Friday, 30 December 2011

Even more work stuff

Wood Frog again; late-stage tadpole this time.

I think this particular specimen must be regressing or something. I'm honestly not sure why I started with the adult and am working my way backward.

Ah well, as long as the work gets done.

Have a great New Year's everyone. See you in a few days.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

More work stuff

This is attempting to be a Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica).

I'm not terribly happy with the work scanner at the moment, but this is close. Maybe a little greener than the original, but not too bad.

Wood frogs are cool, but since I'm at work right now I don't really have time to go into it. They can pretty much freeze solid in the winter, though.

Incredibly cool.

Um, sorry for that last bit. Stay tuned for the rest of the Wood Frog life cycle coming up in the next few days or so. I hope.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Hear Ye, Hear Ye... in inktense

You wonder how they do it, of course: finding the feeder seconds after you've filled it, locating the new nest box, knowing exactly when to swarm Tippi Hedren...

Part of it could be an eye in the sky -- no one's better suited for it -- but I have a feeling that it has more to do with the Town Crier. After all, it's always been his (traditionally his. Sorry, ladies) business to tell everybody everything he knows about the latest news at the top of his voice.

Erm... I should mention that this week's Illustration Friday prompt is messenger, shouldn't I?

Merry Christmas, all. And stay away from seagulls and crows, just in case. And maybe even phone booths, if there are any still about...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sink in pen & ink and watercolour

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is sink.

Winter always gives me that sinking feeling.


As usual, the scanner's ignored some of the background. That's ok, though -- there wasn't much to ignore this time.

Funny thing? Up to the chin in snow was the first thing I thought of for sink, but I live in an area that gets relatively little snow compared to the east (erm, knock wood).

Other funny thing? The sinking person's wearing my university colours. Didn't even notice until I scanned it. Ah well. Green and Gold, Quaecumque Vera...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Walnut in pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is separated. The two halves of this walnut shell have definitely been separated, and the shell's been separated from its meat as well.

Before I go any further, I've just noticed how scribbly today's effort is. Scribbly mood, I guess.

I love Christmas nuts -- nuts in the shell, I mean. I look forward to them all year. I wish they were available all year, to be honest. Nuts in the shell seem a lot fresher, and I like the challenge of working to get to them. Besides, nuts in the shell seem to leave a person satisfied after having eaten a lot less than you would shelled nuts.

Well, that's the way it works for me, at least.

Since I was a kid, walnuts presented a special challenge come Christmastime. I always made an extra effort to try to get the shell halves separated without cracking them. Sometimes it seemed silly, since leaving the shell intact made it that much harder to get the good stuff out, but I still prided myself on getting those shells open intact. I saved them, too.

What? There's always uses for walnut shells. They make great squirrel ornaments. And skunks. And mangers, if that's more your inclination for things to hang on the tree.

A few years ago I was looking for something in my old closet at my father's place, and I happened upon one of my forgotten walnut stashes. Two zip-bags full of walnut shell halves. I honestly don't remember when I put them there, but it must have taken at least a couple of Christmases to get that many shells. And then? I put them away like they were treasure. Kind of made me think that I just may have a problem...

Anyway. Those particular shells got taken to the nature centre where I work, where they've been used for quite a few craft days. Told you walnut shells were useful.

Today's featured shell (a fairly small, unbleached walnut. I think they taste better, to be honest) won't be squirreled away in the closet, I promise. I was thinking that I might paint it. Paint on it, I mean; not make a painting of it. No idea why, but if the results are at all interesting I imagine they'll get posted here.

Goodness knows that I've posted weirder things.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Work stuff

Yesterday was Ground Squirrel Day for yours truly. Richardson's Ground Squirrels, for anyone who'd like to look them up. These pictures are meant to be a bit on the cartoonish side, but still be fairly identifiable. Do I like them? They'll do. But for the record, I suck at ground squirrels. Plants work better for my brain.





Incidentally, if you're ever planning to draw newborn ground squirrels (and I just know that you are), judging from my resource material the best colour match for their skin tone is raspberry. Who knew?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Round in inktense pencil

Do inktense pencils count as ink or watercolour? They're ink-based pencils, after all, and once they're dry they aren't moving...

Anyway. This week's Illustration Friday prompt is round. These? Bubbles, I guess. More or less. I don't really have much to say about them (a shock to anyone who's familiar with this blog, I'm sure) other than they were kind of fun.

The cheap scanner has, as usual, killed some of the colour here. My oranges have turned redder than I wanted and the green a bit yellower, but the idea's still there (such as it was). What's missing a little is that the brush strokes were intentionally messy. Now they look more like mistakes, but whatever. In the spirit of round I'm gonna roll with it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Conch in pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is silent. Today's doodle features my family conch shell. I'll get to the family part in a bit.

First of all, this thing's massive. It's nothing like the dainty, thin conch you might buy as a souvenir in Hawaii (and I know that because we also have a souvenir conch from Hawaii). It's thick, it's heavy, and it has layers almost like a sedimentary rock. It also has a hole drilled partially through it (I imagine the "partially" part was because the thing is really thick) so it could be hung on a nail. The side that was facing the wall is abraded smooth in places, because it hung for a long time that way. The rest of it is beaten up and scarred from a lot of years of abuse.

The shell is about a hundred years old, or probably more. A shell from an animal that lived a silent life in a fairly silent world (well, compared to ours). An animal that's been silent for a long time even if it could make a noise, and now its shell sits silently on a shelf.

