jaguar – panthera onca – big cat

Presence of a jaguar(s) in the Sonoran desert determines I will someday draw the big cat. First things first, I need to cross paths with one.

Last weekend, a visit to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center with artist Carolyn Lavender, brings the opportunity. We attend an evening Bat Netting. Excited about the bats, I don’t think about meeting the resident jaguar.

Before the netting, our guide walks us through the facility. Each animal has a rescue story. (Humans…one really has to wonder about some of them.)

A jaguar walks towards us, slow and elegant. Two fences sit between him and us.  I want to push aside a young boy that stands between me and the feline (but I don’t). I want a closer look.

The large cat and the guide interact, they know each other. We look at the majestic creature. He looks at us. He lays and rolls in the same way my cat does when she’s feeling secure.

Our guide makes introductions and explains Leonardo, bred for entertainment, was born in a cage. His canine teeth and his claws, pulled out. You can imagine how not having canine’s has effected him, including the facial structure necessary to eat, consequently effecting diet and proper nutrition. Declawing is not recommended (considered abuse) for cats (big or small) and in this case, the careless job leaves the jaguar with pain.

I stay behind as people move on to the next wild creature.  When he lays eyes on me, I am thrilled (to say the least).

Leo, respected and made whole, enjoys a good life these days.

Leonardo’s story points to the value of the Conservation Center.  The facility houses many animals including coyotes, wolves, lions and bears. While the goal is to rescue, rehabilitate and release the animal back into the wild, in the case of some animals (like Leo) where condition does not permit, Southwest Wildlife becomes home.

Back to the studio…This summer, I draw a jaguar.

As I begin setting up a composition, I realize I must consider how to lay in both anatomy and unique markings. I will need to decide how to balance the anatomy and the striking pattern. (I had a similar challenge a few years back when I painted an armadillo.)

The jaguar head is a 16 x 16″ collage and mix media panel. A study of materials, method and subject that will help me lay out a full anatomy study of the grand feline.


The Southwest Wildlife Conservatory is a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates wild animals. They provide a home-for-life in their accredited sanctuary for animals that cannot be returned to the wild.
For more info and/or donation (they have a wish list)  → Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

eddie in profile, my brain draws conclusions

More on the brain. And my random notes…

  • you use all of your brain, at different times (not just 10%)
  • nerve cells are the basic building block of the brain
  • nerve cells (neurons) generate electrical signals (action potentials) which allow them to transmit information over long distances
  • glial cells (glia) are essential to nervous system function, though mostly their job consists of supporting neurons
  • we don’t really know how many brain cells we have
  • we can never really determine what is going on in someone’s head (only he or she can)
  • left brain controls right side of the body, right brain controls the left, but logic and creativity stem from both hemispheres
  • 1/4 of our brain is connected to our visual perception (can we really know this? i don’t believe so)
  • the visual system is understood better than any other sensory system

I draw Eddie.

I consider the sub-conscious (the unconscious) as I collage a brain, using a city map of El Paso, Texas, into the composition. I focus in on the general vicinity where Eddie spends  much of his youth (Sunset Heights). I choose the ground work to place into his mind/brain. The truth is Eddie could (probably would) choose differently and it might not be the city in which he grew up. It could be something that connects to a particular person, place or thing I know nothing about.

I like how the collage map compositionally sets the 1-10 highway to run from the eye-ball to the back of the brain (occipital lobe). See the red ↓ line, it follows the path of the real optic nerve. I don’t plan this. How does brain science explain serendipity?

This week I listen to Charlie Rose’s The Brain Series. While working on this drawing I listen to The Acting Brain.  

  • The acting brain devoted to movement (the motor system) needs a visual (internal representation) of the outside world (a particular act). The motor system begins with this internal representation. 
In order to act (to move) one (the brain) needs to know where to move. It needs a plan, a decision, a want, as well as a willingness to execute the plan. There is a whole hierarchy of function that must occur in order for one…to act/to direct action/to move (sounds to me like goal setting).
  • The (entire) brain is set up for movement. Really…the entire brain? Did I hear this right? Do I understand correctly?

 

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

I meet Eddie in a ceramic art class in high school. He enjoys careful forming, making and perfecting objects with clay. Between the desire to create, a mechanically inclined and practical sensibility (logic meeting creativity), it’s no wonder he ends up in the engineering field. He (brain and mind) thrives on solving a problem. You understand I draw a conclusion here because only he can say for sure what is true.

it’s all in your head

I want to map and label a brain. But before I do, I decide to look more closely and try to understand the areas (oh boy! there’s so much!) of the brain. This small study lays out general regions of the brain and some of their activities (I’m bound to do more).

The drawing begins spontaneously after brief conversation with a friend. I respond to a feeling (probably in the frontal lobe).

My jumble of notes include random sentences and words:

  • Brain: 24/7 watch dog
  • Control center for sensory and motor activity
  • controls thinking, memory, emotion, auditory and visual activity
  • interprets sight, hearing, taste, smell and balance
  • emotions are not feelings but are biochemical properties that produce feeling
  • automatic
  • somatic
  • plasticity
  • dynamic
  • genes
  • environment
  • architecture
  • every single thing you do makes your brain different.
  • it has enormous creative ability.
  • creativity originates in the brain.
  • is a creativity machine.
  • creativity receiver (via eye)

Other things influencing the direction of this study…

  • Quick back and forth, in the early part of the week, with a friend, about memory (that’s her in the portrait).
  • I am (still) thinking about pattern making and Aboriginal artwork.
  •  I speak with someone in the medical profession about wanting to understand something fully. She responds by saying no one understand everything fully, especially when it comes to the human body.

Is this really what she said? I can’t remember. I should have written it down.

It’s all in your Head, Mixed media on paper, 8×8″

A note about brain health…
The work is mostly copper and gold ink. On a different note, based on what I understand about brain health, copper is a nutrient at low levels. Among other things, the body uses it for bone growth, nerve conduction and hormone secretion. In high concentration it is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

summer drawing – no body/yes body

Every summer  I spend time working on a small series, usually about 5, connected images.
In general, I get away from whatever I’m working on, I try not to think so much, and I opt for spontaneous, quick(er) and fun design. A few years ago, the small insect studies emerge this way.

This summer I think to get away from the body. Nope, not happening…

Tuesday I go to the eye doctor. I come across 2 big eye-ball models sitting on his desk. I know before the week is over I’ll draw them.

The appointment is followed by a visit to Made Art Boutique where I find a 3.5 x 2.5″ metal frame. The project won’t resolve how I hang any of my 2-sided mylar drawings – but the kitsch quality appeals to me. I can see a few more of these ex-voto like objects happening.


The 10 3/4 x 9 3/4″, mixed-media collage on paper ↓ combines text, drawing, and an intaglio print. I like the words – The Approach of the Intuition Versus The Approach of the Mind and Spirit and Form go Into Conflict and Appeal to the Heart For Balance.

I want to include a brain but I don’t think it through in terms of space. That’s what happens when one is not thinking (too much). For the record neurons take up space in the composition. I layer the finished piece with a Casein varnish.

The title for now is Emergence of the Heart – the name of the chapter the words come from.

Let’s see what the coming week brings…

 

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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