Tabletop Whale is an original science illustration blog.

Made with love by a biology grad student at the University of Washington. Charts, infographics, & animations about any and all things science.


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The Goddesses of Venus: A topographic map

March 6 2017


Almost exactly a year ago I published the Medieval Map of Mars - a topographic map of Mars that shows the etymology of each named feature. This year I decided to continue the series by making a map of Venus that explains the etymological origin of each landmark.

Features on Venus are named after women or female mythological figures. The three exceptions are Alpha Regio and Beta Regio (named after letters in the alphabet) and Maxwell Montes (named after the Scottish physicist James Maxwell). All three were named before this convention was adopted by the International Astronomical Union, and Alpha Regio is the only one visible in the area covered by this map.

Sketching ideas for icons while waiting for the bus. I tried to pick symbols that had some meaning - a droplet for water goddesses, dice for goddesses of fate and luck, and four dividing cells for fertility goddesses.

One of my favorite things about extraterrestrial maps is the international mix of assigned names. The International Astronomical Union clearly makes an effort to represent many diverse cultures when naming planetary features. I thought the ancient goddesses were particularly interesting because they hinted at what might have been important to each culture - like the Philippine volcano goddess Darago and Adyghe beekeeping goddess Merisa. Large craters are named after famous women, and I was happy to see a lot of names I recognized (Beatrix Potter, Rachel Carson, Virginia Woolf).

Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system. The surface is hot enough to melt lead, with an atmospheric pressure more than 90 times that of Earth. Lander robots sent to Venus have never survived longer than a few hours on the surface. However, many of these landers sent back valuable data before being destroyed. Each landing site is marked by a seal describing the mission name, date, and time spent on the surface before destruction.

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Living with fire: Surviving the forest wildfires of California


California wildfires can cause devastating damage to property and human lives. But for plant species that have lived for thousands of years in the fire-prone Sierra Nevadas, forest fires are an expected part of the natural environment. These species have unique adaptations to withstand fire - and some even depend on fire to survive. This infographic introduces six different California plant species, all with different adaptations to fire.

Each of the illustrations were made with watercolor paper & Elmer’s glue. The fireweed design I’m holding took almost 8 hours to make:

To make this infographic I first made all of the plants out of white watercolor paper and Elmer’s glue. Then I borrowed a camera and tripod from my university, and set everything on fire with a purple Bic lighter. By incorporating real flames into this infographic, I wanted to emphasize the important role of forest fires in the life cycle of these plants. I edited these videos in Photoshop to make a continuous looping animation of each burning paper sculpture.

The white paper designs don’t include details like flower color or exact leaf size. But my goal for this infographic was to share the general principles of fire ecology using these plants as interesting examples. Since I wasn’t making a plant identification resource, I decided to use a more artistic style that skips some of the information found in traditional field guides.

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How to build a human II


This week’s infographic is a new, improved version of my old How to build a human design. My goal for this project was to explain human embryo development in an engaging and informative way. I love image-based graphics like airplane safety information cards and IKEA construction guides, and I decided to emulate the style for this infographic. I wanted anyone to be able to understand the process from just the visual information on the page.

Although I added medical terms to each image caption, they’re meant as a supplement rather than a necessary part of the design. I think that including technical terms alongside visual information helps make the project useful to a larger group of people.

Readers with a background in medicine can look up the terms to learn more or use this as a study guide, and people without medical experience can still use the visuals to understand all of the anatomical changes.

It was great to get the chance to update something I made two years ago. The original illustrations were a little smaller than I wanted, and I focused too much on the animation. This new version is less colorful but I think it’s both more accurate and better designed. I re-made every one of the original drawings and added many more steps in the process. I also added a “finished product” image of an adult human.

As with my other medical infographics, Dr. Arun Mathews, a Chief Medical Officer in Texas, fact-checked my work and suggested useful articles.

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