Mock wants to enter the field of anasplastology and create facial prosthetics, such as ears and noses. She hopes to attend one of the three U.S. schools that offer a master’s degree in medical illustration.
Some BPMI students have enjoyed the science so much they have gone into fields like medicine, dentistry, podiatry and biochemistry. A few others have gone the other route by becoming full-time artists.
“The most successful students are very good to excellent in both fields,” said Dean Biechler, a lecturer in liberal arts and sciences and integrated studio arts.
“You need a sound understanding of the sciences so when a physician or a scientist talks to you, your eyes won’t glaze over,” Biechler added. “At the same time, you have to be very good in art.”
Biechler, along with John Dorn, a 1999 graduate of the ISU program, are medical and biological illustrators who teach most of the program’s art courses.
Biechler says the most important thing BPMI students do is communicate.
“We’re conceptual artists. It’s not just about pretty pictures, they have to tell a story,” Biechler said.
The art of precision and accuracy
BPMI drawings are as varied as the natural world, including skeletons, organs, birds, fish, mammals, plant life and microbes. And illustrators use a variety of media: paint, charcoal, pen and ink, colored pencils and software programs such as Photoshop. The art also can be three-dimensional.
To ensure accuracy, Biechler counts ribs, vertebrae, even spines and rays on fish when critiquing student drawings. Precision drawings can be time consuming, especially for less experienced student illustrators. However, Biechler said the goal is skill development, not speed.
“We’re always looking at the taxonomy,” he said. “They must be accurate.”
Students take a rigorous set of biology courses, including anatomy and physiology, said Lynn Clark, biology professor and BPMI program director.