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.”
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.
Jennifer Fairman publishes COVID-19 visualization article in JNSI
The latest issue of the Journal of Natural Science Communication is out (Volume 52, No 2, 2020), the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators’ peer-reviewed quarterly journal. Associate Professor Jennifer Fairman, CMI, FAMI published an invited feature article on COVID-19 research and visualization, “Science vs. Virus: Illustrating SARS-CoV-2” covering her visualization research and production work on the novel coronavirus. Fairman writes, “mortality continues as we speak and as researchers frantically work to find answers, effective treatments, and a cure. Our field is seeing a surge where we can’t draw pictures fast enough… Our best weapon is rapid, widespread, effective communication of trusted factual information and discrediting polarized and politicized misinformation in a fragmented media environment. Like 9-11, the world is in crisis with one major difference: [Artists] are needed.”
Shout-out to an amazing colleague and good friend, Debbie Irwin, voice actor, speaker, audio producer, and Principal of Debbie Irwin Voiceovers. She has become a trusted advisor in the medical illustration community. We have had the pleasure of not only using her talent and clear voice for animation projects, but also knowing her as a wonderful friend and colleague within the Association of Medical Illustrators. People recognize her professionalism and value her work. She is a great resource as she also provides audio production services and manages the entire audio package: casting other voice talent, whether it’s for a male voice, a female voice that’s not hers, or multiple voices for eLearning projects, for example; and working with composers to customize canned music or create original scores. While you can hear her on Pandora commercials, as various video game voices, or guiding you on a museum audio tour (yes, she was once the voice of The Statue of Liberty), medical narration is her expertise. In fact, she is now coaching other voice-over talent who want to develop their skills in this particular genre.
“I do. I think there is a difference between innate creativity and learning how to draw. My feeling is, you know how to write…right? You know how to write unless you can’t use your hands. You can write. You have your own handwriting. Everybody has their own handwriting. You learn how to talk. You learn how to walk. You learn a lot of different things. I think you can learn how to draw the same way. I think that in order to learn how to draw, you need to learn how to see and understand what you’re looking at.”
This was fun! Thanks to “Art is Everything’s” Aaron and Rose Miller for asking me to participate in this podcast. Here I answer questions about the field of Medical Illustration. Enjoy a fun discussion about Art + Medicine and what happens when these two worlds come together!!! Johns Hopkins Medicine, JHU Medart, Association of Medical Illustrators
Listen to Episode 3: Art and Medicine – Medical Illustration from Art is Everything on Apple Podcasts:
COVID-19: Visualizing a Moving Target, Presented August 8, 2020 at the 2020 GNSI Virtual Conference. Jennifer Fairman, CMI and Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Art as Applied to Medicine Program.
Ever since Maryland’s “Stay at home” order, Jeni has been knee-deep in COVID-19 visualizations. Many of her JHU and AMI colleagues have been inundated with COVID-19 assignments in what has seemed like a race to understand the virus structure, life-cycle, and potential therapies. Jeni will share her COVID-19 story by explaining what she and her colleagues have learned and created in order to help the public best understand the current pandemic. (0.5 BIOMED CEUs, expires Sept 8, 2020)