What’s it like running a SciArt RoCur for a week?

Immy Smith curated the @IAmSciArt account from April 9th to 15th, 2017.

Hi there SciArt-loving people, I’m Immy Smith, and I’m an artist and scientist. I make SciArt on subjects such as animal camouflage and mimicry (like the cards below) and you can find me on Twitter as @DrImmySmith and @Cartoon_Neuron. I recently spent a week running @IAmSciArt, which was the first time I’ve taken part in a Twitter RoCur! I’m sure each curator has their own take on managing Twitter accounts like this, but here’s my experience; I hope it will encourage other SciArtists to try it.
RoCur stands for ‘rotation curation’; social media accounts curated by a different person each week. Examples I follow include @WeTheHumanities, @realscientists, @biotweeps, and @iamscicomm. Weirdly, I haven’t found many art RoCurs, let alone SciArt ones, so I was very happy indeed when @IAmSciArt came along. I knew I’d eventually want to have a try. This spring I finally got my buns in gear, applied via the very simple web form, and was allocated the week of 9 to 15-Apr-17.

‘Cryptic Cards’ – a deck of SciArt playing cards in homage to the cryptic camouflage of moths
‘Cryptic Cards’ – a deck of SciArt playing cards in homage to the cryptic camouflage of moths

I tweet a lot on an average day. Twitter is both my community, my place of work (a big % of my art sales come via Twitter link clicks), and my support network. I’m a disabled nonbinary spoonie insomniac, and most of the coping strategies, ideas, solidarity, and encouragement I get (particularly since becoming disabled) comes from other people in similar situations via Twitter. It helps that I’m self-employed – I’m a full-time freelance SciArtist, and Twitter is with me in the studio as well as on my desktop (I often lose my phone, and rediscover it under papers where I’ve had it leaning on my drawing board!) So, the idea of having to come up with a week’s worth of tweets didn’t seem too daunting, and @IAmSciArt admins also provide each curator with tips, and advice from previous participants (which was super-helpful.)
Since Twitter is already part of my everyday work, I decided to roll my week at @IAmSciArt into my normal working activities. Knowing several weeks in advance when I’d be curating was a great help; I planned what I would tweet about each day, and organised my week ahead of time to ensure I knew what I’d be doing. On my own feeds, I try to talk about the downs as well as the ups of SciArt life. I tweet my fails and facepalms as well as successes – because I find it helpful when other people share these things! I also love to get a peek at other people’s studios when they share their work. Tweeting honestly about both the good and bad of SciArt as a job is my way of returning the favour to my Twitter community. With that in mind I tried not to filter out admin tasks, and to include photos from the all the places I worked.

 

L-R; photographing the giant ‘Connecting Brain Tumour Narratives’ book on the Sunday of my week curating, accidental shot with my arm in, me with the giant book at an exhibition
L-R; photographing the giant ‘Connecting Brain Tumour Narratives’ book on the Sunday of my week curating, accidental shot with my arm in, me with the giant book at an exhibition
L-R; Dr Maria Christodoulou (@Melasnous) helping me with specimens at @RNGherb, a specimen of a Passiflora species (which has spots that mimic the eggs of its butterfly predators) in the herbarium
L-R; Dr Maria Christodoulou (@Melasnous) helping me with specimens at @RNGherb, a specimen of a Passiflora species (which has spots that mimic the eggs of its butterfly predators) in the herbarium
L-R; the insect collections at @morethanadodo - coleoptera, hemiptera, a violin beetle, leptidoptera
L-R; the insect collections at @morethanadodo – coleoptera, hemiptera, a violin beetle, leptidoptera
L-R; Drawings from my visit to @morethanadodo – leaf-footed bug, leaf katydid, violin beetle
L-R; Drawings from my visit to @morethanadodo – leaf-footed bug, leaf katydid, violin beetle

On my first day (Sunday) I was tweeting live as I digitised one of the giant books I work on. This gave me ample chance to share some photo fails and laugh about ad-hoc tripod modifications (including weighting things with bottles of plant food on coat hangers!) On Monday I was researching plant mimicry at Herbarium RNG (@RNGherb), and on Tuesday I was at Oxford Museum of Natural History (@morethanadodo) studying their insect collections. I love both places and could shout endlessly about how we need to preserve these scientific collections for future generations – around the word, such collections are at risk! I tweeted live while I painted for #WIPWednesday, then shared historical SciArt and how I became a SciArtist for #Throwback Thursday. For #FollowFriday I talked about my amazing SciArt collaborators and how collaboration helps me as an artist. I wouldn’t be doing the job I do now without other fantastic artists and scientists who walk the polymathic line. Then on Saturday for my last day I had fun tweeting cartoons, and shared some new illustrations.

Photos taken while painting on one of @inconvergent’s generative art plots for #WIPWednesday
Photos taken while painting on one of @inconvergent’s generative art plots for #WIPWednesday
Work by my collaborators; Sally Hunter (L), & Michelle Anderst (R)
Work by my collaborators; Sally Hunter (L), & Michelle Anderst (R)

Curating @IAmSciArt fitted easily into my working week… I think some forward planning, and the fact that I tweet as part of my work anyway probably helped though! I’d recommend having an outline plan for your week ahead of time, and making sure you have some images you can use uploaded onto your mobile devices if you’re travelling. While it’s impossible to plan every last tweet, it’s handy to have backup material ready for when your train is late, or you have some unexpected work land on you. There weren’t too many questions that popped up during my week – @IAmSciArt is a relatively new RoCur, so it may be that more interaction gets generated as time goes on, and their audience grows. Either way it also helped me to have some prepared material handy, to keep the feed going when things were quiet, and to share across as many time zones as possible. I’m in the UK but I know that a big chunk of @IAmSciArt’s audience is in the US, so I tried to spread my tweeting out as much as I could.

A new fungi-toon shared during my week
A new fungi-toon shared during my week

Sounds peachy! So, what didn’t go so well? One word; TweetDeck. While it provides the handy ability for admins to assign users to a team, I did not enjoy using TweetDeck on a mobile device, particularly while I was travelling on Monday and Tuesday. The air around me was blue at times! That aside, I didn’t have any issues with using the account. All the tweeps I interacted with via @IAmSciArt were polite and friendly, I knew which time zones the admins were in if I needed them, and I enjoyed my week. Having to plan ways to discuss my work with new people, (who aren’t necessarily following my personal accounts) made me think about what I do in different ways. It was a great refresher on describing my job for a lay audience… And at articulating myself in an informal environment without swearing, heh! I found it rewarding in the sense that it was a chance to give back to my online SciArt community, but it also generated a bunch of new followers for me, and extra traffic to my online Etsy and RedBubble shops.
Overall I recommend trying a RoCur. Whatever your field, it will give the chance to think differently about your work and find new audiences, and to participate in social media communities in a broader way.