Sunday, December 9, 2012

First Semester of Chicago Adventure

On Wednesday I will have completed my first semester of grad school and lived outside of Iowa for the first time.  The number one thing I've gotten out of this semester is perspective.  Learning about city life now will allow me to make better decisions for where I want to live in the future.  I've really enjoyed being 20 minutes away from downtown, there are so many activities available.  This semester I haven't been able to enjoy as many outside of class activities as I would have liked because of anatomy always looming over me.  

I haven't figured out the balance of school and life outside of class.  Not having a car and relying fully on public transportation gives a entirely new understanding of time commitment for commuting.  I lived a 45 minute drive away from my home in undergrad and that felt far.  Now, I'd say it takes about an hour to get anywhere specific in Chicago.  This change always made me weary of going out on weeknights and really weekends as well since I had Saturday morning anatomy reviews and projects to complete.  What I know now, is there is really plenty of time.  As long as I don't put off a project to the bitter end, I don't have to use all my waking hours for school, and I definitely shouldn't for my sanity's sake.

School is important and I've taken a lot of great classes this semester, though a couple classes gave me some frustration because of they were structured, but I've learned as much if not more outside of class.  I'm not a person big on change, every step I'm forced to take outside of my comfort zone is making me stronger for the future.  My career will be a large part of my life, but I also want to have a great life outside of that.  I hope that next semester I will make activities outside of class a priority, as crazy as that sounds for me it's completely necessary.  I don't want to leave Chicago in 2 years and not have completely explored the city.

Some highlights of my adventure so far:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pushing Through

I'm at the point where I am ready to be done.  Maybe a more accurate description is that I am done.  I know there are a number of assignments left but I'm spent.  My determination and inspiration have been burnt out and I need to take a break and reanalyze the situation.  Too bad the semester does not want to end when I'm out of gas.  I'm not the best at pushing through when exhausted, but of course I have to find a way.

The push brings up my feelings towards medical illustration and my part within the field.  This field is changing rapidly with technology and needs changing, yet I don't feel like older medical illustrators are embracing that change.  I feel like I'm receiving a watered down version of what things could be.  Making a website is a great skill to have, but what kind of websites are going to inspire people to seek out education about science?  What interactions will stick with people, effect them?  Having perfect shadow cores in hand drawn illustrations, honestly I care nothing about that.  It's outdated, unnecessary and if someone out there has desire to see old-school illustration there are a million people better than me at it that can deliver.  I'm not going to try to be better than people that have dedicated their entire lives to how illustration used to be.

I want to create ideas and processes that push average people to discover more, to get more, and to be treated respectfully.  I care about how illustrations effect people, not how perfect the illustration is.  We are saturated with media and its quantity changes its quality.  I think ideas need to be great but execution is no longer the end all be all.  Think of YouTube videos, how much they entertain us, yet many of them are just average people with camera phones messing around.  They have a good idea, they don't need a professional camera crew to capture it.  We watch it in 5 minutes, laugh, and move on with our lives.  We are affected quickly and move on just as fast.  Textbooks are going to move towards that soon, or at least I hope so.  How many of you actually read your textbooks?  I can think of one class where I consistently read (and I've taken many).  Usually I looked at the illustrations and read a few sentences if I needed clarification.  With iPads, I feel like textbooks can be cheaper and save paper while being able to seamless include video and interactive content.  Students can interact with textbooks as a group, asking questions, pointing out information that will be on the test, notes can be taken side by side to text of the textbook.  There are endless possibilities.  And here I am frustrated that I cram anatomy when my brain has moved on to other options.  As well as simply wanting to go home. I cannot wait to go home!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Introduction to Fine Art in the Real World

The reason I'm in medical illustration is because I've always loved making art.  What I don't like is things I don't understand and the gallery art world has always been a box of unknown.  Becoming simply an artist seemed too abstract to go directly towards.  Finding my way to medical illustration has been due to my stubbornness.  I don't want to give up the dream of being an artist and I don't want to give up the dream of becoming a doctor.  Medical illustration should be a perfect fit, but it is lacking the joy of being purely an artist or purely a scientist.  It gets muddied and sloppy, I can't put my finger on exactly why but it has to do with the inability to immerse yourself completely in anything because you have to know so many things.

The gallery I visited:

Seeing a gallery being shown by the owner explaining each artists' process, reasoning, and meaning behind their work takes a little out of the dreaded gallery world mystery.  What I am lacking in fine art that I've gotten from medical illustration is working small rather than huge.  Most things I do art between 24x18 inches and 8.5x11 inches.  I would love to figure out a way to incorporate the skills I've gained from medical illustration into fine art.  Having both a name as an illustrator and a fine artist is something I aspire to have.  I cannot spend my days whittling away at the perfect artery drawing, I need big, bold sweeps of color.  I need emotion in my drawing and painting. 

I love their "Art in Spaces" section on the Moberg website.  I could imagine myself working for large corporations, hospitals, and universities creating commissioned art for a specific place.  I love the idea of touching that many people through my art.  Being able to display something in such a public setting, becoming part of the space itself is very cool.


