Amazing how good carving a little time for some undirected sketching feels. Like aligning bicycle brakes. And I think I could turn this into a more elaborate tattooed-dinosaur piece...
Can you imagine what science communication would be like without images?
Again on Twitter and Facebook, I find myself levelling criticisms at particular sites and railing against improper image use in science communication. Again.
After arguing with (arguably) allies in science communication I was fed up. Fed up with the attitude that unattributed images are just a (small) sacrifice for the net good of science communication to the populace at large. Fed up that photographers, cartoonists & illustrators are considered by many to be lesser professions than scientists & educators. Fed up that rapid image sharing (oh I’m sorry: “curation”) can trample so many creators and yet lead to fame and fortune.
I found myself saying once again, “can you imagine what science communication would be like without images?
And now I’m going to show that to you. Click on the images for maximum effect.
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The 4 blogs I am showing below are all ones I consider to be excellent at science communication in all aspects: compelling reads coupled with effective, often astonishing images. These bloggers, in my opinion make every effort to attribute and use images correctly. They link back. They name sources, just as good science blogging should.
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I wish that once a year, popular browsers like Chrome, Safari and Firefox could somehow block all images online as an awareness campaign.
Despite feeling discouraged last week about what it will take to see a phase-change in how image creators are treated online, I still believe there is hope. And thanks to those of you who encouraged myself and others who were wading into some ugly debates. Here are a few hopeful tweets I shared.
Many thanks to Annalee Newitz (io9), Dr. Craig McClain (Deep Sea News), Jennifer Ouellette (Cocktail Party Physics) and Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science) for letting me stripmine their blogs in order to make these non-images. Apologies to your bloggers, illustrators, photographers and designers.
Before anyone goes scurrying off to see if they have ever screwed up and forgotten an attribution, let me assure you that these bloggers would welcome the correction. I didn’t approach them because I am certain they are perfect: I approached them because they show respect to creators consistently.
Originally published at blogs.scientificamerican.com. This post originally appeared on Symbiartic on Scientific American, by Glendon Mellow March 18, 2014. I’ve done a bit of light editing on tense in the first paragraph. This post has also been re-blogged on Medium.
You’re proud of the science communication you’ve written for your blog. You want to add visual excitement to an announcement about science outreach. You need to illustrate your findings for the paper that has taken years of your life to study and write-up. You know illustrations, photos and cartoons make your writing much more likely to be read on social media.
You want to hire a science illustrator, but are not sure where to start.
Here’s some things you should know.
Where to find science illustrators
- Symbiartic (The blog I am a part of on Scientific American has posted hundreds of artists, cartoonists, illustrators and photographers and their contact info)
- Guild of Natural Science Illustrators
- Association of Medical Illustrators
- SciArt Magazine
- Mad Art Lab
- Street Anatomy
- ART Evolved
- Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators
- Art & Science Journal
- DeviantArt communities like BioScience and BioIllustration
- ScienceArt Community on G+
- #sciart hashtag on Twitter
You want someone who knows what they’re doing.
How to pick one
Most illustrators have areas of expertise. It’s a good idea to look around at some portfolios or ask for recommendations in the community. For example, I tend to do oil and digital paintings about prehistoric life, humans, and microbes. I’m not the best person to ask to do a design-heavy infographic about sanitation hazards on kitchen appliances.
Think about your audience. If you’re describing the evolution of dinosaurs and birds to high school students, you may want something funny to keep their attention, rather than something cute like you would for grade school.
Be open to new styles. A lot of the best science illustration pushes boundaries in favor of artistic value to communicate effectively, rather than act as a stand-in for a photograph.
How to approach a science illustrator
Be excited about your blog post, paper, book draft or study. Be excited to find visuals to match what you poured into it.
Be prepared that their years of study, school, and practice honing their ability is going to cost money and take time — and for it to be worth it.
Don’t ask them to do work “for exposure”. Illustrators laugh about that, bitterly. For example, see David Thorne’s classic post Simon’s Free Pie Chartsand the @forexposure_txt Twitter account which quotes real people asking for free work.
If you can’t pay, or can’t pay much, it’s best to ask about something the illustrator has already created. Many illustrators are okay with re-sharing their back catalogue work that may otherwise be gathering dust. Not all feel this way, as the back catalogue may be their bread and butter for licensing. But if you have a specific piece in mind, it may be worth asking if it’s available.
If you work for a charity or non-profit, you still have to pay a plumber to fix the broken taps or a service provider for your phone. So keep that in mind about illustration.
Money and contracts and stuff
This section might well be your main reason for reading this post. Spoiler alert: I am not posting how much illustrators charge.
Most illustrators have their own contracts or Agreements about money and usage. All professional ones will want to use one, even for minor jobs.
Contracts and Agreements are not created out of the aether. Illustrators have guides such as the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines and modify from there. You might want to get a copy if you are hiring often.
That Handbook I mention above has prices for a lot of scenarios, but not all. Want to hire someone to make a Twitter background reflecting your research into theoretical physics? The artist may decide how to charge based on a living wage and estimate of how long it will take to complete. $300 might sound steep, but if it takes them 20 hours to produce, that’s still only $15/hour.
Copyright always lies with the image creator by international law. Paying someone to make the image does not change this.
If you want to pay someone to relinquish all of their copyright, it can cost a lot, up to 500% of the original price. Ask yourself: do you need to? Is this for a website written only in English? A textbook in 3 languages in Asia? Illustrators prefer to retain copyright so they can re-license the image to other markets. At bare minimum, they will want to use it as a portfolio piece, to enter contests in their field and other forms of self-promotion.
If you are hiring an illustrator to create work for you from scratch, many will ask for a deposit, send sketches, and then reach a “kill-point” in the contract where if it is killed or substantially modified, payment will be expected anyway. Most charge for revisions past a certain point.
Don’t ask the authentic pen&ink illustrator you hired for that classic black and white look to “turn the head on that hominid by 30 degrees”. It’s not a 3D computer render.
It’s also useful to describe to the illustrator who the audience is, in terms of numbers and demographics. Potential audience goes a long way in making decisions about pricing.
Remember it’s worth it
You’re reading this using the greatest image and communication tool ever conceived, the internet. Images are the future of communication.
These tips aren’t pitfalls: most illustrators are excited and hungry for new challenges and projects. Don’t be shy.
Illustrations by Glendon Mellow, top image has photo references by Morgan Jackson.]
Dimetrodon-Sphinx. I've never been able to digitally colour this piece to my satisfaction. Sketches of Dimetrodon-Sphinxes have been around in my artwork for about 20 years. The idea of pre-Mesozoic animal/human hybrids really appeals to the sense of deep time I want in my mythological art.
Really need to get back into daily sketches. Hopefully they will appear here and on my Instagram: @FlyingTrilobite
It's the #SuperBloodMoon.
No, it's evidence of salty water on Mars.
Or the original Old Ones have woken from their stony sleep and are unrolling in the sky.
Just a quick 'bite this morning.
Hmm. Artrage colours came out with a lot heavier saturation when I switched to Photoshop for cropping. Time to fiddle with some settings.
Halftone and Instagram versions: