amy writes an essay

A few weeks ago I receive an email from Amy: I wrote an essay about the challenges of finding healthcare for Sophie and how I wish a doctor would take the interest in her that you did when you were making your incredible piece on her.
STAT is publishing it — and the editor wants permission to use one of the images of it. Are you OK with that?
I reply: Of course. Yes. 

Martinez_Portrait of Sophie

This morning she sends the live link. I’m reading the essay when suddenly I hear Amy’s voice in the back part of my house. She’s talking about Arizona students with disabilities. The radio is going and The Show is on. This is how it is when one knows Amy Silverman.

Back to the essay…
It is a well-written and honest account about searching for health care for Sophie, Amy’s young – adult daughter with Down syndrome. I knew the piece would include my art. I didn’t know Amy would be writing so thoughtfully about my work. Thank you, Amy.

Here, the first two sentences…

Several years ago, a local artist asked if she could paint my younger daughter, then a tween, as part of a series of life-size portraits of people she knew.

Monica Aissa Martinez really gets under her subjects’ skin — the final product is more medical map than pretty picture, documenting the elements (both scientific and ephemeral) that make a person unique.

To read the complete essay →  Amy Silverman, STAT, The Agony of finding decent health care for my young-adult daughter with Down syndrome, June 2, 2023


hepatic journey – foods to genes

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. — H.L. Mencken

My study on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease continues. In an earlier post, I introduce you to Johanna where I also note she currently follows a FODMAP* diet.
martinez_diet_genesI’m interested to see how you integrate not only food but also genetics, Johanna says to me. More and more, I think that there is a link between genetic variation and modern food. I have an interesting story I inadvertently discovered about my genome last week. About 18-24 months ago, my skin took on a definitely orange yellow hue. Understandably, my PCP thought I might have jaundice, but my bilirubin levels were within normal range. I asked her to check my beta-carotene levels and reluctantly she did, and those came back sky high. Being a vegan, I ate lots of vegetable and I took a multivitamin but those things didn’t really explain beta-carotene. The PCP didn’t speculate at all and to be honest, wasn’t even concerned. Last week I was reviewing a manuscript where I learned about a gene that metabolizes beta-carotene to vitamin A. There are variants in the gene that render it inefficient or useless and out of curiosity, I checked my DNA sequence on 23andme, and was perhaps not surprised to discover that I had all of the mutations. So not only was beta-carotene building up in my body because of the significant vegetable consumption but it also meant that I was deficient in vitamin A, which has been associated with liver disease. I think that there are a lot of factors that on their own might not be sufficient to cause liver disease, but in combination, are deleterious. For me, the combination of genetic  susceptibility affecting multiple biological pathways and a strictly vegan diet for decades contributed to a host of factors (chronic choline deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, gut dysbiosis)  that made me susceptible to storing fat in my liver.

martinez_beta carotene and vitamin a

Beta Carotene (horizontal) and Vitamin A (vertical)  molecules.

I ask Johanna to tell me what she used to eat before the FODMAP diet and what she currently eats.  I make a list and begin to consider placing the foods into the composition. I cannot help but think this is like a game of Chess where each move is strategic. I settle on a basic black and white Chess board-like grounding. White squares hold food Johanna eats while black squares are the food she is not eating (at this time). I have my own feelings about some of the foods and place a few onto both squares. Now, as I write this post, I wish I had not done this.


martinez_almonds and cashews

Curious, I say, I don’t understand why you gave up cashews and almonds. And why green bananas and not ones almost ripe? Why give up grains?


Johanna responds, ...cashews and almonds have compounds in them (FODMAPs) that create inflammation in the large intestine. Same with the apple, but I won’t mind if you leave the apple on a white square because it looks pretty there.

martinez_appleThe apple is in the no foods column in my notes. Still, I assume the apple goes onto a white square. (…an apple a day keeps…you know the rest…) The act of taking out the apple makes something clear; I’d be bummed if I had to erase apples out of my diet. I feel for Johanna. #Choices #CostsBenefits


Johanna explains: I have been on a low FODMAP diet (prescribed by a gastroenterologist) since February and for the most part, it has mitigated a lot of the IBS symptoms. The low FODMAP diet is supposed to be a three-part process: 1) elimination of high FODMAP foods, 2) reintroduction of these foods one at a time, and 3) maintenance. Sadly, every time I try to introduce a high FODMAP food back into my diet, the IBS symptoms come roaring back. I am trying garbanzo beans today. Wish me luck!


I replace the apple (in this white area) with a cabbage.

As I paint, I think about a true whole food, a food that has not been processed. I am reminded  of how sugar and salt come into the picture and how they eventually may contribute to chronic disease.


