2017 Best in Drawing – Jennifer McLenon

Microbial Landscape

This piece uses a surreal landscape to explore the dizzying array of structures that exist in freshwater aquatic environments.  The “ground” along the bottom edge of the piece is made up of various diatoms and algae (desmids, Volvox, pediastrum, and anabaena).  In the foreground, Acetabularia, a type of unicellular green algae that resembles a leaf with a long stem, is dispersed like plants growing up from the ground.  Hydra frame the scene, with their tree-like structures consisting of something equivalent to a trunk topped with branching appendages.  Spirogyra grow up in tufts around the hydra trees like tall grass.  Diatoms with shapes reminiscent of mountains loom in the background.  Finally, a night sky, featuring a circular diatom moon, is decorated with Heliozoan stars.  Chlamydomonas reinhardtii takes the place of a meteorite or shooting star. 

Charcoal was used to render this drawing because it creates high contrast, which is ideal for highlighting the details of complex structures.  The black gradient that transitions the foreground into the background was intended to increase contrast and help structures to stand out, as well.  A smooth drawing paper allowed for the inclusion of tiny details that would have been lost in the grain of a rougher paper.  A landscape arrangement was chosen to create a literal representation of a microbial landscape, as well as to illuminate structural similarities between members of the microscopic and macroscopic worlds.  By demonstrating the naturally-occurring repetition of structural themes throughout nature, this piece also relates the microscopic communities that we often cannot see to the macroscopic communities with which we are more familiar.