Maya's blog.

Peek inside the life of a medical animator and illustrator.

june 5 schedule

Sunday, June 5 - Medical Illustrators' Art Day!

  • 10am Still-life drawing or painting. Bones, produce, flowers.
  • Noon Warm-up with clothed gesture drawing. (Maya, Clint, whoever wants to take turns posing.) We can get reference photos of each other if we need them for work. Snacking and drinking!
  • 1pm - 4pm Figure drawing or painting. Female nude model. (no photos please)
  • 4pm - 5pm Still life, finish your figure drawings, paint, whatever! Stay longer than 5 if you can! The "schedule" ends here but I will not want art day to end.

This event will be held at 5445 Buckskin Dr. The Colony, TX 75056. It is free! Call me with questions 214.734.8182 and please invite any medical illustrators that might not have seen the info. I am looking forward to seeing you!

june 5 is art day!

In just one month on Sunday, June 5, I will be hosting an art day for medical illustrators, medical animators, medical graphic designers... pretty much anybody who is in biomedical visualization and can make it out to The Colony, TX (north DFW, between Plano, Frisco, and Lewisville). We'll have at least one live model to draw from, and I'll probably set up a still life or two around the space. What else do we need? Easels? Wine? Paper? Anatomical models? Cameras? I think we can come up with an awesome day. Personally, I just want to get off my butt and draw. When was the last time I drew standing up? It's been a while.

Please share this with any medical illustrators you know in the Dallas area, or who might be visiting Dallas. The event will be free! Schedule TBD - I'd say block off 11am-5pm for now. For more info you can always call me at 214.734.8182

A very special thanks to my splendid company, Shoemaker Medical, for helping out with the event.

lawsuit against artist group dismissed

Here is a very exciting piece of news - A silly lawsuit against the Illustrators Partnership of America has been dismissed. By silly I mean BAD. The article is a summary of events that have gone on for the past 4 years, culminating in a victory of sorts for creative intellectual property owners (like Shoemaker Medical!)

interview: Dave Killpack

I'd like to introduce a new segment. I'll be interviewing my colleagues to try to give some insight into what medical illustrators are like. What do we do? How do we tick? What's a "day in the life" and why the heck do we enjoy biomedical visualization so much? Enjoy!Maya interviews medical illustratorsDave Killpack, my friend and owner of Illumination Studios, is an award-winning medical illustrator with many years of experience. He makes animations to envy, and is very good with veterinary subjects as well as medical. Maya: Dave, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! I've known you since I moved to Texas (the first time) and you've definitely put down roots here. Can you tell us a little bit about where are you from, and how you ended up the Dallas area?

Dave: I grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa.  My family didn't travel much but even at a fairly young age I thought Texas seemed like a good place to be.  I suppose being interested in herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians) had something to do with that notion.  After I graduated from Iowa State University, I accepted a position at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas as a Medical Illustrator.

Maya: How did you become interested in scientific and medical illustration?

Dave: It seems like I've always been interested in scientific visualization as a career.  I suppose that's not entirely true; I think I wanted to be a farmer as a small boy, then a paleontologist, and shortly after that a scientific illustrator.  While I was attending ISU, I was employed at a company called Engineering Animation as a scientific illustrator.  At the time, I believe they employed more medical illustrators than any other company and I had the good fortune of working with them.  That really sparked my interest in medical illustration specifically.  I really enjoy the diversity of scientific visualization including medical and scientific illustration, animation, etc.  I always try to keep a number of projects going in different specialties because that variety is a large part of the interest for me.

Dave Killpack illustration example

Maya: What do you say when you meet somebody new and they ask "What do you do for a living?"

Dave: This is one of those questions that those of us with a somewhat atypical job always wonder what other people in the same shoes might say.  Personally, I try to mix it up and it depends a bit on what I gauge the person's realm of experience to be but my response ranges from something like "I make the images in science textbooks" to "I create animations like you might see on the science channel."  Depending on their response, I add info or backpedal from there ;)

Maya: It's so true! I'm always changing it up, but I have a few scripted responses to choose from. My favorite is "I draw organs!" - though that one really only works on friends. How do you describe your job to somebody in the medical community, or to a scientist?

