cortical homunculus

This last week artist friend Tim, who has an undergrad degree in Neurobiology, sends me an image of a figure. Cortical homunculus, thought you mike like it, he writes.  He explains…a map of the nerve receptors in the brain as related to scale on the body. I know the 2D version of this 3D form and immediately  make the connection.

Cortical homunculus! Why didn’t I ever look closer and why didn’t I note the cool name (words always pull me)?  Homunculus is Latin for little man, add cortical and you have a cortex man (a man in the brain!). The depiction basically represent a map of the body, more specific, nerve fibers from the spinal cord, that end at various points in the parietal lobe formulating a map of the body. I see mostly male (it is a little man, after all) though I do find female representations.

Initiated by Dr. Wilder Penfield who envisioned an imaginary world in which a homunculi (a very small humanoid form) lived. He and his colleagues set up experiments to produce a topographical brain map and a corresponding homunculi.

I enjoy working out the composition and now that I understand, I plan to draw more of them. No doubt, my versions will include the female in the brain!

I label as best I can considering the space I set up before I know all that I will include. One side of the homunculus maps the sensory nerves, while the other side maps motor nerves. ↓

Sensory Cortex (sensory body map)

Motor Cortex (motor body map)

Scheduled to facilitate an adult workshop in mid July, for my artist-in-residency, I now consider the color, line and text of the Cortical homunculus.

Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

I spend the last few days isolating and drawing the regions of the brain.  The earlier studies I work last winter, the beautiful bones of the cranium, lay out for me basic information connecting to the brain. Knowing I will eventually focus on the organ, I certainly don’t know I’ll be focusing on dementia and Alzheimer’s this summer. I also don’t know, as I begin this study, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

I don’t have an outline for how to move through all this. I learn, I draw – I draw, I learn. I begin with basic groundwork.  I work out neurons and glia and now I look at the cerebrum and limbic system. I am looking for the hippocampus as it relates to Alzheimer’s.

I pause here to tell you the brain is beautiful and so full of complexity (form and pattern). I am lost in the labyrinth now.

I start by laying out regions of the cerebrum, using a slightly different color of blue for each area.

The Frontal Lobe in bright blue.

Occipital Lobe (in the back of the cerebrum)

Do you see the hippocampus (the center c-like ↑ structure) buried deep in the center of the image? It’s not highlighted yet.

Parietal Lobe – dark blue upper back

Note the white areas atop ↑ the brain identifying the motor and sensory strips. I leave them color free only to know where they are as I work – eventually I outline them in blue.

Temporal Lobe – center lower right area

As I draw I try to understand something about each area – so much to learn.

In general, the hippocampus processes declarative memories and spatial relationships. This is one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Patients begin to lose short-term memory and may also find it a challenge to follow directions.

Called the hippocampus, the organ is said to resemble a seahorse (from the Greek hippos is horse and campus is sea monster).  Living in the desert my whole life, I decide it resembles a Devil’s Claw seed pod.


A side note:
This morning I talk to Ryan, a roofer who is doing some work for us. He tells me about the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.  Apparently sometime back he sustained a brain injury from a biking accident. He informs me the average helmet lasts about 4 to 5 years and most people don’t think to replace their own. He explains with time the lining hardens.

The conversation is interesting because as I research dementia, I also learn the same defective Tau protein found in Alzheimer’s disease is identifiable in the neurons of athletes who have in earlier years sustained serious concussions.

This week I hear the brain being described as a gelatinous organ protected by a rigid bony skull. It does needs protection from impact and jarring.

I mention I didn’t know June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. I know it  and now you know it too.

neurons and glia (and my father’s brain)

Are you in the neuron? Or is the neuron in you?


Steeped in the study of the human brain, I am in preparation for an artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Consequently I know my brain changes as I learn, while I draw, and even now as I write. I mean it is really changing.

And I guess I can say now my father’s brain is changing too. Dad’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For awhile I understand (more or less) he has dementia – I now know (more or less) he has Alzheimer’s. And because my father has Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) I decide to focus this summer’s residency on both the healthy brain and the  brain with dementia.

Where to begin….
The residency calls for me to work at the Tempe Center for the Arts (I am 1 of 3 artists that will be in residence this summer).  I can’t help but consider the public. Actually I am always aware of the public, but more in the form of viewer (of the completed work) and not necessarily as part of the process. I will engage with visitors in a thoughtful manner.

While I’ve drawn many studies of the brain in the last few years, now I feel the need for a brain basics course (101). I consider the primary building blocks of the human brain – neurons and glia (neuralgia).  I spend days looking at imagery including the drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal (The Beautiful Brain).

I draw and paint a neuron↓.

Neuron Study

I draw glia ↓.  I didn’t know there’s a variety of glial cells!

These particular cells are key in maintaining homeostasis. I think of them as a sort of maintenance crew (though they’re more than that). While I’ve found different ratios, overall it seems glia outnumber neurons 10 to 1 (I’ve also read 6 to 1, 3.75 to 1).

