The Cabinet of Natural Wonders – Graz & Wien part 4

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I have now visited it twice, the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, and I’m still not done with it. I have seen the most of the first floor twice and on both times it has been equally exiting. Maybe next time I will make it to the exhibitions of the second floor.

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Go in as soon as it opens. Trust me, you’ll need the whole day.

The tour begins with minerals, rocks and fossils and since it is an imperial collection, there are hordes of those. Last time my hubby said he would not be interested in the mineral collection. Yeah, right… We ended up going through every single display. There are the traditional mineral samples, cabinet after a cabinet, room after a room:

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Green stuff. I can tell where it came from (it reads in the labels) but I have no idea what it is.

While they might seem boring and a bit intimidating at first glance, give them a chance and look carefully. They are quite beautiful and intriguing. Like this miniature ice berg:

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A chunk of Aragonite.

But since it is an IMPERIAL collection, it’s not just exhaustive (after a few hours, quite literally), it is also breathtaking size-wise. For a scientific collection it would be enough to have a comprehensive collection of illustrative samples but an imperial collection is a collection of curiosities. It’s not enough to have all the samples – a bit like having all the Pokémons – you need to have the most impressive samples you can get and there is nothing more impressive than something huge:

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A rock crystal. There is a larger one but it’s so huge it doesn’t photograph well.

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A topaz. Merely 117 kg. For a ring, maybe?

Then there are the gold nuggets with one, the goldenklumpen “Welcome”, weighing precisely 68,98 kg. One needs to be exact with these things. It is a natural history museum after all. Which also means that it’s not just all samples and impressiveness. One of the really interesting displays is the one built in old wall cabinets explaining the etymology and the logic of the naming stuff. Why there is rubintyrann, the vermilion flycatcher in English, or zebramarmor and zebrajaspis. The minerals and stones are displayed next to their namesake birds and other critters and it’s easy to get the idea even when you don’t speak a word of German.

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The fossil collection is just as comprehensive and impressive. My favourite one is this large fossil of Scyphocrinites that used to float around oceans all around the wolrd some 410 million years ago. The amount of detail is amazing! You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

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Scyphocrinites in detail.

The museum also has few replicas of fossils of large animals, like this Devonian fish. The head alone was close to 1,5 m long. The real things are too fragile to be put on display, but the replicas are so detailed that it doesn’t matter much. Besides there are real ones too, even a real dinosaur leg bone that you can touch. It’s worn smooth and polished where the visitors have caressed it.

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It took an hour to draw this. School classes kept on getting in the way.

Last time I had time to draw other stuff too:

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A volcanic bomb about 50 cm high and a tiny trilobite.

What is interesting is that the human evolution and prehistoric cultures are placed in this museum. The evolution part I get, but the prehistoric art is slightly out of place. I suppose it’s an old divide dating back to the imperial days and the 19th century sensibilities that did not see it as art proper. After all, many old natural history museums also house anthropological collections which were considered primitive and therefore belonging within the natural historical and not art. And so the Naturlhistorisches Museum is where you go when you want to see the Venus of Willendorf and other famous prehistoric venuses. I decided to draw it from a slightly different angle to make it more interesting. What a bum!

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Earl Grey too had come to see the famous Venus of W.

When you start too feel tired and drained it’s time to head for the museum café. Seriously. Go and have a cuppa. The whole building is – just as its counterpart, the art history museum, is – a sight so see in itself. Don’t forget to look up while touring the exhibits as every room is decorated according to its theme with paintings and sculptures.  Take a look at the dinosaur room’s statues especially. The café is situated under the central dome which is much more modest than its counterpart across the yard:

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It’s difficult to drink your cuppa while staring at the ceiling.

And the food it delicious. Do try the traditional pancake and apple strudel. The price will double once you walk across to the art historical museum…

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Summer of Clouds

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It has been a summer of tremendous clouds. There has been rainy days with monotonous greyness, days of sweltering azure (can you use that word like that?) and everything in between. It has been a perfect summer for some cloudspotting.

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From a walk with our dog, Kili. Apparently we fought of a gigantic swarm of flies, and had to overtake a half a metre long adder on the path. It was searingly hot so I sketched like a lightning.

However, form a sketcher’s point of view the summer has been problematic. If it wasn’t raining, it was so hot that watercolours dried far too quickly making it next to impossible to use wet-on-wet properly. So I was usually left with two choices: sketch real quickly or not at all.

The beginning of the August saw a change in the weather as the thunderstorms arrived. Some days were tropical (really, they said that on the TV’s forecast): humid, warm nights were followed by sultry mornings and afternoon thunder showers. The monotonous rain clouds changed into towering thunderclouds.

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A thunder front advancing from the east.

That made sketching clouds a lot easier. Especially as I could see approaching showers well before they hit and look for shelter. Often the clouds rolled past in rows making the landscape seem even vaster and boundless. Pohjanmaa region is clearly the Finnish version of the Big Sky Country. Except for the mountains.

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Then the weather changed again and the clouds with it. The clearly shaped cumuli lost their firmness – a certain sign that the autumn is suddenly just around the corner. Those partly dissolved clouds presented a new sketching challenge, but it was a delight to sit in the open and follow the clouds go by.

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Sometimes they had the feel of gigantic, monumental beasts floating unhurriedly across the landscape, being massive and insubstantial all at once.

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A big sky behemoth.

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The winter is coming – as it always does – and these clouds a the first promise of snow.

