Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Bufflehead in pencil crayon

I drew a duck last night.

No, not randomly. I needed it for work. Yep, I'm still my own illustrator, so to speak. Sometimes it's interesting working for a non-profit.

Anyway, this is just to show that I'm still doodling, even if you're not seeing much of it at the moment.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Fragile? in pencil crayon

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is fragile. This butterfly would be known to those of you in the UK as a Camberwell Beauty, but to most of the rest of us (in various languages) it's a Mourning Cloak. That's where scientific names come in handy, so let's call it Nymphalis antiopa. And this one's feeding on... I dunno. Cotton candy? To be honest, my wrist was completely done for by the time I got that far, so it's feeding on scribbles.

So, butterflies. The epitome of fragile, right? With those thin, scaly wings that are so easily broken, and the ephemeral life span and all.

Not so fast, Sam. Not only is this particular butterfly tough enough to be found all over North American and Eurasia in a variety of climates, it's also capable of going through (at least) two broods even where I live in Canada. And how does it manage that in such a short season?

The second brood of adults overwinters.

Yeah, seriously. Forget what you know about insects getting through cold, long winters as eggs or as buried chrysalids. These beauties and a few others find their way down under leaf litter, piles of sticks, or other sheltered places and go through the entire winter as adults. Then, they're out flying pretty much as soon as the air's warm enough to allow it. Even before there's food around for them. They're our first butterflies of spring, and always looked forward to for that reason. If you want to encourage them in your yard, leave a bit of a brush pile in a back corner and they'll have a place to shelter for the winter.

That whole thing astounds me, really, and I talk about this sort of thing for a living. I guess the lesson is to not be fooled by the appearance of fragile.

Or something.

Maybe there is no lesson except that the world is a very cool place and I wish that we'd take more time to look at it that way.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Canola in watercolour

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is summer. And this is, quite honestly, a little fifteen-minute sketch done in front of the television last night. Most of those fifteen minutes were spent watching the paint dry...

Yeah, I know. Such an artist, me.

Anyway, I live in a part of Alberta where a lot of canola is grown, so summer around here usually means bright yellow fields contrasted with a vivid blue sky (and no, I'm not being poetic. The sky on a hot day is strikingly blue) and the greens of poplars and spruce. It's about as pretty as agriculture can get (in a good way, I mean). Around here, anyway.

The one thing missing from my imaginary field is a pump jack. I wasn't in the mood for that particular reality of life in Alberta. Oh, and if you've never seen an actual canola field, this picture is a pretty good representation. Our area's a big more rolling-hilly than that, though.

On a medium note, I'm finding that Sakura's Koi watercolour pans read a bit better on my cheap scanner than my Cotmans. Do I like the paint itself better? Hey, I have the brush skills of a five-year-old. You could probably substitute in the Reeves school set I had in grade three and I wouldn't notice. Ok, I would... but I'm really not a very good judge when it comes to paint of any sort.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Behind the door...

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is contraption. And this is one of the neatest contraptions in nature, I think. The hiding place built by the trapdoor spiders.

Trapdoor spiders make a fairly sophisticated hole (considering that they're spiders and all) and cover it with a trapdoor that's sort of cork-like in texture. It consists of soil, silk, and whatever plants may be around, and is attached to the hole with a silk hinge. When closed, the door almost perfectly camouflages the spider's den.

The spider waits, gripping the door closed, until a prey animal crosses one of the trip lines radiating from the burrow. Then the door is swiftly opened and the prey is whisked into the den.

Pretty cool contraption for a spider, especially considering that some of its Mygalomorph cousins (think tarantula) don't construct much of anything at all. But then, anyone who's followed this blog at all knows that I think spiders are pretty cool regardless.

This is a really quick doodle -- literally doodle this time -- in my pocket sketchbook, so you can imagine the size. It's still all about what my stupid wrist (YES, still) will let me do before things get really shaky. Fine control and weakened wrist just aren't getting along. It's easier with pencils (meaning, despite the lack of posts I'm still arting. Just nothing I've felt like introducing to the internet), but man do I miss working in pen. Ah well, nothing to do but keep trying.

