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6635 N Baltimore ave #228
Portland, OR 97203

Science-inspired art by Sienna Morris, drawn entirely with numbers and equations by hand. Based in Portland, Oregon, Sienna is self taught in science and art, and uses her Numberism technique to process what she's learned, illustrating the data where it lives. 

She offers original work as well as fine art canvas and paper prints, and clothing of her work. 

Science is Hard


Science is Hard

Sienna Morris

Science is hard.

I was talking to a customer at the Portland Saturday Market, waxing philosophical about the accessibility and beauty of science, discussing how it is a field anyone can excel in given the interest and dedication, and that it has no gender, racial, religious or class barriers unless we support and/or believe in those barriers. All of this I believe completely. Then the customer ended up sort of going too far with it. We were talking about the misconception that science and math are boring, which when given the proper chance and environment, they of course are not (anything in the wrong environment or presentation can be boring. I'm sure if heavy metal were taught in a rote method, fewer people would want to be rock stars). But then he said

"Yeah, science isn't boring, and it's not hard!" 

That's where I disagreed. Science is hard. Math is hard. That's not something I'm trying to argue against with my art. I'm arguing for its beauty, its applicability and involvement in our lives, for our inherent connection with it, and to argue that there's no kind of person who shouldn't be welcomed into the experience  (more ladies in science! more young people! more artists! more musicians! more creative/scientific cross over!).  But it remains difficult. (here again we can argue that just about anything is hard if you pursue it long enough. Tennis is fun, and hitting a ball around can be easy, but achieving a Serena Williams level of awesomeness at Tennis is hard). 

Science and Math can be hard at the onset, however. They require learning new languages just to be able to get on the court or lift the racket.  Every part of your exploration of science can be hard. It's thankfully interspersed with engaging, fun, fascinating experiences and moments of clarity, which make it all worthwhile, but all the fun and excitement in the world can't remove "hard" from the list of applicable adjectives for studying science. 

I'm dealing with a bit of that at the moment. I'm on day 8 of the Month of Science, and I'm beginning to bite into the meatier, sciencier, mathier part of my studies.  A lot of what I get to do in here is a joy for me. Dissecting eyeballs, seeing cells under the microscope, playing with slide preparation, watching lectures on sensory systems, and learning beautiful new terms for the human body, visual cortex or visual phenomenon (like "Lacus Lacrimalis" or Lake of Tears, or a scotoma - which sucks, but sounds pretty).. this is all crazy fun for me.  But just about none of it is easy, all of it is new, and some of it is really really hard. 

Exploring the lab environment is an exciting adventure for me. All of it is new to me. I never had a lab experience in school, so this is super freaking awesome. It requires lots of research and trial and error, but all of that is part of the process, and I absolutely love it. Every part, even the difficult, weird, problemy  smelly parts. 

The math though; that's hard. Learning about action potentials, membrane potentials, graded potentials intuitively is very fun. Learning how to compute the math is hard. I have to watch and re watch these lectures. I take down lots and lots of notes, and I hunt on the internet to find explanations to things I don't understand. My lack of any background in electrical engineering is very real to me at the moment. It makes me want to go study it RIGHT NOW, which I can and can't do at the same time. Yes, I can go study electrical engineering, but I need to stay focused on the eye and visual cortex right now, so I basically have to study enough to get the concepts relating to membranes and promise myself to go back later. (I plan on drawing a piece on Tesla at some point, so this was in the plans anyway, but now it is a certainty). 

 Yes, it's happening. (but not for a while)

Yes, it's happening. (but not for a while)

People often assume I am a mathematician because of my work, and I get that. I draw with numbers. Specifically, I draw with math. It makes sense to assume that I know my way around it pretty well. A good way of explaining why that's not so is to look at my first series "Perpetual Motion" and my motivation for creating it.


"Perpetual Motion" featured fleeting moments drawn with the numbers of the clock 1 - 12 to remind me and hopefully any other viewer who sees them to remain in the present and to appreciate what is happening right here and now with no baring on what may or may not happen in the future, or what occurred before to lead you here now (namely what you could have done differently). I'm no guru on living the present. This is not something I excel at. I drew these pieces because I needed that in my life. I'm so terrible at being present, I drew artwork for 3 years entirely with the numbers 1 - 12, obsessively reminding myself "Be here, Sienna. Appreciate what's going on here and now. Don't worry so much. Accept the present state in life and do as much with it as you can. There's no changing the flow of time for your worry, so stop fighting it." 

That's about 40 - 350 hours each of drawing the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 in roughly 17 drawings for 3 years of a reminder to be better at something. 

I did this because it was worth the effort to improve an aspect of myself that I found lacking. 

I draw with math and science because it is important to remind myself to learn, to push myself past my comfort levels so that I can get the reward of a better understanding of the world and my place in it. I draw these to remind myself to never stop, despite how difficult this is for me, maybe even because it is difficult for me. Each one of my math and science pieces are at once tools of my learning experience, and a battle cry to keep going. 

 Especially this one. "Universal Proprioception" is the Brave Heart of my sciency Numberism Pieces. 

Especially this one. "Universal Proprioception" is the Brave Heart of my sciency Numberism Pieces. 

I struggled with math in school. It was not something I excelled at. It still isn't, but it speaks to me. I understand that's a bit odd. I am drawn to the pattern, logic and reliability of numbers. I am inspired by their succinct and powerful way of communicating the  complex languages of science. I am drawing with numbers because I'd like to get to know them better. 

My point in all this is that not everything I'm doing in this lab is easy for me. Most of it isn't, and that's exciting. In the past 8 days in this Month of Science I've learned more than I have in the past 3 months. That it's becoming more difficult means that I'm pushing past the boundaries of what I knew into what I don't, challenging myself to wrap my head around concepts that are getting progressively more complex. This is great. It means I'm doing a good job. 


So yeah, it's about to get real. Real sciencey! 

 Me, seemingly all the time.. This is my process hahaha

Me, seemingly all the time.. This is my process hahaha

I'm  happy with where I am right now. I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. It's difficult, and the way I'm doing this is weird, but it's working for me, and that's exciting. Science is hard. Learning to understand it is a victory and one that never leaves you. What I'm learning here in this personal study will carry into everything else I ever want to learn in the future. :) 

I'm not sure how I should end this. I'm just going to go back to studying the brain. 

Until next time.