Johanna does eat eggs. Here is one of those times I put the food into both areas (though mostly black). Right now, I wish I’d placed it in a white zone.


martinez_johanna food1martinez_beans grainsmartinez_tomatos2martinez_oatmeal and berries

I bring in walnuts (white), cabbage (white), pasta (black), lettuce (white), salmon (white), wine (black), grains (black), tomatoes (white), berries (white), oatmeal (white) and soy (black). I forget how much I enjoy drawing and painting food.

I introduce images referencing genetics: human cell, chromosomes, DNA, mDNA and pedigree chart.

martinez-johanna genes

Johanna ends our conversation with good news,  I just had blood work done in March and all my values are within normal range for the first time since I started this hepatic journey!

#It’sComplicated #WeAreUniqueCreatures

*I explain FODMAPs and IBS complications in → introduction post.


gone to the dogs

Johanna has two dogs. I feel like one of them may have been present on one of our  Zoom calls, though I admit, this may be my imagination. I ask her to send photos because I’d like to include them in this composition. She responds with numerous pictures. I carefully look at all their features and ask her to measure top of ears to bottom of feet…uh…paws.

Meet Tito ↓.

Martinez_Tito sm

Tito…those ears.
Tito…those eyes.
Tito…that snout.
Tito…that soft hair.
Tito…you have the smallest teeth I’ve ever seen.

Meet Pepe.↓

Martinez_Pepe 2

Your ears are like wings.
Little one.
I imagine you fly.

I have one more critter in this study, but right now the focus is on the canines. This post has gone to the dogs…#titoandpepe #animalmedicine

#wip #PortraitOfJohannaStudyofNonalcoholicFattyLiverDisease


portrait of a researcher


Composition detail – Johanna’s Profile  #BrainGut #VagusNerve #WanderingNerve

I recall the morning I talk with Johanna about how I might approach this new study based on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Initially, I envisioned painting a torso, 24×36″, with emphasis on the liver. That idea goes out the window as noted in the last post, when I come to understand NAFLD can affect any one of numerous organs and/or systems in the body. This information directs me to work a life-size human.

Having a deadline adds another twist. This is going to take a good while, I say to Johanna, right now, I need to find the right person, someone with NAFLD. Do you know anyone?  I see her thinking, and then Johanna announces she herself has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Why do I feel confused to hear this? Because Johanna heads the lab that is doing the research? Because she is a picture of health? Isn’t this a predominately Latino issue? You have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease!? For all noted thoughts and then some, comes the next question – Would you be interested in being subject-matter for this artwork?  Think about it. Don’t answer right now. She explains some of the stigma surrounding NAFLD and a hope for people to overcome. Yes, she wants to do this.

I explain my process – I will photograph and outline you, Then I will interview you, asking  questions – not only about your work but about you and your health. Because we plan to talk in a few days, I suggest she give all this more thought. She knows she can change her mind.

The following week, Johanna is in the studio being photographed and outlined. I ask lots of questions and she answers all of them. I learn it is possible she may also have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is unclear how NAFLD and IBS are related.

martinez_johanna's outline

How did you learn you had NAFLD? What were your symptoms? Did you have a biopsy?

Liver biopsies, in general, are not routine procedure unless absolutely necessary. Because there are not a whole lot of clear symptoms, it is hard to diagnose. She had pain and slight swelling in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Doctor suspects ovarian cancer and sends her for ultrasound. Negative on the cancer. They do discover a problem with the liver. She was diagnosed with NAFLD two years ago this month.

martinez_j ovary

To be clear, I introduce you to Johanna in the previous post. She is the researcher I am partnered with for this project. Neither of us could have seen this coming. Before the afternoon is over she talks to me about how frustrating it is to navigate a disease like NAFLD.  We talk about women’s health, perimenopause, menopause as well as orthorexia nervosa (an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy). We discuss big food industry. We talk genes, vitamin A, choline deficiency and gut dysbiosis. Johanna is generous to work with me in this way.

Johanna: Since I am becoming more vulnerable with people and disclosing this kind of information under certain circumstances and with certain people, I am discovering that a lot of people have digestive issues. I wonder what is up with this. Is it our food? Is it the anxiety that living in the modern world can sometimes incur? It’s an interesting phenomenon and it’s quite nice to not feel so alone on this journey.

In upcoming posts, I plan to share some of food she eats (and does not eat) on a low FODMAP diet. (FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Yikes!)

Martinez_ J tat

I’ll leave you with two details I add to the composition, this weekend. Johanna tattoos (Here they are ↑ in blue – or more precise, a Payne’s Gray. Hard to render, especially over brightly colored intestine.), one is a floral pattern set along the right side of her waist (below the liver) and the other is a bird on her left arm.

Among other flowers she has milk thistle, an herb well known for it’s healing property (especially of the liver), which I read symbolizes endurance and courage. She has blue peonies, connecting to loyalty and trust and wild jasmine holding love and beauty. About the swooping magpie, who is known for its intelligence and reasoning abilities, Johanna explains: I got that tattoo a few months after my death midwife certification. Besides appealing to me in their “magpie behavior” of being attracted to shiny things, what I was really fascinated by was the magpie behaviors around death. When a fellow magpie passes, magpies will gather around the body and even lay grass “wreaths” in funereal fashion. Some ancient lore posits that magpies can traverse the boundaries between life and death. So I found it only fitting to choose this bird to honor my calling to death midwifery.

