anatomical drawing workshop with med students

I teach an anatomy drawing workshop at the college of Medicine on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. Participants come from several programs (including a couple of faculty) though the majority are Northern Arizona University (NAU) students in Occupational Therapy (OT).

They introduce themselves and I enjoy hearing why they signed up to come to the drawing workshop.

One young woman tells us she saw a kidney and thought it beautiful and wants to learn to draw it. I understand completely. Another speaks about the piriformis muscle – she explains, it’s from the Latin and means pear (shaped). She wants to see and know this. I don’t know piriformis means pear-shaped, I want to see this too! Someone else explains she would like to learn to draw the human body when needing to explain something – instead of the usual stick figure. I smile and note if I had a patient and needed to be efficient – that stick figure would come in handy.

I move around the room and learn every participant has a personal reason for being here, including an appreciation of anatomy. Someone tells me she likes my artwork and thinks this could be fun. Thank you. Yes, it will be! I tell her.

I want to say a lot of things to them. I want to talk about science and art and their connection, and I want to talk about Leonardo (I never do!). We have 3 hours together – they’ll start something today but will probably finish up on their own.

They arrive ready with organ (subject-matter) references. And medical models are available. We talk about a contour study and I quickly explain the value of working organically. While Cindi (Director of Art in Medicine) provides a variety of papers (surfaces) and materials – the majority of the group chooses to work on black paper (I’m excited to see the black paper – I know what color does on it). A couple of the participants pick out beautiful rice papers and after some conversation – they work in parts and layers – bringing a more sculptural sensibility to their work.

Here are some captured moments of the afternoon. Note everyone begins with a careful contour study and then loosens up (with some prodding) to bring in color and texture. The nervousness steps aside and the afternoon brings a little science and a little art together. Ahhh…creativity!

On a side note: I particularly enjoy the overall conversation. It’s an unusual experience being around medical (health and wellness) people. They’re familiar and comfortable with the body in a way that the average person is not.

The afternoon is coming to an end and  I hear comments like … Oh! I love your kidney! Oh…look at your brain!! 

I learn some new things. I don’t take notes but I probably could (should) have.
Thanks everyone. And a special thanks to Cindi and Rebecca.


My drawings and paintings are on display right now at UA College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix until March of 2018. You can see the exhibit M-F, 9 to 5.
An Artist Reception is in the planning for February 2, 2018 – First Friday, 6-8 pm.

the front and the back bones holding your brilliance

They are elegant and living organs – the bones of your skull.  Each one of the cranial bones is unique in architecture. I appreciate the contour of the frontal bone, most especially the sutures (fibrous joints).

Cranial bones are the hard mineral matrix supporting (fixing) the structure of your face (Including your sensory structures). The cranial bones provide protection for the brain (aka: braincase). In the case of the frontal bone – it protects the frontal lobe of the brain.

Your frontal bone forms your beautiful forehead and shapes the top edge of your orbits – look at that brow ridge!

Front bone (anterior)

Front bone (posterior)

The Occipital bone ↓ forms your posterior skull, your cranial cavity. It has a large opening, the foramen magnum (Latin for great hole), where your spinal cord exits your skull.

All the while I draw – I consider the energetics of this area…where the spinal cord exits the skull…It must be a sacred space!

Occipital bone – external surface

Occipital bone, inner surface

Studying the 8 cranial bones for a good while, I am not yet done. I look at the 2-paired bones next.  I could not have known how intricate and wonderful the upper skull is (what to me so long!).

Today I know better these bones that protect our brain, and protect our brilliance!  Out on an early bike ride this a.m. – I appreciate my bicycle helmet just a little bit more…

i am jaguar

I am Jaguar, Panthera onca. Consider me the largest cat of the Americas.

My species once thrived as far north as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In the last decade you can find a few of us in the mountains of southern Arizona.

I wonder (I wander) if, like my ancestors, I can make a life here? The terrain of the Sonoran Desert sustains me. I travel back and forth, north and south, exploring the remote area. Can I return?

Can it work? Yes, it can. Will it work? That’s another question.

You want to know why I roar? I have, like you, a hyoid bone ↑ (highlighted in blue).  I vibrate my larynx causing the twig-like hyoid bones to resonate. Cats purr, I roar.

My large powerful jaw, canines, and retracting claws allow me to get through thick reptilian skin and turtle shells. I eat birds, mammals and fish too. The Sonoran desert provides plenty of javelina, a favorite.

Upper claws – tendons and muscles relaxed. Lower claws – tendons and muscles tightened.

Because my jaws and cheeks are larger, they say my brain is smaller.
I am intelligent.

I am a carnivore, not a popular thing to be, I understand. I need meat to sustain a lean body and lean muscle.