Oligodentrocytes

Astrocyte

 

Microglial cell

I enjoy detailing the small preliminary study ↓ (not finished yet).
Note: At this point I better understand where abnormal plaques and tangles, as seen in Alzheimer’s, form.

This week my mother sends my father’s brain scans to me. The day the disc arrives, I pop it into my computer. I recognize my dad’s head and  profile. I manage to bring in (and change) the color of the basic black and white scans. I see them light up and they’re beautiful. There are 4 images, 1 rotates while 3 are static. I figure out how to move through layers of the brain. What am I looking at?  I sober up.

I recognize general areas of the brain though I don’t know how to read the particulars of the images. I hope to find someone who can help me make sense of things.


We’ll be installing in a couple of weeks…
Tempe Center for the Arts

The Gallery at TCA presents
draw: the art of curiosity and innovation
May 25-Sept 1
This interactive exhibition celebrates a wide variety of creative media, styles and techniques that incorporate drawing. The “draw” experience includes fine art displays by local artists, exploration stations for doodling and art making, live artist demonstrations and multiple workshop opportunities for all ages.

Meet Artists-in-Residence through Aug. 3
Kyllan Maney, Monica Aissa Martinez and Bobby Zokaites
 → for more info


Last month I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Dr. Jay Braun, ASU Emeritus Professor of Psychology. We talked about the healthy brain and the Alzheimer’s brain. Exercise, he says, is the most important thing one can do to maintain a healthy brain.

I’m off for a run now…


an interview / the u of a college of medicine

Mohammad Khan March 13,2018
An Interview with Monica Martinez 

This interview is re-created from the conversation I had with Monica Martinez, the artist responsible for the Nothing in Stasis exhibit that is currently in the lobby of the HSEB. 

How did you become interested in making art?

I’ve been making things since I was in grade school probably. Teachers noted my ability, and kept my interest going.

I attended college at the University of Texas in El Paso and began a more serious study of art, specifically metalsmithing and ceramics. I moved to New Mexico State University to get my graduate degree in fine art, particularly drawing and printmaking.

What made you decide to change media?

I went to NMSU to study with a printmaking professor whose work I admired → Continue reading


The Differential is the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix student publication. Mohammad Khan a first year medical student and an editor for the student-run newspaper contacted me in February.


no woman is an island

August 2016
Joe: I took a photo of your work last year at the Sky Harbor exhibit. May I ask your permission to use the artwork for my class on evolution and medicine at the University of New Mexico and on the blog that I use for the class: EvolutionMedicine.com?

Me: Thank you for asking. I received my MFA at NMSU…I have great affinity for New Mexico.

Portrait of Sara, Head in Profile, Arms Akimbo (detail)

February 2018
Joe: I’m in Tempe today through Saturday. I hope to visit the UofA Med school gallery while I am here. Are you available tomorrow around noon? Or Saturday?

Saturday afternoon, almost 1-1/2 years after the initial email – I meet Joe (and his mom!) at the Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix.

Joe is a practicing emergency physician and teaches at University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine. He is also program chair for the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. He wants to see my work and he wants to discuss using some of my compositions on the organization’s website. He invites me to attend their annual meeting this August in (beautiful) Park City, Utah. I appreciate the opportunity (curiosity stirred) but I cannot commit to the latter. Spending the last month working on applications for exhibition opportunities including a summer artist residency, I feel too many unknowns to set the plan in motion. He understands.

The three of us walk the exhibit and eventually come to Portrait of Sara ↑. At the time I work on the study, I explain as I point to the upper right corner of the composition, I learn about the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve, in particular, catches my attention because it is also known as the wandering nerve.

Joe’s face registers recognition and I glimpse excitement. I am in the habit of explaining the details of my work to people but perhaps in a medical education environment, I don’t need to explain so much. It is at this point that Joe brings up the microbiome. I’ve heard of the brain-gut connect, I say. He nods and clarifies gut-brain axis. I think about what I understand… It relates to the vagus nerve, yes? By the time the afternoon is over, I know the human microbiome is of great interest to him.

We talk about a few things including evolution medicine. But what stands out is when Joe connects body and environment.  I don’t write them down so I can’t quote his words, basically he brings up the construction happening across the valley.  What is occurring here, apartment building on top of apartment building – not a good thing for our microbiome. Being in nature and with animals, including living with our pets (the natural world) – supports the human microbiome.

We are a system of connecting parts.

Notes on the Complexity of the Brain, Mixed media and collage on paper, 8×8″

We sit at a table across from two of my small mixed-media portraits (studies of the brain). Joe says… I want that one. You do?!  He appreciates the techie quality. I nod…those are motherboard elements.


To know more about what Joe Alcock teaches visit→ EvolutionMedicine.com.
And → @JoeAlcockMD #tweets #microbiome and #evolution. And #phage.
When they refer to it (phage) on Science Friday (like they did this last week) – I enjoy knowing what it means! Information takes hold in small ways. 

