Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Illustration Friday - Glamour - Peacock butterfly

The Illustration Fiday topic is Glamour this week so I wanted to do something with the original meaning of glamour - a type of magic spell to make someone or something look different from their true appearance. The sort of spell that is used to often in myths.

The kind of tales where the hero's or heroine's brothers or sisters meet a haggard old woman and are asked to carry her across a stream on their backs or harvest her apples , tend her pigs or grind her corn.

The sisters and brothers are always rude and unhelpful , sometimes even cruel and they always get their just desserts when they are turned to stone or covered in boils.

The old woman is of course a beautiful Otherworldy creature; a faery or Goddess who has enchanted herself with a glamour and appears beautiful or ancient according to whim.

The pure of heart heros and heroines, of course, are helpful and kind and are only too happy to break their quest to help out and they are rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.

Other examples of glamour enchantments are found in Snow White, when the wicked Queen disguises herself in order to present Snow White with the poisoned apple.

This made me think about mimicry, and the many animals and insects that seem to be something more poisonous or agressive or bigger than they really are.

Ants and beetles and flies take the yellow and black stripes of wasps and hornets to deter predators.

Other flies have fake and often lethal looking 'stings' that deter even humans from approaching , never mind birds and animals.

Many butterflies have eye spots on their wings which look like owls eyes and when the wings are flapped, the eyes seem to blink and make small predators very wary.

Peacock butterflies Inachis io are found in Britain and the rest of Europe. They have two sets of prominent eye spots visible when the wings are held open. The underside of the wing ilooks like a shriveled, dead leaf so when the wings are closed the buttefly is well camouflaged.

The lower set look very like the eyes of a cat. This butterfly also makes a kind of hissy sound by rubbing its wings together when it 'blinks' them when threatened which probably adds to the impression of 'hunting cat'.

I think this butterfly also qualifies as glamourous in the more modern sense as well- since it has arguably the most impressive wings of any British Butterfly.
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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Photo Friday - Vanity

I wasn't sure if I had any photos that fitted with this weeks Photo Friday theme.

I remembered a fantastic photo of a beauty queen talking on her cell phone which would have been perfect, except it was one of my husband's photos and not mine.

I searched and came up with this one of a confident adult swan and a juvenile who seemed to be swimming along looking at his reflection.

The photo was taken at Loch Lomond, by the pier at Luss village.

Here is a view of the Loch taken on the same day.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Frozen Antibes

It was bitterly cold this morning - even though there was a great deal of cloud before the sun rose. Usually cloud cover seems to raise the temperature , but not this morning.

There was even a frost, so i managed to get some photos of frosty grass and leaves before the sun rose and melted the ice.

Some of the leaves looked as though they had been dipped in icing sugar, the frosty edging was so delicate.

A think layer of frost over a fallen leaf
A delicate edging to a heart shape leaf

Lost of plants have hairs on their leaves and stems. The frost made some interesting patterns by clumping the hairs tgogether.The ice made some hairs stand out due to the mini icicles
Zoomed in on the hairy stem - it had a barbed wire or tinsel look- but within a few minutes the sun had risen and the ice started to melt.

The temperatures have stayed low and there is a lot of snow around. In fact the schoolkids were sent home early today in case they got cut off.

More snow, frost and sleety rain is forecast for tomorrow - normally January here is bright and sunny though very cold at night or in the shade.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New banner for Burns Night

Burns' Night on the 25th January celebrates the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns wrote poetry and song lyrics in the Scots language and also in Scots English.
The quote written on the banner is taken from the poem Tam O'Shanter.

His most famous poems are probably Tam o'Shanter and To A Mouse and the most famous songs Auld Lang Syne, and Ae Fond Kiss .

The complete works are here

He was born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1759 to a poor farming family. The small cottage where he spent his early years is still standing. It is now part of the Burns National Heritage Park and can be visited.

Despite the lack of money and the necessity for the children to help out on the farm, Burns' father made sure that his children were well read and employed a tutor, John Murdoch, to teach them Latin, French and maths.

Robert Burns [and his brother Gilbert] tried to farm at Mossgeil after the death of their father in 1784 . By 1786, Robert was planning to emigrate to Jamaica - the farm was not making money and his love life was chaotic.

He had already fathered an illigitimate daughter and now he wished to marry another woman, Jean Armour, who was already pregnant with his twins.

