Monday, December 26, 2005


We live close to the Mediterranean Sea, so although the nights can get quite bitter and cold, we rarely see frost or snow as the sea tends to have a warming effect.

A little further inland there are regular hard winter frosts and of course, the Alps are fairly closeby and glittery white with snow each year. However, I still miss the sound of boots crunching over frozen grass, on crisp blue mornings in Scotland.

I was pleased to see some frost in London the other week and managed to take a few photos in Kensington Gardens -though there wasn't a great deal of time.

Here are some of last years waterplants at the side of the lake. The water droplets are semi frozen and the lake itself was very cool but ice-free. A little green shoot pokes out - it might wither with the harder frosts of January.

The droplets had some ice crystals just visible inside and i think they had half melted from being completely frozen in the night.

The frost shows up the leaf veins

A frosted maple leaf.

A close up of crisply frozen grass

This leaf was stunning - the frost made a perfect lacy edging of ice

The frost almost looks like white fur over this leaf.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Solstice banner and Illustration Friday

The Illustration Friday topic is Holiday this week - which is quite appropriate as so many festivals take place at this time of year - often centred round the Winter Solstice - the Longest Night.

Most festivals are connected to lights and fires - Yule logs, candles , rush lights and oil lamps and other ways of lighting the darkness and chasing away the doubts and fears of Mid Winter.

Feasting is also common as its a celebration of life and hope and athanksgiving for the harvest of the previous year and at the same time the hope of equal bounty in the future.

I decided to make this weeks illustration very inclusive in the hope that everyone has a peaceful and joyful time of celebration and a prosperous and healthy 2006.

Many ancient sacred places ; chambered cairns and stone circles are oriented towards the midwinter solstice and are designed to capture the rays of the sun either as it crosses the horizon at dawn or at sunset

In ancient places such as Newgrange [Brú na Bóinne ] in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney, Scotland, the sunlight creeps down a passage into a specially created chamber which may symbolise rebirth. the awakening of seeds or the fertility of the land.

An animated view of the Maes Howe midwinter sunset is here
and a webcam set up for this year is here

Newgrange winter solstice sunrises [stills] and inside Newgrange film
thought there doesn't seem to be awebcam. In previous years there has been TV footage of the Midwinter sunrise but I haven't managed to find some this year.

Less well known is the Goseck Circle, Sonnenobservatorium Goseck aka Kreisgrabenanlage Goseck. This year a replica of the timber circle was opened in time for the winter solstice.

2,300 oak poles were erected, with gates oriented towards the winter Solstice and this year a festival using traditional flaming torches and a non traditional laser lightshow marked the occasion of the solstice. Photos of the event are here

This is the new banner for the blog for the time of the solstice, symbolising the return of the sun and the hope of warmer, sunnier, longer days to come.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

London images

Here is Eros from Picadilly circus - much manipulated in Photoshop -to get some detail since it was impossible to get more than a sillhouette against the frosty blue sky.

London's Chinatown - London was absolutely packed with people everywhere we went - there were even queues of people standing in the drizzle waiting to get into ice cream parlours.

When we went into Harrods, there were signs saying '3hour wait from here' to visit Santa in his grotto - similar to the waiting signs at theme parks. I was surprised that people were willing to wait so long with young and very bored looking children.

There were some people dressed as elves and children's entertainers and gingerbread and water being given to people waiting in the queue but it must have seemed like an eternity to the kids.

A tremendous number of people were dressed as Santa Claus, especially at night, which was somewhat surreal. It could have been some sort of B horror film with were-Santas hunting in packs.

This is the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens - it marks the place where J M Barrie met the children who inspired the character Peter Pan.

The statue is by Sir George Frampton, R.A., P.R.B.S. (1860-1928) and shows Peter Pan blowing a horn with a base that is covered with fairies, rabbits and squirrels.

There are a lot of grey squirrels around in Kensington Gardens -they seem fairly tame as they have been fed by countless visitors. They aren't easy to photograph as they move so quickly in and out of the frame.

I saw a pair of green parrot-type birds but the picture didn't come out -presumably they are escapees from a zoo or someone's aviary. It seems that there are increasing numbers of these birds in England and that they are aclimatised and even breeding in urban areas.

