coyote in the hood means coyote in the studio

In pre-Columbian timelessness, the coyote inhabited only the west-central portion of North and Central America. With the advancing tide of European settlement across the continent, the coyote and its cousin, the wolf, were seen as a threat to livestock, crops, and human life, and were summarily persecuted, with bullets, traps, clubs, poison, and bad press. The wolf declined, and eventually required “re-introduction” to his old haunts. But the coyote increased, spreading his joyful song beyond the old possibilities, right into the noise of the urban world.
Joy Martin


And in the urban world – he thrives.

Photos on social media show (urban) coyotes across the city of Phoenix Neighbors photos places one in our general neighborhood and eventually one sitting in the yard of someone on our street. That’s close.

Coyote strolls by as Issa watches from lower corner, left side, on the sidewalk.

My husband and I catch the coyote on video (stills↑). We watch it meander across our front yard, while our cat Issa, sits in the patio. Issa sees the animal, gets up quickly, hides in the shadow of a small bush (2nd photo, lower left, on sidewalk) and looks at it. She’s territorial, I’ve seen her charge dogs. I suspect she senses this guy is different.

I have mixed emotions about a coyote in my hood. I understand neighbor’s concerns. But my curiosity and respect for wild-life does not subside.

Three days later, on a morning run, I cross paths with the creature.

Tall. Lean. Ears, face, body – angular. I decide he’s male. As he passes me, I watch his shoulder-blades ride up and down his back. Photos have me thinking he’s blonde. And while he is tan, close up I see the gray and light brown. His bushy tail hangs low to the ground, reminding me of a German Shepard’s.

This predator is beautiful.

I finish my run and return to the studio to work on my painting. I have seen the coyote.

I read about the 4 chambered heart and 2 lungs. Recently I’d studied the human diaphragm, now I want to know how the coyote’s lays out. I identify  both diaphragm and windpipe. I note spleen, stomach, large and small intestines, kidney and bladder. The coyote in my drawing assumes maleness, as I add the sexual organs.

I look at the teeth, the glands in its nose, and the tiny bones in its ear and
wonder about his senses.

Excellent eye-sight (sees limited color).
Acute hearing (detect prey and avoid danger).
Movement and position of ears communicate mood and rank.
Keen sense of smell – Jacobson’s organ (detects prey).

I rework the area until satisfied.

Feet: are quick!
Five digits on the forefeet, including the dewclaw (a fifth digit similar to a human thumb) and four digits on the hind feet. As a coyote walks, only the toes touch the earth (digitigrade).

Coyote’s scientific name Canis Latrans. Canis is Latin for barking dog. Member of the Canidae family. Average lifespan is ten years (Is this is also true of the urban coyotes).

In myth:
The name coyote originates from the Mexican Spanish word, coyote.
Nahuatl: coyotl. Mayan: koyotl.
Aztec name and associations:  Huehuecóyotl (Old Man coyote).

In the latter mythology he is the god of music, dance, song (the howl!), and mischief (the cunning and playful trickster). Coyotes also symbolize wisdom and pragmatism.

In American Indian symbolism the coyote is the shape shifter, animal magician, miracle worker, and totemic ancestor associated with the moon. He is the opener of the way.
To the Crow tribe he is the Creator of the World and all that it holds. He is the First Artist, the First worker.

According to the Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, he assisted in the creation of the human race by scratching open the hide of Mother Earth to release the first people from her womb. 

The coyote: Sacred and extraordinary, adaptable and resilient, intelligent and tenacious.

I don’t like the label urban coyote. But the coyote is here and he is living in our city (cities). They endure.

Can we adapt? Will we coexist? And how do I explain all this to the cat.

Sources:
My random note taking.
Song Dogs of my Soul by Joy Martin
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects

As I complete this post, I find a useful website. It’s informative and includes wonderful photography and I will be forwarding it to my neighbors.  → The Urban Coyote Initiative.


Five years ago I completed my first animal anatomy study – An Homage to the Cat (Issa-Cup of Tea). Inspired by daily walks with our cat.

Issa too, moves on my street. And while the coyote and the cat are very different animals, there is some sort of wild I know they share.

a ceremony of appreciation

Invited by Dr. Jen Hartmark-Hill,  I make my way to downtown Phoenix for a Ceremony of Appreciation. The event, organized by the Medical and Allied Health students at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, honors individuals who donate their bodies to the anatomy lab.

