My Blooming Sci-Art Story

Once upon a time there was a little girl from regional Queensland who dreamed of being by the sea as she was drawn to the ocean. Fast forward 40 years (yes, that’s my age!) and my sci-art story finds me turning something I love into something I live! So how did I do this and what has science and art got to do with the oceans!? My story starts at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia, where I did my PhD in marine science and on weekends I started watercolour painting, of course of all things marine. My time at UQ also included my family as my Dad helped me with every field trip into the mud in the name of marine science and I also met and married my marine science buddy for life, my hubby Dr Rich. The two Dr Pillans’ then graduated with their PhDs in marine science on the same day at UQ, which was quite the event! Over the next 10 years whilst I held numerous different jobs from public policy to industry development and research management I always kept up my marine painting.

Then, 18 months ago I took the plunge and dived into a new career, running my own creative business “Picture your ideas” with Dr Sue Pillans, where I combine my skills as a marine ecologist, artist and strategist to provide a range of creative and visual services as a graphic recorder and creative scientist. My relationship with UQ continues to this day in my adjunct role as a Research Fellow. THEN, to my delight UQ commissioned me to paint scenes of this iconic establishment which I entitled “UQ in Bloom”. An honour to create these artworks as a proud alumni of UQ. So my story shows that art and science certainly complement each other and make it part of your life. As my sci-art hero Albert Einstein says, “Creativity is intelligence having fun“, and I’m certainly having fun with my blooming sci-art life! You can see more of my commissioned artworks here 

You can follow my creative journey as my alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish on Facebook ( and @suepillans on Twitter and Instagram.

Drawn to Help Hack for Health!

So here’s something I’ve never done before, participated in my first ever Hackathon and what a hack of a time I had at HealthHack2016! HealthHack brings together motivated people from diverse professional and educational backgrounds together to solve important problems in  healthcare and medical research. I love being involved in collaborations that bring different people together as we all have different experiences and skills to contribute and I thought I could help “draw out” the ideas. And what a GREAT reaction I received from the organisers and participants!

I drew some very quick sketchnotes of the opening 3-minute pitches of the HealthHack teams in Brisbane and their final 5-minute presentations, which were judged by an awesome panel of Women in STEM! Pitches ranged from fighting super bugs and helping the deaf enjoy a cinema experience to tracking antibiotic resistant bacteria and helping those with neurodiversity to navigate our urban jungles. You can see how I pictured the HealthHack ideas and solutions and view the fantastic photos from this amazing event via Flickr; which had so much energy and enthusiasm it was contagious. Thanks for having me, I’m now drawn to help hack for health:

You can also follow my creative journey via my alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish on Facebook and @suepillans on Twitter and Instagram.

My Cephalopod Squad!

It’s a cephalobration for Cephalopod Week!! That’s right, we are entangling ourselves in these amazing marine invertebrates who I just love to paint and draw! As you can ‘sea’ from my Cephalopod Squad these sea creatures come in many different shapes and sizes and are equipped with many special creature features! For example, the octopus has three hearts, blue blood and has the amazing ability to change colour instantly. Squid on the other hand swim backwards and shoot ink when threatened. And then there is the beautiful chambered nautilus, the living fossils of the ocean, which move by jet-propulsion! Now that’s eight or more reasons to love cephalopods and join My Cephalopod Squad!! My cephalopod artworks are as different as the creatures themselves and include watercolours, pen and watercolours, pen and ink and my first ever digital drawing of ‘Casper’ the octopus which I created with my Apple iPad pro and pencil using the Paper 53 app. This illustrates how I am using STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) in my visual storytelling about the wonders of our ocean, so please contact me if you are interested in my creative science and education. You can also follow my creative marine journey via my alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish on Facebook and @suepillans on Twitter and Instagram.

‘Sea’ the life in the shallows

To celebrate World Animal Day I wanted to showcase some of my favourite ocean creatures who live in the intertidal zone. I just LOVE the shallow areas of our coastlines as they are so full of life, easy to access and harbour such diversity and unique beauty. Like the super cute sea cucumber I’m holding here in the shallows of Lady Elliot Island, on the southern Great Barrier Reef. Did you know sea cucumbers have no brain, breathe through their bums and can vomit up their organs when in danger! Now that’s an animal worth celebrating on World Animal Day!

From a very young age I played by the sea and explored rock pools and waded through the intertidal zone so that’s where my fascination for the shallow sea began and its never gone away. You can find so many beautiful and unusual creatures in the intertidal zone, which is my kind of fun (…which you can ‘sea’ I get from my Dad in the photos). I also find the intertidal zone amazing due to its beauty and its extremes. Imagine living in a home that is constantly changing, everyday! Only the toughest of sea creatures can live here as they are adapted to living in this harsh marine environment which includes being battered by waves, changing tides, sun and wind exposure, extreme temperatures and let’s not forget the predators!

So next time you are by the sea don’t forget to ‘sea’ the life in the shallows. I know you will be amazed by what you ‘sea’!

You can follow my creative marine journey via my alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish on Facebook ( and @suepillans on Twitter and Instagram.