About this project
I'm collaborating with a biologist to create a unique field guide - and using the illustrations to educate the public on an organism I'm passionate about.
Note: All funds raised above my $5,500 goal will be put towards public outreach programs and exhibits!
Most people have never heard of slime molds (or myxomycetes, as they're known to biologists), yet they grow on every continent and right in our own backyards. These incredibly unique and diverse species deserve some recognition!
I’m a scientific illustrator specializing in fungi and other decomposers. So when slime mold researcher extraordinaire Dr. Steven L. Stephenson, University of Arkansas, invited me to make illustrations for his upcoming field guide to Australian myxomycetes, I couldn’t wait to get started. In December of 2012, I spent a week in Dr. Stephenson’s lab peering into a microscope and drawing as many slime molds as I could.
Neither plant nor animal, slime molds are members of the kingdom protista. Because they reproduce by spores, they were thought to be fungi until fairly recently. They eat bacteria (thus cleaning out and recycling ecosystems' decaying matter), thrive on every continent - even in extreme environments like deserts and tundras- and include at least 900 different species of all shapes and colors. Because they've been around for perhaps hundreds of millions of years, they have evolved to be able to move, grow, find resources, and adapt to their environments incredibly efficiently, despite their lack of a brain or even a central nervous system.
$ = slime
Presenting P. roseum: Out in the Sticks (a tale of a traveling slime mold saleslady)
As you can imagine, funding for slime mold illustrators is even more limited than funding for slime mold research. Dr. Stephenson and I worked out an agreement for the drawings I made in his lab, but there are many more species described in the field guide that we feel should be visualized. Each illustration requires between 8 and 20 hours of staring lovingly into a microscope, at my paper, and at a computer screen. The money I'm raising through this campaign will be put towards supplies, prize-making and sending, compensation of videographers, future public presentations and displays -- and lots of precious time.
Why care about slime molds?
For the same reasons we care about any living thing. All species fill some role in an ecosystem. The more we know about particular organisms, the greater our understanding of the bigger picture. Slime molds help keep bacterial levels in check and are important for nutrient cycling and forest productivity.
Pollutant removal: Slime molds' abilities to decompose plant matter and absorb nitrogen and heavy metals indicate their potential use for bioremediation.
Model slimes: In their plasmodial form, slime molds create networks to connect food sources with incredible efficiency. They can “remember” where they’ve already been so as to not cover the same ground twice. Slime molds can aid us in planning transportation systems. Because they spread in the same way cancerous tumors do, cancer research may be benefitted by studies of slime molds.
They’re beautiful! Objectively speaking, of course. They may be small, but slime molds grow in a dazzling array of glittering, intricate, wildly-colored forms. Finding them in the forest feels like happening upon a great secret. Looking at them through a microscope for the first time makes you shake your head in wonder at the natural world, and at anyone who naysays slime molds.
Making slime molds huge
The species I'm illustrating for this field guide aren't found only in Australia. They are some of the commonest species worldwide; therefore the illustrations will be relevant to communities everywhere. I plan to display my illustrations in exhibitions and use them in presentations at schools, nature centers, and natural history museums. The response I receive from giving public presentations will help me determine how to reach my ultimate goal for the next few years: to install a public slime mold diorama that would literally magnify the structures of myxomycetes, with fruiting bodies being around the height of an average five-year-old. Pictured below is an example of what such an installment might look like:
My idea is to make the fruiting bodies out of inflatable materials, mimicking the life-cycle of real myxomycetes and allowing for easy transport from one community to another. I'd like to incorporate interactive elements into the design as well (for example, a "spore-generating" bubble machine.) The diorama would make a great centerpiece for larger exhibitions about micro-organisms and soil ecology.
Giving public presentations, talking to creative people of diverse backgrounds, and completing a master's degree in museum studies will all be instrumental in determining how and where such dioramas, and larger exhibitions, could take shape. All funds raised above the goal of this kickstarter will be put towards public programs and diorama-building.
Thank you all for helping me realize long-standing dreams, and for sharing my love of the tiny wonders of the world!
Risks and challenges
This Fall, I will be completing the field guide illustrations at the same time that I'm beginning graduate school. Time will be my biggest obstacle! By Fall I should be efficient enough to draw slime molds in my sleep. Incorporating drawing time into my schedule each day is always a great practice, and will allow for a steady pace of production and a calm all-around mindset.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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