As a medical illustrator, Kristen Larson Keil creates art that brings to life neurological research and discoveries related to the brain. And doing that requires her to use both sides of hers.
“I can’t do abstract art,” she says, “but I really enjoy precision and detail and anatomy and science – it’s just this magical combination of the things I love.”
Larson Keil is a senior medical illustrator and interim manager of neuroscience publications at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Her work, which also includes spinal anatomy, appears in medical journals, textbooks and even Barrow’s social media. “Explaining that detail and really complex things in a way that people can understand… is a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun,” Larson Keil says.
She’s seen her “unique specialty” thrust into the limelight with the pandemic.
As the medical illustration of the coronavirus – a ridged gray sphere with red spikes – scrolled across newscasts and social media, interest and awareness of her field grew. It wasn’t always that way.
As a teen in Kearney, Nebraska, Larson Keil planned to become a doctor. But her art teacher encouraged her to consider something that would allow her to continue to use her skills as an artist – and connected her with a former student working as a medical illustrator.
“It was just the perfect combination of all the things that I loved, so that became my focus,” she says. She studied medical illustration in her undergrad and post-graduate work. Translating medical concepts visually requires a strong understanding of science in addition to art.
“We’ll do a lot of research,” she says, adding that it’s critical to be attuned to the latest scientific research. “The brain is still kind of a mystery. There’s still so much we’re learning about it.”
See Larson Keil’s work on Twitter @kristenlarson.