It’s been a while since I’ve done Illustration Friday and I wanted to participate this week. The topic is Drifting, and I came up with a number of things I wasn’t too enthusiastic about drawing and a few things I though I’d like drawing, but really didn’t have time for right now. I finally settled on a view of a tree from below, with leaves drifting to the ground, but then I thought, laying under a tree is MY favorite place for mental drifting, so I did a quick drawing of just that. Click on the images for a larger version.
While I’m posting drawings I figured maybe I should post some of the old (OLD) sketches I’ve been meaning to put up for a while. One of my blog friends, Mall, has been posting some of her recent work which had a character in it that reminded me of some of my preliminary sketches of my novel characters, even though Mall’s work is finished and, you know, beautiful.
I did these drawings back in college, maybe 2003, when I was first trying to imagine the story. They are no longer particularly relivant to the novel. To be perfectly honest I chose my character’s fantasy features based entirely on things I’d like to have: wings, horns, fangs, tail. I ended up getting rid of the tail because it just didn’t fit, and also, a cat or monkey tail would have been a little bit too Dragon Ball Z if you know what I mean. Expression studies.
Last month my dad had a Realtors’ conference in DC, so Matt and I decided to make a vacation of it, which gave us a chance to actually see my parents this year (it’s not easy to get to Oregon).
Dad didn’t have a whole lot of time for touristy things, but he was able to join Matt, Mom and I at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum before the conference started. Everyone else wanted to see the rocks and gems section. I wasn’t too enthused about that part, until I remembered that it’s only gems I could care less about. I actually quite like rocks. In the display I was especially fascinated by all the cool rock formations, the amazing variety of shape and texture. The above reminded me of nothing more than an alien city, and I though several crystals made such pretty patterns that they’d also make excellent computer backgrounds.
I didn’t need to warm up to the rest of the museum, I mean, who wouldn’t love looking at deep sea animals, frozen hunting scenes, and dinosaur bones?
I guess my dad loved it even more than the rest of us.** I enjoyed the bones, and they made such cool light patterns in on the floor that I think I’m going to need to draw them at some point, but my favorite part of the museum were the current animals. True, they’re dead, but it’s pretty rare that you get to look at animals up close, to get a sense for their details, scale, and posture. We have a natural history museum in Cleveland, and it’s actually quite good, but it’s hard to compete with the National Museum.
** I am SO not responsible if you try to kiss the T-Rex and get yourself kicked out or arrested.
I probably spent far too long in the mammal room, taking photos of creatures great and small. When I get an opportunity like that it’s hard to think about anything but how many great photo-references I’m getting for drawings. Natural-ish zoos are great, but sometimes the animals move too quick to capture, or don’t appear at all. When they’re stuffed, it’s not exactly a problem. I especially liked the bats. I don’t often get to look closely at bat wings, and I can’t wait to do some sketching.
Now for an apparently unrelated aside.
I have to tell you a story. Almost ten years ago, I started my first year at the University of Notre Dame. There are small differences in the natural worlds of South Bend and Eugene, possibly caused as much by perspective, my newfound freedom, as distance. I saw birds hopping around amongst the fall leaves and noticed that the way they moved made them blend perfectly with the leaves rolling in the wind, effectively hiding them. Some differences however were not due to mere observation. The climate in South Bend is more extreme, there aren’t as many evergreens. And within my first few days there, I started to glimpse a timid little creature with dramatic markings on its face and sides, which I didn’t recognize at all.
It never occurred to me to ask anyone what they were, instead I referenced my mammal book, which I’d conveniently brought from home.
It took me a while, but I eventually found an entry that seemed to match the creatures. After closing the book I immediately forgot what they were called, confusing several adjacent pages, and mentally labeled my find the Striped African Tree Rat. I couldn’t imagine how they’d made it all the way to Indiana. Possibly they were an invasive species, brought over in fruit boxes. There certainly seemed to be a lot of them.
I didn’t think too much more about it. The world is flat does not just apply to computers and germs, little creatures can get all over the place thanks to our carelessness, so really, it seemed only mildly strange.
About a year later, I went on a week long trip to Sunriver, Oregon with a couple of my fencing buddies and my godfather Mike. We’d been there for a couple days when the four of us were hanging out on the second floor porch, among the pine trees. I looked out at the endless poles of tree trunks, and on a tree just fifty feet away, I saw one of my Striped African Tree Rats.
They’ve spread, I thought, and before I really had a chance to think, I pointed it out. My godfather gave me his best incredulous look. “Meagan. That’s a chipmunk.”
I know. You’re thinking I’m a moron. Maybe I am.
But last month, with Matt and my parents, I was wandering around the small mammals exhibit when I came across unexpected redemption. In fact, I came across a chipmunk. Behold:
*Ok, yes, I know Cambodia is nowhere near Africa but you have to admit, it’s a freaking chipmunk.
