Saturday, July 31, 2021

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Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 : Week 37

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 :Week 37 Sept 6-12 

Nature is just so awesome with a never ending supply of surprises ! Summer means there are so many insects in the yard singing away merrily- katydids, cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers …along with the chorus of chirping frogs. I have to often get  help at with identifying the insect songs and I have spent many hours during the pandemic stay-at-home year doing just that - though I may now be more confused as well ;) 

This cicada - Neotibicen davisa davisa (identified by insect experts in INaturalist ) was by the pine tree (alive) in the yard by the pine tree. It stayed around just long enough for me to photograph. I had misidentified it when I first saw and sketched it - hence the wrong info below the cicada. The photograph of the Rhinoceros spearbearer (Copiphora rhinoceros)katydid in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2020 paired nicely for the week.  Unlike the cicada I found in the yard, these awesome conehead  katydids are found in the rainforests of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. They have powerful jaws to feed on plants, other invertebrates and even small reptiles. Staying home during the pandemic though has helped me see  and document by either sketching or photographing so many different creatures in my own yard ! 


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 Week 36

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 36 Aug 30- Sept 5 

Along with the dragonflies, I discovered there are a few different kinds of cicadas in our yard.  I usually go to the iNaturalist App to identify whatever I am not familiar with after I have taken a photograph. This is a Northern Dusk Singing Cicada Megatibicen auletes- largest of the N. American Cicadas. As the name implies these cicadas sing at dusk and are quite loud! Their  peak appearance is in August but are found July- September. Mostly I don’t see the cicadas unless they have dropped to the ground ( dead or almost) but hear them loud and clear somewhere in the Oak tree.  BTW, There are more than 3000 species of cicadas and they are members of superfamily Cicadoidea.

How cool is that Nick Cave’s Soundsuit is the photograph of the week of Aug 30 in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2020? “This is a wearable art inspired by Nick Cava’s background as both a fiber artist and a dancer. Brightly colored yarn, found object, and thread woven together in a variety of patterns and textures to creates vivid disguise, shielding and protecting the wearer’s identity from the audience.” 

Northern Dusk Singing Cicada 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 35

Dragonfly in sepia ink  by Meera Rao 

It’s very far away, 
It takes a about half a day to get there.
If we travel by my, uh, dragonfly 
~Jimi Hendrix~ 

The dragonflies were everywhere in the garden week of Aug 23 2020. I spent many hours quietly tracking and following the beautiful creatures with delicate lacy transparent wings, multifaceted eyes and iridescent body. I was hoping for one good photograph !! They are strong fliers - my research says hawker dragonflies have been recorded going 20 miles in an hour. They can hover, fly backwards and have high maneuverability.  Once again I found a perfect subject to sketch in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2020.  The photograph by Eric Long shows Grumman FM-1(F4F-4) Wildcat- World War II fighter aircraft. After Pearl Harbor, Wildcat pilots held the line and stopped the Imperial Japanese Air force when it seemed invincible.  

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 35 Aug 23-29 


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 34

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 Week 34 Aug 16-22

Carmen Herrera’s  Rondo  graces the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar2020  for the week of Aug 16-22.   Cuban American artist Herrera sold her first painting when she was 89 and at 100 had her first show. In mid 20th century, she experienced blatant discrimination when a gallery owner told her: “ You know, Carmen, you can paint rings around men artists I have, but I am not going to give you a show because you are a woman”.  I did not know all this when we visited Washington DC on Aug 22 2020 and went to see the ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted on 16th street leading to the Whitehouse on June 5 in honor of  protesters who had assembled there peacefully earlier that week. The street with the sign and all the related protest signs around the ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’  gave me goose bumps. I always look up information about the artist and art for the week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar. But this particular week I was especially astonished to see the connections. Please scroll down to see photos from that day.  Read about Carmen Herrera and interview with her at age 101 here

Black Lives Matter in front of White House sketch in ink and watercolor by Meera Rao 

Washington DC 16th street Aug 22 2020

Washington DC August 22 2020

Washington DC August 22 2020 

Washington DC August 22 2020

Washington DC August 22 2020

Washington DC August 22 2020 


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year week 33

Sketching the Pandemic Year Week 33 Aug 9-14 

Four O’Clock ( Mirabilis Jalapa) flowers true to their name bloom in the evening and spread a fragrance in the yard. As summer progresses, the plant is full of blooms. They come in different colors and even as ‘kaleidoscope wheels’ variety.  We planted these in the garden because they reminded me of my childhood  home in India.  But I have since learned that they are native to Peru and  have been naturalized in most tropical countries, Europe and Asia - it is a perennial in the tropics but grows as annuals in temperate zones. 

