Origin Story: William Westwood, CMI

Parathyroid Surgery

Parathyroid Surgery; Wolff's carbon pencil on Canson paper, white pencil, white gouache, india ink

1. How did you find out about medical illustration?

Early in my junior year of college at Mercer University (1965), an art teacher gave me a C in a design course. I’d NEVER gotten anything less than an A in any art course I’d ever taken. I went to her office to yell at her for giving me a C. We ended up talking about art careers over glasses of wine and she suggested I might want to think about medical illustration, given my strong desire to create “realistic art” in the age of abstract expressionism.

Curious, but not really knowing anything about medical illustration (and assuming it involved those crude little line illustrations I saw in my biology book), I spoke to the head of the art department at Mercer, who had a former student (Frances DeRoller) who was a medical illustrator in Augusta, GA, just a few hours away from Mercer. I figured I had “nothing to lose”, so I arranged to visit the Medical College of Georgia medical illustration program to see what this field was all about. I went for the visit with a fairly lackadaisical attitude. However, upon arrival, I met an incredible faculty and a dynamic group of students (including David Mascaro, Grover Hogan and Mary Brown) who were creating “mind blowing artwork”! By the end of that day, I had “found my career”! Then I found out that they only accepted 4 students a year out of several hundred applicants and was terrified that I might not be able to get in.


Baxter Surgical Drain

Baxter Surgical Drain advertising piece; watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, airbrush

2. Why did you decide to become a medical illustrator? What did you do to pursue it?

From that experience on, I embarked on a single-minded pursuit of my goal of getting accepted at MCG and becoming a medical illustrator. I was eventually accepted and entered in 1967 with first year classmates, Don Biggerstaff, Steve Harrison and Karen Waldo. At the beginning of my second year, my career plans were disrupted by the Vietnam War draft. Though I was originally deferred for the three year program, the Vietnam war increased in intensity and I (and many others) lost my graduate school deferment. I managed to complete my second year before finally being drafted in June of 1969 and later sent to Vietnam. Through a rather remarkable series of events I ended up going to Germany instead and working as a medical illustrator in the 26th Medical Illustration Detachment in Landstuhl, West Germany. I spent a year there working on some exciting medical art projects and then was honorably discharged to return to MCG and complete my third year.


3. Where has your medical illustration path taken you?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease editorial piece; watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, airbrush

I spent ten terrific years working as a medical illustrator at the Mayo Clinic. While there I got to know Russell Drake (perhaps one of this profession’s greatest medical illustrators). During my years at Mayo, I worked on numerous interesting and challenging projects, learning and perfecting new illustrative techniques. I also learned to create, mold and cast 3D anatomical/surgical models in wax, epoxy and silicones. Working with rhinologic surgeon Dr. Eugene B. Kern, I became the co-developer of a nasal septal button used to close nasal septal perforations non surgically. Dr. Kern and I later co-invented and patented a “nosebleed clip” to treat spontaneous and traumatic nosebleeds.

In 1982 I left Mayo to go into business for myself, at a time when most medical illustrators worked for hospitals or medical schools. I became part of a movement by a number of young, ambitious medical illustrators who opened up editorial and advertising markets to establish our presence in commercial illustration.

Over the past thirty-three years, my career has provided me with incredible opportunities. I conceived of, created, and guided the growth of the Medical Illustration SourceBook. I served two four-year terms on the AMI Board of Governors and was privileged to serve another three years as President-Elect, President and Past-President. I was privileged to be among the first group of Fellows inducted into the AMI.

To date, my medical artwork has won 38 awards, including 9 Max Brödel Awards for halftone surgical illustration and a Silver medal from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles. In 2010, I was honored to be selected as the recipient of that year’s AMI Lifetime Achievement Award.


Bifrontal Craniotomy medical legal

Bifrontal Craniotomy medical legal; Photoshop

Transphenoidal medical legal

Transsphenoidal medical legal; Photoshop


Business issues for medical illustrators became another one of my passions and I’ve spent years working to educate myself and sharing that knowledge with fellow AMI members through presentations, workshops, written articles and personal consultations.

And I have been truly blessed to have known and worked with so many wonderful, talented AMI colleagues, who are always so willing to share their knowledge with me. I can’t imagine having a more satisfying, fulfilling interesting and enjoyable career than I have had so far, and I have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.