Semester 1 Reflection

The opportunity to dive into medical illustration this semester has been incredibly exciting, and I have really enjoyed getting to explore a topic that interests me so much. The academic independence of an independent study is completely unlike a traditional class, so it has been rewarding to gain a deeper understanding of how I learn and work independently. I love finding connections across disciplines, and my independent study has allowed me to explore my interdisciplinary interests– I have been able to link art, psychology, human anatomy, and even math.

Even though it is the end of the semester, I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to say goodbye to my independent study. There are things I want to continue working on and more topics I want to explore. So, I’ve decided to continue my study in the second semester! I’m currently working on putting together my proposal for the next chapter of my study for the Academic Committee.

Future plans for my study:

Besides my proposal, I’m working on putting together a pamphlet about learning disabilities using my illustrations that will be a culmination of everything I’ve learned and created this semester. I want my pamphlet to promote neurodiversity and to benefit kids and parents to help people better understand learning differences. I initially wanted to get it finished before the semester ends, but I was much busier than I anticipated over winter break, so I would rather wait and give my project the effort it deserves rather than rushing to finish. Anyway, I would love to find people who could potentially benefit from this pamphlet, so I may reach out to doctors, practicing medical illustrators, and parents to find where this pamphlet might be useful. 

Another exciting development in my study has been my recent experimentation with animation on Desmos. I am not familiar with animation, but we use Desmos all the time in math class to graph functions, and my math teacher, Ms. McCain, created a Desmos animation to explain a new concept, which is what gave me the idea. Now, I think I would like to continue exploring digital art with my future illustrations– maybe I’ll try out some digital art programs like Procreate and even work on creating more animations of the brain. I think this is an important step in my independent study, not only because of how interdisciplinary it is, but also because modern medical illustrations are almost entirely digital.

I’m excited to explore this new path next semester, and I hope you’ll follow along with me on the next steps of my journey!

Learning in the Brain and Desmos Animations

Hello everyone!

This week, I have learned a lot more about learning. Thanks to Ms. Rogers, I had a bunch of new resources to look into to better understand learning disabilities and how the brain learns. One of the most important things I learned was in a study from Cambridge University, which found that learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and many mental health disorders do not directly correspond to specific brain regions. Instead, challenges with learning can be attributed to poor connections between numerous regions of the brain, which the study describes as “poorly connected ‘hubs.’” So, looking at brain connectivity rather than specific areas of “weakness” is most significant, and I would like to focus on exploring this idea in some of my future illustrations.  

I have also tried something completely different in my recent illustrations. When I was drawing neurons to illustrate synapses and neuroplasticity, I wanted to convey how neurotransmitters move between neurons. Animation is often a significant part of medical illustration, but I’m quite unfamiliar with it. However, I do know how to use Desmos since we use it so frequently in math class, and I’ve created lots of “desmos art” in the past. So, I had the idea to create animations on Desmos where I combined my drawings with digitized neurotransmitters using math! I created two animations on Desmos, and I’m really happy with the effect of merging drawing with little animations.

Here is the link to my synapse animation and my neuroplasticity animation. The first animation zooms into a synapse in the brain where neurotransmitters move between two neurons. Because neurotransmitters carry information throughout the brain, synapses between neurons are how different regions of the brain are connected. Thus, synapses play a significant role in learning. The second animation depicts the brain’s neuroplasticity, which is the idea that since the brain is so adaptable, with practice, it can build up strength in areas of weakness. This is important for all types of learning in the brain but also in individuals with learning disabilities because with practice, kids with LDs can often retrain their brains or develop compensatory techniques using alternative areas of the brain to improve skills such as reading.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy my animations!


Hello all!

For the past two weeks, I have been working on my illustrations of learning differences, so make sure to check them out in the “illustration gallery” in the sidebar!

I have been researching and diving into many different scientific papers on learning disabilities to more deeply understand the specific neurobiological components to help with my own illustrations. However, even when I find the information, I still have to figure out a way to translate what I’ve researched into illustration form. This is probably my biggest challenge, but this is also what my independent study is all about– visually communicating information about the body that cannot be seen simply using our eyes or visualized from words. Even though I think medical illustrations can be extremely beneficial, there are not many medical illustrations of learning disabilities that already exist that I can find, so I feel like I’m often trying to put together a puzzle from many separate pieces without much to go off of. A lot of research on learning disabilities and scientific studies as well as brainstorming and exploration of professional medical illustrations and techniques go into my drawings. One of my biggest focuses is to create illustrations that are clear and informative for anyone to be able to understand whether or not they have any knowledge of neurobiology. I’m focusing on finding a balance between simplicity while still conveying the important information to create illustrations that are both informative and engaging.