Despite the pregnancy, Jean Armour's family refused them permission to marry. Robert then fell in love with yet another woman, Highland Mary, and planned to take her to Jamaica.

In order to raise the money for his passage to Jamaica, Burns was persuaded to publish some of his poetry - his first book known as the 'Kilmarnock Edition' - aka, 'Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect'. The first printing [612 books] sold out within a month and he became a sensation in Edinburgh literary circles, where he was known as the 'Ploughman Poet'.

Literary success and plans for further books , the birth of Jean Armour's twins and the death of Highland Mary ended the plans to emigrate.

Jean Armour and Robert Burns were eventually married in 1788.

Burns became an Exciseman [a sort of Customs officer who ensured that tax was paid on alcohol] which gave him an additional income and allowed him to buy house in Dumfries.
He wrote The Deil's Awa wi' th' Exciseman which summed up the low popular opinion of his new job.

On the 21st July 1796, at the terribly young age of 37, Robert Burns died of rheumatic fever, possibly weakened by the early years of poverty and back breaking farm work.
Maxwell Burns, the ninth child by Jean Armour , was born on the day his father died.

A few years after Burns' death, the first Burns Supper was organised: where Burns' poems were recited , whisky was drunk and a haggis served. The poem Address to a Haggis
is recited and the haggis generally stabbed with a knife and cut open with a flourish.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Illustration Friday - Cats

I started off with the idea of painting the Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,, by Lewis Carroll.

Alice meets a mysterious cat several times , who vanishes leaving his grin behind him. I started drawing the cat , and had several attempts at different versions before giving up. I had a really good basic cat grin but i was having a lot of trouble with getting its disappearing act to look right.

However it made me think about kalaeidescopes and mirrors and for some reason i wondered about quilting designs and pondered over the idea of a cat quilt.

That lead me to a simple cat sketch , mirrorred and coloured a range of sugary colours. I decided i quite liked this - though my cat loving daughter wasn't keen on the colours.

I thought about doing some more to the cheshire cat after this but got side tracked and started painting some cat's eyes , the wildflower , Germander speedwell.

I used to love these when i was a child - their tiny blue flowers always seemed cheerful and twinkly , very like blue cat eyes.

One of our neighbours always had lots of speedwell in his garden. He used to ask us if we wanted to pull out the plants - a sneaky way of getting his rockery weeded for free. We were happy to oblige though the flowers woudl fade and the petals would drop quickly.

Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, has some other common names; bird's eyes , angel's eyes, farewell flower and used to be thought of as a cure for small pox, measles, coughs, asthma, and a variety of other illnesses. The farewell or speedwell name is due to its panacea like nature and to how quickly the herb would bring about a cure.
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Friday, January 20, 2006

Pink- Photo Friday

This shrub is very commonly grown here by the Mediterranean. Its Nerium oleander -common oleander.

Although it has very pretty flowers and glossy green leaves, it very, very toxic - apparently eating a single leaf will kill an adult and the sap will cause a rash in many people. All parts of the plant are poisonous- including the very attractive flowers.

The toxin that acts on the heart and causes death by heart attack or liver or kidney failure - so its definitely in the category of look don't touch or eat.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. -new banner

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January the 15th 1929.

He was leader of the American Civil Rights Movement which campaigned for racial equality and an end to the legally sanctioned racial segregation.

Dr King advocated non-violent protest and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964.

His most famous speech, the "I have a Dream speech" was given in August 1963 at the Lincoln memorial.

Dr King was assassinated on the 4th of April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The 9th of April was made a national day of mourning and an enormous crowd attended his funeral in Atlanta, Georgia.
Two days after the funeral the 1968 Civil Rights Act was signed by President Johnson

Martin Luther King Day is a US public holiday that falls on the third monday of January.

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candy striped sky

On Monday morning, before the sun rose, the sky was striped with lemons, orange, rose and peach.

I thought it was beautiful and worth photographing.

The plane trees have been shorn for winter- which is why they have such stubby branches. Its amazing how much they grow back each year after what looks like vicious pruning.

A few masts and lights on the yachts are just visible. Its strange how different the marina looks in this light and from a slightly different angle.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Illustration Friday- E is for.....

E is for lots of things.
I thought about eagles, specifically the type of eagles recently announced in the news as having eaten a very ancient hominid child, Taung child an Australopithecus africanus.

It used to be thought that the child was killed by a sabre tooth but it seems that scars on the bones show that an African crowned eagle was responsible.

