2021 Visual SciComm Conference

GNSI 21 Logo GIFLearn a New Skill, Make New Connections, Renew Your Passion! 

Core Conference: July 17–18, 2021; Workshops: July 24–25, 2021 

The GNSI’s next virtual installment of our annual conference is just around the corner. This year’s program will span two weekends: one dedicated to core conference presentations & events, and one to online workshops. 

—Christie Newman, Conference Chair 

Above: Logo art © 2021 Fiona Martin of Visualizing Science

A fabulous lineup of presenters covers such topics as raising public health awareness through data visualization, deconstructing complex topics for any audience, and new ways to attract clients and project funding. Our speakers include: Alice Kitterman of AAAS, Ben Smith of Applied Physics Laboratory, Dino Citraro of Periscopic, Ever Salazar of MinuteEarth, and many more. 

Our workshops will focus on business acumen and career tips as well as new digital and traditional techniques. We’re excited to have Brandon Holt of St. George’s University, Mesa Schumacher of Mesa Studios, and Scott Rawlins of Arcadia University as our instructors. 

But, no GNSI conference is complete without social events! You’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch up with old friends and meet new ones during the virtual after parties. Expect a fun time socializing and jumping tables in our Remo site gathering. Free events are on the menus as well: 


 The Portfolio Share is a time of camaraderie and an opportunity to see the variety and style that each GNSI member brings to the field. This year’s sharing will take place online on Facebook and Twitter. 

Facebook: Visit our Facebook page (@GNSIart) from June 28th–July 5th to enjoy a gallery of portfolios from GNSI members who submitted work for our virtual portfolio share. 

Twitter: The portfolio share takes Twitter by storm! Let’s dedicate the week of July 12th–18th to flooding Twitter with science art. Both GNSI members and nonmembers are invited to share their work and connect with Twitter's lively sciart community. To join, simply tweet 3 pieces of your own art with the tag #sciartportfolioweek and retweet 3 works from other people for each day of the event. 

If you have questions, please contact Jenn Deutscher at [email protected]. 


This year's official conference hashtags are #vizscicomm, #scicomm, and #sciart. Use them widely on social media when referring to conference events and happenings. 


This year's Members’ Juried Exhibition selected works will be displayed on the GNSI Image Gallery to coincide with the conference. We have received lots of amazing art from our members! 


Since the 2020 GNSI Virtual Auction was such a success we are going to do it again. You can participate from anywhere to view and bid on all the items that will be donated towards the auction. There will also be a live auction portion during the actual virtual conference. 

All the donated items are now on view. Have a look!  https://www.32auctions.com/GNSI2021virtualauction 

Half of the proceeds from the auction go towards the GNSI Education Fund and half goes to the GNSI General Fund. 

Visit www.gnsi.org/2021vconf to see the full schedule and registration details.

Presentations (July 17 - 18, 2021)

Conf 21_ AguileraGalaxies & Garbage: Data Visualization, A Social Commentary 

Dr. Julieta Aguilera 

The project presented seeks to make a hidden aspect of reality visible: plastic disposables. The author has lived in the same neighborhood for over 20 years, picking up litter from her front yard, along with almost all her neighbors. Yet the question of behavior change in terms of avoiding disposables has remained hidden in the act of putting litter away without knowing how much is really out there. Enter citizen science data collection and classification projects which may allow neighbors to see what others have found and, in doing so, appreciate the extent of the pollution while emphasizing why data agency is important for decision making. To amplify visibility, photographs of pieces of litter being picked up were compiled into an array and then digitally overexposed into an image of a historical postcard as a mosaic. From a distance, the postcard can be discerned, but up close, it is each piece of litter that can be clearly recognized, inviting viewers to reflect on the amount of trash that adds to its resolution. Several local businesses on the village’s main street participated in a mini traveling exhibit, hosting the image at different locations during the Summer and Fall of 2019. 

Conf 21_ SabrawPollution to Paint; Art Connections & Possible Solutions for a More Sustainable Future 

John Sabraw, Ohio University 

While our harnessing of nature to produce energy is a wondrous feat of ingenuity and engineering, for Sabraw it’s also emblematic of our consumption and hubris. The connections created by this production form a hidden network most people have no idea exists, yet each of us has a part in its formation. Often the only visible evidence is pollution in our waterways and biodiversity decline. This talk will explore the topographies of these connections and possible solutions for a more sustainable future and the critical role artists play in their success. 


