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).

microscopic organisms in my studio (here, there and everywhere)

In a recent interview Nicole begins by asking, “Who are you and what do you do?” I wonder if she knows I consider these questions all the time.

Who am I? What am I? What is this world? What is my relationship to it?

This summer, as artist-in-residence at the Tempe Center for the Arts, I study and draw out  the incredible human brain. My answer (to the set up of questions) then, could go something like – I am a nervous system. I am neurons and glia firing up a brain. 

As of recent I study microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea and protists. Today – I am an (human) organism made up of (hosting) micro (too small to see without magnification) organisms.

Note: My series of compositions include external and internal views and are ginormous considering…

In the course of this current interest (more like revelation) in microorganisms, I come across a virus that takes me back to the residency research where I look at the healthy brain and the diseased brain (In general I looked at Dementia, in particular I tried to understand Alzheimer’s Disease).

Meet M13 (Munich13), a bacteriophage (or simply a phage).

External (proteins)

A phage is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria. M13 invades E Coli.

M13 catches my attention when I come across an article explaining how the virus dissolves (in laboratory studies) amyloid-beta plaques and tao tangles.  #combatneurodegenerativedisease  #Alzheimer’s  #Parkinson’s. #Huntington’s
#Creutzfeldt-Jakob

Here (↑ ↓) you have my best interpretation of the M13 filamentous bacteriophage.

Internal structure (composed of a single stranded DNA molecule encased in a thin flexible tube (protein coat)

…Life (microscopic organisms) in the studio (here, there and everywhere).

#microorganisms #microbiota #humanmicrobiome #weareone

archaea/m.smithii – old/new

Methanobrevibacter smithii, AKA M. smithii, member of Archaea domain, I don’t know of you before this. I feel bad considering you are descendants of the oldest life in existence.

Archaea derives from the Greek word achaios, meaning ancient or primitive.

M. smithii look how beautiful you are…

The single-celled microorganism Methanobrevibacter smithii,  the most abundant  archaeon in the human gut, aids in digestion of complex sugars. These microbes are a hydrogenotroph (consumes hydrogen) and a methanogen (produces methane). Yes, they are manufacturers of gas!

Methano refers to its connection with methane, and brevibacter means short rod. There appears to be an association between gas production and body weight. M. Smithii may influence weight gain and loss (anorexia) as well as constipation.

These microorganisms are prokaryotes having no cell nucleus (or any other membrane-bound organelle). Archaea, in general, are unique in that they have a distinct biochemistry.

About archaea and life…
They’ve been around for about 4 billion years! They’re resilient, truly thriving between order and chaos, proving life creative – even in time of crisis.

#history #inthebeginning #theytookabreath

 

white becoming white

Candida albicans, member of the Saccharomycetaceae (yeast) family as well as the human microbial community, I especially enjoy painting you fungus. I wasn’t planning on it, but maybe I’ll draw another member of your fungi kingdom.


The word Candida comes from the Latin candidus, meaning white. Albicans derives from the Latin word albicō, meaning becoming white. White becoming white.

Man, are we loaded with bugs! I never gave this stuff a thought…by stuff I mean the variety of microorganisms, including candida, holding microscopic space in the human body.

This fungus is most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and mouth (in at least 80% of the worldwide population). In some circles Candida aids in food digestion and absorption, while in other circles (the out of control circles?) it’s known as an opportunistic pathogen.

Candida albicans under the microscope.

The fungus (yeast) is naturally  found in the human body, primarily in the intestine, colon and mouth. Out of control, it can attack skin and mucous membranes. It can also travel through  the blood stream and affect kidneys, heart, lungs, throat and heart-valves. (Is this what it means to be metabolically flexible?)

cellular structure.

C. albicans is an eukaryotic organism. It’s structure includes a cell wall (which seems an important aspect to this microorganism), nucleus, ribosomes and mitochondria. I don’t know what it means when I read hyphae sense reproductive units from a distance and grow towards them but it makes me think of an electric pull.

I appreciate the lace-like quality of the organic form. The long branches, called hyphae (web) with their circular budded tip, appeal to me. This subject-matter is visually elegant and playful. Candida itself, complicated.

Here is what I wonder:
Candida albicans are commensal. We eat at the same table? I take this to mean they consume what the human host consumes. Yes? Or do they eat what the host discards?  Mutually beneficial?
Is C. albicans overgrowth always seen as an attack on the body? Can the out of control set up be a warning sign of another imbalance (other microbes) in the human body? 

#Microbiota #NewToMe #LoveDrawingMicroorganisms

twisted and seedy bacteria – you are streptococci

I work H. Pylori bacteria a few weeks ago so why do I feel the need to mess with Streptococcus? Bacteria is bacteria – or is it? Maybe it’s all about location…

Strepto from Ancient Greek: streptós, means easily twisted, pliant. Coccus from Modern Latin: coccus, from Ancient Greek: kókkos, translates to grain, seed, berry.

My painting goes through too many mutations for several reasons including that at times I don’t care for the look and feel of the surface, the heavy line work is not a preference and again, I discover filters.

Streptococci (plural) forms in pairs or chains. My compositions focus on their spherical quality, otherwise you’d see connecting chain-like or bead-like forms moving across the picture plane.

I work with smooth mylar to play with the translucent quality and glossy surface. What am I thinking to lay in a gesso black ground? Everything goes opaque, contrast is high and I lose a natural lightness. I rework and overwork.

