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November 7, 2002 Fine arts flourish at McGill's Faculty of Medicine



Joanne Hui

Photo by Ali Shaker

by Susan Font

Recent fine arts graduate Joanne Hui finds that artistic skills make good medicine. She is one of several Concordia MFA graduates who are working at McGill University as medical illustrators or, as their official title has it, illustrators of medical imagery and information design.

Her job in McGill Molson Medical Informatics involves collaboration with the clinicians who teach in the Faculty of Medicine. She and various professors go through detailed lecture notes, and then Hui conceptualizes and designs visuals for those lectures.

She has been involved in this work for two years.

“We produce high-quality drawings that will be archived and shown on a national digital library,” she said. This library, to be created over the next five years, will be accessible to those who teach and study medicine throught the world, and the faculties of all 16 Canadian medical schools are involved in the project.

Through her work as an illustrator, she feels as if she has taken two years of medicine herself. She has illustrated lectures in immunology, neuroscience, physiology and radiology.

Like several others in her department, she is also busy with personal art projects, exhibitions and publication outside of work. “I am finding interesting influence crossing between the two spheres of personal and professional work,” she said.

In her eyes, her art has been very much informed by her work as a medical illustrator. A painter of abstract floral forms, she draws a parallel between the artistic language of her flowers with that of anatomical cells. Sometimes her flower paintings “grow or mutate,” she said, gesturing to a medical diagram above her desk.

Asked what fine arts graduates bring to medical illustrating, Hui said, “We think laterally, have a strong aesthetic sense and a strong sense of design.” The organization of information is very important and colour use is key, because assigning colours to illustrations is absolutely necessary to provide clarity and consistency.

Shie Kasai, a former Concordia MFA student and sculptor, said that she considers her work as a medical illustrator part of the creative learning process. Her work for McGill has recently been involved with radiology.

All of the illustrators have been honing their skills in various computer programs, using Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis. Most of their illustrations are 2D, and their animations bring an interactive element to their work.

This group of young artists are contributing to a pioneering project developed by Dr. David Fleiszer and Nancy Posel, M.ED/Nurse. The illustrators says they’re proud to support Dr. Fleiszer’s vision of making this high-quality teaching material available to teachers and students throughout the world.

The funding for the project came from the Molson Foundation.