Friday 14 November 2014

New Model Organisms

One of my projects at the moment is having a look at some of the wild and weedy legumes growing in my neighbourhood.  Here's some Medicago sativa, a.k.a. alfalfa or lucerne. It's a very important crop especially for fodder and makes great sprouts, not so common in the wild round these parts. I found it growing by the doorway of an industrial paintshop down by the Waters of Leith.

It's also a 'model organism' - a term that denotes a species that gets unusually prodded and pointed at and stared at by scientists.

I didn't set out to draw model organisms - scientist pals often lament that everyone studies one or two species and knows loads about them and next to nothing about all the others we live alongside. Never mind, sez I, it's not as if we'll know a right lot more about any of 'em by the time I've finished with them anyway.

Here's another one, a Nicotiana benthamiana. Unrelated project, unrelated plant, this one is a gentle tobacco relative that is always getting experimented on by virologists because it has so few defenses. 

I can't tell you what we're doing with it because it's Top Secret. 
(Ok it isn't really, just a Bit Secret.  I just said that to sound important. Look! There's going to be Red Lab Coats! Artists love lab coats because it makes us feel legitimate which we don't normally get to feel. It's one of the downsides to having an independent practice and nobody enjoys it but you just have to suck it up. Or get a job. Some artists try to compensate by making grotesquely inflated claims about their achievement and value but I don't think they should bother, do you? Anyway, a coloured lab coat scores extra points, the higher the biosecurity level, the more points you get. Perhaps we should put our Labcoat Kudos Points on our CVs instead of the grossly inflated claims. )

Anyway, this I can say: there will be viruses. Here's the babies in the nursery, 

 an infection-contraption
and an infected plant
 and a poorly one.

What will I add to these discussions about these so-much discussed plants?  Is there actually anything special about a picture that has been made by human hands, with this particular, direct, continuous bodily contact? Aside from it being easier to do certain ways of ordering ideas, prioritising types of information, ordering forms I mean.  I feel that there are special powers of storytelling but I couldn't tell you what exactly.

Romance, at any rate. Not that the work of scientists isn't work of passion, of care, of love of all kinds, it is of course, often profoundly so,  though it does sometimes lose a bit in the presentation. But I think it is actually very hard to do colouring-in without making that stuff explicit, visible, and readable.  Regardless of whether you think you're being "objective" or not.  What do you think?

Friday 12 September 2014

Five plants that nodulate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria

Hooray! Here they are, my lovely nodulating pals, this year's work. It's on show now until the 28th September 2014 at RBGE :

Acacia cornigera (L.) Willd.  - bull's horn acacia.

Lathyrus vernus (L.) Bernh.  - spring vetch.

Strongylodon macrobotrys A. Gray - jade vine.


Myrica gale L. - bog myrtle.

Hippophae rhamnoides L.  - sea buckthorn.

I'll maybe say a bit more about these later, but right now I'm going to sleep.  Goodnight, and thank you all.

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Wednesday 26 March 2014

A fabulous specimen

Thanks to the amazing Lulú Rico Arce for inventing this fabulous way of preserving a whole mass of inflorescence!

With us in spirit

Hee hee.  I've come all the way to Kew to paint a pickled pea-pod. These are from the Spirit Collections, which are indeed perhaps the most magical of all.  The specimens are stored in Copenhagen Solution, a cocktail of 70% industrial methylated spirit, 28% distilled water and 2% glycerol.

Some flowers too...

I'm very excited because they keep copies of illustrations here right with the specimens. Rightly so. I'm fascinated by the way herbarium specimens function as forms of data, whilst also being preserved bodies of living things, if not loved then certainly treated with gentleness, care and respect. (Apart  from having been murderously lopped and appropriated in the first place, of course.) Similarly for the illustrations, which sit in all kinds of interesting spaces between art & science, information and entertainment, explanation and description,  professionalism & hobby or menial work, depending on when they were made.  Everything here is getting reorganised around APGIII classification, and pictures get a nice magenta-coloured box.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

It's all Foucault - and no knickers.

Here's me, performing my femininity again, doing The Bloody Avant-Garde at Anatomy last week.

Splendid photos here by Richard Dyson.

Sunday 16 March 2014

It's all stamens and no style.

Here's a picture of home studio corner today.  Note the fabulous jug of Goo, which had contained my bog myrtle specimens in some sphagnum and peaty muddy water so it would feel at home -  had to take the specimens out to dry out but I can't bear to throw out the substrate in case there are marvellous life forms lurking in there.

Anyway today we're looking at the flowers of the marvellous Vachellia cornigera or Acacia cornigera or bullhorn acacia . There's my specimen in a jar behind the paintbox.

So the nice yellow rockets are the inflorescences, and each of these individual tufts is a flower. Hundreds of them.

Very very small, and slightly sticky, though inclined to jump into outer space if you come at 'em with a scalpel. Can't say I blame them.

Thing is, there are hundreds of the male parts, but I'm buggered if I can find the female parts. Look! And that's the tip of my scalpel blade there, so you get a sense of how big they are.

That little brown effort there at the top is some sort of dysfunctional ovary, I think....

and finally, a wee pod.  I went through a large part of that inflorescence and only found five or six amongst a hundred or thereabouts, whatever is going on there probably accounts for the very small fruit to flower ratio - you can see the fruits on this herbarium specimen from Kew.

Some jolly sketchbook guff for your viewing pleasure. I got very interested in thosesmall brown cups in between the flowers, I think they are probably trichomes of some sort. They start out as fishy scales covering the flower buds;

and persist on their stalks as trumpet-shaped structures after the flowers fall off.

The first attempt at a posh version of the dissection. I used a dip-pen with paint in it for the fine lines, which just weren't fine enough.

Traditional tiny paintbrush fared much better in the second attempt. Also ultramarine violet for darkening the yellow, very nice, made for lovely soft granular greys.

Soundtrack for today is TWiM #73: Eyeing Root Nodule Development , delightful to listen to although a bit disrupted by the Leith Emergency Services Symposium: "Coping with the Consequences of Poverty, Discrimination, Disenfranchisement and Alienation" which takes place outside my window every now & then. Happily I think everyone walked away from this one.

Sunday 2 March 2014

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What a lovely orchid indeed.

Here's the Phalaenopsis I spent most of the daylight hours of last year's winter trying to work out how to paint as part of the Dip. BI. course. With some close-ups.  This is an attempt to put into practice a dry brush technique learned from the master Lizzie Sanders.

Also below a pile of the attendant guff that I excreted in the making of the picture, which is a sort of uneasy compromise between my ordinary working notes and show-your-working-out-on-a-piece-of-rough-paper. Whether or why anybody in the universe would be interested I have no idea but as usual I'm chucking it out there just in case. If you survive that there's some very good work at the bottom from my nephew Ewen Green, who is one of my chief collaborators.