New Animated Science Outreach Video and Infographics

Rob Denton, M.S. of The Ohio State University came to us to design a science outreach project about reproductive diversity among animals. Basically, Rob wanted to explain that there are many ways animals reproduce beyond what we're familiar with. Using his and other scientists' research, we created a short animated video and a collection of informative graphics for Rob and his colleagues to share on social media. It was a ton of fun to create. You can check out the video and a few of the infographics below!

May and June in Pictures

Monarchcaterpilars

We started out May by finding so many monarch caterpillars! We knew they weren't going to survive on their own out in our yard, so we found a preschool teacher who could care for them. We sent seven tiny caterpillars to her classroom and she was able to release six butterflies this spring! The kids enjoyed watching them eat and eat and eat as well as grow into butterflies.

peonyinmay

Our peonies are blooming! This is one of my favorite times of the year!

We also took a trip to England and Spain this spring. Here we are in Ronda, Spain taking some selfies and enjoying a beautiful sunset.

rondaspain

One of the most amazing parts of Ronda is that it is built on a cliff and there is a gorge that separates the new city from the old. It is connected by this bridge. We hiked down into the gorge one day and were able to see the bridge from below.

heartbeach

We also visited the coastal city of Málaga, Spain and found this great heart rock on the beach.

In England we were able to visit lots of country gardens and manor houses. And we did what we always do in gardens, take pictures of bugs and flowers. The bees were a little slow due to the chilly weather and we were able to get some pretty nice pictures as well as an up close look at them.

We visited Little Moreton Hall and saw all of its rooms and tudor styling in all of their wonky glory. This house was added to and re-imagined so many times that there can't be a right angle in it. They had great interpretive staff and we learned a lot about sleeping "Tudor style."

We were also able to visit some castle ruins in Wales. These are often entered after hiking a ways through a pasture. These lambs were not too excited about us visiting. They had adopted this goat as their mother and were cautiously checking us out while hiding behind her.

bloomingtonpollinator

After our trip we returned to a buzzing front yard as our plants had grown double in size while we were gone.

Here you can see one of our planting beds full of Joe Pye weed, ninebark, blue false indigo, Bush's poppy mallow, coneflowers, balloon flower, daisies, rose and common milkweed, lambs ear, prairie dropseed, spiderworts, christmas fern, and many more.

March and April in Pictures

ProtectWilderness
LoveTheLand

We've added a few new sticker designs to our Redbubble shop. These designs focus on our love for natural places. With the current political climate we feel it is even more important than ever to protect the environment and our beautiful wild areas.

A picture from one of the coffee shops in town that have been helping us get through the winter. When you need to work and need to be caffeinated, the Pourhouse is a good option. It also has the advantage of having huge front windows that help fight off the winter blahs.

We also took Wallace on a hike to a local nature preserve. Trevlac Bluffs is a not-too-rugged hike through a hilltop forest. He loved posing by this little pond.

Our yard started to get some color thanks to these early spring bloomers! It will hopefully be non-stop color from here to Fall!

MonarchLayingEggs

We've had some monarchs visit our yard already! This is the earliest we've seen them coming around our neighborhood. All that milkweed we've been planting must be paying off!

We were also delighted to be tagged in this picture from our friend Michael Barton of Nature Play Signs. He is sporting our t-shirt design promoting the importance of science.

New Additions to the Blue Aster Shop

We stand with science! We appreciate every opportunity we have to work with researchers, conservationists, and science communicators.

These new pro-science designs we've created are inspired by vintage campaign buttons. We're donating 50% of proceeds from these designs, and forthcoming designs in the collection, to Science Olympiad!

Available on tees, mugs, totes, and more at the Blue Aster Studio on-line shop.
 

December in Pictures

November in Pictures

Celebrating the great outdoors with our new design collection

After launching our on-line store with the Snake Shop collection, we've been adding new merchandise. Recently, we launched a new Great Outdoors collection. This collection includes these fun badge designs that focus on different natural environments - mountains, desert, and woodlands. Available on shirts and other garments, totes, stickers, device cases and skins, and more. Head to our store to check them out, and if you pick one up, send us a photo of our design "out in the wild!"

Autumn in Pictures

It's been a busy autumn! We've had many family commitments and plenty of work to keep us busy, but have made time to do some of the seasonal activities that make the approaching cold of winter a bit easier to take. Enjoy these photos from September and October, and keep watching this space for more fun stuff.

