Exploring the art of medicine

Participating in St. Olaf College’s Fifth Year Emerging Artist program is helping Marra Evans ’16 pursue a dream career in medical illustration. It’s also helped her discover another career path: sign design and fabrication. The common denominator? St. Olaf alumni who gave her opportunities.

Medical illustrators create drawings for a variety of medicine-related purposes. That can mean collaborating with doctors to make images that explain procedures to patients. Or it can involve designing textbook drawings, patient brochures, and even machine labels for medical devices.

“It is very exciting to draw organs because they are so intricate and beautiful. It helps me understand how complex the body is and how it functions,” explains Evans. Ultimately, she says, “I want to use drawings as a way to educate people.”

A studio art major at St. Olaf, Evans says, “I discovered medical illustration when my dad, a nurse, found an article on medical illustrators and it just seemed to fit.”

Evans began taking anatomy classes and even created an independent study centered on medical illustration. Throughout the independent study, she practiced creating drawings and reached out to professionals in the medical illustration community. Evans later invited many of them to her senior art show, where she showcased her anatomy drawings.

“It is very exciting to draw organs because they are so intricate and beautiful. It helps me understand how complex the body is and how it functions.”

For Evans, being accepted into St. Olaf’s Fifth Year Emerging Artist program provided a vital next step in her career journey. The Fifth Year Emerging Artist program offers St. Olaf graduates an intensive art experience to better prepare them for graduate school or a professional career in the arts.

“I wanted to apply to graduate school for medical illustration,” says Evans. “The program allowed me to focus on applications and develop a portfolio.” It also opened a door Evans never knew existed.

As a Fifth Year Emerging Artist, Evans’ work in medical illustration was featured in the St. Olaf Magazine. University of Minnesota Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery Andrew Grande ’98, the co-director of the Stroke, Stem Cell, and Neuroimaging Laboratory, saw Evans’ illustrations and fell in love with them. He contacted Evans about a year-long medical illustration art fellowship in the University of Minnesota’s Neurosurgery Department.

Evans jumped at the opportunity. Now she works 20 hours a week, gaining real-world experience with medical illustration as well as communicating and interacting with doctors. While Evans remains interested in pursuing graduate school, she is also taking advantage of her time at the University of Minnesota.

Two years after graduation, Evans is well on her way to a career in art. “The Fifth Year Art program really helped open doors for me. I have my full-time job at Archetype, learning the sign fabrication business, thanks to St. Olaf alum Steve Carpenter ’82. I love the hands-on work and the great company Steve has built. And now, this great opportunity with U of M, thanks to Andy Grande.”

It was art that initially drew Evans to the Hill. “I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she says. And at St. Olaf, she could combine different majors.

She liked that St. Olaf wasn’t like a traditional art school: the college’s excellent art program meant she could study what she loved but the other strong academic departments meant she could branch out to study new subjects. And she did.

Looking back, Evans says, “St. Olaf definitely prepared me and gave me the confidence to continue my art. I’m so grateful for my foundation, and for the strong St. Olaf connections that have helped me.”