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.


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.


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.


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


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

structures and textures, insects and shells

Watch the greater image materialize. You need that thing over there to tell you what to do about that thing over here. -Robert Genn

img_9315Structure – a complex system of parts arranged together (to form a whole)
Texture – tactile quality of a surface

The student’s task for this assignment is to learn to distinguish different types of lines. They look for those that form a structure and those that define a surface. I bring out large and small sea shells. I also bring out my collection of insects and lizards. Secretly I wish they will all choose the creatures, but I know better than to insist on this.

Aside from looking at the lines that make up a complex natural object they also work to balance positive and negative space.  And they continue to develop patience.


Karen’s shells




Victoria’s dead lizard and a spiral shell


detail of lizard


Brittany’s Bees – Two of them




Kanata’s See shells, Sea shells


detail (amusing tarantula wasp)


Kevin’s (maybe ready to kiss) cicada and palo verde beetle 


first sketch – too small


Robert’s shell studies




Maygin’s shells and mantis


detail mantis face


Alma’s shell corner

breast tissue

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

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

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


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

no woman is an island

Yesterday I spend the day carefully packing 2 works. Finally, both Tarantula Wasp and Praying Mantis will be making their way to Missouri.

Once upon a time (last Spring to be exact) I had work hanging at ASU.
Krystal connected in March…

My mother is on vacation from Minnesota and texted me some of your images at ASU. I love them. I love bugs and bats and anatomy and maps and you have put them all together in the most beautiful way.

A week later another email from Krystal…

Interestingly enough, my step daughter was also at ASU this week visiting her boyfriend, and she sent pictures of your work to my husband so he could show me. He was in Colorado and came back last night, so we were having coffee this morning and I said “oh, I have to show you these pictures my mom sent you of this artist in Arizona” and I showed him the first picture and he picked up his phone and showed me the same piece of artwork on his phone. So two people we are related to, from different parts of the country, both traveled to ASU in the same week and sent us the same photos, because your artwork made them think of me.

What are the odds of this happening!?


Soon another email…

I would like to purchase the Tarantula Wasp and the Praying Mantis. I love them both, I love their predatory nature. I had never heard of a tarantula wasp, but they are amazing. Have you heard of a cicada killer?

No I’ve never heard of a cicada killer. I look it up and learn it is as creepy as the tarantula wasp!

mantis1While the wasp is already scheduled to show to June, in April an opportunity presents itself to show the mantis (to September). Krystal agrees to wait for both.

The next email (cracks me up)…

I hate to wait for the praying mantis, but I have always wanted to have a piece on loan with my name on it. So if you will send me a photo of it with the tag, then I will suck it up and wait.

…and you did Krystal.

Synopsis: No Woman is an Island.
2 bugs, 2 art venues, 2 museum visits, 3 seasons, 3 states, a mother, a step daughter, a boyfriend, a husband and wife and a cup of coffee… #gottahaveart

Thanks again Krystal. And thanks for letting me share our correspondence. It is a good story. Enjoy the insects! They’ll be arriving soon.

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

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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).


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.


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)…
in every nucleus…
in every cell…
in her body.
Like a meditation I let it sink in.


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).


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.


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

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



a profile

Profile –
: the shape of a head or face that is seen or drawn from the side
: the shape of something that is seen against a background
: a brief written description that provides information about someone or something

My mind wonders: Is this portrait a profile of Sophie or is this a profile of Trisomy 21? Both, all of it, I remind myself. I map Sophie, a real person.  I map Trisomy 21, a genetic disorder. I talk a lot about the science behind my work. Today I hope to give some attention to Sophie and to some drawing elements as well.

A profile of Sophie
I study photos of Sophie all summer. I ask lots of questions and read more information than I can recall. I have a niece named Sofia, I know the name means wisdom. I meet Sophie days after her 13th birthday. Summer break is ending and this week she begins middle school. Every time I come to the work on paper, I recall one of the last things she indicates at our initial visit. She’s a teenage girl and she wants to be just like every other teenager. She wishes she didn’t have Down syndrome. I can’t help but think about this every time I come to my drawing table.


Portrait of Sophie, Side view

About drawing
When I begin, I can’t know how much I will enjoy working out this composition.  I practice everything I teach my students. I look closely and consider how to express best everything about Sophie: the defining contour and variety of texture within her complex structure. BTW, all structure in its uniqueness is complex. I don’t add anatomy to these portraits for a good while because I like how the simpler sketch expresses some personality. I photograph the process to hold these aspects of Sophie.

I work on paper. These details are in pencil – graphite and color, regular and water-soluble. I like this part so much that for a moment I consider teaching only pencil drawing. I laugh at the thought because anyone who’s studied with me knows they never see any kind of pencil in my class, much less draw with one.


Profile of Trisomy 21
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability. I plan to include a brain from the start. An interesting find is the connection between DS and Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know early onset of 
dementia may be a factor in DS. I ask an MD friend to tell me the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. None, he responds. They basically mean the same thing. 

I am most familiar with the facial characteristics of DS. I observe some of the common traits of a smaller and flatter nose (bridge) and forehead. I am not convinced there is much of an upward slant to Sophie’s eyes, at least not in the photos I shoot. I don’t see epicanthal folds nor do I note smaller ears. I have to wonder if some people outgrow some qualities. Individuals are unique, I hold steady to this thought.


Portrait of Sophie

Sophie shows me her fissured tongue (and I love drawing it). I don’t find this as a common characteristic but I learn big sister Annabelle researches the condition and in this case, it is DS related. Looking at drawings of a skull, I learn the mouth and jaw bone are smaller and palette narrower which cause the tongue to appear large. As I lightly lay in anatomy, I consider the smaller than average nasal passage ways which can make breathing difficult.


Because Sophie mentions 2 heart surgeries, I initially consider 2 hearts in the composition. I reconsider when I find an EKG related to Endocardial-Cushion Defect. I already have the heart in the drawing, this element refers to that and is not only an expressive life-line but informative of DS as well.

All of my work is education based, this drawing is no different. I have a new respect for Science and all that it provides for us. But I do not let go of my respect of the Subtle Body and its energy, you know…the part about spirit and its fulfillment. I clean up at the end of each drawing session and leave my studio for the day and I can’t help but wonder if Sophie will live the life of a typical teenager. Each individual is unique. Hold steady that thought.

A side note
Title of artwork. A Profile of. A Portrait of. One more thing to show itself in time.