Nancy Lindsay

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Song-day - 11/18 If Not For You

Sometimes I write songs from pure fantasy.  There are a lot of things I haven't personally experienced, but because of media of every sort being a majority of my everyday life there are many experiences you feel like you've had, but haven't.  If Not For You is about two people having a friendship about to turn into something more, but it's so fragile and new it feels like it could break at any second.

I am very into loyalty.  Loyalty to the extreme, so my favorite line in this song is, "good things come to those who wait, and I promise you: I'll never go away."  These two people deserve love because they've had each others backs in friendship and no matter what happens in a romantic relationship, will keep having each others backs.  I think that it's a beautiful idea that love is long and lasting event.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Extreme Couponing - Living the Dream

While I was preparing to move to Chicago I began getting nervous.  I worry.  A lot.  So I needed a distraction to keep my mind from making up horrible scenarios that would never happen.  I began watching TLC's Extreme Couponing in marathon sessions.  With a Google search I discovered the many websites catering to those who would like to try out Extreme Couponing where I then found "freebies."  Turns out, I kind of suck at real couponing: I'm impatient and I buy mostly produce and never in bulk.  But what I can do is fill out my address to send me free stuff!

The website I use most often is:  They list freebies you can get with stacking coupons as well as online deals where companies will mail you free stuff.  Now let me tell this "free stuff" is often free but lacking in the "stuff" department.  I signed up to get a free sample of Taylor Swift's perfume, there was an image of a cute little bottle that I thought I would get.  Supposedly an "exclusive" offer.  4-6 weeks later I got a scratch and sniff postcard!  I would get a better deal driving to the mall and spraying the sample perfume on me!

The Taylor Swift perfume is on the far right.

A deal I would suggest for those in Chicago where there are Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins places everywhere is signing up for the "birthday club" on the Baskin Robbins website.  They email you a buy on get one free coupon at the beginning of every month and a freebie coupon on your bday month.  You can get two legit cones for $2.49.

Another free sample I would suggest is Nescafe Memento instant coffee samples.  Sign up here.  They are fun, pretty tasty, and you're actually saving some money.  You can see the little cardboard packet it comes in in the photo above.

I've gotten lotion, tea, coffee, laundry detergent, a really weird candy bar, diapers, fish oil pills, a giant bottle of Glade air freshener, chocolate, and a photo collage.  The weird candy I got is called "Big Hunk" and I naively assumed it would be a delicious chocolate bar.  Instead it was a like a weird chewy caramel Air Head (do you know what candy I'm taking about) with nuts in it.  I ate it anyway.  Free tastes so good!

So this pretty much has nothing to do with medical illustration.  I was hoping extreme couponing would help me save money as a grad student but it instead has just become an amusing story.  And I get a lot of weird mail, which can be fun.  Maybe someday I'll truly live the dream and get my groceries for free.  For now, I'll just get tiny packets of face wash and lotion in the mail and laugh about it.

Other weird free stuff I've gotten.

This stuff was actually good!

Check out the awesome free diapers, just in case there is ever a baby in need around me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Song-day 11/11 - Monster

This song is a ball of emotions.  When I wrote it, I truly felt like a monster hurting people left and right while I was just trying to care for them.  After time has passed, and I can see the situation from a distance I sing it more as an attack rather than a victim.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about the situation that lead to write this song and how angry I felt that someone was able to push me to feeling like such a horrible, hateful person when I innocent.  When someone hates you so much for something you cannot control, it leaves you powerless and questioning of your own worth.  It's disgustingly unfair.  Though I had a lot of drafts in my head of what I would like to say to the person that made me feel like a selfish monster, I condensed it to one sentence:

Your misery was not and is not a viable excuse to be cruel to others.

Anatomy, Figure Drawing, and Social Issues

Figure drawing is the measuring stick of drawing abilities (at least it has been in my experience).  Is figure drawing my favorite thing to do?  Not really, but its importance for my portfolio keeps me trying.  Having Gross Anatomy as a vital part of my BVIS experience thus far, it has affected how I go about drawing the figure.  Of course I always knew the body is made of bone and muscle, but after seeing the attachments, how it all fits together, figure drawing is more like a puzzle than random foggy shapes.

Though this is not the best figure sketch I've ever done, it's the first time I've been aware of what all the bulges and shadows were there for.  The body is organic yet mechanical.  For me, it's easy to get too organic and "mushy" that the moving part don't seemed hinged enough.  Now, I think I will have an easier go with the attachment points of the arms and legs.  Making the whole body flow together instead of areas just blurred out by shadow so I don't have to deal with them.

Something that still has me scratching my head is the translation of what I see and what I know.  Because of course, a person is going to have a certain set of muscles but variations are so extreme.  If I see a shadow somewhere but logic says it should be a couple inches to the right, what is correct?  When is a person's body their own and when is it a science lesson?  I tend to lean towards their body is their own and exactly how I see it, no matter what muscle should or shouldn't be there.  

People use "science" too often to get out of social issues.  Science is a social issue.  It is not black and white, the human mind creates what is standard, that doesn't mean it is so.  It is not a place where there is no discrimination.  It is a place where a great amount of discrimination is created.  The dissector used in our Gross Anatomy class used the male body as the standard.  Honestly, in all my biology classes the male body seems to be the standard.  There are more illustrations done using the male form, the information about the male body comes first, and usually a female description is written in a way that is connected to how it is different than the male body.  

