Spotlight: Medical illustrator inspires hospitalized teens with art

After surgery in 2008 to remove a bone tumor on her hip, Anne Phillips recovered with the help of orange-red and lavender hues.

The story of her experience with the healing power of colors — as well as other patients' stories, artwork, poetry and activities — fill the pages of the upcoming Mott "Active Book," a project designed to provide a creative outlet for hospitalized teens.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Phillips, a medical illustrator in the Department of Radiology and 2005 School of Art & Design graduate, has devoted more than 400 volunteer hours to fundraising and compiling materials for the "Active Book" with Kathy Richards-Peal, an art therapist at C.S. C. S. Mott Children's Hospital. Phillips believes the hospital needs more art and activities for teens. "A lot of people donate to Mott but a lot of donations are toys for little kids. There's not much for teens in the hospital to do," Phillips says.

Although she started the project before her surgery, hospitalization gave Phillips new insight into a young adult's hospital experience. "I thought, 'How can I use my experience for this book?'" she says. As a result, she added her personal touch with the "healing colors" pages. Phillips hopes that in addition to giving teens something to do while in the hospital, the book will provide ongoing support. "It's something they can bring home. The healing process doesn't end as soon as you leave the hospital."

Phillips' duties at work also aided the creation of the book. As a medical illustrator, she uses a large interactive digital monitor to draw illustrations directly on the screen. These drawings are used for scientific posters, medical journals, books, electronic exhibits, presentations and more. Her experiences creating these images and using software such as the Adobe Creative Suite have been valuable in making the "Active Book." "The skills I've learned with my current job have really helped me with the project," she says.

Raised in Holland, Mich., Phillips studied scientific illustration at U-M and joined the Department of Radiology staff after graduation. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall.

To prepare for her career transition, Phillips is taking psychology courses at Washtenaw Community College in addition to more art classes. She enjoys many different art media from craft to figure drawing to ceramics. "There is a very rewarding element of surprise and discovery in trying new things and mixing media."

Currently helping Detroit Medical Center start its own "Active Book," Phillips says she hopes the idea will spread to other hospitals, as well. "The goal is to provide support for teens in all hospitals, not just Mott," she says. "We want to reach as many people as possible."

Whether creating more "Active Books" or pursuing art therapy, Phillips uses her artistic talents to heal and inspire others. "You never know where art-making is going to take you," she says.

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