Something Creepy and A Lock: Every Day in May 9-10

EDiM 10: Something Creepy, ink & watercolor, 8x5"

EDiM 10: Something Creepy, ink & watercolor, 8×5″

The creepiest things around my house are snails and slugs. They creep along, leaving their silvery trails of slime. Yuck. My gardeners warned me that the big Agapanthus plants left behind by the former owner of my home were snail havens and wanted to remove them. But I like the crazy purple flowers and left them. To collect snails to sketch I knew where to go: I filled a plastic cup from two Agapanthus.

Most of the snails curled up in their shells and hid. One was very curious and climbed onto a leaf I stuck in the cup. I put the leaf and snail on the table to draw but he was a busy guy so I had to keep moving him when he reached the end of the leaf. Then I put him in the cup and he started climbing up and over the side, giving me a clear view of his face, which was just a little nub, with no apparent eyes or mouth. Extremely creepy.

EDiM 9-10, Draw a Lock & Something Creepy, ink & watercolor, 8x11"

EDiM 9-10, Draw a Lock & Something Creepy, ink & watercolor, 8×11″

The lock above is one I’ve had for many years. It lives in my gym bag and even though I sometimes go long stretches without using it, I seem to always remember the combination. I keep the combination in my iPhone’s contact list just in case I forget. I don’t want to be stranded in the locker room!  I struggled a bit drawing the lock so did it several times, starting with the one at the bottom.

More about snails:

Even though I didn’t see eyes or mouth it turns out they have them. Their weak eyes are on the end of their tentacles, the mouth is underneath the head. They don’t have ears and can’t hear but have a good sense of smell (though no nose). Lots more interesting snail facts on Snail World.com.

Wasps Nest Under the Eaves, ink & watercolor, 8x5"

Wasps Nest!

Wasps Nest Under the Eaves, ink & watercolor, 8x5"

Wasps Nest Under the Eaves, ink & watercolor, 8×5″

Each year a family (a nation?) of yellow-jacket wasps builds a nest here. One year they built a nest in an abandoned bird feeder which led to an interesting garden ecology life-cycle story. This time the nest is under the eaves of my studio. Fortunately it’s in an area where they’re not bothering me and vice-versa.

I would have liked to draw them and their nest with more detail, but decided it was best to work from a distance, have a more vague drawing, and not get stung.

When I eat lunch on the nearby deck, a wasp scout or two will come by for their share, which I put on a plate on the table for them. That way they don’t bother me on the chaise lounge where I usually eat and read.

I investigated having the nest professionally removed but read that they are beneficial to the garden, as they eat insect pests and move pollen around. I was surprised to learn that you shouldn’t swat at them as that makes them instinctively want to bite, which they can do repeatedly since unlike bees they don’t lose their stinger.

When the season changes I’m hoping they go away so I can remove the nest to observe and draw it more closely. And I’m watching for dead wasps that I can draw, but no luck so far.

Insect News Network @ Philz Coffee; Sketching Cedar & Shattuck, Berkeley

Sala Berkeley Back to School Sale Window, ink & watercolor

Sala Berkeley Back to School Sale Window, ink & watercolor

Cedar and Shattuck in Berkeley on a warm fall night was perfect for our Tuesday night sketch-out. I started a few blocks south to draw the window display at “Sala.” Their windows are always great and have inspired me to draw them before. I was hurrying and didn’t quite get the proportions right so instead of  tall willowy mannequins, these gals look a bit squat.

Cedar & Shattuck corner signs, ink & watercolor

Cedar & Shattuck corner signs, ink & watercolor

It got dark so quickly there was time for just one more sketch before we went indoors. There’s a new Philz Coffee a couple of doors down from the corner with a large upstairs room filled with comfortable sofas, arm chairs, and big dining tables with fancy dining room style chairs. They were having a special event, “The Insect News Network.”

Insect News Network Show, ink & watercolor

Insect News Network Show, ink & watercolor

The host with a microphone interviewed a bug scientist guest about the life cycle of various bugs that are found in urban gardens. They displayed slides and passed around live bug specimens in jars. Both were good speakers and made it all seem quite fascinating. It was great having entertainment while drawing. Their summing up statement was that “insects rule the planet; humans are only along for the ride.”

What is This Bug I’m Fighting?

Not Swine Flu, Ink & gouache

Not Swine Flu, Ink & gouache

It’s not the swine flu, not so bad.

Not Bird Flu, ink and gouache

Not Bird Flu, ink and gouache

Definitely not the Bird Flu.

Just an ordinary bug, ink and gouache

Just an ordinary bug, ink and gouache

It’s not a cold, a fever, a pill bug or a lady bug, and probably not something from getting a flu shot on Wednesday. It’s just a sleepy, coughing, red-eyed, sneezey, sniffly little bug.

And it looks like I’m winning! I hope so. Tomorrow is a plein air painting day at a winery in Sonoma, the last of the season with my primary plein air group, and I’d really like to go.

Creepy Bugs and Even Creepier Humans

While I’m busy in the studio with a painting project, here are some photos of creepy critters in my garden and the creepiest of all, on a big SUV.

First I opened my front door to grab the mail and as I reached out, this was guarding my mailbox box. She turned her little ET head towards me in a friendly sort of way.