Here is the lake in Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park -the two parks blend into each other. This part of the lake is called the Long Water. The grey streaks in the sky are the smoke from the explosion at the Buncefield Oil Depot.

The explosion was heard far and wide but we slept through it , although other people in central London were woken from sleep.

The smoke thickened as the day went on and produced a magnificent sunset - although I was on a coach travelling to Torquay at the time and it had really filthy windows so photos were out of the question. Its strange that such amazing beauty can come out of toxic smoke.

Swans are often seem zen-like creatures as they almost glide across the water ...

but here is an adult swan squabbling with a youngster - you can just see the 'dirty brown' feathers that are turning to adult white.

I think the adult was wanting first share of any food that was going. Quite a few people were feeding the swans and other birds while I was taking photos.

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Illustration Friday and new banner

Last week i was visiting the UK so i didn't take part in I Friday.
The Illustration Friday topic this week is Imagine.

This week, I immediately thought about how people began to imagine themselves flying through the air and how they set about creating the flying machines that have had such an impact on the modern world.

It probably started because I have just flown over the Alps and back again on my way to Britain. So i started thinking about the origins of flight - the legendary planners such as Daedalus [Father of Icarus] who was supposed to have created wings in order to escape captivity only to lose his son Icarus when the sun melted the wax holding the feathers in place.

In the 9th century, in Moorish Spain , Ibn Firnas, a mathematician and inventor built a glider which apparently flew a fair distance but crashed on landing. He had been inspired by watching another man called Armen Firman who flew from a tower in Cordoba about 20 years earlier using a cloak that had been stiffened to catch the wind. Armen Firman was also injured on landing but his 'flight' is considered an early parachute jump.

Oliver of Malmesbury in the 11th century is reputed to have tried to make wings of the kind built by Daedalus -though he flew about 200 feet and broke his leg on landing.

Leonardo Da Vinci is well known as an inventor of early flying machines - he drew plans for a parachute, helicopter and a flying machine that had flapping wings. His servant attempted to fly a prototype bird machine but was injured. Recently some gliders have been built to da Vincis design and these have been successfully flown.

John Damian is someone i grew up hearing about - he is the first flying Scotsman. He had a reputation as a magician and alchemist and was a doctor in the court of King James IV.

In 1510 he attempted to fly from the battlements of Stirling castle on wings made of chicken feathers. He landed in a midden [rubbish pile] which broke his fall and survived the attempt with only a bruised pride.

Many people seemed to have similar ideas about bird type wings but the first real and successful flight was in a balloon created by the Mongolfier brothers in 1783.

However the first real powered flight in a type of plane didn't happen until December the 17th 1903 when Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright brothers are flanking the plane that made the first flight - a 12 second flight of only 120ft , though later that day the plane flew further and longer.

When i realised that the anniversary was this week, I decided that this would fit both the Illustration Friday topic and as a new banner for the blog.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Flying over mountains

My flight to London last week was weird since a passenger wanted to get off when we we were already at the runway and about to take off.

She was supposed to be in excruciating back pain but since she bounded down the cabin like a gazelle and had absolutely no signs of pain or back problems , i think this was an excuse and she just had a fear of flying.

I daresay the pilot was concerned that she might have freaked out in flight and been a safety problem -but i think most of the passengers would have cheerfully sat on her till we got to Luton if it meant the plane had taken off on time.

Of course, a passenger leaving the plane meant that the flight was delayed by an hour and all the baggage had to be removed and additional security checks were needed , to make sure she hadn't left anything dangerous on board.

Things seemed even more odd when it turned out that several passengers were in Mediaeval costume -but no one else seemed to bat an eyelid when Ophelia and Juliet and Nurse lookalikes went through Passport control.

I took these photos flying over the Alps on my flight from Nice to London.
It was a brilliantly clear and crisp day so the view was fantastic. Also the plane window was remarkably clean so there wasn't too much dirt to try and peer through.

The Alps near Grenoble poking through the clouds.

The Alps look like a crumpled linen table cloth from some viewpoints

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Depth of Field -Photo Friday

I've been away in England for a week s0 wasn't able to take part in the Photo Friday or Illustration Friday challenges.

