How wondering “What’s wrong with that sagebrush?” led to drawing and researching insects I didn’t know existed.

 Cross-posted on www.drawntothewest.com

The other weekend, I was out hiking in an area of southwest Wyoming resplendent with big sagebrush.

As my husband and our puppy cruised ahead, I lagged behind, peering at some strange growths on the tips of a sagebrush’s leaves. The more I looked, the more I found, and the more I found, the more curious I became.

The little growths were less than an inch across, many much smaller, and ranged from chestnut brown to pale greenish-pink. They were spongy to the touch, and appeared to be covered in tiny hairs. Continue reading How wondering “What’s wrong with that sagebrush?” led to drawing and researching insects I didn’t know existed.

Should we be feeding wild birds? How a desire to sketch birds led to a romp through the bird-feeding literature

Cross-posted on www.drawntothewest.com

Group of finches_v1You can tell it’s spring; the Internet is aflutter with bird articles.

A lot of those articles relate closely to the two-part series I just wrapped up about attracting wild birds using methods informed by ornithology research.

I was inspired to investigate the subject because we have a “new-to-us” backyard that is bare dirt. A few trees and shrubs sit at the corners of the lot, but that’s it. We’ve begun by seeding in some native grasses and installing a vegetable garden, and now are considering what we could do to attract birds.

Drawn to Science & Sustainability workshop (Oct. 28)

I am really excited about this workshop – it’s taking the ‘Artful Science’ workshops I’ve been leading to a new level, by introducing and addressing the question of how to use drawing for professional work in sustainability design.

Please note: This is a late-breaking workshop, and is primarily for students at Chatham University. However, anyone in Pittsburgh, PA who is available and interested is welcome to join us.

Sketches of Mount Olympus cabinet of curiosities

Drawn to Science & Sustainability: a crash course in sketching and hand‐drafting tricks, tips, and techniques

Whether you are a trained scientist, a science educator, or a sustainability professional, you can enhance your work with a strong foundation in basic sketching techniques. This fast-paced, hands-on workshop will help you develop urban and/or nature sketching habits, visual note taking skills, and systems mapping tools. Join us as we look back at the historical connections between art and science and look forward to the usefulness of sketching for modern science and sustainability initiatives. Continue reading Drawn to Science & Sustainability workshop (Oct. 28)

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 the following 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?

Illustrating Ecology…conferences, that is

*Images are from the ‘drawing for scientists’ section I led in a scicomm workshop at ESA’s 2014 annual meeting.

Researchers have demonstrated that drawing (even without training) can help clarify what you know, assist instructors in assessing student knowledge, and enhance public communication efforts. And, there is evidence that collaboration between scientists and artists may result in better science.

Continue reading Illustrating Ecology…conferences, that is