Friday, September 23, 2022

Art of Neuroscience Award and Scientific American Feature

I am an artist who uses the biography of Santiago Ramón y Cajal and his neuroscience research as the inspiration for my artwork. Earlier this year, my artwork, Dueling Cajals, won an Honorable Mention in the international Art of Neuroscience competition out of the Netherlands. I am honored and speechless to have my artwork featured in Scientific American in an article about the competition. In the article, I share my artwork with the writers and editors (Fionna M. D. Samuels and Liz Tormes) and how the Cajal Legacy at the Instituto Cajal and neuroscience inspire my art about Cajal. 
This is an award announcement of Dawn Hunter's honorable mention prize in the Art of Neuroscience Awards.

Above my artwork, Dueling Cajals, receives Honorable Mention in the 2022 Art of Neuroscience 
International competition.

My artwork is based on my thorough study of Cajal's life and his scientific drawings, which I conduct in collaboration with leading experts in the neuroscience field at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain. I have created over 300 works about Cajal in my ongoing project. My creative project aims to help increase public awareness of the wonders and how the process of drawing can create unique insight and interpretations for scientific research. Overall, my series about Cajal is biographically informative about him and his drawing process.

This is an image that contains three photos pasted together. The first image on the left is a portrait of Dawn Hunter holding Cajal's Nobel Prize, the middle image is an original scientific drawing of Cajal's, and the last image on the right is Dawn Hunter's research desk at the Legado Cajal, Madrid, Spain. There are markers in the foreground, a sketch of Dawn Hunter's in the middle, and Cajal's original death mask mold in the background.

Me with my primary source references for my work Dueling Cajals: Cajal's Nobel Prize, his original scientific drawing of regenerative nerve cells and his death mask. All of these items are housed at the Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain.

Historical Background about Cajal

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) was born in a small town in Spain. His father was a doctor, and Cajal grew up interested in science. He went to medical school, but he also studied biology and physics. He studied the brain using histological staining methods, microscopes, micrographs, and drawing. He discovered how different parts of the brain work. Cajal was also a great teacher and helped train many scientists who would go on to make significant contributions to neuroscience, like Fernando De Castro (arterial chemoreceptors), Rafael Lorente de Nó (audio-vestibular nuclei and system), and E. Horne Craigie (zoologist and author).

Along with Camillo Golgi, Cajal won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1906.

He did his seminal work in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is known for problem-solving and innovation, like altering and improving the Golgi Black Reaction stain, which allowed him to visualize the nervous system in unprecedented detail. His discoveries continue to be the basis for our understanding of the brain.

One of Cajal's most important contributions was his development of the Neuron Doctrine. This theory states that the nervous system comprises individual cells called neurons. Santiago Ramón y Cajal's work on the neuron doctrine helped establish neuroscience as its scientific discipline.

Cajal, was an absolute genius, he has left a profound impact on neuroscience. He was the trailblazer for the neuron doctrine; his work was like this beacon, guiding our understanding of the brain's mysterious labyrinth. Cajal is just this pivotal force in neuroscience history. Even now, scientists and artists can't help but study and admire the incredible things he's discovered and are mesmerized by the beauty of his drawings.

It's wild to think about how much Cajal's work has shaped the field of neuroscience! His brilliant investigation into the nervous system's anatomy? A total game-changer. It's like he took a paintbrush and reimagined the canvas of our understanding. Because of him, neuroscience became its unique masterpiece, and he paved the way for many discoveries we're still making today. Even modern neuroscientists continue to reference his work, ensuring his legacy lives on for generations.

Cajal's discoveries about the brain's structure and function are like these vibrant colors, leaving a lasting impression on the field. And we're still diving into his work today, using it to make headway in figuring out neurological disorders. It's honestly so inspiring. Cajal's work is like this beautiful testament to the power of science, and it shows how vital curiosity and creativity are when we're chasing after our research.


