Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Abstract patterns in wood

with 34 comments

Bark Patterns 4508A

Click for significantly larger size.

Who would I be if after two posts of generally landscape-y pictures from the Red Trail in Bastrop State Park on February 10th I didn’t also highlight at least one of the abstract patterns I found on the surfaces of the dead trees? This was by far my favorite, and it soon reminded me of designs from the Art Nouveau movement in Europe in the late 1800s. No doubt similar patterns in nature inspired some of those designs.

The photographers among you might wonder if I converted this image to black and white to emphasize the patterns. I didn’t. This is a color photograph, and there are faint traces of brown mixed in with the predominant gray. Speaking of which, yesterday Steve Gingold suggested converting the first photograph in this Bastrop series to black and white. I took him up on that, and if you’d like to see the result, you can go back to that post and scroll down in the comments.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 26, 2016 at 4:58 AM

34 Responses

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  1. Preoccupied with threads as I am, I see lots of strands and balls of thread in this photo.


    February 26, 2016 at 5:14 AM

    • It’s sew appropriate for you to see threads. It’s all in the skein of things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 5:50 AM

      • Well, that’s me all stitched up then!


        February 26, 2016 at 6:37 AM

        • I wouldn’t have liked having to say I’d left you stranded. Now I can say I left you in stitches.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 26, 2016 at 6:49 AM

          • So now I am doubled over with laughter.


            February 26, 2016 at 10:23 PM

            • Now you’ve reminded me of Shakespeare’s observation: “Present mirth hath present laughter” (which doubles your th-quotient and throws in an ht amid the laughter).

              Steve Schwartzman

              February 27, 2016 at 7:20 AM

              • A thoughtful observation.


                February 28, 2016 at 1:47 AM

                • Until I looked up the original I’d forgotten its carpe diem sentiment:

                  What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter.
                  Present mirth hath present laughter.
                  What’s to come is still unsure.
                  In delay there lies no plenty.
                  Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
                  Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  February 28, 2016 at 6:46 AM

  2. I want to touch the swirls. The colors remind me of weathered barn paneling, but this bark has such a variety of textures. Such wonders in nature.


    February 26, 2016 at 6:06 AM

    • I wish I could make the photograph tactile for you, but our technology doesn’t yet allow for that. “Swirl” is a good word, the same one I used to use to describe details of some Art Nouveau borders I especially liked.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 6:15 AM

  3. I clicked for a larger version and found some guy had artfully carved his name.
    This picture reminds me of stream flow and eddy swirls.

    Jim Ruebush

    February 26, 2016 at 6:42 AM

    • That digital carving is the only kind of carving you’re likely to find me doing. No chisel required.

      It’s interesting that something as solid and stable as wood can give the effect of something as ephemeral as swirling water. I’m tempted to call it an example of convergent evolution but I don’t think water can be said to evolve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 6:55 AM

  4. Nice discovery and well composed.


    February 26, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    • Given the sensor’s 3:2 ratio, some of the background was visible at the top and bottom. I cropped those parts (and more) off to leave only the elongated view you see here, which emphasizes the central patterns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 7:02 AM

  5. I’ll second Gallivanta’s vision, and say it does look remarkably like a wooden version of satin stitches and French knots on a piece of embroidery. But what I saw immediately was a wooden version of Pairodox’s recent photo of bubbles caught under ice. Beyond the bubbles, I’m struck by the strong sense of flow. It’s hard to believe a photo of bark could suggest such movement, but this one certainly does.


    February 26, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    • One reason I went with the elongated cropping is that it enhances the sense of flow you felt. The narrow image could almost be that of a creek with its eddies and sinuous flow lines.

      I’ll leave you and Gallivanta to share the evocation of embroidery. Pascal said that the heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing about. I’m afraid I know nothing about embroidery and therefore can’t make any associations with it. In contrast, I can relate to what you said about Pairodox’s photograph, with the bubbles there corresponding to the concentric contours of the wood here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    • Now, that caught my eye! Thanks Linda. D

      Pairodox Farm

      February 27, 2016 at 4:45 AM

  6. Very cool shot!


    February 26, 2016 at 11:48 AM

  7. If I let my imagination run with this, I can clearly see a steady flow of some viscous material (though from left to right or vice-versa is not clear), with its surface delightfully disturbed by multiple, active emanations from below, as if there were bubbling springs of water or even lava. Great find!


    February 26, 2016 at 8:29 PM

    • It was indeed a great find, and I was excited when I saw this branch. You’re the second commenter to get a sense of flow from the patterns. Like you, I wondered about the appropriate direction of that flow. I think I originally favored right to left but both directions seem equally good to me now. I wonder if the fact that this was the scene of a conflagration reinforced (or inspired in the first place) your impression of lava.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2016 at 8:40 PM

  8. [I see that others have made the same observation … oh well.] Oh now, I really like this one. It looks like the swirls and eddies produced by smokey turbulence in a wind tunnel. You know, the sort of stuff that happens around bolts and rivets as wind speeds by the otherwise smooth surface of a wing or some-such-thing. Nice shot. Really nice shot. And … good eye (of course). D

    Pairodox Farm

    February 27, 2016 at 4:46 AM

    • Where the others imagined liquid, though, you saw smoke, which occurred to me too after the suggestion of liquid. You could say my attention was riveted and I bolted into action as soon as I saw this branch, but the thought of wind didn’t flow into images of rivets and bolts on the surface of a wing; that’s not in my experience, but apparently in yours.

      In any case, thanks for appreciating this pattern, which was my favorite take-home from the outing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2016 at 7:28 AM

  9. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had my morning cuppa yet, but this time my imagination didn’t run wild. I really enjoyed the interesting swirly patterns for themselves. However, after reading the comments I can see all the similarities they describe to other things. I agree that Art Nouveau designs would have been inspired by patterns such as these. I see art all around me on my walks. I really enjoyed this favourite pic from this walk, Steve. It’s beautiful.


    February 27, 2016 at 4:37 PM

    • You’re a great finder of patterns, Jane, and plenty of them, on your walks in nature. For that reason I’m pleased that you like this one as an abstraction in its own right, apart from any of the suggested things. About 25 years ago I spent a lot of time looking at the artwork in the German magazine Jugend, and that’s why these wooden swirls reminded me of Jugendstil, a.k.a. Art Nouveau.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2016 at 11:04 PM

  10. I see bubbles also, preoccupied as I am at this time with seeing them in and under and around the ice. But I like David’s vision of smoky eddies too. One can see a lot of these abstracts in the driftwood at oceanside.

    Steve Gingold

    February 28, 2016 at 4:40 AM

    • And yet you seem not to have shown us any on your blog, if a search for “driftwood” there was accurate. Perhaps you’ll do a comparison of water and wood one of these days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2016 at 6:51 AM

      • That is true, I don’t think I have or maybe I didn’t use driftwood as a keyword.

        Steve Gingold

        February 28, 2016 at 8:46 AM

  11. The intricacy of the patterning is quite extraordinary and it is hard to believe how nature has constructed this. And I certainly had to look hard to find those traces of colour!


    February 29, 2016 at 2:44 AM

    • Only once before had I seen patterns of this type in wood. I still remember where that was, and I expect I’ll always remember where this was, too. As for the trace of color, I don’t believe I’d noticed it in the subject itself, but only in the image afterward.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 29, 2016 at 6:51 AM

  12. Often details like this are SO fine and beautiful.
    Well seen 🙂


    March 5, 2016 at 6:20 PM

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