Monday, November 20, 2023

Bridging Art and Neuroscience at the Society for Neuroscience's Annual Meeting, 2023

 The Society for Neuroscience's 2023 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., was a beacon for the neural sciences, uniting over 30,000 global attendees. It epitomized SfN's commitment to scientific collaboration, career growth, and networking. The conference's heart lay in its Featured and Special Lectures, where 13 Special and 4 Presidential Lectures showcased the pinnacle of neuroscience thought.

This is a photo of the Walter Washington Convention Center with an oversize Society of Neuroscience sign hanging off of it.
SfN 2023, Walter Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Keynote presentations spanned a diverse range of topics. From Mala Murthy's insights on Drosophila's neural networks to Sarah J. Tabrizi's breakthroughs in genetic therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, each session expanded the boundaries of neuroscience.

The following days continued the trend with Anne Schaefer's discussion on neuron-microglia circuits and Erin M. Schuman's exploration into synaptic cell biology. Joanne E. Berger-Sweeney's journey from bench scientist to college president brought a narrative of resilience and change to the domain of neuroscience and education.

Clinical neuroscience took center stage with Carolyn Rodriguez's exploration of OCD treatment avenues, while A. James Hudspeth's lecture on the mechanics of auditory hair cells revealed the complexities of hearing. The innovations in neuroscience tool development were highlighted by Karl Deisseroth's talk on channelrhodopsins.

Gilles Laurent's exploration of brain evolution and Judy Illes's address on neuroethics emphasized the expanding scope of neuroscience, touching upon cultural and environmental considerations. The role of astrocytes in neural circuitry was illuminated by Cagla Eroglu, and the intricate relationship between empathy and neural circuitry was presented by Hee-Sup Shin.

The meeting's final day was marked by Yang Dan's lecture on sleep regulation, Beatriz Rico's dive into cortical circuitries, and Mark M. Churchland's discussion on population-level neural computations. Xinzhong Dong demystified the sensation of itch, presenting new therapeutic directions.

This is an image of the NIH exhibit and the poster presentations at the SfN 2023 meeting.
Exhibitors, left, and poster presentations, right, Society of Neuroscience 2023

The intersection of art and neuroscience was exemplified by the presence of Ella Maru Studio co-founded by Sasha and Ella Marushchenko. Ella's scientific illustrations and animations brought visual representation to complex scientific concepts. Her story, a tapestry of resilience, passion, and the power of visual communication, was a highlight of the conference's exhibitor hall. You can read more about Ella Maru Studio in a comprehensive SC People interview on, the home of the webzine South Carolina Sunshine.

Sasha and Ella Marushchenko at the Ella Maru Studio exhibit, Society of Neuroscience 2023

The Art of Neuroscience exhibition featured highly respected and renowned artists like Greg Dunn, Michele Banks, and Laura Bundesen, whose diverse mediums and styles offered attendees a multifaceted view of neuroscience. Dunn's work, in particular, with its Asian influences and innovative reflective microetching, has made a significant impact across the neuroscience community.

In conclusion, Neuroscience 2023 was a testament to the synergistic potential between scientific discovery and artistic expression. The meeting underscored how art can elucidate and magnify our understanding of the brain's complexities, offering a dual celebration of scientific progress and the diverse, creative modalities through which we can appreciate the neural wonders.

This is a portrait of artist Greg Dunn with an exhibit of his artwork at the Society of Neuroscience 2023.
Art of Neuroscience exhibitor Greg Dunn with his artwork, SfN 2023

This is a photo of Laura Bundesen with her artwork at the Society of Neuroscience 2023.
Art of Neuroscience exhibitor Laura Bundesen with her artwork, SfN 2023

This is a photo of Michele Banks with her artwork at the Society of Neuroscience conference 2023.
Art of Neuroscience exhibitor Michele Banks of Artologica with her artwork, SfN 2023

Michele Banks, Cosmic Exploration Brain, watercolor on paper

Monday, June 19, 2023

Threaded Pathways: Unraveling Neuroscience and Art in Hannah Warming's Needles & Neurons

Welcome to my latest blog entry, a space where the artistry of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the legendary Spanish Neuroscientist, becomes the muse for a unique fusion of science and art. As an artist, professor, and Fulbright Scholar, I have the privilege of exploring and breathing "the life" of Cajal's intricate scientific sketches within the four walls of my studio. Just as the swirling hues of a nebula inspire the astronomer, the delicate complexities of Cajal's drawings breathe inspiration into my work.