LGBT History Month Portraits

LGBT History Month Portraits

October is LGBT History Month! The official observance celebrates a different icon of LGBT rights every day of the month. To join in, we added seven of our own to create a rainbow-colored series of illustrated portraits, sharing them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook throughout the month. Here's the full set!

We're Hosting a Twitter Chat for Science!

We're Hosting a Twitter Chat for Science!

Snake-Town-Hall-Advertisement

Working with Dr. David Steen, we have put together a twitter chat to provide a forum for the public to have all of their snake questions answered! Read the press release below for all the info.

BIOLOGISTS TAKE TO TWITTER TO ADVOCATE FOR SNAKES

A team of experts answer public questions about our slithering friends

Snakes play a vital role in the environment, but are also the subject of unfounded fears and prejudices. On September 7, 2016 from 7pm - 9pm EST, a team of snake experts will hold the first #SnakeTownHall on Twitter to allow the public to get answers to all of their snake questions.

The event is organized by Auburn University wildlife ecologist Dr. David A. Steen (@AlongsideWild) and Bloomington, IN design firm Blue Aster Studio (@blueasterstudio). Dr. Steen, dubbed the Best Biologist on Twitter by Slate Magazine, regularly engages with the public to advocate on the behalf of snakes and prevent their needless killing, particularly when harmless snake species are mistaken for venomous copperheads and cottonmouths. The #SnakeTownHall team of snake experts will also include Melissa Amarello (@snakeadvocate; Advocates for Snake Preservation), Dr. Emily Taylor (@snakeymama; California Polytechnic State University), Dr. Bree Putman (@breeput; University of California Los Angeles), Dr. Sara Ruane (@sara_and_snakes; Louisiana State University), and Dr. Jennifer Moore (@DrReptilia; Grand Valley State University).

Believing in the possibilities of partnerships between science and art, Dr. Steen will also be using the #SnakeTownHall to launch a new set of illustrated snake identification graphics designed by Blue Aster Studio, providing a fun, memorable accompaniment to his Twitter interactions. In addition to answering questions from the public during the #SnakeTownHall, Dr. Steen will be providing trivia challenges featuring Blue Aster Studio graphics and users of the #SnakeTownHall hashtag will be entered in random drawings to win merchandise featuring these graphics.

Please join us on September 7th at 7pm EST on Twitter to experience first-hand how social media can be leveraged for science outreach at the hashtag #SnakeTownHall.

August in Pictures

We had two fawns hanging out in our backyard this month! They have been enjoying the shelter and shade of our pine trees. If you look closely, you can see both of them in this picture.

We had two fawns hanging out in our backyard this month! They have been enjoying the shelter and shade of our pine trees. If you look closely, you can see both of them in this picture.

Our friends Epyon5 and Katrina Catizone came to town for the Indiana Toy and Comic Expo. Their booths were really popular!

Our friends Epyon5 and Katrina Catizone came to town for the Indiana Toy and Comic Expo. Their booths were really popular!

We met a garter snake on a hike while babysitting! The kids were very excited. We helped them carefully hold it and let it slither on their hands. They went home with a great story to tell their parents.

We met a garter snake on a hike while babysitting! The kids were very excited. We helped them carefully hold it and let it slither on their hands. They went home with a great story to tell their parents.

Two monarch caterpillars hatched on our milkweed plants this month. We followed their progress for a while but lost track of them in the garden. We hope they went on to become beautiful butterflies!

Two monarch caterpillars hatched on our milkweed plants this month. We followed their progress for a while but lost track of them in the garden. We hope they went on to become beautiful butterflies!

Here is a rough sketch for an illustration project David worked on this month. It was part of a series of illustrations for a teachers' organization's social media account.

Here is a rough sketch for an illustration project David worked on this month. It was part of a series of illustrations for a teachers' organization's social media account.

We've been spending a lot of time outdoors at parks and finding inspiration in the things we find.

We've been spending a lot of time outdoors at parks and finding inspiration in the things we find.

Mosquito Day 2016: Science Outreach Graphics for Social Media

Mosquito Day 2016: Science Outreach Graphics for Social Media

We talk to a lot of scientists and educators and they're always looking for new ways to get their messages out to the public. One of the best ways we know of is using graphics to start a conversation on social media. To mark Mosquito Day on August 20, we designed a set of graphics to dispense quick facts to spread the word about ways to minimize the aggravation mosquitoes cause while also appreciating them as part of the circle of life.

