Thursday, May 3, 2012

Just Waiting For the Pictures to Develop...

The last post in here was in October, and the last post with immediate relevance to my work with Nereus was more than a month before that.  I’m glad to say that, after a semester that—if it wasn’t from Hell itself, certainly took a page from Hell’s playbook—is finally over, I’ve been able to devote some serious time to presenting new plants on the website.

Now, that long hiatus doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working on nereid plants at all, for I have taken pockets of time here and there to organize clades and compose capsules for eventual publication.  But finally I’ve had enough time to devote to illustrations, which I think are a key component of the success of Nereus, or any similar project.  “A picture paints a thousand words,” as it were, and in the context of xenobiology I’ve found that pictures convey a lot more information than might apparent.  A capsule on any given imaginary creature may tell me a great deal about the evolutionary history, noteworthy behavior, or any number of useful details to reinforce the creature’s plausibility, but an accompanying image can either reinforce that plausibility or negate it all in an instant.

So I take my images very seriously, and try to use what skills I can in order to communicate the spirit and flavor of the nereids I create.  Over the years I’ve found that the illustration process has provided me with great triumphs as well as frustrations, surprises, and the occasional need to change capsules in order to fit with things I like in the picture; such has been the case with my first steps into my presentation of the nereophytes.

Because Coleria is a phylum that functions at a largely microscopic scale, I had a hard time figuring out exactly how to present them visually.  I started with sea grain, and a relatively straightforward capsule, but when I started to put together an illustration for the entry I was just never happy with it.  This turned out to be the biggest stumbling block for my nereophytes so far, because I didn’t want to move on until I could get that picture done.  Well, eventually I just said the image that’s up for the sea grain is good enough.  Maybe one day I’ll redo it, but in the end I shouldn’t let a presentation of nereid plants be halted by one little genus of algae.

So far with my nereids, almost all illustrations were rendered based on 3D models built in SketchUp so that I could explore biometrics, proportions, and image composition.  It’s been a technique that’s served me well, but after the frustrations I faced with drawing the sea grain, I decided on a different tactic with the verebull: a completely hand drawn composition without any preliminary 3D work.  While I still think the image for the verebull could be improved, it came together rather easily.  No muss, no fuss, and on to the next one.

Rock paint falls into the category of one of the images that has surprised me.  I used the same non-SketchUp technique here, penciling some stony backgrounds and adding the plant life itself in Photoshop.  I’m pleased with how it all turned out, but what surprised me was how the rock paint actually looks on the rocks.  What I had originally imagined was something more akin to desert lichen in appearance, but what has come about is something that is more visually interesting, and may help to paint future landscape images in a more alien light.

And I’m not sure if that pun was intended or not…

But if the rock paint surprised me, the splashmoss really came out of nowhere.  The original image in my head was something akin to shelf fungus, but as I sat down with pencil and paper, something else came out, something that looked more like a rash of pustules than anything else.  At first I thought about restarting, but since I was on a roll with alien looking plants I decided to go with it.

At some future date I may come back and see if the drawings I made are truly plausible, but for the time being I’m pleased with how the pictures have turned out and I’m willing to follow my initial impression that what I’ve drawn fits with scientific laws as we know them.  I look forward to anyone’s feedback on these matters, both in terms of the relationship between the capsules and their illustrations, and of the plausibility of the genera themselves.


  1. Nice updates. I would be glad to hear about new developments regarding the anatomy of these plants. For example, does the spalashmoss disperse new cells or spores? What is the dispersal mechanism? Is the organism a multicellular moss-like, or do the unicellular organisms congregate and assume different roles?
    How does the outer crust of the "Rock paint" develop? Does growth of the "colony" take-place on the underside pushing old cells to the outside until they die and form the outer crust? How do they absorb water, is it from fog? The outer crust may be hygroscopic and aid in the process, maybe.

  2. Good questions, Christmas Snow. (Do I know you by any other names?)

    I always imagined that colerians were unicellular organisms. In the case of the splashmoss, the individual cells work together to produce the needed structures in order to reproduce and spread their colonies. As to whether these are cells or spores, I haven't nailed it down. I wrote 'cells' in the capsule for the plant, but I can always change it if spores turn out to be a better dispersal system (they could probably survive the ejection better).

    Rock paint develops much as you surmised, with old dead cells forming the outer 'crust' or 'skin,' and new cells growing within it. Hygroscopy could also be at work in retaining water as well.