Sunday, 18 May 2014


Ok, so Illustration Friday's prompt this week is retro, and that's not really my thing. As you would have seen if you'd watched me draw out something vaguely retro-ish and then completely mess with it by deciding to colour it up in metallics (this is Derwent metallic watercolour pencils with Pentel metallic pen). What can I say? It was what I was in the mood for.

I say you would have seen that retro's not my thing, but as usual my cheap scanner pretty much ignored the watercolour part of the doodle. I've had to bump the saturation on the scan up so much that this almost does look nearly sort of kind of like it might be almost retro now.

Almost. Did I mention almost?

Ah well, at least it's something. This blog has been neglected lately. I'd say I'll try to be more active, but I don't want to set myself up for any promises.

Oh, I should say that this is an ATC, so if you're interested just contact me. Keep in mind that the reality doesn't look much like what's on the screen, though.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Snowshoe Hare in pencil crayon

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is survival. The problem with it for me is that since I usually go at this from a nature point of view (hazard of the job) it's pretty much all about survival. That's a pretty big range of subjects, and I generally have a lot of trouble narrowing things like that down. Sooo... in the end I finally decided to think about digestion.

Hard to survive without digestion if you're an animal. Hard to survive without digestion for some plants, too.

Plant eaters have a special kind of digestion problem. Large parts of plants aren't terribly digestible, and that creates a bit of an evolutionary conundrum going back to the whole balance of energy thing. If you're a plant eater do you put a little energy into getting the most easily digestible parts of your food out and then eat a lot more, or do you eat less and put a lot of energy into digesting what may, in the end, be low quality food?

There are animals that have gone either way, of course. A good example of the first is the equids, like horses or donkeys. They have reasonably uncomplicated digestive systems that let food pass through quickly (there's a lot of identifiable undigested plant matter in the scat, as anyone who's dealt with horse poop knows). It means that they have to eat a lot and often, but on the other hand their systems don't waste much time on bad food.

The best known example of the other strategy is the ungulates or hoofed mammals. Think cow or deer here. Fancy, complicated four-chambered stomachs that spend a lot of time digesting plants. To aid that, the animals cough up partially digested food known as cud, chew it again, and then send it back to the stomach for further processing. Erm, so to speak. More efficient digestion, but they're hooped if the food isn't good.

So what's the deal with the rabbit?

Well, first of all rabbits and hares aren't the same thing. They might look similar and belong to the same group (the leporids), but there are plenty of differences that I'm going to leave you to look up for yourselves if you're interested. After all, we're supposed to be talking digestion here, and to do that I need to talk feces.

Yep, poop again.

Hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, and things like that need more time to digest than their small systems allow, and they don't have the luxury of those four-chambered stomachs. The solution? Coprophagy. Or, in actual English, eating your own poop. Plenty of animals do it.

Hares and their relatives have two kinds of scat: the familiar hard pellets that we get to see, and a soft, partially digested form that the animal harvests (bad choice of words there? Sorry if I gave any of you interesting visuals) as it comes out, rechews, and sends back through the digestive system. Sounds disgusting, but it's pretty effective.

And, of course, that's what counts for survival.

If anyone's interested in what this all looks like, to be honest it doesn't look like much. There's a video here though, if you've ever wondered how you can tell when your pet rabbit is eating caecotrophs.

And my apologies for all of the poop talk.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Phoenix in watercolour, pencil crayon, and metallic pen

Out of the dusk a shadow,
     Then, a spark;
Out of the cloud a silence,
     Then, a lark;
Out of the heart a rapture,
     Then, a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
     Life again.
          - John Banister Tabb

Father Tabb and I certainly don't share a philosophy, but if you're not familiar with his poetry it's definitely worth a look.

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is spark, and frankly this was just me making a free-form mess while watching television last night. I have a tendency to be too literal when I'm doodling since a lot of it's for work and whatever plant or animal I'm working on has to look like that plant or animal. I figured I'd just wing this one, though, since no one really knows what a phoenix looks like anyway.

In the light of day this one looks more like it's wearing a black tutu than anything.

Yeah, you can't unsee that now, can you?

The paper I was using was far too thin to take watercolour, but I actually kind of like the way the wrinkles scanned. Sort of like rays of light and dark.

Lucky accidents are fun.
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