Graphic-Design-Mosquito-Day-2016
Design-Food-Chain
Design-Deadly-Mosquito
Mosquito-Breeder-Design
Design-Mosquito-Repellent
Birds-Bats-Design
Mosquito-Larvae-Design
Design-Mosquito-Friend
Mosquito-Pollinators-Design

One of the fun aspects of these was that they were a departure from our Shark Week and Tiger Day graphics. This time around, we found Creative Commons licensed photos, pairing them with simple typography. We were thrilled with the response. We did not expect that the "Annoying but Necessary" and "Not Just Blood Suckers" graphics would be the most widely shared. It just goes to show that the element of surprise works to your advantage when creating social media graphics!

If you've got a message you want to spread via social media, send us a message and let's talk!

Tiger Day 2016: Bite-sized Infographics

Tiger Day 2016: Bite-sized Infographics

It's International Tiger Day! Since we had so much fun designing our Shark Week graphics, we decided to put together some small infographics for tigers. We had been wanting to create some graphics based on vintage children's book illustrations and thought this was the perfect time to make that happen. Using both interesting facts and conservation messages in these bite-sized graphics, we hope that they can bring awareness to the plight of tigers around the world.

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tiger-diet-infographic.jpg
tiger-habitat-loss-infographic.jpg
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tiger-meal-infographic.jpg

July in Pictures

July in Pictures

Shark Week 2016: Illustrating Endangered Species

Shark Week 2016: Illustrating Endangered Species

Just over a week ago, we stood up on our social media soapbox and announced to the world that Blue Aster Studio was open for business. We hung out our shingle on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Our launch coincided with another event: the annual Shark Week, which was begun by Discovery Networks as a week-long block of shark-themed programming, but has been seized upon by savvy conservation researchers, activists, and organizations to educate about the challenges sharks face in the wild. We thought it was a great chance to design some graphics to promote shark conservation and celebrate these amazing animals.

We started off with a colorful tiger shark illustration to celebrate the event.

Then, we launched a series of graphics to promote sharks that are on the IUCN Red List, the world's most comprehensive database of endangered species. It was fun to research and create these and highlight some lesser-known sharks - in addition to one of the most iconic.

To round out the week, we devised "Shark Size Extremes," a fun infographic that compares two of the largest sharks, the whale shark and the long-extinct megalodon, with one of the smallest of the sharks, the bioluminescent dwarf lanternshark.

It was a blast to create this set of designs celebrating sharks. We plan on creating similar graphics for other environmental observances throughout the year, so please do follow us on our social media channels - again, those are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We are keen to work with non-profits as well as private companies to devise new ways to educate the public, produce content marketing materials, and help increase awareness of important environmental issues. Contact us to get the ball rolling!

June in pictures

June in pictures

Designing Presentation Graphics for an Indiana University Proposal

Designing Presentation Graphics for an Indiana University Proposal

In just a few days, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie will announce his choice for this year's Grand Challenge grant recipient. From a field of 21 initial proposals, five finalists were selected in January. Each grant proposal was to take on a broad, tricky problem facing society. One of the teams, led by Dr. Ellen Ketterson, took on climate change, and contacted us to help make their proposal stand out.

We mostly worked with Dr. David Polly from IU Geosciences. At an initial meeting, he ran through the overall proposal and discussed what he thought would be needed. They definitely wanted a cover illustration. They also felt that an infographic for the interior was needed, but weren't sure of what information from the proposal would be best suited for the form. He handed off a wealth of material for us to look at and we set to processing it all. While climate change was the main engine, it drove many other topics in the proposal including human and wildlife migrations, urban green infrastructure, conservation law, and the ways in which people relate to nature. After a week of research and brainstorming, we came back to Dr. Polly to propose a larger set of graphics, that would help the team emphasize key points in their plan.

One thing that was clear from the start was that the audience needed a way to visualize the way the different research clusters would work together. This was solved by creating a network map that would introduce a color coding system and demonstrate the connections between the clusters.

The visualization of the Prepared for Change research clusters

We also felt that we needed to have a clear and easy-to-understand narrative to demonstrate how change in the larger environment could have cascading effects here in Indiana. Dr. Polly and the team decided to look at the way that rising temperature in the Canadian boreal forests would impact wildlife and agriculture in Indiana, requiring change in urban infrastructure and conservation law. We then took their story and used color coding and a stepping-stone path of iconic illustrations to relate each link of the cause-and-effect chain.

