Book: A is for Arsenic
Exhibit: Art Work
Drawing is something I’ve always enjoyed. In my childhood, it would be rare to find me without a pencil drawing cartoon characters on a piece of paper. Nowadays, drawing is still something I do for fun if I’m not lazing around. Learning about science was also something I enjoyed in my childhood since I admired how it helped us understand the world around us as well as being incredibly practical. As a result, choosing between a science course or an art course proved stressful however I eventually settled with science as I prefer drawing as a hobby and the opportunities in science are more attractive.
Atropa Belladonna commonly known as ‘Deadly Nightshade’ is the main point of my exhibit. The flower may appear charming but be careful as this beauty is quite the beast! The molecules you can see are l-hyoscamine and d-hyoscamine which, when present in equal amounts, make up atropine: the toxic component of the flower. These molecules are enantiomers meaning they are mirror images that cannot be superimposed. This may seem like something minor but in the pharmaceutical industry, it is crucial the correct enantiomer is chosen out of a pair as the wrong choice may have undesired effects. Atropine kills by blocking the receptors in the sensory system causing disorientation, hallucination and uncontrollable body processes.
One of my favourite methods to use is ‘1-point perspective’ where a vanishing point is chosen and lines pointing towards this point are used to give the illusion of perspective. I don’t often draw figures and I only ever used this method with landscapes so I decided to try this on a figure as a personal challenge. A skull was chosen instead of a face in respect to the ‘toxic’ pictogram as seen on the top right. During my practice sketches, using colour on the skull, lab coat, and conical flask did not appear as accurate. Therefore, I used shading for details on those and only used colour for the flower, glove and pictogram in order to draw attention to it. The species Atropa is written in large standard lettering while the genus Belladonna is written in cursive to appear more elegant as it can be translated from Italian to “beautiful woman”. ‘Deadly Nightshade’ is written freehand to show it’s the common name.
The book I chose to read was “A is for Arsenic, The Poisons of Agatha Christie” by Kathryn Markup. This book goes through several poisons explaining their symptoms, how they are obtained, and how they kill. Agatha Christie is a renowned detective author and playwright known for her accurate descriptions of poisons and surprising twists so her novels and inspiration from real life murders are used as case studies in the book. To be frank, as Christie’s novels are long before my time I did not expect to take interest but the amount of detail put into both Christie’s novels and Harkup’s explanations had me glued to the pages. As I appreciate accurate representation in fiction and non-fiction, I considered displaying the symptoms of the poison on the figure but I decided against it as the exhibit would take a much darker turn than I would hope.
I decided to base my exhibit on Atropa Belladonna as I found the poison atropine to be intriguing. Although it is very lethal, in small doses it can be used pharmaceutically and even shows up in later chapters as an anti-poison for Digitalis and Eserine. Upon finishing the book, I researched how each poison appears naturally and sketched the ones I found interesting. Both Belladonna and Digitalis (common name: foxglove) turned out to be the sketches that appeared as close to the actual flower as possible. Although the look of foxglove is more alluring, it crowded up my desired composition giving no space for the molecules digitoxin and digoxin to be drawn (the toxic components of Digitalis). I chose to ignore the minerals when deciding on the right poison for my exhibit as the bright colours were more appealing. The harsh colours of the minerals such as Arsenic and Thallium also did not translate well onto my sketches.