There is also no mention of intersex people.  What is being taught to future health professionals leaves no mention of how the body can find a middle ground between male and female.  This has nothing to do with the outward appearance which can also be extremely ambiguous, which is an entirely different issue being ignored.  People will rely on scientific knowledge that creates an untrue dichotomy.  We are learning what "correct" people have anatomically.  Subconsciously, only seeing the "averages" of humanity will create fear upon having a patient outside the norms.  Outside the norms in healthcare usually means the person is "sick" and needs to be "fixed."  Healthcare professionals will want to change perfectly healthy people with different anatomical attributes because they were never taught that what's outside of their textbook can be okay.  Seeing these issues, I will dedicate myself and my knowledge to helping people in minority groups have healthcare they deserve.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Song-day 11/4 - Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Well hello!  I wrote Chocolate Covered Strawberries when I was 14 or so.  I ate a chocolate covered strawberry on a Saturday morning, went down to the basement picked up my guitar and created this.  I remember the strawberry being extra delicious and feeling like I'd gotten away with something for eating it for breakfast.  This song tries to capture the feeling of optimism and being young that I felt that morning.  I still really enjoy playing it now, and sometimes I think this is a much better song than most of what I write now.  Enjoy!

Advice for Applying To Medical Illustration Grad School

Applying to grad school is an endurance event.  My entire senior year was dedicated to preparation for portfolio and application materials such as resume, personal statement, and letters of recommendation.  What I was lucky to have was a friend who applied the year before me and could answer all my many questions as well as friends that were also applying to the exact same schools.  Having that camaraderie made what could have been a torturous experience a... learning experience, ha.

For all of those out there who aren't in a medical illustration undergrad program, and you're going through the application process alone, I hope this makes the process a little easier.  For those in a medical illustration undergrad program, application is still confusing as heck, so this is for everyone.

The top two things that can get you into a program:

1) Portfolio

If your portfolio kicks ass, I am 99% any med. ill. graduate program will overlook almost all other weaknesses in an application.  Spend the most time perfecting your portfolio, if you are running out of time, do not cut corners here.  The tricky part is how do you know if your portfolio kicks ass?  I have to say, I do not have a formula.

Here are a couple tips:

-Quality over quantity:  I had a wide breadth of artwork, but I didn't have the "wow" piece I needed.  I would work on making one piece so incredibly fantastic you want to cry than trying every technique possible.  As long as none of the pieces you bring tank, the interviewers will remember the fantastic one and pretty much forget the rest.

-Know your portfolio:  Many of the questions asked for my Georgia interview related specifically to my art: "what's your favorite, why? What shows your artistic style the best?"  There were also easy questions such as "when did you make this" "what was your process."  These things are easy to forget over time or you never really thought about them from the beginning.  I suggest taking a quality photo of each piece you complete as you complete it and write down a few notes.  Date made, dimensions of the piece, what class you made it in, what references you used, your process, etc.  Also, make a few pieces outside of class.  I'm not sure why, but during interviews I was always asked if I had made a piece in or out of class and "in class" was not as good as "outside of class."

2) Contact the program before application

If the heads of the program already know a little bit about you, it takes a lot of pressure off your interview being both your first and last impression.  I'd send a quick email asking a pertinent question about the program as well as if they would mind critiquing one of your pieces.  I know for sure that Hopkins people are very willing to help go through your portfolio and critique it ahead of time.  I can't guarantee that but that's what they told me.  I think just getting an email out to ask a question gets your name out there.  Every little bit of advantage helps.

So there are a lot of other steps to the process of application, but I wanted to get a few tips out there.  Be proactive and stay on top of the application schedule, you are bound for success if you do those things.  Make sure to check if the programs websites are accurate, I know some are out of date.  That's a good time to email the program with a question.  And feel free to comment/email me a question.  I know I barely scratched the surface of the process.  Good luck!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Song-day 10/28

I thought it might be fun to share something non-medical illustration related on my blog.  Something I've always enjoyed doing is writing songs.  I'm not a particularly amazing singer, and I'm a self-taught guitar player with limited recording abilities as well.  I just like writing the songs, I'm not trying to be a pop star.  I started writing songs when I was about 13 and it has left me with a musical catalog of growing up.  Something I've personally enjoyed but have rarely shared.  Recently, I've been thinking it's silly to hold on to something that someone else may enjoy and connect to just because of the fear that they may also reject it and find it lacking.  So today is my first "Sunday Song-day."  An inspiration to record my songs each week and hopefully find a few listeners to enjoy them other than myself.

I wrote Error Undefined this past summer and finished it while being at UIC.  In this case, I was not writing about any specific experience but instead piecing together inspiration from many different places.  The song describes how someone you love can and makes you happy can still cause chaos in your life to the point where someone has to call off everything.  There is inevitably blame placed somewhere, even if it was the right thing to do.


