You Can Join the Cosmic Nature Project

In case you missed my previous blog posts about my self-titled series of paintings ‘Cosmic Nature’, you can read about them here and here. But this blog is me reaching out to you, my audience, my viewers, the people that matter.

Cosmic Painting
Here’s one that you can help transform into a finished painting

This is your chance to become involved with my ‘Cosmic Nature’ project. I am opening up this project to public collaboration. Send me, through email, commenting on this post or contacting me via Facebook what you would like to see next from this project.

Detail from Night Parrots, Oils on Canvas

Would you like to see new subject matter, perhaps more planets, more aurora? Any idea that you like. Send me your creative thoughts, your silly titles, your whimsical ideas, and I will choose the best three to become the latest three installments of this series. I will create blog posts about each and will give you the opportunity to be involved at every step of the creative and writing process!

So start sending your ideas today! I look forward to receiving them.

Chloe

The Story Behind the Painting: Life at Last Light

Life at Last Light represents the resilience and adaptability of the raven to an urban environment.

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If you’re visiting New York, you might just catch sight of a raven. Just goes to show that if you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere. Oils on Canvas, 2017, available for €350 for the first asking nicely

Ravens are highly intelligent, sociable, and highly adaptable, but even with their skills, life in an urban environment is tough, from winging your way through glass disorienting skyscrapers to traffic, pollution and an unhealthy and unnatural diet. But the raven is one of nature’s hardy immigrants, and has embraced life in the concrete jungle. This article of Crows and Ravens Making a Comeback in New York was part of the inspiration for this painting, as I was searching for a suitable species to represent my feelings of home, as an immigrant myself (born in the UK, now living on the island of Malta).

This painting is the first of two in which I am reflecting on home, perhaps with homesickness, perhaps with admiration, and more than a little humility for the millions of refugees that have been forced out of their homes due to famine, conflict, political uprising, or all three. I talk about this in two previous blog posts here and here.

A Journey with a Kakapo

This week, I thought I’d delve into some detail about the painting that took up my easel for the last five months; for me, a marathon of a painting. I’m always fascinated to learn how other artists work, what inspires them, the materials and techniques that they use, so I thought I’d share some of mine.

Starting with the initial watercolour sketch:

Kakapo Watercolour Painting

A lot of you have heard about that kakapo; its unique evolution, its quirky behaviour, mating habits, and of course, the threats currently facing it. There are few paintings of kakapo, and the majority of them are fairly traditional. I wanted to capture a different side to this remarkable bird that is something between an owl and a parrot, both in habit and appearance. Colour was going to be the primary motivation for these piece, using rich, bold hues and blocks of colour to set the scene, much as I did in my previous ‘Solutrean’ paintings.

Oh, and it had to be big.

(I apologise as some photos were taken in natural light so there’s some glare from the wet paint etc)

Kakapo Painting

 

When it comes to transferring a drawing from paper onto canvas, there are several methods I use; whether it’s tracing onto the canvas from an inked drawing, or creating a scaled-up sketch using the grid method. This time, I was feeling confident. No pencil in sight, I grabbed a watery acrylic mix and sketched the basic outline of the bird, some feather details and a few wisps of background.

Kakapo Painting

The underpainting; a thin mix of cadmium yellow light oil paint, and a touch of orange, I knew would be crucial to holding it all together later on.

Kakapo Painting

Next I started from the outside, in, getting in the darks of the background which will help bring the bird forward, and give the feeling that he is trudging through the dark undergrowth. I love that burnt orange. I experimented with a few hints of feathers too.

Kakapo Painting
After a month, I’ve darkened up the darks and increased the tones, but haven’t made much progress on the kakapo himself. It was important to have a solid framework behind it, before I started fussing over the bird too much.

Kakapo Painting

There comes a point in a painting which I call the hurdle; the critical point where perhaps you might have got lost from your initial sketch, and perhaps started throwing paint down in an over-eager anticipation of the finished piece. The photo above is where I reached this critical point. I wasn’t happy with the green; even though it is a fair representation of the light kakapo green, but it somehow, didn’t fit. Lots of standing, staring, taking photographs, and generally, taking a step back from the painting helped me through this tricky transition stage.

Kakapo Painting

You learn a lot about painting whilst you’re painting, and I’ve learned that mistakes can be a good thing. As you can see from the previous photo to this one, the kakapo has transformed. The white line running through the birds centre was originally a dark brown branch, but it was too dead centre, and taking up too much of a focus. But I wasn’t concerned at this stage. I started thinking of the kakapo more in terms of shapes, and bringing it back in harmony with the background.

Kakapo Painting

Almost three months since I started, here is the latest in progress shot. As you can see, that heavy branch in the middle has gone and the kakapo has started to gain some feathering in the tail. Now to work on the branch at his feet, refine the body, and bring in some darks back into the background.

You can have the best plan in the world, but sometimes, paintings just evolve all by themselves. I made sketches, notes, colour maps and had a clear idea in my head, but it turned out a little different. However, I am thrilled with the transformation. The kakapo has a special place in my heart, and now, so does its painting.

