The Heart in Art

Joanna Culley is the Lead Medical and Scientific Illustrator & founder of, producing large scale medical and scientific artwork projects for high profile clients. A traditionally trained artist, her specialities are maintaining the traditional mediums in medical art such as producing hand drawn artwork and colour work in watercolour, pencils and pastels.

Joanna Culley: Heart, watercolour.

Joanna Culley: Heart, watercolour.

Medical and scientific artist Joanna Culley is often commissioned to paint the human heart or the heart in relation to surrounding anatomy. Whether this is for a text book, a patient consent form, a health related website. The purpose of the commission is usually for the illustration to be used as a visual tool to help educate and inform patients to show the comparison of healthy anatomy against unhealthy anatomy. This is because there are common heart conditions that affect the general population but where treatment is possible. Part of this treatment is for a medical artist to help educate the general public as to what a condition looks like, the effects, and importantly how the surgeon is going to fix it and what this involves. This is where medical art plays the valuable role of education and its importance is key when translating complicated medical matter to the layperson, or the patient looking to undergo surgery. Lots of written data just does not have the same impact as a medical drawing that people can understand across all languages, across cultures and even transcend the young to the elderly.

Joanna Culley: Heart - background

Joanna Culley: Heart – background


Artist statement

I am a professional medical and scientific artist and I have undergone specific training in art and human anatomy to a post graduate level. However, what I find key is the continuation of this study with the constant drive to research, observe, and explore anatomy and include the findings into the artwork with the intention to improve on my last drawing on every occasion.

This is achieved by drawing from life when I can, of cased specimens, alternatively I have a studio packed full of reference materials such as skeleton bones, an array of plastic anatomical models, a full size complete skeleton, my own library of photographic reference and sketches and drawings of nature. Pigs hearts from the butchers are also excellent as reference material when I am commissioned to draw the human heart for example. You can not beat dissecting an actual heart and seeing for yourself how the tiny but strong chordae tendineae connect the papillary muscles to the tricuspid and mitral valves. Along side the need to be accurate due to medical art in an educational sphere, is the fascination of anatomy itself, which never ceases to amaze and inspire me and is why I want to execute my drawings and paintings to be so intricate and precise to reflect what nature has created. This concept has dictated my style as an artist.

I am also an advocate of drawing using traditional materials and although I do use also use a digital airbrush to create artworks, all of my art starts as hand drawn pencil sketches anyway through direct observation. I do like the freedom to be able to paint in watercolour.


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