Venus Flytrap Digestive Glands

And with that, the last of the designs and recolors I posted about last time is officially up, the previous gallery of potential requests has come to an end. Since it did indeed seem to help my visibility and sales to post every Friday, I’ll keep that up.

Meanwhile, something cool happened. I got a microscope. Now, not only can I improve the art I have planned for a few pages, but I can also treat the bladderwort food I culture like a pondwater life safari. I’ve had it about a week, and it’s been a blast. So, this round of weekly designs and recolors to feed the algorithm gods features a repeatable tile I drew by hand using little paper squares in an old school analog style offset filter. They make nice desktop wallpapers, so I put them up on the goodies page for download.

Anyway, you can now buy a throw blankie adorned with Venus flytrap digestive glands, so you can wrap yourself up and pretend you’re a fly being digested. Yay! Click –> here to see all of the products available in this design.

A Few Offerings

I am very much enjoying the path my project is going down. It looks like it will be three parts, and I’ve finished the research and most of the writing for the first two thirds of the coloring book. I’m mostly alternating between that and layout planning, but recently decided to stop and sort out a few things about techniques I’ll use when drawing the pages.

This meant I ended up with a few drawings to play around with, and I thought I’d seize the chance to pay a little quiet heed to the Redbubble algorithm gods in the hopes that my art supplies can start to pay for themselves. Supposedly, releasing designs on a weekly basis can help increase their visibility, so I figure I’ll give it a shot. Every Friday I’ll post a new design or a recolor for a bit, see how it goes. That would be this store: –> the one right here.

Rather than posting an announcement every time something goes up, I thought it would be less spammy to have a little gallery to pin. Since I can’t really think of a good reason to keep the upcoming designs a secret, and in fact it might benefit me to provide people with a chance to request something now, here’s a little preview of the designs and recolors I’ll be occasionally posting over the next few weeks. If you see something you would like on a shirt or book or whatnot, certainly let me know and I will definitely put it up right away, I have fancy paper and inks to buy. All recolors of the skull over the pitcher plant have both a tall version and square version that removes the dome and stems.

Anyway, it’s time to stop playing around and get back to this project, toodles!

Page One

I like how my swamp ecology coloring book project has evolved. I’ve been frustrated with how slowly I’ve been moving forward, but I’m glad I allowed myself time to experiment with various media and work on my skills before I committed myself, because I’m excited about the changes I decided to make.

Originally, I wanted something simple for young fingers, something that educated, presenting the information in a storybook way. Now I’m leaning toward graphic novel, but still a coloring book. I’m far too excited about illustrating hydrochloric acid digesting a fly to keep thinking I want to target a younger audience. Thinking of it as something for young readers means I kind of hold myself back, while this perspective means I’ll feel more like I’m expressing myself.

Plus, thinking of it as a coloring book means I spent too much time trying to make my lines perfect and clear, I ended up overworking everything and becoming unhappy with my results. I always get so sad when the last of the sketchy lines are gone, I think it’s time I lived up to the fact that I like things a little messy, a little imperfect. So many graphic novels I have loved because there were often sketchy lines left behind here and there, it’s like peeking into the artist’s process, life, soul. Whatever it is, it means too much to me, I might like the challenge of refining my art to look better, but if I’m never happy with my art because I tried too hard to make it perfect and it became empty to me, I will never release it.

Anyway, here’s a draft/sketch of probably page one. I finished up the last bit of research for chapter one (How a Venus Flytrap Digests Its Prey), and I only have a draft, but it’s a chapter and this is page one, and I finally feel like I have begun. To commemorate the occasion, I’ll add a coloring page to my meager gallery of early offerings.

This project will cover a lot of info, and some of it (maybe all) will be animated as well. I’m still experimenting with my process, but it feels a lot less like fumbling around with a vague idea and zero confidence, and more like I’m moving forward on a project that will expresses what I want it to in a way that feels like me.

International Dandelion Appreciation Day – Belated.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In my defense I was without a computer for a few months. While I was away, I missed International Dandelion Appreciation Day (April 5th), and it was sad because not only was I working on a journal entry for my favorite flower, but I had the perfect poem to share, and no way to get to it behind my broken screen. But, today I saw that the two awesome dandelion varieties I bought were germinating, so I feel like celebrating all over again. [Edit – It turns out the world decided to celebrate with me, as today is International Day of the Dandelion, this is the most timely thing, ever. Also, please don’t tell people they have two days. They need this.]

Two seed packets, one for pink dandelions, and the other for Italiko Rosso, a variety with a red midrib.

Dandelions are more than simply tasty and nutritious. It’s considered invasive, but that’s because of how it behaves as a pioneer plant – a plant that fills a particular niche. In poor quality soils, plants that have adaptations to cope with such conditions come in first, a wave of “pioneers”. They have features such as deep taproots that break up compact soils (like dandelions) or the ability to pull nitrogen from the air. Then when they grow and leaves and roots die off, they release those nutrients back into the soil, along with organic matter. The soil quality improves, and other plants begin to move in and take over, the pioneer plants get crowded out.

The reason they are difficult to combat in lawns is due to the poor soil quality of lawns. When we use strong fertilizers, it kills off the microbial colonies that help keep the soil fertile by retaining the nutrients at the soil’s surface. Rain washes the nutrients to a lower level, where the dandelions can reach and the grass can’t. The grass suffers, so we add more fertilizer, just like the labels written by people who sell fertilizer tell us to do. We set up the environment for our grass to die off without chemical intervention, and for the dandelions to thrive. Thus, the inspiration for a poem I once wrote, and will share again today.

Suburban Sunshine

Across the lawn, a man of gold did flow
His grace spoke soft, his strength gave truth
He sang his hope, his pride of glories grown.
But lo, behold, the putrid waves of smoke
Tendrils of bitter lion’s teeth entwined
He fell to monsters beneath soft blue grass
His cries lost to the raw eldritch madness
Into the soft embrace of well-fed soil.

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.