I run long distance, though I admit I am not fast. I am powerful. I pounce prey, give a direct bite to the neck or the back of the skull. I’m quick, I suffocate. Remember, I have  powerful jaw and canines.

Communication channels are visual, acoustic and chemical.
Perception channels are visual, tactile, acoustic and chemical

I am top predator. Though more important, I am a keystone species. I take on the critical role of maintaining structure and balance an eco system.

My status is NT, near threatened.  Humans are my primary predator.  They see me as a threat to livestock. They kill me for my fur and body parts. And they threaten my habitat.

 

I am Jaguar,  Mixed media on Canvas,  35×45″

NOTE:
A border wall can affect all life in general, and will affect wild-life in particular.
If the wall goes up between the United States and Mexico, the jaguar cannot make a home where it’s ancestors once did.
#Panthera onca arizonensis


AZ Central / Video / AZ Jaguars →

//www.azcentral.com/videos/embed/105143752/?fullsite=true

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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down syndrome awareness month

Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21 is complete. Amy, Sophie and Annabelle come to see the drawing in person. My husband, eager to meet Sophie, is also present. We gather in the studio and enjoy pizza.

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Part of me wants to write about the conversations I have with people about this study, about Sophie, and about Down syndrome. It affects more families than I can know when I begin the work.

My hairdresser, for example, has a brother-in-law with DS.  She tells me about his mother who advocated for him. He could have been institutionalized considering the era he was born into. Instead he grows up at home alongside his brothers and sisters. Now in his sixties, he lives in an apartment that he shares with a roommate. I listen, ask questions and wonder why I didn’t know this before now.

I’m in a waiting room this week and come across a magazine dedicated to Down syndrome. Has the magazine always sat here and only now do I notice it? I read an article about research and funding that reminds me…

I know someone who writes (beautiful poetry) and she also happens to research immunology. A few years ago we had a conversation about the immune system and rheumatoid arthritis (her area of study). I contact her and ask what she might know about Trisomy 21 and the immune system. Arpita responds generously.

(A note: If you follow my work, you know I only focus on details directly related to Sophie. This post is more general education about DS, in particular it is about the immune system.)

Trisomy 21. If you say these words to a complete layperson, they will find it lyrical, enchanting, exciting and even beautiful. But then you tell them what it is, and their smile fades.

Not a lot of people know that T-21 can have immunological abnormalities associated with it. As you rightly pointed out, not much info is available regarding the immune system in DS. It’s only now that we are getting an idea of what’s going on in these patients.  The immune system develops, but poorly. There is reduced numbers of cells of the lymphoid system. Those cells that do develop respond poorly to antigens and are unable to travel to site of infection or injury to do their thing. The cells divide poorly when they are activated by an infectious agent. Some cells are supposed to secrete antibodies of a particular type when they are activated and this process is also impaired. And thymus, the organ in which T lymphocytes develop, is rather small and underdeveloped in these patients, suggesting that the immune system doesn’t really get a chance to develop from the very onset. Again, the fascinating thing is that the immune system is not completely broken; it is just not strong enough to protect the poor child. 

I thought I finished the heart and lung area but with Arpita’s words, I come back to indicate the thymus gland (bright blue circles atop the heart – the lymphatic system strings throughout the body). I understand from a previous study, the typical thymus is larger when one is young and becomes smaller as one ages.

A body worker once told me it crystallizes suggesting the change a positive.

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Arpita continues…
There are other indirect causes postulated for the immunological abnormalities. These patients have poorly developed or malfunctioning digestive system, which makes it hard for them to assimilate nutrients. This could lead to deficiencies causing immune perturbations. Also, children with DS most commonly experience lung and heart infections, and many groups claim that this is because the architecture of the respiratory system is abnormal and the natural barriers which filter out infectious agents are less effective in such a setting.

What I find fascinating about DS is that despite the presence of a purportedly underdeveloped immune system, these patients are susceptible to autoimmune disorders. It actually makes me mad, you know…why would an already weak immune cell waste its resources in fighting its own body, when it should be fighting invading pathogens? Sadly no one knows why it happens. My guess is that it has something to do with the abnormal architecture of the organs where the immune cells develop early on. Events in thymus and bone marrow shape the repertoire of immune cells ensuring the survival of cells which are not only most potent, but also which will almost certainly not react against the body. If these organs have developed poorly or are missing certain vital components, this will undoubtedly affect the development of the immune system.

Are you familiar with the process by which immune cells move within the blood, within organs and across tissues? It is fascinating and beautiful documented through images and time-lapse imaging. It is an intricate dance of communication between molecules. There are bits and pieces of information that this movement and migration ability of immune cells is impaired in T-21. Again, no one knows why this happens, but lack of proper direction and mobility can significantly impair immune responses.

