Pneumococcal meningitis
Light Study
Tissue Cube Study
Close-up sketch

​Title: Pneumococcal Meningitis

Date created: November 2017

Type: Medical illustration, pathology illustration

Tool: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop

Faculty adviser: Dr. Shelley Wall, Dr. John Wong

Purpose: This illustration is intended to be read in a double-page spread. It aims to engage the viewers and guide them through the process of disease development. Please see below for detailed process.


Before any drafts were done, I consulted many primary and secondary books/articles on the topic. This not only helped me build a visual narrative, but also deepened my understanding on the subject matter. Detailed notes and rough sketches were created during this process, including all the sources of my information. After organizing through the notes, I was able to highlight the key points I want to represent, and wrote the caption text to accompany the spread.

Finding visual inspiration

Most available illustrations only depict the meninges on a macro scale, but I knew that I wanted something different. Specifically, I wanted to create a sense of immersion for my audience. Rather than looking at medical photos only, I also used photos of natural landscape (especially forests and caves) for inspiration. 


In order to study the disease progression in detail, I created these tissue cubes to show the different stages that I want to represent. I also colour-coded the main cell types to better understand their characteristics. A 3D maquette was used to maintain accurate proportions of the layers.


First, I built a simple 3D maquette to find the best angle for my composition. Then, using everything I have gathered and learned, I created a comprehensive sketch using non-photo blue pencil and mechanical pencil on 11" x 14" tracing paper. I also created a close-up sketch to show my content adviser Dr. Wong. Several thumbnails were also used to determine the best way to present the caption text and labels.


Before colouring the draft, I did a light study to better envision the kind of depth and contrast I want for the drawing. Although some parts were later edited, this grey scale drawing ended up becoming the base layer of my colour process.

Although some elements in this scene have characteristic colours that are normally associated with them (i.e. red blood cells, neutrophils), but other elements were open to artistic interpretation (arachnoid trabechulae, exudate, etc.). I found it difficult to balance the two while still creating a harmonious palette. After several attempts, I decided to eliminate the colour of the exudate, and this made the subsequent colour choices much simpler. Lesson learned from this: less is more.

rendering process

1. Refining my light study to create a grey scale base layer

2. Colourizing the pencil sketch

3. Using a combination of Overlay and Color layers in Photoshop to lay down the basic colours

4. Merging all the layers and paint details on a single colour master layer

5. Colouring the schematics on separate layers

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