How Medical Illustration Is Different From Other Illustration

A picture can speak 1,000 words, which is why medical illustration can be a significant enhancement to a brochure. This morning I’m continuing to illustrate three views of a prostate cancer ablation treatment. The process involves research before beginning, since I don’t have a medical anatomy background. I used to work at a place where we had a huge medical library to refer to, which was used frequently by those with anatomy backgrounds and those who didn’t have that background. Reference can be found on the web, but often the images are very small, so detail cannot be seen, in order to protect the artist.

Before I start illustrating, first I become familiar with how the organ is situated in the body. If the illustration is meant for a medical student, it’s important to know if they will be viewing the organ while the body is standing, lying down on their back, or their side, because the organ may shift considerably depending on the position of the body. I look for reference of the organ from as many angles as possible to get a 3D image of what the organ looks from any position. Often the organ will be shown in a sagital, coronal, or transverse position.

Then I’ll look at what surrounds the organ, since I may want to incorporate surrounding tissue into the illustration. I’ll create a simple sketch of the organ to show a particular angle, and then send it to the client so they can provide feedback about the position. They may respond saying, “make the cancer tumor larger and move it toward the posterior,” or “rotate the view,” or “increase the cryoablation needle size.”

After approval on the postion, I’ll begin to add more detail and texture, highlights and shadow, to give the organ a three dimensional feel. I might make parts of it transparent, to show several layers of information.

A medical illustration usually requires extra attention to modeling, form, texture, and color, so from a purely aesthetic point of view, it can add a beautiful element to any brochure or website. To see some of DDA’s medical illustration, check out our medical portfolio.