medulla oblongata

This last week, in the studio, I layout another brain (inferior view) including brainstem and cerebellum. Today I add cranial nerves.

I think about Lester, a teacher.

Looking for my notes of his exact words, I don’t find them. Though I can recall the tone and pace as he said…Spirit enters the body at the medulla (pause) oblongata.

I’ve drawn the brain stem so many times in the last few years and only now do I feel the need to pinpoint the medulla. One could think I’d know…because it’s the area where the tenth cranial nerve, aka, the vagus nerve, exits the brain. The vagus nerve, not only the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and hence called the wandering nerve, is a favorite.

The medulla oblongata is the lower half of the brain stem connecting to the spinal cord.
I can talk science…but won’t. I can talk life-force energy…not now. Keeping it simple.

Physical body. Subtle body.
Connect.

All the deep breaths and the stillness that comes with them.
Making sense. 


©2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

histology of the gut, horror vacui at its finest

Rafting the Colorado River a couple of years back, I remember looking at the surrounding walls of the magnificent Grand Canyon. Moving deeper into it, all the while wondering to which organ in the body could I compare the environment. You know … if one day I was to draw on the experience.

Interestingly, more than half the people on the trip were medical professionals. Daily conversation allowed for a variety of responses… lymphatic system, kidneys, adrenals…etc.

I was thinking intestine, more specifically large intestine. If I was there today it could be the entire digestive system.


The last few weeks, I’ve put the portrait of Veronica aside to work a painting for an invitational exhibition. The small study helps me to work out an area of the larger portrait drawing where I struggle.

Collaging a map (of the Grand Canyon) onto canvas, I think about the topography of the GI tract. And looking at histology of the gut, I think horror vacui at its finest!

These multi-colored and multi-finger like ↑ forms are my version of enterocytes.
What: Enterocyte (a cell)
How and Where:  Line up and form intestinal epithelium, (inner surface of the intestine).
Think barrier, absorbing beneficial stuff (like sodium, calcium, magnesium, zinc…B12…water…etc…so much more than this but I want record of a few things).
And they restrict entry of harmful stuff (like microbes/pathogens and toxins).
They have an endocrine role (secrete hormones).

Can you tell my interpretation ↑ of this structure of tissues, in the abdominal cavity, hints at gut inflammation? Note the abdominal fat (visceral fat at top and bottom edge) also forms a barrier (surrounds and seals).
What: Adipose tissue (Visceral fat/VAT)
Where: Within abdominal cavity
Why: Fat protects organs by trapping and killing escaping bacteria.
Endocrine organ secretes protein hormones.

Casein, egg tempera, collage on canvas, 19.5 x 26.5″ (WIP)

The composition includes enterocytes, adipocytes, t-cells, macrophages bacteria, viruses…and other stuff…

Painting with casein and egg tempera, I can’t help but think about the food we eat. Casein and egg yolk are binders (adhesives), mixed with pigment, they are my medium. Milk and egg, do they stick…to the gut too?

#wip #horro vacui


Earlier in the month, working the portrait of Veronica with its focus on the microbiome and obesity, I wanted to set the lining of the intestines into the composition ↓. I have to be honest; I kept losing my sense of the space. I needed a map of some sort. I also needed to understand some things → Fat fights back.

So physical…this stuff… and wonderful. It seems to me… the body…might be trying to protect itself (you and me). #sosubtle


©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

gut. brain.

What do you visualize when you read the phrase Gut-Brain Axis? Or Brain-Gut Connection?

I picture very active brains communicating with very active intestines. Or is it the other way around? Both. It’s a two-way, busy connect especially when you consider the wandering nerve, aka, the vagus nerve. Think: 2-way, information highway. The vagus nerves are paired cranial nerves (CN X) and happen to be my favorite of all the nerves.  Because it is the longest nerve in the body it moves alongside heart and lungs and goes through all the organs of the digestive tract, connecting brain to gut.

I enjoy the challenge of capturing Veronica’s likeness while I work her profile.  I organize and sketch in the brain. The small area of my drawing is detailed into a collaged map of El Paso,TX,  where my cousin lives.

I have fun with the photo ↑ and strategically place color pencils to direct attention to the brainstem, the area of the brain I am working to understand.  I imagine the space to be like a facility loaded with chemicals and chemical messengers / hormones and neurotransmitters. Think: Food intake. Signals and controls. Many and complex. (FYI – purple pencil points to vagus nerve start.)

Some of the hormones involved include adipoectin (a protein hormone that modulates glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation), and leptin (made by fat cells and decreases appetite).

Veronica, during our initial conversation, noted ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. If I understand correctly, it is primarily released in the stomach and signals hunger to the brain. It also plays a role in determining how quickly hunger returns after a meal. And it promotes fat storage. After my surgery, she says, no more ghrelin. No more! What does this mean?  Forever? I ask.  I don’t know, she answers. And now you eat because??
I must live!
Ah…survival!

Side note: The hormones that play a role in obesity, do they also play a role in anorexia?

