Sunday, 30 October 2011

Candy wrappers in pen and ink

Just a quick (we're talking five minutes here) line study of some candy wrappers. Two mini bars and a package of gummies.

Don't judge me -- my father was the one who opened the Halloween candy early...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Spider on Rose Leaf in carbon pencil

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is scary. Is it cheating that I drew something that is scary for some people but that I find fascinating?

Hey, I can understand fear of spiders. They're crawly, they seem to have a few too many legs, and the thought of them lurking around the rose bushes is enough to send some gardeners into shivers.

Me, though? My usual spider reaction is "cool. I wonder what kind it is?"

That is, I suppose, a fairly recent response. I mean, I've always tolerated spiders. Terrified of insects as a child (and the massive infestations of tent caterpillars at the time didn't help. Not being able to go outside without stepping on that wriggling blue carpet? Nightmarish.), but not so bad with spiders. I know it sounds weird, because it is weird. Best I can figure, the spiders were ok because they ate the insects.

Spiders became more of a like than a tolerate for me a few years ago when I was working on a spider display for the nature centre. I spent an entire summer photographing and drawing spiders (some of the sketches can be found via the slideshow on the blog's sidebar, for anyone interested), and when you get something like that in your head you start seeing spiders everywhere. No, wait -- that's a good thing. You start seeing spiders everywhere, you gain an appreciation for their different life styles and survival strategies, and you realise very forcefully that if it wasn't for the spiders we'd all be butt-deep in insects. They're fantastic pest control.

Of course, it didn't hurt anything that I have a fascination for comparative anatomy stemming from my university days. You can tell a lot about an animal by looking at the structure of its body parts, and spiders are beautifully built for the jobs that they do.

Yes, I meant to type beautifully there. I know I'm not going to convince most of you, but there's a great deal of beauty to spiders.

Anyway. I suppose that the idea of spiders in the roses is scary enough for most people to qualify for the IF prompt, even if my reaction was a little more on the disappointed side. Disappointed that I never did figure out what species of spider the original for this doodle was, that is. It wouldn't give me a good enough look at it to attempt an ID.


This particular doodle started out to be a bit more precise than it ended up. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to get scribbly with carbon pencils. Maybe I need to take some time away from the pen & ink and let myself get looser again? Might not be a bad idea...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Scattered Nest in pen & ink and soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is scattered. And this? Scattered remnants of a wasp nest.

This time of year if you're out on the trails in Alberta (for that matter, pretty much anywhere in North America that has actual winter) it's not uncommon to see paper wasp nests in pieces on the ground. In my area it's usually nests from the Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata, for my fellow nerds), but the nests from any paper-making species are ripe for attack. It's not like the wasps care, though. They're not using them anymore.

For all their impressive structure, paper wasp nests are only seasonal homes. They can have very high populations working in them (and protecting them,as anyone who's had the misfortune to disturb one can tell you) towards the end of summer, but by the time of hard frosts they're abandoned. Not very good winter housing, you see. A wasp colony living in a frozen paper nest has no way of keeping itself warm and active, so the wasps would be easy picking for any predators that came along. It takes a lot of costly energy to keep a whole colony going all winter anyway, so the wasps have a double problem. The solution? A little drastic-sounding, maybe, but very common with a lot of insects: let 'em all die. That's right. Pretty much the entire colony just dies off every year. The queen finds a winter burrow somewhere, and starts the whole thing over again come spring.

The abandoned nests, however, aren't exactly empty.

What's left? Well, any immature wasps that didn't quite make it, any adult wasps who were still caring for them; that sort of thing. And as soon as the colony dies off, the scavengers attack the old nest looking for goodies. Scavengers like chickadees and other non-migratory insect eaters. They'll tear apart the nests with gusto, looking for the leftovers and scattering the papery remains to the wind.

Nature, as usual, is the first and best recycler. I think that's cool, but then I'm sure no one's surprised by my finding nature cool at this point.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

What Monkeys? in inktense and pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is hibernate, and my doodle is going to take a little explaining. Hibernate left me with a bit of a problem, frankly. You see, I actually did hibernate a few weeks ago when the prompt was asleep (you can find it here if you're interested), and while I could definitely use more practice with drawing ground squirrels (yep. Still avoiding that particular project) I wasn't really all that happy about just reusing an idea I'd already had.

What to do, then? I suppose I could have drawn something else hibernating, but my brain wouldn't go that direction. Instead, it went down the path of different ways animals go about waiting out harsh conditions. My brain tends to do things like that, by the way. Short attention span.

Erm, anyway. Surviving harsh conditions. Hibernation for tough winters where finding food would use too much energy. Aestivation for places where the summers are hot enough to make survival difficult. Migration for times when conditions are, for whatever reason (and there's lots of them), too tough in the home range. Brumation for reptiles (like hibernation, but the animal is slowed rather than "asleep"). Diapause, which is delayed development in unfavourable times. Cryptobiosis, which...

Hmm. Cryptobiosis. Basically, stopping everything until things get better. It's pretty fascinating stuff, and amazing to see just what an organism can survive when it's shut itself down. Animals in cryptobiotic states have been frozen, heated, left dry for years, taken into space... if you start looking at the extremes some of these things can survive it can almost change your definition of life. These are animals with a shelf life, for pity's sake.

So where does cryptobiosis lead my wandering brain? Well, Sea Monkeys, naturally.

Sea Monkeys? Oh heck yeah. Any kid my age who read comics on a regular basis knew those sea monkey ads intimately. Pets that magically appeared when you added water? Too awesome. Of course, the ads with the cute cartoon monkey-fish-things were massively misleading. And when I inevitably asked my parents to buy me some sea monkeys I was shot down pretty quickly. There was a good reason for that, though. Even better than the why do you read those stupid ads reason.

You see, my father was a junior high math/science teacher, and he had a tank of something he called brine shrimp in his classroom. When he explained that sea monkeys were really brine shrimp, I definitely had to go check them out. So off we went one day, and suddenly there they were. Sea monkeys. Brine shrimp. Whatever, there they were.

They were... weird. Sort of see-through. Too many legs. Definitely not monkeys. And I have to say, seeing them in person certainly cured me of sea monkey fever.

Later on, though, I became sort of fascinated by the way that those dry little cysts could become living organisms just by being put in water. It led me to find out more about cryptobiosis. Which led me to finding out more things about more animals. What can I say? When I was a kid, the encyclopedia was my best friend.

Anyway, here are some brine shrimp that aren't hibernating. And let me tell you, it's almost killing my little OCD head that I just freestyled them and made them completely anatomically inaccurate. Please, please, please don't count the appendages, anyone.

No, seriously.

No, really.

I think I need to get out more.
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