Eternal Embrace

The star of my most recent artistic adventure is a plant that is very dear to my heart: Sphagnum, commonly known as peat moss. At one point in my life, I spent many hours each day staring down a microscope, trying to identify half-decomposed plant fragments recovered from peat cores. A lot of these fragments came from Sphagnum, a moss that is small but mighty indeed.

Sphagnum is a prominent plant in bogs and poor fens, peat-accumulating wetlands that cover large tracts of land in boreal, subarctic, and oceanic regions. In these ecosystems, cold, waterlogged conditions limit decay, so when plants die, their remains stick around and build up over time. About half of this dead plant material – or peat – is carbon.

Over the last 10,000 years or so, peatlands have taken up and accumulated vast amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide and stored it in dead plant matter, which is why today, their fate is important in the context of global change. They also perform important hydrological functions in many watersheds, and serve as a home for many species.

And these rather stunning little guys play a huge role in making all that happen.

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Six Geese a-Laying

The Island Illustrators are doing illuminated letters themed after the Twelve Days of Christmas. Here is my contribution. The final version has some colour, but I rather like the inky black & white.

Going Deep

What is it about vertebrae? There is something about them I find absolutely fascinating. Their complex shape, the way it changes along the spine, the way they articulate with each other – I am not quite sure what it is, but vertebrae have been on my ‘must draw’ list for quite some time.

To learn about the mammalian spine, a whale is probably not the optimum choice, since the bones are modified to reflect the animal’s aquatic lifestyle. But I wanted to do a companion piece to my orca skull, and while these vertebrae may lack some features you would find in a terrestrial mammal, they are fascinating in their own right.

Orca vertebrae (not to scale)

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Of clouds and pines

My mother and I just spent a week on Tenerife. I knew little about the place when we set out, other than that it gets lots of tourists. As it turns out, the island has a fascinating human history, a surprising variety of micro-climates, and once you get away from the tourist centres, stunning volcanic landscapes and associated ecosystems. Perched in the centre is Mount Teide, which, at 3718 metres, is the highest mountain in Spain. Looking up from the coast, its peak is often obscured by clouds. These arrive with the northeastern trade winds and are intercepted by the island’s high topography, bringing moisture to the land in the process.

Owing in part to those clouds, the way ecosystems change with elevation is quite striking. My mom and I had a chance to observe this first hand on a one-day hike in the Teno mountains.

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Ink Practice

I just spent some time travelling and took along the ink pens. Here is a snail I found in a cabinet at one of the places I was staying. A very quick piece, by my standards. The main challenge was to capture both three-dimensional structure and the complex markings on the shell.