The irony here? My great grandmother used it to call the men in from the field for meals.

A silent animal's shell prized for its carrying sound. I find that kind of neat, actually.

There's another part of this story that I find mainly confusing, though. I know for sure that my great grandmother used the shell, because my grandmother witnessed it every day as a child. The thing is... this was in Southern Alberta at the turn of the last century. Land-locked Alberta at a time when travel wasn't exactly easy and definitely wasn't cheap. How exactly did it get there?

No one I've talked to has the remotest idea.

The conch, of course, is silent on the subject.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Pet camouflage? In pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is stripes. And this?

I dunno.

Something really quick, because I'm not going to be around on the weekend.

I have no idea why it's so fat. Or peeved. Ah well.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Candy wrappers in pen and ink

Just a quick (we're talking five minutes here) line study of some candy wrappers. Two mini bars and a package of gummies.

Don't judge me -- my father was the one who opened the Halloween candy early...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Spider on Rose Leaf in carbon pencil

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is scary. Is it cheating that I drew something that is scary for some people but that I find fascinating?

Hey, I can understand fear of spiders. They're crawly, they seem to have a few too many legs, and the thought of them lurking around the rose bushes is enough to send some gardeners into shivers.

Me, though? My usual spider reaction is "cool. I wonder what kind it is?"

That is, I suppose, a fairly recent response. I mean, I've always tolerated spiders. Terrified of insects as a child (and the massive infestations of tent caterpillars at the time didn't help. Not being able to go outside without stepping on that wriggling blue carpet? Nightmarish.), but not so bad with spiders. I know it sounds weird, because it is weird. Best I can figure, the spiders were ok because they ate the insects.

Spiders became more of a like than a tolerate for me a few years ago when I was working on a spider display for the nature centre. I spent an entire summer photographing and drawing spiders (some of the sketches can be found via the slideshow on the blog's sidebar, for anyone interested), and when you get something like that in your head you start seeing spiders everywhere. No, wait -- that's a good thing. You start seeing spiders everywhere, you gain an appreciation for their different life styles and survival strategies, and you realise very forcefully that if it wasn't for the spiders we'd all be butt-deep in insects. They're fantastic pest control.

Of course, it didn't hurt anything that I have a fascination for comparative anatomy stemming from my university days. You can tell a lot about an animal by looking at the structure of its body parts, and spiders are beautifully built for the jobs that they do.

Yes, I meant to type beautifully there. I know I'm not going to convince most of you, but there's a great deal of beauty to spiders.

Anyway. I suppose that the idea of spiders in the roses is scary enough for most people to qualify for the IF prompt, even if my reaction was a little more on the disappointed side. Disappointed that I never did figure out what species of spider the original for this doodle was, that is. It wouldn't give me a good enough look at it to attempt an ID.


This particular doodle started out to be a bit more precise than it ended up. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to get scribbly with carbon pencils. Maybe I need to take some time away from the pen & ink and let myself get looser again? Might not be a bad idea...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Scattered Nest in pen & ink and soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is scattered. And this? Scattered remnants of a wasp nest.

This time of year if you're out on the trails in Alberta (for that matter, pretty much anywhere in North America that has actual winter) it's not uncommon to see paper wasp nests in pieces on the ground. In my area it's usually nests from the Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata, for my fellow nerds), but the nests from any paper-making species are ripe for attack. It's not like the wasps care, though. They're not using them anymore.

For all their impressive structure, paper wasp nests are only seasonal homes. They can have very high populations working in them (and protecting them,as anyone who's had the misfortune to disturb one can tell you) towards the end of summer, but by the time of hard frosts they're abandoned. Not very good winter housing, you see. A wasp colony living in a frozen paper nest has no way of keeping itself warm and active, so the wasps would be easy picking for any predators that came along. It takes a lot of costly energy to keep a whole colony going all winter anyway, so the wasps have a double problem. The solution? A little drastic-sounding, maybe, but very common with a lot of insects: let 'em all die. That's right. Pretty much the entire colony just dies off every year. The queen finds a winter burrow somewhere, and starts the whole thing over again come spring.

The abandoned nests, however, aren't exactly empty.

What's left? Well, any immature wasps that didn't quite make it, any adult wasps who were still caring for them; that sort of thing. And as soon as the colony dies off, the scavengers attack the old nest looking for goodies. Scavengers like chickadees and other non-migratory insect eaters. They'll tear apart the nests with gusto, looking for the leftovers and scattering the papery remains to the wind.

Nature, as usual, is the first and best recycler. I think that's cool, but then I'm sure no one's surprised by my finding nature cool at this point.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

What Monkeys? in inktense and pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is hibernate, and my doodle is going to take a little explaining. Hibernate left me with a bit of a problem, frankly. You see, I actually did hibernate a few weeks ago when the prompt was asleep (you can find it here if you're interested), and while I could definitely use more practice with drawing ground squirrels (yep. Still avoiding that particular project) I wasn't really all that happy about just reusing an idea I'd already had.

What to do, then? I suppose I could have drawn something else hibernating, but my brain wouldn't go that direction. Instead, it went down the path of different ways animals go about waiting out harsh conditions. My brain tends to do things like that, by the way. Short attention span.

