Filling in the blanks
Interview with illustrator Ronald J. Ervin
Medical illustrator Ronald J. Ervin was asked to illustrate ancient humans and ‘prehistoric’ animals—and to make them fit the evolutionary view.
Beauty may be skin deep, but if you want to see what’s under your skin, top-notch medical illustrator Ron Ervin can show you. His outstanding knowledge of anatomy enables him to peel back your outer layers to reveal your bones and muscles with amazing detail.
Ron has worked as senior medical illustrator at the University of Iowa, as medical art consultant at the University of Virginia, and has been called on to produce medical, scientific, and graphic illustrations for textbooks, journals, and courtroom use. In 1992 he was chosen to appear on a television show which featured his work among the talents and resources in America’s state of Virginia.
But with all his knowledge about the anatomy of humans and animals, Ron admits there is one area where medical artists have little to work from. When it comes to re-creating exactly what extinct creatures looked like, or what those allegedly ‘transitional’ creatures between apes and humans supposedly looked like, science doesn’t know, so artists are expected to fill in the blank spots.
‘No one knows for sure what they looked like’, Ron said. ‘So the artist has the freedom to “create“ with colours and forms.’
Ron was once commissioned—with another artist, a medical doctor—to produce a huge number of illustrations for a major college biology textbook—Raven and Johnson’s Biology. The drawings included one of ‘Lucy’ (the creature which some evolutionists believe was a pre-human ancestor).
‘I was given the task of re-creating the anatomy and structures of so-called “prehistoric“ animals, mammals and humans. I didn’t really know whether to make it this way or that way, because there was nothing concrete to go by’, Ron recalled.
In one chapter of that biology book, Ron’s drawings were used to supposedly picture the evolution of man and animals.
‘I was told to make the illustrations either more or less human or modern—whatever the subject was. I was pleased as an artist to have the freedom to create a drawing no one could question, because they didn’t know for sure themselves what the creature looked like. But I was uncomfortable as a Christian to be told that they wanted more “ape-like” or more “human-like” qualities.’
Ron said that with any illustration of ‘normal’ anatomy, he can turn it, twist it, and picture it in any position while keeping it anatomically correct. But generating a drawing of a chimp-like australopithecine fossil (like the famous ‘Lucy’), for instance, was different.
‘With this Australopithecus I was told to re-create something that was a big “maybe”, and then make it look believable.’
He originally drew this Australopethecus as too human-like for the book’s authors. ‘I was told to make her more ape-like, or more “transitional” in appearance’, he said.
‘I had been given a cast of a skull, and I was shown some drawings other artists had done of “Lucy”, and was asked to improve on these—to make her look more transitional. I had to make some things up, while keeping the anatomical bones intact, like the temple bone and other features which are standard.’1
Ron points out that the soft parts of a body, such as lips, nose, skin colour, and hair, are impossible to re-create with certainty from bones. He was asked to alter his picture of ‘Lucy’ to conform with the evolutionary transitional creature which the biology textbook’s authors wanted.
‘I added more body hair, and did another sketch. “No”, they said, “she’s got to have more this and more that” I just kept adding and subtracting until I got what they wanted.’
Although Ron produced the drawing which the authors and publisher wanted, he did get his own subtle comment into it for fun.
‘To give her an “attitude”, I had her carrying a big stick. She is looking right out at you, and to me she is saying the same thing as so many modern-day women—“I walk softly and carry a big stick!” The whole evolutionary thing is just like illustrating fiction anyway. It has to be “made up”, because there’s no fact to it.’
He said this is something he wants to emphasize to students in particular. ‘They can’t believe everything they see in textbooks, because it’s not always the truth.’
Ron was also asked to re-create a Neanderthal man. He said he had been told that if a Neanderthal was walking down Main Street in a three-piece suit he wouldn’t even be noticed.
‘So that's the way I started to do the drawing. There’s nothing that says it looks like this or it looks like that. As a matter of fact, the drawing I did of Neanderthal man had a pretty good likeness to a fellow who goes to my church. We all remarked, “Wow, he looks like one of our guys”’
Ron has had a lot of satisfaction, even fun, in his career as a leading medical illustrator, but he has also suffered the occasional negative reaction from evolutionists.
‘At the time I was doing some drawings for people who were evolutionists I was involved with a local creation conference. I was criticized badly for taking time off to help with the creation conference for three or four days. The outcome was that I was sort of blackballed by the people I was doing the drawings for.’
Ron now runs his own business as a freelance illustrator.
For young creationists contemplating entering the field of commercial art and illustration, Ron says you have to do what your employer requires, but sometimes you need to ‘stick by your guns’. He won’t do some kinds of work. He has rejected offers to draw pornography, for instance.
‘A young person starting out wouldn’t want to do what I did and not be able to get another job. When I did the biology book I had left the University of Virginia and had my own business. So all they could do was blackball me with other publishers.’
Blackballed or not, Ron’s skilful talent for drawing is in demand, and he is currently illustrating two books.
‘After many prayers, I stepped out in faith into my own business, and with the support of my wonderful wife I have never regretted it.’
- Editor's note: The ‘Lucy’ fossil actually had no significant skull with it. Richard Leakey derided reconstructions of it as being mostly imagination and plaster of Paris. Readers should note that well-known evolutionist anatomists such as Professor Charles Oxnard have long pointed out that the australopithecines cannot qualify as 'transitional' anyway, being further from both apes and humans than these are from each other.