Case study

Freelance medical illustrator — Victoria K McCulloch

Victoria has set up her own medical illustration company. Find out more about the rewards and challenges of self-employment in this line of work

How did you become a medical illustrator?

I studied an undergraduate BSc (Hons) in Anatomical and Physiological Sciences at the University of Dundee, graduating in 2012, then went on to complete an MSc in Medical Art in 2013, also at the University of Dundee.

Upon graduation I set up my own freelance medical illustration business, Victoria K. McCulloch Medical Illustration. However, I wanted to further my skills and understanding of medical and anatomical communication, so I undertook an MSc in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy at Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 2015.

How did you start your own business?

After completing my MSc in Medical Art I decided to set up as a freelance medical illustrator and gain experience of working as a self-employed artist. I created my own website showcasing a range of work, including anatomical and surgical illustrations. I used this to advertise my business.

I also became a member of the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI), which gave me the opportunity to create an online profile of my skills, qualifications and an online portfolio. From my website and my IMI profile I was able to create business for myself.

What's a typical day like?

A typical day includes corresponding with clients or replying to enquiries, researching new projects, creating sketches, storyboarding and creating digital illustrations using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The best part of being a medical illustrator is being able to create informative and educational illustrations that will aid people's understanding of human anatomy, medical conditions and physiological processes.

Continually developing my skills and understanding of medical procedures is also a great part of the job.

What are the challenges?

The challenges of working freelance are that you have to go out and find your own work, which can be done via your own website, professional bodies or through advertising your business on freelance websites.

Planning how to illustrate complex human anatomy can also be a challenge, but this is something that you learn to do and becomes easier with practice.

How relevant is your degree?

Both my postgraduate degrees in Medical Art and in Medical Visualisation have been extremely helpful in understanding how to communicate medical and anatomical information to a variety of audiences. They gave me experience of using a range of software to create illustrations and three-dimensional models.

My undergraduate degree in Anatomical and Physiological Sciences gave me an excellent understanding of the human body, allowing me to better understand anatomical structures when drawing them.

How has your role developed?

Working as a freelance medical illustrator over the past few years I have continually developed my illustration skills, alongside developing new skills in managing a business, accounts and furthering my communication skills through presenting at conferences.

My career ambitions are to develop my current skills and to expand the type of work I can offer to clients.

What are your tips for choosing a Masters?

Choose one that includes human anatomy and human dissection. This will give you hands-on experience of anatomical structures that will be beneficial to understanding the structure and function of the human body. Think about what you would like to get out of the Masters and choose one that both interests you and one that features content that you would like to learn.

Any advice for aspiring medical illustrators?

  • build a portfolio containing a range of subject matter
  • include in your portfolio anatomical and life drawing
  • include in your portfolio a variety of media
  • create a website
  • use an online portfolio to showcase your skills
  • join professional bodies such as the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) or the Medical Artists Association (MAA).

These professional bodies enable you to seek advice from other members, network and have an online profile, which will help get you noticed in the field of medical illustration.

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