Homunculino and the Pyramids

Today’s watercolor experiment:


I had a nice discussion with my colleague today about the pyramidal tract, a group of neurons that traverse from the motor area of the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord. One notable feature of this aggregate of neurons is that they are visible to the naked eye on the ventral aspect of the brain stem.  Their cross-hatched or pyramide-looking appearance as most of the fibers cross the midline (contralateral), while a minority of the fibers remain on the same side (ipsilateral)  as their cortical origin.

[Note that my colleague (Andrew Lautin, M.D.)  and I are completing an introductory neuroanatomy book that discusses the development of the human brain. More posts related to the brain: Balloon Brain, Flexible Neural Tube, My Favorite Part of the Brain, Illustration.]


My starting point was to find a way to incorporate the visible features of the corticospinal tract (crosshatching) in a wider design context. I began by using my grainer brush, with its mixture of long and short bristles, to paint parallel lines that curve to one side. The (Winsor) red lines were first, traveling from the upper left to the lower right; next the (ultramarine) blue lines, starting out parallel to the red, but veering in the opposite direction. The two races of lines crossed at about the center of the paper.  I emphasized the cross over, drawing short, cross-hatched red and blue lines . In keeping with the organization of  the tract, I  continued a portion of the red and blue lines down the paper without crossing the midline.

I washed the upper right corner of the paper with Winsor red, adjacent to the uncrossed blue lines; and the lower left corner, adjacent to the uncrossed red lines, with ultramarine blue. I washed each of these uncrossed sets of lines with quinacridone purple, setting up a visual border between the sparse parallel lines and the solid fields of color on the periphery.

At this stage of development of my composition, there was no visual reference to the brain. So, overlapping the origin of both the red and blue lines, at the top of the tract (at the upper right of the paper), I drew a crude gray outline of the brain. That outline resembles a boxing glove.

Within the brain, I drew an eye. It could be an all-seeing eye or an inner-looking eye.

Superimposed on the fields of red and blue, I drew two five-lobed shape. I was hoping they would be vague enough so that they could be interpreted as either leaves or hands, but it is clear what these forms represent.

Watercolor: Abstract - Red and Blue Crossing Filaments Plus Brain Collage

Homunculino and the Pyramids
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I hope viewers find this study visually interesting even without the backstory of its inspiration. I don’t think a backstory is really necessary to explain any given art piece. Visual elements should be able to stand by themselves. Sometimes the visual elements are also icons that can add other layers of meaning to the work.

‘Homunculus’ means ‘little man’ and is a term that is often used to represent motor and sensory cortices of the brain. Features of the ‘little man’ are proportional to the number of neurons representing that feature. For instance, the thumb of a human being has more innervation than the arm, so the map shows the thumb as very large, compared with the arm.  I named my ‘little man’, ‘Homunculino’ because the motor and sensory functions are abbreviated to the eye and the hands.

Eyes and hands are very important to a visual artist, just as ears and hands are important to a musician. In general, a creative individual needs to find his or her way to a motor outlet if any ideas can be shared.

3 thoughts on “Homunculino and the Pyramids

  1. i think the hands work really well. the right one looks like a leaf and left looks like a skeletal hand seen under transparent skin. the spine looks like a sting of dna, because of the blue stroke of paint below it.

    i love windsor blue but i’ve never heard of windsor red. i have to assume it’s a windsor and newton color? maybe in their galleria line of paints?

    great work! 🙂


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