Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Little cone

Here's a study of a female fruit of the lovely bog myrtle or Myrica gale.

It's a great big enlargement, the real thing is about 8mm long. Whenever I look at anything under a microscope, it suddenly looks incredibly tasty and delicious. You get a better idea of how juicy everything alive is. A delightful thing about such reproductive structures as this is that they are often somehow disturbingly sexy as well. All that thrusting and jutting and other adjectives ripped straight from the Mills & Boon. It's something I hope to get across in a subtle way, in a sort of "While I'm here I might just add that Nature's a Bit Of A Good Time Girl, don't you know..." sort of way.

Anyway this is a nice enough picture but it isn't of Much Use To Science - it's not schematic enough, and you can't tell at a glance that the cone is made up of  a spiral arrangement of three-pronged  prongy things. Too much of the higgledy-piggledy 'well I just grew where I could and how I could under the circumstances' individualism and not enough of the 'this is how I work' generalisation. So it's perfectly good Natural History but rubbish Botany. That's the sort of conversation between me, my making, a plant and Culture that I find endlessly fascinating. How will it affect what I do next? How will it affect how I see others' work?

Fellow paint-nerds will be interested to hear that I used both the familiar and much-loved Greengold (W&N) but also the marvellous Nickel Azo Yellow by Daniel Smith to get those cheerful acid lime greens and yellows. And the biggest fattest brushes I could fit into the corners.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Sunday night at the Vetinary Varieties.

Here's S i n k improvising to the life cycle of slime mould Physarum polycephalum at the Anatomy Theatre at Summerhall.  (It's Edinburgh's old Vet school, now given over to artists, hackers & the like.)  I did a short talk & me and Slimey did the visuals for the rest of the night. Very nice it was too, a gentle, eclectic night.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

sketchbook pages 2

And some fenugreek seeds,

I've put these pages up big because I'm trying to perfect scanning and file compression combinations so you get the maximum wandering about inside a picture without being a horrid big file, though I think Blogger makes you download things before you can do that nowadays.  (Feel free, by all means, if it tickles your fancy, everything I post here is on a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, so you're welcome to do a mash-up with it and a photo of Prince Charles and a big potato, print it out onto stickers for your children to decorate their toy tractors and your nest of occasional tables with, but not so welcome to use it as advertising imagery for your new line in industrial-strength Cheesey Whoosits.)
Not there yet, it's very hard to reproduce any idea of the materiality of watercolour work using just photons, half the magic is in the mud, you see.

sketchbook pages 1

Some bacon-and-eggs....

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Time for some more not-science

Well,  here we are again with the marmite and the paint and the test-tubes and stuff.  It's because I want to draw some fenugreek, or methi, or Trigonella foenum-graecum, another beautiful and useful and fragrant plant.

I'm trying to get these fellas (fenugreek seeds) to grow, they sprout a bit and then die after about five days. So while I'm planting them out,  I'm wondering if I can encourage them to nodulate with their bacterial pals...

Do you like my Blue Peter Scool of Laboratory Equipment Test Tube Racks? And my fantastically inappropriate test tubes? I was going to make some agar to grow my seed in but the pressure cooker is full of chicken soup, maybe some other day....

So I got some of the soil and nodules and roots from some local sweetclover to see if I could innoculate my seeds' substrates. When it comes to the favourite flavour of bacteria, both plants are partial to a Sinorhizobium meliloti, I hear.

And here is my nonsense on the windowsill. In good company with the Winogradsky columns.

See the little purple one there? That's with the cobalt blue-violet paint, a tasty snack for S. meliloti.

Nonsense, like I say, I'm expecting my seeds to survive for another four or five days and then die.

Although as  a backup plan I might have a look at the sweetclover or Melilotis officinalis, which I've taken a real shine to on account of its gorgeous perfume and ability to sieze a shitty habitat. 

Here it is doing its phytoremediation work on the ash dump at Musselburgh.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

bog myrtle

 Owen and I went to Rannoch Moor to intrepidly hunt my bog myrtle. It's a fabulous place,  a complex blanket bog, a transition mire and a quaking bog.

What you don't really get an idea of from photos is exactly how boggy a bog is when you get there. You can't walk across this stuff, you have to leap gracefully from tussock to tussock and if you miss you're up to your neck in it.

And that's exactly what the Myrica gale loves. Apparently the more it sits in the stagnant water, the more it nodulates with its bacterial friends.

Bog myrtle has Frankia friends, like the Alnus glutinosa, and look! Here they are together having a nice time, I don't know if they are sharing their bacteria, I suspect they are, and who could blame them.

So how do you go about making a lovely botanical illustration of this beautiful and useful and fragrant plant?  I'm not absolutely convinced I've got the foggiest about that but for starters here are some sketches and drawings and nice conversations I've had with the plant.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

raising Lathyrus

Some photies of my Lathyrus odoratus herbarium specimen, a project we were working on last year.

The witchy magic was to take a dried up old plant and make  a picture out of it, making it look like some kind of life-force had ever flowed through it, all the time in a highly schematic way showing a sort of generalised representation of a botanical construction of a plant - and hopefully preserving just a little of its very own individual selfhood. And trying to remove as much of your own nonsense from the process, whilst managing an engaging 'personal style'.

Oh I love that shit.  And how I love the human brain, to be able to make such varied and fanciful constructions of its reality and such jostling and jarring narratives and put them together as if nothing were more difficult than learning to control a rotring pen on drafting film. Which is difficult indeed, i hope to get an opportunity to bore you about that later.

Intrepid plant hunting

It's all just an excuse, isn't it, to have exciting days out in interesting places. That's a good bike that is too.

Im looking for Hippophae rhamnoides,  Sea Buckthorn. Found it, too:

That's a good plant, that is.  

Then I come home and do lots of this sort of nonsense:

I'm going to enjoy this plant as it has a relationship with my lovely Frankia bacteria, who make beautiful orange nodules, they'll go lovely with the berries....

And the ubiquitous predatory spider mite makes an appearance. I don't know why I'm compelled to make a note of it, I'm always delighted to see them scampering about their business, but suspect it's a bit like those children who shout "DOGGIE!" every time they pass a hound of any sort, part of the fun is in the shouting itself.

Alder catkins

Here are some nice male and female flowering Parts of my Alnus glutinosa then. There's more but I fell off my photographing-the-work horse so no more photies of that for now. Too busy doing tiny tiny little brushstrokes, you see.

I'm definitely going to be a better person this year: I'm looking at five plants that have symbioses with bacteria and which nodulate. Regular readers will be aware that there is nobody better than a bacterium to do a tiny tiny brushstroke, the plan is to harness them in the service of Scientific Illustration. Failing that, plan B is to get myself some bigger brushes.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hunter's moon

This is one of the lovely things you will be able to see if you come to Art's Complex on  Friday 11th October to Sunday 20th October and see our 'Make yourself @ home" show. (That link will give you address & all kinds of exciting blurb & information and pictures and work by other fabulous artists)

Friday, 28 June 2013

native tree project

I was going to tell you about my exciting schoolwork, wasn't I. So here,  the mission is, I have to follow a native tree for a year. I chose the magnificent Alnus glutinosa on account of its bacterial buddies, as you might have expected. It has taken over my life, and also my studio as you can see here: