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.
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