Blog Post Author: Chris Glynn
Image: Helen Turnbull
On 29th April we took part in an encounter between illustrators, medical professionals and students under one roof. Held at Cardiff University School of Biosciences, the event was carefully co-ordinated by Dr. Alun Thomas, Professor Judith Hall, and Dr. Hannah Shaw. The illustrators were led by Chris Glynn, Senior Lecturer in Illustration at Cardiff School of Art and Design.
We were all briefed on the unique nature of this event, and how we should compose ourselves professionally. Confidentiality and respect have to be maintained concerning the production and distribution of our illustrations, including any dialogue that follows. Thus the drawings published in this post have been approved by all parties.
To introduce ourselves: Helen Turnbull, illustration graduate and recently illustrator in residence at Cardiff University School of Medicine; Maelle Chevallier, second year illustration student, and to be honest a novice in this field. So, what were our first impressions on entering the venue?
Maelle: First of all there was a lot to observe: anatomical specimens, note-strewn whiteboards,
x-rays, murals of historical illustrations from Vesalius, 3D models, and other teaching props; also how vast, bright and quiet the room was. I was expecting a less extensive and filled space.
Helen: I agree, but surprisingly I was drawn to something quite small very quickly in the beginning when stood on the landing space. High up on one wall, there was a poignant inscription: “Alive we thought beyond our lives to give our bodies as a book for you to read.”I think this a beautiful and respectful statement underlining what we were about to take part in, and of course illustrate.
Maelle: Indeed, when we got there we had a bit of time before the teaching started and medical students arrived, which let us acclimatise to the surroundings and start thinking about our role in the day. We were free to go from station to station, listen to the teaching, or just observe the place itself. At first there was so much to take in that I couldn’t quite focus and didn’t really know where to start. I was overwhelmed by the objects, specimens, conversations,people, demonstrations, gestures… It was such a rich visual environment!
Helen: I’ve had a fair bit of experience in drawing at the University Heath Hospital, but like Maelle this was something unique that I’d never come across before. I’ve previously spent time in quite small spaces, and of course been exposed to medical equipment, but this vast room was phenomenal. On arrival I couldn’t wait to get started and for the classes to commence, my interest was predominantly capturing the people and the processes. As we’ve said previously we had to maintain a high level of respect in the representation of the specimens; they could not be recognisable or identifiable, and consequently not used.
Maelle: Since this was something new for me I was fascinated by everything, and didn’t necessarily have such an established idea of what I wanted to draw. However, looking at my work now, I would say I focused on teaching methods, as I mainly illustrated hands handling tools and demonstrations. The explanations were captivating and accessible, which was great because understanding how the subject functions is actually very important for an illustrator. From time to time I would stop drawing, and just listen to them.
Image: Helen Turnbull
Helen: Dialogue has always fed heavily into my illustrative practice. My drawings more often than not include quotes and pieces of information to create context and narrative, the Anatomy day was a prime example of this. As Maelle has said, it really helps you as an artist to understand what you are drawing, in order to create an accurate visual response. The dialogue was fascinating and engrossing, I’ll confess at times it was hard not to be completely distracted!
Maelle: Also, it was great to see the range of teaching methods, and how these encouraged resourcefulness and open-minded thinking (one symptom, several possible diagnoses). It was also interesting to see how final year medical students react, communicate and apply their knowledge.Helen: Not forgetting the lecturers! The way in which they engaged the students and provided a class so interactive and animated was obviously well received. This was further reinforced by the uniqueness of the educational opportunity.
Demonstration using ultrasound to illustrate the location of the carotid vessels in a student
Image: Maelle Chevallier
Maelle: So what have we learned?
Helen: I found this useful practice in drawing live events, namely hand movements and different postures; it was also the opportunity to illustrate a completely unique subject matter within the medical field, and being able to adapt and use my skills to produce work quickly and efficiently. Previously my medical work has focused on the patient and medical professional. For this event I had to take into account the specimen, lecturer and student, thus creating a more dense interactive platform.
Maelle: For me this was a great challenge, both creatively and technically. There is a sensitivity towards the fact that people willingly gave their bodies to science, and along with this respect comes a restraint. The latent awareness from observing and drawing actual specimens makes one highly reflective. To what extent should the illustrator project his or her personal perspectives on the subject? Drawing precise details, different textures and organic matter is not easy, and once again it’s not something I am used to, so it’s good practice.
Image: Helen Turnbull
Helen: I hope our drawings will help visualise and document the purpose of the Anatomy Day: they will hopefully provide a both accurate and sensitive rendition of the necessity of the amazing contributions people make towards scientific development, research and education.
We would like to thank all those involved in making the Anatomy Day possible, and indeed such a great success. It is also a great opportunity for illustrators; we strongly believe this collaboration with the Schools of Medicine and Biosciences is really worth preserving and developing.
Representations of Radiographs Image: Maelle Chevallier