The Art of Medicine

Written by on December 31, 2014 in Art - No comments

Medical Illustration for Effective Communication

What is your vision for your career in medicine? What would you love to share with your community? Your knowledge, techniques, your research? These are indeed your biggest assets. Second in value to your ability to apply these yourself in your daily practice, is your ability to share them with others: your patients, your students, your colleagues, the global community of health care professionals and researchers.

IllustrationWEBThe effectiveness of this communication has a direct impact on what you are able to achieve, and thus on your personal fulfillment, but also on the value you provide to your communities and institutions, and on your reputation as a whole. As we all know, your data, your experience, your words, descriptions and stories, speaking and demonstrating, are essential to the sharing of yourself in this way. And I’m sure we can all agree that adding images—or visuals of some sort—can help as well.

As students of anatomy we probably all (consciously or not) felt immense gratitude for the illustrations in Netter and Grant’s, among other books. The fact is, using effective visuals is critical to communicating (and as a student, absorbing) complex information efficiently. This is obvious when it comes to subject matter with physical attributes and spatial relationships, such as anatomy, but is also true of communicating data, temporal processes, and conceptual relationships, all of which are ubiquitous in science and medicine. If you’ve ever admired an excellent data visualization, a flawlessly designed biochemistry schematic, or a surgical technique crystallized in animation, then you know what I mean.

Whether you conduct and publish research, teach, develop online resources, or author books, the profile and perception of your work is either bolstered or blemished by its visual presentation (or lack thereof).

This is why I do what I do. I work with clients—physicians and health care providers, academics and medical researchers, hospital programs and departments—who are devoted to their message and their material, and who want to share it with others. I see the value in what they are sharing with the world, and I try my best to help them do it justice on a public stage.

How did this happen?

People often ask me how I knew I should become a medical illustrator. I think it was a combination of things. I always had an interest in drawing and painting, and a good attention to detail. I started drawing in a realistic style before I was twelve and began selling my drawings and creating commissioned portraits at the age of fourteen.

I also always had an interest in medicine and in how the body works. As a child, instead of asking for bedtime stories, I’d often say to my Dad, “Dad, let’s talk about bones.” I wanted to understand what was hidden under our skin—what did it look like in there?! Well, now I know.

Learning to communicate medical content using visuals

With a degree in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto (U of T) and nine years of experience as an artist and illustrator, I attended the two-year Biomedical Communications (BMC) Master of Science program at U of T. There we studied human anatomy and embryology intensely with our fellow medical students. Four hours of human cadaver dissection and four hours of lecture every day. I loved it. Following this period, we took courses in neuroanatomy and pathology (supplementing my previous education in physiology, zoology, biology, anatomy and embryology, and comparative anatomy). And, of course, we made visuals and participated in critiques of those visuals.

My master’s research project involved the design, development and evaluation of an online, interactive, three-dimensional model of the pterygopalatine fossa. This educational tool was created to aid medical students in understanding the complex spatial relationships and neurovascular anatomy of the fossa. You can check out the tool online at

NeedleWEBDuring this time, I was fortunate to work as a teacher’s assistant in the undergraduate Biomedical Communications program at the Institute of Communication and Culture at the University of Toronto Mississauga. There, I developed and delivered weekly technical skills tutorials for the course Visualization of Forensic Demonstrative Evidence, taught by Dr. Leila Lax. This course aimed to prepare forensic anthropology students for producing their own clear and effective demonstrative evidence presentations when called to be expert witnesses in their future careers.

After graduating from BMC with my master of science, I was hired as a full-time medicolegal illustrator at a studio in Toronto. On a daily basis, I reviewed personal injury plaintiffs’ medical files and imaging and then produced detailed, anatomically accurate illustrations of their injuries, complications, and surgeries so that their medical case could be presented clearly in mediation and in court. After nearly four years as a medicolegal illustrator, I began to miss the variety and originality involved in creating other types of medical visuals, as well as the challenge of running a business.

Critical thinking about visuals

During my time in Visual Studies, I created my own artwork but also took many art theory courses and participated in countless critiques. In addition to practicing skills like draftsmanship and color theory, I also learned the value of critical thinking about a piece of art. Does this artwork do (to the viewer) what the artist intended? For example, does it make the viewer question something; does it make them feel an emotion (pity, delight, or awe); does it transport them? And then, “Is this what the artist wanted?” Art is created for a great number of purposes, and you really can’t generalize, but I think one approach we can take to most art is to ask, “Does this do what the artist intended?” Of course, in the art world, answering this question requires some knowledge of the artist’s intentions, or at least an educated guess based on the context of the artwork’s creation and/or presentation.

I bring the same approach to medical illustration, with often much more pragmatic ends. Does this illustration do what we want it to do? Does it communicate our salient points to the viewer? In the case of a magazine cover, does it attract the eye of passersby? In the case of a textbook, does it compete effectively with the competition’s book? In a poster or an advertisement, does it inspire fascination? In a study guide, is it easy to memorize?

Illustrating your science

DianaKryskiWEBAs CCO (chief creative officer) and art director at my studio, Kryski Biomedia, I have the regular opportunity to think visually and critically about what we create. From textbooks to whiteboard videos, medicolegal posters to online learning tools, I encounter a variety of visual challenges. However, while the details—of both the subject matter and the techniques—are always changing, the skill we apply to them—the visual expertise, the originality, the research—are consistently effective.

In addition to the many researchers and doctors we’ve worked with on books and journal articles, as well as the law firms we’ve provided with medicolegal posters, some of the particularly fun and interesting jobs we’ve worked on include: a uniquely exquisite book, An Introductory Curriculum to Ultrasound-Guided Regional Anesthesia (Pollard & Chan, 2009); an online educational tool for patients considering post-mastectomy breast reconstruction (Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University Health Network (UHN), Toronto); and a series of six whiteboard “explainer” videos for the UHN’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. You can take a look at our website and portfolio at

By Diana Kryski, MScBMC
CCO, Medical Illustrator
Kryski Biomedia

Leave a Comment

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box