i draw beautiful whipworms (note to self – these are parasites)

What a nice surprise to hear from María Adelaida. I’m pleased to learn she keeps an eye on my work as she notes my recent activity on microorganisms.

I know María from years back (2008-09). She is a biologist originally from Colombia, she’s in the valley working for the Mayo Clinic when I meet her at a friends party. She attends one of my art openings before moving to Germany to continue her education.

These days she lives in the UK and works at the Sanger Institute. Her current research is intestinal parasitic worms that cause neglected tropical diseases with a huge impact on children.

She has an idea for collaboration that includes a public engagement project.  Does she know how often I think about opportunity to engage with the public? It’s on my mind a lot especially after my summer artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Maria Adelaida’s research is the Whipworm and Trichuriasis.

We talk about art as a form of communication. She talks about her work reaching a new audience. I enjoy the idea of my work reaching a different audience as well. She speaks STEM, I bring the A in and speak STEAM.

I’m intrigued. Can you send photos of these whipworms?

She sends a series of electron microscope images. Oooooh! The first ones, in black and white, defined and beautiful, show the marking and pattern of the male worm. He appears to float in stillness (I don’t imagine the intestines are a quiet place. Are they?)

Soon I receive a Powerpoint of larvae that is out of the eggs, she says, in the presence of bacteria. (I can’t identify the bacteria.) And then more photos patterned and stained bright show the internal structure of an adult female whipworm infecting the cecum of a mouse. A transversal section shows the eggs.

I make time to get to my drawing table. I want to better understand what I see.

Cecum, Eggs and my imagination.

I spend a day drawing the cecum, a pouch connecting the small and large intestine. I imagine the area with little light (dark) so I take my drawing into a filter and play with it ↑.

Cecum is from the Latin caecus and means blind – blind intestine, blind gut or cul de sac.
Maria identifies the super beautiful cecum epithelia and explains it is only a single layer of cells, that is folded in ‘crypts’ to maximize the area. 

I note the eggs. I wonder how long they take to hatch. (Is this the correct language? Do they hatch?)

I spend a few days looking at photos and drawing worms. Yes, they do resemble a whip.

The female is larger than the male. I’m surprised to know the thinner narrower end of the worm is where the mouth is located while the wider end is its rear.

I take the image into a filter and again imagine the inside of the large intestine.

I get lost in the drawing.  I have to remind myself these are parasites that cause serious problems to the host. #DrawingInProcess #2sided


I learn from Dr María A Duque-Correa whipworm infection causes Trichuriasis, which affects millions of children around the world. Her goal is to more fully understand the initial stages of the epithelia infection by the larvae, a crucial step that determines whether the worms are expelled or remain in the gut causing chronic disease. In the long term, this knowledge will help to develop vaccines and discover drugs to fight whipworm infections.

Here is one of her public engagement programs → Worm Hunters.

Crossing my fingers that we will work together in the future.

portrait of carolyn – body female

It’s late July when after taking care of the various recommended health screenings, my friend Carolyn has a biopsy. She calls to tell me she’s diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer.

Stage zero! Stage zero? What does this mean? In the course of our conversation I feel myself in repeat mode…Stage zero! Stage zero? 

Diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), she explains the cancer cells are contained. They’ve not spread outside of the ducts or lobules into surrounding breast tissue.

Carolyn, a visual artist, problem solves. Research, discipline and commitment are all part of the creative process in the studio. She now directs these well-honed skills towards creating balance in her health and wellness. She chooses to clean up her system. For Carolyn, this means going vegan.

She surrounds herself with an integrative medical team including her regular primary care physician who is a D.O. (internal medicine), a medical oncologist, a cancer surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, a naturopathic physician, a physical therapist, a lymphedema specialist and she brings in a licensed acupuncturist.

August 23 she undergoes a 5 1/2 hour surgery for stage zero breast cancer followed by  a traditional course of radiation which she completes November 6th. Carolyn opts out of the 5 year hormone (suppressing) therapy that often follows radiation. 

I photograph and outline her body the following Saturday afternoon. I return to my studio and Carolyn heads to the Grand Avenue Street Festival.

Carolyn is open about her medical history and consequently I know a fair amount…of interesting things. Her medical records are impressive. They are carefully organized with an object-like quality almost like the cut-outs she collects to work her drawings. Still, I never expected to draw her.

Back in the studio, it’s been a while since I work out a full-scale human. In the interim I’ve learned much more about body organs and systems. And I crack the door and peek into microorganisms and the human microbiome. I am curious to see how the latter will enter the picture plane.

As I work, I recall a few years back, a conversation with Carolyn about the ileum (highlighted below ↓ in orange). It’s a space in the small intestine where the body stores Vitamin B12. I’m fascinated that such an area exists. #thebodyamazing

Carolyn takes B12 regularly these days.

In the small intestines you’ll find the ileum. To the left is the cecum (the start of the large intestine) and below it is the appendix. Lower right corner is the edge of the rectum.

I lay out the structure as I consider the narrative of this new work. It is a very good time to talk about women’s health and wellness.

Work in Progress Portrait of Carolyn (on Arches Hot Press) 7×4′

A body human: portrait of the private and the public, the social and the biological.


Carolyn is an artist who lives in Phoenix, AZ. I know she’ll appreciate me telling you she grew up in Washington, outside of Seattle. She is married to a good guy. Brian surprised (and impressed) me when he handed me an article about the benefits of cilantro.
Oh…and cats! they live with lots of cats (maybe 4).

to marilyn from larry

Larry wanders into the drawing studio in October. My class is outside working on a landscape assignment. He asks about art and the studios in general. He knows the building, he says he works the air-conditioning and heating in the Fine Arts department.

My students are working outside this week. If you have anything you need to do in here, feel free. He comments about art and says he doesn’t know a lot about it. I sense he has a question.

Larry explains his sister has lung cancer. She lives in Pennsylvania and he would like to send her something special…maybe art. I don’t hesitate to tell him art is especially thoughtful.

What are you thinking? Do you have something in mind?

Marilyn, rescues dogs. I listen to him tell about the many senior dogs she rescues. She cares for them until the end. He describes a graveyard she has for them, where each dog has its own headstone. 

Your sister Marilyn sounds pretty special.

Larry would like a drawing made for his sister. He has an idea and shows me. Do you know anyone who can do this for me?

I happen to know the perfect student for the job. Maw, in his second semester with me, and a Fischl Scholar, agrees to do the work. Within a few days him and Larry are in communication.

Maw spends time researching in the library and returns to the classroom to begin working out details which include Marilyn’s home and her many dogs. We discuss material including charcoal, color pencil, graphite, pastel and BFK rag paper.

Maw organizes a general layout and invites Larry to come and see.

Maw and Larry holding the now titled To Marilyn, Dogs on Duffy

All along I talk to the class about what Maw is doing. I invite them to ask questions. It’s valuable knowledge.

Larry returns one more time to okay the final composition before we spray and fix the work.

We carefully tube the drawing Larry will send to his sisters in Pennsylvania, for framing. We hope Marilyn will have it by Christmas.

Before Larry leaves Maw gifts him a fine art print he made while visiting the Grand Canyon with his father.

Maw, you rock!

Marilyn, we wish you the very best. You have a great brother!

To Marilyn – Dogs on Duffy

#yougottahaveart


Marylyn Jean Blair
Oct 8, 1946-February 21, 2019
Rest in peace.