artsy stuff, society of dabblers

Natural History Art: Terrarium Sculpture!

If you read my last post about beetle spreading, you’ll know I’ve been playing with the intersection of natural history and art of late. This isn’t totally new, but I haven’t been good at blogging for the last few years (thanks, grad school). Here’s a project from last year that I didn’t have time to share until now: a terrarium sculpture!

What’s a terrarium sculpture? I’m probably the only person who calls it this, but I can’t think of a better description for what it is: a glass container with a sculpture inside made of natural (or naturalistic) items.

There are a few curiosity shops I follow who make things similar to this, but I really wanted to use what I already had (see last year’s No Buy project). I went digging into my crafting bin (and sourced an old raccoon skull* from an antique store), and set about seeing what I could make!

Here is where I started: some driftwood I found as a kid and have carried around for years, some crafting moss from when I used to make fairy doors, some decorative acorns, a big chunk of amethyst I had lying around, and a hot glue gun. (It’s amazing what you can find if you go digging through what you’ve got, right? Or is this just me?)

The first step was figuring out how to get everything into the bell jar (which I found at Michael’s for about $8). I played around with several configurations and decided I wanted the whole thing to be more vertical.

Once I had the driftwood base in place, I tried the skull in a few places and found just the right spot for it along one side of the sculpture. I added some of the bright green moss and dried grasses around the base to cover where I’d glued everything.

The rest of the process was really just filling in the blank spaces. I added a couple of the acorns and nested the amethyst into the base of the piece. I also ran dried lichen (from the moss collection) up to the top of the piece to give it some balance.

So here’s the final piece, with the glass dome installed! I really love how it turned out, though I think I will add one of my recently done beetles to the top of the piece, sitting on the wood. I don’t know that I’ll make many of these, but for a one-off art piece, I think it came out pretty well!

*I always try to find ethically sourced items like this so that no animals die for me to have an art project. Antique stores are pretty good because most of the stuff you find is so old I don’t feel bad taking it home.

artsy stuff, society of dabblers

Natural History Art: Beetle Spreading!

One of the things I’m most excited for now that grad school is over is that I have time to dabble again. I’ve been a lifelong dabbler, always wanting to try new things and learn new skills.

Add into that the fact that a global pandemic has put a hiring freeze pretty much across the whole job market, and I suddenly have a lot of time to dabble! So I’m leaning into this and trying new things while I have the time!

I’ve always loved natural history, and having been in a biology program for the last few years, I have a newfound appreciation for field methods, as well as how they can be applied via art. Last winter, I got very interested in arthropod mounts, so I asked for a beetle spreading kit for Christmas, and last week I was finally able to try it out!

Here is everything that came in my kit: it includes 10 ethically-sourced beetles (please do some research on this if you’re going to try it at home!), taxidermy tweezers, stainless steel pins, and a “rehydration chamber” aka an airtight container.

I used a combination of insect spreading techniques from these two videos:

The beetles came dry, so the first step was rehydrating them to make them pliable. I dampened a cloth and sealed them up in the container overnight. (The bigger beetles needed to sit for 2 days, but I was able to do the smaller ones the next day!)

I started with two of the medium size beetles, cutting them out of their little packets as I was ready to work with them. For the first one (this green beetle), I decided to just see what it was like to work with an insect like this, and not to try pulling the wings out.

It turns out that spreading beetles is super easy! Once their legs and antennae are pliable, it’s pretty simple to gently pull them into place. The stainless steel pins are to hold the legs in place so that the beetle dries out again, but in a shape that looks like it’s walking.

(Ooh, action shot! Please ignore my chipped nails haha.) For the next beetle, I decided to be braver and try to spread its wings as well. This involved gently popping open the hard wing coverings and using the tweezers to carefully unfold the wings from underneath.

Beetle wings are folded up to protect them, but they are delicate and all the ones I worked with were transparent!

