The Coen Lab part 2

I left this story with the first rough for the drawing not being received too well by the team. The consensus of opinion was that it was rather static and that it should represent more of the element of team work, as with other drawings. I remember the day at JIC when it came to a head. I went up to the department, and joined several of the team for their 11am tea break in their social area. Set up in a corridor with the feel of a cosy bed sit area with sofa’s, a small kitchen sink with a few shelves with mugs, a central large coffee table with tins/packets of biscuits. The staff at JIC do seem to love their cakes and biscuits but surprisingly they all look pretty healthy.

During their break time I talked to Lucy Copsey about the issues raised concerning my failed rough. She was really helpful, she took me to the benches where the snap dragons live. She described to me what the Coen lab is all about. Although a large proportion of the detail goes over my head, I did start to make a real connection with what drives the research for this team. On this day, I was also fortunate enough to bump into Rico Coen; we had a constructive discussion about the subject and what I should be searching to portray in the drawing.

Following this day, something shifted. I felt inspired to create an image that would hopefully give a sense of the way something grows, and why it grows that way. That appealed to me; I am always inspired to convey movement and put that sense of movement from a three-dimensional subject with the restrictions and challenges of a two-dimensional art form. The drawing would be bursting with colour and luminosity to represent the computer imagery which is such a feature of this research area.

Coen lab rough 2

2nd rough

Coen Lab rough 3

3rd rough

After making several rough plans I took my sketch book in to show whoever was about, at the same time having arranged  to meet up with Chris Whitewoods. I had a slot waiting for him in my planned drawing . Now I was running on a tight schedule, so once again, I had to rely on taking lots of snap shots with my little camera, before whizzing back to the studio. The roughs were enthusiastically received, and one in particular. What a relief; I was grateful to Lucy who really helped me absorb the information, I needed to reach this point, even though I did think my head was going to explode with so much talk about ‘snap dragons’ and why they are the colour they are with each different species.

Coen Lab studio 1

the main drawing begins starting with white pigment and chalk on painted paper


Coen Lab studio 2

introduction of colour, always scarey and exciting

Coen Lab studio 3

colour clash, oranges and pinks not quite working


Coen Lab studio 4

more blue and red, less orange and pink

Coen Lab studio 5

thinking about the lettering and colour balance

The coen lab copy 2

the finished drawing

This is the most colourful piece of work I have ever done, ever! It reminds me of a science fiction poster.

The Team


Research Scientist

The daughter of a primary school teacher and a chartered electrical engineer, Karen was born and raised in Colney, London.

After the sudden loss of her father during her school O-level exams, Karen struggled to get the grades needed to be able to take her place at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist in London. She didn’t do well as expected, but with the encouragement of her biology teacher, she went on to retake her exams at college to follow a career in science.

After reapplying to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, Karen became an assistant scientific officer and studied for a BTEC National Certificate in Sciences whilst working. Later, having completed a degree in biological sciences at the University of East Anglia, she started working at the John Innes Centre where she has now been for 28 years.

Outside of work, Karen spends time bringing up her daughter, who has also pursued a career in science, and enjoys photography, reading, and travelling.

“As a teenager, I always had my nose in a science fiction book and was fascinated with space and science”



Research Scientist

Lucy grew up with two older sisters and her cousin, in Deal, Kent. Her father was in the Royal Marines and later became a carpenter. Her mother, a stay at home mum whilst Lucy and her sisters were growing up, later went on to get her “dream job” working at a plant nursery.

At school, Lucy was a dependable, shy and loyal individual, often defending those she felt were being oppressed by the more popular and domineering students. Although she enjoyed science subjects at school, her study of physics was somewhat hindered by her sister’s antics. When she misbehaved, she was sent to the physics teacher where she would annoy Lucy during her lessons.

As a young child, Lucy’s parents nurtured her interest in nature, rock formation and physical geography, which undoubtedly influenced her to study biology at university. Although she states that if her maths teaching at secondary school had not been so poor, she probably would have pursued a career in it.

Her father had a keen interest in astronomy while her mother enjoyed painting and gardening. Lucy recalls her mother growing Antirrhinums when she was a child and she could spell Antirrhinum by the time she was 7 years old.

With a quirky style, Lucy, like her mother, enjoys sewing, knitting and patchwork making.

“I do a lot of craft. I have a quirky style and am drawn towards asymmetry and detail”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Originally born in Stoke, Chris grew up in Darlington with his brother and parents. His father is a chemical sales engineer and his mother is a records clerk at a hospital, having been a stay at home mum.

With the encouragement of his parents he achieved good grades at a school which he describes as “not being great”. He admits to “talking back a lot”, but he enjoyed most subjects, especially science.

After a particularly boring summer job operating rides at a theme park, Chris decided he never wanted a “proper” job again, which led him to apply for a summer research project in a lab the following summer and he has “been doing research ever since”.

With a passion for learning new things and problem solving, Chris has taken on many a DIY task over the past year in the house he and his wife have bought together, leaving him with little time to enjoy his other hobbies such as reading, gardening and archery.

“I love trying to understand how plants can build such beautiful shapes”



Research Scientist

Having experienced a loving and supportive upbringing, Samantha was encouraged as one of the first in her family to attend university and higher education. Looking back on it now, she remarks that the world of university was relatively unknown to her family but that they all looked up to her uncle, who had gone on to become a scientist.

Samantha attended what she refers to as a “pretty terrible” school, although this did have its bonuses. Being one of the brighter students she stuck out, which helped her confidence. Now working at the John Innes Centre, Samantha enjoys the “level playing field” that having a career in science provides her with, “we are all here to do science and that is that”.

“I am passionate about inspiring encouraging young people, particularly girls to enjoy science”


Research Scientist

Man was born and raised in Changsha city, Hunan province, China, the only child of a pharmaceutical company salesman and his tailor wife. From learning traditional Chinese painting at young age, she went on to graduate from the Hunan Agricultural University and later become a research assistant at the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai.

In 2010 Man relocated to the UK with her husband. Once here, not only did she become a research assistant at the John Innes Centre but also earnt a Master’s degree in medical statistics at the University of East Anglia.

While Man has always had an interest in the world of science, upon learning that her father had a serious disease she decided to focus on molecular biology in the hope that a cure for his disease could be found.


I come from Hunan Province, I learnt traditional Chinese painting when I was very young”


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