Friday, May 19, 2006


Things have been hectic around here .
My daughter has had to get a dossier ready for her juniour college application so we have been busy, busy, busy filling in forms , going to open days and researching her various options.

She decided that she wants to do a specialised course in applied art so we have been working on that for several weeks ; lots of practise and critiquing of her art work. Its been hard work getting her up to speed, as although she is very talented in art and design [particularly digital artwork] , she has mostly done her own thing , with only a few questions when she wants to know something specific.

For her college portfolio she needed to have collage, drawing and painting with natural media pieces and it turned out that the art teaching she has had at school has been very limited.

Anyway, after a marathon effort she produced some excellent artwork - and we submitted the dossier yesterday, so we are keeping everything crossed that she gets a place.

Now that is finished I will be taking a break and going to Scotland for a few days to visit family.

May is usually a good time to visit scotland as its usually the best weather and everything is green and blossoming.

I have my camera with me and hope to bring back los of interesting photos.

In the mean time i will leave you with some macro photos of strawberries that i took the other day.

I bought the strawberries at the local fruit market. They are from local producers and were amazingly tasty- a real taste of summer.

There is no comparison between real strawberries with the uniform giant red things found in a lot of supermarkets that are force ripened and taste of water and nothing.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Photo Friday - masterpiece

I couldn't decide what to post for the photo friday-masterpiece challenge until i remembered that i'd taken photos of the 'Diana Fountain' in Hyde Park.

Its more formally known as the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain and its a really interesting but controversial public artwork.

I must admit that i hadn't intended to visit the fountain before we stumbled across it. It seemed like a very unimpressive and even boring fountain from the articles and photos i'd seen.

Even as we walked towards the fountain, it looked pretty uninspiring. At first, I thought it was a circular or oval path as the water is not very visible from a distance and i had been busy taking photos of the birds, frosty leaves and squirrels and must have missed the signposts.

Once inside the gates it still didn't look like much -but its something that has to be seen and heard from close quarters to really appreciate.
I changed from being unimpressed and skeptical about the fountain to being fascinated and moved by it.

Its a fabulous work of art- a poem in sound, flickering light and bubbling water.

The water is stirred and stilled by changes in the granite structure - it changes from turbulent to calm: with tranquil stretches, bubbles , gentle ripples, waterfalls and rapids .

The different water sounds and the sparkle of light on water definitely add to the impact of piece.

Its supposed to symbolise the up and down life of Princess Diana - and i think overall it works.

A frosty morning in December might not have been the best time of year to see the fountain since people are welcome to dip their feet in the water.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Illustration Friday- Fat hen

I wasn't very keen on this topic - 'fat' seemed like a really strange choice to me. Maybe because my old english teacher [imagine someone like Miss Jean Brodie but without the attempts at glamour] drummed into us that using words like 'fat' and 'nice' displayed a very poor imagination, not to mention a limited vocabulary.

I usually try to think of things that stretch the topic a bit - and i pondered on doing something along the lines of an aquatic mammal and going with blubber rather than fat.

I also thought about fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids but i wasn't really sure what i would do for them.

In the end the only thing i could really work up an interest in painting on the theme of fat was a fat red hen since there are lots of stories and nursery rhymes with fat hens - and of course that also made me think of the plant 'fat-hen' Chenopodium album.

Fat-hen is also known as goosefoot, muckweed and lamb's quarters - and it used to be used as a human food in Britian from the Neolithic until the late middle ages. The leaves were collected and cooked somewhat like spinach and the seeds were cooked like lentils or ground into flour.

It was also used a fodder for hens -hence the name 'fat-hen'. Now the plant is generally considered a destructive weed.

I'ev painted a broody fat hen and quickly added some fat hen branches with its pale knobbly flowers.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Birds at Parc phoenix

Yesterday's Photo Friday swans reminded me i had some other bird photos to post.

I think i hadn't posted them sooner becuase i was in a bit of a quandry about some of them being in captivity. However , then I read the 2006 red list about newly endangered and at risk species and thought thats since these are being partly kept for increasing the gene pool for wild animals and are mainly captive reared that probably was a good thing.

This is a grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum -an African bird that is a quite primitive crane which can still nest in trees.
They have CITES II status which means that although they aren't yet threatened with extinction , they may become so if trade is not strictly regulated.

This bird is a Rhea [Rhea americanus] or nandu /nandoo -a large flightless bird from South America.

Rheas are omnivorus birds [eating insects, seeds, fruits, lizards small animals] and they can reach 30kilos in weight.

Like ostriches, they are fast runners, reaching speeds of 50km/hr.

They can live in diverse habitats but they are still coming under pressure as more and more land is used for human activities.

They are also CITES listed as threatened species- they are frequently killed by farmers since they will eat crops -but they are also hunted for food and feathers.

They were quite impressive birds- and it was really interesting to see their ears and eyelashes -which looked as if the hairs were there to prevent dust and sand entering.
Ara macao, scarlet macaws, are very large parrots which used to range from eastern mexico to the Amazon forest. They are also suffereing from habitat destruction and also from being hunted to be kept as pets, however since they are considered 'common' in some parts of their range [thoyugh declining in others] they are not yet considered threatened.