I carefully held the beetle’s body in place while using pins inserted at a very low angle to hold the wings open to dry without piercing the wings, and left them overnight.

This wing-spreading technique was okay with the smaller beetles, but for the bigger ones, I needed to use another tool: the clear wrapping from the packets they came in was perfect for holding wings in place so that I could pin them flat!

So there you have it! My first foray into the world of insect spreading!

I didn’t spread the wings for all of the beetles. Some of them I liked as they were, and some were so small I worried that without enough practice that I’d accidentally tear them. This is definitely something I’m glad I tried, and I would love to keep working with insects this way.

I also have some plans to turn these into art, so look for another post sometime in the future with a beetle-spreading update!

artsy stuff, photography

Tiny Things and Fairy Wings

DSC_7779On Monday we got a surprise snowing here in Chicago. At first when I was up at 4:30 with J to bid him goodbye for the day (and goodnight because I certainly don’t actually get up that early) I was irritated. Then when I got up for the day finally I wasn’t sure how I felt about it anymore and spent a good chunk of the morning staring out the window. This was how my day kind of went.

8:00am: Get up. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:13am: Walk into kitchen to feed cats. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:17am: Make tea. Stare out window at stupid snow while tea brews.
8:24am: Eat breakfast. Stare out window across the room from me where I can still see the stupid snow.

DSC_7789And so the morning progressed. The snow started again, and fell thicker and thicker, to the point where it looked like we might even get completely buried.

10:29am: Huddle by fireplace. Stare out window at stupid snow.
12:34pm: Eat lunch. Stare out window at stupid snow.
1:23pm: Suddenly remember I have a macro lens. Dig parka out of closet where I stuffed it on the first day of spring because I’m done participating in winter, pull on snowboots, run outside like a weirdo and start flailing around taking pictures of snowflakes.

snowflake 8
1:58pm: Remember I have a box of fairy doors that would also be fun to photograph in snow. Run back upstairs and pack up a waterproof bag of Tiny Things including the little doors and run back outside.

fairy door 03
3:43pm: Realize I’ve been outside over two hours total. Figure it’s time to go back inside.
4:00pm: Make tea. There’s always reason for more tea.

I took a lot of snowflake pictures. I mean, a lot of snowflake pictures.

snowflake 17I’m only putting a handful of them here, but they are a general representation. I tried a few different methods, too, including catching them on a plastic bag, which you can see above. The flakes themselves were fairly huge but melted quickly because of the warm air.

snowflake 19
This one was one of my favorites, by far. Another plastic bag catch, and didn’t last long, but I liked the way the edges looked.

snowflake 7 (flake cluster)You can see how light and fluffy the snow was in this one, just lots of little flakes piling up in a geometric sort of way. Much less solid than I expected.

DSC_7853This shows you how big the flakes really were. You can see an individual one on my glove!

snowflake 15 (flake cluster)This one reminded me of those little magnetic building pieces kids use. I forget what they’re called, but the snowflakes built themselves up just like that.

So there’s a tiny peek at some tiny frozen water bits. I will post fairy door pictures another day, because they were fun to photograph, too. As of today most of the snow is melted (much to my relief) so I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity when I had it.



artsy stuff

Feeling artsy: dragons and owls

Dragon sketch postcard

I was going to do a wrap-up of my week, but I really didn’t do much this week that would make a post (that I haven’t already written, anyway), so here. Have a dragon postcard.

The postcard came from a scrapbooking store and I drew the dragon myself. I haven’t really drawn anything much in several years, so I decided to see how rusty my skills were. They weren’t too bad, but I found that I haven’t progressed at all for the obvious reason that I haven’t practiced at all. I did find that I’m a lot more confident with cartoon type sketches, though, and doodled some owls the other day.