Erm, anyway. Surviving harsh conditions. Hibernation for tough winters where finding food would use too much energy. Aestivation for places where the summers are hot enough to make survival difficult. Migration for times when conditions are, for whatever reason (and there's lots of them), too tough in the home range. Brumation for reptiles (like hibernation, but the animal is slowed rather than "asleep"). Diapause, which is delayed development in unfavourable times. Cryptobiosis, which...

Hmm. Cryptobiosis. Basically, stopping everything until things get better. It's pretty fascinating stuff, and amazing to see just what an organism can survive when it's shut itself down. Animals in cryptobiotic states have been frozen, heated, left dry for years, taken into space... if you start looking at the extremes some of these things can survive it can almost change your definition of life. These are animals with a shelf life, for pity's sake.

So where does cryptobiosis lead my wandering brain? Well, Sea Monkeys, naturally.

Sea Monkeys? Oh heck yeah. Any kid my age who read comics on a regular basis knew those sea monkey ads intimately. Pets that magically appeared when you added water? Too awesome. Of course, the ads with the cute cartoon monkey-fish-things were massively misleading. And when I inevitably asked my parents to buy me some sea monkeys I was shot down pretty quickly. There was a good reason for that, though. Even better than the why do you read those stupid ads reason.

You see, my father was a junior high math/science teacher, and he had a tank of something he called brine shrimp in his classroom. When he explained that sea monkeys were really brine shrimp, I definitely had to go check them out. So off we went one day, and suddenly there they were. Sea monkeys. Brine shrimp. Whatever, there they were.

They were... weird. Sort of see-through. Too many legs. Definitely not monkeys. And I have to say, seeing them in person certainly cured me of sea monkey fever.

Later on, though, I became sort of fascinated by the way that those dry little cysts could become living organisms just by being put in water. It led me to find out more about cryptobiosis. Which led me to finding out more things about more animals. What can I say? When I was a kid, the encyclopedia was my best friend.

Anyway, here are some brine shrimp that aren't hibernating. And let me tell you, it's almost killing my little OCD head that I just freestyled them and made them completely anatomically inaccurate. Please, please, please don't count the appendages, anyone.

No, seriously.

No, really.

I think I need to get out more.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Object of Attention in pen & ink and soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is mesmerising. And this? A fairly common scene around this house.

Our cat Max isn't so much for cat toys. Oh, he'll play with them for short periods of time, but if you really want to make him happy you'll give him a bug instead.

Not that I ever have to do that. He's good enough at finding them on his own, thank you very much.

Max is one of those cats who'll watch you absolutely intently if you're doing something interesting. Insects, though, are on a totally different level for him. If he's got an insect in his sight you absolutely can't distract him. He'll watch insects for hours. If they're moving it's like following the ball at a tennis match for him. And if they don't move? He keeps staring until they do.

He gets completely absorbed.

And when he finally gets bored? Well, he's a cat, after all. The insect's likely to become a snack once the game's over. I'm not sure how much luck he'd have with today's Ground Beetle, though. They're probably a bit on the crunchy side. And, depending on the species, possibly noxious...

Can't help but think that it'd serve him right, in that case.

When I was trying to decide what to doodle for mesmerising I did a couple of quick scribbles of Max in bug-watching mode. In the end I decided that I was more in the mood to draw an insect than draw the cat (who's a terrible model at the best of times), but here's what it might have looked like from more of the human's point of view instead.

As usual, the scanner's lost a bit of the wash. There's enough in both of these still there to give the idea, though.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Tulip History in mixed media

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is boundaries. When it comes to art, I have plenty of boundaries.

The first one, as anyone who's been to this blog before knows, is calling anything I do art. It's doodling. It's a hobby. I can't take it seriously, because if I do it might stop being fun. If I broke through that boundary I might get more accomplished, but as things stand now I'm just not willing to head that direction. Doodles it is, and doodles it'll stay.

There are other boundaries, of course. For me, a huge boundary is my eyesight. I'm terribly myopic, and that's always going to keep me confined to smaller subjects. Concentrating on, for example, a landscape for long enough to send it to my hand -- erm, so to speak -- is a literal headache.

One of the biggest boundaries, though, is lack of training. I'm acutely aware of the fact that I am very self-taught. I had one art course in junior high, and that was it. Science ended up taking all of the spaces that arts would have by the time I hit high school. It didn't bother me too much at the time, or (if I'm going to be honest) for a lot of years after. I doodled a bit here and there and I had enough drawing skill to be able to manage lab sketchwork, but that was about it.

When I very tentatively returned to art in my mid-twenties, I naturally went to the pencil because that was what I'd learned in that one art course. We did sketching and a little bit of sculpture, and... you know what? I can't even remember what else now. The point is that I knew my pencil basics, so pencil it was. I spent a number of years doing little else but smudging away. Happily smudging away. I like smudging. It brings out my not-so-inner five-year-old.

I'm not sure why I even decided to pick up a pen for the first time (in an art context, at least), but it scared the hell out of me at first. I didn't know what to do with it, and if whatever I did was wrong it was going to be there forever. It took me a long time to relax with a pen, and it took me even longer to warm to it. I did warm to it, though, and now I really enjoy playing with pens.

Now if that could only happen with painting.

Sigh. Painting. I'm never going to be a painter, so it's a good thing that it's never been a huge dream of mine. I dabble here and there in watercolours and very occasionally have some success, but I just don't seem to have the patience for it. That, plus the fact that I mostly don't have a clue what I'm doing will probably always keep colour work on the periphery of my art world. I'm ok with that, obviously, or I'd be working harder to get the hang of it. After all, the pen thing worked out eventually.