I vaguely remembered from basic genetics class in college that they had some peculiarities regarding passing of traits. Wikipedia helped out: “Around 1900 Carl Correns used Mirabilis as a model organism for his studies on cytoplasmic inheritance. He used the plant’s variegated leaves to prove that certain factors outside the nucleus affected phenotype in a way not explained by Mendel’s theories. Correns proposed that leaf color in Mirabilis was passed on via a uni-parental mode of inheritance. Also when plants with dark-pink flowers are crossed with white-flowered plants, light-pink-flowered offspring are produced. This is seen as an exception to Mendel’s Law of Dominance because in this case, the dark-pink and white genes seem to be of equal strength, so neither completely dominates the other. The phenomenon is known as ‘incomplete dominance.’

FourO’Clock watercolor and ink by Meera Rao 

More wonderful oddities about this flower from Wikipedia: “ Usually the flowers are yellow, pink and white, but a different combination of flowers growing on the same four o’clock plant can be found. Another interesting point is a color change phenomenon. For example, in the yellow variety, as the plant matures, it can display flowers that gradually change to a dark pink color. Similarly, white flowers can change to light violet. Despite their appearance, the flowers are not formed from petals - rather they are a pigmented modification of the calyx. Similarly, the calyx is an involucre of bracts. The flowers are funnel-shaped and pentalobed, they have no cup (replaced by bracteal leaves) but are made of Corolla…. The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued moths of the family Sphingidae, such as the Sphinx moths or hawk moths and other nocturnal pollinators attracted by the fragrance.”

The glass and ink ‘Our River’s Ancestors’ by Marvin Oliver is the featured photograph for the week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar2020. I had concentrated mainly on the colors when deciding what to sketch for the week. But I found a different connection while reading the explanation of the piece in the calendar: “In ‘Our River’s Ancestors’ , Marvin Oliver uses glass to evoke the rivers and salmon that have intertwined Quinault lives for millennia. The etched image is from a photograph of Native fishermen at Celilio Falls on the Columbia River.  This piece is a part of ‘Ancestral Connections’ an ongoing exhibition at National Museum of American Indian in New York which explores how contemporary artists draw on aspects of their heritage to create new and compelling works of  art” 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 32

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 32 Aug 2-8

Grey Hairstreak Butterflies Strymen melinus were all over the garden. I was trying to photograph at least one. It was a very windy day and nothing stayed still long enough for me to photograph. I was really surprised when I slipped my hand to steady a leaf hoping for a shot and the butterfly did not fly off :) It was thrilling when seconds later the butterfly crawled on to my hand. I stayed still - I did not want to scare off the butterfly by trying to take a photo! 

It was pure serendipity when weeks later I discovered that the photographfor that week in the Smithsonian Engagement 2020 was of Herpetologist Doris Mable Cochran holding a live frog, c1930s.  “Cochran (1898-1968) started as an aide at the National Museum of Natural History in 1919 and had advanced to become curator of reptiles and amphibians by the time of her retirement in 1968. She was known for her expeditions throughout Latin America as well as her artist contributions as a scientific illustrator and textile weaver.”


Monday, July 19, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 Week 31

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 31 July26-Aug 1 

Do the caterpillars and the Lone star tick ever tell themselves ‘Let’s see what’s out there’  (Captain Picard) or ‘Change is essential for existence’ (Spock)  as they go foraging for food ? The black swallowtail caterpillars had eaten the dill plant bare and Spock’s declaration ‘Highly illogical.’ rang true.   They were there out in the open for the birds to pick out and feed the hungry chicks. The Lone star tick was boldly crawling up my leg as we ate lunch on the deck when I flicked it off - fortunately for me it had not bit me and not lodged its stinger in! As for the caterpillars, I brought 3-4 indoors and fed them store bought organic dill ( they refused parsley from the garden) till they cocooned and waited for them to emerge as butterflies. 