Conf 21_ CitaroThe Unknown: Encoding Data for Impact 

Dino Citraro, Wes Bernegger, Rik Ghosh, and Teiler Kwan of Periscopic 

Data visualization is not a lump category for graph-making, nor a catch-all phrase for visually intuiting data. This talk will explore the rich complexity of interactive data visualization and emphasize the importance of identifying appropriate communication strategies to reveal insights and create impact. 


Conf 21_ SalazarIllustrating the Invisible: three ways to depict a protein 

Ever Salazar, MinuteEarth 

Effective and engaging science communication is one of the most important goals for every scientific illustrator, and it can get really challenging when we need to illustrate the molecular world. Since there’s a limit to what we can see (with our naked eyes or even with our most advanced microscopes), science illustrators often rely on visual metaphors to picture the molecular world. Some of these metaphors have become common language among scientists and the general public; and while they can be simple and iconic, they can obscure essential aspects of the thing they’re trying to portray. For example, the widespread Y-shaped diagram of an antibody does not communicate that an antibody is a molecule! And that seems wrong. This short presentation will discuss this problem and some possible solutions. 

Conf 21_ MontgomeryScientific Comic Books: Sci Comm's Next Frontier 

Kelly Montgomery, JKX Comics 

Storytelling is an essential feature of scientific communication that often gets suppressed in favor of technical detail. Part of the goal of JKX Comics is to emphasize the narratives rooted in scientific research to engage broader populations and encourage others to participate in the scientific process. Using visual and printed storytelling, JKX Comics crafts charming stories that simultaneously captivate and educate readers, thrusting non-scientists into an immersive scientific experience. Here, the JKX co-founders will share their creative process of creating a science comic book, moving from technical research to a reader-friendly narrative. 

Conf 21_ Kim

Botanical Documentation of Prairies & Woods: Project 200 

Heeyoung Kim, Heeyoung Kim Botanical Art Academy 

When she was first introduced to the botanical art form in her mid-forties, Heeyoung Kim’s mind was set to one goal: painting wildflowers. With educating the public about native plants and nature conservation in mind, she has embarked on a lifelong undertaking, Project 200, to document native Midwestern plants at risk, before it’s too late. In this presentation, Kim will talk about Project 200, share her drawing/painting progress, and her approach to working on complicated composition with the plant life cycle along with brief demonstrations with her favorite medium: watercolor. 



Conf 21_ KittermanVisual “Breadcrumbs” for Visual Literacy 

Alice Kitterman, National Science Foundation 

During the four years Alice worked at AAAS/Science, she subconsciously developed a "checklist" for enhancing the visual literacy in her work, that was grounded in the style guidelines and overall branding vision set forth by the Visuals team at Science. In this presentation, she shares these "life hacks" that she employed to each of the over 160 illustrations she created annually. 

Conf 21_ Roth3D Modeling Animal Anatomy 

Mieke Roth 

Modeling accurate animal anatomy means you need to get your hands dirty. In this presentation, Mieke will show you part of her workflow by showing how she made a model of a rat neck, including vertebrae and the surrounding tissue. The workshop will demonstrate the creation process from dissection to photogrammetry, modeling in Zbrush®, getting it out in Blender®, exporting to Sketchfab®, and finally making an application from it. Mieke will give her thoughts about the process, what accurate visualization means, and future applications of 3D models. 

Panel: Career Pathways in Science Visualization (July 18, 2021) 

Conf 21_ SmithBen Smith 

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory 

For more than 70 years, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has provided significant contributions to critical challenges with systems engineering and integration, technology research and development, and analysis. APL scientists, engineers, and analysts serve as trusted advisors and technical experts to the government, ensuring the reliability of complex technologies that safeguard our nation’s security and advance the frontiers of space. APL also maintains independent research and development programs that pioneer and explore emerging technologies and concepts to address future national priorities. 