This week's Photo Friday topic is Depth of field. I remembered a series of photos I'd taken at the end of october which were experiments with the depth of field

The plant is Solanum nigrum, Black nightshade - a relative of deadly nightshade [belladonna]. The Nightshade family has been extensively used by humans for medicines , poisons and food [tomato, potato, aubergine/eggplant]. Even the food plants contain toxic alkaloids in parts of the plant such as leaves , berries and flowers -but the tubers and roots are generally free of toxins.

Here are some black nightshade berries - the ripe berries are thought to be less toxic than the green berries but should be avoided anyway. Children have been poisoned by eating sveral of the black berries after mistaking them for blackberries or black currants.

An unripe berry is visible in the top right. The black and yellow bug is probably a shield bug of some kind.

The black nightshade flowers are very similar to teh flowers of other nightshade plants 0 eg potato or deadly nightshade- though they are usually white.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Illustration Friday - Blue - Blue tongued skink

This week's topic is Blue.

I found this hard since there are so many of my favourite blue things that i could think of, it was difficult to pick something.
I considered adonis blue butterflies, blue tits, blue herons, blue throated humming birds, blue berries, corn flowers [bachelor buttons], harebells, blue bells, kingfishers - the list was endless.
Also i have an odd relationship with the colour blue since I'm a synaesthete. I taste certain words and music, and hear colour - and blue is the biggest trigger.

I wasn't aware of this being odd untill i was in my mid 20s and I was visiting Bristol Museum . Bristol is famous for a type of cobalt blue glass -made by adding cobalt oxide to lead crystal and the intense blue colour is out of this world. When faced with a large display of Bristol Blue glass i was overcome - it was like being sucked into space , filled with energy and surrounded by singing angels.

I am typing this looking at a Bristol blue goblet, one of a pair that my husband bought me a while back and I find it really hypnotic - i could spend hours just staring at it.

Still i didn't want to draw some glass , even though that might have been fun to experiemnt with. I wanted to do something kind of unusual and it occurred to me that a blue tongued skink would definitely fit the bill.

Skinks are lizards which usually have fairly small legs given the size of their bodies. Most skinks have a sort of skinny snaky appearance with little weak legs, and some have no legs at all.
Of the thousand or so species of skink, a small number of species have blue tongues and i thought it would be interesting to paint one of these skinks for the IFriday topic. The blue tongued skinks are only found in Australia ,Tasmania ,New Guinea and Indonesia.

They are omnivorous -they will eat plants and berries and bugs and small animals. Their habitat varies from forest edges to near desert depending on the species.

After pondering a bit more , I decided that the shingleback blue tongued skink would be the most challenging to draw, as this skink is covered in very tough and knobbly scales which gives it the colloquial names of shingleback lizard or pine cone lizard.

The shingleback is only found in Australia and they are unusual among lizards in that they are monogamous for life. The same pair will come together each year to breed once the pair bond has been made. They give birth to a litter of live young after a 5 month gestation period rather than laying eggs like many other lizards.

They are also called two headed lizards since their stubby tails are roughly the size and shape of their heads -this is of course handy for defense as they can shed their tails if attacked, like many other lizards.

The shingleback that i've painted here is in a defensive posture -so his head is raised and mouth wide open to display his blue tongue.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rosa Parks banner

I've changed the banner again - from Einstein to Rosa Parks.

The first of December is the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. At that time in the southern United States, buses were routinely segregated into 'White only' and 'coloured' sections. People in the 'coloured section' were required to give up their seats if the 'white only' section was full.

Segretation extended into every area of society - from water fountains to where people were allowed to shop or buy houses.

Rosa Parks wasn't the first person to protest by refusing to give up her bus seat but her case had the most impact. On the day of her trial, the public bus service was boycotted - and the Montgomery Bus boycot was to last 381 days. Martin Luther King Jr. was the president of the group organising the boycot; the Montgomery Improvement Association.

Rosa Parks was found guilty of disorderly conduct and fined 10$ but she became a figurehead of the American Civil Rights Movement which eventually succeeded in ending racial segregation and discrimination.

The bus in the illustration is based on a 1950s American Ford bus and is painted in similar colours to the original bus involved in Rosa Park's protest.

