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Dr Daniel Atkins


School of Creative Industries (Design and Natural History Illustration)

When illustration comes naturally

Dr Daniel Atkins was always interested in the natural world, and he has always enjoyed drawing. It was through a series of fascinating academic and personal experiences though, that he found himself at home in the field of Natural History Illustration.

“I’m a visual person and a visual thinker."

“Even though I was interested in drawing at school, it wasn't really promoted as a pathway - so I didn't take any arts subjects.”

Instead, Daniel pursued the sciences in senior high school, which played a key role when he later went on to study for his PhD.

Towards the end of Daniel’s double degree in Science / Education, he started to get back into drawing.

“It was just for myself really."

“But then I found out about UON’s Natural History Illustration Honours program.”

Daniel completed his Honours degree in Natural History Illustration at the University of Newcastle, under the supervision of Chris Sanders and Dr Anne Llewellyn. Following his degree, he moved overseas to pursue his travel and teaching interests.

Daniel eventually found himself living in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and developed an interest in the natural life surrounding him.

“We were right up in the mountains, there was no electricity or running water, but there was wildlife everywhere. It was incredible."

“I remember I was sitting, marking exams, and I was videoing the sunbirds coming in. I really wanted to be able to visually story-tell flight - I really wanted to dive into it.

“I realised I would have to come back to Newcastle and do my PhD.”

Daniel moved back to Australia, where he first worked as a high school teacher in order to save some money before going back to University.

“I was offered a full-time teaching job."

“But I really wanted to push my practice – I really wanted to get that bird right!”

Drawing: a skill of many disciplines

So Daniel commenced his PhD research, looking at methodologies for how to illustrate bird flight and fish movement.

“It was really nice to combine my experience as an educator and my scientific background, with my artistic practise and have it all come together.”

Daniel was awarded a scholarship from the Australian Museum, and spent three weeks at the Lizard Island research station, snorkeling and capturing footage of the fish underwater.

He also made use of the Museum’s specimen collections, and used their white-bellied eagle skeleton to reproduce his own articulated model of the bird.

“I had all these bits of information I had acquired throughout my PhD – through doing dissections and peeling back the skin and drawing the anatomy, reading the literature about the flight, observing it – but I really needed a bird that I could handle and pose to visually understand the mechanics of its anatomy."

“So I modelled it”.

“Then you’re manipulating it into those positions that you've observed - and you're starting to think of how the bird would want to move.

“That enables you then to have some artistic direction of how you can draw that out in a story."

“It's quite eclectic because you're employing science and the industrial design aspects of designing the model for the purpose of communicating the aesthetics of flight through art and illustration."

“We've got to be able to pull a lot of information together to tell the visual story.”

“Creating and using the model provided the means to do this."

The Art of Adventure

One of the highlights of Daniel’s career was his contribution to the Newcastle-based exhibition, ‘Broughton Island: The Art of Adventure.’

UON’s Natural History Illustration Research Group (NHIRG) undertook a five-day field trip to the Myall Lakes National Park, wherein they worked to produce the content for the exhibition, which included personal accounts, traditional and digital illustrations, photographs, artefacts, taxidermy specimens, and multimedia video productions.

Exhibited at Newcastle Museum from May 29 to August 23, 2015, the exhibition was the result of two-year’s work by five artists.

“It showcased current Natural History Illustration practice in a contemporary way.”

“We each played to our strengths, so a lot of my fieldwork was on underwater video.”

“That was one of the largest public exhibitions to come out of the department so far, and that was a huge win for public engagement.”

Daniel Atkins

When illustration comes naturally

Dr Daniel Atkins explores creative solutions within the field of Natural History Illustration.

Read more

Career Summary


After completing a double degree in science and teaching, I explored my passion for NHI through Honours at the University of Newcastle. Soon after I ventured to the Ruwenzori Mountains of Uganda living with the Buconzo people, teaching secondary Biology and Chemistry, facilitating youth programs, as well as staff and school development at Mitandi secondary school and sister schools in the region. Whilst there I had the opportunity to study the flight behaviours of the abundant and varied bird species, which inspired my PhD research. This led to the development of a species-specific bird model for illustration practice.  Whilst completing my PhD I lectured as a sessional academic in Field Studies in the NHI degree. In the last year of my PhD research I became fulltime Technical Officer for the Design and NHI programs supporting academic staff in teaching delivery and research, RHD student research, and undergraduates for both Vis. Comm Design and NHI. Currently I am full-time Academic Lecturer for Design and NHI programs.