They are intelligent birds and can use tools . In fact several of these birds showed this while we were there as they used the aviary structure to break the shells on nuts and seeds.

They have fabulous colourful plumage, long tails and large hooked beaks that are used to crush seeds.

Here is one sleepingMacaws are very strongly pair bonded [so faithful they stay together till death] . They spend a lot of time grooming each others feathers and snuggling together.
A macaw climbing to break seeds against the wire- they have amazing feet , quite different from the fan shape of other birds.
A white peacock and an 'ordinary' indian peacock. Unfortunatley the sun was going down when the birds decided to pose together.

The white peacocks are apparently not albinos- they are a mutation from the normal irridescent green and blue
White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus were swimming freely on the large ponds and streams that ran through Parc Phoenix. They are native to southern Europe [and Asia] and present, though fairly rare, in Southern France.
I've seen them in Greece several times. , usually hanging around ports waiting for fishermen to come back and throw them scraps.

They are quite big birds

Their huge beaks are quite impressive -they use the pouch under the beak like a net to catch fish

For some reason they strongly remind me of pterodactyls -especially when flying.
Pelican fishing =- there were lots of large carp and koi in the water but i think the pelicans were fishing for smaller fish.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Photo Friday - Adolescence

I think swans going through the 'ugly duckling ' stage definitely sum up adolescence for me.
I took these photos in Kensington Gardens.

Two adolescent swans and a small coot swimming in the background.

A pure white adult swan
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Monday, May 01, 2006

Festins des Mais

We celebrated Mayday out by the Roman arena at Cimiez in Nice.

Some events such as displays of dancing and singing - from hiphop to traditional Nicois dances and songs took place within the ancient Roman arena- which was slightly surreal.

The actual walls and arches were fenced off to prevent people climbing on them so i took these photos through the wire fences. Unfortunately the crowds and speakers and stage made taking other photos of the arena itself difficult.

The maypole - a bit different from the ones we are used to from the UK. People danced underneath but not with interlacing ribbons. There are lots of olive trees in the background as the most of the festivities took place in an old olive grove.
There were lots of people picnicking on teh grass under the olive trees and generally enjoying the ambiance.
The traditional dancers were from a group called La Ciamada Nissarda and they had dancers of all different agegroups - from quite young girls and boys to adults.
They were very good dancers and looked as if they were really enjoying themselves , which helps.

I really liked the contrast with the sea of red and white striped skirts and black velvet bodices with white lace. The traditional Nicoise flowerseller costume is really pretty
You can see the shallow crowned straw hat , the capeline, that was traditionally worn by female flower sellers in Nice hanging from the aprons.
Such a cute baby girl in the Nicoise costume being held by one of the male dancers. The male dancers are dressed as Nicois fishermen, with short trousers and a felted wool red hat. They wear a very long cummerbund called a taïola that looked quite difficult to put on correctly. We saw some of the men winding themselves into the taïolas with the help of someone to keep the length of cloth straight as they turned round and round.

Multi layered frilly underskirts

I fiddled with the following photos so they looked timeless, like an old colourised photo-postcard [if you don't look too closely at the bystanders and how they are dressed]I was holding on to an olive tree and taking photos above my head for the last two shots of the dancers dancing

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Illustration Friday- under the sea - coelacanth

The Illustration Friday topic this week seemed like deja vu -as 'sea' has been a topic before . Not that the sea ever bores me and I suppose i often come back to sea topics, even when the subject is something different because the sea is such a huge influence on me.

Last year , I was bitten by the underwater photography bug and I am keen to get a digital camera for this summer's snorkelling trips. I think examining the photos critically afterwards added another dimension to my fish paintings as it helped with really remembering the textures and light effects of being in the water.

One fish that i'd been pondering on painting for a while is the coelacanth. Coelacanths are one of the big mysteries of the sea and a favourite of cryptozoologists.

They were originally known from fossils dating back to 360 million years ago and thought to have become extinct about 80 million years ago.

In 1938 a coelacanth was discovered in South Africa by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, a museum curator who was actively looking for unusual fish specimens in the local fish catches.. The 'new' coelacanth was called Latimeria chalumnae in her honour.

Fourteen years later another specimen was discovered in sea near the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean - although it turned out that the local people had known about the coelacanth, which they called gombessa, for generations but found it to be nearly indedible and therefore worthless.
Since then other coelacanths have been found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania
and a completely separate species found near the island of Sulawesi [Indonesia] which is brown rather than speckled blue, Latimeria menadoensis.
This Indonesian species was also well known to the local fishermen and called rajah laut -the King of the Sea.

They are still quite mysterious fish -and have some unusual characteristics.
Coelacanths can slow their metabolisms to an almost hibernation state , swim backwards and even upside down.

They can grow to about 2 metres [6 feet] in length and bear live young - only a few at a time , and they are considered critically endangered animals.

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