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Partnership Pairings: “Fearful Symmetry” Meets Charcoal and Pencils
Illustrating the art of the human bodyby Tim Miner on June 30, 2021
[NOTE: This is the first installment of a new series, Partnership Pairings, in which a local creative uses art to bring a new perspective to an organization sponsored by OrthoCarolina.]
The human body is a work of art.
It’s a complex system of bones, muscles, tendons, skin and nerves woven together in a beautiful, “fearful symmetry” (shout out to poet William Blake). When all the parts are working in concert, the body is capable of miraculous things. On the other hand, sometimes even small issues can create big challenges.
Meet the brachial plexus
Take the brachial plexus. You have two of them — a network (that’s what “plexus” means) of nerves in each shoulder that carries information to your arms and hands directly from the spinal cord. Injuries to the brachial plexus — trauma, tumors or birth defects — can result in partial or complete paralysis of an arm or loss of function in hands. This can happen in adults or children.
About 10 years ago, OrthoCarolina established a clinic on Randolph Rd. specializing in brachial plexus-related care. When it opened, they saw around 10 patients a day. Now, it can be as many as 60.
Exploring what’s inside
Visualizing what the inside of our bodies looks like can be difficult. To help patients do that, OrthoCarolina has partnered with a local company, Experience Anatomy, founded in 2016 by Charlottean Jamie Decker.
Experience Anatomy preserves fresh human tissues and organs through a proprietary soft-embalming technique that creates “high-quality, plastinated specimens.” Decker studied under Dr. Gunther von Hagens, world-renowned for the “Body Worlds” exhibition.
Once plastinated, Experience Anatomy’s specimens retain their natural color, weight and size indefinitely. This allows students, patients and doctors to hold and manipulate the specimens themselves, instead of viewing them on a screen or in a book. Specimens can be viewed at the company’s learning labs, brought to exhibitions or rented in educational kits.
In addition to in-person events with Experience Anatomy, OrthoCarolina partnered with the organization on “Orthopedic Anatomy,” a mixture of online events and videos shot by Charlotte Star Room. The series won an award for “Best Special Event” by the Carolinas Healthcare PR & Marketing Society last year.
The second season is underway now. The latest installment (at the bottom of the page) is about the brachial plexus.
To further illustrate what the brachial plexus is, we partnered Decker and Experience Anatomy with local illustrator Craig Stevens.
Stevens, a relative newcomer to Charlotte, has loved illustration since his childhood in Pennsylvania. He is a sign designer and painter specializing in large-scale graphics, including billboards and theater backdrops and scenery.
One artform meets another
Thanks to the reputation of “Body Worlds,” plastinated organs and tissues have been compared to works of art themselves.
After viewing one of Experience Anatomy’s specimens of the brachial plexus (shown above), Stevens created his own work of art.
Stevens’ creative process was layered and meticulous. He said:
“I started with a preliminary charcoal sketch, to feel the subject out, get the feel of the proportions and relationships of the elements. Then I started another after that with Sanguine Conte; the reddish-brown seemed right for the subject.”
“After the major elements and contours were in place I started layering in some value to create more depth and reality. Then I began adding some color with colored pencil. Warmer tones for the highlights, cooler for the shadows.”
While their chosen careers — an illustrator and a medical educator — may seem far apart, both Decker and Stevens are dedicated to a similar pursuit: creating work that allows people to see and experience the world around them (and in this case inside them) in different ways through their chosen art form.
That’s something Stevens realized through this creative endeavor.
“Everything in the natural world is related,” he said. “There is an underlying geometry and order to everything, and it is simply amazing when you start seeing it.”
About Experience Anatomy
About Craig Stevens
Stevens, a relative newcomer to Charlotte, has loved illustration since his childhood in Pennsylvania. As he describes it, he loved “creating imaginary worlds for myself.” He is a sign designer and painter specializing in large-scale graphics, including billboards and theater backdrops and scenery.
Watch the Latest Installment of Orthopedic Anatomy
The Partnership Pairings series is powered by OrthoCarolina.