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Emma Vanderlinden
Excellence Award Winner
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Illustration teaches a universal language that empowers visual thinkers to bridge cultural, social, and generational gaps.

My interest in animals has been a huge part of my life. I was able to develop a relationship with nature at a very early age. My family enrolled me in nature camp every summer, where I got to explore the swamps and lakes of Michigan. My interest in illustration began when I discovered graphic novels in my school library. Graphic novels featuring animal characters showed me that I could combine my interest in nature by illustrating stories for readers of all ages. It wasn’t until I went to KCAD that I realized there was a market for natural science illustrations as well.


Regardless of the project, I always find myself creating stories around the subjects of my drawings. I feel that there is always a narrative regardless of whether the illustration is a scientific illustration, such as a dragonfly, or a fire-breathing dragon. I enjoy being able to migrate from a precise scientific illustration to an open-ended character illustration.

While at KCAD, I have also been given the opportunity to experiment with different mediums. Digital illustration allows me to create concepts quickly, while watercolor allows me to show the complex layers of color seen in insect morphology. I want to use scientific illustration to show that these insects are an important aspect of Michigan wildlife.


I love working with both digital and traditional mediums, and I want to continue learning new techniques. My goal with my work is to continue to experiment and work on a variety of commercial and scientific illustration projects.

What is your most memorable

experience at KCAD?

My most memorable experience while attending KCAD was the KCAD Illustration Society’s student meetup at the John Ball Zoo. As the new president of the Illustration Society, this was my first time organizing an off-campus extracurricular activity.


My artistic specialty is animals, and I wanted to offer a learning opportunity for students with similar interests in the illustration department. Our group was able to spend 3 hours doing observational sketches of red pandas, tigers, toucans, and many other animals at the zoo. I was really happy with the outcome of our work and proud of myself for organizing something I had never done before.

What are your most

notable accomplishments?

I’ve had the opportunity to paint one of the monkey exhibits in the John Ball Zoo’s reptile house through my Natural Science Illustration class with Assistant Professor Nancy Hart. This class not only developed my interest in natural science illustration, but it also led me to apply for the Gordon Art Fellowship through the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. In the summer of 2019, I was accepted and worked with the staff at the institute to create educational material about the insects that populated the field station.


I’ve also worked with the KCAD Illustration Society board as their President from 2018 to 2020. Through the Illustration Society, I’ve been able to organize student shows such as the illustration program’s show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum during their David Weisner exhibition in 2019. I’ve also worked with the KCAD Art Education program to organize their annual Silent Auction for three years in a row.

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