Spring is here, and so are the CHICKENS!!!

Finally, after our first long winter on the farm, the ice is receding, the stream is bubbling, and ten fluffy little birds are peeping in the living room. It feels great to finally take a little step further towards self sufficiency and sustainability, and in my opinion there is no happier sound on earth than that of peeping chicks.

We have been planning for around 6-8 hens, but we ended up buying ten chicks, since we don’t know the genders and there will surely be some roosters in there. They are a mix of different breeds that lay different colours of eggs. We originally planned to raise a breed of chickens that Tux had seen before that have green legs and lay green eggs, but I came across a farm advertising that they had chicks available from hens laying a mix of colours, and we couldn’t resist. So we actually have no idea what kind of chickens we ended up with!

The chicks are two weeks old except one that is a week younger, so they aren’t as tame or comfortable with us as they would be if we hatched them here, but we plan to spoil them with treats, so we’re pretty sure they’ll learn to like us. It’s so addictive to watch them! We have two chairs set up next to the brooder and we spend as much time as we can sitting with them.

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We enjoy watching them so much we set up a 24/7 live video stream! You can find that here, if you feel like you could use a smile 🙂

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By the way, if you’re watching with audio on and you hear a lot of banging or rumbling, that’s probably one of two things (besides us walking around and closing doors etc). The chicks really like pecking on the wall that holds the camera, and they also make quite a bit of noise when they drink from their water bottle, so that might explain some of the noise. You’ll also hear us chatting from time to time as we watch them 🙂

The Brooder

Our brooder is mostly made from materials we found around the house, plus a few things that were just a lot easier to purchase. Here’s how it looks:

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The plastic container is a water tank we found in the basement when we moved in. It hadn’t been used before, and since it was so big Tux and my dad had to cut it in half to get it out of the room it was in. It happened to be a perfect size and shape for the chicks. The feeder is a bird feeder which we also found on the farm when we moved in. I gave it a good wash, and it seems to be working nicely. I’m amazed at how quickly they manage to empty it, though a lot of the food seems to just get kicked around in the shavings.

We bought the heat lamp and water bottle. The lamp arm came from a microphone Tux had over his desk, and it allows us to raise and lower the lamp to adjust the temperature.

The wooden divider (a board we found under the barn and cut to size) is just clamped to the sides of the tank, so we can expand it as they grow and start to need more space.

For water we are using one of those rabbit water bottles with the little metal ball (which is what makes the rumbling sound when they drink):

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Since they aren’t in a cage with bars to hook the bottle onto, I made a holder out of an empty plastic bottle and put rocks in the bottom to keep it from falling over.

The wooden block raises the bottle so it’s at a comfortable height, and prevents any water from dripping into the shavings.

The feeding station:

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They still like sleeping all piled up together in a big mass of fluff and feathers, but I nailed a small branch from the firewood pile onto two little blocks, so if they want to try roosting on a branch they have a little perch they can use for practice. Some of them do climb up on it now and then, but it doesn’t seem like they have good enough balance or stability to really fall asleep like that at this point.

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The food we’re starting with is organic chick pellets, which were kind of expensive. As we get more established we’d like to produce as much of their food as possible ourselves both to save money and make the whole thing more self sufficient and sustainable. We also want the chickens to have a more natural and varied diet which we feel will be healthier and more interesting for them than commercial pellets.

The Coop

The original intention was to have the chicken coop finished before getting the birds. That didn’t happen, so the new plan is to have it ready when they are ready for it. My prediction is that we’re going to end up with ten big chickens flapping around the living room and we still haven’t figured out what kind of fencing to secure their run with. Sometimes we just need a real push from some outside force to actually get things done. We’ve been talking about getting chickens for a very long time now, even before we bought the farm, but we still ended up slapping the brooder together the day before we got the chicks. That’s how life is when both people in the relationship are heavy duty procrastinators 🙂

But that’s ok! Things work out. We have the chicks, they seem to be doing great, even though we really have no idea what we’re doing and have to google everything.

