Saturday, 3 November 2012

Back to school...

Apologies to my regular reader friends for my long absence. I've been up me arse (grappling with serious ontological and epistemological issues, whatever,) trying to work out what it is I think I'm playing at going back to school when I should be out increasing my profit margins or replicating my genes or otherwise making a valuable contribution to society. So sorry, I hope you will both forgive me.

I'm at RBGE doing a Diploma in Botanical Illustration (a.k.a. Rational Empiricism for Witches with Witchery for Rational Empiricists, a.k.a. Making Data with Human Embodied Cognition, a.k.a. Drawing Pictures of Plants and Colouring Them In and Calling Them Names.)   Here's our fabulous classroom:

A great big wall of northlight windows and a microscope at every station, this is where artists who like small things get to go if they've been good in their lifetimes.

It's all because I'm jealous of the wonderful things my recent organism-collaborators have been making with water-based paints and their bodies of course. And thinking that as it seems I have felt the need to make pictures of Actual Things of late, it would behoove me well to up my game with the representation skills and do them a bit more justice.Lots of fun for me, i intend to bore you at length about it in the near future....

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Serratia painting prints for sale!

Buy a splendid print of the Serratia-Park-Roberts collaborative effort and help me finance a trip to Simon's lab in Surrey! (I haven't had any luck getting funding for this work and the part-time gardening job doesn't stretch very far.) But here, in glorious technicolour, a chance for you to own your very own archival quality print of Serratia marcescens doing Responding to the Environment work.

These are available as A3 giclee prints, with archival inks on Hahnemule 300gsm paper, I'm asking £45 each or £75 for two, and posting & packaging on top.

I've chosen the cobalt violet paint interaction  for its lovely explicitness about the bacteria's chirality of motility, all that nice fractally stuff going on there, and then the lamp black pigment one as I am absolutely sure the bacteria are picking off the nano-balls from the sooty pigment to kick around with their flagellae, for fun.

If you like any of the others picture, please let me know, I'll see what I can do!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

still swarming

 There's a little feature on Simon Park & me & Serratia marcescens doing painting on page 132 in  this month's Microbiology Today, the splendid organ of the Society for General Microbiology. You might like to see it because Simon is doing the talking here and it's very nice.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

drawing with diatoms..

...or maybe not. Popular wisdom has it that you can observe diatom motility with indian ink, which will slide off the mucilage the diatoms secrete and their movement will create disruptions in the brownian motion of the ink particles in the water.

Well, nice pictures, but I'm not convinced I've had a right lot of that going on.
It's hard to tell who is responsible for what here... watching them in real time was no more revealing...

And colonies of other people are putting on a better show in the mucilage department.

All-round winners of the 50µm mucilage sack-race today seem to be these filamentous guys

though like I say, it isn't all that clear.

Monday, 14 May 2012

People who live in glass houses

It is a little known fact that diatoms are the Integrated Circuits or microchips of the living world. They hook up to magnetic bacteria through bacterial nanowires and play a central role in Pond Cognition.

In fact that is not a fact, it is a story I made up on the grounds that diatoms have silicon shells. It's a good story though and I will choose to believe it.

Anyway here are some tiny tidy diatoms, lovingly crafted with the finest watercolours for your viewing pleasure. Actually if I'm being honest I made them for my own looking pleasure but don't tell my Public or they will want to pay me even less than the 47p an hour rate I can currently ask. 


An almost-botanical watercolour painting of a horsetail fern. Equisetas arvense, if you like. Not altogether accurate but the colour is pretty good. Fellow paint-nerds will appreciate that it is made of a pyrrol red, ultramrine and New Gamboge, with a phthalo green and a nameless alizarin crimson from the depths of the paintbox for the purple-blacks. And a spot of chrome oxide green on top of the black in the cracks on the sporangium on the left where the spores show through a little. 

 A nice plant, I think, with its interesting life cycle and many-tailed sperm and all, but gardening types have been telling me off for liking it as they think it shreds their mowers with its silicon walls and interferes with their begonias and whatnot.

Some more pictures of the plant, for no reason but that I like them:

Letting down a candy-floss beard of spores.

a section through the stem at one of the nodes

The flowerish structure on the sporangiophore...

turns out to be made out of springs. It's all about the spiral, is the horsetail.

and the lovely spores with their marvellous elaters.

some dry ones

some underwater

I got some germination into these gametophytes by forgetting to throw out the water I'd been keeping my stems in. Haven't managed to get anything much bigger yet as the bacteria keep scoffing them.

Some in their natural habitat

and a friend from way back wandering about amongst them.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

back to the drawing..

-Why so quiet there Roberts?
-Shh, I'm talking to plants.

— Hello Mr. Leaf
— Look out, I will sting you!
— No you won't.
—  I will too. Look how nettly I am. Look at my spiky serrate margins. I will sting you hard.
— No you won't. You are just hamming it up for effect, like my straight friend with the wacky  haircut. In fact you are actually some kind of mint.

Seems to me that if you want to get to know a plant you have to be very quiet and ask its structure how it has come to be that way. Not that a plant isn't danced into being by electrons and photons and watery sludges and like the rest of us, of course it is, just as active, just as interactive. But if I want to tell the story of me and Mr. Deadnettle leaf here, for instance, I feel I have to make a special effort with my own moving about. And being quiet is the most energy-intensive thing an animal can do, according to my good friend Mrs. Tiger who is very good at it, but reckons she needs to sleep for 18 hours a day to keep on top form.

So it's back to the old-fashioned looking and describing with a pencil-crayon for me, one of my favourite technologies.

Monday, 19 March 2012

me & Slimey's watery lines of becoming

What's left on the new green brain. I'm not getting bored of this.

...and gold for the slime mould

I don't think anyone has done this before. Why would they? (I was accused of being 'original' the other day by someone but I am not foiled by their silver tongue, I know that this doesn't amount to being anything other than an Odd Bugger, at least not until you are making 30K or have a status which you desperately need to defend, neither of which apply to me.)

Anyway that is real gold that is, 23K gold leaf. It's wonderful stuff to work with, beaten so thin it is transparent, beautiful. I like its properties of being actively inert. It seems to have a magical agency, the soul of a moth perhaps, (a thing it has in common with pencil sharpenings, who will flutter everywhere around your bin, but never go into it, preferring eventually to nestle and roost amongst the fibres of your carpet) all it wants to do is to fly away and stick to your eyelashes, or to crumple up into itself like tiny pieces of golden snot. There will be reasons for that of course, electrostatic charges and perhaps aerodynamics trumping gravity or something, none of which need detract from the magic and mothyness of things; in fact quite the reverse. Unless you believe in all that Two Cultures bolloxology and its adherent singular and oppositional narratives, in which case there isn't really anything I can do for you anyway.

I like the idea of making a thing really precious and then giving it to microorganisms to have their way with it. But I'm expecting the slime mould to not want to have anything to do with the gold, given their recent disdain for the copper. Though you never know, what is good as a substrate might not be what you want for dinner, you won't catch me munching on the bike lane, for instance.

Not sure how the gold blobs will survive the dunking either, especially as I've used a PVA size, they could just float off like the smashing orangey bits you work so hard to liberate from your Jaffa cake. I chose PVA as a non-toxic option, I hope...