Cajal's life, filled with discovery and dedication to neuroscience, forms the bedrock of my artistry. His meticulously crafted drawings are not just records of the earliest ventures into the intricate labyrinth of the human brain but also beautiful works of art that capture the fascination and wonder that the human brain inspires.

In this post, we'll embark on a journey to explore Neuroscientist and emerging artist Dr. Hannah Warming. She is the founder of 'Needles & Neurons,' a burgeoning movement within the art world where neuroscience melds with the age-old art of embroidery. Needles & Neurons mission is to raise money for Alzheimer's Research by selling finished embroideries, embroidery patterns, and kits. This emerging artistic expression reflects a blurring of the lines between scientific exploration and creative expression, much like Cajal did with his illustrative documentation of Neuroscience. 

Hannah's work is far from being merely popular; it is critically acclaimed and deeply respected in both Neuroscience and artistic communities. To this recognition, her works have graced the cover of the prestigious Lancet journal and featured prominently in the Journal Consilience. But beyond creating beautiful, intellectually engaging art, Hannah's work also has a profoundly humanitarian dimension. Each sale of her embroidery designs contributes to Alzheimer's Research UK, raising significant funds to support research into this devastating disease.

Her creations push traditional needlework boundaries, weaving in drawing and painting elements to deepen the conceptual connections between form and content. She uses social media platforms to share her creative journey and underline scientific research's importance, sparking dialogues and connections with her ever-growing audience. This vibrant engagement has led to special graphic design commissions from the international community, further amplifying her impact.

Microscopy inspired embroidery of a Neuron by Dr. Hannah Warming of Needles & Neurons.

Needles & Neurons is more than an artistic endeavor; it's a labor of love. Each piece that Hannah crafts are wrapped with care and shipped to collectors with personal touches like custom stickers and thoughtful thank-you notes. Despite her bustling schedule as a postdoc researcher at the University of Oxford, Hannah found time to share her passion and the important work she's doing in an interview for this blog post. She firmly believes in the power of creativity to effect change and raise awareness, with each stitch serving as a testament to this belief. You can support this critical cause and own a piece of this beautiful artistry through her Ko-Fi and Etsy stores.

Now, let's examine briefly some of the scientific methods that underpin some of Dr. Warming's inspiration for these artworks: electrophysiology. This cutting-edge technique allows researchers to capture and study the electrical symphony that orchestrates our neural activity. By gently introducing a minuscule electrode into a neuron, scientists can measure the shifts in voltage as the neuron engages, providing valuable insight into the communication patterns of these complex cells.

An electrophysiologist often finds themselves at the forefront of these intricate studies. Armed with micropipettes, they meticulously record electrical signals emanating from cells. Every bit of data gathered brings them a step closer to understanding the secrets of how these cells operate and interact, thereby opening up possibilities for new treatment methodologies for various neurological disorders.

Picture this: a dedicated neuroscientist in the laboratory, a micropipette carefully positioned to contact a neuron, adjusting and fine-tuning the parameters to capture the purest signal. Dr. Hannah Warming has experienced that as she anticipates with excitement the treasure trove of new data she is collecting, knowing that hours of analysis and discovery lie ahead.

She once noted, "When I engage in electrophysiology, my interaction with the cells goes beyond mere observation. I literally touch and manipulate them. I place the pipette against the cell membrane, delicately breach it, and start recording the inner electrical currents. It's an intimate dance of science and discovery."

Detail of embroidery of the isoform of NMDAR the lab discovered during Dr. Hannah Warming's Master's research. The embroidery was designed and created as a gift for her supervisor.

