Skip navigation
Share this page

Home | Exhibits | Publications | Web Resources | Contact Us

link to portrait of John Ridgway

Portrait of John L. Ridgway, 1928, Smithsonian photograph # 91-14058-11.


John L. Ridgway


John L. Ridgway (1859-1947) was noted ornithologist Robert Ridgway’s younger brother. Robert encouraged John’s emerging ability as an illustrator, eventually bringing him to the Smithsonian as an assistant. The brothers collaborated on illustrations for several publications during the early 1880’s, with John assuming more of the illustration work as he gained expertise. The younger Ridgway worked for the Smithsonian only until 1884, but he continued to freelance for the Institution well into the 1890’s.

After leaving the Smithsonian, John Ridgway was employed by the United States Geological Survey where, in 1920, he established and published standard guidelines for geological illustration. In 1938, toward the end of his fifty-seven year career, Ridgway authored "Scientific Illustration," a treatise comprising the sum of his knowledge of the processes of scientific illustration. He died December 27, 1947, at the age of 88 after a long distinguished career as a scientific illustrator.

link to label 1992011


link to exhibit label 1992012


John Ridgway’s renderings of birds exhibited here were published in the 1898 report of the New York Fisheries and Game Commission. Using a four-color halftone process, called the “multicolor process,” Ridgway portrayed his subjects in their natural settings to “lend an important quality of realism” to them. However, he used muted tones for the background landscape, subordinating it to the image of the bird.

link to label 1999004


link to label 1999028


link to label 1999027


link to label 1999009


jpg exhibit label


link to label 1999007


link to label 1999003


image of book title pages

Ridgway's "Scientific Illustration," published in 1938, was intended by the author to "aid students of science and others engaged in the preparation of manuscripts that require illustrations." Although he stated that it was not a manual of freehand drawing, he nonetheless provided detailed instruction on the techniques of all aspects and methods of producing "authentic and adequate" pictures whether with pencil or watercolor.

image of title pages and plate

Title pages and plate vii from:
Scientific Illustration, Stanford University Press, 1938.
John L. Ridgway, author.

Stressing the importance of good illustration, Ridgway stated: "The lack of effectiveness shown in the illustrations in many scientific books and pamphlets, and their complete inadequacy in some cases, is often apparent.... Thus it happens that many good scientific presentations lose much of their deserved effectiveness because of the poorly planned and poorly executed illustrations which have been included. With the thought not only of helping the scientific writer to select and plan his illustrations but also of aiding the artist whom he may employ, the suggestions in the following pages are offered."

  Back to Scientific Illustrators home page