FACETIME- Drawing blood: Impagliazzo puts a fine point on it

Some girls are obsessed with Barbie, some love horses. The girlhood interests of Anita Impagliazzo, however, were decidedly more gruesome.

"I was obsessed with the 'I am Joe's or Jane's Body Part'  in the Reader's Digest, and all the medical oddities in Guinness and Ripley's" she says. "Plus, I always begged Great Aunt Margaret to show me the hole in her leg from when she shot herself in her wild youth."

That attraction to medical oddities never left her, and although she majored in studio art at UVA, after her 1985 graduation Impagliazzo found a way to combine her interest art with a dose of science.

In 1987, Impagliazzo packed her bags and headed west to Texas, where she earned a master's degree in medical illustration. 

"I loved learning how to really illustrate versus doing fine art," she says. "When you're in fine arts, illustration is pooh-poohed as being not very creative. I found out it's every bit as creative as I wanted to be.

And sometimes controversial as well. Much of Impagliazzo's work is generated by lawsuits, and her first job out of college– for a Richmond company called Medivisuals– put her smack in the middle of a celebrity trial.

"Andy Warhol's family was suing the hospital where he died after gallbladder surgery," she recalls. "I had to illustrate the condition of his gallbladder, which was extremely scarred and inflamed. And I had to show the condition of his abdomen from his previous gunshot wound, when that crazy chick shot him."

(Warhol was shot by man-hating Valerie Solanas in 1968.)

Most of Impagliazzo's cases aren't so high profile.

"One of the most common things I illustrate is shoulder dystocia, when a baby's shoulder is lodged behind the mother's pelvic bone, and the head is delivered but the rest of the body can't come out," she says. "The worst case scenario is death or brain damage," she says. Hence the lawsuits. 

While trial lawyers provide a regular source of income, Impagliazzo, 43, and mother of two elementary schoolers, also gets significant work from UVA. For the past year and a half, she has worked on an "atlas"– a picture-heavy textbook– for the orthopedics department.

Orthopedic surgeon Frank Shen says his department appreciates Impagliazzo for her professionalism.

"There is a 'perfectionist' quality in the manner that she goes about her work," he says, "while at the same time, the images she renders do not appear generic or computerized."

A freelancer since 2002, Impagliazzo says her range of assignments means she'll never be bored by her work.

"I'm always learning new stuff and new ways to present it," she says. "I love it."

Anita Impagliazzo