Anatomicum: Tattoo Artist Katy Wiedemann Translates Science to Skin and Paper

Most 12-year-olds ask for toys, games, or athletic gear for their birthdays, but Katy Wiedemann asked her parents for antique anatomy books. 

That fascination with the inner workings of the human body have shaped her career as both a tattoo artist and a scientific illustrator. It’s also led to her latest effort of creating 50 illustrations for the new book “Anatomicum,” which releases this month as part of the “Welcome to the Museum” series from the Wellcome Collection, a free museum and library in London. 

“I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but when I told people these were the kinds of drawings I wanted to do, they always responded with the disappointing statement that it just wasn’t done anymore,” says Wiedemann. “The illustrations were so different than those in the science books from my schools, which seemed rigid and sterile next to the dramatically posed bodies in the books I collected.”

Katy Wiedemann has always had a fascination with anatomy and science.

Wiedemann, who tattoos at The Iron Dahlia in Trainer, Pennsylvania, began her career in the niche world of scientific illustration by taking a course taught by Jean Blackburn at the Rhode Island School of Design.

When Big Picture Press approached her about illustrating “Anatomicum,” it didn’t take much to convince Wiedemann to jump on board. “I was already familiar with some of the other books in the Welcome to the Museum series, specifically Botanicum, which is beautifully illustrated by Katie Scott,” she says. “They explained they were looking for Victorian-inspired anatomical illustrations and I was sold.” 

Delving Deep Into Anatomical Illustrations

To develop the illustrations for “Anatomicum,” Wiedemann collaborated closely with the publisher and Dr. Jennifer Paxton, the book’s author who works as a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. “I did have quite specific briefs on what to draw,” says Wiedemann. “Each system of the human body needed to be addressed in very specific ways.”

In addition to detailed notes from Paxton, Wiedemann conducted her own research to better understand each specific system. Once a rough sketch underwent feedback and approvals, Wiedemann created the final illustrations using ink and watercolor. 

An illustration by Katy Wiedemann in “Anatomicum.”

Inspiration for Wiedemann’s illustrations came from her visits to anatomical museums around the world. She was especially drawn to the centuries-old wooden cabinets that hold life-sized wax anatomical models in La Specola in Florence, Italy. 

Wiedemann says that she spent over a year working on the artwork for “Anatomicum,” which she did in tandem with tattooing full time during the day. But seeing the finished project come to life has made the whole process worthwhile. 

“It was an exhausting and arduous year,” she says. “But holding this book in my hands and seeing my childhood fantasy come true has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.”

Translating Science Into Tattoos

Wiedemann’s detailed and scientific approach to artwork is evident in her tattoos. Scrolling through her Instagram account produces an array of blackwork animals, plant life, and, yes, plenty of anatomy. 

She says that she takes a similar approach to both mediums and tries to create something special whether the end result will be on paper or on skin. 

“In both fields I am working with a client who wants something very specific, and I need to be able to take their ideas and improve on them in a way that both fulfills their requirements and my own artistic vision,” says Wiedemann. “Usually, the most difficult part of my job in both fields is frequently being asked to draw something that has been done countless times over and try to make it unique.”

Wiedemann spent four years working as a freelance scientific illustrator before learning how to tattoo from her mentor Steve Styles. She says that tattooing has helped her avoid the isolation that being a freelance illustrator and artist can sometimes produce. 

Katy Wiedemann tattooing. Photo by Lauren Lynch Photos.

“As a tattoo artist, I share a pretty intimate exchange with strangers every day,” says Wiedemann. “I have always had a lot of social anxiety, which tattooing has forced me to conquer in order to be able to give people not only a tattoo they will love, but also a positive experience.”  

Wiedemann says that she hopes to tattoo some of the images she created for “Anatomicum” on her clients in the future. 

“I am fortunate enough to have two careers that I love, which have ultimately merged together,” she says. “I can use tattooing as the medium for my love of scientific imagery. It is such an honor—not only to be taught how to tattoo—but also having the trust of my clients who will wear my art on their bodies for the rest of their lives.”

All images courtesy Katy Wiedemann. See more of her work via Instagram.

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