The Specimen Journal – Signature One

I did work on the Specimen Journal this week. Here is the title page when the wooden cover is turned back. There is a language to it but I have no idea what it is. It is doodling “letters and words” to look right in places one would expect to read information. I could not resist and used a bit of metallic watercolors for the title. I also figured that it would be the most handled page of the book, so lots of smudges. Next is the first page of the first signature in the book. There are three folios to each signature and therefore twelve pages to illustrate in one way or another.

Here is the title page turned.

There will certainly be something in that large blank space because I suspect the author/illustrator/discoverer had a minor case of kenophobia or in art terms, horror a vacuii.  Both translate to a fear of empty spaces.

Now the next two pages:

On these pages we are introduced to the dragonfly like specimen. And admittedly I am influenced by Australia in my choice of trees and blooms. There is a close-up of the mating ritual to the left side of the right hand page and an explanation in something we cannot read.

I actually remember seeing dragonflies do this. It was one of those Annie Dillard moments where you feel compelled to look closely at what Nature is showing for a brief moment only. Otherwise I think she would be disappointed that I squandered the opportunity. Annie Proulx makes me feel that way when I don’t watch people closely enough. Both of them make me feel like a gawker.

And that center fold that I started with. Now there is a bit more to it. I added a butterfly and some more green to a bothersome empty space. The female is laying her eggs.

And then the page after that is where I have gotten to date. Before I introduce the life of another specimen I think I will return to location where the discoverer is. Some plants and rocks to finish off this signature. Maybe even a fetus look inside the dragonfly’s egg.

A predator would be nice. Something that might go for dragonfly eggs since once they have hatched, like in this illustration, they are as safe as their parents.

There is one thing I am noticing while doing this. My illustrating skills are just about the same as they were twenty years ago. If I was doing this on a daily basis I would expect some improvement. So maybe by the end of the journal it will look like the discoverer improved or he just handed the whole thing over to someone more competent.

It also really does remind me of the Voynich Manuscript, full of rather naive little drawings. I will keep at it and promise not to devote endless blogs to this project. There are lots of other things I could be doing and talking about and next week I can maybe show something else.

Til then.



Busy week outside of the studio but there have been some accomplishments based on last week’s blog. The Specimen Series now has the beginnings of a journal. On a shelf for a few years were two old pieces of wormy chestnut that had been cut into what could someday be book covers. They looked just right for some very old book that had been recently discovered. Also in the closet with some book board I found three pages, very large pages, of a paper I bought from the often elusive paper store in Asheville that has been out of business for more than a few years now. They were some sort of book page paper, creamy in color and smooth in texture. I tore them into folios and found they were perfectly sized for the covers with no waste. But I did have to shape them to fit the covers slanted corners in the upper right.

See the papers here folded onto the covers and then the close up of the corner.

The pages look all rumply because I soaked each folio and hung them to dry. I wanted them to look more the part of an old field journal.  After they were stacked and fitted between the covers I could see how much had to be chewed away to make the text block fit the worn down corner. So I marked how far to sand them down on my small belt sander and then further hacked away at them with a tool used for texturing clay work. Potters tools can be quite handy in a studio that uses paper as a main medium. A rough cheese grater might have done the same thing but that was in the kitchen….not the studio.

So I went to the first full page of eight three folio signatures and made this first drawing/painting for the Specimen Journal. I want this book to show the specimens in a more natural habitat…more like what the discoverer would have seen while out in the bush poking about. Here is the dragonfly laying eggs in a quickly assembled nest.

I am tempted to fill this page up with other observations he might have made while watching. There is a language along some of the grasses and flowing on the page. A language of marks that would only mean something to the writer or journal keeper in this case. I rather like how the dragonfly folds his wings back and extends  the lower body to drop eggs. On the sequential page I will have them hatching and then move onto another insect’s life. The empty space on this page bothers me and maybe one of the butterflies should be resting somewhere…maybe not. If there are twenty four folios with four sides each that is ninety-two pages to fill with whatever occurs out there in the bush. I likely will have to do a coptic binding as the wood won’t take much sawing and cutting to use some sort of strap binding. But binding it all together will be the last step. The pages need to be painted first just for ease of handling.

And the other journal for holding thoughts and the map of Lethe is here. It is made of a thinnish pig skin with a simple stitched binding. The map is folded per the instructions I found on folding topography maps. Each section is numbered in case that might be important for referencing notes in the journal.

Here is the book:

One quarter of the map:

And the title corner:

I can put whatever I want on the map and so far of all things there is just two tall mountains drawn rather simply to represent our trip to China. Those tall old looking mountains that just appear rising from the Yangtze River. Funny how shapes of memories matter more than what might have happened there are more relevant.

Well that is where this week is. Tai chi, some yoga stretches, bit of treadmill with a rather dumb story on cd before wine and game hen later.

Specimens Are Finished – I Think

I have used up all the gessoed boards, so I must be finished with this series. Here are the moth, snail and water bug being silverpointed onto the gesso.

And each one painted in watercolors.

Then it was down to the last two boards and two more specimens had to be conjured up on a white board and drawn in on the gesso.

