MODEL Visual Literacy

Visual Literacy and Medical Drawings

This is a summary of a recent guest lecture and drawing workshop that was provided to the Integrated Science class at Dalhousie University.

Knowing the class would also visit the Body Worlds Vital exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, my talk included :

  • Why is drawing important in science? Examples of how I use drawing as a palaeontologist.
  • A brief history of the images in medicine and development of printing from illuminated manuscripts, to wood block printing, intaglio and colour offset printing.
  • Introduction to Frank Netter and Clinical Symposia publication.

The Clinical Symposia publication provides an excellent opportunity to study the development of a Frank Netter’s style and consider the publication from a visual literacy perspective. Each issue is a self-contained topic that has been specifically illustrated by Frank Netter, with pharmaceutical ads scattered throughout the small soft-bound booklet. The first volume was published in 1949 and 4 issues were published annually for the next fifty years.

Following the presentation – the students were handed out paper (8.5 x 11), a 0.7 BIC mechanical pencil with eraser, a 1 Cent coin (Canadian Penny), and one issue of the Clinical Symposia.

Dr. Tim Fedak, Penny Drawing activity for the Integrated Science Class.
Photo: Dr Lexie Arnott. Feb 2023.

Facilitated drawing activities then included:

  • Demonstration of warm up marks, eg. divided lines.
  • What is observation drawing? Importance of looking.
  • Penny rubbing, and two Penny drawings, scale = 1:1 versus 1:4
  • Drawing a Netter drawing – 1:2 scale

Each of these activities builds interest and demonstrates the value of observation, drawing scale versus details, and also provides a non-stressful demonstration of the value of drawing in science.

Student drawing of a Netter drawing, 2:1 scale.

At the end of the session, a PowerPoint slide with a QR link to a Google Form was used to have students quickly photograph their observation drawing and the original source, and upload the photograph to an online form. The students then handed in their drawing activities for instructor feedback.

It was wonderful to see the results the students produced and the online form worked very well. Providing one issue to each student seemed to work very well, as it provided everyone with something unique to explore. The medical aspect of the topic was also helpful in keeping the students interest.

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