Two days late – DNA Day and #SelfieArt Day


This pen and ink and Crayola markers drawing of two zebra finches happened because I asked myself – what percentage of human DNA resembles bird DNA? And why did I ask that question? Because April 25th was National DNA Day, a #doodlewashaday hosted by Charlie O’Shields, and #SelfieArt Day, which is hosted by Teresa Robeson. Charlie and Teresa are both sweet, fun, funny, creative and talented illustrators.

Well, I didn’t end up answering my question but I did come upon some interesting research articles on bird genomics in the December 12 2014 issue of Science (Vol 346, Issue 6215), which present the results of an international study of the fully sequenced genomes of 48 bird species (Avian Phylogenomics Project). One of these articles, titled “Bird genomes give new perches to old friends”, was headed by the photographs of four birds – a broad-tailed hummingbird, a budgerigar and two zebra finches. Why these three bird species? Because they belong to the three separate branches on the phylogenetic tree of birds which independently evolved the ability to learn songs. Research shows that these birds and humans use analogous and homologous brain structures and pathways for vocal learning. These similar brain structures and pathways resulted from convergent evolution and were accompanied by convergent changes in multiple genes from a common ancestor. Humans and birds are separated from their common ancestor by 310 million years. For more details, check out “Convergent transcriptional specializations in the brains of humans and song-learning birds” by Pfenning et al in the issue of Science mentioned above. Another article in that issue of Science proposes a phylogenetic tree for birds based on the data from the Avian Phylogenomics Project. This tree has been updated by a new study using the genome sequences of 198 bird species (“A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing”. Prum et al. Nature. Oct 2015.) In case you are curious about the evolutionary relationships of different bird families…

And in case you were hoping for a more traditional selfie, here is one I drew 20 years ago from my reflection in a window while doing math homework one night.



    • Thanks for answering my question Shannon :-)!!! So interesting that we share 50% of our DNA with a plant. Thanks for the article link – it looks interesting at a glance… will give it a thorough read tonight. And I’m so glad you like the birds and selfie.

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  1. Oh wow these are beautiful! Your eye and skill for putting down the details on paper is amazing.

    I’ve never seen these type of finch, but sure would like to.

    Your traditional self-portrait is good too. I think it’s great that you kept that!

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    • Thank you so much for appreciating the little finches, Deborah :-)! I saw a bunch of zebra finches in the Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver. I think they reproduce quite easily in captivity. I’m not usually super keen on animals in captivity, but I think the Bloedel Conservatory is a very, very beautiful enclosure and the wee birds sound pretty cheerful. Maybe there is a similar conservatory near where you live?

      My old self-portrait is the only one I’ve ever done from a reflection. I like that it looks like me and also captures that moment in time.

      I picked up a flower painting book by Billy Showell at the library and I watched some of her Youtube videos. The details and painting techniques seem a bit daunting but I guess I just have to give them a go, step by step. I’m amazed by the beautiful veins and folds in her petals and leaves! Thanks for the recommendation.

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        • Thanks Deborah :-)! I’m going to try for a pretty painted hummingbird. The art store near my house didn’t have 140 lb hot press paper, so I’m going to try 110 lb smooth pen and ink paper and see how it goes. Otherwise, I’ve got a pad of 140 lb cold press. Have you tried drawing/painting one of your hummingbird photos yet? I’ll start working on mine this weekend. It is almost May!!!

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          • Oh how exciting! I know your Hummingbird will be beautiful!
            I tried drawing the body once but it was a mess. I’ve been thinking about trying again these last few days because we are so close to May, and it’s a busy month for me. I’m ramping up for a week in NYC just after my and my daughter’s birthdays which are within a week of each other in May. The 8th Draw-a-Bird day is just before that! I need to get busy!

            I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on the 110lb smooth pen and ink paper.

            I don’t have any major photographic plans this week-end so getting busy with a watercolor Hummingbird would keep me busy. Not to mention an excuse to put off laundry. πŸ™‚

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            • Oo, sounds like you have some fun birthday times ahead :-)! And how lovely that you can share them with your daughter.