Recently, I have also gotten in touch with Dr. Holmes at Duke thanks to Mrs. Whiting about setting up a visit to the cadaver lab to learn about the human body and practice creating illustrations directly from life. Dr. Holmes also happens to have some contacts who are professional medical illustrators, and she has offered to reach out them, so hopefully this will work out!

Also, here are some of the studies studies I have found that have been quite helpful:

Dyslexia in the Brain

Hello everyone!

This week, I’ve been focusing on planning out and creating medical illustrations of learning differences. I began researching a variety of learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia as well as ADHD and processing disorders. I have decided to first focus primarily on dyslexia, and I’ve learned a lot about what dyslexia really means on a neurobiological level and researched how the brain is involved in reading. 

Here is some of what I have learned so far:

Defining the specific roots of dyslexia is very complex because it involves so many different neural networks and unique variations between individuals. However, Dyslexia does involve certain intrinsic biological characteristics. A few consistent characteristics of a dyslexic brain include increased myelination in the left perisylvian cortex, which includes Broca’s and Wernicke’s area, as well as hypo-activation in the occipitotemporal region in the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere has primary control over language, so it is most affected in individuals with dyslexia. The occipitotemporal region is responsible for recognizing letters and spelling. Wernike’s area (temporoparietal region) is responsible for phonological processing of written and spoken language (retrieving and translating sounds into words). Then, Broca’s area is responsible for language comprehension. All of these parts of the brain are connected in a language and reading network that is impaired in those with Dyslexia. However, this network can become stronger in many dyslexic individuals over time with intervention, practice, and resilience, which can boost hyper-activation (neural connectivity and activity) of these regions. Additionally, because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, it can actually build stronger connections in other areas of the brain to compensate for weaknesses in reading. Because of this, individuals with dyslexia often have very strong 3D visualization, pattern recognition, creativity, intuition, and problem-solving abilities.

Below is my initial brainstorming for my illustrations of  Dyslexia as well as an illustration I did recently about learning in the brain. Thank you for reading!

Q1 Reflection

Now that it’s the end of the quarter, here is a reflection on my independent study progress so far!


So far, I have learned so much about the history and field of medical illustration. I have learned about prominent medical illustrators who have defined the field such as Vesalius during the Renaissance, and I have talked with a present day medical illustrator, Dr. Francois Luks, about how to go about merging art and medicine and applying medical illustration in education and patient communication. I have also practiced creating my own medical illustrations and chosen to explore the brain in depth in my research and illustrations. I am so inspired by the medical illustrations I have come across in my research, which make me see the body in a completely new light and inspire me when thinking about creating my own illustrations.  


I am really enjoying exploring a topic that is so specific and interesting to me and being able to take my exploration in exactly the direction I want. Even though this is definitely a challenge because it is completely unlike any other class, I am learning about the strategies that work best for me as a learner. For instance, I am most productive and motivated if I set out time to work at the very beginning of the week before I’m caught up in the work for all of my other classes. I feel like the past two weeks have been the most challenging period for my independent study so far. Not only is it the end of the quarter and I have major assessments in every single class, but I also have multiple college applications due on November 1st, which is a completely different and stressful experience than anything else I’ve had to do.

Looking ahead

As I have worked on my study, I have figured out what topics interest me most, which is shaping what I plan to dive into more specifically in the weeks to come and has shifted from what I originally planned to do. I originally wanted to examine the effects of opioids on the brain. I know I am still definitely interested in the brain, but after researching and practicing medical illustration, I think I’m now interested in exploring and illustrating learning disabilities in the brain. I think this could be an interesting way to merge a relevant topic about the brain with illustrations to benefit others. I have dyslexia, and I was only diagnosed with it at the end of Sophomore year, and part of what has been so important for me is understanding dyslexia on a deeper level and how it interacts with my brain. So, I think that illustrating learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia and even ADHD could help people understand their own brains better. So, I would like to create a pamphlet or a little illustration book for people and even kids to learn about learning disabilities through pictures.

A new question I have is, how can I best describe learning disabilities through illustrations to help people better understand them?   

Quick Update


This past week I have focused a lot on the brain, learned about mental health, and experimented with some different ways to draw it. From my talk with Dr. Luks, I have learned that medical illustration is not really about being completely precise or accurate. If it was, taking detailed photographs would be much easier. Instead, medical illustration is much more about describing a part of the human body to communicate an idea and convey a concept and reducing the subject matter down to the most important information. So this is what I’m focusing on now with my drawings. 

I’m also looking into different neurologic conditions to determine what specific topic I really want to hone in on in the weeks to come. 

