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Q & A - Peter M. Lawrence

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Please tell us about your back­ground and how you be­came a med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tor.

As far back as I can re­mem­ber, I have been ob­sessed with draw­ing. I can re­mem­ber find­ing an anatomy book for kids in kinder­garten and cov­er­ing my work­books with draw­ings of skele­tons. How­ever, it was much later in life when I found out about the med­i­cal illustrati­on pro­fes­sion.

I was two months away from com­plet­ing my un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity with a Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts, Draw­ing Con­cen­tra­tion, when a friend of mine sent me a link to the Johns Hop­kins “Art as Ap­plied to Medicine” grad pro­gram web­site. I vividly re­mem­ber scrolling from one piece of med­i­cal art to the next, in com­plete amaze­ment. The il­lus­tra­tions were el­e­gantly ren­dered and clearly ex­plained sci­en­tific con­cepts. I knew in that mo­ment that this was the per­fect ca­reer for me. It was the in­ter­sec­tion of my two pas­sions: art and sci­ence.

De­scribe your ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing at the Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute. What does the av­er­age project look like?

I started work­ing at Bar­row in May 2016. I pri­mar­ily ser­vice the sur­geons and re­searchers in the Depart­ment of Neu­ro­surgery. A huge ben­e­fit to work­ing at an in­sti­tu­tion is be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with these au­thors.

They are ex­cited to work with med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tors and fre­quently make time to visit our depart­ment to dis­cuss their projects with us di­rectly. The au­thors will bring in ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als such as in­ter­op­er­a­tive videos or di­ag­nos­tic im­ages, and I will sketch out con­cepts as they ex­plain what they need. I then take my con­cept sketches and be­gin draw­ing dig­i­tally in Photoshop.

As I men­tioned, my back­ground was in fine art, and I was al­ways more com­fort­able draw­ing my il­lus­tra­tions out with pen­cil and scan­ning them be­fore work­ing on the com­puter. But dig­i­tal paint­ing has come a long way in re­cent years.

There is vir­tu­ally no in­put lag when us­ing a sty­lus on a pow­er­ful monitor, so it feels very in­tu­itive and sim­i­lar to tra­di­tional draw­ing. I now start and fin­ish all my il­lus­tra­tions in Photoshop us­ing a Wa­com Cin­tiq monitor.

Work­ing at a re­search in­sti­tute as an il­lus­tra­tor is a real lux­ury. I get the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve surg­eries di­rectly. Be­ing able to ex­am­ine the oper­a­tions first­hand is valu­able for un­der­stand­ing the steps of a pro­ce­dure and con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing tis­sue dy­nam­ics.

The sur­geons are of­ten gen­er­ous with their time and en­cour­age ques­tions through­out the op­er­a­tion - they want the il­lus­tra­tions to be as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble. I also oc­ca­sion­ally get to ob­serve au­top­sies with med­i­cal stu­dents and res­i­dents. The pathol­o­gists will de­scribe their find­ings and quiz us on anatomy and pathol­ogy.

My projects are re­lated to cere­bral, spine, or en­dovas­cu­lar surgery, mi­croneu­ro­surgery, brain and spine con­di­tions and patholo­gies, and pa­tient ed­u­ca­tion. Cer­tain projects re­quire more re­search, so the time an illustrati­on takes de­pends on the com­plex­ity of the con­tent. On av­er­age, I can start and fin­ish a full illustrati­on in two days - about 16 hours of work. We have an ar­chive of med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tions that spans close to three decades. To save time, I will some­times pull rel­e­vant il­lus­tra­tions from the ar­chive and mod­ify them for projects.

Are there any mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing med­i­cal illustrati­on?

I would say there are sev­eral mis­con­cep­tions about artists in gen­eral, es­pe­cially dig­i­tal artists: lots of peo­ple think it is ef­fort­less, or that the com­puter does all the work, or that it is not a real job.

The re­al­ity is that I of­ten strug­gle; I have been draw­ing my whole life, and I still feel like it takes time, care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, and sev­eral failed at­tempts be­fore I get it right.

“I per­son­ally be­lieve that art is any­thing that makes you feel some­thing, and a med­i­cal illustrati­on can both teach and elicit an emo­tional re­ac­tion...”