Error Undefined
By Audrey Gifford

It's the thing you say that will never happen
That happens with frequency
Just like us separating so easily

Little threads still keep us tied together
But soon I'll rip the seams
Don't try to piece us together, there's no you and me

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

I held my breath and tried to wait forever
You just needed time
To find yourself and then you'd be mine

So I sat there waiting
Until my face turned blue
You would have let me die, waiting for you

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

Come rain, come wind, come sleet, come snow
There was no way for us to go together
Not ever, just a moment when you were mine
But now we're just an error undefined

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Low Hanging Fruit - The Solution to Catching Up After Getting Behind

Everyone gets behind schedule at some point.  Be it procrastination or too much on your plate, you can accidentally or purposely dig yourself into a hole.  I'm in the midst of climbing my way out at the moment because of a quite unexciting series of events, one being that I simply did not to draw a human heart.  Sounds exciting - no, actually it's a pain and what I consider a no win situation.  Let me explain.

I like almost all of my class work, but sometimes you come across an assignment that just wants to put you in your place.  It wants to tell you your a talentless failure and you better just quit now.  It all starts out fine, you start ahead of schedule, trying to do the right thing, but no good deed goes unpunished.  During the course of the assignment I worked on my heart sketch while making no steps forward.  I would draw and redraw, yet stay in one place like a drawing treadmill.  Then other assignments come up and I put the annoyance of the heart away.

Uh oh, flash-forward to the weekend before it's due and all I have is a tracing paper sketch.  And the bonus "practice" assignment of shading shapes.  Here comes the solution known as "low hanging fruit."  I know I have a lot on my plate and it could easily overwhelm me into a standstill.  Saturday night I just want to go to bed and forget any of this exists.  Instead I grab the low hanging fruit.  You need instant gratification when you're three days behind schedule.  So I took a couple hours and with great anger and frustration shaded some shapes.  I took out my planner and put a great big line across that assignment.  One step forward.

If I had tried to make progress on the heart assignment I would wake up the next morning with the same amount of assignments on my to do list.  Low hanging fruit!

Now I was to the part where you just have to work through the pain.  I broke up the drawing into two parts and worked on the vessel outlines first.  Creating a working "finished piece" no matter how craptastic gives you peace-of-mind that if it all falls apart at least you'll have something to turn in.  While working on one part of the assignment DO NOT think about the other parts you have undone.  When I need to work at 100% there have to be no distractions and no fears of my future demise.

Then comes the heart.  First of all, there's no way I'm going to draw a heart "correctly," there are so many size variations on the real deal, so many details, so many people with more knowledge about heart than me.  I'm destined for failure.  So I threw all caring about making a "good" heart out the window.  It was time to make a "finished" heart.  Because after this assignment is over I'm still behind schedule, oh sweet, sweet anatomy test...

Anyway, I shaded the important part of the heart first, in this case it was the azygos vein, and then got some tone down on the rest of it, scanned it all and went to bed.  Hooray!  But wait... I need to cram like crazy for anatomy now.

This blog post is actually low hanging fruit at the moment, clearing up my weekend to study, study, study.  See how exciting this is???

If you're interested in actually know what the heck my drawing means: read this.

Enjoy my current study jam, and the last few weeks I get to be 22~

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Acupuncture and Pretending I Know Graphic Design

Photoshop and Illustrator can be your greatest allies and your worst enemy at the very same time.  There are endless options and endless opinions on the "right" way to use the programs.  In undergrad, my introductory class to photoshop and illustrator left me disheartened, the programs felt inflexible.  The screen of the computer was so limiting compared to being able to touch your hand to paper.  Now, I'm no expert, not even a semi-expert, but I'm willing to break the rules within these programs.  I'm willing to try all the options in both ways they should or shouldn't be used.  I'll use Illustrator like Photoshop and damn the consequences!

What I experienced while completing the narrative assignment as well as creating infographics is that computer programs do not have to be rigid if you are willing to take risks.  In undergrad, I took what my professors said as the way things had to be.  I trusted them (and they were grading me), so what they gave me was god.  I didn't question.  But what I was creating on the computer went against every instinct I had as a traditional artist.  I thought that's just how it has to be: two styles, two techniques, of two minds.  That is not only limiting, but slows me down.  Learning how to combine the best of traditional and the best of digital into one package is time-saving and creates a sleek end result.

For the narrative, I used paintbrush within illustrator.  I'm pretty sure a certain undergrad professor would have shot me for using that in his class.  But it turns out, I'm just more comfortable with illustrator as a base.  It is more intuitive to me.  I like how the layers work, I like how it highlights what's selected.  I'm pretty messy with my layers, but I can always find my way back in illustrator.  Sketching straight onto illustrator from photographic reference felt amazing.  I'm used to time-consuming between steps of highly rendering the design on paper, scanning it in, and then using the pen tool to outline.  I'm just not a pen tool kind of girl.  It's too geometric, too static.  There are so many options why would you do something that feels unnatural?

I finally felt a sense of creativeness while working digital instead of a cog in a machine.  All I needed was a rough (very rough) sketch, photographic reference, and a general feeling/idea in my head, and I could make it come to life on the computer.  Saving different options, changing canvas size as I go, control Z, these are all things I can't get in traditional drawing, but I hadn't been using to their fullest potential on the computer because I'd been prepping too much on the physical page.  On the computer I don't have to be afraid to leave behind an original sketch because I can stretch the page the necessary 3 extra inches.  I have rulers automatically show up.  Everything can align itself.  Why would I ever attempt this on paper when I have Adobe?

