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It's my pleasure to introduce you to Diogo, a veterinarian who obviously thought the grass is greener on the other side.

He went from practice back to paper, using his clinical eye to add color to your favorite animals, whether they are owls, horses, ducks...

Diogo Guerra

Medical and Scientific

Illustrator @

Detail/Photography © Tiago Almeida


Sciencemotionology: How does a veterinarian become a scientific illustrator? Have you ever actually practiced veterinary medicine?


Diogo: That is a very good question for which I am still trying to find an answer. The thing is - apart from me, I know only one or two veterinarians who became professional scientific illustrators. I feel like breaking new ground, which is actually quite thrilling. Thus, I can only tell you my own experience, certain that there would be a multitude of ways to achieve it.


My conviction is that to become a scientific illustrator, you need knowledge about the story you are telling, and you need the tools to tell that story. I did a Master and a Doctoral thesis in Veterinary Medicine and several internships in small animal and wildlife clinics. All this equipped me with a solid scientific background and a good basis for networking. 


Upon completing my doctoral work, I was trying to find a niche where I could see myself growing professionally. I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I was a kid. Later on, I took some scientific drawing courses and private classes. I was very fortunate to meet the right people at the right time, who not only inspired me, but also invested in me and gave me the motivation to start a business from scratch. I had realised there was a market for scientific iIllustration within Veterinary Medicine. I kept recognising there were a lot of amazing and useful projects to be developed and which I could do only because I had studied them. In the end, these two parallel worlds merged. It felt just right. Therefore, when people ask me if I miss working as a veterinarian, I genuinely have to say that I have never stopped being one.

" start a business from scratch."

Horse skull © Diogo Guerra. 2014

"...these two parallel worlds merged."

Sciencemotionology: How long have you been doing illustrations and which are your tools?


Diogo: I started professionally as a scientific illustrator earlier last year (2014). That’s when I had my first commissioned job. I work mostly with digital tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign… I appreciate the unlimited freedom they give me to experiment. I’m also a big fan of pen & ink and watercolors, although I use them mostly during free-time. 


Sciencemotionology: Can you describe briefly your workflow to produce a new illustration? 


Diogo: I start by discussing with the client what is their idea and getting as much information as possible about the project. I then study some relevant scientific literature on the topic. I find this crucial in order to get more ideas and to pay attention to details. One learns a lot during this phase. 

At this point, I search what illustrations have already been created on the very same subject and try to come up with a different, innovative approach. I also check some work from fine arts and try to bring relevant elements.

As soon as I have the concept, I do some preliminary sketches that show the client the direction we are going for. If I have green light, I begin the actual illustration. Throughout the process, we have several discussions to check what is working and not. It still amazes me that I can work so easily with people that are miles and miles away.

Sciencemotionology: Do you have a favourite illustration and why? 


Diogo: I am afraid I cannot pinpoint one favourite illustration. Not that I do not like what I did, but mostly because when you look at something that you worked on for such a long time, you can immediately strip it down to the very foundations and see where you could have done better. I always find it complicated to objectively appreciate my illustrations. I tend to prefer the one I did last - I look at my work as constantly in progress. Although a daunting feeling, it is a powerful source of motivation to try to exceed myself. 


Sciencemotionology: What made you move from Portugal to Switzerland?


Diogo: I came to Zürich in 2011, during the final year of my Master. Supposedly it would be only for a 6-month-trainingship. In the end, I could take a position as a doctoral student, which kept me here since then. 

Going abroad was always in my plans. I felt the need to live somewhere new, where I could immerse myself in another culture. I know this feels like a cliché, but this is the kind of knowledge you don’t get in school, and that helps you grow tremendously, both professionally and personally. Zürich, with more than 25% of foreigns, is great for that kind of experience.


Sciencemotionology: Which are the major differences between working in scientific illustration in the two countries?


Diogo: I actually never worked as a scientific illustrator in Portugal. I started already here in Zürich, first as a freelancer and now also at the Veterinary Faculty. I would say that if one works with clients all over the world, your geographic location does not matter too much. As long as you have your studio and an internet connection you’re basically free to conquer the world.

Sciencemotionology: What do you think new technologies will bring to scientific illustration, e.g. 3D printers and holograms?


Diogo: I have been fascinated with 3D printers ever since they gain mass media attention. In the beginning my interest was purely medical. There was a new world of possibilities. For example, in Veterinary Medicine, surgeons often struggle with prosthetic materials because it is impossible to have models adapted to every single species and size. With 3D printers you can get a CT scan of a very small dog breed, or a wild animal, and build prosthetics specifically adapted to that patient. This is amazing. As soon as medicine evolves, and new medical and surgical technique arise, scientific illustration will keep having more and more source material to work with.


Sciencemotionology: May you disclose a little bit about your current projects?


Diogo: I just finished a very interesting project about the use of lead in hunting ammunition, and the subsequent problems for humans and the environment due to lead poisoning.

Last year, I started an art project called Tangratomy, a collection of digital artworks that depict animal anatomical structures in a conceptual way. I am still working on this and people will hear more about it soon. In the meanwhile, I’ve just stated drafting ideas for some (hopefully) cool infographics related to scientific education. As a veterinarian, I feel strongly about educating the general public on relevant topics. Going back to what I said in the very beginning, I want to use the tools and the knowledge to tell people stories they need to know.

Microfilaria from Dirofilaria immitis (Canine Heartworm) in peripheral blood  © Diogo Guerra. 2014

" work as constantly in progress."

Photography © Tiago Almeida

"...a new world of possibilities."

Tangratomy: Man’s best friend © Diogo Guerra. 2014

" tell people stories they need to know."

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