We continue talking about animals and walks in the desert – and the many ways to support the healing process.


A realization about the art, this post…all of it…
Listening to Zen philosophy this weekend, I am reminded of the fact that a mental interpretation creates a world, it doesn’t necessarily reveal it. I am basically processing a process. If you were to sit with Johanna and experience her directly, you’d be close (closer) to the truth than seeing the work or reading this. Her direct experience is.



a new project has me learning about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Last December, I attend a meet and greet hosted by the Phoenix Bioscience Core, Arts Committee. The gathering is at Walter Productions. 10 Phoenix artists are there to meet 10 researches from the University College of Medicine – Phoenix, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University’s College of Health and Human Services, TGen and Electra Tect.
 We are, Round #2 of the Artists + Researchers Project (ARx).


Photo by PBC

This is the evening I meet Dr. Johanna DiStefano, whom after brief introductions asks, What do you think about the liver?  I hand her an image of my work and explain my interest in anatomy and physiology.  I’ve been curious about the liver for a good while, I tell her.  She explains that in her work, she is looking at the accumulation of fat in the liver. Her research is in Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  I tell her about a drawing (full-scale human study) I completed, on the topic of obesity.

Eventually, we’re partnered!

Since then, I have come to know Johanna and her work at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). She is a Professor and Head of the Diabetes and Fibrotic Disease Unit. She investigates epigenetic mechanisms underlying the development and progression of NAFLD.

IMG_0032At some point in our interaction, I ask if I can see a healthy and an unhealthy liver. I am also curious about healthy and unhealthy liver cells. Johanna responds, …fat laden hepatocytes vs normal hepatocytes or activated vs quiescent HSC? (Oh oh, new language!) Her lab works with biopsied tissues. Never whole organs, she says.

I had already toured TGen. It’s time to visit Johanna’s lab.



IMG_0023 2


There are growing cells – to small for the eye to see – in this container.


There they are – growing away! (trust me – they’re beautiful to look at)

Johanna and I continue to get to know each other and I continue to learn more about NAFLD.

J:   Latinos are at higher risk of developing NAFLD.

M:  And what can you tell me about Native Americans?

J:   I suspect that Native Americans are, too. Unfortunately, this population is understudied in the NAFLD field, so the true prevalence of the disease remains unknown. Interestingly, individuals of African ancestry have the lowest risk of NAFLD despite having the highest risks of many predisposing factors such as obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.

M: Johanna, Did I tell you I have also looked at the microbiome and its relationship to obesity.

J:  You didn’t mention your work/interest with the microbiome. It’s interesting because this plays a role in NAFLD, too. Little by little, we are inching our way to a better understanding of how our bodies metabolize food by taking into consideration nutrient composition and our gut microbiome. I imagine that this is different for everyone. You and I could eat the same exact foods and have completely different responses to it. Plus, the presence of NAFLD alters the way the body responds to food, which exacerbates liver dysfunction. For example, people with NAFLD absorb fructose more efficiently making them more sensitive to the detrimental effects of sugar.

In this same conversation I learn about two types of liver cells. Hepatocytes and hepatic stellate cells are key players in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. According to Johanna, they have distinctly different morphologies based upon their status.




Stellate Cell

Familiar with the Kupffer cell, also of the liver – I draw one. ↓ Gut bacteria, endotoxins and debris transported to liver from GI Tract come into contact with these cells, first.


Kuppfer cell – First Immune cell in the liver

I wonder out loud, Which organs, in general, does NAFLD affect? The liver is the main filter, I’m guessing that the disease can cause problems to most any organ. Can nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affect the body – head to toe? Johanna nods, yes. I follow up with, Can you give me an example? Circulation, she notes. I decide to work a full human (head-to-toe) and very soon after, I know who I will be using as subject of this study.

Returning to the studio, I cut and prepare an 84.5 x 52.5″ sheet of Arches paper. #NAFLDisComplicated


It has been a while since I worked a life-size figure study. It feels good to be back in the studio.

Martinez_DrawingLiver, I’ve been wanting to learn more about you!

Martinez_Segmented Liver

More about Dr. Johanna DiStefano’s work:
PBS, Horizon

TGen Talks NAFLD


Johanna, It’s cool getting to know you and the work your lab does. Thank you for the teaching!


Photo by PBC

Ps: Bentley Gallery is involved too! More on this later.


no woman is an island

Some time back, while out for a (cat) walk, I met Alan. He crossed the street, introduced himself, and asked about the cat. Yes! She really likes to take walks!  I’m not exactly sure how Alan learned that I was an artist (I think Eddie told him) but eventually (while out on another cat walk) he mentioned he’d be interested in seeing my artwork. I had a few upcoming exhibitions, including a solo at the Tucson Museum of Art. He had a friend who lived in Tucson, and they were due for a visit.

