Swamp Things

 

Swamp Things. Micron pens on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol paper. 14" x 14"

Swamp Things. Micron pens on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol paper. 14″ x 14″

This is the second piece in the Swamp Things Collection, which I created in response to a call for artists from the Art Supply Depō in Bowling Green, Ohio. All of the creatures pictured in the collection are native to the Great Black Swamp region, and are not drawn to scale relative to one another. I’d originally planned three pieces, but I ran out of time before the deadline, so only the first two were submitted. I’m still planning on creating the third for posterity.

I wasn’t initially happy with this piece. You wouldn’t necessarily know it just by looking at it, but it’s production fell well outside my normal approach. Aside from there being no abstract components, I (mostly) drew the frames to fit the flora and fauna, so I could draw the entire corpus. Usually, I start by creating a series of frames in arbitrary shapes and sizes, then fill them in with material (which is why, in other works of mine, many of the realism elements are trimmed to fit.) It was surprisingly disconcerting to work this way, and led me to make a number of substantial mistakes. They are disguised to the best of my ability, but aren’t completely invisible, and might require further work. There’s also far more unused white space in the frames than I’d normally like to leave available. And to be be candid, I added the title at the last second in an effort to meet the submission deadline, rather than draw another animal in the corner. I probably won’t take that approach again in the future, though it works reasonably well here.

However, on balance, I think it’s decent overall. The individual plants and animals (which were mostly chosen based on the delightfulness of their names) are about as good as I can make them, at least at this point in my drawing career, and that’s pleasing to me. It was exciting, if a bit nerve-wracking, to be creating pieces to submit to the judgement of artists for whom I have a great deal of respect. I don’t know if my submissions will get accepted, but I don’t have any regrets about putting in the effort.

About the Species Represented

Northern Parula

This is one of the smaller members of the warbler family, and tends to stay at the tops of the trees, which makes it easy to hear, but hard to spot, despite its golden chest and throat. Their nests are hidden in lichens or moss, which makes them very difficult to find, except by the parents of course, who tend to use them year after year when returning from migrations.

Chickweed Geometer

This moth is tiny; here it’s pictured resting on someone’s outstretched fingertips, which should give you a sense of its size. It’s tinted yellow in color, with splotchy pink stripes along the trailing edges of its wings, each of which features a pink spot. This is a female, given away by the lack of tiny hairs sprouting from the antenna (which are characteristic of the male.)

Spring Peeper

This amphibian gets its name from the sound it makes at the start of spring, when they are readily found on the forest floor. The ‘X’ mark on its back is its distinguishing visual feature, and its stature is similar to the Chickweed Geometer – It’s around the size as a dime. Somewhat surprisingly, they hibernate during the winter, and can survive being partially frozen.

Sweet Goldenrod

This perennial with tiny, bright-yellow flowers is abundant in the eastern US, and is easily spotted along the edges of swamps and meadows. It has many medicinal purposes, and is edible, in addition to being suitable material for a fine, aromatic tea. It’s also a bellwether for the start of school coming soon, as it blooms in August.

Largemouth Bass

This fish is a favorite of sport fisherman across the country, including myself. Mature adults are crafty and hard to catch, but fight like mad when hooked; there are few sights more spectacular than seeing one leap several feet out of the water when being reeled in. Their nests are easy to spot in shallow water, where they appear as groups of dark circles around two feet in diameter – The male creates the nest by keeping its head in one place and spinning itself in circles with its tail, ‘blowing’ the sandy bottom up and away. This one is pictured with its mouth open (of course) and its accordion-like jaw extended as it attempts to catch its prey.

Mud Hen (aka American Coot)

The Mud Hen has a high-pitched, rising cry that’s easy to recognize in and around the wet, swampy areas it frequents. Its feathers are black and gray, and its beak is white with dark, redish-brown marks near both head and tip. Its eyes are a striking, bright red, and its feet are very large and grayish-green, with strange web-like scales. The Mud Hens of the Great Black Swamp have a particularly strange predilection toward wandering in baseball parks, greeting children and fans.

