Underneath it All

Medical illustration/self-portrait of USD alumna Vanessa Ruiz


She’s become something of an ambassador for medical illustrators, yet her career is in its nascency.

Vanessa Ruiz’s blog, dubbed “Street Anatomy,” fills a void when it comes to imparting information on her chosen profession. In fact, it now attracts some 1,500 people a day, with 390 regular subscribers, including medical illustrators and doctors.

“They love it because nobody else has done it yet,” says Ruiz, on track to earn a master of science in biomedical visualization in May from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Her blog may feature an interview with an artist or an interesting piece she’s seen. The intersection of medical illustration and pop culture — and especially advertising — figures prominently.

Ruiz delights in — well, maybe delights isn’t quite the word — but takes interest in unusual X-rays, like one showing a foot still clad for summer with a nail in it. (“Clearly the flip-flop could not be removed for the X-ray. Despite the ouch factor, this is a beautiful X-ray.”) Another entry highlights the work of an artist who envisioned what Bugs Bunny’s skeleton might look like, then created it. And her post on anatomical tattoos got a lot of attention from online denizens.

It’s clear medical illustration is a passion. And the blog — “It’s always on my mind,” she says — is a hobby that lets her learn more and share her passion with others. It also lets her make contacts she otherwise might not have made.

The locale for all this blogging is an apartment that befits a hip artist, with portraits she painted of friends hanging on her walls, a model skeleton leg resting casually in a corner, the bones of an arm draped around a plant on a table. Sitting at her drafting table with her tools of choice — a charcoal pencil and sketch pad, a laptop for blogging and refining illustrations in Photoshop — Ruiz presents a soft-spoken, calming presence.

She cut her teeth with years of scientific illustrations of the inner workings of the Pacific tuna crab — “very tedious” — as she earned her USD biology degree. Michel Boudrias, associate professor in the Marine & Environmental Studies Department, recognized her artistic talent and asked if she’d given any thought to who drew the illustrations in her text books. She hadn’t.

“I actually have some of Vanessa’s artwork here on my desk,” Boudrias says now. “She is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.”

He put her in touch with another former student in the field, and Ruiz found her passion.

“It was hard to get information on it, because there wasn’t much on the Internet at all about it,” she says. Once settled in her master’s program, the blog became a way to help others avoid the frustration she’d faced in trying to learn more about the esoteric field.

She’d love to become an art director after graduate school, maybe at a pharmaceutical advertising agency. For now, Ruiz takes pride in the blog and enjoys the connections it helps her forge.

“I’m still a grad student, not an expert in the field,” Ruiz says. “But it’s making people aware of our profession. It’s exciting.” — Kelly Knufken

Read Vanessa Ruiz’s blog at www.streetanatomy.com/blog.

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