Space & Satellites: Cécile Simonis

The Return



During this residency, I created a graphic short story. It is now available in digital form and will soon be printed in an A4 24-page zine form using the risograph process.
The paper books will be available from my Etsy shop from August 2020:

The story is a poetic narrative inspired by and referencing the ways scientists measure biomass (the weight in carbon tons) of hectares of forest using satellite data and measures on the ground.

After talking with scientists about their work and this particular aspect of it, I wanted to weave it into a broader narrative and reflection on the weight of forests and people’s perception of the land. I wanted to make the science personal as well as showing it as a neutral and essential mode of observation and monitoring.

The comic/graphic short story medium allows images and text to interact and present complementary aspects of a narrative, and I have really enjoyed creating this story.

The images are hand drawn, and the colour layers are created digitally. Out of the Blueprint, a social enterprise based in Leith, Edinburgh, will print the zine.

Riso printing is an ecological process (the inks are plastic free and made from rice production leftovers, and the zine will be printed on recycled paper). It is a process of printing by successive layers and I like taking advantage of the transparent colours overlapping to create nuances in the colours.

I also created an A3 riso poster describing the ground measuring of biomass. It will soon be available from my Etsy shop too.


The story references how the data necessary to measure biomass is gathered. Scientists measure the trees in several small sample plots of forest. They compare their measurements with satellite radar data and LiDAR (laser) data of the same areas. This allows them to refine their satellite data analysis in order to use it on vast areas of woodland. Thus they can measure how many tons of carbon are stored in a forest and precisely monitor changes in tree coverage.

Detail from page 21 (ALOS_PALSAR)
Detail from page 15

A3 poster: orange layers (left), orange and green layers (right)

Page 6 pen and marker drawings


After having spoken with the scientists about their work and researched the subject, I started writing the story. Once the text was written, I worked on the book mockup, planning the pages and creating the images that would tell the story with the text.

Each image was then drawn more precisely on A3 paper, ready to be traced (and reworked) on the lightbox. The black line drawings and grey marker textures are hand drawn, and the colour layers (orange and green) are created digitally. I created my own hand writing font to complement the drawings.

The book that you can now read is a digital version of the zine that will soon be printed. This will be done by risograph, a process of impression by layers. 3 coloured layers will be superposed to create each page: orange, green and black (the grey nuances will be printed in the black layer).

First mockup of the book


Professor Murray Collins and Dr Iain McNicol talked to me about their work and shared lots of resources to help me understand the process behind measuring biomass using satellite data.

Dr Keiko Nomura kindly took part in the work in progress event and, along with Professor Ed Mitchard, gave me precious advice on the wording of page 22 and 23.


I would like to thank the scientists who have taken the time to tell me about their work and to give me great advice and guidance during this residency: Prof Murray Collins, Dr Iain McNicol, Dr Keiko Nomura and Prof Ed Mitchard of the University of Edinburgh. Thanks to Jane Macdonald, Dave Murray-Rust and Catie Cundall of Inspace (Design Informatics), as well as Brendan McCarthy from Ray Interactive. Special thanks to Catherine Hiley. Thanks to my parents, family and friends.

Cécile Simonis

Cécile is an illustrator and visual artist who has lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland, since 2011.  She was born in 1984 and grew up in the countryside in the south of Belgium. She studied in Liège, Belgium and Perugia, Italy and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in illustration from Ecole Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc Liège and a Master’s degree in illustration from Ecole Supérieure des Arts de la Ville de Liège (Académie Royale des Beaux Arts).

She has taught drawing and illustration in Belgium, Canada and Scotland, including Edinburgh College of Art and the National Museum of Scotland.

She makes zines and artists books, drawings, prints, and 3D objects.

Work in Progress Event

As part of the residencies each artist spoke about their experiences during the residency. Here Cécile talks alongside Dr Keiko Nomura, a senior analysist from Edinburgh based Space Intelligence.