Cone Flower (aka Echinacea)

This flower is common throughout the region, and is a dusty purplish-pink in color. Its head is uniquely cone-shaped, which is where it gets its name, and (contrary to the commonly-held belief) it is not an alien from France. Despite its popularity as a nutritional supplement, scientific studies have thus far been unable to find meaningful evidence of desirable health effects. It is, however, robust to environmental variations, and certain species are useful for prairie restoration.

Bold Jumping Spider

This spider hunts during the day, rather than ensnaring its prey in a web. It uses its widely-dispersed eyes to accurately gauge the distance to its intended victim, upon which it leaps from great distances (hence its name.) It is largely covered in hairs, which look like fur under magnified observation, and which presumably function as sensing organs. Its fangs are an iridescent green in color, and though its bite is toxic to bugs, it is largely harmless to humans, which it rarely bites.

Cattails (aka Punk or Corndog Grass)

Tall, beautiful stalks of Cattails can be found in large numbers waving gently in the wind around the wetlands of the Great Black Swamp. The distinctive, hotdog-shaped growth around the stem is actually hundreds of tiny flowers compressed together; when they ripen, the ‘dog’ disintegrates into a cotton-like fluff of hairy seeds that can float great distances to spread their genetic heritage. They are very successful competitors for territory, and will readily crowd out other plant species if left unmanaged.

Groundhog (aka Woodchuck or Whistlepig)

These common mammals dig vast burrows underground in the transition areas between woods and plains. They are the bane of many a gardener’s existence, due to their voracious appetite for vegetative matter. They are active in daytime, and are easy to spot from the road, as they frequently stand on their hind legs to get a better view of their surroundings. They are largely solitary, but they will warn one another with high-pitched whistles when danger approaches.

13-Lined Squirrel

13-Lined Squirrel (Swamp Things Collection) Micron Pen on Strathmore 300 Series Artist Tiles. 4"x4"

13-Lined Squirrel (Swamp Things Collection)
Micron Pen on Strathmore 300 Series Artist Tiles. 4″x4″

This is the first piece in the Swamp Things Collection, a set of three that I’m constructing in response to a call for artists from the Art Supply Depō in Bowling Green, Ohio. The theme of the call is the Great Black Swamp, hence the collection will be based on species that are native to the area.  It’s a far departure from my typical abstract work, but I’m very happy with how this one came out, and the second item (which will be much larger) is coming along nicely.

Crazy Bird

Crazy Bird. Staedtler pigment liner pens on Strathmore 300 Series Artist Tiles. 4" x 4"

Crazy Bird. Staedtler pigment liner pens on Strathmore 300 Series Artist Tiles. 4″ x 4″

This is another in a series of small pieces I’ve created in my spare time at work. I used a new flavor of pen (Staedtler pigment liners), which didn’t work out quite as well as I would have liked. The ink stays wet just a little bit longer than the ink coming out of the Microns I usually use, which made it too easy for me to smear the ink accidentally. I also burned through an entire (.1) pen in one piece; the Microns tend to last longer.

As far as looks go, I’m pretty happy with how this one came out. I didn’t have anything particular in mind while I was creating it; it’s more of a stream-of-consciousness piece, like most of those that I generate at the office (I can’t do much in the way of controversial material there.) I’m especially happy with the textured section under the bird’s neck, which has a surprising amount of depth. The bird itself was an interesting side-effect of the drawing process; it wasn’t a pre-planned element.

Seeing Eyes

Seeing Eyes. Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen (extra fine) on Strathmore 400 Series Parchment Paper. 9" x 9"

Seeing Eyes. Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen (extra fine) on Strathmore 400 Series Parchment Paper. 9″ x 9″

This piece was an experiment in materials, and (as it turns out) in time. When I started several months ago, I wanted to try some new pens, then I decided it’d be interesting to try some new paper as well. Both worked out reasonably well, and I expect I’ll be doing more with the Pilot (the parchment is a little too flexible, and doesn’t work well with my constant rotation of the work as it’s in progress.)

