Garden Journal Sketchbook and Palette Worksheet

I am mightily enjoying my new journal, even though I’ve been working on it since November, and have only just finished my first real entry. I am not fast at this, but I like where it’s going. Over the last couple of months, I’ve gotten starter supplies of watercolor, watercolor pencil, and gouache to enhance my colored pencil game. It’s been years since I’ve played with these, I gave away all of my art supplies except my colored pencils long ago. Every page will be an experiment, but unlike the mess that is my normal sketchbook, it will be a thought out and planned experiment with a purpose, helping me build so many skills at the same time. I love this stuff so hard.

Now it’s time to move onward. I’ve learned just enough about telling monocots vs. dicots to figure out this could be useful info for me to have. I’m not usually interested in identifying grass-like plants, so it’s not a skill I’ve picked up yet. As the kind of person who finds treasures in “weeds”, knowing more about grasses has always been on my to-do list, so it looks like it’s time. Plus, I recently got some vanilla cuttings, and I know zip about orchids. I can study that, and my ginger. I’ll meander that direction now, and use the illustrations to refine my color blending skills using my new fancy worksheet I whipped up.

This should make things go more smoothly than fumbling around with different colors each time. I designed it thinking I could print it out on any paper I wish, then test whatever material I wish, but I’m low on printer ink. Figures. Anyway, if you want to try it as well, here you go.

This Season Just Became So Much More Fun

I’m not a fan of exploring nature in the winter. I’d rather browse books of sketched winter scenes, while under a blanket with some cocoa. This normally makes winter rather dull for me. This year was looking up to be a little better, with about a dozen small containers of infant carnivorous plants to tend to. Still, I’ve been sad to think of the dormant season, watching my little porch bog slow down and slumber. I figured I’d pass the time by focusing on refreshing my art skills a little, but at some point I lost or gave away all my art books. I’ve only been drawing again since February, and half of that time was spent familiarizing myself with my new digital tablet.

So, I splurged on three new books over the last couple of months, and while they are all lovely and worth every penny, I’ve gone full fan girl on The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws. It’s about an inch thick, and every page has me itching with excitement to get drawing. I ran across the book looking for spider anatomy, leading me to his excellent guides on his website. I had to wait a month before I could squeeze this book into the budget, and it was so worth the wait.

Besides providing a quality basic education on art and composition, it is also excellent for teaching you how to look at your subjects with new eyes, and a fresh curiosity. I love my little tiny seedlings, I wander over to them and look at them several times a day. But, sadly, they don’t change much from one viewing to the next. Even having plant babies indoors wasn’t taking the disappointment out of winter. Only now, simply spending a couple of days with this book has me asking new questions. Each little arrangement is starting to become a home of mysteries to explore. I also have some pet spiders and isopods to observe, and unidentified plants coming up in my terrarium. My life is now full of subjects to investigate while my garden sleeps.

Plus, I get to multi task. Each session of observation can serve to not only practice looking at the world with the eyes of a scientist, but also a chance to use the skills taught in the other two books I spoiled myself with. They are both beautiful enough to be coffee table books, if we had a coffee table. Or guests to impress. Regardless, they are relaxing and inspiring to browse through. This is going to be a lovely winter.

What I Learned Sampling My Palette on Redbubble Merchandise

Earlier this year, I realized I wanted a very specific mug with a Venus flytrap line drawing on it (currently the banner on this blog), and I could draw it myself using my photos as a reference. I got the red for my design by sampling an area of my flytrap’s leaf, and happily awaited my new mug (and impulse matching tote bag).

I was disappointed when they came. A little. Not too much. The red on my mug was too yellow, and my tote bag was too blue. I wasn’t surprised though, I knew enough about design to know that a lot of palettes are made with specific inks in mind, and I was basically rolling the dice colorwise. If I had printed the photo of the plant, it probably would have been fine. The results of the color would have been covered up by nearby colors averaging it out. Isolating a color with an eyedropper tool and using it to fill a large area meant any problems with the color would be magnified.

Testing your palette means that you know beforehand how your colors will behave on different materials. I would like to be able to use my Prisma pencils or the palette in my drawing software (Autodesk SketchBook), and know that I can rely on them. My first samples used a minimal palette and logic based on what pencil tins I would take with me on a roadtrip, unfortunately my minimal approach was a bad idea.

