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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. 

Blog

Connecting

Sienna Morris

Fire Dol" 24"x36" -Limited Edition. This is a big deal for me. This is my friend, Brad Hackworth , and I drew this piece with him in mind. He is letting me share this story with you. He was in a bad house fire with his sister when they were both small children. It was a traumatic experience which never left him and which had long lasting physical and emotional effects for them both in different ways. It's not surprising that images and notions of fire would bring up bad memories and that generally speaking fire would make him uncomfortable, stressed or anxious. This piece is about how the body responds to the painful stimulus of fire as a reflex to keep us safe. It features the grey butterfly of the spinal cord drawn with chemistry and physics relating to the neural event, which I think is beautiful. The background is fire. My goal was to draw this piece so that even he found it beautiful. So that he could see this piece and feel something positive towards fire and our relationship to it. That is a difficult goal to achieve, but it was the driving inspiration for creating this. He texted me when he saw the first large print (which he himself stretched on canvas for me)

Brad: "Sienna, no joke, these are the most beautiful finished pieces yet. I'm in love with them."
Me: "Really? :)"
Brad: "Yes, I was actually moved When I looked at the finished result."

This is what art is about for me. To reach and connect with people, to push our own boundaries and open up our lives to more beauty and perspective. In some ways, art and music can do a better job of that then any amount of speaking. I am so grateful this piece connected with Brad. It means the world to me and is worth more than any amount of material success. Thank you Brad for your connection to this work. <3

 

Little Worlds

Sienna Morris

Creating artwork is my most natural state. Just about everything else changes, but that remains, and it's fundamentally the same experience for me regardless of the project. 

I fall in and everything else falls away. A new world opens up and I stay there until the story stops speaking to me, or until my body gives out. 

Most artists would probably relate. You don't notice that your leg cramped up an hour ago and that you forgot to eat after working on your piece for 12 hours. The need to sleep and the experience of being tired changes shape. Extreme levels of being tired somehow add to the process, seemingly opening up your mind  hand connection, and you sink into the flow even deeper. It's not until you can no longer see the page in front of you that you cede to your body's exhaustion and put down the pen or brush. Those moments when you're so tired that you're in the surface layers of a dream mind are kind of magical. Parts of your higher brain function fogs out, and things like doubt, fear and anxiety simply can't function there. 

I think this is similar to how people feel when they're high. A disconnect from the normalcy of their daily self, and a reconnection to the quiet self that remains. Automatic, visceral. 

I prefer to work to music. To be fair, it is usually my Portland Cello Project playlist on Pandora, but it can change based on the piece. I have a weakness for Billie Holiday, classical  and Dido, . Then there's those pieces that for some reason require Tool or NIN in the background for them to come out. This is less frequent as that music tends to keep me at the surface, but there are pieces that need that music to function.

The music acts like the foundation for a new fictional world I make for myself. I usually create for long periods of time. I dislike short sessions because I never really get into the flow before they're over. (My etching "Oxytocin" was primarily drawn in three sessions, two of which were 24 hours straight and the third for 36 hours straight, save for bathroom breaks or to refill my coffee or shove an apple in my mouth. My usual session is about 8 hours).

I let people know I'm working and to leave me be for a while and then I go. As I create, my mind opens up and works on building worlds while I draw or paint, to keep my mind busy, I guess while my hands work. When I'm deep in a session, it doesn't really feel like I'm choosing to do much, it's just happening.  These worlds I make in my mind are like watching movies that you can be in, kind of like dreaming I guess, but complex and linear. Usually scifi or fantasy in nature. There's lots of time travel, space travel, epic characters, powerful people found in small, unassuming lives. Sometimes these worlds are smaller, more casual, but these are less frequent. I've watched the birth and death of a single character in a single session. For complex or long story lines, I pick back up where I left off in my next drawing session if the story wasn't finished.

