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's legacy continues to this day. His work on the neuron doctrine laid the foundation for our understanding of the brain, and his work on the brain's structure has helped shape our understanding of mental illness. He is a leading figure in the history of neuroscience, and his work is still studied and appreciated by scientists today.

Cajal's impact on neuroscience cannot be overstated. His work on the anatomy of the nervous system revolutionized our understanding of how the brain works. His discoveries helped establish neuroscience as its own field and paved the way for many of the modern insights that have been made in neuroscience in the years since. Cajal's work is still studied and referenced by neuroscientists today, and his legacy will continue for many years.

His discoveries about the structure and function of the brain have had a profound impact on the field and continue to be studied and applied today. Thanks to Cajal's efforts, we have a much better understanding of how the brain works and continue to progress in understanding neurological disorders. His work demonstrates the power of science and the importance of curiosity and creativity in 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

As a college art student, you'll likely have access to a studio space where you can work on your craft. And while having your own space is great, it can also be a bit isolating. That's why having a mentor in your college art studio can be so helpful.

A mentor can provide guidance and feedback on your work, help you connect with other artists, and even just be someone to talk to about the creative process. If you're looking for a mentor, here are a few places to start looking.

Your professor: If you have a professor who you admire and who is knowledgeable about the type of art you're interested in, they may be a great mentor for you. Ask if they're available to meet with you on a regular basis to discuss your work and get feedback.

The college art gallery: Many college art galleries have staff members who are happy to talk to students about art. If you're interested in a particular artist or type of art, ask a gallery staff member if they know of anyone who could mentor you.

Local artists: There are likely many artists living and working in your town or city who would be happy to mentor a college student. Visit local art galleries and studios, and introduce yourself to the artists.

Having a mentor in your college art studio can make a world of difference in your creative journey. So don't be afraid to 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.

The Onset of Alzheimer's

As people age, they may begin to experience memory loss. This can be a difficult change for the individual and their loved ones. For those with Alzheimer's disease, the onset of memory loss can be particularly difficult on relationships. Shirley was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease officially in 2013, however, there were signs of the illness several years before that diagnosis. Her illness has progressed significantly and she is now at a non-verbal stage. Even though she is still alive, the disease has created loss.

1. What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. It causes gradual memory loss and cognitive decline. It is the most common type of dementia, affecting an estimated 5.4 million Americans. The cause of Alzheimer's is unknown, but it is thought to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure.

2. What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can vary significantly from person to person. In general, however, they may include problems with memory, thinking, and communication, as well as changes in mood and behavior. Some people with Alzheimer's may also experience physical symptoms, such as difficulty walking, dizziness, and changes in appetite.

3. How does Alzheimer's disease affect relationships?

Alzheimer's disease can impact relationships. People with Alzheimer's may become less interested in spending time with others, have difficulty remembering names and faces, and become confused or agitated. This can be difficult for family members and friends, who may feel like they are losing the person they know and love. 

It is important to remember that people with Alzheimer's are still capable of feeling love and affection. It is essential to continue to spend time with them, even if they can't always communicate. Try to engage them in activities they enjoy, and be patient and understanding.

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


It's never easy to lose a mentor.

Whether it's sudden or expected, the death of a mentor can be a difficult thing to process. After all, this is someone who has been a pivotal figure in your life, someone who has helped you grow and learn.

The death of a mentor can leave you feeling lost and uncertain. But it's important to remember that your mentor would want you to continue on your journey, to keep growing and learning.

Take some time to grieve, and then remember that your mentor would want you to keep moving forward.