My samples showed me that I couldn’t trust fairly standard colors as much as I thought I could. I eliminated a few I really liked, and didn’t have something to replace them with. I should have tested a larger range of colors. The images I uploaded to my shop for the next round of samples (when I can afford them) addresses that. The new image samples all the pencils I have on hand. It’s not meant to represent the complete range of the brand. There’s almost 75 of them on my image, though.

Comparison of mug sample to the magnet, showing a vast difference in one red and some subtle differences in others.

Because I spent all my money on the more limited samples, I can only discuss my results from those, but they’re useful. I couldn’t afford to get a sample of everything. But, I know from experience that ceramic and cloth are a must. I also got a card, the range of stickers, and a magnet to see what I could soft proof and what I could not.

Comparing my samples to a test print from my home printer and my laptop screen.

I can indeed use my home printer to soft proof cards, as well as matte and glossy stickers, as long as I keep a few things in mind. Cards seemed to be a little more dark or saturated, and greens seemed a tad more blue. Stickers weren’t as saturated, due to a very slight difference in texture that allows a hint of white to come through.

Your own experience with your printer would tell you if you need to get samples on these materials, but I’ll tell you right away to not bother with both glossy and matte stickers. Just get one or the other, they were almost exactly the same. However, transparent stickers and magnets seemed to get slightly different results. That’s fine though, they’re inexpensive enough to get samples of.

Cloth is generally lighter, brighter, and less saturated. At the same time, it seems more vivid. This is probably because the actual ink is more saturated, but the white parts of the cloth show through. I’m basing my results on a mask, but it might be worth the effort to order a wider range of cloth samples. Things with a tighter weave will show more detail, a looser weave will lose more saturation.

The ceramic surface feels glassy smooth, but the colors themselves are a little textured, almost like paper. This causes the colors to be a little more reflective and brighter. Red tones are more vivid. Drinking coffee out of this mug while I draw is way more satisfying than I thought it would be.

The next time I order samples, I will order transparent stickers, a mug, a magnet, a cell phone cover, a mask, a zippered pouch, and a tote bag. When combined with soft proofing, that should provide enough information for fairly reliable results on a range of products. After that, as long as I’m careful to not use my colors in a way that might create a shade that goes off of my palette, my designs are fairly safe, and the only samples I have to worry about ordering are the things I want to own in the first place.

Because the process of organizing these samples took a couple of days (partly because I was dealing with about three decades’ worth of pencils), I went ahead and put my palette up in my store so others can use it and not have to go through all that. Even if you use different software, you can use my sample with an eyedropper tool and compare it to the image below. If you order on something that provides you with a lot of information (like an iPad cover or something else that I haven’t tested), please let me know and I’ll update this page to add your information and link to your results on your own site and store (if you like).

This leads to the part where I point out this means my store is now open. In fact, I have a whole new promotional page that has some free downloads as well.

Maybe you want to sample my palette, maybe you like my art, or maybe someone in your audience will. Please share, I need to raise the money to buy more samples, and I’m hoping the usefulness of this article will help me reach people willing to buy my products. I especially want a zippered pouch to hold my pencils, I have no idea what the material on those is like, but that would be a great reference to have right on the pencils. I’m hoping it will be a plastic type canvas that shows detail well. I also kinda really want a flytrap hardback journal for a bog garden diary.

P.S. – That first mug idea I had, the one that fueled the desire to start designing things? I knew I would be revising it and ordering the revised version in the future anyway, so I decided it would also do as a sample for how well the item held up to serious wear and tear. It became my only drinking mug, and I put it in the dishwasher daily, right next to where the jets came out. Don’t do that. I think a slip of paper with my last mug said it was dishwasher safe. If so, that would be only an occasional dishwashering with cooler temperatures, away from the jets. If you really like a mug from Redbubble, hand wash only. Once the flaking started it did not stop, even when I switched to hand washing. Guess I also need a new flytrap mug.

P.P.S. – I almost forgot. I have a goal. If I get 1000 followers on Instagram, Joe will work with me on getting a better camera. I really enjoy taking photos, but my camera is actually a camcorder. I can’t even adjust some of the settings on it. Take a look at my Instagram, and follow me if you think I deserve an upgrade.

I spent my entire day

Trying to learn to use photostacking software. It’s supposedly the key to getting those super crisp macro photos that the insect photographers keep stunning me with. But my results were not stunning like theirs, I kept getting results that were blurrier than the original. Maybe I just need more practice. In the meantime, doing it by hand and simply erasing the blurry parts of a layer ended up woring waaaaaay better.