As to time, my work on this one was interrupted in January of this year, when I started knitting Pussyhats for the Pussyhat Project. After several months of fiber in my hands, I was ready to get back to my pens, and I decided to start with finishing this one off. I’m happy with the overall effect; the rhythm of it (for lack of a better word) is pleasing to my eyes, even though there’s no significant amount of realism in the contents.

Aleppo

Aleppo. Micron 01 pen on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol paper. 14

Aleppo. Micron 01 pen on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol paper. 14″ x 14″

I began this piece shortly before Aleppo was surrounded by government forces in the Syrian civil war, and it quickly became obvious that raising awareness of the brutality of the conflict’s impact on non-combatants would be a worthwhile subject. I used a still from a video to draw one of the many children who’ve been covered in dirt and blood by the barrel bombs and relentless pounding by Russian jets. Their ashen, blank expressions are truly heartbreaking.

From a purely artistic perspective, I’m very happy with the overwhelming majority of this one. The child and the cockpit came out extremely well, and the abstract sections are almost uniformly gratifying to me in their prescision and depth. There are a couple of weak spots I’d do over if I could, notably the salamander and the forest giant, but overall I’d say this is one of my best works so far. I feel like I’m making progress improving my attention to detail, and it’s starting to pay off in the clarity and ‘pop’ of the final product.  

Pods

Pods. Micron Pigma and Staedtler Pigment Liner pens on Strathmore Artist Tiles. 4" x 4"

Pods. Micron Pigma and Staedtler Pigment Liner pens on Strathmore Artist Tiles. 4″ x 4″

This is another in a series of small pieces I’ve created in my thinking time at work. I took a bit more time than usual going back through and addressing the details, which made it look very sharp and well-defined. I like the fact that it’s entirely abstract, which is a departure from my usual, and I’m especially happy with the density of the coverage. If I had my druthers, I’d rework some of the shading in spots, but I’m pleased with the overall effect.

Crystalfall

Crystalfall. Sanford UniBall Gel Impact pens on Strathmore 400 Series Black Artist Tiles. 6" x 6"

Crystalfall. Sanford UniBall Gel Impact pens on Strathmore 400 Series Black Artist Tiles. 6″ x 6″

This was the third in a series of experiments with some new pens from UniBall, and the first one that’s passable as art. The pens are brilliantly easy to use (the ink flows really well), but they’re coarser than I’m used to, which makes real precision difficult. Still, I’m happy with how this one came out.

Going Somewhere

Going Somewhere

Going Somewhere. Micron pens on Strathmore Artist Tiles. 4″ x 4″

This is the latest in a collection of small pieces that I’ve been creating in my spare time at work. I’m very happy with this one; I especially like how I was able to balance the flow and scale of the arrows to provide a sense of motion and depth, and the tessellation (which is the same as that featured in another recent drawing) came out well. There’s also a non-obvious EKG element I enjoyed creating that references some tests my daughter underwent to rule out possible explanations for some chest discomfort she’d been suffering. (All is well.)

The Child and the Ape

The Child and the Ape

The Child and the Ape. Micron pens on Strathmore Bristol 300 Series Paper. 12″ x 12″ *

This piece took some especially crazy turns as I was creating it, but I’m pleased with the final result, especially the non-abstract elements such as the crawdad and the human figure. It references the killing of the gorilla Harambe, who was shot by staff at the Cincinnati Zoo after a three-year-old child fell into his enclosure. This was as close to a no-win scenario as any I’ve ever seen, and though I believe the zookeepers made the right decision, my heart aches for Harambe, and for the staff who had to end his life. That must have been one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do.

* Note that this photo is very slightly different from the final product; I realized after I’d taken it that I’d forgotten to include the nib in my signature, which I added post haste.

Hidden Faces

Hidden Faces

Hidden Faces. Micron Pens on Strathmore Bristol paper. 4″ x 4″

This is another piece in the collection I’m creating in my spare time at my ‘real’ (read: pays-the-rent*) job. To be candid, I’m not especially thrilled with this one, but there are a few things with which I’m very happy (e.g., can you find the finger?) This was the first one I created in my role as a Scrum Master at MaritzCX.

* I should note that I really love my work! Being a Scrum Master at a forward-thinking software shop like MCX is a very rewarding way to make a living.