Interdepartmental major lets students mix natural science, studio art courses


Meredith Kestel/Iowa State Daily

On Oct. 2, the College of Design hosted the opening night for a weekend long celebration of the thirty year anniversary of the major biological pre-medical illustration. Alumni’s artwork was shown in a gallery and the current student’s artwork was also on display as well. 

Ashley Green

When people think of the College of Design, science doesn’t normally come to mind. Students majoring in biological and pre-medical illustration, however, split their time between the two fields.

BPMI is offered as an interdepartmental major between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Design. In the major, students take a balanced mix of natural science and studio art courses.

“Students that appeal to [BPMI] typically have an interest in both [science and art],” said ISU BPMI Club President Alex McGuire. “One of the things that kind of unites everybody in the major is that they love their classes.”

Students apply their knowledge of the different fields together through scientific visualization, whether it be helping others understand scientific data, creating artwork for professors publishing their research or using skills off campus.

Celeste Moreno, senior in BPMI, recently created an infographic for a clinic in Des Moines, which instructed patients on how to take their medicine.

Moreno began in the core design program planning to major in graphic design, but switched into BPMI after looking through the curriculum. BPMI offered an additional challenge through science.

“No other major in the design college is going to split you evenly between the different colleges,” Moreno said.

Another benefit is personalization. 

“There’s a lot of classes where you have to jump through hoops and appease professors when you’re in the College of Design, and we don’t really have to do that,” McGuire said. “We get to go back and forth with our professors and fit the projects that we want to do with what we’re interested in.”

Projects vary through the major and each incorporates different mediums, skills and themes.

BPMI students also help other students around campus. For example, Barbara Pleasants teaches an intensive class in ecology, evolution and organismal biology that is accompanied by a large lab manual.

“People in [BPMI] will go through and do illustrations for [Pleasants] to help her students understand what they’re looking at in the lab,” McGuire said.

The illustrations done by students are heavily researched. While it is ideal to observe from life, it’s not always a possibility, such as in cases where the animal is extinct. In these instances, students gather as many visual resources as possible.

One option for students is to look through past examples.

Figure drawing is vital to the major, and many students take more than one figure drawing course. The grasp of the human form is important in the medical field, which many BPMI graduates go into.

The major begins with a focus on traditional mediums, but students are eventually able to incorporate the untraditional.

“You have to have a traditional background to make stuff look good, because if it doesn’t look good it defeats the purpose,” Moreno said. “The research is important because you might illustrate something, and if it’s wrong and it’s going into a textbook, that’s a huge problem.”

Student work from freshman through senior BPMI majors will be on display until Feb. 16 at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa.