Tuesday, July 15, 2008

monte carlo or bust

My parents were visiting from Scotland a couple of weeks ago so we went for a day trip to Monaco.
Monaco , and Monte Carlo, is about 50 minutes away from Nice and the bus fare is the bargain price of 1 euro! [Public transport is heavily subsidised in this area to get people to leave their cars at home.]

We haven't visited Monaco very often , as its one of the places we tend to go to when visitors arrive. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to take some photos of the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino building.

This is the back of the casino building -this side houses the theatre and Monte Carlo Opera house. The ballerina sculpture in the foreground is by Marco Lodola.

This is one of the amazing architectural details on the building - comedy and tragedy masks, quite appropriate for a theatre.
The mask theme is continued in mosaic

This photo give some idea of the scale of the place -its a massive complex. Even with my wide angle lens it was hard to get the full building into shot.

Many of the winged figures decorating the building all have butterfly wings.

The casino complex was designed by the architect Charles Garnier in the baroque style which accounts for the immense scale and opulence of the design.
It reminds me of an immense and lavishly decorated wedding cake with hardly a surface untouched by some beautiful ornament or moulding. It would be easy for something like this to look too busy or overdressed but instead its an amazing feast for the eyes.

This is one of the 'turrets' on the casino side of the complex- even the coloured roof tiles are arranged in a floral pattern.

Bronze sculptures decorate the roof. I loved this photo of the huge casino windows reflecting the mountains and clouds. This is one of the casino doors -though not attached to the main building. The doors acted like distorting mirrors from a funfair and everyone looks size zero and real size zero people must turn invisible.

This is the famous front entrance seen in the James Bond films etc. There were Ferrari's, Bentely's , Morgan's and other posh cars parked outside the casino entrance.
The hoi polloi from outside Monaco can visit the casino for a small fee but Monaco residents {Monegasques ] are not allowed to enter so a passport or ID papers need to be shown.

A zoomed in view of the casino clock.
As I was taking the photos, a little cock sparrow landed on the left hand statue by the clock. His little black bib is just visible.
This is a circular disc statue, fountain, and reflecting pool in the gardens opposite the casino. The huge building looks very small reflected on the disc but its probably the only way of getting most of the complex in the same shot.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Illustration Friday- foggy

A couple of months back I saw some wonderful fog rolling over some hills with skeletal trees and lots of rooks and crows flying through the mist like the start of a creepy ghost film. .
Unfortunately , I was in a taxi on the way to an airport at the time and wasn't able to take a photo.

When I saw the topic was 'foggy', I thought I would do something simple based on the image in my minds eye -basically a skeletal tree, the moon and a magpie swirled around with fog but I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn't very good at painting fog and decided to do something else.

The something else , I decided on was Count Dracula - he always seems to be wandering around up to his knees in fog.

I wasn't sure what the Count would be doing in the fog but as I was sketching his ears, I realised they reminded me of chihuahua ears.

I thought that a celebrity like Count Dracula would be swept up in the craze for teeny, tiny chihuahuas. Of course, he would have to carry his little dog everywhere or it would be constantly lost in the fog by his feet. I expect it would get plenty of exercise running around the corridors of Castle Dracula though.

Once I was happy with the Count and his mini dog , Titan, I fiddled some more with the magpie image. Its a lot better than it was but I think painting fog isn't my strong point. Maybe i just need practise.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Illustration Friday- sour

This Illustration Friday topic ended up a kind of marathon. I initially wanted to do something with the Aesop's fable "Sour Grapes" aka The Fox and the Grapes.
I tried quite a few different approaches to the story and in the end decided on a graphic-y book plate type look. The fox still has hope of getting the grapes at the point and hasn't decided that they will be sour and not worth bothering about.

My other idea-that I intended to be a quick addition was a type of boiled sweet from Scotland called a soor ploom - which is Scots for sour plum.
Soor plooms are green and acidic tasting and the sweets are supposed to have been originally made to commemorate a battle near Galasheils [Scottish Borders] in 1337.

The Galasheils town motto is sour plums /soor plooms and coat of arms has a plum tree and two foxes trying to eat them -which harks back to the Aesop's fable.

When i was a kid growing up in Scotland there were still lots of traditional sweetshops that stored hundreds of different types of sweets in huge glass jars. The sweets were weighed out and poured into a little paper bag or a twist of paper.

Kids most often bought two ounces of sweets , adults usually bought sweets in quarters [ 4 oz].
Sweets aren't the same without the solemn ritual of choosing from massed ranks of glass jars but I suppose that is probably just nostalgia.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Photo Friday- spiral

I saw this spiral on some ivy leaves at the base of a tree. Its a white-legged snake millipede, either Tachypodoiulus niger or Cylindroiulus londinensis urled into a defensive spiral .

The head and legs are tucked in to the interior of the spiral for protection.

This is the mini-beast unfurled and crawling around. It moves quite quickly on its many white legs -so its not the easiest thing to photograph.

You can see from the photo that it really is a millipede as they have two pairs of legs per body segment while centipedes only have one pair of legs per segment.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I managed to photograph a couple of froghoppers recently. Froghoppers are very small jumping insects that look surprisingly frog-like when seen close-up.

The ability to jump very high adds to the frogginess.

I was quite impressed with the bright orange eyes of this one.

Froghoppers have been recently assessed as being the most powerful jumper of all the animals -previously fleas had been considered the champions.

The new research has shown that froghoppers can leap up to 70cm into the air, which is one reason why they are hard to photograph.

As soon as they sense a camera, they leap away.

This photo helps show the scale of the insects-they are very small, about half a centimetre [0.2inch], and most are well camouflaged with brownish or greenish colours.
The nymphs of the froghopper make a 'nest' bubbles from excess plant sap. This is commonly called Cuckoo spit or snake spit. The frothy nest hides them from predators but also allows the nymphs to control their temperature and moisture levels.