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Photo Friday - Experimental

The photo friday topic is experimental

This photo was the result of a fun afternoon experimenting with my son as we tried to record the biggest soap bubbles. We produced lost of giant bubbles but this was the best photo.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Illustration Friday - small - flea

On Friday, before the Illustration Friday topic arrived in my inbox, I had the notion to draw a hippo. I was wondering if i could maybe twist the topic in some way to make a hippo fit but it didn't work as the topic is 'small'. I did think about drawing a very tiny hippo but since i'd wanted to do something fairly realistic, it wouldn't have worked.

So instead, I thought about lice and fleas.

I used to freak relatives when i was a child because I was so fascinated with things other people considered ikky - I spent ages researching things like mummification - especially bog bodies, forensic science, death and diseases ; with a particular emphasis on parasites.

In fact, I was so fascinated by parastites, that when i had to recite a poem for a Burns Night celebration , I picked Robert Burns' poem 'To a Louse'.

I remember my mum wasn't too pleased at first but she did help me learn it, though I remember I refused to change to a different poem that was arguably more suitable to be heard when eating. I suppose i didn't realise then how much itchiness is triggered by talking about lice.

In fact, depite a lingering fascination for parasites I decided against drawing a louse due to the itch factor -even I'm not immune to it anymore. Maybe, it comes from having kids of school age and the dreaded notice on the school notice board that some kids have head lice.

So i decided on a flea instead - somehow fleas don't provoke the itch reaction in the same way.

Fleas have also been used over the centruries as the subject matter of poems, for example The Flea by John Donne. Before modern sanitation, even the rich could not avoid fleas [and lice] which explains why they were commonly written about.

I must admit that i've found the idea of flea circuses really interesting over the years. Here is an older painting based on the idea of a performing flea called Bugulese [my son named him].

However i didn't want to go over this old ground so I decided to paint a more realistic flea - which was somewhat hampered by the fact that most photos of fleas are taken after the flea has been prepared for microsocopy so they can be a bit squashed and the exact morphology isn't always easy to work out. I persevered though, and i think it turned out ok in the end.
Human fleas - Pulex irritans prefer human blood but they will also feed on dogs, cats , pigs and badgers .

The human flea wasn't responsible for spreding the Black Death [plague] but they do spread typhus and this was a major problem in World War One as the men in the trenches were unable to wash or change clothes. Fleas and lice were a huge problem - and typhus spread by both fleas and lice was a major killer.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Photo Friday - Yellow

The Photo Friday topic this week is yellow.
I wasn't sure what to pick out for the topic as i initially remembered taking some photos of buckets and spades on the beach and wondered if those would work. They didn't -so i changed my mind and went the easiest option, flowers.

I am very fond of yellow flowers so i had a reasonable selection to choose from. I decided that this yellow hibiscus flower was the best for the topic since its such a delicate butter colour and the red petals in the background and dark green leaves emphasise the yellow tones.
The electricity in our house just flipped off - so i am writing this in the dark with lots of beeping in the background -thank goodness for uninterruptible power supplies!

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Banner - Einstein , E=mc²

I wasn't sure what to paint for this weeks banner- i did briefly think about doing something for the American holiday of Thanksgiving but I decided that wasn't a good idea, as being Scottish , its not something I've never celebrated, though i hope everyone who does celebrate it has a wonderful time.

However yesterday, I saw a news item that said Einstein's equation E=mc² was 100 years old this year - so i thought Einstein would be a good subject for the banner.

Einstein is probably the world's best known scientist and E=mc², the equation that most people have heard of even if they don't have much of a clue about its meaning.

E=mc² -Energy [E] equals mass [m] times the speed of light squared [c²]

I think some of Einstein's popularity has a lot to do with his cheery eccentric scientist image and unruly hair - and of course the famous photo of his tongue sticking out!

Einstein [1879 -1955] was born in Germany to a non-observant Jewish family. He wasn't considered a very good school student though he was very skilled in modelmaking and mechanics. Its very possible that he was dyslexic as he was excellent at maths and sciences but failed the arts part of his secondary school certificate.

In 1905, while working as a patent clerk, Einstein had several ground breaking academic papers published - Annus Mirabilis Papers - including the one with the E=mc² equation.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work on photoelectricity.

Einstein left Germany for the United States after Hitler came to power and became a US citizen in 1940.