I'm proud of what I'm accomplishing in Instructional Design because it is where my weaknesses lie.  I don't know graphic design other than to grid everything.  I have little a clue on font choices and digital color picking is not my forte, but through my experiences in the narrative and infographic projects, I see how I can develop a bag of tricks for faking graphic design talent.  So far simplicity works for me and trying to add a little bit of "traditional" flair makes it feel more my style.

I think my next step is getting better at self-critique.  Knowing when something I created looks bad isn't the problem, I usually just don't know why or how to go about fixing it.  I suppose trial and error can work, but I'd like to be as efficient as possible.

In celebration of finishing this "how to," I think I should actually experience acupuncture.  I find it interesting to work with the body in such an indirect way.  The above video inspired my choice of illustrating the "headache point."  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Drawing is About Trying and Lying

"I can't draw."  Oh, but you can.

If you can take a photo and hold a pencil you can create this drawing.
I've heard too many people utter this sentence because the fact is you can draw.  And without too much effort you can draw very well if you just tried!  I'm sure the non-artists out there are thinking, "I just don't have the knack," or something is the lines of "I wasn't born with the art gene."  Drawing isn't a magical power or passed down through DNA, these excuses piss me off.  You only think that because you have been fooled by the likes of me and other artists.  Yes, we are all big, fat liars trying to convince you we are doing something so amazing only the chosen can even attempt.  And I'm about to let you into the secret club.

Before I go on, I have a side tangent I must go on.  I often hear, "I can only draw stick figures."  So does this mean you were attempting a realistic portrait of someone but somehow your brain told your hand a realistic portrait is a stick figure?  I think not.  Seriously, look at this photo, do I look like that stick figure?  You totally forgot my super cheap K-mart costume and I'm pretty sure my legs aren't that short.

What you're really saying is "I'm too afraid to attempt anything other than a stick figure because everyone will laugh and point at me when I attempt to stray from the path of least resistance."  Don't be afraid!  I would never laugh and point, only secretly judge you on the inside.  No worries.  Back to the main story.

First of all, if you don't sit down and put pencil (or other marking device) to paper (or some other surface) of course you can't draw.  It's because you're just not.  Put that pencil on paper and move it around.  Viola!  You can draw!  It may not look like what you think is good drawing, which more often than not is the roadblock that keeps you from the next step.  Lying.  You tell other people with confidence that those pencil lines scribbled randomly on the page mean something, you've just created fine art.  It's that easy!  You tried and lied and now you are an artist.  But after this success you're still skeptical in your abilities in creating a realistic drawing.  Never fear, modern technology plus tracing paper is the secret combination I use to pretend I have magical skills and so can you.

Things you'll need to pretend you're amazing at drawing:
1) Camera
2) Computer with printer
3) Tracing paper
4) Pencil
5) Paper

Ok, first, take that camera and take a picture of something you think would look cool in drawing form.  I have chosen hip bones.  Attempt to get a photo without intense blurriness and lighting that forms some shadows.  These are not requirements, no photography skills are necessary.  Point. Click. We'll deal with the consequences of poor lighting later!

Now, upload that snazzy photo on your computer and print it to the exact size you would like your drawing to be.  Don't waste your ink on high-quality printing here, fast-draft away.  As you can see, I printed on two pieces of paper and crudely taped them together.  That's what I call effort!

Now, lay a piece of tracing paper over that and go to town.  It's a miracle, you can draw!

From here you can stop and put that amazing masterpiece up on your fridge and tell all your friends you free-handed that.  They are dumber than you, so they will never know.  If you want to impress a larger audience you can transfer that onto non-tracing paper.  Just tape it pencil side down to your choice of paper and press the pencil onto the paper.  This can be done by your thumbnail, spoon, or popsicle stick.  Remove the tracing paper and use the pencil transfer to start making this drawing amazing, people will cry when they see it (in awe, not sadness).

So, you might have noticed that your drawing is now backwards on the page, which often isn't a big deal.  But if you want to make it the same as the original sketch you can double transfer or trace your drawing on the other side of the tracing paper and then transfer.  If you use words like "double transfer" you will really sound like an artist.  Use words people don't know in order to make them think you really know what you are doing.
Add in some shading if you dare or just leave a contour line.  Now post this up on Facebook and have all your friends tell you that you are a great artist and laugh at them because they don't know you traced most of it.  See?  Lying and trying is all you need to draw.  So no more excuses people!  Get out there and show the world you are special and better than other people through deceit! Muhahahaha...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Art of War for Test-Takers

Taking tests has always been a fairly basic experience for me.  I've been in school almost my entire life, pre-school to graduate school straight through, no years taken off.  So all in all, I've taken a lot of tests, one pretty much like the next.  The key to my success: memorize, memorize, memorize, take test, dump all information in order to ready myself for the next test.  It worked merrily my entire undergrad career. One step into graduate level Gross Anatomy, it became fairly obvious there were limits to my prior technique.

Limitation 1: I can only memorize so much.

Sadly, I do not have a photographic memory.  When the notes became available for the upper and lower limb, all in all it came to about 80 dense pages.  This did not include the anatomy atlas, the textbook, and the dissector.  Pretty much, my study method had met its match.

If you can memorize this...  you are a much smarter person than me.

Limitation 2: Don't understand information, just regurgitate it correctly.