Thank you so much Joe.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

On a side note:
Did you know today is Day 3 of Brain Awareness Week. It is!
Notified that I did receive the artist residency, this summer I will spend 12 weeks at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I plan to study and draw the human brain.


2×2 more bones of the cranium

Your skull, the most complex part of your skeletal system, includes 29 bones grouped into 2 sections – your neurocranium and your facial bones. The last 3 months I’ve spent most afternoons studying and drawing the 8 cranial bones that hold and protect your brain. I may have already said this – think brain helmet!

The word cranium derives from the Greek kranion (skull) and relates to kara (head). Also known as braincase (favorite) and brainpan (least favorite) among other names. This is my first time looking at the top of the skull and connecting the parts. I don’t know how engaging each of these 8 bones are until after I begin my study. The decision to draw them all out is organic – one visually appealing bone leads to another.

I’ve shared the 4 unpaired bones and now I study and complete the 2 paired bones that sit on either side of (and above and below) your skull/head.

Parietal bone, exterior surface.

The Parietal bones form the roof and sides of your skull and head. Their name comes from the Latin paries, meaning wall. If I understand correctly this bone articulates with the other parietal bone, with the temporal, sphenoid and occipital bones – all but the ethmoid bone!

Parietal bone, interior surface.

I enjoy painting the edges (the sutures) of all the various cranial bones. This elegant form  below is the temporal bone – the other paired bone. They sit on either side (your temples) and base of your skull.

Temporal bone, outer surface.

Temporal bone, internal surface.

The temporal bones are a wonderfully complex design serving clear purpose (How can this stuff be random?! Who designed it?!!). I won’t get into it too much even though I want to – I’m an artist not a scientist. Lol. These bones house the structures of your ears (They house the structures of your ears!!!!).  I could probably break down the parts of this bone and even be willing to draw each of them separately because interesting shape and interesting name (wow stuff) always calls my attention.

I am complete with the 8 bones of the cranium. Early on I completed the ethmoid bone – for me that wild and beautiful bone ushered all the other cranial bones into the studio.


And on a side note:
Last week was my artist reception at the BioMedical campus in downtown Phoenix.  I completely enjoy the evening.

Photo by Christy Vezolles.

During this time that I’ve had my work in a medical school – one question pops up regularly with the various events. People want to know where my interest in anatomy comes from. While I have alway participated in sports (still run, practice Yoga), I explain my appreciation for the body and anatomy came from my anatomy studies in art school. It’s odd to me that it is not common knowledge that artists study anatomy. I loved drawing and learning the names of all the major bones and muscles of the human body.

anatomical drawing workshop with med students

I teach an anatomy drawing workshop at the college of Medicine on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. Participants come from several programs (including a couple of faculty) though the majority are Northern Arizona University (NAU) students in Occupational Therapy (OT).

They introduce themselves and I enjoy hearing why they signed up to come to the drawing workshop.

One young woman tells us she saw a kidney and thought it beautiful and wants to learn to draw it. I understand completely. Another speaks about the piriformis muscle – she explains, it’s from the Latin and means pear (shaped). She wants to see and know this. I don’t know piriformis means pear-shaped, I want to see this too! Someone else explains she would like to learn to draw the human body when needing to explain something – instead of the usual stick figure. I smile and note if I had a patient and needed to be efficient – that stick figure would come in handy.

I move around the room and learn every participant has a personal reason for being here, including an appreciation of anatomy. Someone tells me she likes my artwork and thinks this could be fun. Thank you. Yes, it will be! I tell her.

I want to say a lot of things to them. I want to talk about science and art and their connection, and I want to talk about Leonardo (I never do!). We have 3 hours together – they’ll start something today but will probably finish up on their own.

They arrive ready with organ (subject-matter) references. And medical models are available. We talk about a contour study and I quickly explain the value of working organically. While Cindi (Director of Art in Medicine) provides a variety of papers (surfaces) and materials – the majority of the group chooses to work on black paper (I’m excited to see the black paper – I know what color does on it). A couple of the participants pick out beautiful rice papers and after some conversation – they work in parts and layers – bringing a more sculptural sensibility to their work.

Here are some captured moments of the afternoon. Note everyone begins with a careful contour study and then loosens up (with some prodding) to bring in color and texture. The nervousness steps aside and the afternoon brings a little science and a little art together. Ahhh…creativity!

On a side note: I particularly enjoy the overall conversation. It’s an unusual experience being around medical (health and wellness) people. They’re familiar and comfortable with the body in a way that the average person is not.

The afternoon is coming to an end and  I hear comments like … Oh! I love your kidney! Oh…look at your brain!! 

I learn some new things. I don’t take notes but I probably could (should) have.
Thanks everyone. And a special thanks to Cindi and Rebecca.


My drawings and paintings are on display right now at UA College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix until March of 2018. You can see the exhibit M-F, 9 to 5.
An Artist Reception is in the planning for February 2, 2018 – First Friday, 6-8 pm.