Here’s the coop as it stands now. We’ve never had chickens before, so we decided to start out by building the coop in such a way that it’s not actually a permanent structure and if we end up liking the whole chicken thing (I suspect we will) we can build a bigger, more permanent coop or fix up the barn so it’s chicken-friendly. With a few small adjustments this coop can be used as a nice chicken tractor, or if it all goes horribly wrong we can just take it apart and forget about it.

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Other Spring Updates

Phoebe is growing up incredibly fast! I can’t believe how much she has changed since we first brought her home. Now that she’s a little bigger we go out hiking together almost every day. We usually spend about an hour exploring the forests around us. Phoebe loves sniffing through the moss and carrying sticks around. We have a lot of fun our walks, and I can already feel a difference in my own physical fitness since I started hiking with her.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with endless opportunities to explore and enjoy nature just outside the door.

The critter cam has been busy keeping tabs on the local wildlife. I recently moved it up the hill where I’ve noticed a lot of moose poop and tracks, so hopefully we’ll have some nice moose pictures in the near future!

Our first farm animals, the worms, are also doing very well. They have a much nicer home now than what they started in and they are thriving in there, along with enormous numbers of small arthropods and microorganisms. At this point they consume about a third of the food waste we produce, the rest goes into the compost bin outside or we send it to the township if it’s things like meat scraps or bones that we aren’t set up to compost ourselves. The worm bin doesn’t stink, even if you stick your head in it (I can say this from experience), and there is already a decent layer of rich finished compost forming at the bottom. Overall, this project is a huge success!

I’ve also been taking a Norwegian class in Notodden at the adult learning center, so altogether I haven’t had as much time to draw as I’d like, but I have been continuing work on the soil life series, here is the newest work in progress:

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This drawing is taking quite a lot of time, because it’s fairly detailed and takes significant time just to mentally get into working on it, especially with so much other interesting stuff starting to happen around me. Imagine drawing a gravel driveway, stone by stone.

*yawn*

Still, I do what I can when I can, and it’s getting there. The effort is always worth it in the end 🙂

 

 

 

New Gallery Website!

I’m so excited! I now have a dedicated website to showcase my soil life illustrations. It will be great to have a professional looking gallery to direct people to when they ask about my artwork. The website will focus on microbiology illustrations for now, but later on it will probably include more categories as my portfolio develops.

There won’t be any changes to my blog; I’ll continue to post here as usual and the website includes a link back here too. Eventually I’d like to add a shop page for ordering prints and stuff like that, but for now it’s just a gallery with some basic info about me and my artwork. It feels so great to have it published!

Please check out my new website and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions; I still have so much to learn about starting a career as a professional artist. If you have any feedback, advice, or just a story to share, I’d love to hear it!

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http://www.protozoaprincess.com

Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Ciliates

The fifth installment of my soil life illustration series is finished!

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The two large protozoa pictured here are of the genus Euplotes, which are common in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. I used to see them frequently in freshwater biofilms (algae slime layers) in university, and I still see them every now and then in my agricultural soil samples too. They have a long ridge along the underside with a fringe of fine cilia to help filter and draw food in. Longer cilia (the things that look like tentacles) around the cell help them to swim and control movement in the water. I still find it incredible that so much can be accomplished by one single cell, and that something this tiny can be so complex. Watching them navigate through samples searching for food is truly fascinating.

The three smaller green protozoa on the left side of the picture are of the genus Euglena. They are flagellates, unlike Euplotes which are ciliates. Another flagellate of the genus Anisonema can also be seen working its way through the soil just below the ciliates. Flagellates are also single-celled organisms, but they are typically smaller than ciliates and travel by only one or two long whip like tails, as opposed to ciliates which travel using larger numbers of shorter “hairs” called cilia. Unlike most protozoa which are heterotrophs, Euglenids often contain chloroplasts like plants, which means they can also photosynthesize and create their own food, in addition to eating food from outside sources. So does this make Euglena a plant or an animal? Euglena is not the only protozoan to give early taxonomists a unique challenge, and this lead to protozoa being given their own kingdom in taxonomy, instead of simply being included in the animal or plant kingdom.  