Owl with cake

So there you go. I like that he looks a bit worried and also fat, like this isn’t an unusual snack. There were a lot of less-cute looking owls before this one that I won’t show you, but I’ve found a nice little “template” that I can reproduce, which is cool. No use for them at the moment, but maybe at some point I’ll think of something other than simply filling my sketch book.

artsy stuff, food things, geek life, holidays

Egg-stravaganza gets a little Geeky…

So, today I decided I wanted an art project and being that it’s Easter weekend, I decided to color some eggs. After a quick search online, I found some really fun egg ideas, including egg geodes (where you wash out the shells and make multicolored salt or sugar crystals inside of them), but my favorite idea was the easiest– Sharpies to color the eggs! I did a quick search and couldn’t find anything saying the Sharpie would hurt you (provided it was only on the egg shell), but I think I’ll still check them for color before I eat them later…

I also found a new method for boiling eggs that keeps them from getting rubbery and keeps the yolks from turning green.

So then I dug out all of my Sharpies (turns out I have a lot of them) and started coloring… I did one that looks sort of like a little Faberge egg, then one that has a sun and moon (because of a book I loved as a kid), and then… well, then I noticed that I have a coupld of silver Sharpies… and that I could probably make an R2D2.

Continue reading “Egg-stravaganza gets a little Geeky…”

artsy stuff

Doodle kitties

Today has been a long day and I can’t think of anything interesting to write, except that of everything on my “to do” list, the only thing I accomplished from beginning to end was pulling some cash out of the ATM. Seriously, it was that bad. I’m going to have to try again to do most of these things on Monday and I’m not looking forward to it.

I didn’t want to disappoint, though, so you can have the doodle kitties I made for my sister a month or so ago. I kind of like them, especially the Leena one. So there you go.

doodle kitties

artsy stuff

Painting Therapy: Complete!

I finished painting the last of the pots today. Well, I finished the ones I was able to prime (so, 11 of the 13); two are stuck together and I’m afraid I’ll break them, so I’m hoping that as the weather changes, they’ll change size and I’ll be able to unstick them. Anyway, I like the butterfly one the best, but the red monkeys were fun to paint. The tree frogs were harder than I thought they’d be and didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted, but they don’t look awful. All I’ve got left is to put a clear coat over them to make them weather proof and I’m done.

I also found out today that you can buy Starbucks’ coffee flavors (well, some of them), so I got myself a bottle of the cinnamon dolce one. It’s a very large bottle, and it’s not just how they make the cinnamon lattes, but it’s the “spice” in their caramel apple spice drink, which is my favorite non-caffeinated drink of theirs. ^_^ I made one tonight.

artsy stuff

Painting: cheaper than therapy

Not that I need therapy, but painting is very relaxing.

The current project is to decorate about a dozen terra-cotta pots to take to the zoo. They’re various sizes and all need to have some sort of “animal” theme, but really I’ve got a lot of leeway with them. I’ve got half of them finished and just need to add the clear coat over the top that will (I hope) make them weatherproof to go in the browse garden.

Browse garden? Well, zoos are always on tight budgets and one way to cut costs (as well as give animals added enrichment) is to grow your own browse, or produce for the animals. Browse can be sweet potato vine, edible hibiscus, flowers, herbs, and regular veggies, too. The garden by the tiger exhibit has catnip, lavender, eggplant, corn, sunflowers, bell peppers, and had collards but the plant finished its growth cycle already.

Anyway, it gives extra food (i.e. the corn can be part of the primates’ diet) or can be enrichment (i.e. extra stimuli) and also makes an otherwise unused area of the zoo look a lot nicer.

So I’m painting pots to go in the garden.

Okay, so the one with the swirlies isn’t exactly animal themed, but it looks nice anyway, don’t you think? The waterfall is the other side of the tiger-laying-down pot in the first photo. I tried to make it look like some Asian paintings I’ve seen recently. They don’t have to be amazing or anything, but it’s kind of fun to think up a new design for each one. Maybe I’ll do geckos on the next one.