Creating · Four-in-Art · Quilts · Something to Think About

Microscopy for Four-in-Art Feb 2016


This microscopic image is cocaine.

I found it while researching images for this quarter’s Four-in-Art challenge of “microscopic.”  The overarching theme is color, so of course, I was drawn to this as an idea for a quilt, hating what I’d already started piecing a couple of days ago.  As any good grad student knows, the best way to postpone the inevitable work on a deadline is to do more research.

The image of cocaine is from a website run by Michael Davidson, who recently passed away.  But he would take the images from his laboratory’s microscope and use them to make neckties.  I thought we could keep going and use them to make quilts.


This is nickel oxide on sodium chloride, an image from his website.  After exploring his butterfly gallery, I moved on to the pharmaceutical section, and noticed that not only were Mr. Davidson and his team a whiz with microscopy, they also had a sense of humor, as witnessed by the last line in the description of caffeine:


To quote: “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant most commonly found in the coffee we drink every morning….Symptoms of overdose include insomnia, restlessness, tremor, delirium, tachycardia, and running of the mouth.”


Taxol, a drug used in chemotherapy.  I’ve pinned quite a few of these to my Pinterest Board Art Quilts, as they will become the inspiration for this quarter’s efforts.

serendipity illusNot only was wandering through the internets a way to spark my creativity for this month’s looming deadline (to be published on Feb. 1st), but also I allowed myself to goof off do the research because of an article recently published in the New York Times about Serendipity, or more specifically, “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity,” by Pagan Kennedy.  She talked first about the word’s origins, noting that we “think of serendipity as something like dumb luck.”  But it was coined in 1754, when Horace Walpole noted that he “had been entranced by a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation.” In writing a letter to a friend, “Walpole suggested that this old tale contained a crucial idea about human genius: ‘As their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.’ And he proposed a new word — “serendipity” — to describe this princely talent for detective work.”  So, as Kennedy notes, the word meant “a skill rather than a random stroke of good fortune.”

She quotes Sanda Erdelez, a University of Missouri information scientist, who divides serendipitsts into three groups: ” ‘non-encounterers’ ” or people who see “through a tight focus, a kind of chink hole, and they tended to stick to their to-do lists when searching for information rather than wandering off into the margins. Other people were “occasional encounterers,” who stumbled into moments of serendipity now and then. Most interesting were the “super-encounterers,” who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked. The super-encounterers loved to spend an afternoon hunting through, say, a Victorian journal on cattle breeding, in part, because they counted on finding treasures in the oddest places. In fact, they were so addicted to prospecting that they would find information for friends and colleagues.”

So, maybe in “researching” my Four-in-Art quilt, I’m just really being a super-encounterer, finding that “happy surprises” pop up with each click of the mouse button.

Or maybe, I am just putting off the inevitable: getting the work done.


Four-in-Art Microscopy.  Coming soon to a blog near you.  Premiering February 1st, 2016.


P.S.  Pagan Kennedy has written a new book, titled Inventology.  The blurb from her website says “Inventology is a must-read for anyone who is curious about creativity and imaginative leaps.”


13 thoughts on “Microscopy for Four-in-Art Feb 2016

  1. Good for you to have an excuse to do research on the Internet. You always find the most interesting things to highlight. Colors in the microscopic photos are lovely. Wonder if they’ve been enhanced in any way. Well, no matter. You will colorize your design beautifully, as you always do.

  2. WOW! You have found some interesting images for inspiration Elizabeth! Mine is much more simple than those….if i can just ‘get it done’!!!

  3. I’m “researching” by reading blogs 🙂 I really should be hanging my washing out (the machine keeps beeping at me) There are some great images there, some would make great fabrics too, the caffeine would look great.

  4. Great post, and thanks for the link to the article. LOVE this: “we tend to become dazzled by the happy accident itself, to think of it as something that exists independent of an observer.”
    I am trying to become better at seeing and experiencing. My intentions for the year (to become habitual) are to cultivate patience, kindness, spontaneity, and to play. Patience and kindness might not seem related to the other two, but in fact all are related to seeing and experiencing. And indeed, serendipity is the same.
    I have a new book, a Christmas present I should have asked for a year ago. It is “Learning by Heart” by Corita Kent and Jan Steward. Though it includes exercises and assignments for art training, the focus (no pun intended) is on seeing. I believe it is a book I will read many times.

  5. I think every time I hit the internet it’s a “super-duper-encounter” and a fine way to lose time. This morning I marveled that there is someone in Chino Hills, CA whose life is about to change big time and concluded better him than me – I like my life just the way it is! And when searching for ideas for this challenge I absolutely marveled at everything I saw – how the worst things could be so beautiful under a microscope.
    Thanks for “things to think about” – always!

  6. There are so many designs in nature at all levels. Thanks for such an interesting post, Elizabeth. I look forward to seeing your creation.

  7. I’m going to need lots of serendipity as I’m just reconnected after weeks away and two in the back of beyond with no coverage. Fab holiday can’t complain but just as well there’s a deadline and lots of inspiration for this one. Exciting!

  8. You’ve found some fantastic microscopic images. I found one of vodka, which I’m hoping to use but I have been meaning to email to ask the photographer if it’s ok so I’d better do that today in case he says no. And I really enjoyed your words on serendipity. I’ve been trying to resolve to be a better ‘To Do List’ person this year but cultivating serendipity as a skill sounds much more appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing your quilt 🙂

  9. Many many years ago, at the first (of many) Ruth McDowell workshop I attended, one woman based her quilt on the microscopic image of some insect sperm (can’t remember which one). The course was “Designing from Nature” and this gal’s quilt was absolutely amazing when she was finished.

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