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.

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.

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.