Tips on Finding a Visual Communicator to Bring Your Science Story to Life
Share Your Science Story With the World! Part 1 of 3 in our FAQ series on how to work with a visual science communicator as a non-artist (AKA scientist, engineer, allied communicator)
Are you excited to share the importance of your science using illustrations and animations? Have you (or the scientists you represent) been developing revolutionary technology and you’re ready to share your exciting progress with a broader audience? Queue the science communicator! In this first article of our series, we’ll give you some tips on how to find and choose a visual science communicator.
When you’ve spent your career—lifetime—focused on honing your scientific skills, it can feel daunting to reach out to the art world. The good news is that there are illustrators and animators trained to communicate science. Many even started out in science. Read on for tips to find and hire a visual communicator that you will connect with.
Where can you look, and what should you consider when looking for a visual science communicator? We have some ideas below. In Part 2 we look at the logistics of hiring a science communicator, and in our upcoming part 3 we’ll look at the working process once you’ve hired a Science Communication Studio.
What is a Visual Science Communicator?
To start, let’s back up to define some of the terms we’ll be using. A visual communicator is someone who shares information with a broader audience using design, illustration and/or animation. And more specifically, a visual science communicator is trained to understand your science. They are equipped to identify the best way to connect with your audience and distill complex information into an understandable visual.
We can break down the role of visual communicator further, as most specialize in one or 2 areas. For the purpose of this article:
- Illustrator- An artist who uses art to convey their client’s story. This can be informative, or more emotional, but in the case of science illustrators is usually more informative. Although there are editorial science illustrators!
- Designer- Someone who works with type AND images (illustrations and photos) to create legible, clear, cohesive visuals. This can be web designs, logos and printed materials.
- Animator- Someone who creates moving art, and uses motion to tell a story.
The likelihood of finding someone that can do all of these well increases if you work with a larger studio or agency that has the support and expertise of multiple people. However, it’s helpful to know that your best solution may be working with a separate graphic designer for one part of your project, an animator for another, and an illustrator for another.
Regardless of what you need to tell your science story, the principles of finding a visual science communicator remain the same. So without further ado… where do you start when you’ve decided to leap into the world of science art?
Where to Find a Visual Science Communicator for Illustration and Animation?
In the age of social media, the problem of finding an artist may be more about choice overload. If you’re on Instagram, Twitter, or any other popular platform, you may be inundated with images. But how do you know if the “squeaky wheel” is the best fit for you? What should you ask to make sure that they can effectively communicate your life’s work?
First, it can be helpful to know of a few reputable places to look, beyond Google searches. Here at SayoStudio, we advertise on the following sites, and know that there many other fantastic artists to consider. A few places to look:
- The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators is a professional organization for science illustrators, and has a gallery for members here.
- Serbin Communication publishes the Medical Illustration Sourcebook. In addition to medical artists, they also have a select group of natural science illustrators. Serbin also publishes the Directory of Illustration which will show you a broader style base to look at. It’s worth noting that artists DO pay to be represented in these books, but Serbin vets their artists to maintain quality standards.
- Science books, magazines and journals are also helpful places to look. Do you see work that you like? Most will have credits in the page margins so that you can look up the artist in question.
- And finally, a shameless plug… we hope that you check out our science art, animation, and illustration here at SayoStudio. We have years of work from Nicolle R. Fuller, and we’re excited to be partnering with more artists moving forward. Check out our case studies and read about our process here.
Wait, what about Google?
And of course… Google! In fact, if you’re reading this you may very well have found this article through a search. What you may not know, is that there is often a discrepancy between the keywords YOU enter vs how visual science communicators self-describe. For example, many call themselves “scientific illustrators” or “science animators,” while someone outside of the field might search for “science cartoons” or “science graphics.” Some good keywords in addition to your subject matter (cancer, nanotechnology, botany, etc…) are: illustration, infographic, technical illustration, scientific illustrator, medical animator, motion artist, science artist, science visualizer, science communicator.
This example of visual science communication was created for Kezar Life Science. It showcases their research on the Sec61 complex, a new therapeutic target for cancer and autoimmune diseases. We started with a sketch to ensure accuracy, and moved through to final color to bring it to life. The first art shows how the membrane channel works to transport proteins, allowing Kezar to highlight potential drug targets. The larger view of the cell gives the story context to show Sec61 in the endoplasmic reticulum. Finally, to pay homage to their namesake Kezar Stadium, we created a fun editorial version of a cell as a sports arena. © Nicolle R. Fuller, SayoStudio
How do I Choose a Science Illustrator?
Foremost as you’re considering different visual communicators, look for someone whose work resonates with you. Essentially, do you like it? At the end of the day, visuals and art are a gut-level reaction. This is true whether you’re looking for a painting to adorn your wall or an infographic to explain your manuscript’s science.
Second, what is their depth of knowledge? For example, a science illustrator, as opposed to a general illustrator, is trained to distill complex information (or they should have been!). On their websites, many illustrators, animators and designers present case studies to help you better understand their process. As you review potential science communicators, you want to look for a partner who gets it. Someone who:
- Understands your lingo (at least enough to know what questions to ask and what to research further!);
- Quickly appreciates the significance of your work;
- And is enthusiastic! True curiosity shouldn’t be under-appreciated.
- Understands the scope… meaning can they finish work on schedule?
- Provides you with graphic expertise and guidance for your publication; whether it be printed, web or social media.
If it’s Too Good to be True…
The old adage, if it sounds too good to be true… applies to the science communication world. If you’ve found someone with fantastic vision who is willing to work on a small budget, by all means consider them. But be honest with yourself. Do you have the time for unexpected delays when files are formatted incorrectly, or the expertise to help guide them? You want someone who can help guide you, get the work done by the deadline, and professionally respond to feedback. The next article in the series we’ll review logistics, and other good checkpoints in your visual communicator hiring process.
But how can you tell if they will understand your science? You can get clues from their online presence… does their work reflect details and/or conceptual ideas at the level you need for your work? This is where defining what YOU need can really help. When you know what YOU need, you can discern if the communicator you’ve found is a good fit.
Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions. You can expect a complimentary introductory 20-minute meeting, or an email discussion to discuss your science story. We’re used to working with clients new to the visual world, and are happy to answer your questions.
Up Next: What to Prepare Before Hiring a Visual Science Communicator
In part 2 of our 3 part series, we’ll review what YOU can do to set your science visualization project up for success. We’ll talk about the importance of defining what you need, from the audience you’re communicating with, to your budget, to preparing references to share with. Until then, if this was helpful or if you have specific questions, please let us know in the comments!
If you feel inspired and would like to join the science art conversation, please sign up for my newsletters!