Molecular illustration depicting the formation of a human papilloma virus (HPV) capsid

Human Papilloma Virus
Formation of the HPV capsid

  • Client:


    Frederick, MD
  • Share:

 ..."The concepts are accurate, but the depiction is simplified"

Simple complexity

This illustration depicts the formation of the human papilloma capsid (the containing shell) in a manner that can be easily grasped. A common misconception about medical illustration is that it's hyperrealistic. There was a time when that was true, but the primary role of medical illustration has increasingly been to communicate complex concepts that are impossible to observe, and to do so as clearly and accurately as possible.

This often requires a departure from visual accuracy in order to communicate clearly. The concepts are accurate, but the depiction is simplified in order to emphasize the concepts. The following visually accurate molecular model provides a good example of the dilemma:

molecular model of a human papilloma virus pentamer

A molecular model of an HPV pentamer, shown from above. This is a scientifically accurate depiction of the pentamer component that binds together to form the viral shell.

Although beautiful in its accuracy, this image is difficult to comprehend because of that accuracy. In order to communicate the concept of how these proteins attract each other to form the shell, visualization and simplification were necessary. This represents a primary role of modern medical illustration.

molecular drawing of ahuman papilloma virus virus capsid

HPV progress 01

human papilloma virus digital drawing blocking in proteins

HPV progress 02

human papilloma virus digital drawing building forms

HPV progress 03

human papilloma virus digital rendering of capsid forms

HPV progress 04

Screen images showing the approach used to draw and render the HPV capsid.

Real-world challenges

This image was destined for a medical text: The 3rd edition of the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) Modern Colposcopy text. Time is of the essence with textbook art, due to pressing deadlines and limited budgets. The challenge was to create the most effective image possible within the given time constraints. Although this image would be a great candidate for 3D modeling, a traditional drawing approach was used for consistency with the rest of the artwork in the text. It ended up being a great drawing challenge.

Exceptional Talent

See more