Women on Sketchfab: Anna Sieben

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A quick glance at news headlines will reveal the underrepresentation, but gradually increasing prominence of women in the tech sector. After years spent as active members of the Sketchfab community, Sketchfab masters Mieke, Jasmin, and Abby decided it was about time to highlight the incredible work of women on Sketchfab!

Each instalment of the series will focus on one great artist, her background, what kinds of work she does, and the obstacles that she overcomes to make her work even better. The series will spotlight everyone from medical illustrators to lithic scanners to character modelers. Join us as we get to know the diverse Sketchfab community a little bit better.

Anna Sieben, Medical Illustrator

‘You’re a what?’ (combined with a blank look) is the reaction I often get when telling people I am a medical illustrator. ‘I draw cells, tissues and organs for a living’. At this point people are either interested or grossed out. If your curiosity trumps your disgust, please read on and I’ll explain a little more about what I do and how I ended up building parts of the human body for a living.

Combining two worlds

I came across medical illustration as a possible career path when completing the Bachelor of  Medicine. The models, animations and illustrations used to explain illnesses and body processes had always fascinated me, but it wasn’t until I read an article on medical illustration that I realized I wanted to work where medicine and art converge.  So upon completion of my Bachelor’s degree, I crossed the English Channel to study Medical Art at the University of Dundee.

My first encounter with 3D models was during this Master’s degree. An introduction to Pixologic Zbrush (amongst other 3D programs) was included in the course. I ultimately fell in love with the program for its organic way of modelling and for its infinite possibilities. From the very first project on, I have been uploading my models to Sketchfab. I used Zbrush for a few self-directed projects (like the one above) and even for my final thesis, which consisted of the development of an online resource on epithelium. I created 3D models to bridge the gap between the 3D anatomical structures and their 2D representations as seen under a microscope – to help students master the subject. An example of these models would be the epithelium of the skin (epidermis), which is shown here.

Internship at the Dundee Dental School

Upon graduating, I was lucky enough to do a three month internship at the Dundee Dental School, where I worked on an online student resource on oral cancer. For this resource I also developed some 3D models, which are uploaded on the account of the dental school. By the time the internship came to an end, I had been offered a job as a medical illustrator at the
E-learning Development Team of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), which is where I’m currently employed.

University Medical Center Groningen

As a team, we create online content for students of the faculty of medical sciences. Due to a combination of very enthusiastic students and professionals, the team has a really energetic and innovative vibe, which I love. My role is to produce visuals for the online content we create and to support the students in the team when sourcing and creating visuals. At the moment I’m working mainly on interactive 3D models, for which Sketchfab obviously is a great fit. All of the content I create for the students is uploaded to E-learning University Medical Center Groningen on Sketchfab. I love how easy it is to make my anatomical models interactive and annotate them. The option to make your models private works really well for sharing drafts and gathering feedback. It is also a great way to share your work with other institutions, source models from other makers for educational purposes and collaborate with others to improve the models you are making. However, what I value most is the feedback from students that the interactive 3D models help them study various topics and to comprehend complicated 3D structures.

Congenital heart disease project

I’m currently working on a project that revolves around congenital heart disease. I have been making anatomical models based on the Leiden Collection of Malformed Hearts. The first steps in the process involved me studying the specimen in the dissection room and a lot of sketching. I received a very elaborate explanation about the pathology and the specimen from experts. Then I made a first draft of the 3D model and presented it in multiple rounds to process feedback. Picture me on my laptop, tweaking the model ‘live’ in Zbrush – while the content reviewers follow along on the big screen my laptop is connected to and give directions. Sometimes we would go back to the dissection room and re-examine the specimens. One of the resulting models is a cross-cut of a heart model, showing the (parasternal long axis) echo plane of a heart with an atrioventricular septal defect. Some of the other models I make are based on CT scans, z-stacks or simply on 2D or 3D references.

 

Looking forward

It has been two years since I started making 3D models and I continue to learn new things every new project. There is so much to learn and there are so many incredible 3D artists out there that it is easy to look at your own work and only see its flaws. But I can only take one step at a time and by continuing to do so I will keep improving. Looking back at my earlier models and spotting all the things I would do differently now is an easy reminder of this.

Rapid technical development

Another challenge for me is keeping up with developments in the fields of medicine and technology, since they are developing rapidly. This challenges me  especially, since I’m not super technical. But I really enjoy reading books and scientific articles, following tutorials and listening to podcasts to explore topics, so that – and realising that all skills take time to master – really helps.

By now you made it to the end of my blog – congratulations! Thanks for bearing with me. I personally love reading the personal stories of artists, so I hope you enjoyed reading mine too. Please don’t hesitate to say hi on Sketchfab or send me any questions and comments, they are very welcome.

Check out Anna Sieben’s profile on Sketchfab!

About the author

Anna Sieben

I’m Anna Sieben, a medical illustrator, currently employed at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. I work where medicine and art meet, conveying key scientific messages in a way that is clear, beautiful and scientifically accurate.


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  • Joost Holslag says:

    Anna is a valued colleague.

  • Daniel O'Neil says:

    I’m delighted that Sketchfab is featuring some of the women who are amazing artists and contributors to this community!

  • Bodin says:

    I really love her works!

  • Desi says:

    Impressive. Just getting started. Looking forward to learning new things.

  • Anna says:

    Thank you all for the kind words an compliments, they are very much appreciated!
    @Joost: Delighted to have you on the team too (:
    @Daniel: I know right?! Can’t wait to read all the blogposts!
    @Bodin: Thank you for the compliment!
    @Desi: Welcome to Sketchfab! Congratulations on starting your 3D adventure, hope you’re having fun learning all the things, so exciting!

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