I seemed to remember i'd taken some referenece photos of a crowned eagle at a Bird of Prey centre but i was mistaken so i gave up on that idea.

I also thought about echidnas, since i have a soft spot for monotremes [mammals that lay eggs].
A few kinds of echidnas and of course the duck billed platypus are the only monotremes on earth.

They are found mainly in Australia, though there is fossil evidence from other parts of the world.

Short beaked echidnas are spiny and will curl up into a ball as a defensive measure, somewhat reminscent of a hedgehog. It has a long sticky tongue that it uses to catch ants but has no real teeth.

I gave up on the echidna idea -though i have put it on the back burner for later.

After that i remembered that i had been working on an elephant a while back but had given up on it as it just wasn't coming together.

I'd been sitting in my kid's orthodontist waiting room and pondering over the padded fabric walls[ the fabric was covered in ornately decorated elephants with Maharajahs and Indian Princesses riding on their backs. It always seemed an odd choice of decor for a waiting room but maybe the padded walls helped soundproof the place.

Anyway, I started thinking about decorated elephants and that lead to elephants wearing clothes. And then there was only a small jump to the idea of an elephant taking part in a talent contest dressed like a cross between Elvis and the lead singer from the rock group, the Darkness.

As i was painting today, my mental soundtrack varied between 'Return to Sender' , 'Come on Baby Light my Fire' and 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" -all sung in what i think was elephant falsetto, which was pretty bizarre.

Anyway here is my E for possibly for future embarassment.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Photo Friday - success

I wasn't sure what photos i had that would show success, until I remembered some flag throwers from the Bataille des Fleurs during the summer.

Flag throwing/ flag flourishing/ flag tossing is thought to be a hold over from mediaeval guild processions and also the parading of military banners in war and peacetime ceremony.

Its quite amazing to watch the flags being waved, twirled, and manipulated whilst the drummers drum out the rythmn - and the highlight is when the flags are thrown into the air and caught again.

Occasionally someone misses, but most of the time the flag sails up high and is caught with apparent ease.

I expect its really tiring to wander around in a procession for miles, dressed in mediaeval costume whilst throwing and waving heavy-looking flags, but its impressive nonetheless.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Illustration Friday - Sea

I am posting this entry quite late, later than usual anyway.

I have been pretty busy with getting ready to move house but the main reason for not finishing something earlier is that the topic is just too huge.

Sea creatures are some of my favourite subjects so I could think of a million things to paint and none of them seemed right.

I adore the sea - it fascinates me. I love seeing the different colours and moods, snorkelling and swimming and spying on fish.

I could spend hours beachcombing and rock pooling; collecting shells and looking for interesting items washed up from far away places.

As a child in Scotland there always seemed to be brown jelly fish , almost the size of dustbin lids, washed up on the beach.

Shore crabs, bright red sea squirts , limpets and barnacles covered the rocks. Masses of blue-grey mussels and brown and green sea weed and bladder wrack, with its strange bubble like leaf structures, would cover the shore when the tide went out.

I once found a small puffer fish - it must have been caught up in the Gulf Stream, as they are usually found in much more southern , and warmer , water.

My dad was king of the beachcombers in our family - he always seemd to find the most amazing things. Once he found a goblet that turned out to have been from a Spanish Armada shipwreck - he donated it to the museum.

I sketched some mermaids purses, some sharks, some comic fish and even a salt water crocodile but somehow i couldn't decide what to do for the topic.

I ended up trying to do something more abstract trying to convey something about the sea and its myths ; the silken hair of mermaids, diving whales and dolphins, tentacles of octopus and sea monsters, the sleek shapes of the albatross and diving birds, the foam and waves and patterns of the water , the tides and currents and ever changing colours: the Sea.

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Monday, January 09, 2006


Last month I was sitting outside the the railway station having a coffee just after sunrise.
The sun was hidden behind some buildings and the sky was cloudy and morose looking.

Then suddenly the world was filled with bright golden light, as the sun shone through the gaps and lit up like a fireball.
I grabbed my camera from my bag and took the following photo. It was really difficult to see becuase the light was so intense plus it was reflecting off the polished aluminium tables right into our eyes. Even when not looking directly at the sun, the after images lasted for a long while.

Today's sunrise wasn't quite as dramatic but it was still impressive.
There is something really amazing about the peach coloured light just before the sun is half visible.

This is looking towards the old town, Vieil Antibes , sun just coming out over the red tiled roofs.
A few minutes later and the sun is 3/4 visible.

