Quick Questions with Jill Powell

Jill Powell is a graphic artist, contributor to Skepchick, and official Ustream Wrangler on the radio show Skeptically Speaking. She has also developed the scripts for numerous local independent films that she hopes you won’t judge her for. She spends most of her time attached to her sketchbook and laptop.

She lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Desiree Schell: What’s the backstory to you becoming the first Canadian Skepchick, and what’s your main involvement with the group?

Jill Powell: In 2008, Rebecca Watson made a post on Skepchick asking for more writers for the blog. I was pretty new to skepticism and mostly lurked around skeptical blogs, but figured “Why not?”. I emailed her, letting her know that I’m not really a writer but an artist, and if she wanted Skepchick to have some creative touches to it, I’d be happy to help. I included some links to examples of my work and sent the email.

Rebecca emailed me back promptly, liked my work and had a good idea of what I could do to help out with the blog if I didn’t feel comfortable writing out full blog posts like the others.

My main “job” on the blog is to come up with skeptical blog contests for the readers, to encourage reader involvement and to have some fun with skeptical topics and interests. I also collaborated with Surly Amy on Skepchick stickers for DragonCon, and helped design the invitations for the surprise wedding of Rebecca and Sid at TAM. Basically if there’s something that needs an artistic touch to it, I’m on it (with plenty of help from the others too).

DS: How do you think that having an artistic background influences your skeptical perspective?

JP: Being an artist and being a skeptic is sometimes a surprise to people. Most assume that you’re in tune with Mother Nature or that you’ve got your charka’s all lined up in row. One thing I’ve noticed about taking art classes in the community is that a lot of them are saturated in woo. I don’t need to “cleanse the spirit” before I draw, I just need to draw. It really gives me an opportunity to digest information in a different way than a trained scientist would, but ultimately leads me to the skeptical conclusion: I need to see the evidence to believe a far-out claim.

And if someone needs me to draw a funny picture of Sylvia Browne, well that’s just something I’m happy to do.

DS: How do you think that skepticism as a whole could benefit from more creative input? What aspects of skepticism most need it?

JP: The skepticism could definitely use more creativity. It’s awesome having George Hrab, Adam Savage, Amy from Surly-Ramics, and others involved within the community because it gives others a platform to jump from just from their example. I think it gives a more light-hearted approach to skepticism, without losing the main message: Use Your Brain. (At least that’s what I think the message is, in any case!).

In my opinion, skeptical podcasts could use a creative touch now and then. I know it’s time to take a break from a podcast when I use it to lull me to sleep.

DS: When you appear on Skeptically Speaking, you occasionally get a bit… vehement. On the “civil skeptic” vs “in-your-face skeptic” question, which side do you fall into, and why?

JP: For the most part, I think I’m more civil than anything. When I’m on the show, I have my allotted time to rant about a particular subject that really grinds my gears. I get it out of my system and am fine until I stumble upon something else that makes me want to scream. Plus, it’s different situation being on the radio for ten minutes because I’m not technically interacting with anyone face to face (besides the host, obviously).

When actually around people and talking to them, it just makes more sense to me to not be a jerk and to actually treat them like a person, even if I think paranormal or whatever it is that they are peddling is ridiculous. I can’t stand to watch videos on youtube or documentaries where the skeptic has the self-satisfied smug expression on their face the entire time they are talking to someone who is on the other side of the fence.

DS: Is there anything else you’d like to be doing in regards to skepticism, and if so, what’s stopping you?

JP: I would really like to make a movie that has a skeptical character in it that:
- Isn’t a complete jerk-wad.
- Doesn’t die in the first 20 minutes of the film.
- When something happens in the film that everyone else thinks is unexplainable, the skeptic doesn’t immediately change their previously-skeptical mind and say, “Hm, you’re right. We can’t explain it properly right now. So, it MUST be supernatural in origin.”
- Is not named “The Skeptic.”

What’s stopping me? Well, movies are expensive to make! I need to gather up some funding first. Please send money.

Thanks to Jill Powell for participating in Quick Questions!

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  • Desiree Schell

    Desiree is the host of Skeptically Speaking, the Edmonton-based radio show that asks you to call in and question everything. She has never quite grown out of the "but why?" stage of childhood development, and considers skeptics the people least likely to be annoyed by this kind of behavior. Her fondest wish is that one day math will suddenly make sense to her, with no effort whatsoever. It's good to dream.