For the next illustration I’ll be featuring testate amoebae again, this time focusing on the genus Difflugia. This time I’m using a screen recording program to try and create a time lapse video of the entire process from start to finish. I’ve noticed that people often look a bit bewildered when I try to explain how I make these drawings, so I thought it would be interesting, and maybe even helpful, to make a video showing exactly how I do it.

It’ll probably take some time to get it done, I’m in school four days a week now and we have a new puppy in the house plus it’s time to start really getting into planning the spring gardens, so there really isn’t much time leftover for drawing. There has also been quite a bit of logging in the area for the past few weeks, and I have to say I don’t find the sound of chainsaws very inspiring to my art process, much less when it’s falling on top of general exhaustion and a tight schedule… but I’m doing what I can.

On the bright side the days are getting longer and the sun has finally started rising high enough to shine into the windows once again, and that has been a very welcome change.

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Here’s a picture of our newest addition, Phoebe ❤

 

Predatory Fungus in Soil

This is a gruesome example of how nutrients can move through the soil food web. Drawing this scene was complicated and very challenging, but I learned a lot in the process. The other soil life illustrations took about 10-15 hours each, this one took 32 hours over the course of several weeks. I had to leave and come back to it a few times, and I’m still not sure if it’s really finished. It might be one of those pieces that never really feels finished because there is so much to look at, but I had to draw the line (no pun intended) somewhere.

This drawing requires a bit of explanation, unless you’re a soil biologist or just know a lot about the soil food web.

The main subject of this illustration is the big worm, which looks kind of like an earthworm but is actually a nematode. Nematodes are roundworms are usually very small and are unsegmented, unlike earthworms. There are over 25,000 known species of nematodes, but they are so ubiquitous that scientists estimate there are actually about a million different species of them. If you’re an avid gardener or maintain a lawn you might have heard of nematodes before, either to help fight pests or as pests themselves. I’ve seen packages of parasitic nematodes in garden centers that people can buy as a biological pest control against grubs in their lawn.

Soil nematodes are very small; you usually need a decent microscope to see them. There are a few main types of soil nematodes that gardeners are interested in: fungal feeding, bacteria feeding, predatory, and root feeding nematodes. They have specialized mouthparts according to their diet. The nematode pictured here is a root feeding nematode, with a needle-like mouthpiece called a stylet used for piercing through plant roots to feed on them. This can cause bulges or lesions in the roots, which are not good for the plant.

The fungus pictured is Arthrobotrys dactyloides. You can find a very good video demonstrating how it traps nematodes here. I used this video as a reference to get a better idea of how the fungus should look, since I’ve never seen one in the microscope myself.

Nematodes don’t have any eyes, so they find their food by sensing chemicals in the area, kind of like our sense of smell. The fungus emits something to attract the nematodes into the rings, and when the nematode swims through the ring it senses the heat and the ring cells rapidly swell up like balloons, trapping the nematode and killing it. Then, fungal hyphae (like roots) grow into the nematode’s body and begin to digest it from the inside.

In the illustration, all this is happening on the surface of a plant root. A plant which is probably very happy to have the fungus around protecting its roots from hungry nematodes.

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As usual, if you look closely you can also see some other small critters in the picture. There are two small flagellates just above the plant root between two root hairs on the left side, and a ciliate just below and to the left of the nematode’s head. There are also scattered bacteria, demonstrating just how ridiculously small bacteria are, so small that even at this scale they just look like little specks of debris.

I kept the soil background relatively simple in this drawing because it was already busy enough with all the scraggly root hairs and fungal hyphae. I wanted to make sure it was easy to focus on the nematode and the fact that it’s trapped.

