Saturday, 25 February 2012

Capable in conte crayon

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is capable. And this exercise in try making some broad strokes for a change, Dee, is a Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea).

Plants capable of digesting animals? Pretty bizarre. And fascinating, although I have to admit that it's not one of my primary fascinations so I don't know a lot about them off-hand. I did a little research, though, and have found out that these particular plants are known as carnivorous rather than insectivorous because they'll capture lots of things besides insects. Small frogs, for example, but the success rate for those is apparently on the low side.

I also found out that while the plant is capable of producing its own digestive enzymes -- especially when the pitcher is young -- it depends heavily on the miniature world of bacteria and insect larvae that lives in the pool of water that collects in the pitcher. Yep, there's actually a species of mosquito larva that helps the plant digest its prey. In biology that type of relationship is known as commensalism, where one member of the partnership (if you can call it that) directly benefits and the other is neither benefited nor harmed.

It's also a good example of see? Mosquitoes can be good for something. Actually, they're important for a lot of things. It's just hard to convince people of that when they're scratching and worrying about West Nile Virus.

Um, anyway. My own personal connection with this very capable plant is that I've been lucky enough to see them in the wild. It was back in university, during my field botany course. We were out on a sedge fen somewhere north of Edmonton (I've forgotten exactly where, now), and we found them there, hidden in amongst the other vegetation as they generally are. Incidentally, if you've ever wanted to do a stupid thing in the world of field botany, send a bunch of undergrads onto a sedge fen when they've already been out in the field for a few days and are exhausted and giddy. Sedge fens are like gigantic waterbeds. Try telling a group like that not to jump up and down.

Our TA spent that whole day with a look on his face like he was trying to figure out what to tell our supervising prof when one of us inevitably broke through and was never seen again...

Come to think of it, that particular group of interesting but weird people probably would have been capable of that.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sea Water in soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is fluid.

It stumped me for a bit. Oh sure, a person could do waterfalls, or the wind in tree leaves. If she felt like it, which I obviously didn't. Not that there's anything wrong with either (there definitely isn't)... I wasn't feeling terribly poetic, really.

I thought about just throwing paint splotches.

Then I remembered sea water.

When I was in elementary school, we were shown a film (yes, film. Not video. The world has changed a lot in a fairly short amount of time. Read that as: don't you make me feel old, all right?) about blood. It was a cartoon featuring Captain Haemo or something like that. The details didn't stick. What did, though, was the fact that blood -- forgetting the immune system for just a moment -- is really just a fancy substitute for sea water.

It's true, you know. Small organisms bathed in fluid can get all of their oxygen needs (and many of their nutrient needs as well) directly from that fluid. As an organism gets bigger, though, its internal cells get farther and farther away from the sea water they need. Add that to the fact that bigger organisms develop more complicated external defences (from other bigger organisms) that prevent the sea water from getting in at all, and you have a big problem that needs to be overcome if that organism's going to continue to survive.

Our bodies -- and those of most other animals and plants -- have developed some incredible, complicated systems to ensure the constant supply of sea water. I won't go into full-on anatomical rapture since I'm by far not the first person to find the workings of the body fascinating, but let me just say that I think that the fluid lines of the systems built to deliver fluids are pretty darned amazing.

In other words, anatomy's cool.

Today's doodle (and it really is a doodle. I wouldn't have got many marks for this inaccurate mess back in my comparative anatomy classes) is based on the abdominal arteries of a cat. I know some of you would rather not have known that, but for those who are interested, some of the arteries represented (in purposely mixed-up order, just to be screwed up because I'm like that sometimes) are the:
  • aorta
  • hepatic
  • splenic
  • gastroduodenal
  • pyloric
  • left gastric
  • middle colic
  • celiac
  • superior mesenteric
And yes, I did have to look them up. It's been over twenty years since dissection labs (did I warn you about making me feel old?). Names like that don't ride around in my brain anymore. Surprising to think that they ever did, really. My life's a bit different now...

Anatomy's still cool, though.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Not So Sweet in art stix

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is popularity. As is so often the case with me, this'll take a bit of explaining.

In my high school (and, I'd expect, in many other high schools) they often used holidays or special events to do a little extra fundraising for the Students' Union. At Valentine's Day or Christmas or other days like that they'd pre-sell gifts that a person could have sent to a boy- or girlfriend's class on the day. At Christmas it would be chocolate or something like that, but at Valentine's Day it was generally roses. You'd order your rose the week before, and then on the big day the Students' Union executive would spend the first class period delivering flowers to the lucky recipients. Names would be called, and the blushing, giggling, or (in the usual case of the boys) embarrassed people would head up to the front of the room to get their gifts from their special someones.

I wasn't popular enough to get one. Ever.

Not a surprise, really. I was a misfit in a small town. Well, I'm still a misfit (in a city now), but the difference is that I've since found out that there are plenty of other misfits out there and we generally -- or eventually -- find each other out. If you'd told high-school-me that, though, I wouldn't have believed you. I just kind of gave up on popularity.

Here comes the ironic part.

I went from my small town to a university whose population was literally six times the size. Shock to the system, for sure. Gradually, though, I discovered that a bigger group of people means a much bigger chance that you're going to find people who share your interests. Suddenly I had more friends than I'd ever thought I'd have in my life. I was happy. I even dated, which I hadn't done since junior high. And when the Students' Union Valentine's rose sale came up?...

I completely ignored it. It was, honestly, barely in the periphery of my mind. Things like that didn't matter away from high school measurements of popularity. Thank goodness.

You can imagine, then, that as I sat waiting for my computing class to begin, I wasn't even listening to the roll of names being called. They had to call me twice before the friend I was sitting with gave me a nudge. I, of all people, had been sent a rose.

Happy ending, right?


It turned out to be from a probably nice but completely not my type fellow who'd been chatting me up outside that classroom for a few weeks. It led to absolutely nothing, but I definitely give him credit for the effort.

And didn't someone say that a rose is a rose is a rose?


On another note, this is my first go with Prismacolor Art Stix, so obviously I need more practice. They're kind of fun, though. I think they'll get some use.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Risks in pen & ink

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is suspense. Mating can be a pretty suspenseful thing if you're a male orb weaver spider. For one thing, she's going to be a lot bigger than you. For another, she's probably hungry. And if you need a third... well, depending on what species you are you might find that you have a few less body parts after you're done...

It's amazing, really, the things a male spider has to go through just to make sure he passes on his genes. Some species have elaborate mating dances where the rhythm of the male's vibrations on the web tell the female that he's not supposed to be food (at least, not right away). Some have to be able to sneak up from behind (and it's not easy to sneak on a spiderweb) in order to get the job finished. Some have detachable copulatory organs that continue to function even if the female eats the male a bit too quickly, believe it or not.

And you thought the human dating scene was tricky?


I often say that these are quick doodles, but it's pretty obvious that this week's effort was the quickest of the quick. It's the only chance I have to get something in before Monday, though, and if I wait until after the weekend I rarely bother to get anything done. Better to keep the rhythm going, so to speak, since a skipped week too easily becomes a skipped month.
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