The human eye can be difficult to replicate in artwork. To translate the eye’s precise lashes, vessels and creases to canvas requires both artistic talent and an in-depth understanding of human anatomy.
For Megan Foldenauer, multimedia specialist for Michigan Medicine Neurosurgery, the two go perfectly hand-in-hand.
Growing up in a small town in Indiana, Foldenauer found an outlet through art. She started drawing at an early age and developed a passion for re-creating the world around her on paper. By the time Foldenauer was 9 years old, her family noticed her talent for realistic drawing and encouraged her to continue as a hobby.
“That was in the ’80s, so my drawing was supported, but it wasn’t like anybody thought I was going to make a fine art career out of it, because that really wasn’t the art for that era. That era was much more abstract and experimental,” Foldenauer said.
In a high school anatomy course, Foldenauer started illustrating diagrams of different body parts and organ systems in her lab reports. One day in class, her teacher noticed the drawings and told her people can make a career of drawing anatomical models. Foldenauer said she was shocked to learn this, and she immediately knew she wanted to pursue drawing anatomy as a career.
After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, Foldenauer went on to pursue a Ph.D. in anatomy before joining U-M to make her dreams a reality.
Her anatomical drawings have been featured in three textbooks and dozens of medical journals, and she gave a TEDx Talk called “Seeing Eye to Eye” about her fascination with drawing the human eye.
Foldenauer continues to draw and paint in her free time. Her website, meganlovestodraw.com, features a gallery of her works along with a store to buy prints. While the human eye is her “lynchpin,” Foldenauer said she loves venturing outside anatomy to draw other objects and places that inspire her and allow her to fully immerse herself in the process.
“There is kind of a meditative quality about doing the work that I do. I zone out and fall into the drawings I’m doing,” Foldenauer said.
A recent collection, “The Paint Chip Paintings,” features miniature drawings on hardware store paint swatch cards depicting Foldenauer’s interpretation of the card color’s name. For instance, she drew a maple leaf to represent the color “sugar maple” and a broken candy cane to represent “candy cane red.”
Another popular collection she features on her website is “That Time Was Different — A 365-Day Tiny Painting Project.” Throughout 2018-19, Foldenauer painted a different miniature watercolor every day, with a different theme for each day of the week, such as Taxidermy Thursdays and Foodie Fridays. At the end of the project, she compiled her prints into a book.
In 2013, Foldenauer began competing in ArtPrize, an art competition and festival in Grand Rapids. She said she loved the experience and being surrounded by passionate artists. In the years since, she has traveled to several art competitions and showcases to compete and sell her drawings and paintings.
Foldenauer has displayed her art at a booth in the Ann Arbor Art Fair for the past three years. She said she’s looking forward to this summer’s Art Fair, which will be July 20-22, to meet new artists and reunite with friends she’s made over the years.
“I’ve met so many interesting people. I don’t get a chance to walk around too much (during the Art Fair), but when I do I get to peek in and see what other people are doing, and it’s always very inspiring. It’s like going to an art museum,” Foldenauer said.
While the Ann Arbor Art Fair gives her the opportunity to meet artists from around the world, Foldenauer said she is just as amazed with the artists in Ypsilanti, where she has lived for almost 20 years.
Foldenauer said she has loved seeing the art community flourish in Ypsilanti throughout the past two decades.
“This area is just so ripe for art and for the art community; and it’s so supportive and it’s such an interesting place,” Foldenauer said.
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In 2013, Ypsilanti’s beloved art supply store, Art Attack, closed. Foldenauer said the art community felt the loss. Without the store, local artists felt they no longer had a space to convene and browse art supplies.
“There are so many art people here, and I know the internet exists, of course, but artists like to go up to a place, look around, and put the supplies in their hands,” Foldenauer said. “I was waiting for someone else to open a new (art supply store) and then all of a sudden, I thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s supposed to be me.’”
Ypsilanti Art Supply officially opened its doors this past April. The store, located in the Riverside Art Center, sells art supplies, stickers, pins, patches and other items made by Michigan-based artists. Foldenauer operates the store from 5-10 p.m. Fridays and from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“It’s this massive adventure because I’ve been working from home now for three years. So, getting out in front of people, I’m learning to balance my energy,” Foldenauer said.
With the store’s popularity growing through word-of-mouth and on social media, Foldenauer is excited about its future. She said she hopes the store can cultivate creativity and inspire others to dive into their own artistic journeys.