Don't even ask about my success rate with acrylics...

Anyway. Think of today's doodle as a brief history of me and art. And keep in mind that my scanner has, as usual, ignored any subtlety that might have accidentally made its way into the painted portion. It looks a fair bit different in person.

One other thing that kind of ties in with the post title: my source material was some old photos of different kinds of tulips that used to grow in my father's yard. We don't have them anymore; we have deer instead. Deer + tulips = tulips are history.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Poplar Leaf Gall in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is mysterious. I know that I almost always start by saying "this is a quick doodle of..." or something like that, but this time it really was a quick doodle since I was in the middle of doing something for work and realised that it might do for mysterious.

As I've mentioned more than a few times, I work at a nature centre that sits at the entrance to a sanctuary. Every year, the balsam poplar trees in the sanctuary get leaf galls something like the one I've drawn here, and every year the kids ask about them.

And every year?

I get stuck once I get past "they're made by insects." I mean, I know why the insects make them and I can always lead the conversation to protection from predators and metamorphosis and things like that, but if someone ever wants to know specifically what kind of insect is living in the gall, I'm stumped.

I suppose a person could always cut open a gall and see what she finds, but somehow it doesn't seem like it would help the message of the importance of all life to a system to randomly decide that this particular creature's life should be sacrificed for curiosity's sake.

I should say here that no, I'm not that much of an extremist when it comes to protecting nature. I swat mosquitoes like everyone else. I'm just saying that it's not a great image for the kids to cut open a gall and find two halves of a larva...

Anyway. I had a bit of time today so I decided to bring in a leaf ( a bit worse the wear already, but autumn comes pretty early here) and see if I could make any headway into this mystery.

I learned something.

I learned that it's massively difficult to read scientific papers about agricultural and horticultural pests when you trained as a mammalogist and not an entomologist.

I also learned that our mystery gall is probably caused by (drumroll please...) an aphid. What used to be called a gall louse. And that there would be tons of them (well, not literally) living in this one single gall.

For the complete nerds among you, it may be one of the Pemphigus aphids. The actual species? Well, that'll have to remain mysterious. There's no way in heck I'm taking a crash course in aphid morphology just to find a species name. I've been triumphant about one mystery today, and I think that'll do me.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Meadowhawk in conte crayon

This is my second go at Illustration Friday's prompt of influence. Ordinarily I only do one, and on the rare occasions where I do more than one I tend to just add it to my original post. I have a bit to say about this one that doesn't fit with the other, though, so second post. I'll cross-link them at the end for anyone who's interested in the other one.

This sketch is based on a photo of me holding a meadowhawk, which is a type (well, a group) of dragonfly. A few years ago we had a real population explosion of these little guys, and one afternoon after I'd taken way too many pictures of the females with their abdomens up in the air -- I assume it's a mating posture, but don't take my word for that one -- I decided to see if I could pick one up for a closer look. They're pretty mellow for dragonflies, meadowhawks. A few tries later, and this was the result.

Only someone who knew me as a child would understand just how odd that last paragraph was. I was really insect-phobic as a kid, and the mere thought of having to touch an insect would have kept me inside for days. To pick one up by choice? Weird, Dee. Really, really weird.

But oddly symbolic, that dragonfly.

Years ago, one of the many campground programs I went to with my family was about dragonflies. I don't remember all of the details at this point, but I remember that the park interpreter said some things that had me thinking about dragonflies in a different way. The simple fact that they could be interesting was new to me, to be honest. I was always interested in plants and furry animals (I've since trained as a mammalogist, despite what all the flowers you'll find on this blog may lead you to believe), but the thought that insects were worth being anything but squicked about? Very much a new idea.

I'd like to be able to tell you that the interpreter's take on dragonflies cured me of entomophobia, but that would be a complete lie. It took years. The idea that insects could be looked at differently did open my eyes somewhat, though, as did most of those evening campground shows we went to. I know now after being in the business for nearly two decades that most of those interpreters would have been summer students trying to make the best of limited resources so that they could prove their worth to their bosses through attendance (and, depending on the park, donations), but to a kid who didn't know any of that stuff those programs were a huge influence. They taught me new things, they gave me new topics to be interested in, and the program schedule was always the second thing I looked for when we arrived at a new campground.

The first being the bathrooms, of course. A kid has to have priorities.

I've no doubt that those programs also subtly influenced my choice of studies in university, and probably my choice of career. The probably is only because I sort of fell into this accidentally to begin with. The fact that I've stayed with it so long? Yeah, I'm sure I owe that at least partly to those summer students trying desperately to entertain rambunctious kids so that their parents didn't have to.

And dragonfly lady, whoever you might have been? My meadowhawk-bearing hand goes out to you.


My other IF post for this week can be found here.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Wood Lily in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is influence, and this is an admittedly quick lunch-break doodle in my small moleskine of a Western Wood Lily. It's based on a photo I took in the Sanctuary a few years ago, and I remember being surprised to see it there both because they aren't that common in this particular area and because it always amazes me just how well a bright orange flower can hide itself if it puts its mind to it.

So how does this relate to influence? Well, I'm influenced by organic forms in my drawing (gee. I bet no one's noticed that) and I find myself drawing members of the lily family pretty frequently because I'm influenced by the way their initially simple-appearing shapes and lines have so much subtle variation when you start to look a little closer. Plus, I like the apparent symmetry.

