Thursday, April 23, 2009

U of T Biomedical Communication

The University of Toronto offers a graduate study program for people who love art and also have a background in biology, physiology, anatomy, or nursing.

Nick Woolridge showed Jeanette and me the large collection of medical illustrations by various artists, including original drawings by the German medical illustrator Max Brödel from the venerable Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy (1943).

The 32 students in the Biomedical Communications program learn the time-honored technique of carbon dust on clay-coated board. They also master 2D digital techniques and 3D animation.

Graduates of the program work for animation studios, book publishers, pharmaceutical companies, and documentary producers. “This is art as applied to medicine,” Mr. Woolridge said.

The two-year Master of Science graduate program in Biomedical Communication is part of the U of T’s Institute of Medical Science and is only one of five accredited programs of its kind in North American and the only one in Canada.

The five members of full-time faculty works closely with experts in the University of Toronto's medical school, giving the students a chance to have their work reviewed and critiqued by specialists like surgeons, pathologists, and immunologists.

During the tour we visited Grant’s Anatomy Museum, which houses the original dissections made for J.B. Grant’s An Atlas of Anatomy (1943). Obviously I couldn’t take photographs there, but the collection includes dozens of partially-dissected and cross-sectioned human cadavers preserved in clear fluid, each illuminated from above within a darkened room. The atmosphere in the room was hushed and focused, and students were drawing from the exhibits.

Students also have access to the operating rooms of nine of Toronto’s teaching hospitals where they can observe and sketch during surgery. Surgeons-in-training need the work of artists to clarify forms that cameras can’t see.
Website for UofT’s Biomedical Communications, link.
Teaching facilities, link.
Thanks, Nick and Gordon!


Unknown said...

'carbon dust on clay-coated board' I've not heard of this before. Sounds very interesting. Need to go do some diggin now. Thanks.

Erik Bongers said...

I second Smarty.

Victor said...

The carbon dust is basically powdered charcoal. I believe the clay coated board is so that you can incise or abraid through the clay to expose a white surface for fine detail, like scratchboard or sgraffito.

Chinami said...

Thank you very much for reviewing Medical Illustration and scientific illustration. I am a junior in high school and am seriously considering these careers! These posts have been incredibly helpful. It's really good to hear that they concentrate on 3D as well as 2D.

This summer, I've signed up to take Science Illustration courses at the University of Santa Cruz in California. ( Although, I heard that their graduate SI program has been closed down.)

Just a quick question for anyone who happens to know the answer. If one majored in Art and Biology in college, is graduate school necessary?

Thanks again James! You're a really amazing teacher.

jkg11218 said...

Victor's right- the powered carbon dust is applied to the board with natural bristle paintbrushes, with detail work done with carbon pencils and black gauche. The clay surface is scraped at the very end for crisp highlights.

senami-- I'm a medical illustrator- graduate of the dearly departed University of Michigan program. If you want to learn more about the field, I suggest checking out the Association of Medical Illustration's website,

I think a graduate (or undergraduate) degree in medical illustration specifically is important in becoming a medical illustrator. It's more than just being able to draw and knowing anatomy-- in school, we learn traditional and digital techniques specific to med ill, and also such soft skills as how to work with physicians, working in the OR, etc. The class at US Santa Cruz should be a good intro to the field. Feel free to contact me if you want more info (jill @ jillkgregory . com)

-- Jill Gregory

Heidi Richter said...

Thank you for this great article! I graduated from this program in 07 and have been working for a text book publisher for the last year and a half. I highly recommend the program to anyone interested in the field--they have an exceptional focus on technology and the resources available to the students are unsurpassed.

If anyone (senami?) has questions about the U of T program feel free to email me!

Chinami said...

Wow, thank you very much Jill and Heidi! It was really kind of you to both go to the trouble to explain Medical Illustration information. I really appreciate it!
Again, thank you so much!

Senami (cmichaels25 at )

Brine Blank said...

There was a really great article on medical illustration using this technique in a HOW magazine around 91 or 92...the guy (unfortunately whose name I can't recall) was at a school that had something in the line of 5,000 apps a year and only accepted maybe 20 or so...the guy said it was indeed a labor of love because the starting salary at that time was around 21,000 a year...curious as to what it is now...