Dinopysis, Thalassiosira…. they live among us!

Thalassiosira above and Dinopysis below! These creatures live in our gulf waters! Unlike the real thing, if you bump into these sculptures you will probably notice! This Diatom and dinoflagellate  are tiny! To give you an idea of what 20 μm is, lets look at this Thalassiosira in ft…….0.000065617 ft!!! Too small to see with the naked eye… or most amateur microscopes!

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The sculptures are finally coming to life! Having never worked with molds and only a little with clay and resin this has been a lot of trial and error! I am currently playing with fiberglass resin, polytek easy-flow plastic and the home depot table top resin. I thought I would play with them until I settled on one… instead I am starting with the fiberglass resin (just a little to fill the grooves) then painting on the easy flow (this makes it super bubbly… but the resin thinly and evenly distributes and dries hard and fast). Then I am painting the whole thing with thinned out acrylic and finishing with a coat of the table top resins……

at least, that is the system for now

If any of you have favorite resins, tips or warnings please let me know through my contact at http://www.pippinprint.com

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Here is what I started with…. and then the carnage after!

I am still trying to cast the 3-D bits that come off the top. Im having trouble getting those to set up… but soon a completed one will exist.

20150409_110958Here I am with Courtney and Jinx trying to gather phytoplankton in the pond at A Studio in the Woods. I’m going to the lab tomorrow to see what resides in our backyard pond water!

Illustrating Phytoplankton!

Here are my first illustrations ready to silkscreen! I will be creating a series of interactive silkscreens with a green under-layer. Since phytoplankton are plants+ they are filled with chlorophyll! The green under layer, representing the chlorophyll in the phytoplankton, will be black light reactive!

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the images below are from water collected using a phytoplankton net. Compare to the scarcity of water samples collected  above at Jean Laffite with just a bottle!

As 31″x31″ circles these will be LARGE silkscreens! Its very exciting to be able to purchase new screens for this endeavor! Thank you A Studio in the Woods for your generous program that makes this and other materials possible!

2015-04-06 21.04.52above, large trace drawing for silkscreen. Below, close up
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If seeing these drawings makes you want to see more, look again in the next few days as the first sculptures take form!

We will also be trawling the pond for more phytoplankton!

I also wanted to share some of the resources that inspire and help us identify through out this project.

LUMCON’s Phytoplankton Guide!


Inspiring Videos from the Plankton Chronicles (thanks scott for the tip!)


Exhibits: Little Giants


Introducing Dr. Tim McLean

Hello everyone!

I’m very honored to be invited to contribute to this blog! Thank you Alison!

I would like to start by embellishing upon the lovely introductory post that Alison put up for the project.

We will start with introducing Tim, my partner in crime on this exploration of the microorganisms of our surrounding wetlands.

Dr. Tim McLean received his Ph.D in Genetics and Molecular Biology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2001. He further developed and adapted his molecular expertise to the field of marine ecology during two post-doc experiences, first at the University of Southern California a d the at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami. Before assuming his position as Professor of the Practice at Tulane University in 2014, he was an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. His research interests include using relevant ‘omics-based technologies and bioinformatics to understand the molecular biology and ecology of a marine dinoflagellate that is responsible for forming harmful algal blooms (‘red tides’) in the Gulf of Mexico.

IMG_3349  Tim McLean with a fresh water sample!!! Our first excursion into the swamps together in the pursuit of phytoplankton!

The project itself is funded by a residency program put on by A Studio in the Woods!

“For our Flint and Steel residency series, four artists have been awarded a five-week residency designed to provide an opportunity for the artists to engage their communities in addressing the sort of ecological challenges that are exemplified in South Louisiana.”

diatom and dinoflagelatesmy first diatom/dinoflagellate drawing!

For those of you who have never looked at phytoplankton under a microscope, you most certainly have encountered them. They fill our waterways both fresh and saline (salty), are the base of our food-chain and are responsible for 50% of the worlds oxygen.

IMG_3841 phytoplankton collected at Shell Bank Bayou near LaPlace, LA and viewed through the scopes at Nicholl’s University. Thanks to Dr. Gary LaFleur and his generosity with his time and microscopes!

IMG_3846Dr. Gary LaFleur in front of the microscope at Nicholl’s University… as the sophisticated scientist that I am I figured there was nothing odd about using an old whiskey bottle for samples. Turns out when you only need a dropper of water at a time, this is serious overkill!

Beyond the positive and life-sustaining qualities of phytoplankton, they are also vicious killers! Different types of harmful algae move in our waterways and stimulated by rising temperatures, and excessive nutrients – among other things, they can cause harmful algae blooms. These blooms more commonly known as ‘red tide’ are visually beautiful, covering large areas in the ocean but result in massive fish kills, and neuro toxins in humans that ingest contaminated sea food.

