these changes are. The NCGCP has been working on these glaciers since 1983, and this year when I was looking at the data collected and calculated over 33 years, I realized this sharply declining graph line would translate really well as the profile of a glacier. In this series I also made a piece of decreasing salmon populations, and increasing wildfire activity. I am thrilled by the responses by a broad audience: I’ve heard from people globally who responded to my work, from educators, and from scientists.

CS: How would you describe the connection between art and science? 

JP: Art and science both require a lot of creativity in order to make progress. Creative thinking and planning leads to new ideas, new approaches, and interesting discoveries. Both art and science are also driven by observation: what is happening in the world and how it can be depicted in art, studied through research, and shared and communicated with people. Scientists and artists are both passionate about understanding our world, but go about it in different ways. The scientist makes new discoveries and gains knowledge, and the artist can use their visual and/or audio skillset to share this. 


CS: How would you describe your creative process.

JP: My creative process is varied, and involves finding inspiration through determination. When I choose a topic that I want to make a piece of art about, the final image is the result of a lot of planning, research, and brainstorming. Creativity can come to me in a flash, but most of the time it comes when I continuously push my concept and my imagery. I draw lots of thumbnails sketches, jot down tons of ideas, and also like to think when I’m on a run or ski, using the outdoors and physical activity to help activate my mind. It can be challenging to make work about difficult and important topics, but my passion for environmental change inspires my creativity. 

CS: In your words what is creativity. How would define or describe it. What does it mean to you?

JP: Creativity to me is activating your brain, working it in order to think of something new or different. You can use your knowledge and life experience to combine ideas in really interesting ways. To me it applies to everything in life, even though it’s assigned to the arts. Creativity helps us to truly expand what we are capable of, and to me it is my most important skill, and one that I will never stop developing.

CS: What advice would you give to someone searching for ways to be creative in their lives.

JP: Be open to the power of determined thought. If you want to achieve something, think hard for as many days as it takes, and in whatever way works best: write down ideas, make word lists, draw, have a discussion, think during exercise. Activating your brain as much as you can allows creatively in all aspects of life.

CS: What projects are you currently working on?

JP: I am currently brainstorming several new projects while working on a watercolor about increasing Green Energy use in the United States. I want to do a piece about marine birds, and a piece about the rapid changes of the Greenland Ice Sheet. This summer (2016) I plan to create a lot of new work!

For more information about Jill Pelto or to view more of her amazing work you can visit