He was a pacifist , Civil Rights activist and humanitarian and strongly supported nuclear disarmament - and is quoted as saying "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Illustration Friday - Free - Aesop's lion and mouse

This week's topic on Illustration Friday is "Free"

This topic really stumped me on Friday. I could half think of ideas but nothing i really wanted to do.

I spent ages looking at a blank canvas then spent some time fiddling with the owl sketch i did a few weeks ago but discarded. It didn't seem right, even though I was thinking of the phrase 'free as a bird'.

I gave it some more thought but what kept coming to mind was a silly ring that was free with the 'Bunty' - a UK girls magazine. I didn't actually get the Bunty magazine; my aunts did. They are only a few years older than me and of course got pocket money and seemed so grown up to me. I was probably only 5 or so at the time and after school I always had to go to my gran's house to wait for my mum to come .

This particular day, I saw that my aunt's Bunty magazine had a free gift , a Troll ring [Trolls were really popular at that time ] so I couldn't resist asking my gran if I could have it. I suspect, I had an idea that my aunt wouldn't want to part with it when she got home from school.

This ring seemed so wonderful - though it was made of cheap blue furry material and a plastic ring and of course googly eyes and didn't bear a great ressemblance to the troll toys.

I seem to remember my aunt went ballistic when she saw me wearing her 'free ' gift but since she didn't remember the event when i mentioned it recently, she obviously hadn't held a grudge.

Anyway, this is a quick drawing of the 'free' Troll ringAfter drawing this silly ring, I still couldn't think of anything much so I decided to let my pen wander and after a while i realised i'd drawn a lion - maybe because the 'Born Free' tune was going round my head. After a few more stokes I'd put the lion in a net and realised that i had the beginnings of an idea.

I realised that I'd come up with Aesop's fable about the lion and the mouse.

Aesop is thought to have been born as a slave around 620BCE to 560BCE in Ancient Greece.
There are conflicting stories about his life, but it seems that he was freed from slavery and became an orator and teacher.

Aesop is thought to have been put to death by the people of Delphi, possibly for insulting the Gods or for embezzling money but noone really knows.

The fables were translated and combined into one book by the monk, Maximus Planudes in the 14th century.

Deciding on the basis of an idea still didn't help me much with how i was going to portray the fable and i've spent hours and hours trying different layouts and lion positions and mice until I decided i would try a fairly bold idea and see how that worked.

I spent ages looking at lion photographs but couldn't see any expressions that seemed right.
In the end i decided that I'd have a slightly assymetric net and a subdued looking but not too realistic lion as i wanted him to look a bit depressed as i'd decided that I wanted to show the point where the mouse comes back to free the lion from the net.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Photo Friday - Imperfection

I wasn't sure what to post for this Photo Friday topic until I remembered a tree i'd photographed a couple of months ago.

The bark of the tree is really intriguing, it seems to peel back in strips and gives the tree a tatterdemalion look.

I've seen quite a few of these trees around so its not some sort of weird tree disease - however I've never been able to find out what kind of tree it is.

This is the top part of the tree, so you can see its really quite healthy looking, despte the imperfect, peeling bark.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New banner - Queen Elizabeth 1 of England

I've changed the banner to Elizabeth the First since she came to power on the 17th November 1558 - ushering in the English Elizabethan Age.

She reigned as Queen from 1558 till her death in 1603 - a considerable length of time

Her parents were King Henry the Eighth and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn was beheaded for the false charges of adultery, treason, incest, and witchcraft in order to make way for wife number 3, Jane Seymour. Elizabeth was only three years old at the time of her mother death.

Elizabeth's half brother Edward and half sister Mary took the throne before her, not forgetting the Nine day queen , Lady Jane Grey .

During Mary's reign, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London due to fears that she would be the focus of a protestant coup - Queen Mary had returned England to Catholicism [and was given the nickname 'Bloody Mary' due to burning 300 people at the stake for heresy]

Elizabeth never married, and this was her deliberate policy despite the attitudes at the time requiring marriage and an heir to the throne. Possibly her fathers attitude to marriage had some impact on her own decisions , but its also possible that seeing so many women die after childbirth that marriage to her country was preferable.

