Why low-tech medical sketches are in high demand

In the days of Photoshop and digital editing, you might think hand-drawn medical illustrations are a thing of the past. And according to Megan Foldenauer, a medical illustrator, that's not a crazy thought. 

"There was a time where I think everyone was worried that's what was happening. Everyone was going to the computer nobody was drawing anymore," Foldenauer said. 

Fortunately, as usual, things come full circle. What once seemed a lost art is going through a renaissance, with an increasing demand for people who are scientifically and artistically minded.

For Foldenauer, the introduction to the field of medical illustration came accidentally.

"I was in anatomy class my junior year and I would illustrate my lab reports. My teacher said, 'You know that's a job? You need someone to draw all those things.' And so that was it," Foldenauer said. Since then, Foldenauer has pursued both art and science in her journey to become a medical illustrator. 

Her undergraduate education was done at the Art Institute in Chicago, and her master's degree is from Johns Hopkins University.

"We had a gauntlet of pathology, cell biology, molecular biology. The whole thing was part of the curriculum to get that master's degree," Foldenauer said.

While the work of a medical illustrator can be beautifully detailed and complete, that's not necessarily the goal. A medical illustration does not necessarily create what a photograph could capture, it's very different.

"If you just showed someone that photograph, they would have no idea where to focus their attention, and there's so much extraneous tissue and things that are just there that don't tell a story. There is an art to taking a photograph and then reducing it to its essential components," Foldenauer said.

The illustrator captures the most important elements of a complicated medical image, re-creating only what is necessary.

"Part of what I do is to offer that kind of visualization of that information for patients so that they can learn about their body," Foldenauer said.

As medical procedures evolve, new equipment is used, and innovation never before dreamed of comes into use -- there is a need for new drawings to describe it. But, Foldenauer still wants it to look good, "I try to add in a more artistic approach when I can as long as it's not going to detract from the message," she said.

Online: MeganLovesToDraw.com

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.