I hope this drawing, along with the others in the soil life series, will help demonstrate how complex, fascinating, and alive the soil ecosystem really is. It is essential that we as gardeners or farmers take care of our soil by protecting and encouraging a diverse and thriving soil ecosystem. Just being a bit more aware of what goes on down there is the first step towards more sustainable food production on any scale.

There are still more drawings to come in this series. I’ve already started the next one, which features some of my favourite protozoa. Here is a sneak preview of the work in progress:

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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.

 

Arctic Tern Painting and Winter Update

This acrylic canvas painting of an Arctic Tern was a Christmas present, so now that the gift has been given I can post it here:

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Tux’s family lives near the coast, and when we visit I enjoy watching terns hover over the water, scouting for fish before they strike. As usual with phone pictures, the colours and lighting have been exaggerated a bit. Sometimes I wish I had a giant scanner just for paintings because taking pictures of them can be quite a challenge if the lighting isn’t ideal, and in my studio it’s far from ideal.

This time of year it’s almost always dark in the house. It’s near the base of  a large hill which is higher than the winter sun, so regardless of windows we can’t see the sun at all in the depth of winter. On nice days we still get blue skies and light of course, and on a sunny day I can determine approximately where behind the hill the sun is, but we can’t see the sun itself. Now I understand why so many holidays were originally based on things like the changing seasons; we are eagerly waiting for those first golden rays to reach over the trees signaling the return of warmth and light. After living in the city for three years, now I finally understand the Norwegian love of sitting in the sunshine, and why the easter holiday is such a big deal here. On one of the first days when I was in Canada this past Christmas, I realized it was sunny outside and I stepped out onto the porch, eager to feel the warmth on my skin, but it was -15C and that didn’t quite go as I expected. I hurried back inside before my feet froze to the deck boards. It was sunny almost every day while I was there, and not every day was that cold (boxing day was +9!), so now I consider going home for Christmas to be my “sunny holiday” for the winter. Norwegians go to Spain, I go to Canada 😉

I still love winter, and we have plenty to keep ourselves busy indoors, we just can’t do much outside these days because the whole landscape is a sheet of ice. 

It’s so slippery even the cat wipes out!

I sit inside painting and planning the coming gardens, waiting. It will be a relief when we can just walk outside and not worry about breaking a wrist or tailbone. I’ve got some lovely new bruises just from walking across the backyard to check on our new wildlife camera.

Speaking of which, here is our first catch from the “critter cam”!

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There have been loads of fox tracks around and we were told that a fox lived under the barn, which is why I’m determined to keep our kitty indoors at night as much as possible. It was fun to finally see the fox itself. I’ve seen lots of moose and deer tracks in this spot too, and we were told there are badgers around too, but so far haven’t had pictures of anything other than this fox and a neighbour’s cat prowling around.

As soon as I arrived back in Norway after Christmas, exhausted and jet lagged, we took a 10 hour drive up to Trondheim to pick up our “new” 40 year old electric garden tractor, which we are very excited about. The tractor came with solar panels for charging, so it’s totally self sufficient and emission free. These were never sold in Norway; it was imported from the states and as far as we know it’s the only one of its kind here, so we are absolutely thrilled to have it. It’s something we can fix ourselves if it breaks down since it was built before everything was so high tech and built to be “disposable”, so things were made to be fixable. The tractor came with all kinds of attachments, and we are super excited to see what it is capable of. I especially love how quiet it is compared to the diesel tractor or the gas lawn mower.

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Now things are starting to feel normal for the first time in what feels like forever. There are no more major life changes on the horizon. We’re settled in, the chaos of the holidays is over and I’m recovered from all the travel and getting back into work mode. I’ve got a contract coming up soon so I have had to push myself a bit to get back into drawing, which is always difficult if I’ve been away from it for a while, especially picking up where I left off on a work in progress. The current project involves a nematode being trapped by a fungus, like this. Nature can be pretty gruesome!