She was also very well educated which was unusual at the time; women were not generally taught to read, and yet, Elizabeth was taught latin, greek, french , spanish and italian and also public speaking, which stood her in good stead once she became queen.

Opinions differ regarding Elizabeth's reign- some say that she was too indecisive and other say this was a political ploy to delay things until the political climate was right, however her intelligence is undisputed.

Her main rival was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic who had the potential support of France and Spain. Mary was no real match for Elizabeth , and when she was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland, she fled to England. Mary was imprisoned, and finally executed in 1587.

Mary's death was in part responsible for the Spanish Armada sent by King Philip of Spain in an attempt to invade England.
The Armada was defeated and the ships were forced to head north past Ireland and Scotland, and many ships ran aground.
[My dad once found a goblet on the beach in Dunoon, Scotland ,which was identified as being something washed ashore from a wrecked Spanish Armada Galleon ]

The lot of the common people did not necessarily improve much under Elizabeth, though she did pass the 'Poor Laws' which allowed some help to the 'deserving poor'.

However, her reign is said to be a golden period due to her patronage of the arts - writers like Shakespeare and Marlowe and her investment in exploration [or priracy according to your point of view] Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Releigh.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Illustration Friday- Strength - scarab beetle

Illustration Friday topic is Strength this week. It seemed quite an easy topic to me- at least i could think almost immediately what i wanted to draw.

I did ponder very briefly on doing an old fashioned circus poster for a strong man or lady but i quickly realised that i really wanted to show 'strength' using some sort of bug.

Insects are amazingly strong. For example; ants can carry around 50 times their weight, build massive ant hills and rival earth worms in amount of earth moved while digging through soil.

However, I didn't want to draw ants , i wanted to draw the sacred scarab beetle, Scarabaeus sacer.

Scarabaeus sacer are dung rolling beetles - they form huge balls of animal dung with their modified front legs. Then they use their back legs to push the dung ball along until they find an ideal burial spot. Once the ball is buried, the beetle will feed on and lay eggs in the dung.

The beetles play an important role in recycling animal waste and improving soil quality. Additionally, their speedy removal of dung may help prevent the spread of disease.

The ancient Egyptians were impressed by the scarab beetle's amazing strength as they could be seen rolling balls of dung many times larger than the beetle.

Here is a dung beetle pushing a huge ball of dung across the ground.

The God Khepri [aka Khephri] was the giant scarab beetle who pushed the sun across the sky by day and to the underworld at night. Kephri was also the God of regeneration or rebirth since it seemed like life had been created from dung when the beetle larvae hatched from inside the ball.

Kephri is depicted as a giant scarab [sometimes with wings] and as a man with a scarab for a head. Giant sculptures of scarab beetles were found in temples connected to sun worship.
The ancient egyptians beleived that a scarab beetle could fly with a ball of dung on its back, but this is not something that happens in reality - they are strong but not that strong.

Scarabs were very commonly used as charms and amulets - sometimes with other Gods and Goddesses carved on the bottom. The scarab above is based on a lapis lazuli scarab I once saw in a museum.

The Heart scarab was a very important amulet used during the mummification process. The scarab was inscribed with spells from the Book of the Dead and was placed inside the mummy wrappings - these spells allowed the person to pass through to the afterlife by ensuring that the deceased's heart weighed the same as Ma'at's feather. A heart the weighed too heavy was filled with evil and so would be fed to a crocodile headed demon and prevent the person's soul going onwards.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Photo Friday- Worn - Parthenon

The Photo Friday topic is 'worn' this week.

The Parthenon on Athen's Acropolis hill was a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos and built between 447 and 438 BCE.

The temple use changed over the years to a Byzantine Church, a Latin church and a mosque. During the seige of 1687 when the Venetians were trying to capture the Acropolis , the Turks were using the Parthenon as a storage area for explosives. The gunpowder exploded and blew out the roof and much of the interior structure.

Lord Elgin took away much of the marble frieze and sculpture known as the Elgin Marbles and now housed in the British Museum. There is an ongoing dispute about ownership of the sculpture with the hope of persuading the British Museum to give the sculpture back.

I can't think of anything that suits the topic of 'worn' more aptly than the Parthenon. This is a view of the corner taken several years ago when i was visiting Athens.