The jacket pictured in the Smithsonian Engagement 2020 for the week is from communications Officer Uhuru in the series of the original Star Trek - and reason for all the quotes from the show ;) Nichelle Nichols who played Uhuru ‘was one of the first women in a television series to play a prominent supporting role that was not a servant.’ The jacket is displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.

Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars and A Lone Star Tick  sketch in ink and color pencils by Meera Rao

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 30

Box turtle watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

We have at least a couple of resident turtles in our yard. We see them early morning or in the evening walking across the yard probably looking for food. I don’t know what they eat but the most surprising thing I discovered over the years is finding one turtle eating an egg ! They do not tolerate high temperatures and during mid day they will hide under bushes or leaf piles. I read that they lay eggs sometime in June/ July, so no wonder we see them around more often in those months! From my research I know that we have at least one male (red eyes) and female (dark eyes) and drab smaller juveniles in the yard. Our yard must be in their home range :)  Sheltering at home during during covid days, we often cross paths  in the yard !

The photograph in the Smithsonian Engagement for the week 30 is a bird wine container from c500-450 BCE Middle Eastern Zhou dynasty, State of Jin, Houma foundry, China from the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington DC. “A hidden hinge allows for the beak to open as a spout. Inscribed in gold in the back of the head are the words ‘a gentleman’s esteemed bird’ suggesting this vessel was a treasured possession”  Well, the turtles in the yard are our treasured awe inspiring co-habitants!  

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 Week 30 July19-25 


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 week 29

Sketching the Pandemic Year 2020 Week 29 :July 12-18 

The egg and Moon on this page have more in common than meets the eye ! I read in NASA website that even though from our planet’s vantage point the Moon appears perfectly round, it is actually egg shaped ! According to the study, “ The lopsided shape of the Moon is one result of its gravitational tug-of-war with Earth. The mutual pulling of the two bodies is powerful enough to stretch them both, so they wind up shaped a little like two eggs with their ends pointing toward one another. On Earth, the tension has an especially strong effect on the oceans, because water moves so freely, and is the driving force behind the tides. Earth’s distorting effect on the moon, called the lunar body tide, is more difficult to detect, because the Moon is solid except for its small core. Even so, there is enough force to raise a bulge about 20 inches (51 centimeters) high on the near side of the Moon and similar one on the far side. The position of the bulge actually shifts a few inches over time. Although the same side of the moon constantly faces Earth, because of the tilt and shape of the moon’s orbit, the side facing Earth appears to wobble. From the moon’s viewpoint, Earth doesn’t sit motionless but moves around within a small patch of sky. The bulge responds to Earth’s movements like a dance partner, following wherever the lead goes.” 

And once again my pairing for this page has connections I could not have imagined when I selected the nest and egg to sketch for the week. I had been wandering in our garden and came across a few eggs broken and scattered by our shed. Upon investigation I found a damaged nest hidden in barrel of leftover mulch.  It still had one intact speckled egg which I identified as belonging to Carolina wrens.  I never figured out who raided the nest. After checking it for a few days, it was clear the birds had abandoned the nest. I  made sure the birds were not coming back before bringing the egg indoors to add to my basket of curiosities to show my grandkids. (The egg is still intact a year later ! ) I am pleased how the watercolor with pen & ink sketch of the nest with egg turned out. 

A little more about the ‘High Noon On the Moon’ Wide angle camera mosaic by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in the Smithsonian Engagement 2020 : “The sunlight on the Moon at noon, minimizes shadows but enhances subtle differences in surface brightness. The dark material is volcanic rock that formed when lava erupted and flooded large impact basins early in the Moon’s history. The brightest features here are evidence of relatively recent impact craters.”

Carolina wren nest with one egg watercolor, pen&ink by Meera Rao. 


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