KB 3 Karenia Brevis culture, harmful algae found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our project focuses on the local beasties in our waterways. We are focusing largely on the extremely understudied fresh waters that surround us. So far we have collected water samples from Shell Bank Bayou, Bayou Labranche, Jean Laffite, and Marrero, LA!

Each one has amazingly different life forms! Its like watching a si-fi movie unfold before you with whirling flagella (the appendages that dinoflagelattes use to move), and undulating cilia (another hair-like apparatus for movement). To get to the root of these words Cilia is Latin for Eyelash, (Greek δῖνος dinos “whirling” and Latin flagellum “whip, scourge”). Dinoflagellates are also placed in the Fire Plant Division! These etymologys could not be more accurate in describing the sheer wonder of watching these Eukaryote in action!  As I observe them spiral and ricochet around the slide operating at 40,000 micrometers, way smaller than the prick of a needle, I realize how little I know about what sustains life on the plant.

This project is about bringing Dr. McLeans and the scientific communities knowledge to the gallery setting and online in this blog. We have a month to build the visual and educational contents for this show opening May 9th, 2015 at the Tigermen Den 3113, royal st, New Orleans, La

Coming up soon:

-Illuminated Phytoplankton Forms as Light Sculptures!!!!

-Silkscreens of phytoplankton that are black light reflective to demonstrate concentrations of chlorophyll!! 

-more revelations about how sweet science is!

-links to sites that inspire us!

-and MORE!

Nola Studiola is honored to host printmaker Pippin FrisbieCalder as she embarks on a collaboration with biologist Dr. Tim McLean of Tulane University at New Orleans’ Studio in the Woods.

As saline content rises and the wetlands continue to reel from erosion and agricultural use, Gulf coast wetlands are increasingly threatened. Artist Pippin Frisbie-Calder believes these spaces must be observed an documented in order to increase awareness of these issues and to preserve a memory of what we have and may still lose. 

Pippin’s cypress and wetland prints are large and grandiose to reflect the awe that is felt when standing next to majestic old and living cypress and hardwoods that have survived a century of human exploitation. Through images gathered in live sketching, photographs and research, she captures the raw natural beauty and abundant wildlife of still unspoiled and untamed swamplands.

Pippin earned a BFA with honors in printmaking from Rhode Island School of Design, and her background includes a residency in Providence, RI, study of large scale woodcuts in Indonesia, a residency at Big Cypress National Preserve, FL, and special showings at a number of galleries throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Ms. Frisbie-Calder will be collaborating with Dr. McLean to create a body of work around wetland microalgae awareness. In a public display their simulated and/or real-time, live projections of phytoplankton and woodcuts will act as large-scale representations of the aquatic micro-organisms of the wetlands and demonstrate their importance (functions and roles) within the larger ecosystem. This project aims to serve as an educational tool, hoping to draw all members of the public, independent of wetland awareness and appreciation, since few people (even among researchers) are aware of and recognize the microbial presence, diversity, beauty, and roles within the waters of the wetlands.

–reprinted from Studio in the Woods and the artist’s website.


Fixing: seeing the opportunity for improvement

 Photo on 2015-01-02 at 21.58

Susan says: Since I have a one year old son, I am always doing a lot of fixing of situations in the form of acquiring, organizing, cleaning, and inventing fun as well as order. I can be very good with emergency situations—small or more serious emergencies. I tend to not panic easily, and even if I’m terrified, I’m often able to strategize quickly. First thing! Second thing! Third and fourth thing! Once you get to the third or fourth important thing I’d say any situation is a lot more under control. My dad actually used to say about me: Susan is very good in emergencies. It’s the day-to-day monotony she has trouble with. That’s been true. I’ve gotten better about day-to-day but one part of that is accepting myself as someone who likes a lot of change throughout the week. I’ve been job juggling for a few years now and I’m pretty sure I prefer it to just one job, if the pay is right. Another example of this is that my partner and I heard that you could read the same book every night to a pregnant belly and then the child would know the story and enjoy it as an infant. We said this idea aloud and then proceeded to read various books or poems at random to the belly—there was no way we could stick with one. We do have regular meals and bedtimes, but the things we do in between change a lot day-to-day.

