Rotifer Dragon

Introducing the Rotidragon:

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In case you missed this post, basically I was supposed to be working on a rotifer illustration but I had this epic movie type music on and a dragon came out on the screen instead. Sometimes the soil illustrations feel a bit monotonous, and a little too down to earth (literally), so I occasionally have to mix it up by working at the other end of the reality spectrum and drawing something in the fantasy realm. Someone gave me the idea to mix a rotifer and a  dragon together, and this silly beast was the result.

My original plan was to give it a nasty spinning razor mouth but it ended up with a kind of fluffy mustache instead. I’m ok with it.

I did get the rotifer finished eventually, and now I’ve got a nematode (and probably more dragons) in the works 🙂

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Published!!

I have exciting news! My first two soil life illustrations have just been printed in a very cool Norwegian garden book called “Hageboka” written by Morten Bragdø. This is a big milestone for me as an artist and I’m super excited!

The illustrations are featured in a section that introduces the soil ecosystem, which most gardeners are unaware of, since most of it is on a microscopic scale. When I drew these, my intention was to try to make the microscopic soil world a little less abstract and easier for non-biology nerds to grasp. I think they serve that purpose nicely combined with Morten’s writing! The book itself is beautiful all around and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

I recently received a copy of my own. I haven’t had time to read it all yet, but I’ve flipped through it and it looks like it has a lot of info that will be helpful for us as we get started with our new gardens this coming spring so that’s an added bonus. Here’s a picture of the page with my artwork:

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The title, in case you don’t read Norwegian, is something like “The most important thing is often invisible to the eye”.

Here are the drawings up close, in case you didn’t see my previous posts about them (here and here).

This has been a very motivating experience that has really built up my confidence as an artist. I hope I can find more opportunities to share my work in this way. I think I might have found myself a little niche; having a passion for both biology and drawing.

If you’re interested in buying the book (and you read Norwegian), you can find it here.

If you would like to use my existing artwork in a publication or display, or if you want to discuss commissions of any kind, feel free to contact me using the contact button above, or you can email me directly: artborean@gmail.com.

The animal with two wheels on its face

Sometimes it seems like evolution has a sense of humour. Can you imagine a creature with wheels on its face, or anywhere for that matter?

The Rotifer doesn’t actually have wheels on its face. There is a reason animals don’t have wheels, in case you were wondering. Basically, it has to do with the way evolution works and the way wheels work. Evolution happens through trial and error (a wheel must be perfect in order to function), and a wheel cannot be attached to the axis it’s rotating on, so the body wouldn’t be able to supply it with nutrients. The rotifer’s spinning effect is actually created by tiny hairs called cilia that move around rapidly, creating a vortex in the water where the rotifer lives. Think of one of those signs with rows of lights where it looks like the lights are moving or chasing each other around the edge, but they are actually just flashing in a sequence. Here’s a video I took with my iPhone at the microscope last year to show a rotifer’s mouth in action.

Much more is known about aquatic rotifers than terrestrial (soil) ones, but I am more familiar with the soil ones since my work is in soil biology. Having said that, the soil rotifers (and other microorganisms in soil) are not much different than those that live in water. They are still aquatic creatures, since they make their home in the super thin layer of water surrounding moist soil particles. The soil doesn’t have to be saturated for these animals to function, but when it does get too dry they will simply go dormant until things improve. Rotifers are actually studied quite a lot and have been noted for their unique ability to survive radiation. Here is a fascinating article about rotifer survival.

What role do rotifers play in your garden?

Rotifers are filter feeders, preying on bacteria, protozoa, and detritus, aka decaying organic material. That means they help recycle nutrients in the soil and it’s good to have them in your garden.

And here is my drawing of a rotifer; the third piece in my soil life illustration series:

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The cilia (hairs) on the rotifer’s face move so fast in reality that I couldn’t produce or find any good imagery showing how they actually work in detail. It’s kind of like when you try to take a video of a propeller or a fan and it looks like the blades just vibrate in place or are slowly moving backwards. The videos make it seem like the rotifer literally has a wheel with small hooks that kind of looks like a knitting loom, but I’m not sure that’s how it really is.

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Knitting loom

I’m also not clear on how exactly the cilia are arranged so there was a bit of guesswork involved. There are over two thousand different species of rotifers to complicate things even further. In some images it looks like a dense mop, in others it looks like sets of tiny rows that run perpendicularly around the ring, and in other cases it looks like single cilia in a simple row. I chose to draw a generalized bdelloid rotifer and used the simplest cilia concept that looks the most like how I’m used to seeing them. I’m still not convinced that this visualization is exactly correct, though.

In the microscope I usually notice a distinct movement of debris caused by the rotifer’s spinning before I find the animal itself, so I added some bits flowing around the mouthparts to try to demonstrate that a bit. I also included an amoeba (looks like a piece of translucent gum) to the right of the rotifer, and a small flagellate in the top left corner. The soil itself is the most tedious part of these drawings so I like to try and add some little details here and there to break the monotony.

Now I just need to decide what the next subject will be for this series. I’m thinking either a nematode trapped by a fungus or an amoeba swallowing something up. 