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Upon arriving I meet Dr. Rebecca Fisher, the director of the Clinical Anatomy lab. She tells me about the personal connection students have to a willed body donor. She shares both the educational aspects as well as some of the emotional impact the experience holds for everyone. I look around the room as we talk and I see students, faculty and their families (newborns are in the mix too). The energy is celebratory as everyone prepares.

The evening includes art, poetry, prose, and music (ukulele, piano, song and dance).

One student names his donor Bruce. You looked like a Bruce to me, he reads into the microphone. Another student tells of holding the hands of her donor and notes the nail polish, chips of color. One guesses the age of his donor and wonders out loud, are you a grandfather?

There is practical (medical) information they gather from their donor’s body along with a natural wonder and  curiosity about the life it held.

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I can’t help but make connections between art students and medical students and their draw to the human body. I have to wonder, do they learn about Leonardo da Vinci in medical and science labs?

The medical students describe the learning experience as 2D (text book or diagram) and compare it to 3D (real-life) experience. Artists use a similar language. Art students study Anatomy (for the artist) to understand the skeletal and muscular system. The study is followed by Life drawing where art students apply what they’ve learned to a live model. Learned and necessary skills to both medicine and art are observation and attention to detail.

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And speaking of detail…
The student who draws this skull and heart ↑ is named Dylan. I introduce myself to him and congratulate his fine work.

I appreciate the imaginative way he personalized the drawings (of his donor). Dylan includes the usual anatomical description seen in medical illustration like frontal bone and then he adds more individualized (and more telling of the human-being) descriptions like bank teller, sweet toothjeopardy loversingle mother, grandmother…etc.

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As I thank Jen (Dr. Harmtark-Hill) for inviting me, we agree the evening is moving and meaningful. And before we part for the evening  she mentions an approach to education that she calls  Appreciative Inquiry.

 I often speak with my colleagues about the fact that we are privileged to teach these medical students—they are incredibly good and altruistic individuals. If we can find ways to protect that compassion, kindness and caring throughout their medical training, while instilling knowledge and skills, we will have done their future patients a great service.

I understand Appreciative Inquiry to be a way of seeing (worldview) and a way of being (process) that supports the goodness in people (individuals, organizations and communities).

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A letter written to a donor and expressing gratitude.

Thank you Jen for inviting me to this most extraordinary ceremony. And thanks to the students for a creative and moving evening.


As I come to the end of my post I can’t help but think of a phrase that influences the work I do. I know with certainty it directs me to unique experiences like this one.

Summum bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.

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drawing on the ovary and what it represents

On the one hand…
I think about lineage, in this case, the one that connects art and the human body. I look to artists whose work focuses on anatomy. I observe the image and information that surface through time. I’d like to think I hold a place in that picture.

And then there’s the life stuff…
I recall 2 events piqué my curiosity about the human body and how it works. I draw connections between anatomy, education and the power of the visual. And speaking of visuals…I draw the ovary.

Flashback…
Sixth grade. Catholic school. Teacher: Mr. Robert Fecas (Bob). Nuns run the school.
And sex ed goes something like this …
Boys stay in the classroom with Mr. Fecas (for their information session). Girls go into the library to see a video and have a talk (with the nuns). Girls return to the classroom with a small booklet. Look, I still have mine↓.

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Mr. Fecas sets time aside the following week (during our lunch hour) and will allow us to come into the classroom (boy and girls together) and ask any question we wish. Most every one of us shows up every day with curiosity and questions in tow. We giggle, we learn. Bob is the best kind of educator! (I also credit Bob for introducing me to reading, meditation and journaling at the end of a day – all in that order.)

Flash forward (college days)
In my 20’s, a medical procedure (amazing technology) allows me to see my ovaries (right in their environment). Is that me?, I ask the internist. What a powerful visual! I don’t forget the undeniable proof of a small (so small) world existing right inside my lower abdomen.  I leave the hospital with both a sense of awe and vulnerability (and my health).

Notes on…
The ovary – from the Latin: ovarium, meaning egg or nut.

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Ovaries sit below the fallopian tubes, on either side of the uterus. The small, pearl colored organs produce eggs (once a month). A female has the greatest number of eggs (about 20 million!) while growing in her own mother’s womb (think about that for a minute!). And if you can imagine they also begin decreasing (called atresia) from that point on. Know the typical female is born with all the eggs she will ever have for life, and she also has more eggs than she will ever need.