Dr. Hannah Warming | Interview Questions:

Dawn: What inspired you to begin embroidery work? How did it all get started?

Hannah: Like many other creatives, I picked up new hobbies to keep myself busy during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns – as the first lockdown loomed in early 2020, I tried out a floral embroidery kit to teach myself a few stitches and was hooked right away. Once I had completed the kit, I looked for ideas of what to stitch next, and as I was stuck at home and missing the lab, I tried out embroidering a neuron with a patch clamp pipette – my first piece of science art! It was a bit wonky, but I loved how easily embroidery came to me and how therapeutic it was as an art form.

Dawn: Have you always created artwork?

Hannah: Since childhood, I have loved to draw and paint, but I never felt I was particularly "good" at getting the image in my head onto the paper - so for many years, I fell out of touch with my creative side. I had tried crochet in the past (inspired by my very talented sister!), however, I couldn't seem to get the tension right, and everything looked a bit wonky. With embroidery, something just clicked, and it felt like finally, I was able to get my ideas out in an accurate way. I love how the threads closely resemble the axons and neurites I see in my cells in the lab and the different textures you can create with one medium. 

Dawn: What inspired you to raise money for Alzheimer's research?

Hannah: During my Master's degree research and Ph.D. studies, I was part of a lab that primarily focused on Alzheimer's disease, although my own research was in other neuroscience topics. Our lab was supported significantly by funding from the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, who facilitated many great opportunities for me and my colleagues, such as conference attendances and networking meetings to aid our development as scientists and drive research forwards. I decided I wanted to use the new hobby & my accumulating stack of finished embroideries to raise funds and give something back, so ARUK was the clear choice! 

ARUK works hard to support research into improving not only the future for people with dementia with new diagnostics and treatments, but also to improve quality of life for those currently affected by the disease. Recently, much of the industrial research funding into neuroscience and diseases like Alzheimer's has been withdrawn as these conditions are difficult to treat and therefore not "profitable" enough, and so to see change in the future, the support of organizations like ARUK is a necessity.

Dawn: How do you decide what you want to embroider? Do you design all of your work?

Hannah: I design almost all of my embroideries, usually with a brief sketch on my iPad first to decide on placement and color options. Any that aren't my own design are usually based on the drawings of Ramón y Cajal – his intricate drawings of neurons are the perfect inspiration! I also like to copy my own microscopy from my lab work, if I take a particularly nice photo of a cell I have made recordings from.

I go through phases of what will be the subject of my designs based on what I see in my research – for example, when I was growing bacterial cultures in the lab to isolate DNA, I made some beaded petri dishes mimicking bacterial colonies. Nowadays, I spend time on the microscope imaging neurons I have made recordings from, and these are inspiring my current works. 

I have also had the pleasure of making many commissioned embroideries, usually as gifts for my customers' colleagues or graduating students. I believe the art should be scientifically accurate – this is a fun way to learn about new topics and cell types so that I can generate a design and stitch something that the recipient can enjoy as being personal to them. I love having such a wide array of subjects for my embroidery designs!

Full hoop of embroidery of the isoform of NMDAR the lab discovered during Dr. Hannah Warming's Master's research. The embroidery was designed and created as a gift for her supervisor.

Dawn: Your Master's is in Biomedical Science; what led you to neuroscience research?

Hannah: I remember saying during my undergraduate study that "I will never work in neuroscience," as I just did not enjoy it at all, to begin with! Over time I developed an interest in neurodegenerative disease and chose to take more modules on the topic. My Master's thesis was in the study of NMDA receptors, a type of protein that facilitates excitation through cell membranes and a key mediator of cell-to-cell communication. Our lab discovered a new form of the receptor that hadn't been previously identified in humans, which I found so exciting, and it led me to become very interested in the mechanisms of cell communication. This is also where I first tried patch-clamp as a technique and loved it.

From there, I decided to combine my interest in neurodegenerative disease with studying cell communication, and I studied cell damage in haemorrhagic stroke for my Ph.D. thesis, looking at how haemoglobin from the blood can alter cell health and communication. I'm now very passionate about understanding the brain, and I can't imagine working in a different field.

