Working with an Illustrator#

A picture is worth a thousand words. This adage is true also in research and science communications, especially to get more people to understand complex concepts in data science and research and make technical knowledge more accessible, understandable and explainable for our readers and communicators.

In The Turing Way, we work with professional illustrators to capture the main concepts and ideas we share in The Turing Way book and community. These illustrations are either something that The Turing Way members are writing about in a chapter or community resource, discussions they have at the Book Dash or The Turing Way activities in general.


In 2018, impressed by live scribing of a talk by an illustrator, Kirstie Whitaker decided to invite a Scribe for the first set of Book Dash events that took place in 2019 in London and Manchester.

The Book Dash was a success and the experience of working with an artist added to the overall experience of our attendees. They loved seeing their ideas translated into images - an (almost) immediate output they could collaborate on and feel proud to have contributed to. This experience was brought back in subsequent Book Dash events in person and online and has always remained a highlight.

A set of hand-drawn sketches about stuck horizontally against a textured wooden wall. The first three sketches describe FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable). Other three images are blurry.

Fig. 172 Picture taken by Jez Cope at the Book Dash 2019 in Manchester. Hand sketched illustrations by Matthew Kemp of Scriberia.#

All illustrations generated within The Turing Way are shared under the CC-BY 4.0 licence on Zenodo: All images on Zenodo are shared in the original format and size, but we use smaller files in The Turing Way guides that you can find in our GitHub repository.

When citing, please include the following attribution with the specific DOI as listed on the particular Zenodo page.

This illustration is created by Scriberia with The Turing Way community. Used under a CC-BY 4.0 licence. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3332807

When using these illustrations in a digital document, please describe them using the Alt Text feature for the users of screen reading apps. Alt Text is an important criteria to ensure accessible web design used for describing abstract concepts captured in images to readers who are unable to see them. For guidance, please read Write good Alt Text to describe images by the Digital Accessibility service of Harvard University.

We encourage using these illustrations not just within The Turing Way, but wherever appropriate in the context of science communications or to enhance public engagement with data science and research. We already see reuse by the broader community of researchers, science communicators, policymakers and more, as reflected by over 12,000 downloads at the time of writing this chapter (July 2022).

Here are some examples:

Benefits of illustrations and why hire a professional scribe#

The Turing Way chapters often include research or scientific concepts described by professionals. As experts, many of us do not always effictively communicate our ideas in simple terms for people who are new to those research concepts. This is where illustrations are quite powerful at communicating complex ideas simply.

Simple images, tables and flow charts are something that many of us can create. Sketchnote is another way to visually describe a set of ideas. Several resources can be found for people interested in sketch-noting and visual thinking, for example, see this post from Sketchnote Academy about sketchnote and videos on visual thinking by Scriberia.

It is an advantage for scientists who are also excellent in visual communications, but most people may find it challenging and time taking to create both written and visual materials. Therefore, it is useful to hire expert/professional scribes if a project or event budget allows. These scribes/artists generally talk to researchers for 10-20 minutes to gather all information they need to express their ideas through drawings, illustrations or infographics. Sometimes, these can be done as scribing of a talk or discussion as explained in this video by Scriberia.

These illustrations are available at the end of the event, or after a few days if post-processing, editing, modification or digitalisation of hand-drawn sketches might be needed. Having a scribe at an event can also improve engagement and help participants contribute to something that is immediately and visually achievable in a short duration. Furthermore, if shared on the spot, researchers can use their illustrations as a way to exchange their ideas more widely, even with those they won’t meet.

Considerations for creating a brief#

Finding a good illustrator or scribe can be a new challenge if you have not worked with one before. It is always useful to ask in your network if someone has previously worked with someone who they may recommend. The cost may vary based on the country, type of service or experience of the scribe/company. Generally, you can find multiple companies or freelancers who offer their services, describe your requirements and ask for quotes.

Your request/brief may include the following details:

  • your budget and how many hours or days would you require a scribe for

  • what kind of sketches do you need: simple illustrations, infographics, motion videos, live scribing

  • communicate with the service providers if you have specific images in mind (if the number of images is known)

  • what would you use those illustrations for, for example, reports, videos, presentations or something else

  • how you hope to work with the scribe: in person or online (what platform would you use, can they have their video off, how would you like them to show illustrations - live or end product)

  • live sketching with little post-processing, or asynchronous collaboration with time bound delivery period

  • do you have any colour preference, for example, to project your brand or event, as well as maintain accessibility

  • what should the scribe know about your project or event that will help them think about their illustrations

  • how much creative freedom would they have in making artistic decisions

  • what kind of details do you need to include that should be maintained consistently in all illustrations

  • If you need raw and vector (layered) versions of your image files, you will have to communicate this in advance and prepare to pay extra for the postprocessing.

Service providers#

The budget for hiring a professional scribe can vary based on the kind of service they provide. In The Turing Way, we have worked with Scriberia artists/scribes who are hired on a per day cost for live scribing. The cost is less for half-day, and additional charges apply for infographics. For each event, we have worked with different scribes and enjoy the diverse style and skills they bring to the event. Our illustrations are a mix of simple and complex concepts and are often described with cartoon-like characters. The Scribria company is given equal authorship with The Turing Way community members who contribute to the development of those images during the Book Dash.

The costs of hiring freelance illustrators may be lower and they can often provide bespoke services (creating specific styles, details and number of images). Our colleagues in Turing Commons work with freelance scribe artists and illustrators to create illustrations asynchronously. All images by Turing Commons are available in their GitHub repository also under a CC-BY 4.0 licence for reuse.

When planning, it is always good to look for more than one service provider to compare the cost. Contact the company’s account manager or the freelance artist directly to set a 20-30 minutes meeting to discuss your brief and any detail they should know. Based on your request, they will share their quotes for each service. When confirmed, block the dates/times and share details about your event (agenda, logistics, and anything else they should know). When agreed, you will receive a contract for the service, terms and conditions and an invoice to be paid after the service is delivered.

Pro tips#

To enhance the use of these illustrations, we have learned to keep the concepts simple, self-contained and reusable in different contexts. If texts or sentences are used in the image, we request a copy of those illustrations without text to make sure that they can be translated into other languages.

Images (both versions: with and without text) are uploaded to Zenodo with descriptive names as individual images in ‘jpg’ format to allow preview and a zipped folder in different file formats to allow downloading. See details here:

We ensure that the characters in the images are designed while maintaining representations of our diverse community members.

Translating and editing for reusing images#

Zipped archives (names ending with ‘’ on Zenodo) are provided that can be translated into languages that you would like to use. We encourage the use and re-use of these images as much as possible. This includes remixing the images, for example changing the colours, translating text or merging them with additional (openly licensed) images. If you create something that others may benefit from, we encourage you to contribute your image back to The Turing Way.

If you’d like to change the colours of the image to align with other elements of your presentation, see this post by Alex Chan for changing the dominant colour in an image.