The Medical Illustrator

May 09, 2017 at 04:43 pm by nickcharles

I fell in love with medical illustration way back when I took a college course in Anatomy and Physiology. My textbook was quite expensive, but studying the imagery within, I felt it was well worth it. All of the complex processes and inner workings of the human body were clearly and beautifully depicted in full color. I was, and still am, in awe. Of course, our innards are not actually quite as beautiful as what you may see illustrated, but this is the work of the medical illustrator: to clarify the complex and educate others through clear, visual communication, backed by medical knowledge and artistic brilliance.

Medical illustration was indeed born out of a need to instruct, and may have appeared as early as the 3rd century BC. It evolved as understanding of human anatomy and physiology grew, and through the advancements of pioneers in the field. Leonardo da Vinci had at one point in his career taken his turn in medical illustration, even pioneering the use of cross-section. Another notable name is that of Andreas Vesalius, though not himself an illustrator, his published De Corpus Fabrica Humani was highly influential and is the most well-known anatomy text.

Scanned page of Andreas Vesalius' De Corpus Fabrica Humani (1543)
(this image is in the public domain)

Fast forward a bit, and you have Max Broedel, a wonderful German artist whose highly detailed work included pioneering the use of carbon dust in creating illustration so incredibly realistic. It is because of him that the first school of medical illustration came into existence. Most importantly, he helped to usher in medical illustration as a genuine profession, and further led to the forming of the Association of Medical Illustrators in 1945.

Surgical anatomy pertaining to a thyroidectomy procedure by Max Broedel (1917)
(this image is in the public domain)

The importance of the medical illustrator cannot be overestimated. The medical illustrator is both artist and scientist - the storyteller of the living world. Their work touches everyone, as they educate physicians, patients, students and many others, and help to advance the sciences. It is indeed a fascinating field that has an incredible impact, and can itself be a very rewarding career.

Over the next several weeks, I will be presenting interviews with some of today's exceptional medical illustrators, whether they are freelancing, or working within a group. I hope this series may open eyes to a career path that may have otherwise been overlooked.

For more information on medical illustration, a great place to start is the website of the Association of Medical Illustrators.

Articles in the Medical Illustrator series

Additional Links

Nick C Sorbin (Nick Charles) is a former Managing Editor of 9 years for Renderosity's CG Industry News. By day, a mild-mannered Certified Pharmacy Technician working in both home infusion and a hospital ER, contrasting creative outlets as a digital artist, sculptor, musician, singer/songwriter, and Staff Writer for Renderosity Magazine. Read his articles

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