Influence is a thought-provoking word, and I'm hoping to get time to do a different version of it in the next day or two. Just in case I don't, though, I thought I should post this so that I don't miss two weeks in a row.


My other entry for this week's IF is here now.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cool set of images

Science as art.

Not sure if I'll get anything done for IF this week. Have to admit, the prompt this time isn't doing much positive for me. Ah well, I'll post when and if I have something.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Pumpkin Flower in ink

Well, sort of in ink. Inktense pencil, largely, with pen & ink outline and pencil crayon. Why the pencil crayon? No idea, really.

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is imperfect. Hmm. I've just realised that it sounds like there's something wrong with the prompt...

Anyway, imperfect. In botany, an imperfect flower is one that doesn't have both male and female parts. Stamens and pistils, if you prefer. It's a way to try to avoid self-pollination, for the most part. Sometimes you find male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another (a dioecious plant), but sometimes both flowers are found on the same plant. That's a monoecious plant, and that's the way it is with pumpkins.

When I started thinking about imperfect flowers, pumpkins came to mind because we grew them on occasion when I was a kid. I don't anymore, though. I'm not sure they'd be terribly happy in my balcony planters. Um, anyway. When I was growing up I'd occasionally enter the children's gardening section of the county fair, and one year we decided to try the pumpkin competition. The problem was that the fair was at a perfect time for flowers, but way too early for pumpkins to have any chance at developing a worthwhile size. I don't know why my mother and I decided to give it a try anyway, but we did.

To have any hope of having a showable pumpkin a person couldn't leave it to nature to figure out how to get the pollen from the male flowers to the female ones, and as a result I had my first real experience at manipulating a plant. I remember looking at the flowers every day to find one that had the tell-tale swelling at the base that said it was a female (and getting impatient because there seemed to be sooo many more male flowers out there). If I was lucky enough to find one, then it was time to pick a likely looking male flower, strip off its petals, and "introduce" it to the female.

I think I ended up with three whole growing fruits, only one of which even looked faintly like a pumpkin by the time of the fair. If I remember right, it was maybe twenty centimetres in diameter -- that might be generous -- and still green, but it was well-formed enough to give it a shot.

A long shot, I was pretty sure.

I was pretty shocked to get the first place ribbon, but I was a little more shocked to see that none of the other entries were bigger than a tennis ball. It seems that I was the only one whose parents had told her that pumpkin flowers sometimes need a little help getting to know each other.

It was an interesting experience, but the next year I went back to the flower competition. It was easier than waiting for a pumpkin to get around to making a female flower.


As usual, my cheap scanner's failed me a bit on the colours, and since I don't have proper editing software I can't do too much about fixing them. Imagine much more orange, a bit less yellow, and a whole lot less red. In fact, when I was fiddling around trying to fix things I kind of decided that I liked the tinted version you see to the left, but what the heck. I'll stick with the top one, I guess.

And as far as imperfect goes, the weirdness in the background is because I decided I didn't like my wonky wash and scribbled over it with a moistened Inktense pencil. It's... it'll do, I suppose. A little imperfection never hurts anyone. A lot? Well, that's pretty much what you find on this blog.

I'm ok with that.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

High Bush-Cranberry leaf in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is obsession.

It doesn't take a very long browse of this blog's album to discover one of my brain's life-long obsessions. Count the number of leaves, trees, and branching patterns in general, and you just have to figure that something's going on there.

I like patterns. A lot. I like symmetries, I like branching, I like regularity... but I absolutely love the way nature takes those basics and then messes with them juuust a little to keep me interested.

It's all about me, of course.

Um, yeah. Anyway. Superficially speaking, there's a lot of regularity and symmetry in nature. That's only superficially, though. If you look a little closer you find that what seems very basic and repetitive is actually full of complex variations. Sometimes it's irregularity in growth, like the veins on a leaf, but sometimes the symmetry was never there to begin with. Look at us, for example. On the outside? Well, I'm sure most of us did the symmetry exercise in school (I... think most of us did. I'm getting on a bit now. Maybe they don't do the symmetry stuff anymore) where you're given half of a picture and have to use a mirror to make it into a full picture. Often the half-picture is of a person, and the resulting reflected picture looks very familiar in its symmetry. It's what we think humans look like.


Look inside. Check out an anatomy textbook. Humans (and most other animals. Zoologist here, remember? I saw the insides of a lot of animals back in the day. But that's a whole 'nother topic) have almost nothing to do with symmetry once you get past the superficial.

That's unexpected.

And that's interesting.

And that's the kind of unexpected and interesting that keeps my OCD brain from getting bored. And believe me, it obsesses me enough that if I'd had more time on my break I would have gladly drawn out all the minute veins in today's leaf rather than just the major ones.

Is that weird?

Ah well. Can't say it would surprise me if it was. It still makes me happy, though, and that's what counts in my brain.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Saskatoon in graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is perennial. I'm a little short on time right now, so here's a fifteen-minute sketch of saskatoon, a perennial plant (well, it's a bush, so by definition it's going to be perennial...) that bears fruits that are perennial favourites around here for preserves, syrups, and pie-making. Not quite ripe yet, but when they are I'll be raiding the shrub outside my office window for at least a few handfuls.

