2015 Honorable Mention – Brenda Shih


As I was walking along the corridors of East Hall, I noticed a particular picture on the wall: it was picture of neurons at the microscopic level. I noticed how similar a neuron was to the structure of a tree. To me, the branched nature of the neuron dendrites were like tree roots, the axon was like a trunk, and the axon terminals were like branches. I was inspired by the beautiful design of the neuron and wanted to showcase it into a painting.

I used acrylic paint, watercolor, and ink to create the artwork. To start, I used a green background to suggest Mother Nature and life. The colorful splatter dots were added to produce a sense of magic. Finally, I arranged the neurons in a row to create a forest setting. All combined, my goal was to evoke a sense of wonder about the natural world by depicting the neurons as trees. I hope viewers will be able to appreciate the neuron both as a vital mechanism to maintain life and also as a beautiful organic design.

The type of neuron I chose for the painting was the pyramidal neuron, named after its triangular-shaped cell body. These neurons are generally found in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Two main functions for pyramidal neurons are motor control and cognitive ability. For me, it was fascinating to think of neurons as the cellular components crucial for our thoughts, actions, and perceptions. Even abstract concepts such as love and have a physical manifestation in neurons.  Especially, I thought it was intriguing to think of neurons as the cellular component for everything we learn in the world, and that even our identities rely on neuronal circuits.

Finally, I titled the piece “Vitality” because I was inspired by the continuance of life during the course of winter. The painting reminded me of a wintery forest with barren trees. Although it seems as though the trees are dead, they are still alive underneath to reemerge in the spring. Overall, I wanted to emphasize the idea of life. That is, how trees survive the winter and how neurons are a vital component in life.