S.P.A.R.K. | 5 strategies for the visual communication of science

taught by Picture as Portal, LLC.

Learn to make a picture of your ideas in 5 steps!

In this course, you’ll learn a sequence of 5 strategies for communicating science in a picture—based on the easy-to-remember acronym S.P.A.R.K. Each letter represents one strategy. You’ll learn exactly how a picture evolves from beginning to end. As you progress through the course, you'll see step-by-step demos of each strategy applied to a case study image.

S.P.A.R.K. is perfect for you if—right now—you’re working on a presentation, a paper, or a project, and find yourself struggling to communicate clearly. Follow S.P.A.R.K.’s step-by-step process, and you will have a picture by the end of the course. And we think you’ll be surprised by what you’re able to accomplish!

You’ll learn core concepts of visual communication that’ll be useful whether you’re an expert or a student, a novice or a pro. This is not a course on how to draw. What you’ll learn can be applied to many different ways of presenting information—such as diagrams, charts, or data visualizations. Your pictures can be drawn by hand, or you can use software you already know.

Each video is only 10 minutes or less. You’ll learn:

  • A perfect way to jumpstart your visual thinking and transition from words to pictures
  • How to speak with the 8 elements of visual language
  • Ways to target your audience’s visual sweet spot
  • Tips for communicating to people who aren’t familiar with your topic

It takes about 3 hours total to watch all the videos. If you do a hands-on project (which we think is a great idea) that will add more time. But, then you’ll have a picture by the end of the course!


S.P.A.R.K. has been taught in person at Stanford and UCSF. 100% of participants answered “yes” when asked in a survey, “Do you think you will be able to use what you learned in this course?”

Here are some of their other comments:

“Amazing course. I’ve never seen anything quite like this and was thrilled to get such great instruction on a challenging and rarely taught topic.”

“The course far exceeded my expectations because it taught me a new way to see.”

“… the best thing I learned was how powerful it is to communicate concepts by visuals.”

“This was an extremely practical, hands on class. The techniques I learned will definitely help me on the job.”

“AWESOME CLASS!”


Do you have a group that would benefit from S.P.A.R.K.? Group rates are available. Please contact us so we can learn more about what you need.



Picture as Portal, LLC.
Picture as Portal, LLC.
Co-instructors

We’re Betsy Palay and Tami Tolpa—partners in Picture as Portal, LLC and the co-creators of S.P.A.R.K. We’re both medical illustrators. And between us we’ve created hundreds of pictures that successfully communicate complex ideas for clients such as Scientific American magazine, Genentech, and NASA. Our work has garnered over a hundred industry awards.

What we’ve learned is how to make pictures that are far more powerful than words for communicating complex ideas. And we want to share those skills with you. We hope S.P.A.R.K. will change forever the way you think of pictures and use them to communicate.

We regard a picture as a portal—a dynamic doorway—between your ideas and your audience. Our mission is to help you make your ideas accessible to others by harnessing the power of pictures. So let’s get started!

Course of study

Introduction
04:34
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Reviews (5)

Effective and broadly applicable

by Dennis Mangan
I took Betsy Palay’s course at Stanford and learned a great deal about science visualization. Her advice helped me and I wanted to recommend visual communication training to my science communication workshop attendees. However, I wondered whether an online course would be effective in teaching visual arts? I was pleasantly surprised to learn it could. SPARK presents a five sequence strategy for creating a clear visual in a series of 24 high quality videos interspersed with quizzes and pdf hardcopies that can be used as guides. For me the most useful of the nine sections was constructing a clear path of information in the visual. I’m not a medical illustrator and can’t even draw stick figures! But I can draw simple shapes, lines, arrows and boxes, and SPARK showed me that’s all I need to visually represent many of the difficult concepts in biomedical research and engineering. After about a week working at my own pace, I was able to design some decent visuals for use in my workshop presentations. My background is in oral science storytelling and I am learning how illustrations can further augment storytelling if done correctly. Palay and Tolpa inspire us to tell meaningful stories using simple, easy to draw pictures built around a solid story path. SPARK has plenty of practical advice with dozens of examples to demonstrate each topic. I will highly recommend the course at my workshops and to anyone looking to advance to the next level in science presentation. -Dennis F. Mangan, PhD. Director, Chalk Talk Science Project. www.chalktalkscience.org

A process-driven approach to enhance visuals in science communications

by Donna Kridelbaugh
In my role as a communications consultant, clients often ask me for input on the design of graphics and figures to enhance the visuals in outreach materials (e.g., grants, brochures). As a text-based learner and a writer, I have struggled in providing this service. But now with the training from the SPARK course, I feel more confident in my ability to do so, which will benefit my clients in the end. I especially appreciate the process-driven approach taught in this course that consistently can be applied to the design of any visual, along with the useful handouts that guide me through the process. I highly recommend this course to other technical folks, including science writers, who desire to clearly communicate their work to a broad audience.