Dawn: What is the current focus of your Post Doc research? 

Hannah: After four years of studying stroke, I decided on a change in direction – but still wanted to use patch clamp in my work. I am currently working at the University of Oxford in the lab of Dr. Simon Butt, where we study brain development. I get to use really cool techniques to look at cell communications in the developing mouse brain by combining patch-clamp with laser-activation of cell signaling. We are investigating how certain treatments, such as antidepressants, can modify development and may lead to sensory disorders later in life. 

It's been a steep learning curve going from studying stroke to brain development in different regions of the brain than I am familiar with, but I love widening my neuroscience knowledge, and the techniques I use make it barely feel like work.

Dawn: How do you see art fitting into your life in the future?

Hannah: I really feel I have found "my" craft with embroidery, and I hope to continue it for many years to come. Post-PhD life is very busy, and I sadly have less time to focus on art these days; however, it is still my favorite thing to do in my downtime. I personally love having embroidery in my home, whether it is mine or from other artists, and my pieces I keep for myself tell a tale of my career so far. I hope to build on that and use art as a way to keep in touch with the neuroscience world wherever I end up. 

Dawn: I have noticed a lot of people with PhDs in neuroscience recently have pursued careers in the creative field, like illustration, graphic design, and visual communications. Do you ever wonder if your needlework might take you on a different professional path?

Hannah: It would be a dream to work in visual communications, but unfortunately, I think embroidery is too slow a craft for that! Some of my pieces take upward of 60 hours to complete, which is more suited to art for leisure rather than for professional projects with deadlines, such as in science communication. I love seeing fellow scientists branch out into creative fields and how each person has their own style in conveying information visually. 

That said, I do enjoy writing and creating graphics to communicate my research, and I have always loved public engagement to promote awareness of scientific information to a wider audience. I certainly won't rule out a more creative career – for now, I really enjoy hands-on research and am seeing where the neuroscience winds take me.

Dawn: What are your future plans for Needles & Neurons?

Hannah: Since I have less time to make embroideries these days, my brand has slightly shifted from a (very) small business more towards a hobby in my mindset to take the pressure off and allow it to be compatible with my other work. However, I have no intention of stopping embroidery under the name Needles & Neurons, and I will continue raising funds to support Alzheimer's Research UK – I still have multiple works in progress at any given time; they just take a little longer to complete! I would love to keep up my creative outlet, and maybe one day, when I am settled into a career, I might have a little more time to offer more kits, patterns, and tutorials to engage the next generation of scientists in science art too. 

Above are several examples of biology and neuroscience embroideries by Dr. Hannah Warming.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Exploring the Wonders of the Human Brain: A Journey through Science and Art at the Madrid Book Fair

The 82nd Madrid Book Fair, spanning the duration of two weeks (May 26-June 11, 2023), is welcoming visitors with a multitude of booths representing nearly 1,000 publishing houses across 424 exhibitors. This year's event has undergone modifications aimed at redesigning specific areas to enhance the accessibility of books and alleviate congestion. One noteworthy addition is the implementation of the "shadow project," whereby select sections of the fairgrounds will be covered with tarps. This initiative has been made possible through the support of the Healthy Skin Foundation of the Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

Another departure from the Madrid Book Fair tradition is the omission of the customary "Guest Country" designation, which has been replaced by the overarching theme and motto:          

"We're into Science and Letters"  [#DeCienciasYLetras] 

In line with this new approach, exploring scientific literature, many activities are organized to include an established "Science Square" that serves as a collective epicenter of the fair. Among the notable attractions within this area is a projection of a giant brain, coinciding with the Año Cajal, created by CSIC Divulga, provides insights into the intricacies of neuronal functioning.

