What a frog in pants taught me about good visual communication

Frog in pants_v4_rs_wm

I recently filled out an artist database profile, and one of the questions was both great and thought-provoking. It was also deceptively simple:

What kind of work do you want? 

 After mulling that over for a while, this is what I came up with:

I’m looking for projects that combine fascination with the natural world and a deep appreciation for visual communication. 

I’m particularly excited about illustration for adults and children that doesn’t obscure how ecosystems work; editorial projects that connect readers’ everyday lives to the natural world; and collaborating with researchers interested in incorporating drawing into their research, teaching, and public communication efforts.

Tadpoles in eggs_4_sig

The database form also requested links to samples of previous projects, the kind I’d like to do more of. A set of illustrations from early this spring immediately sprang to mind. I made these drawings to accompany a 300-word nugget about the history of science – how an Italian priest made an important breakthrough in our understanding of animal reproduction. That might not sound terribly exciting, but the nuances of that not-so-priestly experiment are.

Lazzaro Spallanzani, Italian biologist

Frog in Pants details how a Renaissance-age priest dressed frogs in taffeta pants, and in so doing, (partially) demystified sex.

My illustrations, coupled with the text by American Scientist associate editor Katie Burke, were published by www.buzzhootroar.com in March.

The piece went viral.

 Just wanted to say thank you again for the great piece. Among many other things, you made it onto Boing Boing and iO9, and tens of thousands of people visited the site, thanks to your excellent talents.
All the best,
Eleanor and the rest of Buzz Hoot Roar

Equally delightful was the response by the American Scientist art department. They ran the “frog in pants” illustration along with a book review in their May/June 2014 issue.

Frog in pants_American Scientist cover (2014)

Sure, it’s nice to have people look at my work. But is that what makes Frog in Pants an exemplary project?

Nope. The real reason is that it’s a fantastic example of what is possible when custom illustrations are melded with the right science story. In this case, we checked all the boxes in a simple SciComm equation:

     Compelling illustrations tailored to the project 
+   Science story about something (nearly) everyone can relate to

=   Dynamite SciComm

10s of thousands of people viewed and interacted with Frog in Pants. They learned something about themselves, in the context of how science works (building on centuries of exploration, experimentation, and discovery).

That’s why I point to some seemingly simple line drawings as an example of what I want to keep doing.

Frogs mating2_sigFrog in Pants epitomizes the synergy we can generate when we merge artful visual communication with engaging stories about science and the people who do it.

What’s your favorite example of great visual science storytelling?

Join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s