Research Expertise
I am fascinated by the solution-based focus of practice-based research in the field of NHI, and the new knowledge that arises from inherent innovative and creative explorations demanded by an outcome based inquiry. Particularly challenging is capturing the tacit component of the knowledge contribution. In my research I have employed schematic frameworks to identify the flow of knowledge in process, and to link the making of artifacts with methods of inquiry. In my own doctoral research I have designed, created and applied a species-specific articulating bird model to understand and reconstruct reference for drawing specific flight events in the Australian White-bellied Sea-Eagle. This has further led to an interest in the discussion of embedded knowledge, knowledge contribution, and innovation by creative practitioners in collaborative research projects, where there is an exchange of knowledge between creative and traditional disciplines to resolve complex problems. 

Teaching Expertise
2017-2018 Academic (Level B) appointment in Visual Communication: 2016 Academic (Level B) appointment to develop online teaching assets for world first NHI MOOC: 2011-2012 Lecturing 2nd Year Natural History Illustration: Field Studies 3 & 4 2010-2011 Teaching EPARTS 190 Introduction to Design Drawing 2009-2010 Tutoring 3rd year Natural History Illustration: Margaret Senior Award and Major Internal Project.

Administrative & Managerial Expertise
Collection Manager for the NHI Fauna Collection, Store Manager for illustration materials, media and equipment, specialised content delivery and technical expertise in NHI practice, First Aid Officer Design, Emergency Warden Design building.

I am currently a contributing member of the Natural History Illustration Research Group (NHIRG), as part of the Hunter Creative Industries and Technology Centre (HCIT), The University of Newcastle.

My 2016 appointment as Lecturer (Academic B) has included collaboration in the development of image/ asset content for the The University of Newcastle's world first ground breaking NHI MOOC: Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Teaching, Avondale College
  • Bachelor of Natural History Illustration (Honours), University of Newcastle


  • 3D interactive teaching aides for blended learning
  • 3D sculpting
  • Bio design
  • Digital Illustration
  • Digital painting
  • Experimental design
  • Natural History Illustration
  • Practice-based Research/ Practice-led Research
  • Practice-based research
  • Schematic frameworks for knowledge management in NHI research-practice
  • Tacit knowledge
  • Trans-disciplinary methodology
  • Transmedia practice
  • Visual Story Telling

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
120399 Design Practice and Management not elsewhere classified 30
120307 Visual Communication Design (incl. Graphic Design) 55
190599 Visual Arts and Crafts not elsewhere classified 15

Professional Experience

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
17/07/2017 -  Lecturer Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
1/01/2010 - 1/12/2012 Sessional Lecturer/Acadmeic University of Newcastle
Natural History Illustration School of DCIT
1/01/2010 - 1/06/2011 Teaching EPARTS 190 Introduction to Design Drawing University of Newcastle
1/07/2009 - 1/11/2010 Sessional Lecturer/Academic Natural History Illustration: Margaret Senior Award University of Newcastle
Natural History Illustration School of DCIT
1/02/2009 - 1/06/2010 Sessional Academic tutoring Major Internal Project University of Newcastle
Natural History Illustration School of DCIT



Year Award
2009 Lizard Island Research Station - NHI Field Research
Australian Museum - Australia Projects Ltd


Year Award
2004 Margaret Senior Award
University of Newcastle
1998 Life time member to the Golden Key Society
Golden Key Society


Year Award
2014 Professional Team Award for Excellence
Faculty of Science and Information Technology,The University of Newcastle


Year Award
2016 Team Award for Collaboration Excellence
Faculty of Science and Information Technology,The University of Newcastle

Research Award

Year Award
2011 Australian Post Graduate Award
University of Newcastle

Prestigious works

Year Commenced Year Finished Prestigious Work Role
2017 2017 Dawn Patrol Katherine Gorge Holmes Prize: Sunshine Coast Regional Gallery Artist


Code Course Role Duration
DESN1200 Basic Drawing for Design
Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Coordinator and Lecturer 24/02/2018 - 15/06/2018


