Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, illustrators have been working hard to create images that help teach scientists and lay people about how the virus works and how to take precautions to avoid it. There are images of the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself, depictions of how it wreaks havoc on the lungs, and diagrams of the nasal swab used for testing and how it extends deep into the sinus cavity. Some images are meant to illustrate specific research advances. Others aim to educate the public. But behind all of these drawings are people who combine scientific expertise with artistic flair. “It’s such a hidden field,” says Fairman. “It’s in front of people every day, but people don’t think about it.”
Faculty members Jeff Day, MA, MD (Assistant Professor) and Jennifer Fairman, MA, MPS, CMI, FAMI (Associate Professor), along with fellow MBI alumni Veronica Falconieri-Hays, Alan Hoofring and Association of Medical Illustrators President Joanne Haderer Muller, were interviewed by Sara Harrison for WIRED Magazine’s Coronavirus Science column regarding their contributions to educating the public about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
Even if people may not notice it, medical illustrations are common; they’re in medical journals, textbooks, public health pamphlets, and everyday publications like newspapers and magazines. “Many people ask: ‘Why don’t you just have a photograph?’” says Jeff Day, an illustrator who teaches at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But with an illustration, you have much more control.” Illustrators can decide what’s important to emphasize and which details might crowd the image and make it difficult to read. Plus, some things are too tiny or too difficult to capture clearly with a conventional camera: it’s hard to photograph a swab going up someone’s nose and into their sinuses.
When Fairman was asked to work on drawing the SARS-CoV-2 virus for the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, she wanted to make it more approachable. “When you look at the virus, it’s really beautiful. The geometry of it is beautiful,” says the medical illustrator. “I think I wanted to just highlight that.” She ended up choosing to paint in blues, greens, and purples, colors that would intrigue people. What resulted was a 2 page spread for the SPH Magzine’s Special COVID-19 issue that was published this past summer.
Since then, Fairman, Day, Falconieri-Hays and many others in the medical illustration filed have been contributing visualizations that capture the public’s eye and educate many. The ultimate goal: to make understanding of the science behind the novel coronavirus’ structure, replication cycle, disease process and treatments/vaccines as accessible as possible.