              I haven’t painted yet! Maybe I will start with simple shapes and swirls tonight. I did try my new pen and ink paper with pen and ink. I like the smoothness for the pen lines but the eraser bits are a little difficult to brush off when I erase my pencil lines.

              Do you use a grid to draw your birds? Or a ruler?

              I saw my first ever savannah sparrows today, in the scrubby field where I saw the coyote couple a while ago. So many of them singing!

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              • How awesome to see Savannah Sparrows! Did you have your camera?

                Oh yes, I think each paper has it’s own learning curve too!

                I need to dig my grid out. I haven’t used the ruler I’ve been trying to use guide lines to and from the horizon. I’d probably do better with the grid!

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                • Oh, yes. I took a whole bunch of photos. And some a few days later. They liked to be far away though and the sun really shines on a wide-open, hay-coloured field. Hopefully, I’ll find a few gems.

                  I always draw with a grid for computer images and a ruler for book images. Otherwise, I just can’t eyeball the relative distances between things!

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                  • I used my pencil as a ruler a couple of nights ago to paint a the Hummingbird. I had much better success! Thank you for reminding of those tried and true rules!

                    I’m going to post my 4th attempt on the 8th.

                    OMG! You’re still a Honeymooner! 35 yrs later I can’t tell you how much I want my boyfriend back! He fell into Husband mode at the drop of a hat! πŸ™‚ There’s a lot of wonderful in that, but HELLO! the kids are grown we have a few pennies saved and time let’s travel, date, and get back to our romantic selves! He’s slow but coming around. πŸ™‚

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  2. So awesome…both your bird facts (which I sort of knew because my son also regales me with these bits o’ bird info…most of which o forget), your gorgeous birds and your selfie! ❀️ I’m glad I’m not the only one digging out old works! πŸ˜„

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    • Lol :-D! Well, I suppose old works want a little viewing time now and then. And I like seeing the variety of works you created in the past. What happened to all the time you had to draw back then? I guess you are writing more now?

      Thanks for your lovely compliments on my arty stuff and I’m so glad you are also a fan of bird facts! By the way, you inspired me to watch a few documentaries with David Attenborough. Currently watching Life. It is a bit brutal! But also beautiful.

      And thanks for being cool with my bird selfie. It motivated me to participate. Though some day I will draw my current self… eventually. The ospreys are back in Calgary! I call all the female ones Teresa :-).

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      • LOL re calling all the female ospreys “Teresa”! I’m flattered! My FIL used to call all squirrels “Fred.” πŸ˜†

        I’m so glad you’re watching David Attenborough’s documentaries! He is the best. I can’t stand most documentaries because they all seem so schmarmy and sensationalistic (not to mention dumbed down) compared to his.

        Can’t wait to see a human-selfie from you one day! But remember, there are no rules to Selfie Day; the key is to enjoy yourself and be creative! 😊

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  3. Love your finches, they are stunning. Absolutely adore the saturated color and the delicious detail..especially their feet…awesome…and the question posed was a delightful platform for their presentation. For a brief moment I thought the birds represented your selfie via DNA…but your drawing was wonderful…treasures like that from the past, are like looking in a time capsule, fantastic and talented. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Haunani :-)! You were right, the birds are my selfie via DNA! I was trying to get out of drawing myself. I got rid of most of the drawings I did a long time ago (I move a lot) but I kept a few because it is nice to have a few mementos.

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    • Thanks M.R. :-). Well, it was my math homework scrap paper but I got distracted by my reflection in the window. I was outside of the city so the window curtains were open and the night was pitch black outside.

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        • Thanks :-)! I’m glad you liked the pairing. Hmm… I think a lot of human thought is abstract (conceptual) and most people, at least those with “intellectual” interests, “see” certain types of abstractions more clearly than others. I liked calculus a lot back then, but haven’t used it in ages.

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