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Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21, Mixed media on Paper, 80″ x  45″

So…I ask questions, research, and present what I come across and never know what’s to come next. Arpita and I end our conversation but not until she expresses something I take for my self.

…there is so much that we don’t understand about the human body, in particular how different parts communicate and intertwine with each other functionally. I think part of the reason is that because as young students we are encouraged to accept dogmas and hold on to them rigidly.

However, someone like you, an intelligent person with no dogmatic notions of the medical field, can look at the existing information with fresh, unbiased eyes, and hopefully help the rest of us to see important clues that we have missed. …good luck with your drawings.

I can hope. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

The web of life…today I understand better everyone brings something to the table.


I want to take a minute to thank everyone who helped with the research for this work. In particular those of you that helped me gather and understand the information so I could work with it and write about it. Thank you Amber, David, Dominique, Arpita, Elisa, and Amy. And thank you Sophie, for the spirit you bring to the picture.

For information about Amy Silverman’s book visit the website→ My Heart Can’t Even Believe It

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Big sister Annabelle taking a long close look at the portrait.

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.

“now, what the hell is a chromosome again?”

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
– Aristotle


The post title is a line I pull from page 8 of My Heart Can’t Even Believe It, A Story of Science Love and Down Syndrome,  Amy Silverman’s recently published book.  I appreciate the inquisitive and amusing attitude throughout the book. It’s honest.

IMG_9219When I talk with her about my interest in drawing Sophie, her daughter, I explain I want the work to serve as education. First I have to educate myself and in the process (mustering up all the elements of design I can) maybe I educate you. I should say the only confidence I feel on this day, is in my drawing skills. About the study of living organisms – I’m no expert and it appears to get more complicated as I go. (Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy comes to mind…I’m an artist, not a scientist!)

Some conclusions I’ve drawn:  I know more about balance when I look at an imbalance, I recognize the typical when I try to understand the atypical, and I look for order when I observe disorder. And I really dislike labels.

Genetic order – Genetic disorder

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Sophie’s Karyotype

Here is a copy of Sophie’s Karyotype ↑. Doesn’t it resembles a beautiful ancient alphabet? Trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder, describing three chromosome twenty-one’s instead of the usual two. Note Sophie’s ↑ are numbered and twenty-one is high-lighted.

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My drawing of Sophie’s karyotype (not numbered / not highlighted)

A Karyotype is a picture of genetic arrangement. It represents an individual’s complete set of chromosomes. Twenty-three inherited from each parent pair to set up a typical forty-six (total). Chromosomes are found in the nucleus of every cell in the body (except in the egg and sperm). Again, in Sophie’s case there are forty-seven chromosomes (3 twenty-one’s).

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Here is my version of a Sophie ↑ cell. All the regular parts are visible: the cell membrane dances the edge of the cell itself, mitochondria (red and package-like), golgi (bubbly and bright blue), endoplasmic reticulum (labyrinth-like green with red dots) and the larger round form to the right, enveloped in its own membrane, is the nucleus (the control center).  This entire structure is what we understand as the basic unit of life. I’ve detailed several large-scale cells and believe me – based on what I understand now – I will approach the next cell I map differently.

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Sophie’s chromosomes in the nucleus of a cell. I carefully place in the first ten.

I fill the nucleus with Sophie’s 47 Chromosomes. Remember, the nucleus is the control center.  It governs the work performed by the cell including growth, repair and reproduction.

Sophie has
forty-seven (one too many)…
chromosomes…
in every nucleus…
in every cell…
in her body.
Like a meditation I let it sink in.

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Nucleus complete with all 47 chromosomes set in.

Chromosomes, long strands of deoxyribonucleic acid, hold unique genetic information (think blueprint). DNA, the complex molecule shaped like a spiraling ladder, holds many (many) genes. There are thousands of genes within each nucleus. Genes act as code that direct and maintain the entire body. Every cell in our body holds the same code but uses it differently depending on the cell.

I wonder about all of this as I detail 3 chromosomes and direct the DNA (in the composition).

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I love drawing DNA. You’ll find the double helix spirals moving across all my anatomy study of the last few years. Somewhere I read that genes express (produce). I understand the word express in the context of art. Naturally I wonder about Trisomy 21, do the extra set of genes leads to over expression – over production? I don’t know.

So…what the hell is a chromosome?
Chromosomes are long strands of DNA. DNA, known as the code of life, houses for each one of us our unique genetic make-up.

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Sigh…this was hard to break down and understand enough so I can write about it.
#NotKidding.


A highlight : The Willamette Week, an alt-weekly in Portland Oregon, ran my profile drawing of Sophie on their cover.

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