Fast forward: Alan did drive down to visit friends and caught the exhibit!


He especially likes Constellations, the series of brain related works, ↑ on black paper. He wants to know if I have any of this work in the studio. I have a few pieces and invite him to drop in when he has a chance.

Alan, who is an architect, comes over on Saturday. I appreciate a conversation about desks (I have a large architect’s table.), Mylar (A favorite surface to work on.), and Rapidograph pens (I have a set but these days, it’s Micro-pens.). Times are different, he notes, architectural design is now, mostly digital. Too bad, I think, materials are wonderful.

I show him various paintings hanging in the studio. He is drawn to the detailed and circular pattern of the work.  How do you work such thin, fine line?  I answer the question by pulling out my favorite paintbrush.

Finally, I show him a few studies from the series he enjoyed at the museum. I have 8 of them in the studio. He notes the ones at the museum are brighter. I take them and one by one, put them under bright light.  He points out line, color and circular pattern.


Light Never Seeps


Purkinje Neuron, First Born #1

I share some of my influences and talk about neurons and the cerebellum. I appreciate hearing how he experiences the artwork. He likes their abstract quality.


The LIttle Brain #1

Alan picks out 3 mixed media paintings on black paper. ↑↑↑

Today, the work is at my framers↓. Originally, when completed and I begin to think about framing and installing, I consider floating the work on black museum board. I decide on white. I do like that Alan opted for the black. It works so well!

thumbnail_IMG_6247Thanks again, Alan! Enjoy the art!


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


On another note:
My solo exhibition titled “Nothing in Stasis” is in its final week at the Tucson Museum of Art. It’s been a great run. If you’ve not see it – you still have a few days. It closes this coming Sunday, the 23rd of April.
martinez_nothing in stasis tucson

pink scaly macule with hemorrhagic crust

This post is titled with the words found under the Clinical Information area of my Dermatophatology Report. Tara, assisting with my out-patient procedure, hands the sheet to me before I leave the room.  I also have an image on my phone, of the basal cell carcinoma histology. Dr. DeLuca shoots it for me with her cell phone. Gladly, I leave behind the unwelcome guest that’s been hanging out in my Right inferior Central Malar Cheek.

If you’re familiar with my work, you know my studies come from real people. I guess it’s time for me to share some of my biological system’s messy stuff.

martinez_bcc studio


This started last summer, with what appeared to be a dark small cluster on my cheek, though really, I bet it all began years ago. The sun and I go way back and I haven’t always worn sunscreen and cap.

I pick at the cluster until it breaks open. Weeks pass, it doesn’t heal completely, and then months pass. I wonder if maybe I need to stop doing a handstand during Yoga. Over Christmas break, I ask my sister what she thinks about the area. The borders appears dry, uneven – see a doctor, she says. I return to Phoenix and schedule an appointment to see the dermatologist.

A biopsy determines it is basil cell carcinoma. I am scheduled for something called, Moh’s surgery. Because I’m particularly busy and they want me to have some down time afterwards, I wait a few weeks before going in. I kind of wish I’d never waited; there’s never a good time.

Moh’s involves cutting away a thin layer of skin and taking it, right then and there, to their in- house lab. Once under the microscope, the doctor can see the irregular tissue and know to stop or to continue cutting away until it’s all captured and removed.  This afternoon, it takes a few rounds. I don’t really understand what is happening until Dr. DeLuca enters the room the final time and announces, It’s all gone!

I ask a lot of questions and both the doctor and her assistant are great with information. As noted, I ask Dr DeLuca if I can have a photo of what things look like under the microscope. Had I really understood early on, I would have asked for a photo after each cut.

It’s natural for me to research, draw and try to understand…stuff.  While this is a piece of my skin,  I don’t know that I understand everything I see. The larger, darker, odd shaped forms are the carcinoma. Is each area an individual cell or is each area a cluster of cells? The centered  top skin debris makes for an interesting scape/edge, don’t you think?

martinez_bcc sm2

Basal cells line the lower part (base) of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). They produce new skin cells (programmed by their DNA). As the new skin cells are produced, older cells are pushed towards the surface where they die and are shed. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It can be cause by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to UV rays. It spreads slow and rarely metastasizes. If left untreated it can continue to grow.

#MicroscopicExamination #DisturbinglyBeautiful #HealingWell


a day with the college of medicine – tucson

The more you wish to describe a Universal the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular. – Brenda Ueland

Wednesday’s adventure begins early as Amy picks me up and we make our way to the College of Medicine. Amy is Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Director of Medical Humanities. Her and I have been organizing today’s workshops along with Marianna at the Tucson Museum of Art.

We arrive to the college, art supplies in tow, and head to the University of Arizona Health Sciences Library where the plan includes picking up 3D anatomical models. We learn models cannot be taken out of the library. We want them for a drawing workshop. Amy makes a phone call and locates some elsewhere.

We proceed upstairs (or maybe downstairs), across a ramp, down an elevator (possibly up an elevator), getting closer to…I’m not exactly sure where. Eventually, I find myself walking a brightly lit, purple hallway, lined with (too many to count) larger-than-life reproductions of Andres Vesalius’ series, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body).

martinez-anatomy hallway sm

martinez _anatomy sm

I’ve always admired the compositions and now this wonderful series of dissection drawings appear as escorts down the long walkway.

martinez_anatomy hallway sm

We arrive to our classroom and as I organize supplies, people come in. The group is working self-portraits this morning, not an easy undertaking. Medical school teaches anatomy, it helps that most everyone I have encountered in this sort of environment has an understanding of the bone structure and muscles of the face. I give some direction, everyone picks out a paper and a sharpie marker (no erasers!) and begins drawing. I notice there is no hesitation.


James, introduces himself as an infectious disease MD. The question of the primary focal point: Is the mask coming off or is it going back on? The secondary focal point is his bow tie.


Brianna, Palliative Medicine, calls her portrait ‘Tejido‘ and because this is her title, it’s appropriate she add a bit of color.


Amy brings a cut of fresh jasmine from her front porch, to include into her portrait.


Yumi’s portrait will include a blue-stoned necklace that represents aspects of  her mother’s life.

Before closing for the morning, everyone shares their drawing, both form and content. I/We learn something relatable about each person present.

Unbeknown to me, we will be moving to another classroom in another building. Before leaving this area, we need to pick up medical models for the next workshop.

Down another hallway, a male awaits. He and Amy speak before going through double doors. Amy steps back out and waves, signaling with her hands and asking if I would like to come in. I am rolling a crate of supplies which forces me to back into the room. I enter and naturally prop one door open. I turn and slowly realize…I…am…in…THE…anatomy…lab. (Hindsight: Vesalius’ art should have been a clue.) It feels necessary to close the propped door, so I do – meanwhile moving back in awkwardly and uncertain. I pause to look at my surroundings. I feel…a sense of…reverence…for the rows of bodies (donors). It is a large lab and Amy has disappeared into the back which is darkened and seems far away. I note a slight drop in temperature as well as a tad cooler lighting. Though, to my left appears a bright, warm glow of studio lights. Two groups of students are studying (Are they dissecting?) two bodies. Time. Stands. Still. I recall classic “Anatomy Lesson” paintings by both Rembrandt and Galon. I feel stunned and yet honored. I wish I had my camera. I do have my camera. Don’t pull it out. Don’t get distracted. Stay present.

My name is being called; Amy wants me to look at the available models. I walk to the back where she is gathering pelvis bones and shoulder blades. Before we exit the lab, she calls out to the students telling them they are welcome to join us for the drawing workshop and lunch. A few say they may come. We rush out, now rolling a cart as we head (walkways, elevators, ramps, elevators) to the other side of the medical school. We arrive to a large classroom where students are gathering, chatting and eating lunch.

I set out a materials, introduce myself, give instruction and watch as activity begins.
martinez_ students group2

This afternoon’s study focuses on an organ or system of the human body. Everyone has access to a lot of supplies including a variety of mediums.

martinez_student heart

martinez_student pelvis drawing

martinez_eyeball student drawing

martinez_marianna eye

I move through the group asking questions and sharing thoughts. I want to know the what and why.  A personal story surfaces for each work created.


Amy, who had no plans to draw, picked up one of the medical models and completes a beautiful pelvis. It’s my favorite bone, she says.

martinez_ amy's pelvis

She’d shared something with me earlier in the day. Amy! I call out, Tell everyone why you didn’t like your anatomy class. She waves a hand back and forth saying, Because the body is messy!

Today, in the studio, as I work a new drawing – a life-size human study –  I cannot help but think about Amy’s words. #BiologicalSystemsAreMessy

Thank you Amy, for the invite and for the great adventure. Thanks for sharing your world with me.
Thank you to all of you who brought your full selves to the drawing table, made art and shared story.
Thank you to Marianna and the Tucson Art Museum, for all the cool art supplies.
A special thanks to the College of Medicine and the Medical Humanities Program and everyone who made this experience possible.

#NothingInStasis #YouGottaHaveArt #OutsiderInsiderWithNewEyes


no woman is an island

I always enjoy talking with Lettie. She laughs easily and is generous with her smile. Our recent  conversations have been about my work. She asks about my exhibition at the Tucson Museum of Art. She seems interested in seeing it. If you’re going to be in Arizona, I tell her, this really is the best time of the year. She asks specifically about brain related art work. As a matter of fact Lettie, my most recent installation includes a series of brain related, smaller works.

Eventually she tells me about one of her clients, Dr. Akram Mahmoud. Actually, she talks about his walls. They’re empty, she notes. Lettie is a real estate agent in El Paso and she helped the neurosurgeon find his beautiful home.

Lettie is also a long-time, family friend. We like to think of her as the adopted sister. I send her images of work, along with information, of several brain-related paintings that are in my studio. I want her to get a sense of their color and size.thumbnail_69333844531__53D32A90-A167-4F5D-9641-0C785585513A

Do you have any smaller ones? He also has an office, she says. I repeat myself, In Tucson…my solo…

One morning, she calls, wondering when I might be coming to El Paso. Interesting timing as my husband and I were scheduled to fly in that week. Can you bring some of the available paintings? We’re communicating via text, she can’t hear me laugh. The paintings she’s wanting me to bring are on stretcher bars and they are not that small. I was once told, some airplanes have a space for carry-on of painting-like packages. Still, I’m not exactly sure I can bring any large paintings but I do tell her I can take them off their bars, roll and tube them, if she’s serious. Explain, she says, you’re speaking another language.

After a few more conversations, she is interested in seeing two works and wouldn’t you know it, the airlines cancel our flights. I box up 2 paintings and my husband and I make the drive from Phoenix to El Paso. A few days later, on a Friday morning, I deliver artwork to Dr. Mahmoud’s beautiful home in the Franklin Mountains.


Truthfully, I’m not sure he needs any art, the view from his living room ↑ is stunning. He has a active pup so I set the paintings on the mantel, knowing he will see them as he enters that evening.

As Lettie and I continue our conversation, I learn Dr. Mahmoud is also an Osteopath. I’m further impressed. Eventually, a painting is chosen. In Lettie’s usual nature, she is pleased to be helping out two friends.

Martinez_Optic Chiasm

Bottom of the Top, X Marks the Spot – Optic Chiasm, Casein, Egg Tempera, Gesso, Ink, Micaceous Iron Oxide on Canvas, 48 x 36”

Thank you, Lettie. This has been a unique transaction. You move with ease and patience, and as always, you’re thoughtful.

Thank you, Dr. Mahmoud. Your home is lovely. Enjoy the artwork!

Lettie Intebi Velasco is a realtor and a life long resident of El Paso. We’ve known each other since our college days. Dr. Akram Mahmoud DO is a Neurosurgery Specialist in El Paso, TX.


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


peaceful sky benefit

The US Air Force has announced plans to escalate training over the most biodiverse region of the continental United States, where military air maneuvers especially harm conservation areas and Tribal Lands.

The Peaceful Sky Benefit is sharing awareness of these proposals 2/19 – 2/22, in solidarity for peaceful skies and equitable stewardship of the region, featuring local and touring musicians at different Tucson venues.

Melinda Matson Spina, Peaceful Sky benefit volunteer, reached out last November. She’d seen my work at the Tucson Museum of Art, and featured the exhibition several times in the collectable CITA community calendar she prints at Spina/Novoa studio, each month. Melinda  runs the studio, along with her spouse, Mariano Novoa.

Melinda wondered if I might be interested in joining their efforts, perhaps collaborating in some way. She could not have known at the time, I was in collaboration with two Phoenix artists, creating a temporary installation titled Unintended Consequences, for Center Space, inside the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts. In general, we were exploring man’s affects on the Arizona landscape. The information she shared fit right into our area of interest, especially details concerning the US Air-Force announcing “proposals to severely escalate training over the most biodiverse region of the continental United States.”

After talking with Melinda and Mariano a few more times, we decided to use one of my  jaguar studies and create a Risograph print. The large cat is only one of the animals threatened by some of these proposals.  →  Impact Alert

The Peaceful Sky Benefit is coordinated by 100% volunteers. It is a grass roots community-led event, funded by community contributions. It is bringing together poets, musicians and artists and is planned for February 19-22 in Tucson, AZ.  You are invited to come out.
More info → Peaceful Sky Benefit

Exclusive prints of art and photography by Ahchipaptunhe, Julius Schlosburg or myself, will be available for concert-goers who use their phones to donate $20 or more directly to these selected ↓ organizations defending threatened regional lands.
Chiricahua Regional Council
Center for Biological Diversity


Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

Julius Schosburg Photography ↑ Chiricahua Mountains, AZ,  print size: 10×13″


Stone People

Ahchipaptunhe  “Stone People”, 2020, Print size: 13.25 x 10


Jaguar – Panthera onca

Monica Aissa Martinez Jaguar – Panthera onca, 2017, Print size: 10.15 x 10.31

Thank you Melinda and Mariano, for the work you do and for inviting me to play a part in this event. And thank you to all the volunteers and to all the folks who regularly look out for the people, the animals and the land.

On a side note: Within days of learning about the Peaceful Sky benefit,  I painted a small military airplane into our installation. When I share a photo of the completed detail with Melinda, I appreciate her response. Thank you for creating this conversation starter, she writes. She understands fully, the value of its presence in our composition.


The airplane appears one more time in our installation, along with  jaguar paw prints. I won’t share a pic here though I hope you look for them should you see the work in Scottsdale.
Unintended Consequences opened this weekend → more info

The US Air Force has announced plans to escalate training over the most biodiverse region of the continental United States, where military air maneuvers especially harm conservation areas and Tribal Lands.
The Peaceful Sky Benefit is sharing awareness of these proposals 2/19 – 2/22, in solidarity for peaceful skies and equitable stewardship of the region, featuring local and touring musicians at different Tucson venues.
Continue reading →  GoFundMe

More information:
Arizona Daily Star → opinion piece written by Melina Matson Spina
New Air Force Proposals →
Public Awareness and Response→

Spina Novoa Studio donated design and printing for the event.

unintended consequences

SA_23SP_Unintended Consequences_Invite-1sm

Curator, Laura Hales asked, and we said yes!

Carolyn, Mary and I are collaborating. We are creating a site specific, temporary wall painting exploring human activity on Arizona’s people, wildlife, and plants in the past and the present. You’re invited to view the installation and consider how we can restore and balance a healthy future for Arizona life.

WHO: Scottsdale Arts Learning 7 Innovation invites you to the opening reception for
WHERE: Center Space
Located in Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
7380 E 2nd Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
WHEN: Artist reception: Feb. 17, 202, 6-8
Exhibition runs Feb 17 thru May 28, 2023
Free to attend → more info 

SA_23SP_Unintended Consequences_Invite-2sm

no woman is an island

Note for today:
Marco, by the time you read this, know it’s been in the planning for a good while.  You have a thoughtful sister. Now that I think of it, you have lots of thoughtful sisters.
Here is to your continued health and wellness!

Sylvia, contacted me late October, Hi Monica. I love your work and wanted to know if you have a sketch of the brain. I would like to purchase one for my brother. 



I’d received news in early October, about Marco, whom I’ve known since childhood. We lived in the same neighborhood and attended the same grade school and high school. Our families have known each other for many years. The day before Marco was to have surgery, I was in El Paso and saw Danny and Eddie, also childhood friends. They told me Marco would be having brain surgery. Danny was optimistic Marco would fare well.

Sylvia explained Marco had surgery to remove a tumor from his frontal lobe. She showed me photos of Marco, post surgery, and told me he was doing well. I appreciated also seeing some of his sketches that were insightful of his struggle.

Sylvia picked this casein and gesso on paper drawing, from several I showed her.  She ends our conversation with, My brother will love receiving work by you. Thank you, Sylvia, I am touched that you wanted to send one of my brain studies to Marco.

Dear Marco, I wish you only the very best in your continued healing. (I think we might be due for a HF class reunion at some point soon.)  My best to all of the family. Enjoy your visit with Sylvia and enjoy the artwork!

#UrBeautifulBrain #NoManIsAnIsland

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


a lesson in art making with med students

Arriving to the University of Arizona, College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix, I recall Gillian, who was in last year’s workshop. She’d described first-year, medical school experience to be like drinking out of a fire-hose. Her words are with me as people begin filing into the classroom.

It’s the noon hour and some students arrive with lunch in hand. Others stand in the classroom as it is being set up for art-making. They’re still considering whether they might stay and make art or use the time to study. Several let me know they plan to draw but will be leaving early because they have a class. I welcome all of them to come in for as long as they can manage.

martinez_medical models

Medical models available for art class.

I’ve been coming in to work with first-year med students since 2017. They are completing their first semester as well as preparing to host their annual Celebration of Appreciation. The evening honors the individuals who have donated their bodies to the anatomy lab. I work with students to create a work of art that will hold an experience and honor their donor. I like working with this group. I enjoy coming to know the unique way each and every one of them  experiences their anatomy class and their donor.

I feel like I stand at two ends; I teach the workshop and I learn. #AboutBeingHuman

I make my way to a table where one person ↓ paints the small intestine. I’m curious about the color. Why yellow? She tells me about her donor’s small intestine and describes how bright and floral-like they appeared. The female sitting next to her explains they shared the same donor. She carefully draws the bottom of the brain. She also tells me everything was bright. They both decide the color and form they experienced with this particular person probably had to do with her age. She was young, they inform me. I respond with more questions. What does this mean? What is young?  She was 66 years old.

martinez_art and med #3

Somehow we begin discussing the blood-brain barrier. The male at the table says he’d thought it a separate layer or membrane enclosing the brain. Meanwhile, he stands up and uses his hands to imply the curve of the head, the outer edge of the brain. I’m surprised. Do you mean it’s not!? He tells me, in no uncertain terms, it is not a separate membrane, the blood brain barrier is a ‘property’ of the blood vessels! My minds quickly formulates a picture of endothelial cells lining the inside of the brain’s blood vessels. He repeats himself, both times emphasizing the word property.

martinez_student study of lungs

I move to another table where everyone is working bold compositions that include bright line, both contour and texture, on black paper. One student has a set of medical lung models in front of her ↑.  She describes the experience with her particular donor. The cancer was in different areas of the body including in the lungs. It is the latter that had the strongest impact and now directs her drawing.

martinez_filum terminaleAnother student ↑ introduces me to the filum terminale. I can tell by how he has laid marks down, that he is working an area at the base of the spine. I sense his excitement as he shares first noting the fibrous tissue.

At another table someone paints ↓ an (beautiful) eyeball on stretched canvas. She was quick to start and I’m impressed at how she’s pulled it all together in such a short amount of time. We discuss mixing a few colors and laying in different quality of lines.

Martinez_studentdrawingeyeballNext to her another student ↓ focuses on the Circle of Willis. She’s decided that it resembles an alien. I agreed after looking at her drawing.

martinez_ student drawing the circlie of willis

I make my way back to the first group and to the student who’d informed me about the blood-brain barrier. He’d completed several fine hand studies ↓ using graphite. He shares his very real and very human reaction to his donor’s hands.
martinez_ student drawing handAt the end of the afternoon, I can’t help but consider the ways we can be confronted by our humanness. Certainly, studying human anatomy is a unique way to learn about another. It’s also a very unique way to learn about one’s self. #ArtMakingDoesThisToo


Practical Teacher by Robin H Melillo

Thanks everyone, for showing up, and sharing your experience. #artmaking
Thanks Cindi, for inviting me to come back. #artinemedicine


I catch Cindi (Director of Art in Medicine) photographing a student and her completed drawing.

#CeremonyOfAppreciation #ProgramOfArtInMedicine #UniversityofArizona #ArtAndAnatomyWorkshop #GottaHaveArt

no woman is an island



Home editor at LUXE INTERIORS + DESIGN, Shannon Sharpe from Chicago, contacted me at the beginning of this last year. Interested in reviewing my work for potential publication, Sharpe explained they featured a local artist in the magazine, including a full studio shoot. A good amount of coordinating occurred, including meeting Phoenix photographer Brandon Sullivan and San Francisco writer, Deborah Bishop.

Arizona November/December 2022 issue arrived last month!


Martinez_LuxeFeatureYesterday, I received a thoughtful note from a Washington State reader:

I recently read the article Body Art.  I find that the focus of your work is intriguing and an amazing endeavor. I hope to see more of your work someday.
Thanks for sharing Elisa and Roberto with us. My mother is experiencing dementia and it’s progressing more than I’d hoped and I too am seeing her light slowly disappear.
Thank you for being you.

Dear Reader, I appreciate your note. Thank you.
Thank you Shannon, Brandon, Deborah and LUXE. 
And a special thanks to artist, Christine Cassano.

Read article on line → This Phoenix Artist Looks Inside – Literally – To Capture Her Subjects, by Deborah Bishop, January 4, 2023.

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



visual art + medicine = good consilience

This summer, I learned a cool word that I’d hoped to bring into my art head space.
Consilence = con, indicating a being or bringing together of several objects + saliō meaning to bound, jump / salient – leaping . As I am understanding its general use is a “jumping together” (to leap) of several objects, in particular, different academic subjects, especially science and the humanities.

studioshot_martinez sm

I have been invited by Executive Director, James Burns Ph.D, to discuss my artwork at Western Spirit Museum this coming week, and who better to partner me with than Jennifer Hartmark-Hill MD. Hartmark-Hill, among other things, is the Director of Narrative Medicine and an Associate Professor at University of Arizona College of Medicine. Our paths have crossed before.

Communicating with Jen last week, she notes, Narrative Medicine is all about creating space for stories, valuing lived experiences of patients and acting in a healing and compassionate way in response to values and preferences for care. Knowing people’s stories can also richly inform shared decision-making and is a more ethical way to practice medicine. Not to mention that this approach also aligns with our need to understand address the social determinants of health for our patients.

I will be talking about some of my human figure studies and showing images. I’ll have a few  paintings on hand. I plan to discuss some process, including details that set up subject narrative. This might be the first time I talk about the work in almost the same way I record my process, here in my blog.

The museum’s jumping point is the work of Paul Calle, currently on view in their exhibition space. Calle covered many areas in his lifetime, including medical art. Arrive early to see his work.

Medical Art copy

Who: Western Spirit Museum – Virginia G. Piper Theater
Medical Art: From Paul Calle
Monica Aissa Martinez /Jennifer Hartmark-Hill, MD
Where: 3830 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Thursday, October 27, 2022
Start Time: 6:00 PM
Join us! There is no charge for this event.
For more info and to register for event call → 480-686-9539
Info→ website event link 

Thank you James, for the invitation and for creating a space for this type of conversation.