Clifford V. Johnson 

University of Southern California 

Clifford is a theoretical physicist passionate about sharing science with the public. He wanted to write a book about physics to a lay audience, but he felt that words on a printed page did not fully convey the dynamic, collaborative nature of fundamental research. What if, he wondered, you could represent multiple voices and points of view? What if one could make the reader feel immersed in scientific discourse, rather than reading the words of an expert sharing a single perspective? He wanted to write a book that would give readers a fly-on-the-wall experience of exploring the ideas themselves, a key process of fundamental science. Johnson realized that graphic novels are the unique narrative medium he was searching for. Through the written word and compelling visuals, graphic novels can immerse the reader in a world of ideas and sensations. This realization led Johnson to write and draw The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe (MIT Press), which allows readers to eavesdrop on a series of dialogues, set in locations around the world, about cutting-edge scientific topics. In his talk, Johnson will discuss the process of turning complex scientific topics into compelling visual narratives. 

Kelsa Trom 


This presentation will explore how the New Museum's incubator instills a spirit of growth, resilience, and empowerment for artists, designers, and technologists. 

Conf 21_ FullerNicolle R. Fuller 

Sayo-Art LLC 

This past year I've found myself with more time for self-reflection, AND to do market research. Finally, with hard-numbers of competitors' pricing, I realized that I had been severely under-charging for animation. To do it efficiently, I need a team... And the good news is that I can afford it if I'm charging market rates! So despite my profits currently on track to be 50% less than past years, I'm committed to growing my 1-woman-shop into an agency. I've used this past year to re-focus my business and marketing, and recruit an incredible team to complement my skills. 

Workshops (July 24–25, 2021) 

Conf 21_HoltIntro to ZBrush® 

Brandon Holt, St. George's University 

ZBrush can be intimidating when you first launch the software, but after taking this workshop, you will be excited to open the program and start sculpting every day. In this workshop, you will be guided through the basic user interface and shown how you can create almost anything starting from a sphere. Once your model has taken its form, you will then be shown how to paint using Polypaint and render your final model using Best Preview Render (BPR) and the ZBrush-to-Photoshop Plugin. 



Conf 21_ RollinsDry Media for Field Sketching 

Scott Rawlins, Arcadia University 

A dancer stretching at a barre or a pianist practicing scales and arpeggios are examples of how certain kinds of artists “tune-up” and center themselves. The same is true for visual artists—there are “exercises” that help us to remain loose both physically and mentally. Field sketching is one of these. The act of quickly recording subjects in situ, without the benefit of special materials and equipment not only helps to maintain good hand/ eye coordination but also connects us with the tradition of visually recording data at their sources. Ultimately, these sketches represent a combination of many vital skills for scientific artists including accurate observation, attention to composition, and quick rendering. Participants in this workshop will revisit the conditions and processes associated with field sketching, and learn how to combine graphite and pastel dust to quickly achieve fresh line drawings tinted with pastels. Though most of the instruction will take place in a (virtual) classroom setting, participants will also be given an opportunity to engage in a short field trip of their own design. 

Conf 21_SchumacherThe Business of Science Art 

Mesa Schumacher, Mesa Studios 

Want to start a science art business, get your dream job, move forward on your educational journey, or improve your client relationships? Long-time freelance artist Mesa Schumacher will cover the basics of presenting yourself and your work, business, negotiation, contracts, client relationships, and answer your questions about how you can move forward in your business journey. 




Conf 21_DeGraceIllustrator's Guide to Grants: Workshop Edition 

Amanda DeGrace, Amapola Studio 

As an extension of the GNSI Symposia, GNSI member Amanda DeGrace returns with a full workshop that includes writing prompts and mission-building exercises! 

Grant writing may seem outside the realm of your typical independent illustrator. But with guidance and writing prompt exercises, it might just be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to jumpstart that creative project you’ve always wanted to tackle. DeGrace draws on her considerable experience securing grants to revitalize the downtown of her native New Bedford, MA, to offer us insight into where to look, how to present your mission, and consider partnerships that may ultimately land you your dream project. This workshop will be split into parts with lectures and guided prompts. All students will receive a packet to jump-start a full proposal and some may share their responses for in-class feedback. 

This open-source article appears in the Journal of Natural Science Illustrators, Vol. 53, No. 2 

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