We know ovaries are part of the reproductive system. Do you know they’re also endocrine glands?  They secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. As a woman ages and her ability to reproduce  lessens, the inner structure, a highly vascular stroma in the center of the ovary containing blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nerves, becomes active for the first time. It appears one function winds down while another begins. Ovaries maintain an ability to produce steroid hormones for several decades after menopause. They stay active and useful maintaining some balance in the body as time goes on.

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About the energy of the ovaries…
Ovarian energy – think points of creativity. Are you doing something difficult and or challenging out in the world?  Ovarian energy supports you.

According to Women’s Bodies, Woman’s Wisdom, Christian Northrup MD who writes from an energy medicine perspective, says ovarian wisdom represents a woman’s deepest creativity. Ovaries hold that which waits to be born within us, that which can only be born through us. They support a female’s unique creative potential, especially that which we create out in the world outside of ourselves.

Consider, initiate, allow. Yield to your creativity, Northrup tells women, allow it to come through you. She directs a female to her own internal rhythm. The ovaries (and their energy) are dynamic organs that are part of the body’s wisdom throughout her life.

What do you bring forth? What do you allow?

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breast tissue

Do you know it’s breast cancer awareness month? It is.

Today I have a mammogram. Katherine, who wears vintage cat eye glasses enhanced by a pink pearl necklace, keeps reminding me to relax. She has a most perfectly soothing voice. I tell her this before I leave.

I think breast tissue looks like a mandala…a geometric form representing the universe.

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Anyway, I only want to remind you, it’s your body. Look after it.

where art and science intersect

The title to this post is the direction I plan to take a 7-minute talk yesterday.  I discuss both art and science, but I never do say they intersect in my studio – every single day. It’s true. They do.

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I am among 4 people Michelle Dock invites to take part in a STEAM themed panel for the annual AZ SciTech conference, held at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. The general focus for the conference is STEM. I am there to bring ART into the conversation.

Michelle makes introductions. I walk center stage and greet the audience ready to begin -and the only person in my mind, at that moment, is Leonard Da Vinci. I let go of my opening line and talk about him. He designed a tank, a submarine, a flying machine and he brings perspective into the picture plane. He covers all the areas of STEM before STEM even exists. And he certainly covers STEAM. He is the archetypal Renaissance man, I say to the audience.

I don’t plan to begin my talk with Leonardo, but it feels right. Truth is, along with old and new medical illustration books, microscopic photographs and videos – his anatomy study is always somewhere on my drawing table.

From Leonardo I return to the 21st century and introduce my Cell/Map of Phoenix (no photo) and naturally follow with the recently completed Portrait of Sophie, a Study of Trisomy 21. Cell structure, the nucleus, chromosomes, DNA and genes are the connecting threads. I look at her for a good while before I can say anything. I’m struck by how large and bright the form stands on the screen in front of me.

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And because I have two minutes to spare, I gather my thoughts and end with my work on mylar,  Anatomy of the Thorax (anterior and posterior view),  influenced by a Gunther von Hagens’ dissection. I refer to him as the Body World’s guy. I can tell by their reaction, the audience knows who he is.  Do they know he’s influenced by Rembrandt? Gunther always appears in public with a fedora, in honor of the painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicloaes Tulip.

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Can someone tell me why it isn’t STEAM all the time? Art is a powerful language communicating via line, color, texture, form, repetition and all the other elements of design. It enters into all the other fields. If Leonardo was alive today, it would be no other way. Maybe that’s why he takes over my brain…

So … Where do art and science intersect? In my studio, on my drawing table, on my paper and canvas – each and everyday!

Also on the panel:
Michelle Dock, Tempe Center for the Arts (Moderator)
Catyana Falsetti (Forensic Artist)
Dianne Hansford, PhD (Special Modeling)
Konrad Rykaczewski, PhD (Biomimicry)


You have a few more days to catch STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics) at the Tempe Center for the Arts. It closes this Saturday, Sept 17th.

the feet and hands, and some trisomy 21 markers

Steeped in the study of Trisomy 21, I lay in general structure for my drawing of Sophie. I learn the spacing between the first and second toe is one of the characteristics of Down syndrome as well as are flat feet (pes planovalgus). Other markers may include smaller hands and fingers. And sometimes a deep, single crease across the palm of the hand.