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Chapter (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2018 Atkins DP, 'Building a Bird Twice: Using an articulating bird model to understand and interpret flight manoeuvres in developmental drawings and finished illustrations of bird flight', Observe, Research, Create Case Studies in Natural History Illustration PhD Projects, Common Ground Research Networks, USA 69-86 (2018) [B1]
DOI 10.18848/978-1-61229-978-5/CGP

Design (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2018 Atkins DP, Bio-informed high performance hand plane for body surfing (2018)

Creative Work (7 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Atkins DP, Dawn Patrol at Kathrine Gorge, Caloundra Regional Gallery, Sunshine Coast (2017)
2015 Howells AN, Atkins D, Broughton Island, The Art of Adventure, Newcastle Museum (2015) [J2]
Co-authors Andrew Howells
2015 Brooker CJ, Cross K, Minichiello M, Roxburgh M, Howells A, Atkins D, et al., Making it Known, Curve Gallery, (2015) [J2]
Co-authors Ari Chand, Jane Shadbolt, Caelli Brooker, Mark Roxburgh, Ralph Kenke, Michael Dickinson, Mario Minichiello, Andrew Howells
2015 Howells A, Atkins D, Weekes T, Sailer P, Dedman L, Purnell T, et al., Illuminating Science, Lovett Gallery (2015) [J2]
Co-authors Bernadette Drabsch, Prue Sailer, Andrew Howells
2015 Brooker C, Cross K, Making It Known (2015) [J2]
Co-authors Andrew Howells, Caelli Brooker, Mark Roxburgh, Michael Dickinson, Mario Minichiello, Jane Shadbolt
2015 Drabsch BS, Atkins DP, Illuminating Science, Lovett Gallery, Newcastle Library, Newcastle City Council (2015) [J3]
Co-authors Bernadette Drabsch
2015 Howells A, Atkins D, Weekes T, Sailer P, Dedman L, Purnell T, et al., Illuminating Science, Lovett Gallery (2015) [J2]
Co-authors Prue Sailer, Andrew Howells, Bernadette Drabsch
Show 4 more creative works

Other (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2018 Atkins DP, '3D interactive online models', (2018)
2018 Atkins DP, 'Imagine', (2018) [O1]

Thesis / Dissertation (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 Atkins DP, In Pursuit of Motion: Developing a methodological framework for illustrating moments of movement in birds and fish, The University of Newcastle (2014)

Grants and Funding


Number of grants 2
Total funding $53,800

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.

20111 grants / $51,000

Australian Postgraduate Award$51,000

Funding body: Australian Postgraduate Award

Funding body Australian Postgraduate Award
Scheme Australian Postgraduate Award
Role Lead
Funding Start 2011
Funding Finish 2013
Type Of Funding Not Known
Category UNKN

20091 grants / $2,800

Lizard Island Research Station Field Studies Award$2,800

Funding body: Australian Museum - Australia Projects Ltd

Funding body Australian Museum - Australia Projects Ltd
Scheme Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Station, Australia Projects Ltd.
Role Lead
Funding Start 2009
Funding Finish 2009
Type Of Funding C3120 - Aust Philanthropy
Category 3120

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2015 PhD Brushed with Eggs: A Practice Led Investigation into the Methods, Materials and Motivations of Australian Artists working with Tempera in the Twentieth Century. PhD (Fine Art), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor

Research Projects

Illuminating Science 2015 - 2016

Broughton Island: The Art of Adventure 2013 - 2015

Bio-designed high performance body surfing hand-plane used to aid in lift, projection and agile turning on the wave face 2014 - 2019

This project stems from a bio-inspired design as a result of my PhD field research and literature review of wing arrangements and resulting airflow for gliding flight in the White-Bellied Sea Eagle and the agile anhedral arrangement in the Welcome Swallow. 


Creating interactive 3D teaching aides and using them for developing drawing skills and visual acumen in Basic Drawing for Design DESN1200 2017 - 2018

NHI MOOC: Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration 2016


Dr Daniel Atkins


School of Creative Industries
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area

Design and Natural History Illustration

Contact Details

Phone (02) 4921 6250
Link Personal webpage


Room D.208
Building Design
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308