Making Money WIth Your Art - Certified Medical Illustrator

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Marcia Hartsock has been a medical illustrator for over 20 years. She runs her own medical illustration business [The Medical Art Company] and is a Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI). She holds an Honors BFA in Painting from the University of Cincinnati, and an MA in Illustration from Syracuse University. She has been an active member of the Association of Medical Illustrators since 1981, and a Certified Medical Illustrator since 1993.

So you want to be a medical illustrator? Luckily there are several anatomically correct models that can be used for medical illustration purposes, in particular Zygote's male and female anatomy models. However, to become a successful medical illustrator, and make money with your art, you must first understand what is required to make a career in the field of Medical Illustrators. The beginning of success is understanding!

Marcia will be the first to admit that a Biomedical Illustrator, holds the role of interpreter between the medical community and the audience that is receiving the information. To produce quality medical illustrations, the artist has to have, not only a knowledge of the art form they use, but a knowledge of the medical concepts they create. The artist has to be capable of translating complex biomedical issues into a visual that is accurate and helpful to the viewer.

Many images appear to be helpful, yet they simply fall short. The artist has to visualize the surgery, future pathologies, and biomechanical issues. If there is one area of art that is exacting and precise, it is medical illustration.

Anyone with the appropriate scientific knowledge and illustration skills can pursue a Medical Illustration career. However, people like Marcia, find that having the best credentials substantially helps their business and their work. The Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators administers a certification program for illustrators who seek a recognizable means of credentialing. The designation of Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI) denotes this voluntarily earned credential and provides a recognizable means of signifying a practitioners current competency in the profession of medical illustration.

To qualify to take the exam, a college degree in Medical Illustration is preferred. As an alternative, you can apply with 5 years experience as a medical illustrator and a college level course in gross anatomy with hands on dissection. You may be able to discuss alternate background/educational requirements if your work is outstanding. All applicants must pass a three-to-five hour exam, and pass the portfolio review. In order to pass the exam, the applicant must possess a substantial knowledge of anatomy, illustration techniques, business practices and ethics, and show the coursework they have completed.

The portfolio review comes down to the hard core, "can he/she do it or not?" The image has to be accurate and understandable. Some images may be beautiful and appear to be useful, but fall short because they are medically incorrect.

The Association of Medical Illustrators, or AMI, is the medical illustrator's professional association. Professional membership is for those illustrators who make medical illustration their profession. The AMI has an associate members section for those in allied professions. It is well worth the visit to the AMI site, which offers a great deal of information from certification to workshops to referrals for their members.

The software or traditional media you use, is your decision. There are some that use 3D software such as MAYA and C4D. Certainly, any software you choose will be worth while in creating a basic image that you can build upon. Most computer oriented medical illustrators rely on 2D applications such as Photoshop, Painter, and Paint Shop Pro. The key to remember is that the final render is NOT the final image. You will have to spend time in your 2D application, and maybe even hand drawing on occasion for accuracy.

Whether you become Certified or not, you will want to target certain market sectors that utilize medical illustrations. This is wide and varied. A few ideas include medico-legal users who are interested in illustrations for trials and arbitrations. There are medical textbooks, medical magazines, editorials that are published, advertising for pharmaceuticals, training of company sales reps, staff training manuals, etc. There is also a call for Flash and 2D animation in education. In recent times, the web has exploded with medical articles that are enhanced with illustrations. A big area is patient education materials from pharmaceuticals.

Marcia, for example, works with consumer education, editorial illustration, and legal evidence. She often handles illustrations of non-routine injuries. There are already a ton of images available for HNP (herniated nucleus pulposus or herniated disc) and CAD (cervical acceleration/deceleration injury). The assumption should be that the standard anatomy is just the beginning. The challenge and the pay for Marcia lies in handling the hard ones.

A growing area is the cellular and molecular level of imagery for research projects and presentations. One does not necessarily have to re-draw the heart, which has been drawn tens of thousands of times already, but perhaps a new molecular understanding of how the heart works!

Perhaps the most fascinating place to have your images and animations shown, is on the A.D.A.M. Interactive Anatomy 4.0 software,. It is a real treat to visit the A.D.A.M. Studio to see the fine works that are available.

The AMI is holding their 60th Annual Conference/Workshop in Los Angeles on July 28 - August 2, 2005. The conference is conveniently held just prior to the opening of SIGGRAPH 2005, and overlaps slightly. It is a drivable distance between the SIGGRAPH, location at the LA Convention Center, and the AMI conference at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The workshops and conference are open to anyone who wishes to attend, and you can easily register online.


All supporting images within this article are copyright, and
cannot be printed, published, or copied without written permisson from the artist.


Technical Views
is a regular featured column
with Renderosity Staff Writer/Sr. Tech Editor
Eric Post [EricofSD].

May 16, 2005

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Member Opinions:
By: LillianH on 5/16/05
Very interesting and informative article. Well done Eric!

By: ClintH on 5/16/05
This sounds like a very cool line of work. Fascinating for sure.

By: OneShot on 5/17/05
Very interesting information. One word 'Cool!"

By: ysvry on 5/17/05
How much artistic freedom do you have as an medical illustrator? Well forget it, thinking of blood makes me sick already, let alone visiualizing cancerous tumors or pusseous skin deseases.To top that you have to work with those arogant doctors. If i deceide i wanna make money with my art i probably go for children books lol.

By: ZRDwD on 5/18/05
I have been wanting to go into the field of Biomedical Visualization, but after researching heavily on the subject, just let me point this out to you all.

You must be dedicated, passionate, an outstanding visualist and artist, and above all... you need support from others. This is a very tough field to get into. Once you finish your full time under-grad studies, graduate school is a full time gig for a year and a half to 2 years (Michigan has a 3 year course). The schools are extremely strict with prerequisites. At the time of my research, there are only 6 accredited schools for the field in North America! Very competitive field, and you may not even be admitted. Most schools only allow between 1 to 6 people per semester! Visit Fairman Studios website for further info and links reguarding the field. I highly recommend it.
If I hadn't been aquiring adult responsibility and bills since I was a young kid, this is one career that would have placed happiness in my life, even if it required near-premed education.

By: fenixcats on 5/18/05
Good info - and it is a rewarding profession for those type of artists. I suggest to vsvry that you use a spell checker as your review has mistakes too :-) Thanks!

By: deci6el on 5/19/05
While I concur with Dr. ZRDwD's research for a head-on approach to this career path I must mention that there is a back door.

I've done a lot of medical animation and am not an accredited medical illustrator. My secret? My client's brought their own MI. He did the design work and I did all the painting and animating. This was back when Computer Graphics was out of their hands and that back door may now be closed. But for the record; it was fantastic, interesting work, the people were excellent to work with and I never met an arrogant doctor.

By: PapaBlueMarlin on 5/22/05
Very cool, I've always hoped something similar would be done for forensic science education :)


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