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Ovia Health Blog

The making of "In the womb"

July 10, 2019

I’m Holly Hunold, the artist behind our new Ovia Pregnancy feature: “In the womb.” I've always been passionate about human anatomy — at a young age, I used to draw from my biology textbooks for fun. In college, I studied anthropology (with a concentration in biological and forensic topics) and fine arts, and I went on to get my masters in medical art. My areas of expertise are extremely specific, but they made me uniquely equipped to illustrate the 42 weeks of a developing fetus. It has been such a rewarding journey to create this artwork, and balancing biology with artistic beauty is the number one reason I became a medical illustrator in the first place!

This project was so important to all of us at Ovia because we knew that it would help moms-to-be get to know their little ones in a more intimate way. Our goal was to create 42 digital paintings that were not only anatomically accurate, but also adorable and inviting — such an exciting challenge for me as a medical illustrator.

The first step of creating "In the womb" was planning a roadmap from research to final product. I decided to paint the series in a soft pink/purple color palette that would feel like a comfy, warm, and loving womb. I wanted to stay away from any typical flesh tones for two reasons: 1) I wanted everyone to be able to see the illustration and imagine the fetus as their own, regardless of skin tone, and 2) because fetal skin pigmentation doesn't actually occur until very late in development. With that in mind, I embraced the limited color palette and focused instead on showing contrast and textural variation in the images.

Another artistic choice we made very early on was to omit any visible sex organs — again, to make sure everyone could feel like they were looking at their baby every week, whether they know the sex yet or not. We also decided to omit the umbilical cord and placenta from the series. In reality, it takes up such a large portion of the womb that it would be hard to show it accurately without detracting from the fetus. The placenta is such a complex and amazing organ that deserves an illustration all its own, but for now, the fetus is taking the spotlight!

One of the biggest challenges during the illustration process was finding useful reference images to consult. As a medical illustrator, I've been trained to create artwork based on direct observation of anatomical features, so having nothing tangible to look at was very difficult. This was especially challenging for the earlier weeks of development when detail is crucial and there are very few things to reference. By collecting as many sources as possible, and also by reading up on fetal development, I was able to make my best effort to show an accurate portrayal of those earlierweeks. This became easier as I got through the first trimester, when I was able to find more visual aids. For some of the third trimester paintings, I was even able to ask my colleagues for photos of their newborns to act as my models.

The first stage of my design process was to research the given week of development, gather up a handful of useful reference images, and begin sketching. Because I was often consulting multiple images, it was essential to make a complete sketch at the beginning to ensure all of the body proportions were balanced and natural looking. It was very common for me to look at one photo while I painted the face and another for the hands or the body position. Once my sketch was complete, I would begin painting in each part of the body. I used a drawing tablet and pen and painted everything in Adobe Photoshop. Once the larger shapes were complete, I would begin adding shadows and highlights to help bring dimension to the forms. From there, it’s all about adding details. The beauty and advantage of a digital painting is that you can zoom in on any area and add incredible amounts of detail that you wouldn't be able to achieve with traditional painting. My favorite thing about these illustrations is the detail — the subtle textures, tiny eyelashes, and folds of skin. (One reason why I'm especially excited that this feature has a zoom function!) All-in-all, each illustration probably took about 12-14 hours, not including later revisions or complete re-dos. After so many hours of developing a process and improving my craft, I had to go back and completely repaint about eight out of the series.

Because I spent so much time on this project, I have become incredibly attached to each illustration. I joke that they're my children and they all have personalities and quirks unique to them. Some of them are modeled after our own Ovia babies, and each one is made entirely from scratch. My biggest hope is that our Ovia Pregnancy users are delighted by them and that they feel connected to their own growing babies every time they look at their phones. Like everything we put into our apps, this feature was made with love and designed with great care. "In the womb" may have had a long gestational period, but it’s finally ready to meet the world!