Today I thought I’d share an artistic project I’ve been working on recently. It’s not a scientific research project so it’s not the usual kind of project I talk about on my blog. It does involve aquatic insects, though, so I’m going to talk about it anyway. But first, a brief story to explain the history behind this project.
I took a limnology (the study of inland waters) class the semester I started my Ph.D. The professor was a man who eventually became my Ph.D. minor advisor and I’ve gotten to know him well. This particular professor was originally hired as a teacher (as opposed to devoting 80% of his time to research like most of the profs at my university) and it shows. At my school, a big research-one university, it is unusual for profs to give much attention to their students. Many of them would rather be doing their own work and teaching is just another responsibility they’re forced to take on that distracts from their research. My limnology prof is different because he puts a lot of effort into his courses and genuinely enjoys the work. As a personal touch, he brings snacks for his students, often every class period. In my limnology class, he made coffee and brought some sort of baked yumminess to every class. He only asked that you write your name on your styrofoam cup and use the same cup the entire semester.
During our break, I’d get some coffee and go straight back to my seat. I usually had 10 minutes to kill after I finished, so I started drawing aquatic insects on my cup. They weren’t terribly accurate because I drew them from memory and I’m far from the best illustrator anyway. I didn’t care. It was a fun way to pass some time. About halfway through the semester, the prof noticed me drawing on my cup. Nearly every class period he would come over and talk to me about the drawings I was making. Eventually, the last day of class came along and the prof asked if he could have my cup. Mind you, I’d been drinking black coffee out of this single disposable cup the entire semester. It was pretty nasty, stained brown on the inside and had my germs all over it. But I gave it to him anyway and he put it on a shelf in his office. Several year’s later, my cup’s still sitting there every time I go into his office. I consider it an honor! The cup has also become a sort of inside joke between me and my ichthyologist friend, who has my limnology prof as her co-advisor. She keeps me updated on my cup and we laugh about how disgusting it must be now that it’s been collecting dust for several years.
This brings me to my project. I’ve admired the work of artist Aya Rosen for some time. Among other things, she paints colorful, gorgeous animals on dishes with porcelain paints and sells her work in her Etsy shop Louche Lab. (I am lucky to own one of her insect pieces, a small butterfly vase. I used it as a wedding cake topper at my wedding!) Earlier this year, Aya taught a class at Etsy on porcelain painting and described her process for making her fabulous artwork. Her tutorial popped up right before my wedding, so I didn’t have much time to mull it over and start thinking of ideas. I forgot about it for several months.
Then my ichthyologist friend gave me a white teapot for my birthday. Because we’ve joked about it so many times, the teapot ended up reminding me of my styrofoam cup. And that, in turn, reminded me of that porcelain painting tutorial I read way back in March. Suddenly, it was all clear: I had to make a new cup for my limnology prof, one that can be washed, microwaved, and otherwise used. One that’s not disposable and swimming in 5-year-old germs and dust. The cup will be my gift to my minor advisor to thank him for his service on my Ph.D. committee. Seems fitting considering that cup was the reason we started talking to each other in the first place. When I upgrade my highest degree earned, he can upgrade his cup!
So, I bought some black porcelain paint pens. I bought some white coffee mugs. I followed Aya’s tutorial, and this is my prototype:
It’s rather like the original cup. Nothing’s to scale. There are too many or not enough abdominal segments on several of the insects. The proportions aren’t quite right. It’s got the same sort of haphazard look to the way the insects are crammed on it. But, I think he’ll like the result because it’s very true to the original.
I’ve spent most of my days off from work doing things like this. I’ve been making stuffed animals and painting coffee mugs, crocheting and cooking up a storm! I’m going back to work in a few days, so I’ll also be getting back to the more scientific posts soon. But first, a completely non-scientific Friday 5! The scientific posts can wait until 2011.
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