I, the Natural Historian

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VP_hirvien hautausmaa

My brain has been off-line ever since I turned in my Ph.D. thesis three weeks ago. Nothing. Nada. The first week my brain did not want to create anything at all. All it was contented to do was to receive stuff. I just wanted to experience stuff but not to come up with anything, absolutely anything. I didn’t even want to decide what we would have for dinner. It was a strange feeling but it was just my creative mind saying it had been working really hard for the previous months and it wanted some down time and some new things to see and so I watched TV-series on line and rented DVDs.

Then I found this in the forest one day with our dog: an illegal (they should be buried) dump of moose carcases, all kinds of left-overs from the last autumn’s hunting season. Wild animals (foxes, ravens, lynx etc.) had scattered the leg bones and shoulder blades and skulls around an eery, haunted looking corner of the woods as they had eaten what ever had been left on the bones. Some bones had been gnawed at but that might have been squirrels that often nibble bones and antlers for minerals. Most of the bones are bare but some lower legs still had fur on them as you can see. The forest floor had turned dark where the carcases had been dumped. It’s difficult to explain what that looks like but you can easily tell where a body has been lying in a forest. A little bit of everyday CSI: Wilderness I guess. Yup, I have come a cross scenes likes this surprisingly often. Last autumn I found a killed dog rotting in a thick bush by the smell. Another snippet of CSI: Wilderness: if it smells like rotting milk in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably a rotting carcass.

I have always been interested in bones and anatomy, in feathers, seashells and stones. All things natural historian. My favourite place to visit as a 5-year old was the natural history museum. I have a good collection of interesting stuff I have found plus some bought ones like a dinosaur tooth. I have framed some of the seashells I have collected from various places, like these common mussels, Mytilus edulis. The tops ones are from Hanko on the coast of the southern Finland and the lower one is from Kilmartin, Scotland. Quite a difference in size: the mussels in the Baltic Sea do not grow much bigger since the salinity of the water here is much lower than in the oceans. The mussel shells from Hanko are about 1,5–2 cm long.

VP_sinisimpukat

But the pride of my collection is this shell of a duck mussel, Anodonta anatina, that I found on the bank of lake Köyliö in sourthern Finland. It’s huge! They are usually about 10 cm long but this monster is closer to 20 cm. You could tell its age by counting its growth rings just like a tree’s. I haven’t done that but it is obviously old. I found it in a pile of shells left behind by a muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus, (not native to Finland but introduced ca. 100 years ago) probably. The smaller shells are from the same pile and are of average size.

VP_järvisimpukat

I have been thinking about making a special journal of my seashells. I even have a sketchbook ready for that.

 

First Semester at the Sketchbook Skool

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Danny Gregory and his friends founded Sketchbook Skool earlier this year and I signed on for the first semester called The Beginnings. The semester lasts for six weeks and each week we have a different teacher and, of course it being a skool, homework. I thought I would be past homework as I just left my PhD. dissertation in but I guess not. I’ll be posting my homework here so you too can see it. Besides, posting it everyday will help me to turn drawing into a habit. So here goes. Our fist assignment was to draw everyday and this is what I drew on Monday:

VP_aika_äijä

He, a Finnish wrestler Rami Hietaniemi, was on Monday’s newspaper on the front page of the sports section. He had just won silver in the European championships which is quite an achievement for a guy who lost feeling in his fingers on one hand after some medical mishap. He was told his wrestling days were over just like his everyday career as a builder. But guess he didn’t hear that. When I saw the photo I immediately thought that if I were the casting director of the HBO series Vikings I would be in the phone calling Hietaniemi and asking if he would be interesting in appearing in the series. I think it’s a silly show in many ways but, boy, would he suit its aesthetics! He even has the haircut for it!

Danny G. himself was our first teacher and he had filmed a few videos showing his sketchbooks and a demo for the first assignments. I followed his example and used a brush pen (Faber-Castell PITT’s indian ink dark grey) and sumi ink for this one with some watercolour for contrast. Interestingly the paper worked really well with the inks but the watercolour did not sink in so well. Ach, well. Live and learn. I like how the picture turned out. Danny’s demo was really helpful and using the brush pen made me slow down so that I thought more about the line and less about the picture. But what I liked most was Danny’s comment on not to mind too much whether the picture is perfect or not: after all, it has been filtered through me and it is my human imperfections that show up in it. You can see how the shoulders and the arm are a bit too big but that is how I experienced the photo, I guess, as a picture of a really big, powerful guy.

BTW, the title of drawing is the title of the article, “Quite a Bloke”. Or something like that. Äijä doesn’t quite translate into English but it means both an old man but also a manly man.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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