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This is an illustration of Cajal's sketchbook by artist Dawn Hunter.

Fulbright Experience

Dawn Hunter: in her own words.

"All of the drawings in my Cajal portfolio are created straightforwardly with markers and pen. I do not use a pencil sketch to commence each work. Therefore, I do not begin the drawings from the process of erasing and correcting the formative layer. Each illustration is created through the building up of an additive process and no erasing. Why would I do this?

It is about the form and content of the project. I will explain. In 2017 I was fortunate to be awarded the Fulbright España Senior Research Fellowship to the Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain. By the time I received my award, I had already recreated through observing and drawing the primary source, over 14 of Cajal's scientific drawings that had been on display at the NIH. I had begun to develop theories about the construction of some of his drawings: He did not use a pencil to create some of his scientific illustrations but instead just drew them directly with ink."

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"The brain is a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory."

― Santiago Ramón y Cajal

"Why do I think he did this?

1) Pragmatic: It is a more efficient way of working because he would only have to draw a work once - opposed to retracing it with ink.

2) Philosophic: In some cases, it is a more accurate, truthfully descriptive way of expressing the realism of a neuron's contour.


When I arrived at the Instituto Cajal, I wanted to look at his sketchbook and original, rarely studied journals. Behaviorally, how his drawings are constructed in his sketchbook would reveal a great deal about his disposition toward drawing. If there were a lot of erasing and redrawing of forms or if the images were drawn confidently one time without erasing them, it would reveal a lot about his attitude toward and behavior while drawing. I found the latter to be true. He used a wide variety of materials in his sketchbook. He used pencil primarily (based on the line quality, I suspect a 2B or darker lead value) in his sketchbook, so he was always prepared to erase. But I found that he did not do this upon examining the entire sketchbook. Absent were the residue, smudges, and other scars that occur to the paper's surface when one erases lead or graphite. The most common imperfections I observed in the sketchbook was torn out missing pages, food and water stains, or spills and ink splatters.

Because I can recreate his work through drawing with accuracy in one sitting without using a pencil or eraser, I believe he drew some of his work outright like that, too."

This is an illustration of Cajal's sketchbook by artist Dawn Hunter and featured on the page are sketches of rabbit cells and Easter eggs of "emojis" of smiling faces.

"The experience of drawing Cajal's sketchbook pages was vital to me. I had looked at the sketchbook for several days by the time I drew this drawing. It wasn't until I drew this drawing that I noticed the Easter Egg - the smiling face in the cell at the top of the left page under the word "fresc."

Aside from researching Cajal's sketchbook, I also drew and examined objects from his life. These items include rare items like the original mold for his death mask, his research chair, photos he printed, or photos printed from the negatives of images he took and other personal items housed in Legado Cajal."

~ Dawn Hunter, University of South Carolina

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