What were some of the things that interested you as a child?

As a child, it was baseball and anything that had to do with things that went fast. I flew a lot with my father who was a private pilot and a navigator in the airforce. And actually art has been in my life from the very beginning. When I was young, any new box of crayons was wonderful. In fact, that still holds true. Especially anything that comes in colors. I want one of every color. But when I was small, it was art and flying.

When did you first think about art as a career?

I don’t even know that I thought about it as a career. I always enjoyed art. I always wanted to go to art school, and I’m planning to as soon as I retire. When I was young, I basically loved all of my art classes in school, and when I got older, I took as many of them as I could on the side. I’ve always had a crayon in my hand. A paint brush later on. Now a sewing machine. But it’s always with fabric, colors, long design. I think every job I’ve ever had has had some connection to art.

When you were growing up, what did you like to draw?

I don’t even remember. I’m a realist, so I would draw anything that I could see. If I could see it I could draw it. Anything from shoes sitting on the ground to bicycles leaning against the wall. The best art work I’ve done is probably very realist. Flowers in a pot, fruit on the table. I like the process as much as the finished project. In fact, I probably like the process more than the finished product. I’m happiest when I’m just drawing.

Talk about your education and your career path up until Scripps.

I didn’t have much education after high school. I did a few semesters in college and started a family. I worked in various odd jobs. I started out in advertising. Ended up in accounting. For whatever reason, math has been one of my main interests. I had various odd jobs with print shops. I ended up in a place where I did pretty much what I am doing now. They did projects for the government. They did research and then the finished report. And I did everything that they wanted from an art standpoint.

I was pretty much a jack-of-all-trades. One of the engineers at that place was from the old school, and when you came up as an engineer, you were trained in drafting. And he trained me in all of the skills I needed to do the job I was going to do when I came here as far as the technical pins and the hand lettering and all of that type of thing. The reading of blueprints. There was a little bit of everything that was picked up at that particular job.

Could you describe how you came to Scripps. Was it your goal to become a science illustrator?

Actually it became a goal to work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. That was one of my main goals. I kept applying for jobs that opened up here. I couldn’t even get an interview. Eventually I found a friend of an acquaintance that was here as an illustrator and called him directly. There was a specific job that I knew I was highly qualified for, and asked him to find out who was interviewing. And I called them directly and was able to get in for two wonderful interviews. I was basically hired at that point and time, and that was 25 years ago.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career as a woman?

I actually haven’t found a whole lot of problems working here. My problems that were because of being a woman were in companies before I came here. I have been very lucky in the treatment I have had here. I know there are some problems. I am not oblivious to the fact that they do exist. But in my particular job and in this particular environment, an illustrator doesn’t seem to have an edge based on either age or gender.

Has balancing work and family been an issue?

No. As a matter of fact, an educational institution is better than most. They seem to be a little more lenient. I raised a daughter as a single mother and never had a problem with that issue. I have been very very blessed with a good child and some family support that has made my life as a single mother very easy. My daughter is now 33, so I don’t have that problem anymore.

What continues to inspire you?

Actually the work itself. The students. The students I love with a passion. They keep me young. I have a new batch in almost every couple of years. They’re wonderful. And they get more wonderful as time goes on. They keep me young. They keep me enthused. And they also keep me abreast of the science that is going on. And when they come in, they have learned in entirely different ways. They come from all parts of the country, all parts of the world, and for the most part, absolutely every one of them has been great. They teach me as much as I teach them.

What types of things do you like doing in your spare time?

My spare time is taken up by art of some sort. Art and crafts. I do quilting and I do paintings in my free time at home. I am very much looking forward to the day of retirement. I plan to go back to art school full time. I’ve always wanted to do that. I have found that art classes that have a wide range of people and ages is more fun than anybody could possibly expect.

What advice would you have for people interested in a career as a technical illustrator?

I think education is the most important. I wish I had more. I would really hate to be in the job market at this time. The technological advances are so fast and so close on the heals of the last ones that you really need to stay abreast of them. My three words are education, education, education. Without a doubt the best way to do anything is to know what you want to do, and you can find that out by taking classes. And also you have contacts there. It’s a wonderful feeling to walk into a job interview and know you can do what they want you to do.

What type of education should the person emphasize? Art, computer, science?

All three, really. I would not like to do my job without any one of the three. I need a fairly strong science background as well as art. The computers are what consume most of my educational time now only because I am running into new problems on a daily basis.

Jo Griffith

  • Principle Illustrator, Marine Physical Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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