One of my favorites that I often revisit, involves a planet where all the galaxy's religious idols live, made immortal by worship. Those that have been long forgotten or mentioned only in historical myth on their target planet grow feeble and slowly fade off. This era on the planet is post revolution after their people fought to establish ethics and to end involvement on their followers home planets, to no longer cause natural disasters or disease to gain believers, to allow the lives of their followers to go on uninterrupted. The main character is a young girl with immense power who had gained it naturally and without establishing a  following. Social upheaval ensues. It ends up being a coming of age story that involves the honor of a people and the shaking of belief and purpose. I really like the main girl. She has a quiet strength and a unique mind that is not easily manipulated. She's 9 at the beginning of the story. 

These aren't stories I think I'd be able to tell others well. I've tried writing one or two of them down, but they come out convoluted and incomplete. I think for me, some part of the drawing is intermixed with the story, so it's hard to tell it without it. 

Afterwards you feel both exhausted and refreshed, if that makes any sense at all. 

Anyway, people often ask me what it's like to draw my pieces, so I thought I'd write it down. 

The research part is completely different. It's very cerebral and involved.  That's another story. 

Here are some videos of me drawing, as well as some photos of "Oxytocin", which I mentioned earlier. 

Meeting with Dr. Starr, wherein inspiration is found to be reciprocal

Sienna Morris

I just finished an hour long meeting with Dr. Albert Starr in his office at the Oregon Health and Science University. Dr. Starr is a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon who has significantly contributed to his field. For instance, he invented and installed the world's fist human heart valve in 1960, the Starr-Edwards Heart Valve. He has been a cardiovascular surgeon for about 60 years and  is currently a professor of cardiovascular medicine and is chairman of the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute of OHSU. 

I was meeting with him to discuss a VSD surgery he performed 43 years ago on my customer (whom we will call Mr. W). Mr. W commissioned me to create a Numberism drawing illustrating an infant heart with a Ventricular Septal Defect, using the model heart Dr. Starr had given his family to detail his condition before the surgery. Dr. Starr performed the surgery to correct this disorder when Mr. W was just 15 months old. At the time only a handful on infants this young had received the treatment as it was highly risky. The purpose of our meeting was to interview him about the surgery, the disorder and the recovery, hoping to find data that would be useful to tell this story scientifically. My plan was to illustrate the heart with data relating to how Mr. W's heart was functioning before and after the treatment, to compare these two worlds. This is significant because of just how lucky Mr. W was that he could receive the treatment at all. Just 10 years prior, it would have been impossible to perform VSD surgery on such a young infant, and with how serious his condition was, he likely would not have survived had he not been treated immediately. (This is probably a good time for me to mention that Mr. W is perfectly healthy today, thanks in great deal to  Dr. Starr). 

 By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

A Ventricular Septal Defect is a congenital birth defect where the wall separating the Right and Left Ventricle does not fully close. In simple cases, this is a small hole that will close on its own and often simply requires medication until the infant recovers. In Mr. W's case the hole was quite large and required surgery. With a large hole in the Ventricular Septum, oxygenated blood flows from the Left Ventricle  across the wall into the Right Ventricle which is filled with deoxygenated blood. The deoxygenated and oxygenated blood mix and  flow through pulmonary artery to the lungs. With the excess blood from the LV, the lungs and heart work overtime leading to pulmonary hypertension. Symptoms include the infant's inability to gain weight or grow, lethargy and can lead to heart failure.

I was nervous about meeting with Dr. Starr. I am an artist who is self taught in science. I scratch the surface of the scientific world and of academia and take away the inspiration I need to create my work. I experience science through a window of love, admiration and awe. Technical patterns, mathematical values, sequences and temporal differentials within systems mesmerize me. It's like finding little secrets to the Universe, while still not knowing exactly what the secret is. I'm just finding the crumbs and hoping it leads somewhere, fitting the pieces together to tell the story as best I can.