Dave: For someone in the sciences, I often tell them that I facilitate and streamline the communication of their science.  That's a bit general and typically evolves from there depending on their specialty.  For a surgeon I might say, "I eliminate extraneous details and clarify your procedures" whereas for an entomologist, "I draw attention to details that are important for accurate identification."  Physicians and scientists in general have tremendous access to a variety of imaging technologies these days but that doesn't mean they know the best or most elegant way to use them to tell their story.  In fact, if someone questions the need for my services based on their usage of these technologies, I might ask if they think every person with access to a word processing application is a writer.  That being said, I find that pretty much everyone in the sciences is excited about the services I provide.

Maya: Art or science?

Dave: Good question...I used to always say science hands down.  And the question I was answering is..."If you want to be successful in scientific visualization, is it better be an artist first and a scientist second or the other way around?"  Over the years, I have met a roughly equal percentage of people who have been very successful in this profession with obvious strengths in either art or science.  Now I often think of it less as one or the other and more about a continuum where a strength in either one might provide a particular asset to that individual.  For me personally though, I've always been interested in the science first and the art was just one way of expressing that interest.

Maya: I'll put you down for "science" then! What inspires you?

Dave: This question is a great followup to the previous one because I can answer science again.  I love new and unique scientific information and I instinctively visualize it in a way that I would like to see it presented.  I think the science will always be first for me, but after doing this for a number of years I can also say that the artistic components such as unique or beautiful rendering techniques (and I mean rendering either traditionally or digitally) and elegant design are a close second.  When an amazing scientific concept is carried out with the an appropriate and beautiful style...for me, that is the most inspirational execution of scientific visualization.  I should also throw in that when I have a project that I think needs something and I just can't figure out what to do, I like to refer to other artistic expressions and contemporary design for inspiration.  I also have a series of Internet favorites folders with various artists from a variety of disciplines that I refer to for inspiration.

Maya: That's great. Science is definitely a beautiful thing! Is there a favorite artist you consistently look to? What about a favorite scientist?

Dave: It would be hard to limit myself to just one in either category but if I had to list a few of my all time favorites: Leonardo da Vinci, Alfred Russel Wallace, & Charles Darwin and a couple current faves: E.O. Wilson & John D. Dawson.

Maya: Now that you're inspired, let's talk about your current work and life. Can you tell us a little bit about your company?

Dave: Illumination Studios was conceived before I graduated from Iowa State and I'd been working toward the goal of full time self employment for 8-9 years.  I started full time work for myself in 2008 and so far, even with an otherwise terrible economy, things have been good. I think several features that help with that are diversity of work (I do a lot of work in different markets) and diversity of product (I offer everything from line drawings and vector animation to photorealistic paintings and 3D animation).  I also provide associated services such as web/application design, scientific writing, logo and other design, etc for my clients making me a bit of a one-stop shop.

Maya: What is your workday like?

Dave: A typical work day, if you can call any of them typical, starts at 4-5am.  I try to get a few hours of work in before the rest of the family wakes and then spend an hour or 2 with them.  Around 8:30-9, its back to work til lunch time...often with the family if the workload allows. After lunch, and back to work til my "family time" alarm kicks on at 5:30pm.  In case you can't tell, I'm a bit of a workaholic but I also love spending time with my family so I try to drop everything and spend the evenings with them too.  I'll often do some work after the kids are in bed too depending on current project schedules.  As for the work itself, depending on the project I might be working on a 3D model, rendering an animation, digitally painting an illustration, or working on a user interface for an application or some combination of the above.

Maya: You had a second child this past year. How does your [awesome] family affect your work-self? How do you find time to get the work done with two small [adorable] children in the same building?

Dave: A great question and one that ties in with my typical work day response.  The key to getting time to work are schedules, rules, and boundaries - for the kids, not me ;).  For example, my youngest son sleeps through the night but often wakes up around 4-5.  I change his diaper, my wife feeds him and then he sleeps til 7 or 8.  My eldest son is 3 and gets up at 7:15 every morning (he has a clock that turns green when its time to get up).  We play, have breakfast, and hang out til about 8:30 when Mom's shift begins.  My wife stays at home with the kids (or takes them on outings to get them out of the house) so that helps greatly as well.  My eldest son is getting into art and legos so he has a spot in my studio to do his work.  In fact, he tells his mom "I'm going to work now" when he's headed into the studio.  We also have rules about noise or interrupting when daddy is on the phone and I try not to be on the phone during family time. Maya: That's pretty cute! Does your work stay in your physical office?

