The spine is one of the most challenging parts of the human anatomy to draw, said biomedical illustrator Joanne Haderer Müller. This complex system of bones, nerves, and muscles has an intricate three-dimensional shape that can be difficult to depict from various angles. But Haderer Müller, one of an elite group of about 270 certified medical illustrators in the world, has precisely portrayed not just this vertebral column but also intricate medical visuals ranging from DNA sequencing to breast biopsy. Haderer Müller, who is creative director of the Haderer and Müller Biomedical Art Studio in Boston, spoke with Globe corespondent Cindy Atoji Keene about art as applied to medicine.
“I had never heard of the field of medical illustration. But when my figure-drawing professor put a thick surgical instrumentation catalog on my desk over 15 years ago, I knew instantly this is what I wanted to do. I was an undergraduate at the time and feeling unfulfilled. I was always quite strong in science and applied for graduate school at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, one of the few accredited medical illustration programs in the country. I studied anatomy and physiology right along with the medical students, dissecting cadavers and learning about cell physiology, biophysics and pathology. Because of this, I can speak the language of clinicians, whether it’s an illustration of an anti-viral drug for a pharmaceutical sales team or sleep apnea appliance for a news video. My portfolio also includes illustrating 65 orthopedic surgical articles, adding up to over 300 published illustrations in peer-reviewed journals. I rarely get to observe surgery or procedures directly anymore but I use skeletons and brain models, MRI and CT scans, and other original source materials to research and solve complex visual problems. When I first started, watercolor and airbrush were the medium but these days the final output is digital. I still like to get started with pencil and paper, though, because I like the freedom it gives me. The human body is amazing and I never get tired of the beauty and wonder of biology.”