Friday, 25 November 2016

Drawing diary: October

I'm over due for another drawing diary: November is almost over already! So let's see what I've been up to in October. In this blog post I'll be talking about hula hooping birches, my slacking health and a brief visit to lovely autumny Sweden - pictures included.

Birch trees

As you may still remember from September, I was slightly obsessed with the birch forests I saw during my holiday in Sweden. I wanted to try something out with East-Indian ink, so I descended to the shed where my mother keeps materials from her art academy time. I came out again with a small travel set of Faber-Castell charcoal and crayons instead. Judging from the cover they are over fifty years old and must have belonged to my grandfather.

I definitely had trouble handling the charcoal - it was going all over the paper! But I'm really happy with the result nevertheless. I usually draw precise and perfect, so it is nice to have to let things happen and shrug. If that means the birches are hula hooping, ah well. At least it looks lively.

Neurological shenanigans

I was very busy with a university assignment in August and September, which is why I barely blogged in those months. I planned to take some time off to catch my breath in October and do lots of drawing for fun, but it was not to be. On the day I drew the birch trees above, I started losing sensitivity in my right arm and it became very hard to use, especially for precise movements such as writing or drawing. It was not the first time I suffered a neurological attack and I know they can happen (especially after a period of working too hard), but it was a wake up call nevertheless. I hate that my studying goes at such a slow pace, and often feel like I'm not trying hard enough. Apparently I need my body to break down before I remember that there is a real reason I can't work as hard as others and that it's not my fault.

Unfortunately, the attack stayed active much longer than usual. I felt extremely tired and turned out to have a huge vitamin D deficiency. I had to completely give up on sports and hardly managed to do something at all for my studies. At the time of writing (half November) I'm still recovering.

Week in Sweden

Luckily, near the end of October I felt okay enough to attend a friend's PhD defence in Uppsala, Sweden. This was to no small feat thanks to Marinka who took great care of me during the exhausting travel there, while in the process becoming the Bane of Airport Personell (she decided I had to go for the full rollercoaster experience, racing me around in the wheelchair - which was a ton of fun but also sometimes a bit scary).

And even though my arm wasn't fully okay yet, I did manage to draw something anyway because of my lovely crazy friends. Take a guess of what you're looking at:

Spoiler: sketches of microscopic pictures of Arabidopsis thaliana (from top left clockwise) roots, a cross section of a stalk, hairs on the edge of a leaf and a seed.

The story

No, I am not obsessed with Arabidopsis thaliana (even though the above suggests otherwise)! This is the story. My friends suggested to give my PhD defending friend a "piece of cardboard with lentils on it", as a visual representation of all the seeds she had to planted for her biology PhD. I wasn't enthusiastic about this idea right away, because I was afraid it might end up looking like an awkward Kindergarten project. If we were to do this, the result should be something I would want to hang on my wall myself.

I felt going with something abstract would probably reduce that chance. How about a microscopic part of the plant my friend had studied for four years? I love microscopic pictures - they make the ordinary look alien and wonderful. One of my friends found an amazing website with a photo contest of Arabidopsis magnifications - too perfect! Based on that I came up with the sketches above in the four different colours of lentils we had (black, brown, orange and yellow).

When I asked around for people's favourite, the answers varied, but the hairs on the edge of a leaf were universally mentioned. I messed around with it to test different colour combinations.

However, the dark backgrounds would be gloomy for something hanging on the wall, so we stuck to the original of yellow on an orange background.

The actual process of making the painting was a bit stressful to get done in time, but it was a lot of fun. We worked with four together at the same time on it and almost became high from all the glue!


Unfortunately this picture is from an odd angle, but we were all proud of the result. I think our friend was genuinely happy with it, so that's awesome!

I won't go over everything we did in Sweden here, but I had such an awesome time with all of my friends, many of which live abroad and don't get to see that often. Also, this part of Sweden in the autumn was simply gorgeous. I didn't bring my own camera, but thankfully my friend Jorijn gave me permission to share some of her beautiful pictures in this post.

 Picture by J. Hornman

We stayed at my PhD friend's place and this forest started behind her house. Of course, with so many nature nerds together, our hike in it soon transformed into an excursion.

 Picture by J. Hornman

We found many cool lichen and mushrooms in the forest. A highlight was beard lichen, baardmos. The hedgehog mushrooms (stekelzwam) above became part of our dinner. It was delicious!

Picture by J. Hornman

Also directly around my friend's house the view was stunning. The farmer she rents from has these cute black sheep grazing all over the place. As I spent a lot of time alone in the house, resting, I could help myself but drawing them.

I prefer drawing what I see directly, like I did in June, but it would've cost me too much energy to sit outside for hours in the freezing cold. So instead I took some pictures with my phone and drew after those from the warm inside.

This is the final result. I'm not totally happy with every part of it, but it was the first time I drew something of this size with markers. I do, however, really like how the birch tree to the left turned out.

Although October wasn't the best month for me, I did have an wonderful time in Sweden, and I am so thankful for my lovely friends who made it possible. I hope you enjoyed this little view into my October life - hopefully all the nature nerding didn't scare you off!


  1. Nature herding! There's a new phrase. I want to turn the lentil drawings upside down because they look like little bird feet, and bird bodies, alas with no heads.
    What fun to be able to use those old art materials.

  2. Nature nerding, doh, die, autocorrect, die.

    1. Haha, and I was wondering what you meant there. It was definitely fun to use those old art materials. Quite unbelievable they still do their job so well. What I liked most, though, is having no clue how to handle them and then slowly figuring that out.

  3. Cool drawings as always! The first one feels kinda surrealistic to me with the shapes and the colors. Also, a bit creepy.

    Though not as creepy as the microscopic view of the plants. I don't know, I just feel a mixture of creepiness and awesomeness when I see anything from a microscope view. Like you said, those kind of things look completely alien!

    The pictures are pretty cool too and makes me wish I could spend some time walking around that region too.

    The last drawing captures the feeling of autumn perfectly too!

  4. I'm still envious of your drawings. That you can continue to draw at all given the issues you had in October is simply amazing to me.


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