Emily Evans is a freelance medical illustrator, alongside her role as a senior demonstrator of anatomy at Cambridge University, teaching the medical students human dissection and anatomy. She is also author and illustrator of the books Anatomy in Black and Anatomy Rocks, and this year Emily launches her own publishing house, which specialises in creating beautiful coffee table books documenting the use of anatomy in contemporary art and popular culture. As well as running an online shop, Anatomy Boutique, to sell her stationery, clothing, interiors and home ware designs, Emily regularly gives talks and lectures on the use of anatomy in contemporary art practices.
“…Anatomy has a power. It always has, even from the very first elaborate anatomical artworks. This notion means that anatomy lends itself to be the perfect topic for artists to utilise as it creates a reaction in the onlooker like very few other topics. At the moment, it’s still a bit of an alternative, fringe movement, and I like that. It still feels special and a bit edgy…”
The human body: The ultimate feat in engineering
I grew up with artistic parents and always had a fascination with how things were made. When I studied A-level Biology and Chemistry, I became transfixed with what appeared to me to be the ultimate feat in engineering; the human body. I went on to study anatomy at university, where I was also director of the University Arts Council, so art was never far away.
After graduating I worked doing forensic and archeological facial reconstruction for the University of Sheffield whilst awaiting the commencement of my teacher training course. After qualifying as a teacher, I taught secondary school science in Hackney, East London (and went on to run a Saturday school there for eight further years).
Destined to work with anatomy books
One day while teaching a particularly ‘testing’ class, a copy of an anatomy book I’d contributed to arrived and it became clear to me in that moment that I was destined to work with anatomy books. I quit teaching and enrolled with the Medical Artists’ Association to learn medical illustration. I would juggle anatomy books with my teaching roles both at schools and at universities for a number of years.
A few years ago as the publishing industry started to change dramatically in the UK, and many of the publishers I worked for started to move to India for cheaper labour, I began to create my own anatomical artwork, designs and products; just as personal projects and with no real business intention. They started to get noticed, and I opened an online shop as an experiment in making my designs available to the public. It was extremely well received, and the connection with my clients was much more than that I’d ever received from traditional medical books.
Making anatomy available to all, not just the academics
I really enjoyed making anatomy available to all, not just the academics. This gave me the idea of doing a beautiful anatomy book that anyone could be captivated by, not just anatomy students, and my book Anatomy in Black was born.
I was invited to be artist in residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York in 2014 and enjoy nothing more than spreading my enthusiasm for anatomical and art through various talks and articles. It’s something I find most people are fascinated by, so it’s great to be able to make it accessible through many different means so it’s not this elite and intimidating subject that some perceive it to be.
Looking back, it may seem I perfectly curated my career, but in reality I’ve just followed my passion and my interests at any particular time and it has evolved into a marriage of my three loves; anatomy, art and teaching.
My working day
If I’m not teaching at Cambridge, the first thing I do is go for an early morning walk in Epping Forest next to my house, after which I come home to deal with customer enquiries and orders for my shop while having countless cups of tea. I then head into my studio in central London for late morning to catch up on any outstanding emails and phone calls.
I often have a lunchtime meeting with a client, company I’m collaborating with or my publisher. After that I’ll do some illustration for a client, or be designing the latest book I’m working on, or writing a talk, book or article for an upcoming event. Mid-to-late afternoon is usually my most creative time of day so I schedule my creative work for then. I then catch up with any creative friends or colleagues after work for a drink or dinner and chat about current projects we’re working on. I find surrounding myself with inspirational, creative people gives me energy and I love bouncing new ideas off them.
How art serves to help educate students about human anatomy
Anatomy by its very nature is a very visual subject. Most people that do well at anatomy are visual learners. There are so many intricacies that students need to be able to see what it looks like, not just read a description. Not much research has been done into the optimum style of anatomical illustration to facilitate learning. I was recently contemplating doing a Ph.D. on this at Cambridge, but I have too many other things I want to do first! It’s undeniable that students all have their favourite images that they find help them the most, and this does vary from student to student.
It’s too early to say if the use of anatomy in contemporary art has any bearing on the education or enthusiasm for anatomy learning as it’s still such a new genre, but I think in time we will start seeing its effect in the long term.
Why anatomical illustration and medical imaging are breaking out of the confines of the medical world
This is where it all gets so exciting for me! When I went off to study anatomy 20 years ago, I had to explain what it was to people, and they couldn’t believe you could just study that by itself. Now, with the advances in public awareness of health and fitness, and our exposure to many healthcare images online, people have a much better idea of what’s going on under their skin.
Anatomy has a power. It always has, even from the very first elaborate anatomical artworks. This notion means that anatomy lends itself to be the perfect topic for artists to utilise as it creates a reaction in the onlooker like very few other topics. At the moment, it’s still a bit of an alternative, fringe movement, and I like that. It still feels special and a bit edgy.
Anatomy as inspiration for stationery, clothing, interiors and homeware designs
I went to Mexico a few years ago and just fell in love with their folk art. They have such a strong tradition of art and religion that is combined perfectly in their sugar skull motif. But while I was there, I just found I couldn’t find a souvenir I actually wanted in my house; nothing really would have worked. So I decided to create the London version of the sugar skull, an urban take on the skull but with a beauty and elegance I hadn’t seen in Mexico.
The wallpaper was originally for a bar chain in London, but it was used for a ELLE photo shoot and people soon wanted to know where to buy it, so I started having it manufactured and selling it.
The Histology china came about in a different way. I learnt histology at university and always thought the patterns looked like marbled paper. When I was invited to participate in the Eat Your Heart Out anatomical cake event of 2012, I decided to take the ‘pretty’ candy coloured slide images and put them on cake plates. They weren’t meant to be sold, it was just for cakes to be displayed on, but people loved them and I was encouraged to make ones that people could buy, so I did, and the shop was born.
Advice for girls and women who are looking to combine a career in art and science / medicine
I often get emails from people wanting to do what I do, and it’s hard to give advice in an ever changing industry. Of all the people I know who work with art and science, no two do the same thing; everyone has carved out their own niche and has their own take on it.
Ultimately, I would say follow your passion because you can’t really ‘get a job’ in this area; you’ll probably be working for yourself and that’s tough. It’s tough to keep motivated, to come up with new ideas and to stay strong and brave when your bank balance is running low and you’re wondering if it’s all worth it. So do something you love, pick the thing you want to get up every day and do, that you choose to take the risks for. And I promise you, it will be worth it!
Introducing Anatomy Boutique Books
This year I’m launching my own publishing house, Anatomy Boutique Books. I aim to showcase all the amazing artists I know who work in this field. The three books I’m currently working on are The Anatomical Tattoo, Edible Anatomical Art and Street Anatomy. Hopefully these will all be out in 2017 and sitting on people’s coffee tables providing a stimulating talking point.
Epping Forest image credit: By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4896990