My favorite season to go camping is fall. Summer tents get very hot, spring can be tick/mosquito heavy. Bugs aside, spring camping is a close second, assuming you’re the type that enjoys being outdoors. If you define nature as lawn care, preferably done by someone else, camping would obviously be the furthest thing from relaxing or enjoyable, so if you are one of those, you may want to leave my blog before the nature-y pictures make you itchy.
We decided to go on a camping trip for my brother’s birthday this year, but this presented a couple problems. The choice was made only a week and a half ahead of time, and though it was easy to reserve a site (weirdly, not many people want to go camping a few days after snow) it wasn’t enough time for people with jobs to prepare the time. Also, while it was a beautiful weekend in spite of the snow earlier that week, it was a beautiful APRIL weekend, a bit colder than any of us were really equipped for.
So we decided on a day camping trip instead. The woods in spring are still brown, with shocking bursts of green popping up from beneath the dead.
We started the day with a hike. We pretty much had the trails to ourselves; I think there were maybe 5 other groups on the whole site. We went to Findley, because it’s relatively close, and a decent park for the distance. Partway through our hike, Matt, Jack and Kim apparently had to pause and pose for a Jay Crew Catalog (above).
I am not a power hiker. Amy and I kept trading places at the back, because we were the ones with cameras. The thing I love about hiking is it gives you the chance to really look at things. I consider myself an artist, and that’s supposed to mean I’m observant, that I look at the world through some special filter. In truth I spend much of my time in day dreams, and often don’t look at the concrete world at all. I have to remind myself to look closely, to see beauty. I think that’s why I like taking pictures. Simply having a camera hanging around my neck forces me to notice things, to see how fascinating something as simple as dirt can be, the intricate patterns made by tree branches.
The best parks have some kind of water feature. Findley has a lake, and a dam, which is for some reason more fascinating than the lake.
Maybe it’s the way the man made elements intersect nature, the industrial concrete against the lines of the trees. I’m not sure it would be so striking with the trees fully greened. I like the starkness.
But then I’ve always been a huge fan of visual contrasts between life and death. Structure and disorder. I also find myself concentrating on the simple shapes, and lines, almost to the point that I hardly see what I’m actually looking at. Not “can’t see the forest for the trees,” I can’t see the trees for the lines.
This only comes in waves however, so I do still get a chance to enjoy the nature walk. It was crisp and sunny, I’m glad I dressed warm, in a long sleeved t-shirt and fleece jacket. It’s easy to either over or underestimate the temperature on a early spring hike. It looks sunny so you think it’s warm and you freeze, or you remember it’s actually pretty cold, and end up sweating from the exercise.
I stole this photo idea from Amy. I waited until she moved into frame and all five of them were well down the trail. My friends eventually got used to me lagging behind.
Whenever you go camping or hiking, it’s a good idea to take along a pair of extra shoes and socks (if you’re going multi-day camping, MORE than one pair of extra socks). Especially if at the end of the hike you come to a river between you and your campsite. You find a log bridge. Ignoring common sense, you start tentatively to cross it. It’s pretty sturdy, so you walk more confidently, and as you get to the end, Jack says, look out, it’s slippery there. Just one more step before you jump onto the ground. Like I said, extra socks.
We sort of overestimated one day’s food, but we ate more of it than could be reasonably expected. It would be nice to claim that we earned it, burning off the calories on our rigorous hike, but since I was the one wandering at the end, taking pictures of interesting tree bark, I wont even try.
No camping trip is complete without cheesy-injected goodness (pork franks with cheddar). We also brought along food for foil wraps, the holy grail of camping food. Most people probably know what a foil wrap is already, take random roasting veggies (potatoes, onions and carrots are the best staples), some meat or not as you prefer (steak works best, but I don’t eat beef so I used pork, which is a little less tricky than chicken) wrap it up in thick foil, and stick it on the embers (not fire) for 30-40 minutes. Salt, seasoning, herbs, and olive oil can all be a nice addition, but it tastes good without.
Jack and Kim didn’t really believe us about the foil wraps. Kim’s surprise when she tasted the contents was worth the 40 minute wait.
For dessert we had apple crumbly things. Again with foil, a bunch of oatmeal at the bottom, apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and lots of butter. It’s got fruit in it, so it must be healthy.
It was hard to see by the time we got to the foil wraps, and it was extremely cold even a few steps away from the fire. We had a good fire going though, which kept at least one half of us nice and toasty. I was actually not as cold on this trip as I have been on some others. Maybe because I expected this one to be cold, and dressed warmer than I usually would.
Day camping isn’t quite the same as a weekend long trip (or week long trip if there’s time) but it was surprisingly relaxing. It’s not something that would occur to me most of the time, and now I hope it will. Sometimes a full out camping trip is just impossible, but a lot of that time, fitting in a day, or a half day is way more doable. And definitely worth it.