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Symbiartic

Symbiartic


The art of science and the science of art.
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How To Talk To a Roomful of Artists Who Are Better Than You

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This past weekend I participated in the Association of Medical Illustrators annual meeting (hashtag #AMI2014), held with the hospitality of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.

Here are my public speaking tips when speaking to a roomful of artists who are better than you. Okay, first let’s define “better”.

  • I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honours and tend to paint dead ocean critters with wings on them.
  • Many members of the Association of Medical Illustrators have graduated from programs like the Biomedical Communications Graduate program at the University of Toronto and know what the thing at the back of your throat is called and how to draw it in cross section as well as animate it wiggling when you sing karaoke. And their work can save lives. So: better.

My tips:

One of my first slides, showing a flying trilobite painting. I let descriptive blurbs on the slides tell the jokes for me. © Glendon Mellow

1. Be willing to laugh at yourself. Poke a bit of fun at your own work. Although I think wielding the power of evocative visual metaphors is one of the highest intellectual pursuits of humankind, I have to admit painting wings on trilobites is pretty weird. Hopefully this disarms any audience naysayers who wonder what you are doing there and makes discussing your work easier for others. If you don’t treat your own paintings as precious, highly-evolved concepts above the likes of normal mortals, you are easier for people to relate to. For some reason.

I almost didn't include the hashtag info on this one. I added that on the plane on the way to the conference. It felt like I was putting too much text on the slide.

2. Don’t read from the slides. Slides should be visuals to illustrate your points, not where you keep your points. This talk was only 20 minutes, so there was a lot of ground to cover. I included this slide (above) near the end as one I could quickly whip through if my time was almost done, or I could linger on if my talk still had extra time due to drinking 5 coffees that morning and talking like a squirrel.

Talkin' Twitter at the AMI. Thanks to Julie Saunders for the photo!

3. Share useful tools. There’s a tendency in artists and illustrators to want to always maintain some professional mystique, to keep the aura of Why You Are So Great a bit of a mystery so that no one replicates your success. We all need to fight that and share techniques with each other. In this case, I tried to share why I think Twitter is a great tool for nuanced, complicated arguments by using what’s know as the “Twitter essay”. Judging from the reactions on Twitter, I hope it was useful and people from the AMI conference give it a try.

Oh and in case you’re wondering about the Twitter essay:

The Twitter Essay: keep replying to each of your own subsequent tweet (erase your @name) and use 1/n, 2/n until your are finished. Then, when someone sees 32/n they can click on it and see the whole stream.

4. Don’t be creepy. You want to share enough about yourself to show how everyone’s professional journey is similar, but each has unique twists and turns in the story. But if you throw random personal stories out there without a point, it can come off creepy. That’s why I never tell anyone my “broken zipper at a friend’s wedding” story. It goes nowhere. Always bring it back around to the work and your drive for why you do what you do.

Talking about Symbiartic means talking about the #sciart community.

5. Open doors. When I talk about Symbiartic, I talk about the things that I feel are important to the #sciart community. Copyright and attribution issues. Respect for illustrators as effective science communicators alongside journalists. The power of banding together on issues that matter. Sharing art techniques and ideas. The AMI members are adept at all of these things too, so by bringing a bit of Symbiartic into their conference, hopefully we’ll see more AMI members in #sciart spaces on Twitter, Google+ and right here in our comments.

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Thank you to Bob Morreale, the AMI and the Mayo Clinic for the hospitality and for inviting me to speak!

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at www.glendonmellow.com. Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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