Free Printable Venus Flytrap Care Sheet, and Carnivorous Plant Photos

Carnivorous plants can be very charming. We feed Venus flytraps with what looks like little mouths, and they seemingly smile up at us in gratitude. Sundews twinkle, and curl around little offerings. Pitcher plants look like they are singing together in chorus, or laughing at a secret joke. When they are out on the porch, I miss mine. I like to take one or two, and put them under my desk lamp, just for a little while. It feels like they are visiting, sharing my company. They’re like little pets with artistic and scientific appeal. Also, they come with the tiniest of thrills at being so close to a deceptive and seductive predator. A sun loving, flowering beauty that whispers morbid poetry.

Lately, I have been reaping the rewards of a successful quest. Somewhere around a decade ago, a grocery store was selling pitcher plants and sundews alongside their seasonal flytraps, and I jumped at the chance. Killed them all. Got very sad. Decided that every time a grocery store offered flytraps, I would buy one until I learned to keep them alive, because I am a stubborn person. If I could bring a flytrap out of dormancy, I would move to propagation. If I succeeded, I would reward myself with more pitcher plants and sundews.

While undertaking my epic quest, I learned from a whole plethora of mistakes. I didn’t have internet access or money for supplies when I started, the first couple of years were clumsy. One year, I forgot spring water wasn’t pure enough. I completely misunderstood everything important about dormancy. I did learn, though. Got close to meeting my goal once, but a toddler and a dog conspired to kill my plant, so I had to try again. But I did, of course I did, and in fact, I did it with the most beautiful flytrap that I’ve seen in a grocery store.

Not all, but most of her traps are a vivid red.
Tippi in her youth, a glorious spring green and vivid red.

I took photos immediately, I knew my skills would be enough to keep her alive, but I had never managed to grow one to look quite that glorious (windowsills are not enough sun for that red, most of the time). Good thing I did, because she does not look that glorious today. I learned from the previous flytrap what happened when I left it on the porch and turned my back. Curious fingers could not resist Mama’s fascinating plant and, the dog wanted to eat it. Badly. So, my beautiful flytrap had to sit in a sunny window for a year. She is doing well, and I did propagate her, but my light was not strong enough for her to grow as stunning as she used to be.

However, as I mentioned, I promised myself that when I propagated a flytrap, I would splurge on a collection. Propagate her and splurge I did, and she benefited by getting a larger pot and a safe area on the porch, thanks to some new shelves that keep her away from the dog. The girl is older, and understands the plants will die if played with. So, my mother flytrap, named Tippi (short for Tippitiwichet, the name of my blog is one of the common names for flytrap) is finally is getting the full sun she deserves, and already she’s starting to blush. Just a little, but I’m encouraged. You can see her leaves aren’t as yellow as they were though, that was from shipping and grocery store conditions.

Like many mothers, now Tippi is just happy she’s mostly healthy, and has sprawled some while her colors faded.

My coloring book project has already been morphing from swamp ecology to focusing on carnivorous plants, so it was easy to justify getting more than a couple of new living models to sketch. Plus, when I did a little research, I found out sundews can be used as a rennet substitute in cheese making, and I’ve managed to (easily) convince my partner to invest in supplies to grow enough sundew for cheese experiments. I even picked up two new flytraps, because it happens to be the time of year they show up in grocery stores, and genetic diversity can mean more fun with seeds. I’ve spent the last few weeks giddy and obsessed, just ask my ever-patient Twitter mutuals.

Naturally, I have research to do, I wish to know my new babies well. Also naturally, I wish to sketch them and include them in my coloring book. Printable care sheets for each species feels rather inevitable. It might take a while. The current collection has 9 species of pitcher plant, and 6 species of sundew, in addition to my multiple flytraps. But, I already have one printable care sheet for you, and I’ll release the others as I finish them.

Also, I want to have a visual record of my plants. I want to see how each species reacts to changes I make in their care, what pitchers looked like in spring versus summer, and the overall potential of the genetic line. I purchased a few species that were similar for the sheer joy of watching the changes between them as they grow (I am a nerd), so I may as well keep records. I thought I might share this online, it might help me to score feedback from other carnivorous plant growers. It would also enter some photos under creative commons for articles and blog posts, or artists who want reference photos and whatnot. I decided to leave photos I upload unedited, so you can adjust them to suit your needs. I like taking photos though, and I might edit some to suit my own tastes and upload them to Instagram every now and then.

