Tolpa Studios

Online course

SPARK: 5 strategies for the visual communication of science

SPARK is a self-paced online course that teaches 5 strategies for the visual communication of science.

This course is designed to teach participants to make pictures that are effective tools for communication. Participants will learn how to create compelling, effective pictures for any audience and about any subject, no matter how complex.

SPARK was created by Picture as Portal, LLC, a venture between 2 professional medical illustrators. It’s based on the most important principles of communication, perception, and visual information processing. The SPARK acronym makes the strategies easy to learn and remember. Each strategy builds on the previous one, and is demonstrated in a case study. To encourage active learning, the course includes numerous examples, worksheets, charts, quizzes, and checklists.

This isn’t a course on how to draw, or how to use software. Participants do not need any prior knowledge, experience, or drawing skills.

SPARK is ideal for a participant who has a presentation, a paper, or a project where a picture is needed. Participants who follow along with this step-by-step approach, will have a picture by the time they reach the end.

SPARK includes 24 videos, averaging 8 minutes in length, which cover topics including:

  • A method to jumpstart visual thinking and transition from words to pictures
  • How to speak eloquently with the elements of visual language
  • Best practices for communicating to people unfamiliar with a subject

SPARK evolved from lectures, workshops, and courses taught in-person through Stanford Continuing Studies; the University of California, San Francisco; the Stanford SIMILE program; the Stanford Hume Center for Writing and Speaking; and the Anatomy Division and Lane Medical Library at the Stanford School of Medicine. The quotes above are from these students. Won't you join them?

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.”

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

Go to to enroll in the course.