no woman is an island

Portrait of Täis

It’s January when Alex contacts me:  I was wondering if you’d be interested and if you have the time to talk about a small painting for Taïs? Her birthday is coming up in March. I want to gift her something really unique that she has a relation to.

Vienna and Croatia. #Map

He tells me about Täis’s work in behavioral health and he shares a few of her interests. I also learn about Alex and how he experiences her and their family.

He notes:

Helping children and teenagers overcome depression and anxiety.
Her role is to lead families through the process of dealing with insurance, and admitting their child to the several treatment centers in different states. Often the families are under much emotional pressure and the children have been going through very hard times, and she is great at helping.
Has undergone a very powerful professional growth in the last two years.
Developing into being a good team leader, integrator, and is valued by her team members.

He continues..

Very organized and conscientious.
Always striving to do the right thing.
Bonds with her families through her personality, honesty, and openness.
Driven by, and is great at setting up systems and processes for herself and for others.

And her interests:

The science of the human brain. (Alex, You’ve come to the right person!)
(Inter)Connection of neurotransmitters/hormones and moods
Gestalt psychotherapy.
Listening to podcasts and audio books about personal and professional development, psychology, therapy.

Alex continues, Before she started working and while we were still in Vienna, the best description of her was that of a “social butterfly”. She had many good friends and was always there for everyone.
The “being there” part of her personality has not changed, but she has gone through many personal and professional changes – becoming a wonderful and emotionally involved mom, establishing herself as a professional in her field and being really successful at it in a short time, and managing the two big parts of her life very effectively. 

Alex, would you be interested in a brain study of Taïs? I explain details, size and materials. He likes the idea!

And more about Tais…

…Great and emphatic listener
Clear communicator
Positive nature, Optimistic, Outgoing

Wonderful mom, very loving, family oriented, and emotionally invested
Loves spending time with us, and loves our son Adrian

Alex shares more personal details: Adrian’s name works and sounds the same in all three languages of our family: German, English, and Croatian. It’s also a direct reference to the Adriatic Sea, where I grew up and Taïs and I spent a lot of time together

Collage includes Vienna (where I know Tais lived), Croatia (where Alex lived) and their Adriatic Sea.

One more note…
Her name, Taïs, comes from Greek and means beautiful or goddess. Even more interesting is the fact that Thaïs was a famous Greek companion/concubine who accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaigns. 

Täis, Happy Birthday to you, smart, conscientious and beautiful woman!

Then and Now

Thank you again, Alex! #thoughtful #luckyman

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


aaron in profile

Michelle enjoys describing Aaron (Re: Aaronisms), sharing the good and fun, the solid and creative.
I take a highlighter, pulling some details to compose this portrait/brain study.

Manager at SRP / Load research. 
Aaron loves statistics, numbers and spread sheets.

(I think: [Electrical] Power. Structure. Coordinate. Organizing the disorganized.)

Mellow and methodical. Business and economics.
Sarcastic, patient and loving.
Fantastic dad!
Baseball and basketball. Golfer 
and jogger.
(I think: Balanced)

Loves classic rock. Remembers song lyrics, band info and music trivia (like no one else!) He learned to play guitar and base guitar as an adult and was in a garage band.
(Ahhh, music!! Creativity connecting numbers and structure.)

I isolate numbers, music, movement and the electrical…


I make connections to detail and color another beautiful brain.

  • Prefrontal cortex – expectation and fulfillment ( in work and in play).
  • Motor Cortex – Tap, tap tap, bring on the dancing and support of athletic nature.
  • Sensory Cortex – Tactile. Feedback. Feel and know those guitar strings (And maybe the band members and audience – but I speculate).
  • Auditory Cortex – Perception and analysis. Processing tone, sound, chords and maybe all those numbers!
  • Visual Cortex  – Look, see, read the music. Observation in general includes physical movement and working a spread sheet.
  • Cerebellum –  E-motion/music/movement.  Activity!

Portrait of Aaron, Mixed media collage on paper

Aaron, I also hear you’re a hard worker who is dedicated to your family.
#BeautifulBrain #GoodMan #Music #Numbers

Thank you Michelle! Thank you Aaron!

→ Portrait of Michelle


making sense of it all

“You, yourself, are the eternal energy which appears as this Universe. You didn’t come into this world; you came out of it.” – Alan Watts

I’m in studio working a portrait of my brother. I am wondering how beingness exits form. I draw the physical expression though it’s the subtle that motivates me.

With that said, my notes
I think about the 5 sense organs and how we experience the physical world. The physical senses include hearing (audition), sight (vision), smell (olfaction),  taste (gustation) and touch (somatosenastion).