If you’re still reading this, you must be at least a little interested, so take a look at my collection albums. If you see something you want to know about, let me know and I can make that be the next plant I focus on. The albums themselves will tell you where I got each plant from in the oldest posts for that plant, if you want to pick one up. Most of them have very similar care to the flytrap, so do read the care sheet above.

Looks like this blog will start to churn out some regular content as these pages get done, but no promises that I won’t focus on piling up chores for a week, or take a long road trip that slows me down (my partner works half a continent away). I am not the kind of person to post on a strict schedule. I’m kind of driven on this though, even if I’m not talking about it online, I’m reading, sketching, taking macro photographs. These plants have quietly been a passion of mine for a long time. I’m accepting my future in a cabin in a swamp somewhere, evolving into a crone, breeding fireflies, cackling madly to my flesh-eating flowers. I’ll name all the possums, and teach tricks to the carrion crows.

No, the blog is not abandoned

I recently interrupted my schedule with a road trip to the northeast (my man works halfway across the country), so it’s caused an interruption in my projects. I spent some of my down time with a sketchbook practicing drawing flies though. I’d like to do a coloring book that focuses on carnivorous plants, so knowing the details of how fly bodies work seems fairly important. It turns out studying dozens of photos of flies still won’t answer some of the mysteries of how their bodies are put together, so I might need to find a model in resin, or maybe a little desiccated bugger in the window.

In the process, I’m coming up with quite a few ideas, so the next few weeks will probably be full of me sketching away quietly. Once my persnickety attention to detail is satisfied, the first coloring booklet won’t be far behind.

A is for Axolotl

Hello, and welcome. This new blog is mostly a space for me to distribute some coloring pages I’m working on. I want to do this to educate my kid, but might as well also help you educate yours. Mostly pages will be about nature and ecology, though later there may be a retold fairy tale or two. Some pages will be a block of text with information on one side for older children, others will have simple sentences for early readers, and there will be a few for even younger audiences, like today’s page. My daughter is going to be five soon, so for now I might do a lot of things for her to start reading, and the educational part will be me talking to her about the subject.

"A is for axolotl". Line drawing of an axolotl swimming in front of some plants over the text.

Pages may be released a little slowly at first, I’m meandering my way through this. I can’t help it, it’s who I am. Each plant, insect, and animal species must be studied in detail for a while. I need to sketch how it is built even before doing simple drawings, I must design a species info form and fill out all the blanks on habitat, lookalikes, uses/warnings, and propagation or control tips. I’ve done this before, and I used to have notes and sketches on a variety of local useful plants I can easily forage in my area. I no longer have those files. We won’t talk about the incident that taught me the importance of backing up your data, nor will we discuss the incident that taught me to back up even more frequently.

So I’m doing this from a blank slate (again), and I want to learn more about each topic than I did before. I want to do a full coloring book on plants to grow for pollinators, one on insects in general, and one on swamp ecology. I’ve been learning to grow Venus flytraps, and have been growing plants for pollinator seed bombs for a couple of years, so these subjects are always around me, drawing my fascination. I’m setting this up so I just go around having fun being myself, taking photos of things to sketch and research, maybe toying with a little animation, and I hope to end up with a coloring book or five in the process. While I’m at it, I might as well sling some mugs and whatnot with my art printed on them, because it would be cool to earn a dollar or two. Eventually, maybe some wildflower infused candles and soaps or seed mixtures could end up in my store.

I have heard that drawing styles for coloring books should have simple lines for young fingers, so far my style might be frustrating for children who don’t like to color outside of the lines, but don’t have the dexterity for fine lines. For kids like my daughter, happy being loose and free with her splotches, the pictures will be something more intricate to look at while they enjoy themselves. I’m still playing around with style and will likely produce a variety of things, but I’m currently a little challenged at producing a simpler style. That fascination with detail spills into a lot of areas of my life.

And naturally, it’s not just for kids. I certainly plan on spreading out on the floor next to her, sharing crayons while I talk about habitat loss as we color “A is for axolotl”. I’m kind of drawing the coloring books I would have loved to own back when I was teen. It’s the whole “write the book you want to read”, for my inner child. This is gonna be so much fun.

I printed out the layers of the page and colored them, then scanned them in and animated the axolotl floating a little in the water.