Medical artist Devon Nykaza Stuart ’01 draws on a varied skill set
by Sherri Kimmel
October 1, 2010
While photos might offer a cheaper way to illustrate medical procedures, they aren’t always effective. Says Devon Nykaza Stuart ’01, “Photographs can be frightening. A part of my job is to clarify what’s going on without showing the graphic nature. My goal is always to communicate a complete and accurate story to my audience while presenting it as simply as possible.”
Not many business people charge by the second, but Devon Nykaza Stuart ’01 bills to that nth degree as an animator for commercials that tout new drugs or films that teach anxious cancer patients about breast reconstruction. While those by-the-second fees sound like easy street, behind them are hours of script writing and storyboarding.
The owner of Devon Medical Art LLC does one or two animated films a year, using 3-D software programs similar to those Pixar uses for films like Up. But her bread-and-butter work—for which she charges by the hour—remains more conventionally rendered illustrations for large medical textbooks. She just completed a three-year project—providing 300 detailed drawings for an atlas of head and neck surgery. Whether the end result is digital or low-tech, “It all starts with a pencil and storyboard,” she says.
Besides her fine-art skills, “The key to being a medical illustrator is knowing anatomy and the language of scientists and medical professionals,” she explains. Husband August ’00, a senior research technician at Hershey Medical Center who majored in biology and biochemistry & molecular biology, is a handy resource.
“I market him as part of my business,” says Stuart, a petite redhead. “He’s my IT guy and content expert on anything chemical or molecular. Clients like that my husband is a molecular biologist. We have a good marriage of careers.”
A gifted artist who also loved science, Stuart knew in high school that she wanted to be a medical illustrator. She chose Dickinson because she could develop her own major, a B.A. in medical and biological illustration that would enable her to be “a scientist among artists and an artist among scientists.”
While Associate Professor Ward Davenny proved instrumental on the art end, and biologist Chuck Zwemer likewise with science, it was Annette Smith Parker ’73, treasurer and vice president for finance and a fine-art major, who helped Stuart gain the business background that fueled her drive to become an entrepreneur.
Late in Stuart’s senior year, Parker introduced her to Louise Hauer Greenberg ’54, who recommended her to the biopharmaceuticals company Shire. During her four years as a clinical research associate, Stuart says, “I gained the confidence to go into business. I learned project-management skills, contract negotiation, how to manage timelines and budgets and accounting. I use all of it today.”
In 2007, Stuart earned an M.A. in medical and biological illustration from the Johns Hopkins Medical School and immediately launched her business. Entering her fourth year at its helm, Stuart is looking toward the future. “I’d like to do some work for a larger animation studio, hone my talents, then go off and form an animation studio.”
But for now, she’s happy to work in her home studio with newborn Eleanor and Arthur, 2, nearby. Says Stuart, “I appreciate working for myself and being in control of my own career. And the flexibility I have with young children is just awesome.”
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