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by Valerie

(continued from previous page)

The next graphic could not have been created even a month ago, as the big news was the recent rendevous of the New Horizons spacecraft with Pluto, resulting in the first published detailed images of the dwarf planet. Of course, there are no insects on Pluto, but it's fun to pretend.

Continuous looping graphics lend themselves to spirals or other hypnotic phenomena. "Whirligig Whirlpool" began as a dingbat font character, which was then multiplied, resized and spaced out. It was originally a symmetrical round image, but seemed a bit boring, and also didn't fit the horizontal format that I prefer for these pictures, so I squished the whole thing down using PhotoShop Elements 2. I always like when an animation remains light in bandwidth even with transparency.

Too much creativity lately, as well as too much else going on, so it was time to relax and cop out with a pretty, but static, graphic. It's nice how putting sharply outlined 3D effects on text (such as the dingbat characters used here) creates the illusion of a metallic patina. I like the title "Filigreed Fliers" so much that I think it sort of makes up for the lack of motion.

I can't let the Halloween issue go by without exploiting the wonderful imagery associated with that holiday. The similarity in look (metallic-looking butterflies) to the last graphic is obvious, but I thought it was a cute idea to have spiders dressed up as their prey and dancing about in "Spider Masquerade Ball."

I'd really hoped to find a dingbat font character of a wishbone for this particular idea, but it just never materialized. Instead, I simply took a generic looking image off the web and did the stretching and breaking using PhotoShop Elements 2. The caterpillars, though, were from a font. As the Thanksgiving issue theme, I thought the idea of "Monarch Wish" fit in very well, especially as the monarchs migrate through our area in both the spring and fall.

Assuming that I'd do an animation for Christmas, I just started messing around with the various imagery for the holiday. It turned out that the idea that grabbed me didn't need animation at all, as "Deck the Halls with Bugs on Holly" says it all in one frame. The nice wavy text was done with Ulead Photo Express. For a very old, very simple, free program, it is amazingly versatile and fun to use.

It is surprisingly easy to use PhotoShop Elements 2 to touch up real photos. I sometimes use it to remove debris or pieces of grass that obscure my insect subjects. It took very little manipulation to enhance "Lady Love" for Valentine's Day. The gold filigree border was created from dingbat fonts. The subject is the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata).

Having not done an animation for a couple of months, it seemed appropriate to play with the idea of February being the month in which we add the extra day for leap years. I'd already decided to call it "Leap Year" and plenty of insects jump about. I decided on a sort of disconcertingly odd dingbat font character that vaguely looks like a pest species of unknown taxon. Although it would probably be more characteristic of a Halloween subject, I enjoyed making the bug leap right into the face of the viewer. I'm not particularly satisfied with the rectangular limitations of the final frame, but it luckily only lasts a short time.

I just couldn't seem to escape the attraction of Halloween-type imagery. Perhaps I am too intrigued by the Tim Burton film "Nightmare Before Christmas." I really like the idea of merging holidays, so this time I started with the Easter egg theme, but everything I thought up had a dark quality to it. Messing about with varying transparency for each frame produced "Creepy Egg."

Well into spring, I still seemed drawn to slightly macabre images. In reality, there is nothing demonic about scorpions, but humans do tend to assign arbitrary implications to other species. Of course, scorpions sting, but that is just their defense against predators. The idea of mating rituals is easily associated with springtime, and "Dance of the Scorpion" is based on an actual behavior. Scorpions do not mate directly; the male places a spermatophore on the ground and the female must pick it up using appendages on her underside. The pair clasp claws because that keeps the most dangerous weapons of these hunters at bay. The male leads the female back and forth until she has grasped the deposited spermatophore. At that point, the relatively peaceful interaction ends and the female often attacks the male, who, subsequently, often runs away.

The images are yet another dingbat font character. I can't emphasize enough how versatile and fun these are to work with. The whole process, from choosing the character to coloring and enhancing it, makes me feel like a kid with a big box of crayons.

Anyone who has seen the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" knows where the idea for "Dragon Fire" originated. Who doesn't love flying dragons that breathe fire?! While dragonflies are supreme aerial predators, their weaponry does NOT include fire. Too bad.

A GIF animation connoisseur might notice that this and the previous three animations have all had transparent backgrounds. I really like to use transparency whenever possible because it helps the graphic integrate onto the page. The big limitation is that sometimes the bandwidth usage is higher when applying transparency due to having to return each frame to the underlying background. This wasn't the case in any of these instances.

Even though I've already done fireworks themes several times in the past, I just cannot resist returning to such a visually satisfying image. "Firework Ants" plays on the idea of almost all ants in a colony being workers, not to mention the high-profile Imported Fire Ants that live in the southern U.S. I started with pixel art ants that I created for my website a long time ago. It's fun to sometimes create pleasing geometric patterns and then color them. I also like the way the trail of a firework traces itself against the sky, creating the anticipation of the delightful surprise when the explosion finally occurs. As with snowflakes, the infinite variety of fireworks is a significant piece of their charm.

I was feeling a bit retro on the next issue, which I didn't realize until I saw the end result. It included an essay about the hometown where I grew up as well as old-style typeface for the newsletter header. So, too, the idea for "Attack of the Mutant Zombie Bugs from Mars!" comes from the old posters and ads for bad Sci-Fi movies that were far more intriguing than the actual films. False advertising is quite commonplace, but it is rarely so amusing. Remember the old comic book ads for Sea Monkeys?

My husband, Larry, had been reading Boys in the Boat, AND he also really likes movies and books set in submarines, so it is obvious where the idea for "Bugs in the Boat" came from. The clipart submersible is not particularly to my liking, but I couldn't find anything better in a reasonable amount of time. I'm also not sure why I did not make the background of this one transparent. I probably just forgot. Although they look roach-like, the little insects are actually several different kinds of beetles.

I often get into the idea of solstices and equinoxes when thinking about illustrations for the months containing those celestial events. It's easy to play with the outlandish creation myths of various cultures and invent new ones, especially with attractive dingbat font characters. The arthropod gods can be just as powerful as vertebrate entities. Maybe more so!

When I teach entomology classes, I often review the different kinds of metamorphosis, such as complete vs. incomplete. All arthropods molt several times throughout their lives and several kinds have variations amongst the details of their particular growth and development patterns. Because of the fantastic imagery for Halloween, it was easy to come up with "Extreme Metamorphosis."

Just when I think I have exhausted all possible puns having to do with bugs, I find one more. Why didn't I think of "Shutter Bugs" before? After all, I am a photographer and have even contributed to an article in a scientific journal highlighting some of the discoveries made by amateur shutterbugs. The background of this one was a real photo. The bugs are just figments of imagination.

Remember the old Lite-Brite toy, with its back-lit plastic grid and clear colored plastic pegs? Yeah, I enjoyed that when I was a kid too. That's where the idea for "Honey Bee Holiday" comes from. For some reason, I only associate that toy with Christmas, maybe because of the colored lights, so it seemed perfect for translation to a honey bee hive, where the workers really NEVER have a holiday party. This one was more about the process of creation than the resulting graphic, which, in my opinion, sort of sucks. It was much better in my imagination.

Okay, it's a rather silly pun, but "ValANTine" gave me the chance to once more play with my tiny pixelated insects. Created with MS Paint and Ulead Photo Express (for the text), I think the sort of creepy sensation created by all those bugs is actually quite effective. On another level, it's an attractive graphic.

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