Cajal sketchbook page featuring dividing skin cells recreated and illustrated by artist Dawn Hunter on the left, and on the right the Cajal's finished drawing published in a sketchbook..Left, my drawing of Cajal's sketchbook page of dividing skin cells and right, the Cajal's published finished drawing of dividing skin cells from his textbook: Manual de Histología Normal y de Técnica Micrográfica par Uso de Estudiantes

The opening discourse of the Madrid Book Fair, aligned with the overarching science theme of this edition, will be delivered by Agustín Fernández Mallo, an esteemed writer, in collaboration with Nazareth Castellanos, a doctor of Neuroscience, and Andrés Newman and Raquel Lanseros, both of whom have demonstrated a particular interest in scientific matters through their literary works. Furthermore, various gatherings, experiments, and panel discussions revolving around science will be held in the Children's Pavilion, the CaixaBank Pavilion, and the Eugenio Trías Library. These events, many of which are organized by the CSIC and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, aim to foster engagement with scientific topics.

CSIC's Brain Exhibition at the 2023 Madrid Book Fair/Feria del Libro de Madrid, image courtesy of CSIC Divulga 

Recognizing that science permeates our daily lives, the Madrid Book Fair endeavors to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and the general public. In this context, activities explore diverse manifestations we encounter, like the metadata that impacts cyber algorithms that shape our social networks and our individual and collective identities. Other presentations of contemporary existence, such as emerging artificial technologies, have showcased how art is integrated into our lives through scientific illustrations. To that end, the Madrid Book Fair welcomed esteemed guests, including Alejandro Vergara Sharp, the head of the Conservation Area of Flemish Painting and Northern Schools at the Prado Museum, and José Ramón Marcaida, the Head Scientist of the History of Science Department at the CSIC History Institute. Together, these two experts shed light on the captivating interplay between art and science during the 15th and 16th centuries, revealing key insights into this dynamic relationship. Other experts specializing in diverse fields will offer insights on the intersection of scientific and literary subjects on the pavilion for Science and Universities.

A riveting exhibit at the Madrid Book Fair, introduced above, is the enthralling exhibition that explores one of science's most enigmatic marvels: the human brain. This exhibit dovetails with the Año Cajal and    examines the intricacies and allure of the brain and the exhibition examines the complexity of the human mind. This installation embodies a unique and immersive experience that is captivating to the viewer and is a testament to the symbiotic relationship between science and art.

This is a portrait of Cajal featured in an immersive exhibition about the human Brain at the Madrid Book Fair.
CSIC's Brain Exhibition featuring Cajal at the 2023 Madrid Book Fair/Feria del Libro de Madrid, image courtesy of CSIC Divulga 

Citing Cajal's legendary scientific and artistic endeavors, the exhibition draws visitors into a realm where science and creativity intertwine. The display aims to foster a dialogue between scientific discovery and artistic expression through a multidimensional exploration that provides a gateway to a deeper understanding of the enigmatic nature of our cognition.

Through its immersive and visually striking presentation, the exhibition evokes wonder and curiosity - inspiring future generations of researchers and creatives. As spectators traverse the exhibition, they will witness the intricate tapestry of neural connections, gaining insight into history and the inner workings of human consciousness and explore the potential of the future through new technologies and groundbreaking innovations. Guests can obtain passes and schedule a visit to the exhibition on CSIC's website:   here  

As is customary, many authors are scheduled to attend the fair and will be signing copies of their books. This year the Madrid Book Fair will present a selection of prominent figures and authors whose works have achieved widespread acclaim and garnered substantial demand. This year's fair will pay tribute to literary giants Jorge Luis Borges, Antonio Gala and Juan Benet on Friday, June 8, 2023. 

More Information

The 2023 Madrid Book Fair runs from May 26-June 11 at El Retiro Park.  

Book Fair hours are:

  • Monday-Thursday, 10:30 am to 2:00 pm & 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. 
  • Saturdays and Sundays, 10:30 am to 3:00 pm & from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
  • The closest Metro Madrid stations are Príncipe de Vergara (Lines 2 and 9), Ibiza (Line 9), and Retiro (Line 2).