And finished…well almost…bit more fiddling I think might be necessary.

But it is hard to stop with these.

My goal is to have a place to exhibit them. Each of the boards will be in matted frames on a wall. Then the specimens themselves are placed into a large flat file wooden drawer among leaf litter on a table in front of them. It would only take up about six feet of wall and table space six feet by three feet. It would be fun to “find” the bugs in the drawer. Also in there would be some of the bits of Nature that are in the first few pieces that are parts of my collection. Remember these?

There would be about twelve to fifteen pieces on the wall and a similar number in the drawer.

Anyway, it is hard to stop. So I was thinking maybe a field sketchbook of them in their natural habitat. Being hatched, eating leaves, whatever the discoverer saw them doing when he found them. It could be interesting with notes in some other language. Like the Voynich Journal….something strange but familiar at the same time.

Then I thought what about one of those children’s books where the upper and lower body can be changed with the flip of a page.

I think there is more to do with these little critters. But for now some touch up and putting them all into the frames that arrived this week.

I will see what comes up next. And of course there is always the Land of Lethe that needs to be considered.


Tidying Up and Correcting Mistakes

Last week I was showing the painting of the dragonfly in the Specimen Series. How I had used the UV protective spray and when done a second time the whole image was covered with a white mist that needed to be completely repainted. Well it turns out that I grabbed a can of the UV spray by Krylon, which looks the same at a glance as the the Krylon acrylic protective spray. Somehow I just assumed that the can I could see quickly was the can I used the first time. Not so. After taking a look in my supplies closet, the can of acrylic spray was just where I put it down and then proceeded to put something down in front of it. Naturally I went for the then most visible can and it was not a good choice. Don’t use UV spray over acrylic spray.

So with that in mind I decided to do a bit of a pick up and put things where they belong. It is just so much easier to put something down than to put it away.

The dragonfly is now framed and the art group came and liked the outcome. They are very encouraging with this series. Actually they have been very encouraging with their sharing and input for almost twenty years now. Members have changed over time, but the premise remains the same…”what are you doing and why?”

Then we get into the endless discussions of how well those intentions are visible in the pieces we are looking at. There is no talk of “how” something is done. That is a craft issue and not what we view as an “art” issue.

So after having two friends in the studio for a couple of days this week…one working on an etching and another on a bound book and box, I proceeded to make another specimen for the series. I love this one. He is a water bug designed to fit onto a seven by four inch gessoed panel.

Now when I paint him and these two below I only have two more gessoed panels to spare. They are a bit smaller and I will have to make smaller insects.

That bottom moth looking one was inspired by the bogon moth I saw so much of in Horsham, Victoria several years ago. And just this past March dodged them on the porch in the Grampians. They have such tattered wings on their lifeless bodies the following mornings.

Anyway collecting the bits and pieces is like a treasure hunt in the woods or just outside my door. There are countless ways these scraps from Nature can be used in assembling some imaginary creature.

On another note this morning, still a bit in the tidying up the studio mood, I had the chance to burn some old artwork. The poor pieces had been languoring  away in the storage room and had not seen daylight since perhaps 2005. So off they went to the burn pile. There was no sadness or even a catch in the throat. It actually felt good and I will do more when there is another fire reminding me to keep cleaning up and clearing out.

Also this past week I started a sample journal made from leather. A simple structure, nothing fancy. But it is designed to hold a folded map in the back. If you have never made a map they are quite interesting in their format and information on offer. Because of now dealing with my husband’s dementia, I decided to return to the idea of the River Lethe. Remember this piece that I did for an exhibit in St. Louis?

I think I called it Voyage on the River Lethe. Anyway it is a river in Greek mythology that flowed into the River Styx which took passengers to Hades or the underworld. If one drank the water from Lethe they became forgetful. So in this boat sculpture the passengers place their “luggage” in the hold as they take the next ladder down to the seating lounge so to speak. Fragments of what they remember are on their bodies. Fragments flow out into the currents around the boat. I like that the ferryman must have joined them as he is nowhere to be seen and the boat is a bit adrift without him at the helm. He probably also became thirsty. Here is a picture of the hold.

But back to the map and journal. I have titled the map, “The Land of Lethe – A Map of What May or May Not Have Been”. So I can put whatever I want on the map. It not need be accurate or represent any place in particular. My journal can be filled with random thoughts, in and out of order.

Below is a tourist map of Australia that I bought several years ago when they still had Australia Geographic stores there. I love the artwork on this map. Lots of places in the border for me to add my own drawings and paintings which I did in 2008. There is a fairy tale likeness about this map. It is engaging to say the least. Don’t you think so?

And the very best part of it is this disclaimer along the bottom. A disclaimer that seemed to be just what I needed to read for my Land of Lethe documented adventures.

“This map journal is an artist’s impression only and not designed to be used as a navigational aid. The artist and publisher do not accept any responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by any use of this map whatsoever.”

Isn’t that perfect! I am now planning on sustaining inconvenience. More next week and thank you if you lasted through all this randomness of the past few days.