Data can be beautiful, and few people embody that like today’s featured guest, Maria Magdalena Sandoval Donahue. In addition to being a PhD geologist, she also creates custom patterned fabric, sews, and creates data visualizations. Her eye for taking 2-dimensional data and mapping (pun intended) it onto a science fashion piece is amazing.
She is also an entrepreneur! You can buy her designs through her Etsy shop, full of amazing science and beautiful fashion pieces. But she’s also available for custom orders, so if you have some cool data, she’s the perfect person to turn it into a science fashion statement.
Q: Please introduce yourself to the audience.
I am a geologist and entrepreneur. I presently run a software company: we focus on data analytics and data visualization.
My passion is looking at the patterns that come out of the complexity of our data-creating life; I am particularly interested in visualizing and increasing comprehension and usability of the Internet of Things, aka distributed networks. There is a huge potential for all types of data to be used in new ways across disciplines, but we don’t have the basic data structures and a way to make this capability tangible.
My education background (BS, MS, PhD) is in geology, with a focus on large scale landscape evolution – I studied the uplift and erosion of the southern Rocky Mountains in NM, CO, WY USA. I also am an avid runner: I am a 2x Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, so I love all things that have to do with distance running.
I have two young girls, who joined our lives as I was working through my dissertation. I like to be busy and challenge myself.
Q: What was the first piece of data you turned into art?
The first piece of data I turned into art was actually a multimedia piece that I did in my undergrad work.
I was working to my double major in geological sciences and fine arts. My art foci were large format photography (I’m old, we used film!) and traditional Spanish weavings – I’m from northern New Mexico and many of my family are weavers. In this vein, I took a bunch of photos of places of geological interest around the state of Oregon (I was at U of Oregon), and then used letterpress to print the feature’s scientific name/the process the photo was showing, and then put these into a loose geographically-correct “weaving” of the state of Oregon. For example, I put Mount Hood, defined stratovolcano in letter-pressed type, and put it in the NW corner of my weaving. It was marvelously geeky.
Q: How do you get started with your science fashion pieces?
I am largely interested in demonstrating a geological or geomorphic or other natural process. These can be captured in a single landmark, a map, or set of data. I always start with the data….the fabric comes later, and positioning the design in the piece of clothing is last. It is tricky to position the process statement properly in apparel at times, since I want to be sure to be true to the data/imagery, but also not put awkward shapes/colors in awkward locations. It has to be flattering to be worn.
Q: How many designs have you created? Do you have favorites?
I have so many designs! My favorite is probably my earthquake seismograph pattern: I took the vertical motion component of seismograph readings from the largest earthquakes recorded, and arranged them into a pattern with small type identifying the particular quake.
Q: What’s the hardest part about translating data into science fashion?
The hardest part for me is that I like to keep the reality of the data, without just generalizing to scientific stereotypes, but yet I do need to make the information accessible/understandable to general audiences. I think I am more successful in this effort sometimes, and less in others.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to turn their scientific data into fashion?
Go for it!
There’s so much potential – how do you see your item looking laid out flat on fabric? how do you want to wear this? What message are you wanting to convey/what mission do you have with this? Who are you wearing this for – you or a kindergarten class? What is the event? All of these thoughts help you distill the data and complexity into a two dimensional fabric that then becomes a three dimensional article of clothing.
Q: What else do you definitely want the audience to know about your work?
I use real data and imagery! It’s so much fun!
The world around us is full of information, and you can pick anything [literally] in the world (or space!) and find information/data about it. If you have an item/image/topic/data you love but are curious about how you might turn it into clothing/etc., let’s talk – I do custom work, and it’s so much fun.