Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Miniature Dioramas of Nature

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday

Tropical Island miniature diorama
Among the best features of the former Museum of St. Paul College (now university) QC were a dozen mini-dioramas depicting the major biomes of the world.

I have introduced two terms not many are familiar – diorama and biome. Imagine a stage scene with the characters performing a play with appropriate props and background. Now compress everything to fit into a standard home aquarium. It is a miniature version of the large dioramas at the National Museum or at the Ayala Museum.

A diorama has a specific subject matter from which the viewer, like in a stage play, associates a theme or event. It may be something to recall from ones readings or class lectures, such as the First Philippine Independence. It could be a view that is faithfully copied,  like the Rice Terraces or Mayon Volcano.

At the SPU Museum, the depiction of the different major biomes or ecotypes is likened to Nayong Filipino where the visitor, after going though the place, feels he has traveled the Philippines and saw the country’s major tourist spots.

Similarly, viewing a desert biome makes one feel he is in Sahara or Utah. Inside a tropical rainforest one has to peer into the undergrowths and epiphytes, and the many creatures that live there, recalling his experience in climbing Mt. Makiling or simply associating the view with what he saw on TV, say the Amazon on National Geographic Channel.

Perhaps the most challenging biome to interpret into a mini diorama is the underwater world in profile with the land. As a marine environment at least five ecosystems are shown: intertidal zone, mangrove, estuary, seagrass bed, coral reef and continental shelf. In this case, the presentation is specific to the ecosystem to present overloading, as one can gleam from the photographs.

The Idea of a Mini-Diorama

It all started with my children at our small frame shop. Anna’s group in school was to make a diorama depicting a picnic scene on the shore of Laguna Bay in Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere”. There you can see Ibarra courageously saving Elias from a ferocious crocodile before the eyes of his beloved, Maria Clara who was at the verge of losing consciousness while the rest of their companions were suspended in fear and helplessness. So dramatic is the scene that it veered away from reality. But by studying the symbolic role of the characters, the scene was an important chapter in Rizal’s book.

Leo Carlo made a different diorama for his school assignment. It is a tragic yet romantic scene in Francisco Balagtas masterpiece, “Florante at Laura.” Tied to a post Florante waits in despair as hungry beasts surround him. So alive are the lions that Leo skillfully made out of plastic lions he bought from a toy store. For Florante, he converted toy Tarzan to look like a medieval character. The trees were made from driftwood and twigs. Seen from three vantage points, the scene appears to move like a revolving stage, giving a feeling to the viewer that the lions are as restless as their potential prey.

Techniques and Materials in Making a Mini-Diorama

The mini-dioramas at the St. Paul Museum are made of local and recycled materials, toys, and figurines. The expensive part is the glass casing, but even discarded aquariums can be used for this purpose. The beauty of a mini-diorama lies in the skill of the maker, the artist. For example, the characters and parts must be of appropriate size and proportion,

Through a technique Michelangelo and El Greco developed called foreshortening, the effect is that depth and distance are enhanced in spite of the limited space. Similarly dimensions of objects are purposely distorted just like a movie backdrop. The background must create a panoramic effect and must blend with the stage or ground. It integrates the whole view to appear as one contiguous scene.

Lighting is very important just like a stage. Pin lights are ideal but expensive. Under ordinary or natural lighting the mini-diorama is placed as near as possible to the source of light where light penetrates well into the glass casing without causing glare.

Before closing the diorama air tight with silicone glass sealer, everything inside must be thoroughly dry. To insure dryness hide a bag of silica gel which acts as desiccators and a ball of naphthalene to control possible pest.

Guide in Making a Mini-Diorama

1. Before making your project, plan it well. Have a definite subject matter and make a scaled plan for. Sketch the characters, compute for their measurements. Indicate their positions.

2. Have a reference that is reliable. Not from comic books, unless fiction and fantasy is your subject. For science like biology, your reference must be one that is an authority on the subject. This should not prevent you from substantiating it with rich imagination.

3. Firmly secure all parts using strong glue or fastener, as may be the case. Do not use materials that melt, e.g. wax and molding clay. In time these get destroyed by extremes in temperature and by handling.

4. Simulate natural scenes with permanent materials. For example, a lake or pond is made using a piece of glass placed over a blue bottom. A field or meadow is made of cement shaped with the corresponding contour and painted to appear like one.

5. Use acrylic or oil paint. Avoid colors that flake or fade. Remember that artistic quality must conform to the subject being portrayed.

6. Be accurate with your subject. There are no lions in the Philippines, Bats do not go out during the day. Be factual. There was no man yet at the time of the dinosaurs. A waterfall has a living source of water.