Graphic depicting the cascading effects in Indiana of changes in a Canadian biome

The proposal hopes to bring researchers together to look at the past as well as the present to create solutions for the future, so we created an infographic that could deliver some bite-sized facts that relate to each cluster. Since this was a piece entirely of our conception, we ended up writing much of the copy, which surprisingly only needed some light edits from the team!

The history infographic, sharing bite-sized facts about how the Hoosier state has changed since its settlement

Finally, after stewing in the details of the project for a month or so, it was time to tackle that cover illustration. Because of the complexity of the topic, we thought that the best approach would be to create something optimistic and colorful, showing the diversity of ideas the team members brought to the table. In a hat tip to E.O. Wilson's idea of preserving half of the Earth for wildlife, half of the state is depicted as wetland, forest, or prairie.

Clients don't always have a complete picture of what they need us to do, but that's not an impediment to a great working relationship. It's rewarding to research the material they need to communicate, focus on what could benefit most from visualization, and work together to make an impactful final product.

May in pictures

May in pictures

Conservation Poster Designs

Conservation Poster Designs

Last year, when the Nature Conservancy announced their #Elegram campaign to raise awareness and money for elephant conservation, I contributed my own take, a big purple bull elephant. I rarely take on the more popular, charismatic mascots of conservation, but it got me thinking about doing more. I did a Monarch butterfly next, and recently, I completed a Siberian tiger. This one is my favorite, and Jennie shared a peek at it in our last post. Here’s how it came together.

The #elegram design that began this series.

First, it was helpful to have tigers nearby to photograph. Jennie and I took two of our nephews and one of our nieces to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center here in southern Indiana last year. I snapped a load of photos and one in particular was my favorite. I created a really rough sketch in Adobe Photoshop to block out areas of contrast and do a bit of geometric simplification and abstraction.

The original rough sketch.

Next, I brought that rough into Adobe Illustrator and traced it with one of my favorite tools, the trusty pen tool. I knew that the lightest colors of the tiger would be the same as the background, so I only drew the large blocks of orange and then added the stripes on top. Instead of black, I chose a dark green. I’m partial to green and orange palettes.

I love the use of drawn patterns, so I drew in the fur with one of my Illustrator brushes from a set I call my “Markers.” But it didn’t feel right - it was too naturalistic. So I selected all of the marks and reverted to just plain old solid squared off lines, and I loved the result. It meshed better with the dynamic, geometric shapes of the tiger's stripes.

Three phases: orange shapes, dark green stripes, fur details.

To give a bit more dimension to the tiger, I studied where the shadows fell on the photo, and used different blend modes to make some of my fur strokes dark and some light (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, blend modes are a set of different methods in Adobe software used to make colors blend together). I used “multiply” mode for shadows and “color dodge” mode for the highlights.

Detail of the tiger's face, showing more of the fur detail.

Once I was happy with the tiger, I studied some of the typical environments a wild Siberian tiger would be found in. I experimented with various foliage, but it was far too easy for it to compete with the pattern on the tiger. So I went with the idea of the tiger passing through a grove of young trees in the boreal forest.

The tiger with some basic background elements worked in - leaf litter and small tree trunks.

At this point in the process, I bring a design into Photoshop for a few tweaks that Illustrator can’t do. I love working with bitmap textures and combining them with blend modes. A bitmap basically takes all of the values of a piece of artwork and changes it to pure black and white. How it does this is a matter of choice - it can be a pattern of circles, diamonds, or lines, among other options. By creating new bitmaps, layering them, and playing with blend modes, happenstance becomes part of the process. In the tiger piece, I used this as a way to give a bit of texture to the bark of the trees and the leaf litter upon which our rather large feline stalks us. It helps to break up background elements to keep focus on the tiger.

Bitmaps. On the left, the original gradient. In the center, a circle pattern bitmap. On the right, a line pattern bitmap.

The tiger's environment, before I began playing with bitmap textures.

And after I played with bitmaps. You can see that I also played with offsetting textures over the leaf litter and layering shapes over the trees.

I showed it to Jennie at this point for some feedback, and she noticed that it was a bit off - one of the trees needed to be in front of the tail for it to feel like the tiger was passing through space. Of course, she was right, and a small change made a big difference.

A small change, a big difference. You can also see that the placement of trees shifted a bit after I moved from Illustrator to Photoshop.

After adding in the slogan I’ve been using in this series, “A world without them is not a world for me,” I was done. I'm keen to do more like this one. There are certainly plenty of threatened animals to focus on.

The finished product.

The finished product.