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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.