Clear and useful strategies and advice

by J Christiansen
As a scientific illustrator and magazine graphics editor with over 20 years of experience, I found this course to include remarkably clear and sound advice for developing science graphics. Great content (with enough context to provide a solid basis for understanding), especially for newbies and scientists. I was particularly impressed with Tolpa and Palay’s approach to teaching about using composition as a way to reinforce the information being illustrated, especially for folks that may not be used to thinking in terms of visual structure.

Best and most comprehensive

by Andrew Perlman
I am a physician scientist and have been in the biotechnology field for 30 years. Power Point presentations are ubiquitous and sadly most often poorly conceived and executed. SPARK is the best and most comprehensive examination and explanation of techniques necessary to improve visual communication in the presentation product. It will change the way I think about and create more effective presentations. -Andrew Perlman, MD, PhD, Managing Director and Chief Medical Officer of VPD, former Senior Director of Clinical Research at Genentech

Excellent!

by Mark Clemens
I've been very impressed by the Picture As Portal course. The course breaks down and explains how to convey an idea or concept into a clear graphic. The course's step by step process, combined with numerous easy-to-follow examples, enables the student to both understand graphical basics and use them to create their own coherent images. -Mark Clemens Former Art Director Scientific American magazine 

Effective and broadly applicable

by Dennis Mangan
I took Betsy Palay’s course at Stanford and learned a great deal about science visualization. Her advice helped me and I wanted to recommend visual communication training to my science communication workshop attendees. However, I wondered whether an online course would be effective in teaching visual arts? I was pleasantly surprised to learn it could. SPARK presents a five sequence strategy for creating a clear visual in a series of 24 high quality videos interspersed with quizzes and pdf hardcopies that can be used as guides. For me the most useful of the nine sections was constructing a clear path of information in the visual. I’m not a medical illustrator and can’t even draw stick figures! But I can draw simple shapes, lines, arrows and boxes, and SPARK showed me that’s all I need to visually represent many of the difficult concepts in biomedical research and engineering. After about a week working at my own pace, I was able to design some decent visuals for use in my workshop presentations. My background is in oral science storytelling and I am learning how illustrations can further augment storytelling if done correctly. Palay and Tolpa inspire us to tell meaningful stories using simple, easy to draw pictures built around a solid story path. SPARK has plenty of practical advice with dozens of examples to demonstrate each topic. I will highly recommend the course at my workshops and to anyone looking to advance to the next level in science presentation. -Dennis F. Mangan, PhD. Director, Chalk Talk Science Project. www.chalktalkscience.org

A process-driven approach to enhance visuals in science communications

by Donna Kridelbaugh
In my role as a communications consultant, clients often ask me for input on the design of graphics and figures to enhance the visuals in outreach materials (e.g., grants, brochures). As a text-based learner and a writer, I have struggled in providing this service. But now with the training from the SPARK course, I feel more confident in my ability to do so, which will benefit my clients in the end. I especially appreciate the process-driven approach taught in this course that consistently can be applied to the design of any visual, along with the useful handouts that guide me through the process. I highly recommend this course to other technical folks, including science writers, who desire to clearly communicate their work to a broad audience.

Clear and useful strategies and advice

by J Christiansen
As a scientific illustrator and magazine graphics editor with over 20 years of experience, I found this course to include remarkably clear and sound advice for developing science graphics. Great content (with enough context to provide a solid basis for understanding), especially for newbies and scientists. I was particularly impressed with Tolpa and Palay’s approach to teaching about using composition as a way to reinforce the information being illustrated, especially for folks that may not be used to thinking in terms of visual structure.

Best and most comprehensive

by Andrew Perlman
I am a physician scientist and have been in the biotechnology field for 30 years. Power Point presentations are ubiquitous and sadly most often poorly conceived and executed. SPARK is the best and most comprehensive examination and explanation of techniques necessary to improve visual communication in the presentation product. It will change the way I think about and create more effective presentations. -Andrew Perlman, MD, PhD, Managing Director and Chief Medical Officer of VPD, former Senior Director of Clinical Research at Genentech

Excellent!

by Mark Clemens
I've been very impressed by the Picture As Portal course. The course breaks down and explains how to convey an idea or concept into a clear graphic. The course's step by step process, combined with numerous easy-to-follow examples, enables the student to both understand graphical basics and use them to create their own coherent images. -Mark Clemens Former Art Director Scientific American magazine