A month or so ago a friend asked me to create an illustration for his doctoral thesis defense poster. Many years ago I'd been a grad student in the same ant ecology lab as he. I admittedly miss observing ants, and so the prospect of making ant-themed art once again was appealing.
Four subjects were to be incorporated: Argentine ants (an invasive species), Native ants, California, and Water. I started out with a quick, thumbnail sketch (top left), to portray the idea of Argentine ants running across a map of CA, pushing native ants out of the picture. It helps to know a bit of the biology here to understand what's going on: Argentine ants were inadvertently introduced to the US from S. America by humans, and they are driving out native ants by various means, like competition.
The concept was approved, so I did a more fleshed out version. I had a few ideas as to how to incorporate the Water aspect, such as delineating watersheds or showing rivers and lakes on the map. But as the design progressed, it was clear that I needed a relatively simple background, because the foreground layer was complicated enough with all the ants. Another bit of biology FYI: the Argentine ants are smaller than most native ants, yet because of their sheer numbers, as well as other reasons, the larger native ants can't compete.
I decided to fill the shape of California with a cloud picture, provided by the grad student himself. I thought it made for a less obvious reference to water, and it would be nice to incorporate his photography into my illustration. The common names of the native ant species from left to right (across the top of the third image): Fire ant, Army ant, Harvester ant, a different Harvester ant, Big-Headed ant (how apt), Valentine ant (for its heart-shaped abdomen), Carpenter ant. The whole project took 14 hours.