New banner - Armistice or Remembrance day

I've changed the banner to one marking Armistice day.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is a time of two minutes of silence in honour of the fallen soldiers ; initially of world war 1 and then extended to remember the dead of other wars.

Poppies naturally grow in disturbed soil and of course they seemed as if they had sprung from the blood of the dead - bright red flowers in a sea of mud churned up by the warfare.

They came to be used as symbols of remembrance , inspired by the famous poem 'In Flanders Fields' by John McCrae a Canadian doctor who ran a field hospital during the second Battle of Ypres colloquially called Wipers by the english-speaking troops. Unfortunately John McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis early in 1918 before the war ended.

Now the poppies are often made of paper and worn or laid in wreaths at the war memorials on the 11th of November. In Britain, paper poppies are sold in the run up to Remembrance day in order to raise funds for vetrans.

On Armistice day i like to re-read Wilfred Owen's poetry. His words sum up the horror of war in poems such as Dulce Et Decorum Est which is probably the best known of all war poetry.
Owen's war experiences left him shell shocked and he was sent to Criaglockhart in Scotland to recuperate. He was later sent back to the warzone and he died just a week before Armistice day on the 4th November 1918.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

mountains and rainbow

Now that the clocks have gone back for winter time, I'm not around early enough for the first rays of the dawn. However, its still an interesting quality of light - often things are lit with beautiful gold, lilac and peach tones.

If the sky is fairly clear and there isn't much mist then the Alps are hazily visible , off in the distance. The first patches of snow are visible - its much more interesting with the naked eye since it seems to act like a mirror and shimmer in the early morning light, but i think these photos give some sort of idea.

Even a few minutes can change the light effects dramtically- and a few minutes after that things have turned to normal and the mountains seem to recede.

Later in the day my son rushed in with the news that there was a rainbow right over the house.
I've cropped out the roof and aeirals and things that made the picture really busy and the rainbow difficult to see. I've never seen a rainbow right above my head before - however there were no leprechauns in sight.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Illustration Friday- Night- Vampire bat

I didn't need much time to think this week when i saw the Illustration Friday topic was 'night' . Right away i thought of nocturnal animals, who are busy with their lives at night and sleep most of the day. I have very severe insomnia and I often spend part of the day sleeping so i definitely feel an affinity with them.

I immediatedly sketched out a barn owl flying against the full moon since when we lived in York we lived in an area which had a large population of barn owls and they would often fly very close above our heads if we were cycling home in the dark.
They were often so close that it almost felt like their soft feathers touched the tops of our heads - it was just the breeze the made with their wings - but it felt almost like being blessed.

Anyway, I did some colour roughs of the barn owl and looked at some reference photos that we'd taken at a bird of prey sanctuary. This is one of me with a barn owl.

I'm not sure what made me go off the idea of a flying barn owl - sometimes I change my mind becuase the referennces aren't too good but in this case I had some excellent closeups of heads and feet and feathers.
While i was working on the barn owl and roughly adding in the feathers, I started thinking about bats flying overhead.

I am fond of bats - I first remember seeing them when we would come home from walking by the River Clyde. We had to trudge up a steep hill to get home and the trees made a kind of tunnel as their branches almost touched overhead. If it was dark enough, bats would flitter by above our heads but they were always too fast to really see what kind they were.

There are so many midgies [teeny biting flying insects] in the summer that bats must adore living in Scotland. I've never understood why so many people find bats scary when they eat so many pests - but i suppose its probably becuase they look something like mice and have naked wings of stretched skin. Horror movies and Victorian tales about bats getting tangled in hair probably don't help much.

I remembered seeing a news item on the BBC website the other day talking about vampire bat transmission of rabies to humans in Brazil. I quickly started sketching a vampire bat.

Vampire bats are really interesting creatures - they can fly , run in a simlar way to a gorrilla using their wings , walk and jump up to 4 feet in height using their modified thumbs like a spring.

They live in colonies and are very social - they look after each other's offspring in 'nurseries' and have complex grooming and food sharing behaviours.
Vampire bats only eat blood -haemophagy UK or hematophagy US - but despite horror films and popular ideas, they don't actually suck blood from the host [animal or man], they lap the blood with their grooved tongues.