Do you con­sider your­self more a part of the art or sci­ence com­mu­nity?

There is a false idea that in­struc­tional illustrati­on is a lesser art-form. Some of my col­leagues from art school have claimed that if an image is di­dac­tic, if it is meant to teach, then it is not re­ally art; if I be­came a med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tor I would be “sac­ri­fic­ing my artis­tic in­tegrity.” I per­son­ally be­lieve that art is any­thing that makes you feel some­thing, and a med­i­cal illustrati­on can both teach and elicit an emo­tional re­ac­tion - the two are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. Most of my fel­low med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tors were sci­ence ma­jors and art mi­nors or took art classes on the side. I was an art ma­jor who took the necessary sci­ence pre­req­ui­sites. For me, the cre­ation of art has al­ways been more im­por­tant than the sci­en­tific con­tent it­self; I per­son­ally feel more like an artist with sci­en­tific knowl­edge, rather than a sci­en­tist with artis­tic knowl­edge.

What are some of the chal­lenges and re­wards of be­ing a med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tor?

It can be dif­fi­cult to grasp the com­plex­ity of neu­roanatomy from var­i­ous ori­en­ta­tions or con­cep­tu­al­ize the depth of sur­gi­cal cor­ri­dors or cer­tain struc­tural re­la­tion­ships. Draw­ing brain surgery is not easy. There have been in­stances where I worked on a sin­gle text­book cover image for over 80 hours be­fore feel­ing like it was fi­nally com­ing to­gether. But af­ter it starts work­ing, and you re­al­ize the ef­fec­tive­ness of what you have cre­ated, it is the most sat­is­fy­ing feel­ing in the world.

Do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions or ad­vice for other as­pir­ing med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tors?

I would say to try and find your niche, some­thing you are gen­uinely in­ter­ested in or pas­sion­ate about. Many med­i­cal il­lus­tra­tors go through school and com­plete their work, but do not think about what field or medium they are drawn to. Work on dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing your­self, find your pas­sion and find your voice as an artist: the thing that is un­de­ni­ably you.

 ?? © Peter M. Lawrence. All rights re­served. ?? Be­low: Head and neck anatomy.
© Peter M. Lawrence. All rights re­served. Be­low: Head and neck anatomy.
 ??  ?? Top, right: Surgery of the Brain­stem. © Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute.
All rights re­served. This illustrati­on dis­sects the com­plex anatomy of the ner­vous sys­tem and is in­tended to help neu­ro­sur­geons gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the nar­row cor­ri­dors and re­la­tion­ships that com­prise the brain­stem. Right: OLIF-LLIF illustrati­on. © Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute. All rights re­served. Two sur­gi­cal op­tions of ac­cess­ing the lum­bar disc space for in­ter­body fu­sion: oblique lat­eral in­ter­body fu­sion (OLIF) or prep­soas, and lat­eral lum­bar in­ter­body fu­sion (LLIF) or transp­soas.
Top, right: Surgery of the Brain­stem. © Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute. All rights re­served. This illustrati­on dis­sects the com­plex anatomy of the ner­vous sys­tem and is in­tended to help neu­ro­sur­geons gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the nar­row cor­ri­dors and re­la­tion­ships that com­prise the brain­stem. Right: OLIF-LLIF illustrati­on. © Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute. All rights re­served. Two sur­gi­cal op­tions of ac­cess­ing the lum­bar disc space for in­ter­body fu­sion: oblique lat­eral in­ter­body fu­sion (OLIF) or prep­soas, and lat­eral lum­bar in­ter­body fu­sion (LLIF) or transp­soas.
 ??  ?? Both im­ages above: Used with per­mis­sion from Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute, Phoenix, Ari­zona.
Both im­ages above: Used with per­mis­sion from Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute, Phoenix, Ari­zona.
 ?? © Peter M. Lawrence. All rights re­served. ?? Above: Peter M. Lawrence and Dr. Michael Law­ton at Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute.
© Peter M. Lawrence. All rights re­served. Above: Peter M. Lawrence and Dr. Michael Law­ton at Bar­row Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute.

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