The full power of the sun.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Photo Friday - panorama

I took these photos this afternoon at the marina in Antibes - Fort Carré is the strange angular bulding in the centre. It was built in the 16th century and its fortifications improved in the 17th century by the military architect Vauban.

Its a series of 5 photos stitched together quickly in photoshop. I was pleased with how it turned out as i haven't tried stitching photos together to make a panorama before this photo friday challenge

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Louis Braille Banner

This week is the anniversary of the birth and death of Louis Braille - who was born on the 4th January 1809 and died 6th January 1852.

He was born in the town of Coupvray in France and apparently was sighted until the age of three, when an accident with one of his father's tools destroyed his sight.

He won a scholarship to a special school for the blind, the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris and eventually became a teacher there.

Valentin Haüy the founder of the school had invented a method of teaching blind children to read using a system of raised letters. However, there was no method for using this as a means of teaching writing.

When an ex-soldier called Charles Barbier lectured at the school and demonstrated a method of using twelve dots as a code method [night writing] which could be read without light, Louis Braille was inspired to create his own system using six raised dots.
One major advantage was the abilty to use this system tfor writing as well as reading.

The first book in braille was published in 1827 although braille was never taught at the school for the blind while he taught there.

Louis Braille died at the age of 43, suffering from tuberculosis , but his legacy has been immense as his braille system is now used for written communication for visually impaired and blind people in most of the world's languages.

The braille text on the illustration says- 'Louis Braille born in Coupvray' and was embossed over a braille font called Braille 3-d. There are links to braille and ASL fonts here

A wonderful source of children's books in braille or picture books which can be brailled using a transparent braille tape is Seedlings

[I have bought a specially brailled picture book from this company and was very impressed with their service.]

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Illustration Friday - Flavour- Dodo

When i got the Illustration Friday notification , I thought of Dodos right away, since there has recently been news about a dodo mass grave that is thought to be about 2000 years old.

Until this discovery , dodo remains were very,very rare. Very few specimens were left and the skeletons on display in many museums were made up from the bones of different birds.

A single dodo head and foot were considered the best and these were kept in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Most people know that dodos , Raphus cucullatus, became extinct very quickly after being discovered on the Island of Mauritius by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century. The idiom 'dead as a dodo' means 'absolutely dead ' and I suppose reminds us that once a species is extinct, it has gone for good.

The name Dodo is thought to be related to the old Portuguese word for fool , doudo, or to the Dutch, dodoor which means sluggard.

Descriptions and paintings of the dodo vary but there seems to a general consensus that the bird was a blue grey colour, with yellow legs, a tuft of white feathers as a tail and a large and hooked beak.

The birds were flightless as their small wings were too weak to support their considerable bulk. They were about a metre [3ft] tall and had no natural predators until they started being hunted by man [though not really for food] and pigs, rats and dogs were introduced to the island.

These foreign animals either ate the dodos themselves or their eggs leading to a very rapid decline in numbers and its likely that the last dodo died not much more than a century after they were first discovered.

Some people used to think that a particular tree called the Tambalacoque or dodonut tree Sideroxylon grandiflorum declined due to the extinction of the dodo.

It was postulated that the seeds required to be partially digested by dodos before they would germinate , but it turns out that this theory was incorrect and that there were other factors involved [the introduced animals may have played a part by eating seedlings] and no real evidence that dodos had ever been a major part of the plant lifecycle.

In an old British tv comedy show, The Goodies - the reason for the extinction of the dodo was said to be its delicious flavour.

However 17th century writings about the bird suggested that it was eaten as a last resort as the flesh was tough and dodos were even called Walgvogels [nauseating birds] by the Dutch sailors which doesn't sound very appetising -although they were apparently salted in barrels and used later in the voyage and maybe they tasted better when there was little choice. It somehow seems worse to me that the birds ended up extinct when they were not enjoyed as food.

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Happy New Year

I wish everyone a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New year.

2005 ended in a hectic rush for us. After househunting for a while and getting nowhere , we suddenly found a house in the right area for the right sort of rent. So we will be moving to a new place in Nice in mid February- an exciting start to 2006.

Leaving Antibes will be strange since we have lived here for nearly 9 years, but we will only be 20 minutes away by train so it will be easy enough to come back for visits.

Here is a photo looking over towards the mountains and the morning sun lighting up the snow covered peaks.

The clouds were tinted a fetching shade of peach.

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