Maya's blog.

Peek inside the life of a medical animator and illustrator.

Contest #2

Free medical illustration! **EXTENDED until Friday at midnight** For this contest, we are giving away TWO prizes. Two is better than one, no? We'll draw from comments on this post made before midnight Friday (Nov. 18, 2011).

1. For anybody, one signed medical illustration print!

2. For art buyers*, a $500 credit towards a custom medical illustration or animation! (No purchase necessary to win or redeem. For example, could be used for one free line drawing + reproduction rights, or as part of a larger project.)

To enter: Leave a comment below! Not sure what to say? How about... which organ is the best; heart, lungs or kidney? Make a note if you are an art buyer so we can add you to the $500 drawing.

*you make or are involved in the purchasing decision on medical illustrations, at an agency, device or pharma company, or related organization.

Social Week

Social Week at Shoemaker Medical is November 14-18, 2011 Help Shoemaker Medical celebrate our first anniversary! We were officially launched Nov. 8, 2010 and I can't believe a year could go by so quickly.

We'll be giving away anatomy t-shirts, illustrations, and original art on this blog, facebook and twitter all week long.

Contest #1 Congrats Erin Harmon, t-shirt winner!

Contest #2 Congrats to Theresa Chursh!  $500 medical illustration credit

Contest #3

Contest #4 Congrats Jared Johnson on winning my painting "Spinal Sunset" valued at $800. Congrats Carla on winning some small bonus art for asking art questions during the live paint!

Live-painting at NASS

"NASS" stands for the North American Spine Society, and each year it holds an annual meeting much like other associations to become smarter, inspired, and updated in the field of spine surgery. This year I was invited by my client, Orthofix Spine, to attend the Chicago meeting with them and provide interest at their booth in the Technical Exhibition. I'd be painting fine art pieces [incorporating the spine] on the booth, and interacting with passersby. Then we would auction off the works to raise money for a donation to the NASS research fund.

I accepted the job, excited to use my looser fine-art painting techniques with a medical illustration client. Usually I do glossy product marketing images or operative technique illustrations for Orthofix Spine. This would be a chance to show off my drips and paint strokes outside my studio.

I showed Orthofix various pieces and got their feedback about which styles they liked. We decided to mix pen and ink drawings with messy loose background color. I drew the spines, vertebrae, and bone scaffolding I'd need ahead of time, on vellum, and adhered it to canvas with soft gel medium. (I've had good luck with this in the past, and can even get some of the canvas texture to show through my collage.) I can paint around and over the vellum after it's dry. We decided on four canvases, so I went ahead and finished two of them during the weeks prior to NASS. Then I arrived with two "blank" canvases that weren't all that blank, for painting on Wednesday and Thursday at the show. I'm very glad I approached it this way, as I had a plan and finished drawings to work with publicly. As I told some of the attendees, it wouldn't be as much fun to watch me draw a spine all morning. And it took the pressure off.

I was a little nervous - this was my first time painting live - and I stepped up to the easel with all my paints, brushes, and canvases prepared. For the first 30 minutes I felt butterflies, but then I settled in to the task. It was pretty fun, and even made me consider doing more live-painting in the future. I didn't mind groups of people watching me; in fact I tried to encourage questions when I could. My main challenge was timing my spurts of creation around the scheduled speakers who shared the same podium area. Yes, I'm saying that in the future I'd like fewer breaks!

After the paintings were complete, Orthofix held a silent auction at their Education and Technology Suite - which was at the Museum of Contemporary Art - and raised money for the NASS Research Fund. (Pretty cool stuff to be connected to.) It was a lovely evening, and fun for me to meet the surgeons and others who were bidding on my work. Can I say my work was "in" the MCA, even though it was only in the atrium? Probably not, but it was in the atrium, and that's awesome.

So, just wanted to share this new experience with you! My take-away is that I'm considering doing more live-painting events. I came home and immediately set up a permanent easel in my studio. The couch had to go... but who has time to sit? I can lounge around after I leave work for the day.


I used to think I could and should do EVERYTHING myself. I would be a renaissance Maya. With my first business (a retail art supply shop) I took control of everything and accomplished... not a lot. I hired people but didn't give them meaningful work to do. I tried to be marketing, marketing communications (even though I didn't know that term yet,) sales, janitorial, IT, purchasing, and everything else. Many things were thus half-assed; pardon my French. There were many wonderful things about the business - but it disproved the Maya-should-do-everything theory. That store is just one example; I bit off more than I could chew in many areas of my life. "Then"... I "saw the light."