If I get around to it I'll try to post something a bit more substantial for the word later.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Baton in acrylic with resist

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is gesture. I grew up singing in choirs and playing in the school band (oboe and tuned percussion, of all things), and I also had my own childrens' choir for about ten years, so I guess that the ultimate in gestures for me is conducting.

I've not actually had much experience with the baton since most choral conducting is done with the bare hand, but I've done baton a little. If I'm to be honest, it felt a lot more regimented and a lot less instinctual than conducting for a choir, but it definitely makes you think more about the importance of each movement.

Since I did most of my choral conducting for kids, it was really more of a full-body thing than conducting with a baton usually is. Kids respond to your energy as well as your beat, so if you want them to truly follow you you'd better be planning to be doing a lot more than just waving your arms around. Conducting a full concert can be pretty exhausting. And since you're generally mouthing the words right along with them, it can also make you just as dry as if you'd sung the whole thing too.

It's tiring, all right, but it can also be pretty exciting to see -- and feel -- a group of singers reacting well as one body. Do I miss it? Yeah, sometimes. Not enough to do anything about it, true, but there are times when I wish I could just step into it for a while again. It was a big part of my life, and every now and then it feels weird to realise how long it's been since I led a rehearsal.


Yeah. Rehearsals.

Maybe I don't miss rehearsals all that much...

Anyway. Today's doodle is mostly just a result of me having an idea an then deciding I wasn't in the mood to go realistic with it. Oil pastel for resist, painted over with acrylic, and then rubbed down just after the paint stopped being tacky but was still flexible.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Iris in pen and ink

This is some variety or other of Siberian Iris, drawn from a photo. Sad, that, since there are still a couple of them blooming in the garden. It's been absolutely pouring today, though, so photo it was.

I love irises, but this is my first attempt at an iris doodle. Not too bad, I figure, but now that I've tackled one I'm looking forward to getting a bit more practice at it. Maybe even in colour...

Shocking thought, that: a flower in colour. I know. Who'd have even thought it was possible?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Stay in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is stay.



Good boy...


Because I never got around to posting anything for last week's prompt of remedy, here's a bonus doodle:

Click on the picture if you want to decipher the left-hander writing.

Would I vouch for the remedy? Personally, no. Also, I just have no desire to stick garlic in my ear at this particular time.

I can't help but think that's only reasonable.

'Scuse the added scuzziness from the scanner here at work. It obviously needs a cleaning.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Stork's Bill in pen and ink

Quick specimen sketch tonight, since I have a few more things I have to get to yet...

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is launch. This flower and seed belong to a plant called Stork's Bill or Filaree (Erodium cicutarium), which is native to the Mediterranean, I believe. Here in North America it's considered a weed, and in some places an invasive one. Once you've got it in growing conditions it likes, it can be hard to keep it from spreading.

That's because it has a sneaky way of planting its own seeds.

The coiled awn you see on the seed acts like a spring, and when the seed is ripe it can be launched up to a half-metre away from the parent plant. But that's not the end of things. Humidity acts on the awn, causing it to coil and uncoil, which in turn causes the seed to drill itself into the ground.

Self-planting. Pretty darned cool.

For a pretty darned cool time-lapse photo of the awl's coiling action, scroll down a bit on this page. And for anyone in Canada who hasn't ever listened to Quirks and Quarks, the radio show the report on the page was taken from... Seriously? You've missed some good popular science then, folks.

African Violet in acrylic

Hey, it's almost even a painting.

Ok, so it is a painting.

I still think I have the brush skills of a five-year-old, but I can now officially say that I've completed two canvasses in my lifetime.

What an achievement...

Part of my problem with painting (besides the fact that I don't know how to paint) is that I don't have much patience when it comes to letting layers dry. When a person doodles (or this person, at least) it means no more than an hour's worth of deciding what to do. Paint? Sheesh. That takes comparatively forever.

That's hard on those of us who don't have attention spans, you know.

Sorry. What was I saying?

The flash on my point-and-shoot got rid of a bit of the detail, but this photo is still enough to give the gist, I suppose.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Apple Blossom and Buds in pen and ink

Bit of a line study today. I tried to keep it simple and avoid any hatching or other shading, but I just couldn't avoid adding a few veins to the leaves. Leaf veins are just too much fun. Or at least they are to my branching-obsessed brain.

If you'd told me a few years back that I'd be free-handing anything in pen and ink without pencilling in first (and in a book without tear-out sheets, no less), I would have thought you were insane. I was way too eraser dependent, and way too lacking in confidence to even consider making a line that might possibly not make me happy.

I used to throw out an awful lot of stuff. Nearly finished stuff, too, if I'd mucked it up towards the end. I don't do that so much now, I'm happy to say.

Working in sketchbooks has been good for me, I think. It's making me a little more spontaneous in my lines (although I'd like to get a little more quick and sketchy yet. I'm still too controlled for my liking). More importantly, it's slooowly giving me the ability to look back on doodles that are less than perfect -- sometimes much less than perfect -- without cringing and wanting to toss the entire book in the bin.

Well, mostly. I still have my days. It's a start, anyway.

This was done from a photo I took a couple of weeks ago, partly because I felt like drawing an apple blossom even though they're done for the season, and partly because the mosquitoes are pretty trying at the moment. I may be getting more confident in my lines, but constant swatting certainly wouldn't help them any...

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Swept in oil pastel & inktense wash

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is swept. I didn't really want to go the broom route, so I more or less just let my hand do what it wanted to.

It's... kind of windswept?