Hope you’re staying cozy and warm this winter 🙂

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Winter from the kitchen window ❤ 

Mycorrhiza and.. more dragons

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at plant roots and fungi in the microscope, and I have to admit it’s a little dull. That’s not to say I don’t like it, I mean the whole concept of mycorrhiza is super fascinating. If you’ve never heard of it, I’d highly recommend listening to the Radiolab podcast episode called “From Tree to Shining Tree“. Basically, plants and fungi actually form complex partnerships to help each other out. Nature never ceases to amaze, and it’s just another example of how little we really know about the world we’re stomping around on every day. Here’s a picture of an infected root that I took from the microscope:

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We treated the root sample (from our experimental wheat field) in the lab with a process that removes the pigments from the plant cells but stains the fungi with a dye so that they become visible to us. Sometimes environmental science is not so environmentally friendly.. and this bothers me.. but we can leave that discussion for another day. In this case the plant cells took on a bit too much colour but the fungi are still easy to spot as very dark, thin, gnarled looking threads. The samples are interesting, and beautiful, to look at and I don’t have to worry about my specimens swimming away or eating each other, but it’s just not as much fun as soil samples with living critters. These samples are very dead and analyzing them gets a bit boring after a while.

So, sometimes I feel a need to stretch my imagination at the end of a microscope session and draw some quick fantasy art, just to balance things out a little bit. I put on some music and just let loose with whatever comes out. I’m particularly fond of dragons lately. I think it’s because they are a loosely defined creature with a basic generalized form that anyone can modify to suit their own imagination. They can be mindless destroyers or keepers of ancient wisdom, depending on your mood or whatever books you’re into. There is no right or wrong with dragons, so as a perfectionist it’s a good exercise in letting go of the need to be accurate. Having said that, I have strong preferences about how to picture dragons, and I almost never see dragon art that really fits my idea of what they should look like, so I just make my own according to what feels right.

Here is the one from today:

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I only spent about two hours on this, so it’s not as “finished” as it could be but the point was just to get the idea out of my head and not spend too much time on it.

I legitimately felt bad painting the little deer there. But then I made myself feel better by saying that this dragon is so big it wouldn’t bother with the deer.. it would be like taking time to stop and eat a sesame seed. The deer obviously doesn’t know that so just imagine its relief when the dragon just passes right over it and continues on its way 🙂

Here’s one I did a couple of weeks ago. There have been a few more in between now and then but I haven’t finished those yet so they aren’t “postable” at this point. They’ll be done soon™.

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That one is way too dark. Maybe one day I’ll go in and add some flames or something to brighten it up but I wasn’t really feeling it at the time so I just left it. I mostly just wanted to experiment with a profile view since I’ve been doing a lot of front view dragons lately. This one was just quickly sketched out in maybe an hour or so, at the most.

If the speed seems surprising, it’s not because I’m crazy skilled or anything like that. Imagine painting with real paint, but you don’t have to spend all that time mixing colours. If you notice something that needs changing, you can just fix it in a few seconds without having to carefully mix up all the colours again and try to get it just right. That’s basically why digital paintings like these can be done so much faster than with real paint. I could do the same thing on a canvas in about the same amount of time if I had an infinite selection of premixed paint colours available. I’ve been working on some canvas paintings lately, and I find that while I do enjoy working with real paint, it really is a different experience and it can be more frustrating at times, but also more rewarding in some ways. I could go on all day comparing digital and physical painting but I’ve done that before in a previous post and I won’t go into it again. I like them both, we can leave it at that 🙂

 

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 🙂

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.

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!

Pen and Watercolour

Our epic NASA style living room setup had to be dismantled when we were showing our apartment and I haven’t had access to the big Cintiq computer for a few weeks. It’s been too hot to even think about leaning over that warm screeen anyway, and with all the chaos of buying a farm and selling the apartment I haven’t been doing any artwork lately. I’ve been itching to draw something now that the craziness has calmed down and we have a few days left of summer vacation, so I started experimenting with combining pen and watercolour. It’s been nice to take some time and practice with the watercolours, and to have something constructive to do in the apartment that doesn’t involve sitting at a hot computer all day. We’re going a bit crazy now that the apartment has sold and there are just a few more weeks left until we take over the farm. We just want to get started on our chicken coop already!

