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Nature Cover: Tattooed Plants

A mock journal cover for the popular science journal, Nature. This editorial cover employs a visual metaphor for the research done by a team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They discovered a way to detect ozone damage to plants by monitoring electrical conductivity in the plants' leaves through "tattooed" electrodes. The challenge of this project was to communicate the complex scientific idea in a compact and effective way that serves as an invitation for further exploration. 

Science article: On-site identification of ozone damage in fruiting plants using vapor-deposited conducting polymer tattoos

Client: Prof. Marc Dryer

Media: Autodesk Maya, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop

Format: Scientific magazine/journal cover

Audience: General audience

Date: December 2020

tattoo plant gun nature magazine journal cover khass visuals katrina hass maya 3d model


To generate ideas for the cover, I began with creating small, rough sketches. I liked the idea of juxtaposing the technological and natural elements which would also give me the opportunity to try both hard surface modelling and organic modelling.

My goal when designing the layout for the cover was to create strong angles with the objects in the scene that would draw the viewer's gaze into a particular point in the image. In this case, I played around with positioning the grape vine and the tattoo gun in various ways that would invite the viewer to look more closely at the circuit board tattoo. 

After receiving feedback from peers, I chose to move forward with the first thumbnail as it best captured the viewer's attention with the circuit board tattoo and strong diagonal angles. I chose to omit the hand in the image as it was too distracting and while I anticipated that some viewer's may not recognize a tattoo gun without the hand present, I ensured that the word "tattoo" was somewhere in the title in the comprehensive sketch stage. 

KatrinaHass thumbnail sketches nature cover magazine journal science art tatoo gun vine grape leaves plants
nature magazine journal cover khass visuals katrina hass maya 3d model comprehensive sketch

Comprehensive Sketch 

A few of the reference images I used for the tattoo gun had decorative hole details in the side and I thought it would be fun to arrange these holes as the lewis structures for ozone (one pair of oxygens is double-bonded and the other is single-bonded) as a subtle reference to the science article. 

I chose colours based off of the characteristic electric blue colour that would light up the circuit board tattoo. I thought a dark background would draw attention to the tattoo more effectively and a silver tattoo gun would reflect the electric blue colours nicely.


I started with sketching reference images for the tattoo gun which was then brought into Maya as a basis for modelling. The most challenging part of this process was the large side piece with the many holes in it. To create these holes, rather than use the boolean function which would create problems in the topology, I would select four faces in the mesh, choose circularize, and then delete those faces. 

For the grape vine, I created a curve and extruded along the curve. 

tattoo machine gun khass visuals rough sketch reference katrina hass art
khasss visuals 3d model autodesk maya wip work in progress
khasss visuals 3d model autodesk maya wip work in progress


The tattoo gun was mainly shaded with a grey, metallic material with a few parts that were shaded with black plastic. To make the metal appear a bit worn, I used a curvature node to mix shaders. A general noise node was used as a bump map for the rings of grips on the tattoo gun's handle. A ramp shader was used to simulate ridges in the coils of the gun. 

For the grape leaves on the vine, I created a colour map from a reference photo and an alpha channel to drive opacity. Using soft selection, I transformed the leaf planes so that they would not all look the same. In Adobe Illustrator, I created the circuit board pattern and made this as a mesh light that would cast light onto the other objects in the scene. 

grape leaf alpha katrina hass
circuitboard tattoo design illustrator katrina hass khass
khass visuals wip alpha maya 3d modelling model autodesk




Area lights were used to illuminate the scene. I also duplicated the needle of the tattoo gun and made it a mesh light to make it seem like the ink within the tattoo gun was glowing. 

In Adobe Photoshop, a depth of field effect was added and the glow of the electric blue was emphasized. Text elements of the journal cover was added in Adobe Illustrator. 

nature magazine journal cover khass visuals katrina hass maya 3d model
tattoo gun plant circuit board glow science nature magazine journal cover khass visuals katrina hass maya 3d model mockup render
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