Official Madrid Book Fair website   here  

This is an exhibit image of the human brain at the 2023 Madrid Book Fair.
CSIC's Brain Exhibition at the 2023 Madrid Book Fair/Feria del Libro de Madrid, image courtesy of CSIC Divulga 

Madrid Book Fair/Feria del Libro de Madrid, El Retiro Parque

Book exhibition display at the Madrid Book Fair.
Book display at the Madrid Book Fair/Feria del Libro de Madrid, El Retiro Parque

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Cyber Canvas: Safeguarding Our Digital Nucleus in an Evolving Online Landscape

As an artist coaxes life from the austere medium of marble or a scientist awakens inquiry through the microscopic dance of cells, so too must we consider our digital imprint on the world wide web. A website, much like the nucleus of a cell, forms the crux of this complex tableau, defining, structuring, and fundamentally giving essence to our online identity. This isn't an analogy drawn frivolously; rather, it draws deep parallels with the magnificent designs of life. The nucleus is the cell's center, and it is filled with DNA blueprints that direct its function and purpose. A website is a meticulously curated digital fulcrum of our virtual existence, broadcasting our passions, capabilities, and contributions in a complex lattice of text, graphics, and links with code. On a website, we communicate who we are and what we do, shaping how the digital world perceives and interacts with us. Therefore, crafting this digital nucleus becomes an act of expression, blending the precision of science with the depth of art as we craft a coherent, authentic, and engaging narrative of our identity in the vast virtual cosmos.

This is an acrylic painting by artist Dawn Hunter of two dancers doing the tango in a cell body.

Dawn Hunter, Cell Block Tango Embrace, board, 12" x 17.5"

The sanctity of our online nucleus, our website, is non-negotiable. Just as a biological cell enforces a membrane barrier against invading pathogens, the integrity of a website's domain needs safeguarding against digital marauders. These agents of chaos, armed with malevolent intent, seek to infiltrate our digital identities, corrupt our narratives, and compromise the authenticity of our self-expression. Thus, prioritizing domain protection is akin to maintaining the cellular health in a biological context. Ensuring robust security protocols, utilizing cutting-edge encryption, and regularly updating safeguards not only preserves our artistic or scientific endeavor in the virtual realm, it also guarantees the trust of those who interact with our domain. Much like an art historian would painstakingly preserve a masterpiece, or a biologist would protect a specimen, we must similarly guard our digital presence from degradation and corruption. The fortress we build around our online nucleus thus becomes a testament to our commitment to digital security, the preservation of our identity, and the respect for the spaces we inhabit and share in the digital universe.

As we navigate the nuanced landscape of digital presence, it's essential to understand the interplay between domain ownership and website hosting—two fundamental elements that, while closely intertwined, serve distinct functions. This distinction is akin to the difference between owning a precious artwork and having a secure gallery to display it. Domain ownership is your claim on a unique address on the web, your 'digital real estate,' if you will. It's the URL that directs users to your piece of the internet, much like the title of a painting guides art enthusiasts to a specific work. Website hosting, on the other hand, is akin to the gallery space where the artwork resides. It's a service that provides the infrastructure needed to display your website - the content, images, and features - on the internet. The domain brings your audience to your door, but it's the hosting that allows them to interact with everything inside. Both are indispensable in shaping and presenting your online identity, requiring strategic investment and judicious management for an engaging and secure online presence.

This is a landscape study of Ayerbe, Spain.

Dawn Hunter, Landscape ideation sketch of Ayerbe, Spain, 12" x 12"

In the evolving digital landscape, the tactics employed by hackers have transformed into an intricate dance of deception, impersonation, and technical prowess. Their techniques echo the sophisticated forgeries of the art world, and just as the untrained eye may be fooled by a counterfeit, even the most seasoned online denizens can fall prey to such exploits. Recent developments have seen hackers impersonating reputable domain ownership and website hosting platforms, producing convincingly disguised emails to lure unsuspecting users into divulging sensitive information. This constitutes a form of phishing, where these digital miscreants masquerade as trusted entities, exploiting our reliance on these platforms and threatening the sovereignty of our digital nuclei. The deception is so intricate, the mimicry so convincing, that it lures the unwary into a dangerous game of trust, placing not just our personal data, but the very ownership of our online domains at risk. This digital art of deception, much like the craft of a master forger, is targeted towards creating opportunities for theft, underscoring the necessity of constant vigilance and fortified safeguards in our interactions with the digital world.

