Morning flight

I haven’t posted any art in a while. We’ve been so busy with outdoor things these days, I only draw on rainy days and occasionally in the evenings if I can. I decided to take a quick break from the rather dark and colourless world of soil life and draw something light and airy for a change.

I’m not used to working in these lighter tones and I noticed that I felt calm and meditative while drawing, compared to some of the darker dragons I’ve drawn in the past.

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It’s back to working on soil drawings after this although I admit it’s been difficult to stay motivated with so much else happening.

I’ve opened an Etsy shop, by the way! I haven’t posted my dragon art in there yet, just sticking to soil life for now. If you’re interested in buying prints of any of my other work that hasn’t shown up in the shop just send me a message!

Here’s a link to the shop. It’s very new and occupies a very small niche so it hasn’t had much attention yet. If you’re interested in some unique art that will probably spark some interesting conversations though, take a look! 🙂

The rhizosphere/mycorrhiza drawing is slowly coming along. That one is giving me a real exercise in lighting and perspective. It’s almost like trying to draw a bowl of spaghetti.

Here’s the work in progress as it is right now. I think I like where it’s going, I can’t wait to be finished with it! I’m adding a teeny bit more colour than usual to this one and that has been quite fun 🙂

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Speed painting

I finally finished a new soil life illustration, which feels like a major accomplishment with a puppy and ten chickens in the house!

Here is the latest drawing: Difflugia Finished small.png

This one features testate amoebae in the genus Difflugia. They live in beautiful shells built from particles collected by the amoeba living inside, much like the Caddisfly larva that people use to make unique jewelry.

I did something different when I was drawing this time, well two things actually. The first is I changed the dimension of the canvas I usually use, so it should more easily fit onto A series paper. We usually print A4 paper here, so my illustrations normally need to be cropped for printing or the paper has to be trimmed afterwards, which isn’t ideal. I realized this about halfway through drawing and decided to widen the canvas, which wasn’t too difficult, but did add quite a bit of extra work. I think it worked out okay though, and it was worth the effort to make the illustration more useful.

The other thing I did differently this time was record the screen while I was drawing. I took 19 hours of recorded drawing time and sped it up to about 40 minutes of video. The first few minutes are a bit slower so you can see the process, then it speeds up so you can watch it all come together.

Here’s a link to the video!

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Facebook

I also decided to start a Facebook page! You can find that here 🙂

Is this drawing or painting?

I never know whether to say I’m drawing or painting when using the digital medium. It feels like painting when I use a bigger brush, but it feels like drawing when I use a smaller one. The stylus is basically a pen, so then it’s more like drawing with ink, but the result feels more like a very smooth painting. In a way it’s like drawing with paint, if that makes any sense. There isn’t really a unique word for the action of drawing/painting digitally at this point, so I typically use the words interchangeably because it really feels like both at the same time.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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!