Frustrated, it feels right to cut the bacteria out and seal it into a petri-dish. I enjoy holding it (with my cotton gloves).

The internal structure of streptococcus bacteria.

The external structure of streptococcus bacteria.

A few weeks ago a friend comments about streptococcus bacteria and its relationship to heart problems (aortic valve). It leaves an impression. I know then I’ll draw the bacteria.

Streptococci can live in the mouth, nose, throat, upper respiratory tract, intestine, genital tract, and on the skin. Particular strains can cause pink eye, meningitis, endocarditis and necrotizing fasciitis. Its trouble causing span feels much too broad, from the not so serious to the deadly serious. It surprises me to learn its nonmotile. It doesn’t move?! (Unlike H. Pylori with its flagella.)

I do move…
Yesterday, I don’t like these studies. Today, is a brand new day and I like them after all. Next: Fungi.


PS: I can’t write very much about the microorganisms I study. While I understand some things in general, I don’t understand things in particular. It’s a whole new (microscopic) world.

I look at microbiota – in hope of gaining insight into the human microbiome.  I hear microbial cells, in and on our body, outnumber our human cells 10-1 (statistics seem to vary – what do I know).  But what does this all mean in terms of our genes? What rules – the human or the microbial?

The most valuable thing that happens as I continue to work is I make connections to things I understand or thought I understood.  Let’s see how it works itself out of me.

In the meantime, I love the tiny stuff I’m drawing. I just wish I’d gone bigger with the microorganisms. I tell my drawing students regularly – it’s easier to work large than it is to work small. Right now I feel like the latter is the only thing I know for certain (but this too can change).

gene with a protein coat

All living things need their instruction manual (even nonliving things like viruses) and that is all they need, carried in one very small suitcase.
L.L. Larison Cudmore

The capsid, a protein shell, holds DNA.

Epstein-Barr, a microscopic organism of the Virus family, A.K.A. EBVand most commonly known as the human herpesvirus.

The microscopic organism known to cause mononucleosis (glandular fever) is also associated to a variety of cancers, autoimmune diseases as well as neurological (brain) disorders.

Virus, from Latin, means slimy-liquid poison or poisonous-noxious liquid. Is there a need for this microscopic organism, that has to hijack living cells (ours!) to replicate itself, to exist? Every single time I look for information about EBV (or viruses in general) I feel myself go down a rabbit hole.

EBV (in petri-dish)

I want to draw…

I enjoy the variety of mark-making the slimy-liquid poison allows.
I do feel a need to keep the composition contained.

Structure of EBV (in petri-dish).

The final study expresses both external and internal structures of the virus. I set DNA inside the nucleocapsid (protein shell with a geometric design) and include the viral matrix (colorful clusters of more protein).

I take the design and play with it. All the while I wonder why a virus that appears to become more aggressive with time, still exists.

Gene with a protein coat – Organism at the edge of life…Did humans create you? Are humans strengthening you? Are you alive or not? Can we put an end to you? Will we put an end to you? When?

a bacterium – the coiled gatekeeper

Meet Helicobacter pylori, AKA H. pylori – a bacterium found in the mucous lining of the stomach (in at least 50% -60% of the world’s population).

External (top image) and internal (bottom image) study of H. pylori bacteria.

Helicobacter from the Greek, means spiral or coil. Pylori related to pylouros, the opening or junction leading from the stomach into the duodenum, also from the Greek, translates to gatekeeper.

My studies include bacterial cell basics: plasma membrane, cell wall, ribosomes, cytoplasm and nucleoid (no enclosed nucleus).

H.Pylori: external (top), internal structures (bottom)

I remember once-upon-a-time studying single-celled organisms. I always liked the word flagella and still it manages to get my attention (determines compositional layout). The whip-like appendages support locomotion (moving, pushing, swimming) and are also sensitive to temperature and chemistry.

I wonder – in the case of  H. pylori – should this particular microorganism really be on the move? 

Flagella – a whip-like appendage.

I work from images that include the pili (another cool word…related to pilus and Latin for hair) while other photos suggest the bacteria to be a smooth coil. In each study I take liberty with color and I include the hair-like pili in one drawing, for the added rhythmic line and texture.

Some of my favorite bacteria (in name only) have a lot in common (of course they do, they’re bacteria). To my untrained (in bacteria) eyes (perhaps even to the trained eye) my study of H. pylori could resemble E-Coli. Perhaps one might even pass for Lactobacillus and another for Salmonella.

As my study evolves – Surface of bacteria

The human body (yours and mine) is home to loads of (100 trillion) bacteria.  We host colonies of microorganisms! They live in us and on us.

Are they harmful? They can be. Are they beneficial? They might be. For example, H. pylori in the stomach can lead to duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer. Did I mention this particular bacteria adapts to an acidic environment? Note – it does not always produce disease.

Process photos… study continues to evolve…internal structure of bacteria

I think about the creative process a lot, laying out careful design only to sometimes rub it out quickly. It is, for me, a continuous mix of control and freedom.

Helicobacter pylori, Coiled Gatekeeper, are you a natural expression of the creative process?


Back in the studio…
I am in the stomach with this bacteria. I plan to look at viruses, fungi and archaea too. Let’s see where they take me. At some point I will be returning to the brain – with a new perspective.
#GutBrainAxis #Microbiome