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Feet
I have to admit when I see Sophie’s feet, I can not wait to draw them.  As a Yogi, the feet are one of the parts of the body I am particularly aware of in every standing pose. You press the mounds of the feet, leveled and firm, into the earth – you root to rise. But what if pressing firmly into the ground (rooting) isn’t so simple. Low muscle tone (hypotonia) and loose ligaments  are contributing factors to a list of orthopedic problems associated with Down syndrome.

I’ve been in classes where Yogi’s spread their toes, an ability only hormonal change has made easier for me. Yes my toes have become more flexible as I age. In general, much of me is more flexible, but I know hyper-mobility is not a good thing. It may be caused (as in the case of DS) by low muscle tone and ligamentous laxity, and can be painful and lead to joint instability if not dealt with properly. A counterbalance to the musculoskeletal related condition is strength training (body awareness and directed effort).

Physical therapy is a regular part of Sophie’s life, her mom explains the afternoon we meet. No Yoga, she adds. Along with her big sister, Sophie also studies ballet. I’m surprised and have to smile when very spontaneously,  she grande jete’s across the studio and into another area of my house and then back again.

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Hands
I sketch the hands. The arms, in general, are not easy. I erase at least 3 (way more) rounds.  This one element in the image is deceiving as Sophie angles her hands back, giving me one more expression to figure out.

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Though her hands are on the smaller end, I don’t easily note other markers of DS. In Sophie’s case there is no single palmer crease. And if the 5th finger (pinky) curves inward, as it might in some cases, its subtle. Sophie’s thumbs are wider and flatter than average though the cause does not directly relate to DS.

I approach this study with the eyes of someone who is learning. I look more slowly and carefully than usual. I work to resolve nuance. In my Yoga practice yesterday, the teacher says attention is medicine. It is.

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Other stuff I learn…
The great toe, the first digit of the foot is called the hallux. The thumb of the hand is called the pollex.

About the red highlight on the toe(nails)…
In general I bring red into the area of the feet associating them to grounding energy. In particular, the red toenails tell the viewer Sophie regularly enjoys a fine pedicure (p. 23 of My Heart Can’t Even Believe it).

the teeth

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On my last visit to the dentist, Melissa (my Dental Hygienist) and I begin a conversation, always awkward for me. What are you doing these days, she asks. A full anatomy study of my 5-year-old niece, I gurgle out. I am always impressed she can decipher what I say and in her usual way she begins to share information about teeth. We have primary teeth and permanent teeth.

Melissa: At the age of 5 and 6 children start to grow their permanent teeth.
Me: (…gurgle) Erupt, I understand (gurgle…gurgle) teeth erupt.
Melissa: Yes, they do!

A harsh word I decide while Melissa names off the various teeth and informs me about how many and where they sit. I am always interested in what draws people to their work. Melissa loves teeth! She has her daughter’s pano and would I like to see it. I don’t know what this means but when the image comes up I understand pano is short for panoramic [view of the teeth].

I receive a quick explanation of what I am looking at and a fascinating lesson on the particulars. I can’t believe the quantity and layers of teeth in a child’s mouth! I’ve seen images of this before but never really understood what I was looking at, until now. The photo is marvelously beautiful and uh…creepy.

While going through school Melissa had to carve out each tooth. Based on what I know about observation and drawing,  I can understand carving out each tooth offers unique knowing and connection to its intricacy.  Where are your carvings? Do you have them? She doesn’t recall what she did with them. If I carved out each tooth at some point in my life, I would know where each one was! – each and every single one of them!!

Melissa gives me a clean bill of health, a blue toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and generously offers me a copy of her daughter’s pano. I smile easily.

Back at the studio … I lay the pano into the composition. I can honestly say I’ve struggled ever since to make it beautiful. Teeth are practical and unique in their structure, they serve us well. They start the digestive process and perhaps I should stay with that. But they also have symbolic associations connected to self-image. We see them as a signs of health, attractiveness and beauty. And they connect to the energies of  expression and communication.

Here is where the image sits today. I still work on it.
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Melissa has supplied me with information and images before, which I have put to good use.

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Below are earlier studies of single teeth. The pano is by far the most challenging and the most fascinating. Thanks again Melissa! Gotta love those teeth!

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Interior and Exterior View of a tooth. Flashcard series.