The sense organs collect information from outside of the body…directing it…to…inside the body.  The receiver of external signal is the nervous system which sends information to the brain. Consequently one moves in the direction of that which is perceived or one moves away.

As I paint, I consider both the subtle and physical. (There is more to the senses that I won’t get into here.)

Does being enter the physical body, one sense at a time? Does the body light up slow and steady with awareness? Does being exit with each sense that goes out…going off-line…one perception at a time? And then might the infinite, as it receives being, light up?

And my study
The olfactory nerve, the first and shortest of the cranial nerves, supports the sense of smell. Smell connects to taste and also serves the respiratory system.
Note: It is the only cranial nerve, that if damaged, may repair itself.

The olfactory bulb ↓ makes me think of a Q-tip, filled with with sensory neurons.
(Note: The nerve also  plays a role in emotion and memory sending data to the amygdala and hippocampus.)   #ICanSmell

The sense of taste (aided by the sense of smell) is responsible for perception of flavor. Taste buds can be ↓ found on the tongue, palette and throat. Their taste receptor cells (gustatory cells) are triggered by food and/or drink as it dissolves in saliva. I’ve learned about various epithelial cells in the body and here I learn about the epithelium of the tongue which holds the papillae (the small bumps visible to the naked eye).  A tongue has 2,000 – 8,000 taste buds. If one is  damaged, it can be replaced within 48 hours.

Below ↓ is the organ of hearing. I read somewhere, hearing travels with the mind.  I don’t know what this means exactly, but I like thinking they come and go together. Included in my inner ear study are the organs of balance (spool-like shapes ↓ at the ends of the semicircular canals).
(Words I want to keep that connect to this organ: receiver, amplifier, transmitter, electrical, vibration, frequency.) #IHear #IListen (more and more each day)

The eye-ball is the organ of sight and vision. It supports ones ability to see. We use our eyes to look, judge depth and interpret information. Eyes send signals to the brain that can impact hormones, sleep, and various chemicals. #sunrise #sunset
Pupils, because they track information, are a readout of ones internal state (note size of pupil).  The retina is actually a part of your central nervous system (the brain) that sits outside of the skull. #ILook #ISee #IAmVisual

brain cap. eye ball.

There is no one, single sense organ related to touch. If I had to choose (and I don’t) it could be the skin. Is touch one of the first senses to develop? It occurs across the entire body trough receptors in the skin. I focus on the fingertips ↓ because they have a large concentration of nerves. The receptors send signals via spine and lower brain to a strip curving around the cerebral cortex known as somatosensory cortex that I place into the cap. Touch is in the body and in the mind. #ITouch #IFeel

In: Oct 10, 1964. Out: July 8, 2020.
#AWaveOfLightDrawsYouIn #AWaveOfLightDrawsYouOut

My brother would like this portrait of him. I think he’d like the (brain) cap most especially.

First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.


a hubcap for sam

A Studebaker hub cap arrives UPS to my studio, from Meadowland, Minnesota. Sam placed the order himself. Unbeknownst to him, the hubcap is his birthday present.

Greg and Veronica commission a painted and personalized hubcap for Sam.  Commission, good in that I generally do something I wouldn’t otherwise do. Out of my comfort zone. New challenge. Problems arise. Solutions follow.

Once upon a time, I painted my first hubcap  (9-11/08 You Rock!). Didn’t necessarily like the experience, but I liked end result. The exhibition, at the Mesa Arts Center, very hip. Artists created cool and thoughtful designs.

This second round of hubcap painting, a good time from the start. Feeling open. I research a few choice subjects, learn some interesting things I’ll be considering to use. I start to paint. Two challenges. One, design of the hubcap itself, space is compartmentalized in a way that doesn’t suit my original idea. Enter in…a new idea.
Two, painting on metal…bleh.  It doesn’t f-e-e-l good. A hubcap is a hard, unforgiving, and an easy to damage surface. Not like a beautiful smooth sheet of BFK or Arches paper or heavy-duty, giving to the touch, pristine canvas. Sand and prime, sand and prime.

The Studebaker emblem, in the center…it’s supposed to be an ‘S’ but it looks more like a  ~ (…squiggle) to me. I know what to do with it.
Why a Studebaker hubcap? Let me tell you about Sam…

Indeed, Sam has a Studebaker. Sam has several cars. And a Harley Davidson bike.  He’s designed for himself, one beautiful garage. He spends time in that space. Check out the striking black and white floor tile, it’ll appear in the final hubcap design.

