Sunday, March 10, 2019

Will the foredune stand?

Erosion from Lake Michigan has been gradually eroding foredunes from the Wisconsin state line down into Beach Park. There are many factors contributing to this, some of which are too complex for this simple blog post. We have come to love each and every one of these rare dune species as if they were our brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren. And we do what we can to share our love of these special places with all we meet. So....

Please do ask the questions:  How do we help raise awareness of first principles of botany, ecology, consilience, in our local communities? How do we best steward the land that we love? How do we build empathy and understanding towards others, and all living creatures, so that all are treated with care and respect? How do we come together in community to make the world sustainable for all?

Investments in botanical knowledge pay off!

For my friends who missed it: this year I finally took the plunge and invested in my growing love of botany: The Wilhelm-Rericha seminar series sponsored by Conservation Research Institute. It is a six part series, with three five-hour classroom sessions, and three full-day seminars on the flora, geology, pollinators, and ecology of our Southern Lake Michigan region. The first day was a deep dive into the study of native bees and consilience. 

What is consilience? E.O. Wilson wrote a book about it. I will refer you there. But basically it's an understanding that in nature, all things work together, with the resulting awareness that the loss of one thing is a loss to all of us. To quote Aldo Leopold, "The first principle of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts." 

What's alarming is the rapidly growing use of neonic insecticides, which have devastated all our pollinator populations. We need our bees, at the very least to pollinate our food plants, but also because they are an integral part of Nature's gift to us.

Also: the latest updates to Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region are now available here:

I was fortunate to  recruit the renowned Dr. Gerould Wilhelm to review the pages last year and add very helpful information. We are in the process of adding seven more pages to the series. Hopefully that will be complete by the end of this year.

And... we are also in conversation with the Illinois chapter of the Nature Conservancy regarding designing more bandanas for their stewardship volunteers - stay posted!

Monday, April 3, 2017

What's not to love about watercolor pencils?

'Get out of the comfort zone! Do something different.' Well, that's what my inner muse told me anyway. My two artistic nemeses are landscape painting and watercolor pencil, so - you guessed it! - I'm tackling them both at one time. An invitation to teach a new class - the afternoon of June 14th, Camp Bullfrog Lake - started it all.

I really enjoyed teaching the colored pencil workshops for the American Society of Botanical Arts grant a few years ago, and this will be an extension of that program. The workshop is being sponsored by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, with whom I will be working as Artist-in-Residence for 2017, visiting and drawing their beautiful campgrounds. This is a new venture for both of us!!

Watercolor pencil combines both the best and the worst of colored pencil and watercolor. It has unique challenges:
•  the colors of each pencil is often no clue as to how the tones will look once water is applied;
•  each set of 12 we tried (across 15 different brands) had different color ranges;
•  some pencils do not easily release their pigment into the water, leaving a lot of residual texture;
•  overlaying colors and then adding water to them can cause pigments to separate instead of blend;
•  if you're working outdoors, you have to bring a brush and a container of water (more on that anon);
•  cost is not always a predictor of quality;
•  paper makes a big difference in outcomes - the heavier and less textured the better;
•  finding a limited palette that had a clear, cool, yellow; a cold red or magenta; and a true blue, that when mixed with the red or magenta, would produce a vibrant purple, turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated. But we persisted. Following are the results from our trials.

Our criteria were the following:
•  an inexpensive, easily-available medium for spontaneous creative expression
•  no special tools, training, or talent required beforehand - basic skills to be learned in the workshop
•  compact and portable kit for sketching on the spot in color and black and white

We tested 15 different brands to determine which was the best brand for the least cost.

Just a note - in the side-by-side comparisons, there are some blank spaces. Those brands did not have that color in the range provided. In the color wheels, a couple of the brands that we had on hand were 24, not 12, sets. And some, such as the Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, were open stock. But we tried to find colors that were fairly consistent across the range, so that we were comparing apples to apples. Sometimes it worked out well, and sometimes not.

The images above were scanned, not photographed, to help preserve the best color integrity. You are welcome to try this at home, so that you can see for yourself just how different each brand performs!

In the color wheels, each entire circle was first filled in with either a single color, or, when necessary, a blend of two adjacent colors. The outermost crescent - outside the large circle - was blended with a wet brush, as were the lozenge shapes formed by each overlapping circle. This is intended to show how differently the colors appeared before and after wetting and blending. Most brands blended well upon wetting - a few did not. We'll go into particulars when we cover each brand.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nature Conservancy pollinator bandana 2015

It's probably time to update on how orchids have been faring here in the Midwest. Despite continued development resulting in habitat loss, there are some balancing factors to celebrate: increasing numbers of young people are taking up the conservation challenge, bringing new energy to long-stewarded sites in Cook County, IL and other areas. Healthy spring rains and decent winter snowpack have nourished wet soils, creating decent conditions for moisture-loving native orchids. Volunteers are becoming new stakeholders and advocates within forest preserve systems, and getting excited about new orchid discoveries.

The long-term, highly-respected rare plant monitoring program out of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Plants of Concern, is entering its 15th year. (I've been with it for the last 14) Hopefully we'll have an update soon on how our native orchids are doing overall, and how different management approaches benefit them (or not).

In the meantime, if you find an orchid in the wild, leave it be. Inform the stakeholder (forest preserve staff, private property owner, managing agency). Advocate for them - they're canaries in the mine for habitat change and when they start to decline, be sure that something is amiss with surface water or other important conditions that will impact us too down the road!

Sunday, July 15, 2012