Rats as visual elements

For Nisha’s upcoming methods paper, the main conceptual figure will require at least one representation of a laboratory rat – see this blog post for more details of the paper.

Up until this point, Gill had not regarded a lab rat as a visual element, but it is a key component of many conceptual figures that describe experimental methods. Therefore, Gill has been producing images of a range of rats, in various poses. In common with the images of a human head, described in this blog post, the images have been produced so that they are easily edited and adapted. Many different photographs of rats, not all of them lab rats, have been used to help create the images shown below. In order to make them consistent, they have all been coloured to represent an albino rat, although this colouring can easily be changed if necessary. The image is drawn in black line initially, with all of the internal details kept on a separate layer in Adobe Illustrator, so that the image can be easily simplified to a simple outline. The colour fill, either in greyscale and in colour, is also on a separate layer, so that it can be easily toggled off and on. As well as the standing rat, shown in the header image, two lying poses were produced, together with a close-up of a rat’s head in profile, as shown below:



Drawing the rats was relatively straightforward. However, adding the anatomical details required for Nisha’s paper – such as the nasal cavity and the brain –  proved much more difficult to a non-expert like Gill. Ideally, Gill wanted the internal organs to fit into the rat images she had already drawn but judging the size of the brain and olfactory organs to fit into the rat’s head was based on guesswork. References found via Google image varied greatly in their representation of the nasal cavity and there is no guarantee that what Gill has produced so far is anywhere close to accurate. The brain came from anatomical images that Gill had produced previously (see this blog post) but was simplified to fit in with the image shown below:

Please note that this image is almost certainly anatomically inaccurate


At this stage, Gill requires some additional scientific input to ensure that the images produced are sufficiently accurate for the paper. This situation also highlights the choice scientists make between anatomical and diagrammatic figures. Does it matter if there are anatomical inaccuracies or simplifications, as long as the viewer understands what the figure is designed to communicate?

2 Replies to “Rats as visual elements”

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