Should you find yourself ensnared in such an unscrupulous situation, it's essential to recall several key principles to safeguard your digital fortress. Firstly, remember that legitimate platforms hosting your domain or website will never request sensitive information pertaining to domain ownership via email. Their integrity is akin to that of a respected museum, preserving, not violating, your trust. 

Secondly, if you own a premium website, like, for example,, no authentic platform will ever propose to auction off your domain, or cite its premium status as a reason list it in order to gain valuation insight on another platform. It's your masterpiece; they're simply the custodians.

Thirdly, it's imperative never to respond to or click on links within suspicious emails. Much like you wouldn't touch a fragile artifact in a museum without gloves, interacting with phishing emails can lead to irreversible damage. If you receive an email that looks authentic but raises suspicion, directly contact the supposed sender, such as your domain hosting or parking service, to verify its legitimacy. Never underestimate the power of double-checking, just as an art historian would verify a work's provenance.

Always ensure your domain remains locked, acting as the robust security system that protects valuable artworks in a gallery. If you observe dubious activity, it's not only permissible but encouraged to report such instances to ICANN or your local authorities. Like alerting museum security to potential threats, this proactive step can help maintain the security of the broader digital landscape, preserving the sanctity of our collective online expression.

In conclusion, our journey through the intersections of digital domain ownership, website hosting, and cybersecurity echoes the intricate choreography of The Dance: A Cell Block Tango Biological Pun, my recent artistic endeavor. This series, features figures emerging in the cell membrane, the nucleus, and the cytoplasm, and the inclusion of a painting from this series (along with a composition ideation landscape) in this article symbolizes the delicate balance we must maintain in crafting, curating, and safeguarding our digital identities. Like the dance of the cell, our online existence is a continuous ballet of expression, interaction, and vigilance. Our website—the nucleus of our online identity—demands the same respect, care, and protection as a cell in preserving life's vitality. It's essential to remain mindful of our potential challenges, understand the art of deception in the digital landscape, and equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools to protect our precious digital domains. In the end, our online presence is a canvas upon which we paint our intellectual, emotional, and creative identities; a masterpiece worth safeguarding with as much fervor as any priceless art or groundbreaking scientific discovery.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

In Line with Nature Juxtaposition: A Mixed Media Drawing Adventure with Line, Shape, and Texture - Inspired by Cajal's Observations

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the renowned Spanish neuroscientist, created an extraordinary body of work that showcased his unique ability to observe and record the intricate details of nature through drawing. Instead of approaching his drawings from a designer's perspective, Cajal relied on perceptual observation to uncover the inherent design of nature. His drawings served as a tool to observe, discern, and recount microanatomy structure, capturing the essence of nature's complexities with actual lines and implied space. Cajal's artistic philosophy centered around the belief that he was at the service of nature – recording and reporting the truthfulness of sight's journey.

Inspired by Cajal's attention to detail and descriptive lines, this blog post will explore an exciting mixed-media drawing assignment that encourages artists to closely observe and capture nature's beauty through line, shape, and texture. We'll explore the role of line variation and texture in adding visual dynamism and the importance of capturing the inherent "movement" or "gesture" of your chosen object. So, let's embark on this artistic journey together and uncover the truthfulness of sight's journey, just as Cajal did.

Artist Dawn Hunter's study of Cajal's scientific drawing at the Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain.


Nature has always been a source of inspiration for artists. In this blog post, we will explore an exciting mixed-media drawing assignment that brings together found objects from nature and your creative inventiveness. This project will utilize line, shape, and texture to create a captivating and descriptive piece. We'll also study the role of line variation and consistency in adding visual dynamism and the importance of capturing the inherent "movement" or "gesture" of your chosen object. So, let's dive into the details and embark on this artistic journey together!

Above, Dawn Hunter's study of an original scientific drawing of Cajal's housed at the Instituto Cajal. Photo © by Dawn Hunter.