I’ve kind of gotten off topic here, so I’ll go back to fixing: I’m really good at strategizing with people to fix their writing at a sentence level. I’ve worked with many ESL clients who can barely put two English words together but I manage to find out what they want to say, help them find the right words, and point out every error in what they’re writing. They always appreciate it. Regular American college students often don’t want teachers fixing their writing as much because they feel they’re expressing their individuality and already know how to write. I don’t work as well with these students or with having people argue with me—I’m not that great at fixing conflicts; I’d rather they’d just not happen. Sometimes there are American students who really want my feedback—of course, these are students who really appreciate writing and the revision process. I currently help other adults fix their novels and nonfiction by providing critiques. I don’t know if the manuscripts actually get fixed, because most people can’t spend a more money on a subsequent critique, but I think I’m very good at seeing opportunity for improvement, which is a form of fixing. My hope is that those writers I help will become passionate about fixing their writing themselves, and begin seeing the success they want, which is why I try always to explain the things I want them to fix.


I wish that more businesses, publications, and entertainment industry people wanted to fix their writing, even in simple ways like not having a ton of errors in a promotional beer glass. They probably don’t care, because in the average person’s eyes, if you can understand it, it’s not broken. But so much writing out there could stand to be improved and I wish my friends and I could make careers doing it. Some people I know are—writing marketing copy for a corporation, doing book press publicity, working for an academic press, freelance copywriting for websites—but really very few people I know with advanced training in writing and editing can manage to make a living actually doing it. That’s because many people just don’t care about the quality of the writing around them, least of all the people producing it. Since their businesses are succeeding on other merits, they don’t spare the cash to do anything about making the writing better. It will remain part of our writing culture that you drive by signs with apostrophe errors or look at menu misspellings, find atrocious writing in best-sellers, etc and think “Why doesn’t someone do something about this??”

Alison says: I like the point you made about not wanting to argue, which sounds like for you is a distraction on the way to fixing. And how many people say if you can understand it, it doesn’t need fixing. But as writers and teachers and editors, we know to ask: who is “you,” and might “you” change?

I like to fix things, and I’m trying to figure out which things are constructive to try to fix and which things are better off left broken–or, for that matter, which fixed/broken things are really none of my business.

I like when there are things in my life that have a very specific fix, like my students’ MLA citations. They know about easybib.com, and I know they know about easybib.com, (a website where you can simply plug in bibliographic information and the website creates a citation for you) but I told myself that we were learning something useful by looking up citation format in the textbook and attempting to follow it just with our eyes and minds. Then I take them home and correct them. I am not sure if this is indeed useful, or I’m just indulging in my fetish of fixing.


DeWitt says: When you’re young, it’s fun to break things. You realize how easily stuff can be destroyed. And that’s exciting. Until the day you break something you love, like a fish you try to take out of the tank to pet and, coincidentally, its fin falls off. At those times, you find yourself seeking an adult for a fish bandaid, except none of the adults can help you because, turns out, in spite of consumer demand, they don’t make fish bandaids. Then you don’t know what to do; so you cry and cradle that stupid fish with your stupid fish ruining hands.
Fast forward twenty years later and that describes most of my relationships.
The point is that as adults we are as fascinated by repairing as children are with destroying. Grown-ups stand in front of open car hoods and stare at a problem they know they cannot solve. People try to fix tables and stereos. People try to fix people. Get your pets spayed and neutered.
We devote a lot of time to trying make things better, even when we know they don’t sell make-things-better bandaids. We find more efficient routes to work. While shaving a few seconds off a commute might seem like an accomplishment, it’s really only worth the one high-five.
The old saying is “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” I’d add that even if it is broke, maybe you still don’t fix it. Not all that’s broken needs fixing. Sometimes you should just learn to enjoy the chipped paint in your apartment, sometimes you have to settle for a broken heart. Sometimes problems do solve themselves. Sometimes they don’t need to be solved. Your favorite pair of shoes aren’t shiny and new. Your car drives fine with the engine light on.
Figure out what doesn’t work and needs to, enjoy the rest for what it is.
Or remember the youthful glee of destruction and buy a very large hammer.
Alison says: Yes. A lot of my students turned in personal essays last week and 95% of them were about someone breaking something of theirs–trust, confidence, love, or the worst, a dream they had. And then grading them felt horrible–like, here’s a C for this incredible act of vulnerability.
I’m a fixer. I tried to fix something until I had to stop because I was forgetting who I was. I felt like a storage carton. I felt like a rough tote.
And then I found this valentine from elementary school when I was picking up the remains of a large rubbermaid trunk filled to the brim with my childhood diaries and notes. I tugged at it, from where it sat in a deep shelf above a closet, and I yanked, and I let it fall to the floor and crack open. Even rough totes weren’t built for that.
I have never felt like a babyface. But to someone, about 25 years ago, I was.