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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