Veterinary medical illustration is the professional practice of creating visual images to solve problems, tell a story, or create knowledge related to veterinary medical subject matter. In general, a veterinary medical illustrator is considered a specialized medical artist that focuses on the veterinary sciences, whereas medical illustrators are often trained in human medical subject matter. There is often crossover, and some artists will also refer to themselves as scientific illustrators, biomedical artists, medical animators, or biocommunication specialists.
Regardless of the title they choose, most medical illustrators have been through a rigorous graduate training program in science and in art. Medical illustrators are scientific translators who work through aesthetic information design. Fine artists are well versed in art, while doctors are schooled in science and medicine. Medical illustrators must be fluent in both languages. It is the combination of this knowledge and training that defines the profession, sets it apart from traditional illustration, and makes it both a valuable skill and service.
Visual images exist as a universal language, cutting through culture, class, and educational barriers to connect, create, and inspire.
Technology enhances, but does not eliminate, the need for medical illustration. The camera and professional photographer are critical for documenting medical subject matter. However, the camera shows only what can be seen. A medical illustration can show multiple layers of an unseen, untold concept, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, and often all in a single artwork.
The computer, Internet, and 3D printer have revolutionized medicine, allowing diagnosis of disease and surgical planning through various imaging modalities. In addition, these technologies provide numerous flexible media with which to create 2D art, as well as specialties like 3D medical animation and interactive design. Since medical illustration is used in a variety of fields – including academic, advertising, education, institutional, legal, editorial, and instructional – the technology can be tailored to create a medical artwork that best suits the project goals.
The success of a medical artwork lies in its ability to effectively inform the viewer, and not just to decorate a surface. While visual appeal is important, a beautiful illustration can be inaccurate or confusing. The veterinary medical illustrator is fully trained to comprehend scientific abstractions and formulas as they exist and then transform them into drawings and symbols.
Education in biology, anatomy, pathology, and surgery on a graduate level, as well as exceptional problem-solving abilities, allow the veterinary medical illustrator to be specifically equipped to handle their task. That means asking the right questions and researching the best sources to gather information in areas where they may have less expertise. Because a veterinary medical illustrator with more intimate knowledge of the subject matter is not just an observer, an environment of mutual respect is engendered between artist and client. This secures accuracy, clarity, and art direction even before the image making process begins.
Distilling complex scientific jargon to a common language requires veterinary medical illustrators to be excellent at storytelling, as well as creative in execution of the material. The medical artist will choose the best avenue to communicate a precise set of complex information, targeting to a wide range of audiences. Does one keep the process detailed or simple? The colors varied or limited? The steps together or separated? Medical illustrators know exactly how to answer these questions and present data in a way that directs the viewer through the story.
A board-certified veterinary medical illustrator is known as a certified medical illustrator or CMI. Certification is a voluntary program endorsed by the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) that promotes professional competency by a dedicated commitment to continuing education. Certification is similar to board certification for other medical professionals, and includes an exam in ethics, biomedical science, drawing, business practices, as well as a rigorous portfolio review.
Dr. Sawchyn is proud to represent the veterinary profession as both a CMI and a committee member of the Board for Certification of Medical Illustrators (BCMI).
The first step is a consultation in person, by phone, or by email to discuss the project and subject matter. The earlier the medical illustrator is involved in the development process, the better.
For example, preliminary contact of the illustrator, before a research grant proposal is submitted or a book publishing contract is negotiated, allows the client to have a realistic estimate of funds needed to include in a budget plan and assists in development of other components of the project such as written materials and design.
The illustrator needs to know how the drawings will be used, how many artworks are needed, and what reference materials are available. The complexity and finish of the illustrations are discussed. Budget, deadlines, and licensing rights need to be outlined. If the client requires guidance, SMI can assist with recommendations that fit the client’s needs and project goals.
A proposal is drafted including a detailed description of the project, estimate of fees, payment, process for approval and delivery, and licensing package, among other responsibilities. Once the contract is agreed upon and signed by both parties and a deposit payment is received, the project can begin.
We will review references, research subject matter, and consult with the client or content expert to begin preliminary sketches or storyboards. The sketches are reviewed by the illustrator and sent to the client for approval. Two to four rounds of sketch approvals are not unusual. Careful review and communication between client and the medical illustrator is critical – delays between approval steps and changes needed after the approval steps may be more difficult, crowd deadlines, and incur additional fees.
At this point, we begin the final illustrations. Changes at this stage are often minimal. After the client has reviewed and accepted the final artwork, high-resolution files, as required, are delivered. Final payments are required promptly to begin the grant of licensing rights outlined in the contract.