For a long time, I thought Shoemaker Medical should stay very narrow in its offerings. Medical illustration already spans several scientific subjects and can vary quite a bit from project to project. This would provide all the excitement I could ever want. I would only sell medical illustration/animation no matter what. This is what I was trained for. This is what I do.

I kept saying things like "stick to what you're an expert at" (not grammar, it would seem) and "I should only sell services that I am realllly good at doing." It was a good sentiment. I didn't want to sell anybody crap or subject my clients to my learning curve while picking up a new skill. OR bite off more that I could chew, again.

I am now realizing that a brilliant middle ground exists, where I can expand my business and at the same time take BETTER care of my clients. I'm just beginning to subcontract others (experts in other vocations,) to take care of needs such as medical writing, social media, and design. This came about when I started listening to what clients were saying, even if they weren't consciously asking me to sell them a new service. I finally realized that my advice to my client - to hire a qualified professional to write something, or to design something, or whatever - was not helpful enough. (Even if the company has hired that type of vendor before, chances are your contact has not personally done it.) I found out that by finding, hiring, and managing a medical writer for one of my clients, I was easing their mind and taking care of something big for them with much less effort. The look of relief on my contact's face was enough to tell me I was doing the right thing.

So far we are wrapping up the first couple of projects using subcontractors and they've been great. My job is to make sure everybody has what they need, the job gets done, and the files go to the right place. Sometimes this makes my life easier too! For example, we're writing copy and I'm doing illustrations related to that copy. Now, I'm in the loop, I have a better understanding of the content faster, and I don't have to spend the time hunting for that copy - I know exactly where it is! Pretty cool.

If a client wants my advice on who to hire without paying me to manage, I still gladly refer them to great vendors; however, if they need my help, I am willing and able to offer that now.

So, is Shoemaker Medical going to turn into an "agency" for Healthcare Communications? I don't know. I don't think so. Am I going to actively market medical writing and web design? I'm not sure. But I know I am personally adding one additional service - project management - and hiring experts to provide real needs as I see them for my clients. Turns out I am good at project management, so the "don't want to sell crap" excuse holds no water. It's a new day for my business, and maybe I'm experiencing a little personal growth too.

If you're interested in learning more about subcontracting for your small business, check out this article on Freelance Switch.

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.

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!

the news and happenings

Today is the launch of my business, Shoemaker Medical, and that prompts me to tell you the story of how I got here, from a more personal point of view. Lately I have written that it got warm out, I taught some art lessons, left my job and then ta-da!  Had my own business. That last part probably seems very sudden, but of course I couldn't let the world know too much until I was ready to put in my two weeks' notice. So here is the story: I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I've always wanted to work for myself - in fact I've done it before with the art supply store I used to own in Norman and I enjoyed it immensely.  I didn't enjoy the operating-a-retail-store-all-the-time part quite as much, but it was still a great experience.  And now that I am a professional medical illustrator with a little experience under my belt, I want to go off on my own doing what I love doing. I have been planning and scheming with Clint over the past months, and saving my pennies, and working on all the marketing materials and contacts I would need to have a launch.

I've had some great printing help from Jim at Graphics Group, some amazing web design from Danielle, and sweet web development from Jason. Ask me for their info if you need something. It's way better than trying to do it yourself - believe me, you don't have time!

So there wasn't anything terribly wrong with my job at Orthofix. The main reason for leaving is that I want to be in charge of my own destiny and build my own business. (The work was fairly enjoyable. I really like the people and I'm already keeping in touch with many of them. Oh, and that house we bought? 1 mile from Orthofix.) The company has expressed interest in doing contract work with me, and that's awesome, but for now I really need to focus on my new clients and make the transition a clear one in my life.

There is also some measure of stress I'm leaving behind. I'm sure there is new and different stress to come, but I pledge to myself to be more aware of it, lead a more balanced life, and take care of my spirit and my body on a daily basis. Being at home means I can do yoga on my breaks or go out to garden for 5 minutes and this is a big deal for me. I'd love to cook more, exercise more, and breathe more! oh, and maybe be a happy, true version of myself when Clint walks in at 5:30. Is that too much to ask? I think not.

Other side projects I'd like to devote some time to include a huge LEGO© anatomical sculpture show with Clint and Dave, possibly some catalog modeling (what?), and adding webcomics to this blog in a couple of weeks! I'm told my doodles and stick figures are amusing, and if I can brighten somebody's day with a drawing of an eyeball bouncing up the stairs, how can I withhold that? I think I have a name for the new blog+comics but I'm going to wait to tell you.