Then last Monday I saw clouds that made my summer. We were driving towards the West on our way to the town of Kokkola. It was far too early (for me at least), around 6.30 AM, and there was massif of storm clouds rising above the sea some 15 km from where I took this photo:

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A lenticular cloud above low hanging storm clouds.

The cloud massif was – phenomenal. So many different kinds of formations that I could have spend several hours watching their evolution. But the cherry on top was that lenticular cloud floating almost immobilized above the massif. We don’t often get lenticular clouds over here. I suppose it’s because the landscape is rather flat, i.e. it’s relief is shallow, and to my understanding lenticular clouds usually form above high hills, mountains and such. What a treat!

Tools of the Trade

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I have made two new year’s resolutions: I will eat an exceptionally delicious salad and publish a post once a week. I need to eat more greens but the foodie in me gets so easily bored that I need to feed it with something special more often, and posting makes me happy, so there you go. Now that has been made public it’s time to move on.

It took me months (really) to decide what to get with a gift card I had received as a doctorate gift: I decided to get a fountain pen I had been coveting for ages, a Noodler’s Ahab flex pen from The Goulet Pen Company. It’s not an expensive pen with it’s $20 prize tag but I had been second guessing whether I really needed one or not. All you drawers/crafters/etc. know what I’m talking about. You see an interesting, nice looking tool, and pretty soon that little voice somewhere in the back of your mind steps forward and points out that it’s That Tool that will make you better in your craft. Absolutely. Possibly. It just might, you know. And so you get. If you’re lucky, the voice was right, and the Tool inspires you but more often it doesn’t. I have stuff that I have never even tried out and I was worried this pen might turn out to be one of those purchases. But thanks to my partner’s encouragement (“It’s just $20. I won’t be big loss if it turns out not to be your thing.”) I went and ordered one. And the ink for it. And something extra.

You know how that’s how it goes, don’t you?

Thankfully he was right.

The parcel arrived days before Christmas and it was precision packed with a ton of bubble wrap – and a cherry flavoured lollypop. Talking about a cherry on the cake. I love opening boxes (even when I know they are empty) and unwrapping packages, and so the Goulet parcel was heaven in itself. In fact, there are several videos about unpacking orders from Goulet Pen’s on YouTube.

This is what I got:

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The lollipop (yummy!), Noodler’s Ahab flex pen in Cardinal Darkness and Platinum Carbon Ink for it. The bigger bottle is Noodler’s Kung Te-Cheng -ink that I bought just because it’s such a wonderful colour as you can see below:

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It has a nice story to it too: it’s a reproduction of the imperial Chinese ink. The trouble is, it’s not waterproof and it can easily clog up a fountain pen. That’s why it comes with a free fountain pen and a brush pen which they have tested at Noodler’s and which should work fine with the ink. It’s really cheap basic converted Platinum Preppy fountain pen. My partner thought it’s a bit wet to write but I like it though it’s true, it can smear it you don’t take care. I really like the colour of the ink. I think I need a pen pal so that I have a reason to write with it.

See, it's perfect purple!

See, it’s perfect purple!

But back to the main thing: The Ahab:

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The Ahab needs to be washed before filling it for the first time. There’s some lubricant residue left from the manufacturing process and that can mess up the ink flow if not taken care off first. I did that first, filling the pen with warm water with some liquid dish washing detergent in it, then rinsed it before taking the pen apart to adjust the flex. Ahab is a flex pen which means it’s nib is flexible in comparison to ordinary nibs. That means that I can vary the line by pressing harder or lighter as I draw and write as the sides of the nib move apart when pressure is applied. The amount of pressure depends on your hand: a light hand needs more flex than a heavy one. The beauty of this pen is that you can rather easily adjust the nib according to your hand.

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I reassembled the pen and filled it up with some ink. I didn’t fill it fully so that I don’t make a huge mess if I decide to adjust the nib, which I think I will do. Apparently I have a light hand and don’t get as much line variation as I would like.

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The Ahab has a thicker body than most pens, pencils or other drawing utensils and I quite like that. I don’t have long fingers or anything but I find it easier, more comfortable to hold than most pens etc. I haven’t been drawing much with it yet, just some mindless doodles, but already I have found it makes me draw slower as it is more difficult to control the flexion if I move too fast. And that’s great. I often rush with my drawing, thinking and planning too much ahead and consequently worrying too much about the end result. Danny Gregory has often talked about slowing down, about concentrating on the details as you draw them so that you can see them more clearly. Trying to do that often makes me feel anxious as I start to worry about how many details there are still left to draw, how long it will take me, will I get it right and the usual rubbish. Ahab actually demands enough attention that I don’t have time to worry!

There was one little trouble with the Ahab at first: it scratched the paper. I had notices some customers had mentioned this in their feedback so I was aware of the possibility. Luckily this was easily fixed. I took a close look at the nib and noticed one side of the tip was ever so slightly out of line with the other side. That’s where the pair of tweezers in the picture comes in. I took a firm hold of the tip of nib with them, and gently, gently straightened the nib. That did the trick and the pen now writes smoothly. Happy days!

As a disclaimer: I paid for all the materials mentioned above, none of them came to me as an endorsement; I simply like the stuff. As for the company that sold them to me, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Goulet Pen Company. The service was fast and friendly, and their attention to details made me happy. I especially liked the handwritten message at the end of the receipt. A nice, professional and personal touch form a company that sells writing utensils.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

Quinn Creative

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