I haven’t brought the microbiome in yet. But I will. Now when I hear gut-brain, I also think of microbes.  FYI…they can influence hunger and satiety.

Anyway…I’m still laying ground work…which is both complicated to figure out and complicated to draw. Both my brain and my hands are keeping busy.

One more thing…
In early posts I highlight the brown adipose tissue (BAT) and the white adipose tissue (WAT). Now I study and set in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) located under the skin and visceral adipose tissue (VAT).

In the image above, ↑ I enhance (darker area) the greater omentum (cool name! for an organ) , an example of VAT. It looks like lace, doesn’t it?  This apron of fatty tissue, connective tissue and lymphatics,  comes down from the stomach and stretches over the intestines. The greater omentum, aka, Policeman of the abdomen, might just be the first line of defense against toxins or infections (microbes).

BTW…yes, there is also a lesser omentum…

Meanwhile… drawing circles/making connections.


Keeping a note:
Amylin is a hormone, co-stored and co-secreted with insulin in response to nutrients. It promotes satiety by mediating brain function, including appetite inhibition.

Amylin also plays a role in neural regeneration. It helps regulate glucose metabolism and modulates inflammation. I pull it aside and note it here because of a possible link to Alzheimer’s Disease (Type II Diabetes).

organ of vision

My friend Wright gave me some books early this week. One of them is titled Medical Meanings, A glossary of Word Origins. I look up ‘eye’ and this post is born.

Eye comes through the Old English ēage from the Teutonic auge, all of which refer to the organ of vision. Incidentally, the Old Norse vindauga, “wind-eye” became our “window.”

The paragraph finishes with:
In years past, the upper canine tooth was called the “eyetooth” in the mistaken belief that it was connected to a branch of the same nerve that supplies the eyes.


Carolyn brings over a couple of different sets of medical images. One includes profile shots of her head. The cover reads Full TMJ Right Closed & Left View. I pop it into my laptop, pull up the images and recognize Carolyn’s facial bone structure.

I already know a direct image will be the focus, right then I am certain a profile drawing will also be incorporated into the composition.

Life-size studies are a lot about research and getting general anatomy organized. When it comes to details like the facial features, I very much enjoy the act of drawing ( mostly graphite, some color pencil and an eraser kind of drawing). I like capturing likeness. The challenge eventually is to bring anatomical detail in and not lose resemblance.

Obviously I focus on the eyes (eyeballs) with Carolyn.

Initially I outline her profile into the upper right-hand corner of the picture plane and leave it there for some time.

Taking a second look at her x-rays yesterday, I change my mind and decide I prefer it to the left (her right).

Before I realize it, I am incorporating the brain….not in the plan but it makes sense why I do it and it may stay.


PS…
At the end of the day – the drawing tool appears in hand. 

#Eye #Hand #Brain
#Artist #OrganOfVision #WIP

laying out the body human

I carefully outline Carolyn’s form. The first internal organ to come on to the picture plane is the liver. The organ’s communication feels strongest when I set up to paint.

About the liver…
Consider it has over 500 functions! You could not survive without it. The busy organ aids in digestion and metabolism. It filters your blood (1.5 quarts every minute). It breaks down fat (by producing bile) to release it as energy. It also breaks down meds, drugs, alcohol, caffeine…etc. It takes the heat for you every single day! And it stores vitamins, iron and glucose (sorting and hoarding) for a rainy day.

In Chinese medicine the liver is yin (gallbladder is yang). It is like the general of an army. It opens into the eyes, directs the tendons, reflects in the nails, governs anger and houses the ethereal soul. Do you crave sour food? Your liver might be telling you it needs an extra boost.

The Nahuatl understand it to hold one of three vital forces. Ihiyotl governs ones passion, sentiment and vigor. The Ancient Egyptians also believe it seats the emotions. Necessary in the after-life, they preserve it upon death, for safe travel.

I set the notable liver and then I place the heart. Another time I’ll tell you about the Tonalli, another of the vital forces to the Nahuatl.

liver, heart, stomach

I draw the stomach followed by the large intestine, small intestine and colon…

large and small intestines

I detail left breast tissue and right, move to clavicles, arm and hand bones, pelvis, legs and feet bones.

mammary glands

Thyroid (upper blue area in neck) and thymus (lower blue area above heart)

I place the thyroid. The butterfly shaped gland always speaks to me in turquoise blue. At this point I make the heart bigger, overlay it with the thymus gland (also in turquoise) and as is usual when drawing the thymus, I tap mine in acknowledgment.

Spleen

Finally, I introduce the blood vessels and the beautiful lymphatic system into the composition. The latter directs me to outline and color in the spleen. While the spleen associates with the liver – as I paint, it is the most quiet of the organs.

I like the container-like quality about the form. Let’s see if I can keep it.

Detail – Liver

#WorkInProgress #YourOneSacredLiver


Side note:
Tucson Museum of Art’s Chief Curator, Julie Sasse, is bringing the TMA’s Latin American Art Patrons to the Phoenix Art Museum’s Teotihuacan exhibition next week. While they’re in town I’ll be hosting a studio visit for them.

A good way to begin the new year…

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).