Kate Solbakk



Vorticella is a genus of ciliates that can be found in soil and freshwater. They are usually seen attached to soil particles on a stalk which can coil up like a spring if the cell is disturbed. Vorticella uses a crown of hair-like cilia to create a whirling vortex in the water, sucking in particles of food, which usually consists of bacteria or small protozoa.

This was the first microbe illustration I did. At the time, I was still learning how to draw digitally, but I had already been drawing for as long as I could remember, so that was just a matter of learning a new tool and exploring what I could do with it.

I was also learning how to imagine microscopic scenes in my mind, and I've learned a great deal since then. The biggest evolution has been with my understanding of translucency and light at the microscopic level. When I started illustrating microbes, I thought they only appeared transparent in the microscope because the light is so strong, similar to how we can see "inside" an egg if we hold it in front of a strong light source. So I believed that if we could shrink down to their level, they would look as solid as any animal at our scale. Since my goal was to present microbes as actual wildlife rather than 'scientific specimens', I thought drawing them in this way would make them feel more tangible and relatable.

Later on, I discovered that darkfield microscopy is much closer to natural lighting, since the subject is illuminated gently from the sides instead of having light blast through it from below. In darkfield, microorganisms are still translucent, and have a glassy appearance. I now believe this is as close as we can get to how they "really" look, and have taken that into consideration in my newer works.

If you like this artwork, you can order a print of it here or support me on Ko-fi. For inquiries about DIY prints, licensing, commissions, collaborations or just to share enthusiasm about microbes, please email post@mikroliv.no, or send a message on Instagram. I love hearing from you!