I have enjoyed making artwork about Cajal's life and histology research. I am honored to have my work receive an Honorable Mention Award in the Art of Neuroscience competition and delighted that it was featured in Scientific American. To learn more about my project about him, visit my website devoted to my Cajal project, Dawn Hunter Art,™ | Cajal Portfolio.

This is a color marker and ink drawing that features four portraits of Cajal. His age is about 38 in these portraits, and the main background color is orange, and he is dress in muted green and Earth tones.

My drawing, Four Cajals, marker and pen on paper, is based on a black and white self-portrait photo montage created and printed by Cajal. I added the color based on a color harmony system to my drawing.


Below is a video that documents my process Creative Process Video for the Artwork Dueling Cajals:

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Mentorship and Loss

Ah, you know, being a college art student is such an adventure! You've got that snazzy studio space to create your masterpieces, but it can feel lonely sometimes. I can't stress enough how crucial it is to have a mentor in your college art studio. They're like a lighthouse in a stormy sea of creativity! 

Mentors, they're like these magical beings who guide you, give feedback on your work and help you network with other artsy folks. The hallmark of a good mentor is excellent listening skills balanced with professional experience and generosity. Having someone committed to providing quality and consistent feedback nurtures your creative present and future. 

Let me tell you where to start if you're looking for a mentor.

First up, your professor; if there's a professor you genuinely admire and who knows their stuff about your preferred art form, they might be the mentor of your dreams! Ask if they can spare some time regularly to chat about your work and offer their insights.

Next is the college art gallery; those gallery staff members are usually eager to gab about art with students. If there's an artist or style you're really into, ask a staff member if they can point you toward a potential mentor. 

And remember local artists! Your town or city is probably teeming with artists who'd be thrilled to mentor a budding college student. Check out local galleries and studios, and don't be shy—say hello to and regularly interact with the artists of your community. Having a mentor in your college art studio can be transformative for you creatively but also set you on a productive career path. So, reach out and ask for help! 

My Mentors

During my college years at the Kansas City Art Institute, I was never shy about reaching out to professors. I was lucky in college, I had two great mentors who shaped my artistic practice profoundly: Wilbur Niewald and Shirley Luke Schnell.

Wilbur Niewald

Wilbur Niewald died this past spring at the age of 97. He live his entire life in Kansas City, and no one has painted the city as frequently as he did. His Plein air works could rightfully be called love letters to the city.

Wilbur earned bachelor and master degrees from the Kansas City Art Institute. He was a member of the painting faculty for 43 years, chaired the painting department from 1958 to 1985, and was a respected and well known painter throughout the United States. 

In 1992, he retired. He remained devoted to his artistic practice and he spent hours each day, often six days a week, painting outdoors in Loose Park or the West Bottoms or in his studio during his retirement.

One of the things I liked to do when visiting Kansas City in the summer was to visit him while he was creating his Plein air artworks. I would find him passionately painting away at his easel near the tennis courts at Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri, wearing his well-known attire: a straw hat, denim shirt, and blue jeans.

Above, a drawing I completed of Wilbur Niewald while he was painting in Loose Park during one of my visits to Kansas City, marker and pen on paper, 11" x 14."

I took Wilbur's drawing classes most semesters while I was in college. Every class was always the same, with one instruction: "Draw what you see." I found the experience meditative and relaxing, and I also developed a deep appreciation for working from observation.

Wilbur always took me seriously and respected me as an artist, which profoundly impacted me the most. I took myself seriously because of that. He understood my potential more than I did. As a sophomore, I had a conversation with him about switching my major from Painting to Fibers. He made a compelling argument to other faculty and me in the program about why I should not switch my major. I stayed because he convinced me.

He drew and painted from direct observation beginning in the 1970s. It never mattered to him what the condition of weather was. Once when our drawing class was outside drawing the landscape in Plein air, it began to rain. Most students began packing up and heading back to the classroom, but Wilbur exclaimed, "Don't leave; this is great. Change your drawing as the situation changes." He only convinced four of us to stay.

