150,000 Botanical and Animal Illustrations Available for Free Download from Biodiversity Heritage Library
Billed as the world’s largest open access digital archive dedicated to life on Earth, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is comprised of animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and various scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries around the globe. In an effort to share information and promote collaboration to combat the ongoing climate crisis, the site boasts a collection of more than 55 million pages of literature, some of which dates back to the 15th century. At least 150,000 illustrations are available for free download in high-resolution files.
Among the collections is a digital copy of Joseph Wolf’s The Zoological Sketches, two volumes containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals housed in London’s Regent’s Park. Wolf originally sketched and painted the vignettes in the mid-19th century. Other diverse works range from a watercolor project detailing flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, to a guide for do-it-yourself taxidermy replete with illustrated instructions published in 1833.
The library also offers a variety of tools, including search features to find species by taxonomy and another option to monitor online conversations related to books and articles in the archive. Consistently adding collections to the public domain, the organization currently is working on a project to promote awareness of the field notes available from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian Libraries, and the National Museum of Natural History.
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What’s a road trip without checking out the scenery? Chris Helzer, aka The Prairie Ecologist, has put together a new guide for those who want to know a little bit more about the wildflowers they see along the roadside but don’t want to leave their moving vehicles.
What about the silent majority who prefer to experience wildflowers the way General Motors intended – by whizzing past them in a fast, comfortable automobile? How are nature-loving-from-a-distance drivers supposed to learn the names and habits of the wildflowers as they speed blissfully past them at 65 (85?) miles per hour?
“A Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers at Full Speed,” which is available for free download, is a satirical take on the classic handbook that describes the plant, says when it’s in bloom, and gives a hint about where to find it. For Helzer’s project, though, each habitat is listed as “roadsides” and similar flowers tend to include descriptions like “anything yellow.” The photographs identifying each species are blurred to “appear as they actually look when you see them from the road.”
A scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska, Helzer began his blog in 2009 intending to serve as a resource for people interested in managing and restoring prairies. He tells Colossal he created this parody as a joke for his regular 4,500 readers who come to his site for his wildflower photos.
If you want to take this guide for a spin, be sure to heed Helzer’s warning: “Always use a designated passenger to look up flowers.” (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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There’s a well-known saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. For Guy Laramée (previously), though, a books’ contents aren’t the only important aspect either. The Montreal-based artist repurposes encyclopedic volumes and series of dictionaries to create topographic carvings that dip into and excavate the pages, framing the physical object as a work of art in itself. Laramée’s latest projects include a piece with minuscule carved steps scaling a mountainside and another with moss-covered ridges jutting up from low valleys. His work titled “Journey to the Center of the” features two side-by-side texts with a cavernous hole bored through them, piercing entirely through to the other side.
In 2018, the artist released a TEDx talk titled “No outside,” in which he considers conceptions of art in an age that fosters a growing addiction to ideas, leaving little room for contemplation. He refers to his text-based projects as being the perfect medium for exploring his “love-hate relationship with intellectual knowledge, (his) critique of the ideologies of progress, and the idea that true knowledge could very well be an erosion,” as he explores questions about the relationship between meaning, emotion, and art, more broadly.
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A new book by Charlotte Vannier considers how embroidery has evolved from a domestic task mostly done by women into an art. Comprised of the work of 84 contemporary artists from around the world—including Elisabeth Bucht, Rossana Taormina, Diane Meyer, and Aline Brant—From Thread to Needle: Contemporary Embroidery Art features full-page illustrations of embroidered pieces utilizing cotton canvas, photographs, plastic, and wire mesh. The 368-page book highlights work that is particularly distant from the decorative needlework of previous generations and ranges from fully embroidered cloth to sparingly stitched images to threaded toast. Often, the artists reinvent the craft by altering the methods and materials they use and rejecting the outdated notion that embroidery is only a feminine past time.
In an interview with VC Projects, Vannier described her obsession with thread and embroidery. “I am fascinated by the idea that a simple thread becomes a piece of art completely, and how many artists use it. Thread is like a pencil,” the writer says.
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This recent discovery in the Collingwood Archive of the Cardiff University Special Collections purrfectly catalogs a young girl’s childhood quirks. A handmade book by Janet Gnosspelius contains every one of her cats’ whiskers found in her home from 1940 to 1942. Gnosspelius wove the whiskers into the pages, dated, and noted how each was discovered, whether “while playing darts,” “under edge of lino in pantry,” on the “dining room hearthrug,” or “under back door draught protector.”
Gnosspelius was the daughter of artist and sculptor Barbara Collingwood and the granddaughter of W.G. Collingwood, John Ruskin’s secretary, and was one of the first women to attend the Liverpool School of Architecture. Archivists say the meticulous nature Gnosspelius exhibited in creating her book remained throughout her life as she worked in “local history and building conservation, regularly posting samples of masonry to Liverpool City Planning Office, neatly labelled with their provenance and date, demanding their restoration.”
At age 40, Gnosspelius channeled her creative energy once again into creating a special diary documenting the lives of her feline friends. “The diary is no ordinary one,” a note to Colossal from archivists reads. “It is written from the perspective of her beloved ginger cat Butterball, recording the dates of his fights, illnesses, and stays with friends: ‘9 March 1965: wrapped my mouse in the mat outside kitchen door.'” More information about Gnosspelius’s family history is available in this online exhibition.
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Featuring 200 prints by 89 artists, Taschen’s new book Japanese Woodblock Prints (1680- 1983) is a journey through two centuries of the art form. Ranging from depictions of everyday life to kabuki and erotica, the XXL edition is a 622-page art history lesson and a high resolution visual compendium rolled into one.
For this tome, Taschen spent three years reproducing woodblock prints from museums and private collections from around the world. Written by Andreas Marks, head of the Japanese and Korean Art Department at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the book is divided chronologically into seven chapters beginning with the 17th century early masters and concluding with the Shin-hanga movement. Large, vibrant images of demons, villages, confidants, and landscapes fill the book’s pages, complemented by essays and captions that reveal more about the artists and techniques. There are 17 fold-outs, as well as a full appendix listing the artists, the titles of the woodblock prints, and editorial notes.
To add this comprehensive edition to your art book library, head over to Taschen.
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Those unable to experience the black-and-white murals of Belgian artist ROA (previously) in person can admire photographs of his works in the recently published Codex. Released by Lannoo Publishers, the 352-page book contains four chapters centered on Eurasia, Africa, America, and Oceania, regions where ROA’s depictions of local animals blanket building walls. The photographs portray a snake wound around itself, six different species perched on vertical ledges, and an alligator on its back with its tail scaling a fire escape.
ROA works directly on the building, foregoing sketches and projections, and uses the architecture to inform the ways he paints birds, rodents, and other native creatures. Captivated by anatomy, the artist attempts to animate his paintings, giving energy and life to species often disregarded by humans. “Exploration of nature, more specifically of the animal world, can lead to increased empathy,” he says. “It teaches you something substantial about how one should live a good life.” The monochromatic murals’ scale often makes animals larger than their real-life bodies, securing and emboldening their monumental presence.
Codex, which is available now, also incorporates writing from RJ Rushmore, Lucy R. Lippard, Johan Braeckman, Gwenny Cooman, Robert R. Williams, and Kathy De Nève.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.