I dunno. Maybe I'll have a think on this one and come back to the prompt if I come up with something that doesn't look so much like free time at art therapy class.

Not that there's anything wrong with the occasional free scribble...


Ok (a day later),here's another version:

Just a quickie in the sketchbook while warming up to do something else, but at least it's a bit more "sweepy" than the last one was.

This was done in pen and ink in my small moleskine.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Pasqueflower (Prairie Crocus) in pen and ink

In 005 Prismacolor Premier, to be more precise. Extra small pen because I felt extra scribbly this morning, I guess.

I grew up knowing these as crocusses, but that gets a person confusing it with the European crocus. Today I try to stick with Prairie Crocus or Pasqueflower, just to be on the safe side. Even safer? Pulsatilla patens, I suppose. Although some sources are still using the synonym Anemone patens... I thought that the scientific names were supposed to make things less confusing?

Anyway. I'm a big fan of this flower, but for a fairly simple form I find it tricky to draw well. And why? Hairs. This is a really hairy plant. Hairy stems, hairy sepals (no petals at all on the flower, despite appearances)... and I've never yet found a way to draw a hairy plant that really makes me happy. Suggest a few hairs? Doesn't give the right idea. Go hair crazy and draw lines all over the place? Way too busy. Today? Well, like I said above I'm apparently in a scribbly mood.

This was done fairly quickly in my small moleskine.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Torpid in pen and ink

... and Inktense wash. And a bit of soluble graphite in the background, which the scanner has, as usual, not been able to see. Doesn't matter -- it wasn't terribly important.

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is asleep. Kind of a tough one for me since I'm more than a bit of an insomniac. My first reaction was very much "asleep? what is that, exactly?"

Anyway. What you have here is me taking advantage of the prompt to do a little bit of preliminary sketching for a project I'll be doing at work. I need some pictures of Richardson's Ground Squirrels (that'd be Urocitellus richardsonii for the nerds among us. You know, like me) during various parts of their life cycle for a school program I'm in the midst of rewriting. Still haven't decided whether I'm going with drawings or photos, but this is a start.

Ground Squirrels are crazy good at hibernating. And yes, while the little biologist voice in the back of my head is saying that torpor isn't the same thing as sleeping, the rest of me is saying that it's close enough for the purpose. At any rate, if you're an adult male Richardson's Ground Squirrel you start your hibernation in mid-June. Yes, seriously. It's mid-July for the adult females. Even the youngsters don't stay out terribly long; the last stragglers are generally down before mid-October.

The hibernation den is lined with grasses, and is completely blocked off before the animal beds down for the winter to help reduce the risk of predation. Imagine that: you wake up after a looong sleep, and the first thing you have to do is dig yourself up to the surface. It's the Great Escape every single spring for these guys.

If you're interested at all in Ground Squirrels and want to know more, the best place I can think of to start is with the University of Lethbridge's Richardson's Ground Squirrel pages. I find them kind of fascinating, but then I've already admitted my nerdity to you folks...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Umbrella in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is soaked.

No big explanation for this one. Just a quickie in the sketchbook.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Tulip in watercolour and oil pastel resist

Not too much to say about this, since I was only just testing a couple of things out.

As a matter of fact, I'm thinking that i probably should have called the post Juuust testing, because that's all it's really about.

Testing what?

Well, the look of different colours with the white resist, for one thing. And the other thing?

That'd be the scanner.

This very quick, slightly crooked, and haphazardly-edited shot is not from the scanner. My scanner, as with many scanners, decidedly does not like watercolour wash. It's serviceable for pen or pencil stuff (although the difference is pretty obvious when I scan things here as opposed to with the higher quality scanner at work), but it's hopeless at anything involving a wash. Watercolour, ink, soluble graphite... a person may as well not even bother. I'm sure that a lot of you know the same tune, there. Just to compare, above is an admittedly slightly dull shot from my autofocus camera. Nothing to write home about, but you can still see the entire flower. Whereas:

Yeah. Scanner. And that's even after I did my best with what limited editing software I have to make something show up.

Ah well, what can you do?

And considering that I don't even own a computer, it's nice that I have access to a scanner at all, really.

I own the scanner, in fact. Don't own a computer, but I do have a scanner. That sounds odd when I type it out...

Ah well. Again. Thus endeth the pointless post.

Wait a minute. Aren't pointless posts supposed to go to my other blog?

Ah well.


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Microhike in conte crayon

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is safari. There's more than one way to go on safari, and some of them are a lot cheaper and easier to get to than others.

One of the tools we use in natural history interpretation to get children (or people in general) to look at things on a different scale is called a microhike. Participants are given 1 m pieces of string or yarn and are asked to think of the string as the trail for their hike. The trail can be "set" anywhere, and then the person "walking" the trail gets down on hands and knees to examine every little thing they find along the way. Tiny saplings become redwoods, pebbles are boulders, grasses are jungles... and the wildlife, of course, is mostly insects and spiders.

It's a simple game, but if you introduce it right it's amazing how involved kids can become in the microworld. It's also amazing what you can find if you actually start seeing what's around you.

Personally, I think it would do a lot of adults some good to take a few minutes and look at things in a different way, too.

Oh, and for the record: I have no idea why it's a black paper day today.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Not abandoned, no

Just having an unhappy wrist at the moment. Don't worry -- it's nothing serious. Back with new doodles soon, I hope.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Decked in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is bicycle, which...