Above, a drawing I completed of Wilbur Niewald while he was painting in Loose Park during one of my visits to Kansas City, marker and pen on paper, 11" x 14."

Shirley Luke Schnell

There's nothing quite like a quirky art professor to get students excited about creativity. Shirley Luke Schnell was one of those teachers. With her whimsical, soft-spoken voice and eccentric clothing, she always seemed to be on the verge of levitating above all of us in the Foundations studio. But somehow, she always managed to bring unique and memorable insight to the studio practice, and her students always seemed inspired and to learn a lot.

Even though she was different than anyone else you'd ever meet, her students connected with and loved her. They knew that she cared about them and that she wanted them to succeed. She was always pushing them to be their creative limits with the concepts of her assignments. This generated growth and new perspectives on what is or could be.

Shirley is a true original, and in the classroom, she was the perfect example of how being different can be a good thing. After Foundations, I reached out to her for critiques of my paintings and help with my graduate school applications. She was fully invested and took time during her weekends to help me write my application essays with clarity. I was fortunate to have her mentorship after college, too. We became close friends, and she has been present for the significant milestones of my life. Such as visiting me in London during my residency at the Royal Academy of Arts and attending my wedding.

Above, a digital iPad drawing I created of Shirley during one of my visits to her home.

Embracing Change: The Journey with Alzheimer's

As we grow older, it's not uncommon for memory to fade, impacting both ourselves and our dear ones. When it comes to Alzheimer's, this shift can be particularly tough on relationships. I remember my incredible mentor, Shirley, who was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's back in 2013. 

Looking back, he signs were there even before her diagnosis—visible in her actions and words. Today, she's reached a non-verbal stage as the disease continues its progression. Though she's still with us, Alzheimer's has taken away so much. Let's cherish our memories and support those facing this journey.

1. Understanding Alzheimer's: A Battle of the Mind 

Alzheimer's, one of the most common types of dementia, has touched the lives of over 5 million Americans. As a neurodegenerative disorder, it slowly erodes our memory and cognitive functions, making every day a struggle. Despite the efforts of researchers, the cause is unknown. Its cause is theorized to be a blend of genetic and environmental factors. The cure remains undiscovered.

2. Recognizing the Signs: Encountering Alzheimer's Symptoms

Living with Alzheimer's can be an incredibly personal and unique experience, as the symptoms manifest differently for everyone. Yet, some common threads bind these journeys: the challenges with memory, thinking, and communication and the shifts in mood and behavior. 

Physical symptoms like trouble walking, dizziness, and appetite changes also make their presence known, adding to the daily battles faced by those with Alzheimer's.

3. How does Alzheimer's disease affect relationships?

Alzheimer's disease can be heart-wrenching, profoundly affecting our relationships with loved ones. Those with this condition might withdraw from socializing, struggle to recall names or faces, and even become disoriented or agitated. As friends and family, it's painfully difficult to watch someone we care for seemingly disappear from us.

But let's not forget that beneath the disease; their hearts are still capable of feeling love and affection. We must keep embracing them, even when communication becomes a challenge. Engage them in activities they've always loved, and practice patience and understanding. Together, we can make sure they never feel alone in their fight.

Above, a digital iPad drawing Shirley created, after the onset of Alzheimer's, of her cat during one of my visits to her home.


Losing a mentor—whether through death or illness is difficult. 

Whether it hits you like a bolt from the blue or you see it coming, the passing of a mentor can feel like a shock. You may feel a great sense of emptiness after losing someone like the North Star guiding your ship, helping you grow and learn!

When a mentor leaves this world, it's easy to feel adrift and unsure. Let's remember that your mentor would want you to continue and keep growing creatively. 

It is essential to pause, allow yourself to grieve, and then remind yourself that your mentor would be cheering you on to keep putting one foot in front of the other and pay it forward by mentoring a younger artist yourself!