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The Art of the Skeptic
Finding Your Niche if You Love Both Science & Art

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of combined skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse, and Junior Skeptic Creator, Daniel Loxton.

THE ART OF PAT LINSE

Skeptic Activists & Heros

It’s always a pleasure to do a portrait honoring a skeptical activist.

Skeptic Activists and Heros ilustrated by Pat Linse
Depicting the “Opposition”

My first instruction to an illustrator as Art Director of Skeptic magazine is “Please do not do a snake oil salesman.” Not only is it a terrible cliché, it is rarely an accurate representation of the individual who holds the beliefs we may be criticizing. Many supporters of non-scientific ideas are quite sincere.

Depicting the Opposition
Skeptic Cover Art by Pat Linse
Skeptic Cover Portrait Illustrations by Pat Linse
Skeptic Cover Art by Pat Linse
Skeptic Cover Art by Pat Linse
Most & Least Popular

It is surprising to discover which illustrations turn out to be the most useful or the most controversial.

Most and Least Popular
Buying Stock Art

As a rule I don’t use a stock image as is, not just because another publication may use the same one, but because I enjoy making them into something new that better fits my purpose.

Buying Stock Art

THERE IS MORE TO BE DONE THAN JUST THE COVER ART

Illustrating for Clarity

Artists should not underestimate the importance of illustrations, graphs, and diagrams that illuminate points made by an author. A drawing can simplify an overly complex photo and highlight the important parts. Or a photo that is too blurry, bleached out, or dark can be saved by making it into a drawing.

Illustrating for Clarity

Making a Point!

Making a Point!
Making a Point!

THE ART OF DANIEL LOXTON

Cover art by Daniel Loxton
Art by Daniel Loxton

I’ve never been much of a joiner, but when I discovered the skeptical movement in 1984, after reading and absolutely loving an article in the L.A. Times that explained the physics behind firewalking, I decided to get involved.

At the time I was working as an illustrator doing movie posters, and my broad ad agency background made me a one-stop shop for a skeptics group needing flyers, advertising, or a newsletter (in the pre-internet era). I made skeptic-specific samples of art and flyers and volunteered for local and national groups. I got a few assignments but the truth is, it’s hard to even give graphic arts expertise away. People respond to good art and design when they see it, but they are rarely motivated to seek it out.

By the time I met with Michael Shermer in late 1991 to talk about creating Skeptic I had 7 years of bottled up enthusiasm ready to dedicate to the project. He had a Ph.D. in the History of Science, he’d authored a few books, and he was running a nonprofit bicycle racing organization and publishing a magazine for its members. So between the two of us we had the expertise.

Skeptic was an all volunteer organization especially in its early years. We drummed up resources where we could. One of our biggest savings came from the desktop computer revolution. It was similar to today’s digital cameras and software that allow almost anyone to produce a video and post it on the Internet. In roughly a decade the cost of designing and typesetting a page for a publication, which had formerly taken the coordinated effort of many specialists (designer, layout artist, type spec, type house, half-tones, and paste-up artist), had gone from hundreds of dollars to zero when performed by a single volunteer on a computer.

Skeptic 25.4 (cover)

This retrospective appeared in Skeptic magazine 25.4 (2020).
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In 2002 Daniel Loxton began donating artwork over the Internet. At the time I was writing and illustrating Junior Skeptic and looking for help. I had stacks of manuscripts but nothing suitable: too pedantic, too patronizing, too precious — everyone thinks they can write for young people but it’s not that easy.

But I noticed from Loxton’s cheerfully entertaining emails that he could write, so I asked him to give it a shot. His response stunned me. He produced a polished press-ready product: meticulously researched, beautifully written, and fully designed and illustrated. I had found the Holy Grail of non-profit employees: the do-it-all creative individual. I later learned that his early efforts to get involved in skepticism had gotten the same tepid response as mine had — he had already produced a Junior Skeptic style prototype and unsuccessfully tried to get other skeptic groups interested.

So the lesson to be learned for those who truly want to get involved is create a professional product and be persistent.

Graphic Arts Tips for Skeptic Groups
  • Buy art expertise wholesale, not retail if you can.
    • Retail art: the ad agency — suitable for a large organization. Pick one that has clients with similar needs to yours. An agency specializing in beer or real estate clients may skew your projects in those directions. Meet the person you will be dealing with and ask questions about the samples they show you to find out if they can communicate art ideas without using a lot of jargon or hiding behind design snobbery.
    • Wholesale art: the do-it-all individual. The Internet provides opportunities for these efficient self-starter types to hone their creative skills without having to land a job that perfectly fits their interests. Try them out as volunteers, and if you have a job opening you will have a pool to draw from.
  • How trendy should your art be? For skeptical topics I lean toward somewhat conservative or realistic art styles because the articles themselves can be difficult to understand. One doesn’t need to add more mystery with overly abstract art. (By contrast when designing for the fashion or the music industry, it’s all about emotion, implication, and innuendo, so almost anything goes.) Also, art can actually clarify a complex article. For example, say an author has four points to make. Four small illustrations representing each point may be the way to go.
  • Logos, branding, and names: pick the nickname. Pick the name that is short, sweet, and most of all memorable. Never pick a name or logo that needs an explanation so that people will understand how clever it is. Don’t try to find the perfect word — there is not a word in existence that doesn’t carry some baggage (for example, the word “skeptic”). This is why large companies make up names for products, and then spend millions creating a reputation for the new term. If you make something up, make sure it’s both easy to pronounce and to remember.
  • Avoid giving art assignments to someone’s love interest. When I worked in the music industry, nothing terrified the art department more than the news that the musician’s boy or girlfriend was going to be involved creating the image for the packaging. Art for your organization is not a throw away assignment for someone in the office who feels underappreciated. Your graphic look serves a “dress for success” function, creating a favorable impression, inspiring confidence in your product, and last but certainly not least, providing enjoyment. END
About Pat & Daniel

Pat Linse is an award winning illustrator who specialized in film industry art before becoming one of the founders of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and the creator of Junior Skeptic magazine. As Skeptic’s Art Director, she has created many illustrations for both Skeptic and Junior Skeptic. She is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience.

Daniel Loxton was a professional shepherd for nine years before he became editor of Junior Skeptic. He illustrates and authors most of the current Junior Skeptic material. He wrote and illustrated the best selling award-winning Evolution: How All Living Things Came to Be, and the award winning children’s three book Tales of Prehistoric Life Series.

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Retrospective

Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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