Poet Nicanor Parra taught Mathematics and was a Professor of Theoretical Physics.

Interview with a Medical Illustrator

Begoña Rodriguez "Sciatic Nerve"

NAME:   Begoña Rodriguez

JOB TITLE/OCCUPATION:   Medical and Scientific Visualizator and Illustrator

PROFESSION/INDUSTRY:  Medicine & Research Science

EDUCATION & CREDENTIALS:   B.A., Visual Arts, University of La Laguna, Spain (YEAR); M.S., Medical Illustration, Medical College of Georgia (2010)

WEBSITE:   www.begoniaillustrator.com


I did a bachelor degree in Fine Arts, but what I really wanted to do was to use my ability to paint and draw for something useful. Scientific illustration sounded great but I didn’t find where to study that in Spain.

After school, I took any job I could find.  I’ve worked as a bartender, a construction worker, muralist, taught after school programs, was a painting teacher, camera-woman for sightseeing tours, I painted houses, and have been a commissioned portrait painter.  The job situation was already rough in Spain back in (YEAR?), and now it’s even worse.

I am not going to explain how “accidental” my life has been, but things happened in a weird way. Strangely enough, I went to a Conference for Slovakian Transplant Surgeons and they asked if I would illustrate for them.  I knew I was not able to do that, but I promised myself that I would learn how.  The next thing I did was to start researching medical schools, to learn anatomy while I was still in Spain.

I applied to work in the USA as a Spanish teacher and I was sent to a very little town in West Tennessee.  Soon after I arrived I met a group of scientist in Memphis. That first summer in Tennessee I went to visit a friend, a former co-worker in Japan, and together we went to a Medical Illustrators meeting.  I loved that meeting!  I enjoyed the art, the sciences, the people that were there—I loved all of it.  At the same time, it made me think that I did not have the skills to be a medical illustrator—all them were so good at sciences and computers!  I didn’t feel like I could make it.  I felt pathetic somehow.  The worst part was that I was contradicting myself, because I was not only teaching my students how to speak in Spanish but also encouraging them to fight for what they want in life, and there I was, giving up without even trying.  By November I had started to put together everything I needed to apply for the Medical lllustration programs for the following year. Happily, I was accepted by the two schools I had applied to.

I entered the Medical Illustration program at Medical College of Georgia (MCG) with a Bachelor of Arts degree and good painting and drawing skills.  At MCG I learned Anatomy and Neuroanatomy with medical students, Pathology with dentistry students, Histology with PhD students, and, specific to my department, illustration techniques, sketching techniques, and computer software, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Osirix, Cinema4D, and Flash, among others.


I learned by watching the masters.  Our assignments were for professors and doctors, and would be used in the school programs as educational aids.  Therefore, we worked with our doctor “clients” from the beginning.  I really wanted my professors and doctors to be tough in their critiques and asked them for sincerity and to ask questions related to my illustrations.

The Masters program was great and my best professor was Andrew Swift.  All our professors were great, but Andrew was the toughest one in critique, which I really appreciated.  He also showed us how to use the main computer programs that we would need and gave us the best advice for working in the medical illustration field.

In just a couple of years I have seen how everything seems to be turning towards the 3D field.  I think there is a “3D-itis”; it is as if there is only one way to show things now and it’s in 3D.


I think that illustration has its own didactical value and that’s why textbooks use illustrations rather than photos to teach.  Images or animations made with 3D software can be very useful, but it should be used with caution.  For example, I heard some med students complaining about some 3D animations because they moved too much and they ended up feeling like they didn’t understand what they were seeing.  In my opinion, the 2D imagery works better for instruction because it shows a simplified image of what it is that we are trying to understand.

I have found that both classical 2D and the new 3D imagery should be used, but the choice of which one to use should be based on what the best choice is for the project, and not because it’s the latest trend.

Begoña Rodríguez, ilustradora médica y científica. Licenciada en Bellas Artes por la Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, y Master en Ilustración Médica y Científica por el Medica College of Georgia (actualmente, Georgia Regents University), EEUU.

El título de Master en Ilustración Médica (Master negree in Medical Illustration and Biomedical Communications) es un titulo acreditado por la Asociacion de Ilustradores Medicos (AMI).

Durante sus estudios en la facultad de medicina cursó Anatomía, Neuroanatomía, Histología y Patología. Asistió a sesiones de cirugía que después ilustraría como parte práctica de los estudios. Se exigía que los trabajos fueran concisos, en los que la anatomía y los procedimientos mostrados fueran precisos y reales, limpios y claros, usando técnicas tradicionales y programas como PhotoShop, Illustrator, AfterEffects, Cinema4D y otros que no son tan relevantes para el oficio.

En el ámbito profesional, como ilustradora médica, ha trabajado para thevisualMD.com y para cirujanos estadounidenses.

En el “portfolio” pueden ver muestras de su trabajo.

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