The Assignment

Our goal is to create a mixed-media drawing that incorporates a found object from nature, juxtaposed and overlapped with imagery from one of your shape and texture inventories. The final piece should demonstrate your ability to engage the edges of the composition fully, create a descriptive drawing with overlapping images and lines, experiment with the juxtaposition of shape and texture, and participate in a visual critique process.

Materials You'll Need:

  1. Found object from nature
  2. Charcoal
  3. Pencils
  4. Ink
  5. Two sheets of 18" x 24" drawing paper

The Process: Begin by developing four thumbnail sketches on a quartered sheet of paper. These sketches will serve as the foundation for your final piece, so be sure to measure and divide the paper evenly using a ruler or by neatly folding it. 

Above, Renee's thumbnail drawings, pastel, marker, charcoal, India ink and graphite on paper, 18" x 24."

This is an image of four thumbnail drawings for professor Dawn Hunter's In Line with Nature Assignment.

Above, Cisnes Idrovo's thumbnail drawings, marker, charcoal, India ink and graphite on paper, 18" x 24."

This is an image of four thumbnail drawings for professor Dawn Hunter's In Line with Nature Assignment.

Above, Katlin Jeffcoat's thumbnail drawings, pastel, marker, charcoal, India ink and graphite on paper, 18" x 24."

Once your sketches are complete, select one to develop into your final drawing. As you work on the piece, consider the following strategies and questions:

  1. Composition and Format: Pay close attention to the edges of the composition and the placement of your found object. Consider whether a vertical or horizontal format would be more visually pleasing.
  2. Line Variation and Texture: Experiment with overlapping lines, varying their size, direction, speed, and degree of value. This technique will enhance the illusion of texture, adding depth and descriptiveness to your composition. Reflect on how line variation and texture contribute to visual dynamism in your artwork.
  3. Capturing Gesture and Movement: Think about the dominant "gesture" or "movement" inherent in your found object – if it were moving with velocity in a particular direction, which way would that be? Consider the factors that created this movement, such as the growth of a branch or the impact of wind. Contemplate the effects of enhancing this movement with texture and line direction to create a more engaging and visually striking piece.

This is a final project Studio Art, mixed media, nature drawing project created by artist Dawn Hunter for her Foundations class.

Above, Renee Kinney's final drawing, graphite, India ink, charcoal and pen, 18" x 24."

This is a final project Studio Art, mixed media, nature drawing project created by artist Dawn Hunter for her Foundations class.

Above, Cisne Idrovo's final drawing, graphite, India ink, charcoal and pen, 18" x 24."

This is a mixed media drawing exploring pattern, line and texture of a natural object.

Above, Katlin Jeffcoat's final drawing, marker, pen, India ink, and graphite on paper, 18" x 24."


This mixed media drawing assignment is an excellent opportunity to explore the natural world and develop your artistic skills. By focusing on line, shape, and texture, as well as considering visual dynamism and the inherent movement of your chosen object, you'll create a unique and descriptive piece that showcases your creativity and highlights the beauty of nature. So, gather your materials, venture outdoors to find your inspiration, and start sketching your way to an unforgettable artistic experience!

To view more examples of this project, visit my teaching portfolio website, here.

This is a texture inventory drawing study from artist Dawn Hunter's Foundations class.

Above, Katlin Jeffcoat's Texture Inventory drawings, India ink, graphite, and charcoal on paper, 18" x 24." project based on Mary's Stewarts Texture Inventory exercise.

This is a shape inventory drawing study from artist Dawn Hunter's Foundations class.

Above, Cisne Idrovo's  Texture Inventory drawings, India ink, graphite, and charcoal on paper, 18" x 24." project based on Mary's Stewarts Texture Inventory exercise.

This is a texture inventory drawing study from artist Dawn Hunter's Foundations class.

Above, Renee Kinney
's  Texture Inventory drawings, India ink, graphite, and charcoal on paper, 18" x 24." project based on Mary's Stewarts Texture Inventory exercise.