Dave: Mostly yes...I do have a couple of laptops and can work elsewhere if needed but mainly because of the mountains of reference material I often use, its tough to be very portable.  As you know, certain stages of a project are more portable than others.  There are also client meetings, OR visits, conferences and trade shows that may require travel but most of the work is done in the studio.

Maya: Do you ever miss working for "the man"?

Dave: At times I miss working with other people nearby who do the same sort of thing. It's nice to have others to critique your work and help with problem solving.  I think most solo practitioners get that feeling though.  And of course the health insurance is certainly much more expensive on your own but I think the benefits to being your own boss far outweigh that and I enjoy working alone most of the time.  When I get the urge to chat with someone, I find a friend (such as yourself) online for a few minutes and have even started trying to get that creative critique online as well.

Maya: What is the most frustrating thing about your work? The most rewarding?

Dave: The most frustrating thing has to be a project that I am less than interested in when I know I've got another project that I'm really interested in that also needs work.  I have to find ways to make that less interesting project more engaging or it languishes.  The most rewarding part of my work is when I've successfully completed a project and finding that not only does the client love it but that I still like it too.

Maya: These are great repsonses! Do you have any advice for those considering a career in medical illustration?

Dave: Love science...not only will it will help you understand your projects and identify with many clients but it will keep you interest piqued.

Love art...its what you'll be doing day in and day out.

Be open to new technology...its more important now than ever that people in all fields, not just scientific visualization, can grasp new methods quickly.

Maya: Describe yourself in 3 words.

Dave: Innovative, Driven, Devoted

Maya: I only wish that "innovative" started with a "d." Dave, thanks so much for sharing your talent and your life with us!

chalazions and what to do about them

A few years ago, I got a mysterious inflamed bump on my eyelid, which I later learned was a "chalazion" - something I had never heard of before.sad eyelid bumpsOuch ouch and ugly and embarrassing!ouch eyelid chalazionI didn't know what it was, I was uninsured, and I was busy stressing about grad school, so I let it grow and then harden into a less-inflamed but more permanent lump. Later, a dear family friend [and doctor] diagnosed me over the phone, and told me to go see somebody. After a few calls, I found somebody who would remove it, talked my parents into funding it, received a small but icky surgery, and was well on my way to healing. But then they started coming back! The second time I went in, I had 3 or 4 removed at once, on both eyes. Not fun. And when I asked how to prevent them, I was told to continue keeping my eyelids clean with some expensive eyewashing pads, but that they would keep coming back anyway since I was prone to them. Frustrating! The next time one started, I went to see an "eyelid specialist" and he told me a similar story. BUT he also said to use hot compresses a lot more and to try washing with baby shampoo as a last resort.

The baby shampoo + washcloth helped. (I have since switched to more natural cleansers, with the same results. Just having fewer chemicals in my life.) But what worked really REALLY well was regular hot water compresses. I want to share my procedure. You can combine this with your surgery if you need one, and also use it for prevention (it will even reverse small new chalazions.)

(First go do all your research about what a chalazion IS, and see your doc if needed.)

1. Do this every time you shower. It's way less messy than over the sink, you get enough water, and it's very easy to remember to shower every day. You can add additional compresses in between but this will give you a base of one great eye-soak every day.

2. Wash your face and gently scrub your eyelids with gentle soap and washcloth. Keep them closed; soap stings. Rinse.

3. Use washcloth to gently rub eyelid back and forth. Imagine trapped oil melting away and your oil glands becoming unclogged along your lash line. Slight eye-rubbing seems very helpful for loosening things, just don't do it with dirty hands.

4. Fold your washcloth into a compress and drench with hot (shower-temperature) water. Soak eyes. Think about life. Repeat (refreshing the hot water) for 5 minutes. One minute is enough if you are just preventing.

washcloth compress for soakingTa-da! Prevented. Whenever I find some eyelid irritation starting, I get more serious about this regimen and it clears right up. No more surgeries for me. I hope this helps you too.

Other things that seem to help are getting sleep, eating healthy foods, and reducing stress... but I know those are easier said than done. Now start soaking!

kidney loves japan

My heart hurts for Japan, so this morning I decided to make a comic and a simple plea. Kidney sends blessings to Japanese tsunami victims.