I meet Sam and Francene, over spring break, up in Northern Arizona. The information gathering begins quickly.
I learn Sam is born in Missouri, and now lives in Arizona, with his wife, Francene. Francene is in on the surprise. She shares how they meet. I decide, after her account, the relationship has to be Kismet. The circular center S/~ (…. squiggle) on the hubcap will become a yin/yang, symbolizing a balance of female and male energy. It’s what I see between them, strong balance.

Sam’s a retired Engineer (Aviation?…maybe.  Aerospace?…maybe.). We have dinner at La Posada, in Winslow Az (yes…we do sing The Eagles song while arriving there). He talks about building Apache helicopters. An unusual conversation, in an off the beaten path location, with an extra-ordinary man, good company, spirited waiters, and excellent food. Told you this was fun. I learn Sam can build just about anything. And he’s green! Veronica enthusiastically says. Meaning…he’s conscientious and recycles. The shelving for his garage comes from the close out sale, of a CVS. I like Sam. He’s creative. Engineers usually are. I get the sense that he enjoys learning and maybe even teaching his skills. He appreciates history. While walking the restaurant grounds, he tells me about  Mary Jane Colter, the early American architect, who created the landmark building we’re walking through. He talks about her as though he knows her. I’m impressed. He’s kind and generous, and has a precision about him. I learn from friends he faithful, loyal and LOVES Dos Equis beer. When I hear the latter, I know the emblem will appear in the hubcap design.

His favorite animal, at the moment, is the mountain lion, hence the paw designs on either side of the hubcap.  He describes the animal as strong, elusive and vulnerable. Purple, he tells Veronica (cuz she asks), is his current favorite color. He describes it as regal, stoic and compatible. These descriptive words say something about him. They’re the last design element to go into the circular composition. I paint the outer edge of the rim a deep purple, with a copper metallic wash, and I place in the text.

Overall, I get the sense that Sam is an intelligent and thoughtful man. He’s comfortable in blue jeans, a cowboy hat and boots. I want to put his distinct profile into the hubcap. The small areas don’t allow me enough room.  I do include a small frontal view portrait. Though my preference would be, that it appear larger. Design is resolved. It’s balanced, measured out, and clear.

I realize only now as I write, Sam is a Taurus. An earth sign. Fixed fire. No wonder he felt so familiar to me.  Both my husband and my dad are Bulls….persevering, down-to-earth, stable, stubborn, possessive, prosperous, dependable, and physical. Now I see why I instinctively put that copper wash atop the purple. Copper is the Bull’s metal.

Both Sam and Francene have interesting histories they openly share. This circle of life…is sure to continue.
Happy Birthday Sam.  And many more!

“good, and a little bad”

Part 1
Drawing a Self-Portrait

Veronica’s the get this plan into action person as far as Portrait day is concerned.  Likes to paint and play with materials. Curious. We talk, several times, about a drawing workshop. Veronica sets it up. Natural organizer.

She begins her first drawing with anticipation. Trying to focus she says, but the marker won’t cooperate. The point of the marker is to get one to slow down and become a more careful observer. I suggest to everyone, they try and keep the marker down on the paper, to lift it as few times as possible while they work, creating a more fluid line. I’m not sure she likes the drawing tool, nor the control it requires. Veronica is loose and free spirited with her own process. She does her best to follow directions and completes numerous warm ups of the group.

domver  davever  eddiever
Self portraiture is challenging and technical difficulties are only a small part of it. The marker is arduous for a few individuals. When students get frustrated, I tell them to slow down, look closely, and work carefully. Or I suggest a short break. If they make a mistake in the line work, I tell them to refocus and keep working. At the beginning of the semester some students want to start over all the time. I don’t allow it. They labor with the marker and then ironically many of them miss it when we move to charcoal. By the end of the semester, they’ve let a lot of resistance go. They’re most aware of looking and seeing. In general, their energy is more focused from the start of a project. They know better to steady it for longer periods of time. They’ve learned  a form of discipline. They’ll need it for the advanced studio courses.

Veronica’s focus was more or less on the drawing. She enjoys giving people her attention. Manager. Big sister. It’s all part of who she is. In this case, while everyone is very focused, Veronica is keeping one eye inward and one eye outward.  I suspect she’s enjoying both actions She directs me, Go look at Greg’s drawing, maybe he needs some guidance. Amused, I go to Greg. He’s doing fine, I have nothing to say.  He barely looks up. I smile at him and then at her.