When they find a suitable victim; they lick the skin which slightly anaethsetises the area, then shave the hair with their sharp teeth , then cut out a small piece of flesh and lap the blood as it forms a pool. Vampire bat saliva contains and anti-coagulant called Draculin which prevents the blood from clotting - and this is effective enough to allow the cut to bleed for half an hour or more. In fact, the cut will often continue to bleed long after the bat has flown away.

Vampire bats can drink more than their body weight in blood -and this can have a serious impact on animals and humans that have become victims- anaemia can have a big impact on health and of course rabies is a serious threat.

For some reason, certain animals and humans are continually sought out by the bats and others are ignored - its not known why this is the case. Its been suggested that hormones may play a part in the attractiveness of a victim.

There are three species of vampire bat- all of whome live in the Americas - central and South America, although fossilised vampire bats have been found as far north as Florida. Vampire bats are more numerous and more problematic now than in the past since there are more prey animals [domestic horses and cows] and people within their flying ranges.

The commonest is Desmodus rotundus and this bat is the one whith greatest impact on man and his animals as it prefers to prey on mammals [including humans] . Diaemus youngi seeks out birds.

When vampire bat attacks become too frequent or transmission of rabies becomes a danger, the bat colonies are killed- often by capturing a bat and covering its fur with a sticky poison - the social grooming by other bats means that up to 20 bats will be killed for each bat caught.
However , vampire bats are intelligent and are quick to learn about nets and traps and they can often manage to scurry or fly away after being shot.

This vampire bat has just started feeding and is lapping up the blood with its tongue. Its a Desmodus rotundus

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Photo Friday - warmth

The Photo Friday challenge this week is 'warmth'.
I couldn't think of anything more suggestive of warmth on a November evening than homemade food.
I didn't have the ingredients to hand to make some homemade soup as i always like to make my own stock first -so i made a chili instead and took the photo before serving it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New Banner- Guido Fawkes [aka Guy Fawkes]

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

Guido Fawkes, more commonly known as Guy Fawkes, is the only consiprator in the Gunpowder plot that most people know about.
He is the one burned in effigy on the bonfires in the UK on the fifth of November - Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night.
Guy Fawkes night wasn't hugely celebrated in Scotland when i was a child - though its become much more popular now. We used to get a packet of sparklers and that was the extent of our Guy Fawkes celebrations - though i have never stopped loving sparklers. However, down in England it was always much more widely celebrated than Halloween. With lots of bonfire parties and firework displays and children collecting "pennies for the Guy."

The 'Guy ' was a collection of old clothes stuffed with rags or paper in the shape of a man which would be burned on top of the bonfire on November the 5th in commemoration of the foiled Gunpowder Plot.

On 5th of November 1605, Guy Fawkes was found in the Houses of Parliament in London with barrels of gunpowder and the intention to blow up King James the First [aka James the Sixth of Scotland] when he attended the ceremonial opening of Parliament.

King James had refused to allow Catholics equal rights and brought in legislation to heavily fine people who did not attend Protestant church services. The conspirators hoped to make James' young daughter, queen of a Catholic country if the plot was successful.

Guy Fawkes was born in York in the North of England [his house is now a restaurant - we've eaten there a few times] Its known he went to school at St Peter’s in York so his family was not poor. Its said that St Peters school never has a guy on their bonfire on the 5th November since he was an ex pupil of the school.

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Gun Powder Plot so the city of York is going to be celebrating, if thats the right word, with a series of events including special illumination of York's historic buildings.

Guy Fawkes had been a soldier in the Spanish army - which is probably when he adopted the name Guido and became a Catholic. He served in Spanish Flanders - modern Netherlands and Belgium and acquired the skills in military demolitions that made him useful to the conspirators.

After being caught redhanded in the cellars of the houses of parliament he withstood torture on the rack for several days before finally giving up the names of his co-conspirators. The other conspirators were Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Wright, Thomas Percy, Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour.

Guy was executed on the 31st of January 1606 and was hung drawn and quartered - a particularly horrible death since he was convicted of treason.

This is the blog banner for this week- depicting Guy Fawkes and some barrels of gunpowder .

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

bat banner

I am changing the blog banner today so i've put the Halloween banner in its own post to archive it.

bat banner Posted by Picasa