Medical Illustration

What is medical illustration?
Broadly, medical illustration is a specialized field of artistry, dedicated mainly to human anatomy and health. I say “artistry” because the term “illustration” can be ambiguous. Taken to mean an educational example, as in “illustrating a point” would be correct, while taken to mean drawing a picture by hand would be a narrow interpretation. Medical illustration includes drawing, painting, sculpture, animation, computer generated 3D models and just about any medium that can be coerced into the shape of a kidney (themed baking pans and gelatin molds aside). It can also include animal, plant and scientific subject matter, but I personally try not to step on anyone’s toes in the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.
Why is there a demand for medical illustration?
Humans tend to be visual learners, and even simple medical concepts can be taught more effectively with imagery.
Can’t you just take a photo?
In many cases, photos are possible but not desirable. Most physicians wouldn’t want to frighten a patient with a gory photo of an impending open heart surgery, and just imagine the gauntlet of offensive directions-for-use photos that could end up on pharmacy shelves! In other cases, photos just can’t capture things like chemical reactions or the inner workings of a root canal. They also may not be the best option for attractive design, affordable printing, clear communication, and so on.
Who are medical illustrators?
We’re your new best friends. No really, I think we’re interesting people to know. We like science, we like art, we enjoy problem solving and we’ve clearly gone out of our way to do what we love for a living, so we tend to be a pleasant bunch.
Most medical illustrators have earned college degrees in specialized programs that combine studies in arts and biological sciences. Traditional and digital art techniques, human cadaver dissection and operatory room observations are requisite in these programs.
As professionals, medical illustrators work often as sole proprietors or hold staff positions at educational, communications or medical establishments.
Where can I get more information?
Visit the Association of Medical Illustrators’ web site at for more information. Their Questions and Answers page is chock full of reputable and very readable material.