Medical illustration is a service, not a product that is bought. Instead, medical illustration is licensed for use, similar to the purchase of a book, music, or computer software. Pricing depends on many aspects, including the number of illustrations, complexity of subject matter, size, use and licensing rights, market for the artwork, as well as experience and education of the illustrator. In general, the more artworks, uses, exclusivity, complexities needed, the higher the cost.
Purchasing the rights to use a medical illustration does not mean the client can use the artwork however they want. Both parties must follow the terms negotiated in the contract agreement. Use of an artwork without permission is copyright infringement. Selling copyright, also known as “work-for-hire”, is not typical in professional private practice medical illustration or subcontracted work. Instead, the client pays for a package of rights that grant more or unlimited uses or exclusivity if more control of the illustration is required.
Industry pricing guides through the Association of Medical Illustrators can be helpful in getting an idea of what a project might cost. It doesn’t cost anything to consult with SMI about your project!
Both parties must follow the terms negotiated in the contract agreement for the first illustration work. If further rights to the use of an artwork are needed after a project has been completed, the client can easily contact the medical illustrator to negotiate additional uses.
Publishing is a valuable service and the publisher needs certain rights to reproduce works in order to distribute them in print or online. Some publishers also provide editing and design services. These benefit you by streamlining the peer review process and hopefully increasing exposure of your work. In turn, the publisher benefits from having high quality works from accomplished professionals highlighted in their books.
As an author, you and/or the institution you work for, own copyright to your works. You can choose to sign the publisher’s copyright agreement as provided or negotiate your own contract terms with the publisher. This may be important if you would like to use your work in the future. If you transfer entire copyright of your work to the publisher, the publisher becomes the new owner of your work. You may be required to pay additional fees for future uses of that work. For some publishers, the resale of manuscripts, images and figures are additional revenue streams. Read your contract carefully.
NIH funded research must be accessible to the public through the NIH Public Access policy. When a manuscript is accepted for publication, scientists are required to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive Pubmed Central. If you need illustrations prepared for NIH funded research, talk to us. We can provide a permissions agreement to the archive for the illustrations in the manuscript. Additional fees may be required for this service.
For most other publishers, SMI provides a permissions agreement with the finished artwork to allow the publisher to use the illustrations as they need as part of the manuscript. The publisher is not allowed to remove, change, sell, or distribute the illustrations without prior permission and/or payment for such use. Additional fees may be required for this service.
For clients needing to publish in an open access format and/or with Creative Commons licensing terms, please contact us to discuss your project. Additional fees may be required for this service.
Congratulations on your product! We hope it sells well. Please feel free to consult us about the illustration work you have in mind, however, payment is required for medical illustration services, regardless of the success of your product, book, or presentation.
You may be able to find a stock illustration that may cost less than a custom commissioned piece, but be prepared to pay for the use of the stock image, as well as the reproduction rights package.
You can get an idea of some of these costs by looking at photographic stock websites like Getty. Another downside is that the image you use is not unique, and other products may be produced with like images.
Another option is to move forward with your project without the artwork. If you are successful enough to raise funds, you can always contact us for artwork to supplement a second edition or campaign.
We have limited stock images available for purchase for re-use. Please contact us if you are looking for a particular image.
Pricing depends on many aspects, including the number of illustrations, complexity of subject matter, size, use and licensing rights, as well as experience and education of the illustrator. SMI does not engage in bidding battles, nor do we produce work on speculation.
We pride ourselves in offering custom artwork and clinical expertise at fair prices. There are many that claim to do what we do, but don’t have the training background in both illustration and veterinary medicine. With over 17 years working in the veterinary and agricultural fields, practicing veterinary medicine, continuing education, lecturing, mentoring, and producing and editing veterinary medical illustration – our experience is priceless. We put our heart and soul into the work, and are as passionate about our client’s projects and goals as they are.
We offer a variety of professional creative services for the biomedical fields and related institutions and businesses, specializing in veterinary medicine. Services include:
We have access to a wide variety of veterinary content expertise and resources. Need help with editing content on your art or animation? Maybe you’ve already got a team of illustrators, designers, and content experts, but need additional input.
We’ll work directly with you to review your project – you bill your client for services. Please contact us to discuss your project. Our hourly consultation fees apply. We offer a 10% discount to members of the Association of Medical Illustrators and Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.
The Association of Medical Illustrators is a wonderful resource for information of the career and further education, current events, and networking with illustrators of different specialty backgrounds. The trade publication – the Journal of Biocommunication (JBC) is an enlightening read. The Vesalius Trust is an allied organization that supports research and education in the visual communications for the medical and life sciences.
The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) supports illustrators in a wide variety of scientific fields, including medical, biological, paleontological, botanical, environmental, and mechanical pursuits.