7. Be sure your diorama looks beautiful in any direction, front sides and top. Actually a aquarium type of diorama is more difficult to make than a flat glass one which is typical of standard size dioramas. Thus a mini-diorama demands greater skill.

8. Consult advisers for both aspects of artistic quality and subject accuracy.

9. Remember you are making a masterpiece that should last very long like a painting or sculpture.

10. Describe your work. Give a title and put in capsule the explanation of the topic or subject.  What is it that you want to project as lesson or message? Is the aesthetic value appealing and entertaining? Does it conform to good taste? Does it convey values and speak of universal truth?

Diorama – the Ultimate Spatial Art

There is a saying that if you can make a good diorama you must be an accomplished artist. True. In a diorama, you are a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a cinematographer, a stage director, and interior decorator. Besides you must be well informed about the subject matter. You are a historian, biologist, sportsman, and the like.

It is a good training for students at St. Paul College QC, especially in the fields of natural sciences and humanities. Now and then the museum features works of students in these two general fields. Recently the museum projected environment as theme for the quarter of the last school year. As an educational tool, the students make full use of their senses as they go through the process of hands-on and experiential learning. One good thing is that critiquing is done in any stage of work as if the teacher is conducting tests or grading recitations. Group work is encouraged and expertise is tapped from each member. No it is not only cooperation that counts; it is integration of knowledge and skills. And the true test is the result of collective effort.

Other Kinds of Transforms

When Dr. Anselmo S. Cabigan showed me the works of his students in biology using nails, paper clips, tin can, buttons and anything one can pick around, to make a giant paramecium, I said it is a very good idea. It is because you can expand your imagination and not only confine yourself to the left-brain. Transforms stimulate both hemispheres of the brain, and they make the students become more aware and sensitive to the things around them. Imagine a series of nails glued along the periphery of the paramecium. It is a perfect illustration of cilia that the organism uses for locomotion, and yet the nail serves another purpose and has nothing to do with biology.

Short of saying this approach is ethnic art, in many ways, the students feels at home in the learning process. It is dollar saver if we can do away with imported models.

It reminds me of my experience as a child making toys and playthings out of simple things and without spending a cent. For example, a wooden thread reel makes a fine road buggy self-propelled by rubber band that serves like spring of an old fashioned watch. There was no need of battery and there was no such thing as depreciation. Well, because it had few parts and there was no cost involved. Today, I realize I had invented something that is worth patenting. What with the spiraling cost of energy!

Today’s toys on the other hand come handy with a rich variety to choose from. There is no more effort to play a toy, more so to understand how it works. Inside the toy is unknown, a mystery that a child would like to find out and explore. It is the dismantling and subsequent destruction that satisfies his curiosity – if ever at all. Seldom does a child today grow wiser and more mature with toys, unlike during my time when toys were catalyst to learning and growing up. Then one makes his toy; now one unwittingly destroys it. Then it was function that was important; now it is style and sophistication that create demand.

Educational Tools are Everywhere

It is the impact and value that one must look for. It is the relevance to present day situation that make these tools valuable. As science and technology progress by leaps and bounds, many educational models have become outdated. For example, in genetics, limiting the model to the gene level would not sufficiently explain genetic engineering. One must know the Crick and Watson model and its latest version showing the DNA splitting and re-organizing in order to understand how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are formed.

Hands-on with Computer is a Different Experience

Computers are known for rapid processing, wide coverage, versatility and virtual reality. It has wired the world and shrunk it within the reach of every user of the tool. In fact the box and the user are one, so to speak. But it is this very dependence on the computer that leaves very little room for the user to seek basic knowledge and learn basic skills.

Computers cannot totally replace transforms, audio-visual aids, and other educational tools. In the natural world the senses are very important. They must be honed. They are man’s connection to nature. Development of a skill is a actual activity, and it takes time to perfect it.  Values are gained with good company. Innovativeness emanates where there is necessity. It is like saying necessity is the mother of invention. Feelings are conveyed and shared in a very  personal way. Which reminds me of a person who asked the computer what is the meaning of love. The reply was prompt and came in a hundred definitions. Not satisfied, he asked the computer to illustrate the feeling of one in love. To which the machine labored for the correct answer. Finally it gave up and replied, “I cannot feel.”

Not with a mini-diorama. One must use fully his senses, a six one included - a sense of appreciation that comes from the heart. “It is only through the heart that one speaks clearly,” said the fox to the Little Prince. It is true. True learning comes not only from the mind, but also together with the heart. ~

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