Pyrography and Dragons

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Finally! I’ve managed to get my head back into art after far too long out of it. Impossible working conditions in the apartment and then the big move have stood in the way for most of this year, but now I have an amazing new studio with a wood stove, no distractions, and a gorgeous view. I also have a super awesome boyfriend who will sometimes randomly buy tools for hobbies that neither of us have ever tried before, which is how we ended up with a pyrography tool, aka a branding iron (but that makes it sound like a torture device). Well actually it is a torture device; I wasted no time burning my left middle finger with it. I tend to adjust my grip a lot when I’m absorbed in drawing and with pyrography that can have pretty terrible consequences. I think I’ll try using a glove next time. I also have a new respect for burns. I’ve been collecting all kinds of callouses, cuts, and scrapes since we moved out of the apartment and into the real world, and so far it’s been no big deal, but DAMN! Burns are a whole different world of pain! It was very minor this time but I definitely learned a lesson. Safety first!

That goes for the rest of our new toys too like axes, knives, and other dangerous gardening tools. I do not want to make mistakes with a wood splitting axe! We have a scythe too, by the way, which I think is pretty badass even though all it does is cut grass. I guess it’s the whole grim reaper thing. It is actually a very practical tool though, and surprisingly fun to use.

Here is my first little experiment with pyrography:

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I was at the viking ship museum in Oslo a couple of weeks ago, and bought a book with viking patterns and ornamental design. Viking art is awesome, and I left the museum feeling inspired to try some new things. I tried playing around with carving a bit, but I’ll leave that for img_0014another post as there isn’t much to show for that yet. I dulled my pocket knife in no time and haven’t quite mastered the art of knife sharpening yet.

I’m still pretty clumsy with the pyrography tool, but I love the visual effect that wood burning makes, and it smells like heaven. Actually the smell is exactly like a sauna, so working with pyrography really sort of feels like a relaxing visit to the spa, as long as you don’t accidentally touch the iron of course. I also found a very practical use for it and tried making an “all natural” garden marker that should last for several years before it rots away (and adds its nutrients into my garden soil) and I need to make a new one. This was super easy and I’ll definitely be making many more of these next year when we start up with the gardens for real. I especially like that the writing won’t fade away despite sun and rain, and it only took a few minutes to make it. I just wandered out into the backyard and found an appropriately sized stick, hacked one end into a point with a hatchet and then sliced off a section of bark with my carving knife. I’m not sure if leaving the rest of the bark on will make it rot faster or not, but I like how it looks with the bark on so we’ll just see how it goes. I didn’t use any treatment to preserve it because I don’t really care if it rots away, I’ll just make another one and be happy about feeding the soil a snack 😉

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“Hvitløk” means garlic in Norwegian in case you were wondering. I had some garlic getting old and sprouting on the counter so even though it’s a bit late and we’ve had frost already, I thought I’d try planting it and covering it with a heavy leaf mulch. If it works, great, if not.. well it was going to compost somewhere so it might as well be in the garden.

I used the viking design book to try another pyrography pattern on a flat piece I found outside. Above that you can see some of my attempts at carving a different pattern from the same book:

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It’ll take some practice to know which nibs are best for which effects, and it’s kind of hard to change the nib while the iron is hot so I tend to want to do as much as possible with the same one, but that can result in clumsy or sloppy work. I probably won’t dedicate much time to getting good at pyrography, mostly because I’m sure I’ll burn myself more with it and that really sucks, but I will definitely be using it now and then, if even just for practical things like garden markers.

As for the dragon at the start of the post, well that was kind of an accident. I sat down to work on drawing a rotifer, but I put the wrong kind of music on and was driven in a different direction. I find that music is like a kind of fuel for drawing, it can put me in the right state of mind to get absorbed and let instinct take over, resulting in a kind of trance where I just watch myself do the work without really thinking about it. I’m not sure what the right kind of music is for drawing illustrations of soil life, but it’s definitely not “Epic Legendary Intense Massive Heroic Vengeful Dramatic Music Mix“. Although, when you look at a rotifer’s mouth up close it could be considered pretty epic… maybe I should try designing a rotifer-inspired dragon with one foot and a spinning razor mouth!

I’m still finding that my drawings end up too dark and I really can’t figure out how to fix it once it’s reached that point. Adjusting the brightness at the end can cause some pretty horrible effects, and trying to draw over it doesn’t work well. It’s like curling your hair; there is a point where you have to just stop because you’re making things worse, not better. Perhaps it’s just laziness.. if something is in shadow I don’t have to add as much detail and the piece will be finished sooner, so I end up just making the whole thing shadow with a few highlighted parts. It can also be that I lack a good understanding of working with light and colour. I’m getting a bit better with light, but I find it difficult to know which colours to use when and as a result my work tends to not have a great variety of colours in it. I stick to what feels safe, but that’s not what makes good art!  There’s always so much to learn.

Oh and I drew a plant/soil life illustration too. Not very exciting, but it’s nice to share 🙂

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That’s all for now, hopefully I’ll be posting again soon with some new soil life drawings, and perhaps a crazy rotifer-dragon monster or some other random things. Thanks  for stopping by!