This is just a short update on my progress, but feel free to check out my Illustration Gallery in the sidebar to see what I’ve made. Here, I update my work frequently along the way!

Interview with Dr. Luks

Hello everyone!

I have some exciting news: this week, I was able to interview Dr. Francois Luks, the Pediatric Chief of Surgery at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and a professor who teaches medical illustration at Brown! I reached out to him after reading the article, “The Importance of Medical Illustration in Patient Communication,” about how Dr. Luks is merging art and medicine in the hospital and how he began a program for students at Brown called “Physician as Illustrator” to teach students the value of art in medicine. So, on Monday, I was so excited to talk with Dr. Luks about the field of medical illustration, its relevance, and how he first became interested in it, and he provided lots of resources to consult for my study.

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Q: How and when did you first become interested in medical illustration?

A: “I always liked to draw, and I drew comic strips in high school. In college and in med school I made a bit of a living out of my comics and cartoons. As I went into residency, I didn’t have the time to do that, but I started to draw medical subjects, and friends and colleagues started asking me to draw for them. Over the decades, I developed a portfolio. I did medical illustration on the side for a while until one of my colleagues asked if I wanted to teach it to medical students at Brown. Now, I get to use my old passions for art and put them to use. And this program grew into a bigger course to educate med students about how to use art to advance their medical practice.” 

Q: What is the most important thing to learn when training to be a medical illustrator?

A: “It’s amazing how much medicine you can find in art history. Many medical programs take med students to museums to learn about and analyze the subjects in paintings. To be a physician you need to be able to observe things without making biased assumptions. This is humanism– trying to be more humane and empathize with other people. And studying art is a great way to be more empathetic. So all of this comes together in my work and my teaching  students to draw better and communicate using art.”

Q: What is the purpose of medical illustration? 

A: “Medical illustration is not at all the same thing as being a good artist. You need to know medicine, science, and anatomy. The reason we need medical illustration to explain things. Not just because it’s a pretty picture– although sometimes they are really pretty. You can explain concepts in words, or you can draw a picture that helps people get the idea right away. Doctors need to be able to communicate with their patients, with their colleagues, and with their students. If you draw better, you can also explain and understand better. Drawing forces you to think critically about showing the body from the best angles. Thinking about making a good medical illustration makes you better analyze what the problem is. Einstein supposedly said ‘ if you can’t explain an idea simply, you don’t understand it. Whether it’s true or not, that’s the idea behind medical illustration.” 

Q: What is the most important thing to consider when creating a medical illustration?

A: “Medical illustrations can break down barriers and make ideas more accessible. I’m calling it the ‘Ikea Principle.’ Think about the instructions for Ikea– the illustrations are simple line drawings. It would have been easier to take photographs, but the company tries to maintain the essence of the subject so the instructions are not distracting. There are no words, only simple illustrations. Why no words? They’re Swedish, so to communicate with as many people as possible and expand their company, they had to make their manual usable for anyone beyond language barriers. The combination of simplified illustrations and minimal words while still clearly communicating information is exactly like medical illustration. Also LEGO instructions, same thing, no words, just pictures. When you look at medical illustrations in history, there are simplified illustrated instructions for surgeons on the battlefield– called “Wound Man” – it’s an instruction manual for the army surgeons and there’s a similar thing for midwives about delivering babies. Back then, very few people could read or write, so how do convey medical information to those who need it?– illustrations.”

Q: How can medical illustration be applied in our lives?

A: “So the history of medical illustration was mostly used to explain human anatomy such as the work of Andreas Vesalius. This is still a big part of medical illustration today– teaching to students. You can also use medical illustrations to show new ideas and explain discoveries to colleagues and others in your field. Explaining medical concepts to patients with pamphlets and posters enables medical professionals to reach people from non-medical backgrounds and even kids. The fourth way of using it is to sell something, which is actually a big part of medical illustration, like advertisements for drugs or even cosmetic products and toothpastes. Another surprising one is the legal aspect to communicate injuries in legal cases through illustrations in order to appeal to the jury. This is almost like ads, to “sell” the case to the lawyers. On the CDC website, there is obviously a lot of information explaining what to do during COVID times, but they also have a whole pamphlet communicating exactly what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse, which was created after shows like The Walking Dead were released. Another perfect example of medical illustration.”

Interview conducted on September 28, 2020 at 10:00 am

Reflecting on My Study

Hello everyone!

