Briefly describe the work you do.
Of late, my work has been quite varied – different media, sizes, subjects. That said, it is always firmly planted in realism. Professionally, I am a medical illustrator and work in a Department of Neurosurgery. There I create anatomical and surgical images alongside health professionals for print and online use. Personally, I am about to reach my 500th drawing/painting in my small drawing-a-day series and I recently finished a series of large portraiture. My media-of-choice are pencil (Berol 3H/HB/4B are always in my arsenal), watercolor, Verithin colored pencils, and carbon dust. At work, I primarily draw and use digital media.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I began drawing at a young age and was mentored as a “gifted” artist. After high school, I began my studies in science and then switched to fine art in the mid-90s when I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I knew I wanted to do some form of scientific illustration as it was a way for me to do art as my job and it allowed me to remain representational. I was never interested in creating abstract or conceptual art (although, I can appreciate that work as a viewer).
Then, I attended the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as a Masters’ student in biomedical illustration, completing that work in 2002. It was the culmination of all of my undergraduate work and something I’d been working toward for 10 years (at that point). Soon after graduating and setting up my own studio, I realized that I wanted just a little more education, so I enrolled in an Anatomy PhD program. I successfully defended my dissertation in 2012.
Beyond school, I was drawing with more and more frequency (aside from a hiatus during the height of my PhD work), but nothing of a medical nature. I began my drawing-a-day in October of 2006 and just allowed myself to draw anything I liked. This turned out to be mostly everyday items, food (especially candy), and the occasional small animal/insect/plant. This project has ebbed and flowed ever since and I’m now actively working to truly complete an entire year of drawings. This time, however, the public are suggesting the subjects I create rather than my trying to do that on my own (something I found very hard to do – hence the ‘ebbs’).
Lastly, I went in a total opposite direction (of these small works) earlier this year and began drawing large (for me – 2’ x 3’) portraits of my roller derby teammates. These are carbon dust/pencil drawings on paper that has been toned by folks roller skating on it.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
For a time I had an actual traditional studio from which I ran my illustration business. Nowadays, I have an office at a large hospital/university for the professional stuff and for everything else, honestly, I sit at my dining room table and work. I have a young son and running off to my studio (now a corner in the basement) just isn’t something I find myself able to do. Also, in this setting I can share the idea of what an artist does with him… and that’s very important to me. Some day I’d like to return to having my own space – particularly for the larger work.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The idea of standing in front of people and talking filled me with dread as a kid and I would have NEVER anticipated being in the role of speaker and teacher. Now, I find myself in that position with fair regularity and I thoroughly enjoy it. I give lectures about the journey toward becoming a professional scientific illustrator, my art techniques/projects, and human anatomy.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I must do my professional work during normal work hours (9-5), but even in that paradigm, I still find myself most productive in the afternoon. I will usually do other work in the morning (website editing, video work – I’m a ‘multimedia specialist’, you see) and save the art for the afternoon. In addition, I work on my personal projects in the later evening and well into the night on occasion. With my current drawing-a-day project, I work every day for at least an hour.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I’ve become far more efficient in my sketching over the years. I’m very fast when I’m drawing (not so much when I’m painting). Also, painting! I have become a regular watercolorist of late and that’s not something I would’ve envisioned in the past. Previously, black and white media was where I wanted to be. Also, within the last year I have reintroduced carbon dust into my repertoire – something that I hadn’t used in almost 15 years.
My work is still as realistic as it’s always been. I don’t envision that ever changing.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Oh yes! I’ve been very influenced by my creative family – musicians, theatre professionals, photographers, painters. I come from a long line of artists/artisans. Also, I was lucky to find excellent mentors and teachers all through my education, many of whom I’m still in contact with and influence my decisions/work today (look up Peggy Macnamara for an example).
I’ve always had a very diverse set of friends who support my endeavors – driving long distances to my shows, buying my self-published books and prints, sharing my information online, etc. I look to a lot of the big name realism artists of the past to inform my work – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Chuck Close, Sergeant, and Wyeth. Lastly, I relish the wealth of online resources for inspiration – other contemporaries and their galleries, collecting sites like pinterest, online magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose…
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Well, I have taught anatomy in the past. It’s a passion of mine and it informs my work as a medical illustrator. In another lifetime (or maybe down the road in this one, who knows?) I would love to expand into the realms of forensics and pathology. I am fascinated by the human mind and form at its worst, its best, and at its most mysterious.