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?

Dear Digit: Is saying “Photo by Google” good enough?

Dear Digit sketch_5

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dear Digit, I am not an artist or photographer, but I need attractive images for my communications. Since there are lots of images on the internet, I can usually find what I need. I want to do the right thing, so I usually write “photo by Google.” That’s good enough, right?”

Considering how many images are available on the internet today, we have a wealth of options one right-click away. But, there’s a catch.

All images are owned by someone, and it is legally and ethically important to verify you have their permission to use the image prior to using it. In some cases, reproducing and modifying images without the right to do so can actually have serious financial and legal consequences.

So, what’s a communicator to do? Continue reading “Dear Digit: Is saying “Photo by Google” good enough?”

Dear Digit: How do I make my communications look good?

Dear Digit sketch_5

Mar/Apr. 2014

 

 

“Dear Digit, I know my communications are supposed to look good.  But, I don’t have fancy expensive design software, and I want to do my brochures and website myself.  What can I do?”

In this visual era, it is nearly implicit that our communications should not only be clear and engaging, but they should be visually compelling. However, not all of us were trained in digital arts. Those of us who were do not always have time or funds available to stay up to speed on rapidly evolving visual tools.

Fortunately, the internet is overflowing with options for every skill level. Here is a sampling of the numerous free tools and programs that can elevate your digital creative capacity. Continue reading “Dear Digit: How do I make my communications look good?”

Sketching Tip: 4 time-saving tips that can transform your field sketch from a scribble into a useful scientific illustration

Beetle & Kinnickinnick_post iconDo you enjoy sketching or illustrating your work or field site?

Me, too.

You probably agree that illustrations are like research – they are often more meaningful when shared.

On the other hand, do you dread what it takes to get your sketches into a functional digital format?

So did I. Continue reading “Sketching Tip: 4 time-saving tips that can transform your field sketch from a scribble into a useful scientific illustration”