Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Dive Deeper at Home: Creating a Scientific Illustration

An Activity for Deep Sea Animal Adaptations Week

Archived Webinar

In the video above, fish biologist Kate Bemis, illustrator Rachel Keeffe, and ocean educator Lara Noren discuss the adaptations of the three-tooth puffer and show you how to sketch one. This Zoom webinar aired July 15, 2020, as part of the museum's Deep Sea Animal Adaptations week, a Natural History Summer Explorations program for students entering Grades 3-7.

You can watch the video and then do the challenge below, or go right to the challenge.

Deep Sea Exploration Challenge

One fun and important art and science connection is scientific illustration! In this challenge, you will make a scientific illustration of a deep sea fish using a grid technique. 

What You Need

  • 8 ½ X 11 blank paper
  • Something to draw with such as: pencil, colored pencils, and/or pens
  • A deep sea fish photo
  • OPTIONAL: Ruler or straight edge 


1. Take a look at these pictures and choose a fish to draw. Make careful observations of all the details you want to capture in your drawing.

Three-tooth puffer fish with brown, orange, yellow, and white coloring
Three-Tooth Puffer. Photo by Keiichi Matsuura.
Largehead hairtail fish, a silver fish with narrow head and sharp teeth
Largehead Hairtail. Photo by Kate Bemis, Smithsonian/NOAA.

2. Review the steps for creating a scientific illustration by watching part of the webinar video at the top of the page. Start watching at the 20:47 point in the video.

3. Set up your grid and intersecting points as shown here. Draw lines to connect intersection points. Then use mini-grids (shown in orange or yellow) to add details.

Three-tooth puffer with a grid of lines superimposed on it
Three-tooth puffer with two grids of lines superimposed on it, one in black and the other in orange
Largehead hairtail fish with one grid of white lines superimposed on it.
Largehead hairtail fish with two grids of lines superimposed on it, one white grid and one yellow grid.

4. Use colored pencils or pens to color in the details of the fish. You can watch the artist, Rachel Keeffe, coloring her fish in the video below.

5. Share your scientific illustration with others and tell them what you think of scientific drawing as a way to share animals of the deep sea.

Take It a Step Further 

  1. Find another deep sea fish or other deep sea animal that captures your interest and follow the same steps above to create a scientific illustration. Explore deep sea animals on the Ocean Portal for inspiration.
  2. View more scientific illustrations on the Ocean Portal.
Resource Type
Hands-On Activities
Grade Level
3-5, 6-8
Life Science