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The calendar is packed somewhere in another dimension so we made a really crappy one just for the countdown. August 26th is the big day!

I think I’m starting to get the hang of watercolour pencils, but I still feel pretty limited to the colours I have available, despite having 32 pencils to pick from. In the world of realistic painting, 32 colours is nowhere near enough if you can’t blend! Blending watercolour pencils just doesn’t work well at all. It can be unpredictable because some colours are significantly stronger than others, and they just don’t mix very well so it will take some experience with these particular pencils to know which ones do what. It’s almost as if they each have unique personalities. It’s also pretty hard to do trial and error right on the page since the paper can only handle so much water at a time. The perfectionist in me gets antsy about not getting the colours exactly right, but it’s a good opportunity to teach that part of me to chill out and just accept that art is allowed to be sloppy.

Tufted Deer

This deer was meant to be more of a blue-grey/beige colour, not so much pink and tan, but it works well enough. Also yes it has fangs, more on that in a future post 😉

I’m really having a lot of fun doing these combination pen/watercolour drawings. It might be just a lack of skill, but using the watercolours doesn’t seem to offer the contrast I want. The only deep colour I can reliably get is black; the rest of them just get too watered down (go figure). Ink lines give the work a more crisp, finished feel, and the pictures remind me of illustrations from science textbooks or kid’s story books.

Here’s an example of a straight watercolour drawing I did a few weeks ago after we had to dismantle our balcony garden for showings. It sucked to have to rip up perfectly good pea plants, but they were climbing on the railing and there weren’t any other options to save them so I thought I’d artistically commemorate one of the nice big pods before letting it dry out for seeds.Sugar snap pea July 2016.png

The drawing started off ok, but I gave up on it after a while because I got impatient with the colour. I couldn’t quite reach the deep, vibrant green of the healthy plant; instead it looks yellow and weak. The scanner did exaggerate the yellow a bit, but you get the idea. The bright areas just sort of fade into the paper, and it didn’t seem to matter how much I tried to darken the shadowy parts, they just washed away. I tried to darken it with black and a bit of blue but things were just getting muddy at that point so I quit. I don’t love the composition anyway. Now that it’s been sitting for a few weeks I probably could come back to it with a fresh mind and go over it again to get richer colours but I think the paper has had enough (you can see how much it’s buckling!), and my reference specimen is a dried out husk now so I’d just be winging it. I’m saving the peas to plant in the spring as this was a good strong plant until I had to pull it out 🙂

I think this drawing would have been a lot more successful and fun to do if I had used ink first. There is something very satisfying about filling in a line drawing with colour, which is probably why those adult colouring books have become so popular. The pen lines also help me keep the watercolours under control a bit too once I apply the water, which makes that part a lot more relaxing.

I’m starting to get a technique that works well for these. First I do a light pencil sketch to lay down the foundation of what I want to draw. Then I erase the pencil very gently, trying to avoid damaging the paper. I leave just a hint of pencil behind as a guideline for the pen.

Next step is the ink drawing. This needs to be fairly precise so it helps to go slowly and carefully in order to get it right the first time. This step takes the most concentration.

Grasshopper lines

Finished ink drawing waiting to be coloured in

By the time I’m finished with the ink, I’m excited to dive in with the colours. All those empty spaces are irresistible, and just beg to be filled in. I try to do most of the dry colouring at once and minimize the number of times I’ll need to apply water. It doesn’t take much before the paper starts to buckle, even with fairly decent watercolour paper.

I’ve found that I usually need to go over the drawing a few times, especially to get more vibrant colours and deep shading. I forgot to take a picture of the dry coloured bug, but here is the finished product:

Bug with fuzzy antennae

I also drew an anteater, just cause they are cute and strange.

Anteater

There will definitely be more of these coming up. I love trying new things, so any ideas or suggestions for subjects are always welcome! 🙂