You 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.
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.
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.
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 tens of thousands of people visited the site, thanks to your excellent talents.
All the best,
Eleanor and the rest of Buzz Hoot Roar”
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.
Frog 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?
I’ve been exploring the intersection between sketching on location and eco-communication inspired by life a lot lately.
So, I couldn’t resist doing an eco-comm piece when I saw a couple of casual videos of my goddaughters exploring the Museum of the Rockies, a world-class dinosaur museum in Bozeman, MT.
This illustration was made by pausing the video, listening very carefully to one of the little girls describing her reaction to the museum, and sketching rapidly with Adobe Photoshop and an old-school Wacom drawing tablet (nearly as old as the fossils below).
Here are a few shots from two spring prescribed burns I recently documented for Prince Albert National Park’s fire management team. Read a blog post about the project here, and visit my online gallery for an in-depth look at the burns.