Please say a prayer or send your love and positive thoughts, and then, please donate through a trusted organization like the Red Cross. Thank you!  -"kidney"

how to watermark images

The time finally came to put a new watermark on my website images. I thought maybe I should share my technique with you! I don't do any kind of batch processing but I feel like this is very fast while still leaving me in control. I use Photoshop because that's what I'm always using. using Photoshop to watermark multiple=

My little tutorial uses finished .png images, already edited, sized and ready for the web.

Copy (not move) all the .pngs into a new folder where you want the finished watermarked images to live.

Open them all in Photoshop (10-15 at a time, if you have too many).

1. Design the watermark. Here you can see I've made a master psd file (on the right) by renaming one of the correctly-sized images and then adding part of my logo. Keep this watermark on a separate layer. Turn the opacity down if you'd like. (There are all kinds of styles you can apply at this point: embossing, drop shadows, whatever fanciness you have in mind - do it now. I just wanted simple.)

2. shift-drag the watermark layer into your next image* (Shift keeps it aligned.)

3. command e (merge down)

4. command s (save)†

5. command w (close)

6. repeat starting at step 2.

*If you need to move the watermark around you can do that now.

†This is saving a flattened version and the watermark is no longer editable. That's why I copied all my images into a new folder first. I can still go back and get the unmarked ones when I need them.

•For PC users, replace "command" with "control.

This process can go very fast once you get started. (I think writing this blog post took longer.) I wanted mine all to match so I only had to move the watermark on two images. I hope this is helpful! If you have a different procedure you love, leave a comment!

dust mite adventure

Warning: This post contains dust mites! A few days ago I decided that my bed was probably overrun by dust mites. Neither of us has any allergies or sensitivities to them, but a book and the internet told me they were there. Repeatedly. Sometimes I get things into my head and can't get them out until I do something about it. So here is my story of what I did and what I am still going to do about it.Maya imagining the horrors of dust mites.First, I grossed myself out. Dust mites feed on dead human skin flakes and their bodies and poop can possibly affect my respiratory health. And while I am not sure I've had any symptoms personally, I might as well breathe fewer mites and poop! Couldn't hurt! Not to mention sleep in a place with fewer things crawling...

I then thought of my awesome friend Dave and a super-cool drawing he did once, and decided to say hi to him. He pointed out that it was a actually a tick, so I acted like I already knew that. I am sure I did, once, know that, but I hadn't actually looked at the illustration in a while, and hey, ticks and mites look similar.

ticks vs. mitesNext, I read the entire internet.

This included shopping for mattress covers and pillow covers and duvet covers with small enough holes to supposedly keep dust mites out. I will buy some of these items next month.

Today I decided to get serious and I executed my first attack on the bedroom. I removed all the books and papers and vacuumed the room, twice. I carefully removed the bedding, folding it in on itself and got it out of there. Then I vacuumed the mattress with an attachment, beat it, and vacuumed it again using the whole upright vacuum cleaner. That part was fun because I felt like I was breaking lots of rules. After that, I vacuumed the floor AGAIN. I felt very proud of all the mites I must have sucked out of their comfy little mite lifestyle. I heard a "click" and realized I'd worn out the belt and it had snapped. Oh well, good thing I was done with that portion of my project! We'll get a new belt soon.

Happy Maya walking on the bed.After the suck-fest, I washed all the linens in scalding hot water. Then I washed all the clothes I could find in scalding hot water! Then I hopped in the shower to wash myself in scalding hot water! (The hot water didn't last as long as it usually does, though.) This washing-of-everything-at-once is funnier than you think, because usually I don't remember to do ANY laundry, and Clint takes care of it before I realize it. If only he knew 5 years ago what I would be prompted to do because of an invisible mite.

Now the room is bare and clean, the bed is made, and I think the mite count must be reduced, right? I plan on repeating this procedure after I buy the protective covers, along with flipping the mattress and beating/washing the down feather items.

If that isn't enough to ease my mind, I have one more idea:

No humans allowed in the bedroom.

impending holiday

If you are crabby about Valentine's day, I just want to say: I heart you - crab drawing with anatomical heart

Thanks to sis-in-law Emily Chaphalkar for getting me thinking about crabs today! She linked me to this clever designer on etsy, discovered by Chelsea K. For those of you that don't know, crabs are a symbol of... well, something, in my family - and we give crabs to each other out of love. Wow, that sounds terrible! I'm leaving it in, perhaps it will draw some kind of sicko traffic to my blog. We like to dance like crabs and make crab emoticon armies in gmail chat. Here's how one does that: V.v.V

I hope you enjoy my crabs-with-heart, and I hope you have a lovely Valentine's time of year or whatever. I am neither dreading it nor jumping up and down about it. Clint and I will probably go out for dinner next Wednesday or something when all the crowds have died down. We don't feel we need a holiday to remind ourselves that we like each other... but it is a great excuse to go out on a date.