I really wasn't in the mood to draw a bicycle.


Yeah. Here we are, then.

Bicycle cards have been around for 126 years, according to the website. Not on the website, but I vaguely remember seeing somewhere else (emphasis on the vaguely, there. Don't take this as gospel), is the reason why they're called bicycle cards. Cards for playing on your bicycle, maybe? Cards for inserting in the spokes so that your bike will sound like it has a motor? Apparently not. If I am remembering right, the name was just the company's way of trying to ride a fad. Back in 1885 the new sport of bicycling was all the rage. They even wrote a song about it. All kinds of things ended up being named to attract the bicyclist (much like companies today will try to attract your attention with the word NATURAL, even if natural isn't always a good thing. Sorry, bit of a pet peeve there), and the cards just happened to outlast most everything else.

Except the bicycle, of course.

Hmmm. Might have been quicker for me to just draw a bicycle than do all of this explaining...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bottlenose Dolphin in soluble graphite

A slightly different take on the bottled prompt. Maybe not a bottled dolphin, but definitely a bottlenose.

The scanner lost a fair bit of this one. Picture more shading and a graphite wash in the background instead of mottled streaks and you'd be closer to the actual thing.

Cross-posting this to my entry for this week's Illustration Friday.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Bottled What? in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is bottled. And I... don't get bottled water.

Don't worry -- despite the naturalist stuff in my profile, this isn't going to get preachy.


I just really, honestly, don't understand why people willingly put so much money into what is essentially filtered (sometimes not so much even there) tap water. And when you start looking at how much money and design effort that companies are willing to put into making the bottles look enticingly sleek or curvy or grippy or workout-y, you realise just how much money is being pulled in from the sale of water.



For anyone out there whose tap water is honestly so bad that they need to buy bottled water, well, I'm truly sorry to hear that. For anyone else? Consider buying a refillable bottle instead of constantly buying new ones.

And for pity's sake, please PLEASE recycle if you are buying bottled water. The piles of used bottles that end up in landfills make for very depressing pictures when you realise that they didn't ever have to be there at all.


To see my other idea for the bottled prompt, please have a look at this post.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Duet in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is duet, and I think that Western Grebes perform one of the coolest duets you're ever going to see in nature.

The courtship dance for these birds is very elaborate and involves preening, head-bobbing, and gift-giving. The whole thing culminates in a sprint down the lake, wings tucked back and water churned up by the feet. Eventually they both dive under the water. I'll leave you to look up more information for yourselves if you're interested, but you can watch the particular part of the ritual that I've drawn in this video.

Just as a slightly weird aside... I used to teach music, so you'd think I would have chosen a musical subject for a prompt like duet. I'd think so, too. I have no idea why the grebes came to mind first.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Another Iceland Poppy

This time in Aquatone watercolour pencils. The colour's a bit faked in this photo, but not nearly as much as it would have been if I'd posted the scan instead. Holy Whomever does the scanner hate orange, and me without any editing software worth mentioning.

Ah well, this gives the idea.

Cross-posting to my entry for this week's IF prompt.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Iceland Poppy in pen and ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is cultivate. And this (well, not the picture; the type of plant) is one of the first things I ever cultivated.

I grew up calling them Icelandic Poppies, but the internet tells me that the more common name is Iceland Poppies these days. They grow in my father's yard like weeds, but they're very happy weeds for me partly because they provide some of the first colour we get in spring and partly because I can vaguely, very vaguely, remember "helping" my mother plant some when I was very young. If you want the more complete version of the story and are willing to suffer through some indifferent poetry, check here.

I come from a gardening family (on both the maternal and paternal sides), and even today my balcony gets planted up each spring. Not with poppies, but there are plenty of other nostalgic things to make up for their lack. I'm a bit of an old-style flower buff, I guess.

I know that this particular poppy isn't looking terribly poppy-ish, but when I was going through my photos to find some poppy inspiration the shape of this one appealed to me. I'm hoping to get a little more doodling in yet this weekend, and if I get another poppy done (hey... maybe I'll even aim for colour. What a thought. A coloured poppy) I'll post it up later.


Ok, there's a coloured poppy of sorts here...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Birdish thing in acrylic and oil pastel

Just trying out some things with resist. Might lead to something; might not.

Oh and the phantom drips are there on purpose, sort of. I had more stuff going on in the background, but I decided it wasn't doing anything for me.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Seven-spot Ladybird in pen and ink...

...and Inktense wash, which partly got lost in the scanner. There's enough left to give the idea, though.

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is warning, and nerd naturalist here went with warning colours. Red or red/orange insects like ladybird beetles are sending a warning signal to birds that it's not the best idea to eat them. Some red insects don't taste good (not that most birds would care, since taste isn't their most important sense), while others, like Monarch butterflies, can be downright poisonous. A bird may eat one red insect, but isn't likely to eat another one after it gets sick.

Kind of sucks for the insect that was sacrificed to teach the bird a lesson, I guess, but it's a good survival strategy for the rest of the species.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Crow Swarm in watercolour pencil

Hmmm. Maybe I should change that post title. Sounds way too much like snow storm.

Ah well.

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is swarm, and this is... well, I suppose it's technically more of a murder than a swarm. I really think that conference would be a better collective noun for crows anyway, since they always seem to have some sort of agenda.

I was going to do a ladybird swarm for the prompt like those we sometimes have in late summer here, but I guess I just wasn't feeling the bugginess today.
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