Today, we have with us, a talented scientific illustrator from the USA, Ikumi Kayama. When I first came across her website on the internet, the illustration of the life cycle of a fish reminded me of my own labwork assignments during the botany and zoology classes at college. I loved spending hours on illustration of animals and plants. The challenge was to ensure that the illustration was not only appealing, but the animals dimensions and structure were accurately captured.
Ikumi was gracious to share her insights about scientific illustration for the MedicalHealthWriter.com. I agree with her sentiments especially when people wonder what a medical/scientific writer is and does? She specializes in working with researchers, doctors, writers, and teachers to create custom medical scientific illustration that makes modern science accessible and relevant. She also gives visual communication seminars for the scientists and illustration courses for the illustrators. Visit Studio Kayama to find out more.
Without further ado, welcome Ikumi!
Behind the Scenes: Showing What Can’t Be Seen Using Medical and Scientific Illustration
By Ikumi Kayama
When I talk about my profession in medical and scientific illustration, I either get a blank stare or a follow-up question: “What is that?”
Suppose you want to learn a little bit more about the human body—take the human heart for an example- how can learning more about the heart help you live longer, healthier lives? What is happening when the heart is not working properly? Human body is a pretty complicated thing with muscles, blood vessels, organs, nerves, and other structures. Maybe you have seen the insides of a real human body at a science museum or have been to dissection labs in a biology class. The parts are so intricate with complicated names that the viewer is often overwhelmed by the amount of information.
The tricky part about teaching science and medicine through drawings is, how do you teach only the necessary information while taking out all the extra details and still manage to not confuse the viewer? Depending on what you want to teach, the artwork has to show different parts of the body from different angles. Sometimes an organ is cut to show the inside, or be made see-through to show the underlying structures. In a medical illustration, most of the surrounding structures are filtered out so just the basic parts are shown to teach a point. Most illustration techniques cannot be recreated by just taking photographs or by using computer software.
In the example of the heart, most of the surrounding anatomy such as the thymus, the lungs, the rib cage, and the nerves are removed so the viewer can easily see and study the heart anatomy. Also, to show the direction of blood flow, the major blood vessels are color-coded.
To create such artwork, the doctors and scientists work directly with the specialized artists to create artwork that is both informational and accurate. The doctors and artists will work through different versions to refine the information shown in the artwork.
The finished artwork can be used in various places—a simpler yet accurate illustration can be used to help teach patients on how to take care of themselves. A concept illustration can be used in a science textbook for school-aged children. A complex illustration can be used by surgeons and researchers to communicate novel research at meetings and conferences.
My job as a medical and scientific illustrator is be familiar with the sciences, work with the experts in the field, and illustrate realistic yet stylized artwork to help communicate the science in a clear and concise way.
To be a professional medical and scientific illustrator, the illustrator needs to be familiar in both science and art. It is challenging to juggle science, art, and communication skills. I love my job because I love helping others. Knowing that my illustrations are used to help people bring me great joy and satisfaction.
All photos on this blog post have been used with permission.