I reached for my mailbox and...

I reached for my mailbox and...

But I thought Praying Mantises were green? Are they chameleons?

Spooky Shadow!

Spooky Shadow!

Then I was watering the garden and spotted this big guy.

Big Hefty Spider. Should I be scared?

Big Hefty Spider. Should I be scared?

I’m curious whether it’s a kind of spider I should be worried about. She? was huge! If you know, do tell. I touched a silken strand leading to her web and she went running down it, thinking something juicy had landed there.

Here’s what she looks like from on top:

Big one from above

Big one from above

And this pretty little one was hanging out nearby.

Little Pretty Spider

Little Pretty Spider

Maybe about to be lunch for the big guy?

And now for the creepiest of all…I saw this giant Yukon SUV in the parking lot at the doctor’s office. Can you imagine being someone who would hang these on their car? They even had a baby seat on the back seat, fully equipped with a TV screen facing it. Scary.

What were they thinking! Yuck!

What are they thinking! Yuck!

I hope I haven’t ruined your day with obscene car accessories and insects! Maybe I should remove this last picture? Or the license plate number? But I guess if they have the balls to hang them off their car in public, they mean to be seen. Or am I joining them in contributing to the downfall of civilization by posting it? And oh yeah, the Yukon gets 12 mpg and costs over $42.000.

More art coming soon.

Strange Garden Ecology: From Birds to Mice to Wasps to Ants to Birds

Weird Ecology, ink & watercolor in sketchbook

Strange Ecology, ink & watercolor (click to enlarge or see big images below)

I used to love feeding the birds and seeing my little customers flocking to the feeder. But one day I thought I saw the wood chip ground covering moving under the feeder. When I looked closely I saw it wasn’t the tan bark moving, it was dozens of mice! By feeding the birds I was also nourishing a growing army of mice with all the seed the birds scattered!

1. Feed the Birds  2. Mice grow strong and prosper

1. Feed the Birds ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> 2. Mice grow strong and prosper

I called “Vector Control” (a euphemism for the county rat patrol) and an interesting female rat inspector came out and inspected. She told me the only way to get rid of the mice was to stop feeding the birds and that for each mouse I saw there were 50 more I wasn’t seeing. I was sad to stop feeding the birds but it was better than the alternative (which included multiple mouse traps, even sadder).

Meanwhile, the spilled millet seed grew into a lovely, tall, feathery bush under the feeder, which I left hanging in a bit of wishful thinking that one day I’d be able to return to feeding my feathery friends.

3. Millet grass grows under feeder. 4. Wasps move in.

3. Millet grass grows under feeder ---> ---> ---> --->4. Wasps move in.

A couple years pass, the feeder and bird house remain empty and the millet bush continues to be a pretty garden feature. One day I notice something odd: wasps are buzzing in and out of the feeder and have built a nest inside it. I learned that while wasps do not pollinate like bees, they are still beneficial because they eat insect pests in the garden. I decided to leave them alone and enjoyed watching them care for their  babies (larvae) in the nest.

Wasps eat potential garden pests including the venomous black widow spider. Adult wasps eat only pollen and nectar (or your soda at picnics). They only hunt for meat (insects, worms, your barbequed hamburgers) to feed their larvae. Wasps nests have only one purpose: to ensure the production of young. At the end of the nest’s cycle, every member of the nest, except emerging queens, dies.

5. The wasps move in next door ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect

5. The wasps move in next door ---> ---> ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect

I guess things got a little crowded in the nest because the wasps started hanging out at the neighboring empty bird house too. Then one day we had a scorcher of a summer day. The temperature in my usually cool and foggy neighborhood by the Bay was in the 90s (f). The clear plastic bird feeder turned into a greenhouse and cooked all the wasps in the nest. So sad. All those poor little larvae, all that building and hunting and gathering of food.

But it wasn’t entirely wasted…

7. The millet bush becomes a little ladder and the ants have a party

7. The millet bush becomes ladder to an ant party

The stalks of tall millet grass made a perfect ladder for the gazillions of ants who live in my garden (and don’t even get me started about the ants and their nasty aphid ranches). The ants were streaming up the grass onto the feeder and having a lovely dinner party of roasted wasp.

And because my garden is well stocked with ants and aphids, I am, in a way, still feeding the birds. They still flock to my garden, but now they eat the ants and aphids off the rose bushes and it doesn’t even cost a penny in bird seed.

Meanwhile…. Life Goes On

Zoom Magazine

I’ve been away from my blog this past week, for a number of reasons, including setting up a new computer, an extended family member suddenly hospitalized in a coma with no brain activity, plus other more positive family events.

So in this brief intermission, here is a page from Costa Rica’s Zoom magazine I received recently. My sketches illustrate an article about Leaf Cutter Ants (amazing creatures that live in Costa Rica). When the editor was looking for illustrations she came across my sketches on my blog and asked for permission to use them in the article. It’s fun seeing them in print:

Leafcutter Ants, in "Zoom" (Costa Rica magazine)

(Click image to enlarge)

I’m looking forward to some solid studio time for the next two days and getting back to regular posting. Meanwhile, life goes on…

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