Thursday, 20 February 2014

Some lovely flowers: a 'complex composition'.

This is Ranunculus ficaria "Brazen Hussy", Narcissus tazetta "Minnow", and Primula polyantha "Dawn Ansell" all getting up in each others' shit.

It was my submission for the 'complex composition' module of the Dip. B.I. course last year. It was around this time I was finally able to articulate the devastating truth that there is absolutely no way I will ever ever be able to make anything remotely as nice as anything that actually grows, but that that was ok because I might eventually make a nice job of having a lovely dialogue with things, which might be more to the point anyway.

It was a kind of dry run of how to think about putting live material together in a convincing way - along the lines of Durer's "Great piece of turf",  using pretty flowers instead of an ecologically coherent bunch of specimens.  I was never a massive fan of the horticulturally beautified plant in general before this (compared to my beloved weeds) but spending that month or two looking at these delightful plants was an opportunity to think in a more nuanced way about our instrumental relations with other organisms. In fact the plants themselves are just as full of their own life-force as any other plant or for that matter you or I.   fact they are genuinely superior beings, though perhaps superior only to me, I can't speak for you, or the other plants. In fact the celandine and the primrose are even cheerfully surviving the dingy Leith winter in my tenement shared garden, whose soil is composed of heavy clay and the rubble from the outside lavvies that were only replaced by indoor ones in the 70's. Most of the rest of us are looking a bit battered and peely-wally at this point in February round here.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Hip hip hippophae

I'm looking at the lovely Hippophae rhamnoides or sea buckthorn, marvellous plant

 Here's the studio and the hopeful beginnings of the big painting I'm making.

"Why did you feel you needed to make a painting that you had to climb into it to paint it?",  I hear you ask.

Well, for these reasons:
 • So that I had to climb into it to paint it.
• So that I could represent its jolly spreading shrubby habit.
• So that I didn't have to make a lonely-looking isolationist-individualist representation of another   
• So I could chew on the fabulous mind-boggling fact of the many meristems (growing tips) at my       leisure
• So I would have to spend lots and lots of time painting and thinking about this plant.

Those aren't all reasons, are they, they are a pile of motivations between reason and just stuff I wanted to do.

 Here's some sketchbook guff.

The 'crystals on fruit' turn out to be peltate trichomes - hairs shaped roughtly like umbrellas. Would it be Wrong to use sparkly paint in the name of Science, I asks myself....

Ahh, more nodulations with Frankia bacteria on the roots.

An extra-large detail here in case you're as fond of the immersive stuff as I am. Click on it for a big view.  If you want.

The arrows here are pointing to mistakes, things that will have to be sorted out and put to rights.

This is quite good for me at this stage, there's nothing really horrendous going on here. For now anyway.

The arrows here are pointing to mistakes, things that will have to be sorted out and put to rights. Plenty time to totally ruin it later!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Colouring-in with pencil-crayons for Data

This here is the nice picture of rhododendrons I made last year with coloured pencils. It's a Rhododendron oreodexa var. oreodexa and a  Rhododendron oreodexa var. fargesii.

I got very interested in leaf scars, nodes, axial buds - places where differentiation happens, or happened, where cells decide to be one thing or another.  How do you know?  How do you make those decisions, if you are a rhododendron cell?

They ain't like us, you know, they are having their whole life cycles all over their bodies all the time. Sort of. Well it's a mind-boggler, to me, this business of having meristems, of never being finished....

Anyway the Data thing is a claim I made when I was asking someone for money recently; "botanical illustration is one of the last places on earth where colouring-in has been a useful way of presenting data" I claimed. (Words to that effect.)

Well that is perfectly true as far as it goes and I could support that claim if pushed and all that. What I am trying to feel my way around now is where we could possibly go with that stuff now...

I mean, you know, now we've got gel electrophoresis and x-ray crystallography and all that jazz.

And do these representations of the individuation of species correspond to my worldview?

Etc.  Meanwhile,

Hope you enjoy the pictures.

By the way, as I am writing this, my Beloved is "educating" his son about music. You have to imagine this post with a jolly soundtrack.

The world turned upside down

Most people's roots grow in a downwardly direction as ane fule kno. Delightful phenomenon of the week is the upwards-growing or negatively gravitrophic rootlet that grows out of the nodules that our good friend Myrica gale (bog myrtle) makes on its roots in collaboration with mutual friends Frankia bacteria.

This happens when the oxygen concentration in the soil is very low, which is often for the Myrica gale, which likes to live in stagnant bogs. Frankia like a bit of oxygen for their business purposes and so they make the lobes of lots of the nodules send rootlets up to the surface, like snorkels. Marvellous.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Occam's chest-rug: a gluttony theory

 Parsimony Theory is all very well if you want to explain how Nature probably did stuff in any given instance.   But if you want to understand how Nature is probably going to go about doing stuff you may need to use Gluttony Theory: by any and all means possible and available.

If you want to make art or other such dodgy activities like learning or understanding things you will probably use Gluttony Theory at some point too. There's a terrible fallacy going about that things have single causes or motivations or 'reasons' and people should stop it right now because it just ain't true.

The pink guy is a pretty larva I found in an Alnus glutinosa cone, I couldn't find what kind, it's here because it's fat.

Biting and chewing

Sometimes I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew. Lovely acacia! But so many leaflets!

Here's a look up through the leaves of the real thing. The deal is, the thorns are a home that the tree makes specially for its symbiotic ant-friends Pseudomyrmex ferruginea.

The warty structures on the stem of the leaf here are extrafloral nectaries, with a special recipe of nectar for the same ant species. In addition to this sugary treat the tree provides the ants with a delicious proteiny fatty snack, the Beltian body - the yellow jobs on the ends of the leaflets here. In return for this luxury hospitality the ants protect the tree from hervivores, attack any vines thet come within spritting distance of the tree and generally weed out all the competition from around the tree. If you want to see really good photos of  Pseudomyrmex ferruginea (or any other ant), have a look at Alex Wild's photography.

Here's Pat Clifford at RBGE heroically lifting slabs in a search for nodules, hardly anything at all, a bit disappointing but there were one or two which is enough to be going on with.

Herbarium heaven

This is my new favourite place to be, the herbarium at RBGE. It's like a library only it has thousands of dried plants in it. And microscopes.  And it is quiet and climate controlled.

Like many libraries, anyone can use it, all you have to do is email the nice staff and tell them what you want to look at.

Here I'm looking at an Acacia cornigera that was collected from Tobago in 1909. I'm enjoying the strange and very direct connection to the cultural histories that these dusty old labels have too.

The plan is to make a lovely Botanical Illustration of this plant....

As for the specimens themselves, I think they are magical. Rachel Pedder-Smith has lots of interesting things to say about herbarium specimens in her thesis. She considers the specimens as objects, as well as plant material subjects. I realise I am thinking of them more as sort of toenails - discarded parts of living beings - and of the human agents who use them as the sort of witches that go around gathering bits of people in order to do magic on them. Or maybe saintly relic sorts of things. Something slightly more animated with its own self rather than solely by the human interactions with it, at any rate, albeit rendered extraordinary by being seen through a special human prism. I haven't  finished thinking about that so I'll say no more for now, given the risk of deteriorating into talking Pure Balls.