I like taking a few short-cuts in the learning process.  Mainly, I limit the actual "learning" part.  It's not that I don't enjoy having knowledge, I just like to play to win more.  And when grades are involved, suddenly it is war!  To get the highest grade possible it's no longer about your mind, it's about understanding the enemy (teacher-the person grading you), seeing what stands between you and success (A), and knowing how to exploit these barriers.

Limitation 3: Test questions are basic.

My test taking strategies rely heavily upon bubble tests.  There are many tricks in correctly answering bubble tests, first of all, the answer is already on the page!  You just have to know how to narrow it down.  Lab practicals are my achilles heel.  You pull words out of thin air.  There's a limited time, there are no tricks, you see something you identify it.  You can't cross out a few answers, use other test questions as an information source.  No, it's just you and your brain.  Luckily, I found my way right around that little issue with the beauty of digital cameras.  I took photos of everything in undergrad labs.  Everything.  Not just dissections, models, book pages, everything that could be tested over.  There are many little ways to memorize the very specific models or slides or dissections by seeing the exact object over and over again.  The important part is that what you memorize from HAS to be the EXACT model or slide you are test over.  This way you don't have to know why, you can remember the exact shade of color or placement next to a little scuff mark.  Maybe not in the exact way a teacher was hoping I'd learn something, but boy, could I answer their questions correctly.

How Gross Anatomy could have potentially kicked my ass:

So for Gross Anatomy it was too much information to straight memorize, the questions asked were not straight forward and involved multiple steps of knowledge to get to an answer, and we could take no photos of the models.  What was I to do???  Actually learn?  Well, yes, I suppose I did, but I still have some tricks up my sleeves to ease the process.

Trick 1: Listen to the teacher.

I mean REALLY listen.  Not just to the lectures, listen to who the teacher is.  The key is to know how your teacher thinks by test time.  When I sit down to take a bubble test, I don't take it as myself, I take it as my teacher.  What are their quirks?  What terms do they love to use?  How do they try to "trick" students in questions?  What information do they give in one question that could be used to answer another?  Is every "E" option a throw away?  Is every questions that has a "A and B" option have that as the answer?

That certain tone of voice they use when talking about a concept a little more enthusiastically than others.  Repetition is very important to key into.  When a teacher flat out says, "I test this," highlight, star, write it down 5 times.  Seriously, never let free points go.  I've developed a 6th sense about these things, and you can too.  Every practice quiz a teacher gives, all the extra notes given straight from the teacher, those are the bible.  Yes, I'm sure there is book reading assigned but honestly, don't waste your time.  Use it to supplement the teacher's notes if necessary, but it's going to limit your understanding of what your teacher thinks is important.  It really doesn't matter what you think is truly important, if your teacher does, they are going to test it and in the end, that's the score that shows.

Trick 2: Follow your teachers instructions.  Go into lab.  All. The. Time.

If your teacher tells you how you should approach it that way.  Just do it.  So when Gross Anatomy professor says the students who get the best grades spend the most time in lab, GO INTO LAB.  Because I couldn't take photos, I had to get hands on more often than my usual technique.  Work in reviewing the teachers notes at the same time you're in lab.  Check out things the teacher specifically stated and pointed out the most, then review everything else.

Trick 3: Study at home with purpose.

Bone Box!  Like a mini lab at home.
It's extremely easy to get lost in a pile of reading, notes, and recorded lectures when studying outside of the lab.  Three hours of studying can turn into very little knowledge of the next dissection.  I'm all about studying the least I can with the most point-getting information learned.

One, review the notes for the next lecture beforehand.  That makes the required lecture turn into study time with the potential of the teacher to tell you what to specifically know for test questions.

This little beauty was for anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
 Second, use physical props and drawings of your own creation.  The bone box pictured above is the best connection I had to lab without actually going in and putting on scrubs.  I could actually learn my muscle attachments better at home and focus on other things during lab.  As for drawings, there is no need to make "good" drawings.  Make drawings that explain something to you easily.  Drawings to me are the honest way to cheat.  You can keep information stored in little lines and boxes easily recreated on your test.

Don't waste your time impressing anyone with your artistic skill.  Unless it's going to up your grade, it does not matter.

Final Trick (kind of): It helps if the teachers like you, but not too much.

This doesn't always matter.  I've done well in classes where I barely knew the teacher's name and they sure as heck didn't know mine.  But in a lab situation, being able to pull your favorite lab instructor over and have them pretty much hand you the answers is nice.  They will stay longer with engaged, interested familiar faces.  But please, do not become annoying.  Before you ask a question, please, please, please look at least 3 different places for the answer on your own.  Self-reliance is an important skill in the war of test-taking.  Don't show weakness!  If you do have a question you can't figure out yourself, you want to be prepared for the teachers answer and the faster you understand it in your conversation the more time they have to drop you hints.  I find it most helpful to be the "smart, quiet one," not the "obnoxious, clingy one."

This extends to classmates.  Classmates are your competition but not your enemy (that's the grade-giver) and they also hold many answers.  It's impossible to hear everything.  Alliances help everyone up their game.  Never withhold from your alliance!  As I said, not your enemy.  Use your alliance to help you stay focused, go to lab, and get bits of info the teacher dropped when you weren't around.

So overall, I'm a little crazy.  I think that has become very apparent, but I get results.  Find your own motivation, and you will do well.  For me, it's competition, for you, it could be gaining true knowledge or other more honorable things.  In the end, we are all on the same grade scale.  And that opens up an entirely different story of how much do grades matter?  Save that for next time...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Healing Healthcare Environment

Recently, I went to a store called Flor where carpet squares, often thought of only used in corporate environments, are used in a new modern way to create personally designed rugs and carpets.  I had a great time putting together colors and patterns to transform a room in a fairly cheap and simple manner.  

This is the style I chose for our office.  Pretty sweet!

This revival of my interior designing phase got me thinking about the interior of hospitals, doctor's offices, and other healthcare spaces.  Usually not places you want to go to, stay in, and often there is a very specific smell to connect with our horrible hospital memories too.  But what if the environment a person was in was involved completely in the healing process?  Stress is the opposite thing needed to help someone who is ill.

We all know how much better a space can look by simply having windows.  For example, my kitchen right now has absolutely no natural light and thus looks like an insane asylum.  Do I like to spend time there?  No.  My bedroom, however, has a floor to ceiling window with a beautiful view.  Shocking as it may seem, I feel better in my bedroom than the kitchen.

Healthcare consumers are paying a lot for a service to be healthy; sticking them in a dark, smelly space is a disservice.  I know that hospitals aren't going to put interior design as a first priority, and they shouldn't.  But at some point, tiles have to get replaced, artwork is placed on walls, window treatments are chosen.  At these points in time, I think it is extremely important to make a thoughtful decision.  With options like Flor carpet tiles, there are color and design options that are affordable but also stylish.  With aging baby-boomers, there will be more people than ever before occupying all facets of healthcare.  Especially with an aging population, these people deserve and will expect a healthful experience.  Of course, a hospital won't turn into a spa (though that's an idea to look into) but it could be a place grandkids don't dread going to to see their grandparents in the event of an illness.

I know I would be interested in having my artwork be able to comfort someone in a dark time.  To be able to give a person with an illness the promise of a bright future by simply allowing them to see natural light and softly painted walls instead of harsh white seems like a no-brainer.  For more information on healing environments, follow these links:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kindle is a Gift from the Gods

I once feared the loss of physical books: the tactile sense of page turning, the smell of a bookstore, the way lots of books on a shelf makes you look smart.  No more.  I got my Kindle June of 2011 and have been obsessed ever since.

Top 5 Reasons I'm in Love with Kindle:
1) Cheaper than physical books
2) High quantity of books without the weight and paper use
3) Kindle on iPhone, lap top, and Kindle device
4) Instant gratification of purchase
5) Ease of publication for self-published
Bonus- Books are reviewed by average people and Amazon makes great suggestions based on passed purchases

"1) Cheaper than physical books" I hate spending money!  I have sat in a bookstore all day and read a book that I couldn't find at the library for free.  When I'm feeling like not spending a dime there are tons of free books available on Amazon.  Some of the them honestly suck, but once in awhile you find a gem.  If you are willing to up your game to doling out a dollar for a book, the level of writing goes up exponentially.  It has opened my eyes to novellas.  What more perfect place to publish a book only 100 pages long for a dirt cheap price than for e-readers.  I can check out an author in a quick, cheap read that would rarely be found on a bookstore shelf.  I like to read a book in one sitting, I don't care if it's 50 pages or 500 pages.  Novellas have helped me to be have fewer sleepless nights trying to finish a novel.

"2) High quantity of books without the weight and paper use" I have around 160 Kindle books at this time.  That means at anytime, any where, I have access to 160 books on my iPhone.  Carrying around one paperback book can be a pain, having a cellphone within reaching distance 24/7 is a constant in my life.  When I move, I don't have to move 160 books, and I've saved 160 books from being published in paper.  Pretty darn awesome.

"3) Kindle on iPhone, lap top, and Kindle device" As previously mentioned, iPhones support Kindle books.  But did you know you don't need to buy a Kindle reader to buy Kindle books?  You can now read them in a browser without even having an app on your laptop.  I love being able to switch from reading on my laptop, my Kindle reader, and my iPhone, pages synched.  

"4) Instant gratification of purchase" I admit, I'm getting fairly spoiled when a two day wait for a book to get physically shipped to me is too long.  But when you see a book you want to read at that moment there's nothing better than it getting downloaded and starting to read within 10 seconds.  I recently wanted to get a textbook with practice test questions that I needed for a test a week away.  I could have bought it, waited 2 days for it to get shipped to me, worried about it getting lost and not actually getting the studying I needed to do done.  Instead, I downloaded the Kindle edition and was going through practice questions within the same five minutes I made the purchase.  I see a bright future in digital textbooks.  For medical illustrators, this creates an entire new level of interactive inexperiences within a traditional learning device.  Textbooks can contain videos, interactive quizzes, and social interactions within a book.  Image an illustration that you can rotate and see in 3D, you can enlarge it to see details. Maybe even edit it yourself to create an interactive learning experience.

"5) Ease of publication for self-published" My favorite Kindle purchases have been self-published stories.  I love that anyone can be a published author, it is in the hands of the readers to decide what is entertaining and not publishers deciding what a specific demographic wants.  This has happened on YouTube, making everyday people create television I'd rather watch then live TV.  They can find niche audiences and not have to sacrifice content to advertisements.  The future of self-published stories is bright.  "On The Island" by Tracy Garvis Graves is an example of how e-books can now go viral, and she happens to be from my hometown, Des Moines, IA!