Later I make a suggestion to someone in the room. As I complete my sentence Veronica says, Tell me what to do!  I giggle…keep working!  She is serious. So am I. Come! Look!What am I doing wrong? Doing wrong?! I remind her it’s about the process and not the end result. 

warm up

warm up

As we approach the last work of the day, I briefly explain how one learns a skill like drawing and how the brain works. I don’t really have to do this. Most of this group understands the workings of the body/mind better than I do. Veronica is paying attention. I want to get this eye-hand coordination…I want to form those neurological connections, Veronica says with earnest desire. I appreciate her ambition. I am empathetic. In my yoga practice, I work on getting the perfect hand stand. I want ease and grace. Instead  I learn to gracefully ease into patience. 


Veronica explains the energy in her hand that want to scratch instead of flow. It’s interesting to have this interaction with my friend. It’s helpful to me to understand what people might experience. Still, I can’t always make it better. She just has to work thru it (or not!).  
Fact is, a self portrait is the 5th homework assignment students complete. They are long prepared for the difficulties. She’s getting it all full force, in a few hours time. I suspect Veronica wants freedom from process and material. I tell the group to look closely, draw what they see, not what they think they see, not what they want to see, draw what is there. What kind of freedom is that….! She’s good with the day, but not so pleased with her final composition. In a frustrated instance she lets her hand go and she scratches it up. I am a bit startled. I wish, in that moment, she could know the process works.

post study

post study

True to the learner that Veronica is, she takes the project home with her and keeps on practicing. She works a number of days and updates me with her progress. Smart. Sometimes when students are working at home they find an ease that they can’t find in the classroom. I was one of those people, in the area of drawing in particular, when I was a student back in the days.  
She is happy with her home work. Determination. Her face says it all. 


Part 2……to be continued.



warm up self

warm up self

When planning began for portrait drawing Dominique reacted a bit. She claimed she couldn’t draw. She wondered why she would want to spend the day doing something she knew she was not good at. Logical. Eventually she clarified, she could not draw well. This is what didn’t fly with me. I wasn’t asking anyone to draw well. But I understood. I wasn’t sure she would participate. I had an alternate plan if that was the case. Upon arriving to my studio that Saturday afternoon, she was fully committed to drawing. She entered with humor in tow, in the form of a brown bag with eyes and mouth cutouts. She was going to wear the bag over her head and draw exactly what she saw. She smiled widely as she showed it to me.

Everyone brought a prop.  An object that could be drawn into the portrait, to inform us about the person drawn. Her play prop was the brown bag. Her real object was a shell.  She collects them.  She has hundreds of shells. Recently I spent an afternoon with her, looking and learning about land shells and sea shells. So much great variety.


Dominique's first warm up of Lalo

warm up of Lalo

Dominique completed several warm up drawings that afternoon. They were good, as you can see. As she progressed we all decided her work was very good. Maybe she agreed at some point. Eventually she explained why exactly she was not drawn to drawing a representational portrait. 
Later her and I discussed learning to see and putting down what one sees, as opposed to being creative. She knew she was not being creative. I appreciated she understood the difference. Dominique is a careful observer, she is a biologist. She has an eye for detail. Putting down on paper what she saw, seemed to come very natural. Her eyes and hand coordinated very well.

Final Self Portrait

Final Self Portrait

Dominique is a Yogi. And she is steadfast. She prepared for her final-self portrait, while sitting crossed legged. She inhaled deeply several times. I watched, as with each breath, she became centered. She asked one very good question about working organically, and as soon as she understood the answer, she moved into a freer space. She completed the drawing by adding her shell to the lower right area and to the left she wrote, Why is she so serious, dammit! Dominique can be serious, but loosens and lightens very readily. Probably easier than I do. Her final portrait, on the left, is impressive. The drawing tool…a Sharpie marker. Understand this means there is no erasing. 

Dominique is interesting in that she appears to always be so fully present. She observes, listens, acts and reacts to the world with all of herself.  Bright. Curious. Open. Her eyes, her mind, words, her body, hands…all of her participates.

dominique in plaster

dominique en yeso

Her written statement chooses to focus on…What is this world and what is my relationship to it. When I first read her thoughts I get such clear pictures of how to approach the design. I decide her words are personal, literal and grounded. As I start to collect materials, I am confused and reread her statement. Maybe her words are not so personal, not literal, but metaphorical and abstract. And they become more so as I reread them. Poetic. Water, air and maybe ether…more than ground. 



processing Dominique

inside of the mask

inside of the mask


This world, this planet with green lungs, is a space traveler packed with life in all of its many-fold splendor. This sentence paints the inside of the mask. I imply green lungs within a moving water and space spiral. 

It teems with a huge variety of living things, each a supreme example of the pluripotency of life.  Even the likes are unlike each other, each member of each species, animal or plant, is a little work of living art. A nicely stated truth.

