Scanned image of pochoir print titled Aurelia aurita, I by Thien-Kieu Lam

During my childhood years, the bookmobile traveled to our neighborhood once a week. At first, it parked several blocks down our street, but one day, the librarians on board decided to park the bookmobile right in front of our house—my sister and I were its most frequent patrons. I would walk out the front door, across the lawn, and up the steep steps to cross the portal that led to so many other universes.

I probably read almost every book on that bookmobile, and one of my favorite sections was the shelves of science books, especially the ones about the natural world. I loved learning about animals, and I remember I had a little pocket notebook with lined pages, into which I had painstakingly copied diagrams of insects and labeled all of their body parts (I wish I still had this!). I imagined myself exploring the world and learning about all of these things firsthand—but art was the stronger calling.

The Aurelia aurita prints originally started out as an idea for an artist’s book. In the same way that life doesn’t always lead you to where you think you’re going, art projects sometimes veer off into a different direction as well. The Aurelia aurita project helped me to reconnect with my passion for science and my love of research.

I’m a Louisiana native who moved away and then returned, a decade later. Back in the familiar landscapes of my childhood, I spent a lot of time thinking about the places and scenery that I carry in my heart, and most of them include water in some form. The water is a significant part of our culture here: the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, wetlands, thunderstorms, and hurricanes.

I began to study the local water ecosystem and quickly realized it’s impossible to understand what’s happening locally without global context. Water connects us to the rest of the country and the world; it’s inextricably linked to life on land as well. Agricultural runoff, ocean freight, overfishing, offshore drilling, climate change—these all affect the ocean environment.

Jellyfish are bioindicators. Changes in jellyfish populations and ranges can be both the cause and symptoms of conditions in the water ecosystem, and sometimes they are symptoms that further exacerbate the situation. Studying jellyfish can give us clues to what is happening in the depths of our waters.

The Aurelia aurita prints were created as visual meditations as I continued my research. I used pochoir as my process, and each moon jelly was created with two to four stencils. Flat fields of color are common in stenciling, but to capture the translucency of the jellies, I applied gradation by hand. The paper is a translucent vellum and is printed on both sides to create a sense of depth, as if you are peering into the murkiness of the ocean. When lit in a certain way, the effect is mesmerizing.

A snap taken with my phone.


Pochoir print of moon jellies by Thien-Kieu Lam. Title of print: Aurelia aurita, II. Front side of print.
Scanned version of the print in the above snap.


I’m still learning, diving ever more deeply into a subject that fascinates me, and my goal is to eventually interpret the science through my future projects, to create not just art but also conversations about our relationship to the water.

View both sides of Aurelia aurita, I and Aurelia aurita, II in the Prints section.