I am so very grateful to have found the love of my life. He plays scrabble and reads with me and he NEVER buys me cheesy jewelry that looks like a pair of diamond-encrusted testicles. (Men, take note!) There is much fun to be had expressing your love this season, but I hope you'll make it personal and meaningful. Remember that it doesn't have to be expensive and it doesn't even have to happen on the 14th. Crab!

ginger is awesome

Warning: This post contains female reproductive system themes! ginger makes your uterus less crampy

I've recently learned that ginger helps relieve the pain of cramps. It has been a pretty short trial so far, but comparing the results of ginger, nothing, and naproxen sodium (my old standby, Aleve) over a few months in my test subject (me), I would say that it's pretty effective! I am trying to go drug-free when possible and wondered if there was a natural treatment for this issue, especially since nothing is actually wrong with me, it's just pain. I only wish I had discovered this 15 years ago. Chomp on some raw ginger and drink ginger tea. Even ginger candy helps a little.

Don't have a uterus? Don't feel left out! I hear ginger is good for other kinds of pain relief too.

client contact tracking

Clint and I just came up with an awesome system for tracking and recording client info. It's not some fancy software that we bought - Clint built me an Excel spreadsheet with tons of categories for updating things like client status (are they a lead or have we quoted them or signed them?) and how they found us. I had started out by using a typical digital address book but there wasn't room set aside for this kind of important info. I need to be able to "pull a list" based on a variety of factors, such as whether I sent them a brochure, and keep notes on our conversations. I hear that spreadsheets are great until you have 1000 clients and then they can get unruly, but you know what, I will re-evaluate when I have 1000 clients. Meanwhile, this seems like a great way to actually keep track of my customers and not let anybody fall through the cracks. The benefit of a spreadsheet with everything in a separate field, of course, is that I will now be able to sort my data and see how many quotes turned into sales, or how many of my customers found me by accidentally stumbling into my home office on their jog through my neighborhood. marketing contacts excel database for tracking clients

I plan to enter one new lead per day, at the same time I contact them to let them know what we have to offer. This should get me in the habit of actually using the sheet. I know it does no good if the data is only on post-its all over my desk. Don't worry, the data will ALSO be on post-its all over my desk. But I promise to put a lot of info on one piece of paper and recycle them after data-entry!

I will be testing out this new system over the next months and adjusting it til it's just right. Meanwhile, if anybody wants a blank copy to help you brainstorm about your own system, let me know. Next up, we are creating a new Job Log.

Edit: link to the blank file here! MarketingBlank

all about maya

I'm adding webcomics to this blog! It should be a pretty simple format change, with a mix of some comics and some regular entries. That's all I know! Enjoy.


Last night Clint and I played our new bananagrams game (thanks, Raj and Emily!) and after a round or two we decided to team up and tackle a category. Anatomy was the first word so we took it from there - goal was to use all the letters and stay on topic.

Anatomy Bananagrams

Questionable words: I.V., ped (as in "peds"), fed, did, did, ow, ow, sew, wart, kid, qi, qi, and in. These were at the end of the puzzle and we had to decide whether to leave letters out or do our best to play them all. I can make an argument for including each word... for example "qi" is still anatomy-related if you consider Chinese medicine, right?

I feel pretty good about the result and will be trying this again soon!


Like everybody, I have quite a few things I'd like to do this year (be healthier, read more, decrease debt...) but I'd like to share the more creative ones with you here. I'm an artist. I want to remember to enjoy being an artist each day, and go beyond what my business or career requires me to do. 1. Play my guitar. I've gotten it out and tuned it, and it is now on a lovely stand staring at me, ready to go. It's been a couple of years since I gave it any real attention.

2. Paint. I'd like to create a couple of new collections of work to show.

3. Work on the anatomical LEGO© show I have planned with Clint and Dave.

4. Cook creatively with fresh ingredients. Try some new ideas.

5. Sketch and journal more often! Document life using stick-figure comics and share these with friends and the world. Yay! Ok, I'm ready to get started.

My good luck painting for moving to Texas

What about you? How will you bring art into your life this year?