Even the inert parts of our planet, the mineral kingdom, is rife of evidence of past and present plasticity.  It is always changing and one can hardly keep ones eyes open enough to see even a small part of the action.  
I scribble onto my sketch pad…Pattern. Variety. Shapes. Movement. Connecting threads. Spirals. There will be lots of activity within an order of some sort. 



Water, of course is always mobile and truly the “sine qua non” spring of life…this sentence floats by itself. It resets my thought for the inside of the mask.

Back to the world and her relationship to it…I am an infinitesimally small part of its magnificence, trying to honor life by actively participating in it. What a statement of identificationAn active participant in every way…could in fact describe Dominique.
She signs off, Verdentia.  
Is she referring to Truth?  The color green? Yes!…I can almost hear her say loudly, though she is nowhere near me as I write.

Dominique loves the color green, truly, she does. Green is an appropriate color to represent this potent life form.



medicine man

Fate, Greg

Fate, Greg

Greg’s self-portrait is titled Fate.  In the upper right corner is what appears to be a thought form. He explains it is a child’s medical file. A child he crossed paths with early on in his career. Does the title suggest the child’s fate? Greg’s?  Both. The title of a work helps to inform the viewer.
On portrait day, Greg sat down, with his pad and marker in hand to draw, easily and quietly. Too quietly, I thought.  He appeared so focused that I walked past him several times hoping to not disturb him. 

plaster mold

plastered Greg

Greg is a lively person. His laughter is full, and his face is very animated. You can see in the image to the right, even with the plaster on his face, he smiles…this is Greg. The quiet, absorbed Greg in my studio took me by surprise. And a month later, when he lay down to get his mask made, he surprised me again. He became quickly still. 

processingg greg

processingg greg


Everyone completed a statement.  They answered questions. Who Am I?  What am I? What is this world?  What is my relationship to it?  I start to gather materials for Greg’s mask, as soon as I begin to read his words. Greg understood he could answer the questions in numerous ways. He begins literal and ends metaphorical.






I am an Hispanic (Mexican/Latino) male raised in a very strict Catholic Tradition with a huge emphasis on religion, heritage and education.  I visualize copper, and I begin to foresee the upper area of his head  filled with English and Spanish text…cerebral representations. He continues…As a youngster I viewed myself as athletic and smart.  I always new I would be a physician but also thought I could play major league baseball. Thank God I succeeded at the former. Greg is a family care physician. The next sentence sets up the initial symmetrical layout; I have always had a thirst for the sciences and religious studies/philosophy. 

Over the years my faith has been challenged and I am still not certain where I will end up. Honest. Connection.  I guess this goes back to making sure I live an “examined life.” I have never been a real good follower anyway. At the  Uof A I was fortunate to meet Fr. Robert who was/is a Dominican Priest and good friend of mine. I learned that Catholics have not cornered the market on “Truth.” They haven’t? I’ll have to talk to Father John, who believes they have. I have been exposed to some great minds including leading reformation scholars and theologians of our time. Enter into design, a labyrinth, center right, at the cheek bone. It seemed a most appropriate symbol.



My profession does not define me although it does help me from spending too much time concerned about what I need or want. I really try to rise above my animal instincts and genetic shortcomings and work at being “awake” so as to become as good a person as humanly possible.  A high aspiration…if we could all be so composed. Enter, the eyes, wide and alert on the right upper area of the mask. Specific text on the left, examinador, a play of words, they connect to what he says, and they connect to how I see a doctor.  You know…one who examines…a patient. 

If there is any truth to Quantum entanglement, then a physician who considers the various aspects of himself appeals to me.  Health is after all a combination of body, mind and spirit. 
Some days I believe in Mankind other days I don’t. Bless the days when he does. I don’t necessarily believe I am what I think, do or look like. I guess I am ethereal or always in a state of flux somewhat like our crazy universe. This sentence colors the right side of the face, I think of actual flux. I am becoming increasingly more cognisant of how short our stay on this planet is. So much to do and so little time as they say.




The masks I design are story telling objects… 3 dimensional portraits. In art, 2 dimensional work has to do with creating illusion.  3 dimensional work is actual object. There is a front and back (top, bottom, sides). The viewer can move around it.  

In this particular case, because Greg appears to have a strong internal life, the inside of the mask is as important as the outside. 
He has a collection of Mimbres pottery. Pottery holds spirit. The interior design is a black and white labyrinth image, borrowed from one of the actual pieces in his collection.

He closes by saying Good luck finishing my mask!  Clear and solid directing thought (and perhaps a little bit of luck) inform and materialize this work.

Muy bien,  Gregorio.