"Bonus- Books are reviewed by average people and Amazon makes great suggestions based on passed purchases" I will never run out of material to read because of Amazon.  Amazon's pretty darn sneaky about sending me straight to books I want to buy.  Their suggests are extremely accurate, and I've found more than one author through "Recommendations for You."  Seeing people's honest opinions of the books also gives me that final push to purchase and read.

How does this relate to medical illustration?  As I've previously mentioned, e-textbooks will soon be more fully developed and I imagine used widely across college campuses.  It also allows people with niche knowledge to find a market and publish at a low cost.  Simply writing a "How to Apply to Medical Illustration Grad School" could be put out digitally and find readers.  This would never happen in a book store.  Writing can begin to incorporate dazzling images and video content.  Stories will be able to be told in an entirely new way.  Goodbye constraints and hassles of physical books, hello to the possibilities of digital reading.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Every Body is Different

Dissecting a cadaver is an experience unlike any I've had before.  Academically, it has pushed me harder than any other class, but beyond that it's a lesson in humility and life.  Pulling apart a body in the name of science takes some of the emotional sting out of it, but there is no stopping wondering who this person once was.  I respect my model immensely.  To give that kind of gift is near miraculous.

Seeing what a human is comprised of, it takes some of the mystery out of being human.  We are made of plain stuff all the way through.  Yes, it's complicated, but there are no rainbows and magical unicorns.  Having so many emotions, so much creativity, control of our bodies for dancing, for writing, for painting, every memory we have, contained in something so unmagical.  It's messy and slimy and I swear our muscles are held together by spiderwebs at times.  But there's got to be something else inside there when we are living.  To see everything pulsing and in vivid color, to see life like that, it'd be amazing.  I look forward to surgical orientation, to see that color and life.

Being exposed to 16 dead bodies daily makes you really see the differences and similarities in humanity.  Naked and exposed to scrutiny from the outside in, there are no secrets.  Sizes, shapes, skin tone, muscle tone, they all change, but inside we are the same.  Or are we?  In reality we are as different inside physically as out.  Not every artery and vein chooses the path the anatomy book says it should.  Not every muscle is as it supposedly should.  Inside you can see what surgical changes have happened.  It's not just a scar, it's a change.

This idea that our insides are just as different as our outsides needs to be reflected in our knowledge of health.  More thought needs to be put into seeing the unique characteristics within us than fitting us in groups to try to treat in mass.  One-size-fits-all does not work in pharmaceuticals, nutrition, surgery, and exercise.  I think that integrative medicine (alternative medicine) is the start of person-by-person care that will result in better health literacy.  When people know more about their own health, the less often they get sick, the less often they need healthcare, the less strain there is on the healthcare system.  People believe in their medical care, practitioners need to begin to believe in their patients.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Hello!  Let me first introduce myself, my name is Audrey Gifford.  I'm a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the graduate program Biomedical Visualization.  I graduated May 2012 from Iowa State University in Biological/Pre-medical Illustration, and I'm originally from West Des Moines, Iowa.

So, what am I doing here in Chicago?  

My interest lies in patient education for minority groups, specifically LGBT and women's health.  I would like to use new media/social media to help communicate ideas of health and general wellness more readily and easily.  An example would be having a free iPhone app that would explain your healthcare options as an LGBT individual.  There could also be an iPad app that a doctor could use to ask the right questions so every individual feels comfortable with language used and that their health is not compromised by lack of information/communication.

In a similar vein, I'm interested in creating better ambience in waiting rooms and examination rooms for all healthcare providing locations such as hospitals, dentists, etc.  Posters that depict different lifestyles, celebrating making personal choices, and create a connection between an average person and the care that they are there to receive could make every person feel comfortable within that space.  When a person feels at ease, communication is much more direct and open, resulting in better care overall.

Creating a connection between modern medicine and alternative medicine is an important step within our current healthcare system.  From past research I've done, many minority groups feel more comfortable using alternative medicine sources but through these practitioners patients can't always get important medical tests for certain diseases, such as a Pap smear.  If there were more connection between modern medicine practitioners and alternative medicine practitioners, patients could get the complete care they want from whom they want to get it from.

Overall, I want to create ways to communicate medical ideas to the public that uses new media - YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, apps, blogging, podcasts, etc. increasing health literacy.  Someone who inspires me is Jillian Michaels.  She has created a health brand that includes youtube videos (, her own podcasts, she creates fitness videos, health apps, and uses new technology to help incorporate health choices in our daily lives.  Blogs such as Iowa Girl Eats (, Peanut Butter Fingers (, and Oh She Glows ( also are really interesting to me and represent a way of communication I would like to learn and use.

I want people to realize that being healthy is a simple part of everyday life, not a once a year, 30 minute check up with a doctor you barely know.  Taking simple steps over the course of a lifetime will result in quality of life down the road.  Over the course of two years in school here in Chicago, it is my goal to make connections with similarly-minded people and find a way to make these ideas become a reality.  This blog will document that journey, so let's see how it goes!

Polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo