twisted and seedy bacteria – you are streptococci

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

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

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

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

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

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

The internal structure of streptococcus bacteria.

The external structure of streptococcus bacteria.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

a bacterium – the coiled gatekeeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagella – a whip-like appendage.

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

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

As my study evolves – Surface of bacteria

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

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

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

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

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


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