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my progress this weekend, thinking about what I’ve done so far, and brainstorming where I want to go next with my study. In the next few weeks, I would like to narrow my focus a little bit because I’ve been exploring Medical Illustration more broadly in the past weeks, which was helpful to get an overview of the topic, but it could also be a bit overwhelming. I’m really interested in the brain, especially since I’m taking AP Psychology right now, so I’m inspired to connect what I’m learning with my independent study. So I would like to focus more specifically on this topic in the weeks to come and really dive into it in depth.

Medical Illustration is something that I find incredibly interesting, so since there’s no actual class on this topic at DA, it’s been so exciting to create my own “class” just for me. And this is a totally new learning experience where I’m able to dive into exactly what interests me. This independence is really exciting and empowering even though it can also be overwhelming at times. And sometimes I feel like I could work for hours straight on an illustration, but other times it is more difficult to be inspired. So, for the most part, I work 5-7 hours per week, but sometimes I can work much longer and sometimes I work shorter. I think laying out a plan over the weekend with my goals for the week ahead is something that would help me stay focused and keep me moving forward.

So far, I’ve learned that reflecting, readjusting, and evolving are all significant pieces of learning. These are skills that extend beyond simply studying the material; these are skills you have to practice and experience first-hand. 

Thanks for reading! I will be posting a more traditional post about what I’ve been doing next week!

Drawing Update

Hello all!

I enjoyed researching medical illustration so much the first week, but this week, I really wanted to begin drawing! 

I started by exploring a collection of anatomy books by medical illustrator Frank Netter for reference and inspiration and watching a couple crash courses on human anatomy. I also followed along with some videos from a youtube playlist called “Anatomy of the Human Body for Artists” by Proko that go over the basics of drawing anatomy. I started studying joints and bones using the videos, which explained strategies to simplify the forms of the body into their most basic components in order to really understand the proportions. I then wanted to learn about drawing the internal organs, so, using references, I drew the heart and lungs as well as an eye. 

As an artist, being able to draw the human body is incredibly important. So even though I’ve drawn lots of people in the past and learned about proportions from figure drawing, I’ve never really learned about deeper human anatomy or become familiar with drawing it. Even though it was different from what I usually draw, it was incredibly fascinating to be able to see and understand the human body from a completely different perspective.

Thank you for reading, and be sure to check out the “Illustration Gallery” to see all of my drawings!

Medical Illustration Deep Dive

Hello everyone!

Now that school has begun, I have started diving into my study. I have spent a lot of time exploring my resources, researching Medical Illustration, and browsing textbooks for artistic inspiration. I’ve enjoyed learning about my topic so much this week, and I have gained a lot of interesting information from my research, which I’m excited to share! So here is my introduction to medical illustration!

Because I love art history, what was most fascinating to learn about this week was the history and development of medical illustration over time. I found a TED Talk called “The Spellbinding Art of Human Anatomy,” where medical illustrator Vanessa Ruiz described how the practice of medical illustration has evolved over time.

Dissection of the Muscles of the Back by John Bell 1810

Medical illustration really emerged during the Renaissance, a period when humanism, individualism, and secularism became common values and artists looked back to classical Greek and Roman sculpture for inspiration. Anatomist Andreas Vesalius really defined our understanding of the human body and overthrew many misconception through the practice of dissection to study the body in detail. Medical Illustrations were originally created as investigations of the body for the sake of scientific documentation of human anatomy. These pieces generally feel very cold and gruesome because artists and anatomists often performed illegal human dissections and simply drew the dismembered remains.

From Atlas of Human Anatomy By Frank Netter, 1989

In the 20th century, medical illustration became almost exclusively used for medical education. These types of illustrations are very logical like diagrams as they were intended to be educational tools and not at all artistic.  

Facial Dissection by Danny Quirk using body paint, 2013

Today, medical illustrators are often choosing to merge science with creative approaches. Artist Jason Freeny dissects famous toys to reveal a skeleton and internal organs. Fernando Vicente explores femininity in his paintings, rewriting medical illustration history in a sense as women were historically not represented in medical illustrations. Danny Quirk paints anatomically accurate diagrams directly on human skin with body paint. All of these creative approaches make an understanding of the human body and anatomy much more accessible to ordinary people by creating emotion and giving meaning to human anatomy. Medical illustration is not just for memorizing anatomy anymore. It is for understanding the body on a more meaningful level and relating to it in a way you can’t from simply looking at a person.

Medical illustration can also play a significant role in patient advocacy by helping patients understand their conditions better. I read an article called “Educating Patients with Pictures” from the National Center for Biotechnology Information which explained the power of art in patient care. Oftentimes medical jargon creates a divide between doctors and patients, but illustrations are a universally understood language that can make a complex and foreign medical condition feel much more tangible. 

Thank you for reading! I know this post is super long, but I really wanted to share everything I found!