This is not how people like Dr. Starr experience scientific education. Their path is rigorous, highly logical, highly refined, and it takes a lifetime of devotion, education and experience to get to where people like Dr. Starr are. So I was concerned he might find my interest and my developing knowledge of anatomy annoying. I have as of yet never actually experienced this reaction when speaking to any person in a scientific field I have been inspired by, but I've always been prepared for it. I've readied myself for experts in the field to argue that there is no merit to a personal education outside of academia or in the field. I have been prepared to get shut down. That still has never happened. I am always greeted with curiosity, an open mind and usually a reciprocal interest in my unique view of science from outside. I was also nervous that he'd just be confused about why I needed an entire hour of his very busy time.

I had no cause for worry. Dr. Starr was happy to walk me through the procedure he performed on Mr. W (who had given consent to release the information to me), and explain the challenges of performing VSD surgery on such a young infant at that time. In 1973, the MRI and Echocardiogram were not yet available for diagnosis. Diagnosing the disorder was simply done with a stethoscope and later an xray. That was about it.  A VSD surgery on such a young infant was incredibly rare, and they had just recently started performing them. At the time of the surgery, Mr. W was 15 months and 3 days old. Dr. Starr explained to me how they prepared the young heart for the stress of the operation, using ice and cardioplegic solution. He listed medication used during the procedure and throughout recovery, noting recovery time back in '73 versus recovery time today. The surgery itself lasted 4 hours. He described the physiological difference of a healthy infant heart vs one with VSD and explained how exactly the disorder presented itself in the infant body and behavior. I had performed my own research before the meeting and watched a few videos of VSD surgeries that I found online, but with the direct experience and back and forth dialog I walked away with a clear vision of what an infant heart with VSD looked like and how the disorder effected the function of the heart, lungs, body and behavior of the child. This was just what I needed to create the art. He even offered to get me recent videos of him performing the surgery, and offered his own perspective for how an illustration could capture the moment of treatment, rather than the state of illness. 

The thing I really wasn't prepared for was his response to my artwork. I brought a few prints with me to show him what I would be using the data for, including a print of my illustration, “Heart” which is drawn with cardiac equations. I pointed out the data I drew it with, explaining that my work aimed to illustrate something beautiful with scientific data that explained its function. Pointing out the equations was easy, as he noticed most of them on his own. His favorite part was the SA and AV node, which is drawn with membrane potential and average firing rate (this is the best part of the drawing if you ask me as well). 

He said it was the best illustration of an anatomical heart he had ever seen.  This alone is a ridiculously huge complement, especially coming from someone like him who has likely seen thousands of them. He explained to me that for him he approaches the heart logically without emotion, partly because he needs to. He knows that for his patients, the heart and the treatment they receive creates a strong emotional connection for them, and he has often been impressed by their emotional bonds to technological devices like heart valves. He sees the heart valve implant as a useful too, and they see it as something more. He then said that seeing my drawing of the heart was his first experience of feeling an emotional connection to the heart. He said he didn't know why it worked, but that while there was logic in it, there was something more too. He took a moment looking at the drawing and turned to me “It looks so strong.”

 

I didn't know what to say to that. That kind of response is unforgettable, but it's nothing you expect to hear. I stammered a few thank yous and tried to express myself but pretty much blabbered. Then I just sat for a second, maybe less, and just watched him look at my heart drawing. It really had connected with him. It had reached him, and this had been a moment which in all his years of education and medical experience he had not encountered. I was grateful. I told him he could keep the print if he liked. He quickly went about finding a good place for it in his office.

This experience is hard to explain, and I'm not sure I told it well, but this was a powerful moment for me. I create this work because it fulfills, inspires and challenges me. Seeing it reach someone who has such an integral connection to the subject is something I am very grateful for. I walked out of that meeting feeling like I've been doing something right and that I should keep doing it. I admire and respect the scientific world and the people who devote themselves to it. I am so grateful there is a two way line of communication here.  

Not surprisingly, I feel rather inspired to continue my current research on the spine and brain and see if any of the artwork I create from it will have a similar effect on others.