top of page
  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

What a frog in pants taught me about good visual communication

Updated: May 30

Realistic pen and ink drawing of a hand holding a frog. The frog is wearing pants.
Just keep reading: there's a good reason why this frog is wearing capris.

I recently filled out an artist database profile, and one of the questions was both great and thought-provoking. It was also deceptively simple: “What kind of work do you want?”

After mulling that over for a while, this is what I came up with:

I’m looking for projects that combine fascination with the natural world and a deep appreciation for visual communication. 

I’m particularly excited about illustration for adults and children that doesn’t obscure how ecosystems work; editorial projects that connect readers’ everyday lives to the natural world; and collaborating with researchers interested in incorporating drawing into their research, teaching, and public communication efforts.

Drawing of tadpoles in eggs
Frog eggs usually turn into frogs, if pants don't get in the way.

The database form also requested links to samples of previous projects, the kind I’d like to do more of. A set of illustrations from early this spring immediately sprang to mind.

I made the drawings (throughout this post) to accompany a 300-word nugget published on an entertaining website about science. The piece I illustrated was an anecdote from the history of science about how an Italian priest made an important breakthrough in our understanding of animal reproduction. That might not sound terribly exciting, but the nuances of that not-so-priestly experiment are.

Black and white drawing of a balding man in Renaissance-era clothes
Lazzaro Spallanzani, Italian priest-biologist

Frog in Pants details how a Renaissance-age priest dressed frogs in taffeta pants, and in so doing, (partially) demystified sex.

My illustrations, coupled with the text by American Scientist associate editor Katie Burke, were published by in March 2014.

The piece went viral.

” Just wanted to say thank you again for the great piece. Among many other things, you made it onto Boing Boing and iO9, and tens of thousands of people visited the site, thanks to your excellent talents. All the best" ~Eleanor and the rest of Buzz Hoot Roar

Equally delightful was the response by the American Scientist art department. They ran the “frog in pants” illustration along with a book review in their May/June 2014 issue.

American Scientist cover image of the issue that included my "frog in pants" illustration
Frog in Pants on "prime time"

Sure, it’s nice to have people look at my work. But is that what makes Frog in Pants an exemplary project?


The real reason is that it’s a fantastic example of what is possible when custom illustrations are melded with the right science story. In this case, we checked all the boxes in a simple SciComm equation:

     Compelling illustrations tailored to the project  +   Science story about something (nearly) everyone can relate to =   Dynamite SciComm

10s of thousands of people viewed and interacted with Frog in Pants. They learned something about themselves, in the context of how science works (building on centuries of exploration, experimentation, and discovery).

That’s why I point to some seemingly simple line drawings as an example of what I want to keep doing. Making connections, sharing science in ways that matter.

Illustration of frogs mating
Frogs without pants doing what they do


This is the end of this post. If you see a prompt to subscribe, you're welcome to do so! Your paid subscription helps me allocate time to the resources I share here.

Want to read more?

Subscribe to to keep reading this exclusive post.

5 views0 comments


Couldn’t Load Comments
It looks like there was a technical problem. Try reconnecting or refreshing the page.
bottom of page