Five months in the making and featuring New Zealand’s endangered kakapo, this is much more than just a painting to me. This is what I strive for, why I paint for what I love, and why you should love the natural world too.

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this piece and Kakapo Prints will be donated to the Kakapo Recovery.

Forest and Bird, Finished Oils on Canvas, 90 x 60cm and up for sale. Enquiries to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

Cheating

Over 12 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the opening episode of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II – and if you are anything like me, you were watching and you were moved by the male buller’s albatross, waiting patiently on his nest for his mate to return to him after many months of fishing far across the ocean. The music, the beautiful lighting and of course, our ability to empathise made us all feel for the male, and we sat, hopeful, eager, along side him until his mate finally arrived.

Then, they embraced in a unique albatross manner; coy, flirtatious, playing hard to get. There definitely is some bonding going on there, but how much it extends to true monogamy is a debate that scientists cannot seem to shake off.

Albatross Painting Work in Progress
‘Laysan Waltz’ In Progress

Birds are one of the few monogamous groups of animals, and albatross and their waltzing are some of the most famous, but recent genetic studies have shown secret affairs, illicit encountered and cheating chaps. The male albatross waits patiently for his female, calls to her, dances his heart out to her, whilst she could already be carrying another’s chick – and who’s to say he hasn’t been out for some extra-marital copulation whilst he’s been alone?

Recent studies and genetic testing have shown that as many as 24% of albatross chicks are the result of these affairs. A quarter of illegitimate chicks, in a species that is the cornerstone of  ‘mating for life’. It just goes to show that what we think we know, is only ever the half of it.

Albatross Painting Work in Progress
‘Laysan Waltz’ In Progress, Oils on Canvas – they’ll have feet soon!

And it’s also another example of where anthropomorphising can lead us into error; we’re projecting our own emotions and ideas of courtship onto the scenes that we witness, and draw our own wild conclusions. What to us appears as a beautiful rekindling of a lifelong bond, could be simply re-affirming who’s boss, or simply acknowledging a member of their own species.

I am guilty of this too. Half of the reason that I paint animals is to try to feel a little of what they feel, and for us to be able to connect with them also. Just as Franz Marc wanted to uncover the spiritual in the animal, I want to explore why nature is such a fixation in my life, and how (how on earth) it isn’t for others. Nature connects us to nature, and to ourselves.

For me, there is something truly magical in nature’s ability to inspire, whether it’s because of how we choose to see it or not.

Laysan Albatross Painting
This painting is available for €400 to the first person asking kindly. A percentage of the sale will go towards The Foundation for Antarctic Research. I urge you to go and support such a worthy cause!

Paintings Selected in ‘Animals’ International Art Exhibition

 “Mandril” and “Fleeting” have been accepted for inclusion in the November 2016 art exhibition and show, “Animals” at Colors of Humanity Gallery in the USA.

 

Polar Bear Arctic Oil Painting
Fleeting, Oils on Canvas, 70 x 70cm, available for €400/$420 to the first person asking nicely!
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Mandril, Oils on Canvas, 100 x 50cm, available for €500/$550

Multiple accepted entries came from 22 different states in the USA and 12 other countries: Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malta, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.  A variety of styles and mediums were entered including, acrylic, aerographics, charcoal, collage, digital, ink, mixed media, mosaic, oil, pastel, pen, pencil/graphite/colored, photography, spray paint, tempera, and watercolor. The judging criterion was originality, interpretation, quality, demonstration of ability, and usage of medium. Other factors, such as the clarity of the images provided and their ability to be viewed online, as well as relating to the theme, also contributed to our decision.

We were very happy to donate 10% of all the entry fees from this show to the Humane Society. Colors of Humanity Art Gallery, LLC is not affiliated with any Humane Societies. It is our hope that this small act of kindness will blossom and grow to help someone else.

Childhood

The story of the axolotl is not unique to the natural world, but it is truly fascinating.

The axolotl, Mexican salamander or Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander that becomes an adult and reaches sexual maturity without undergoing any biological changes or metamorphosis. In effect, axolotls don’t suffer the hangups of puberty. This state is known as ‘neotany’ and is a trait that we’ve artificially bred into our domestic dogs and cats; think about those round heads, over sized eyes and features – remind you of a human baby? It’s no coincidence.

Instead of developing lungs and venturing onto land like other amphibians, the adult axolotl remains fully aquatic, keeping its external gills and tadpole-shaped tail. They have no eyelids, barely have teeth, and have the ability to regenerate a limb, tail or appendage if it it damaged or severed. They are effectively an adult in child’s clothing.

And in a way, we all are. No matter how much we age, our childhood hangups follow us, whether we want them to or not. Humans have many neotenic tendencies, from adult women hoarding soft toys to baby-talking to each other in the throes of a new relationship. I myself am not averse to a bed-full of soft-toys.

That’s why the axolotl, and other animals that seem to have neglected ageing, are so fascinating to me. Another example is the naked mole rat, an inspiring, far-from-charming little rodent that looks like a newborn rat, has virtually no fur, doesn’t suffer the effects of ageing, and is almost immune to cancer.

What would it be like if we were all to succumb to large-scale Peter Pan Syndrome; not having to worry about bills, the nine-to-five routine and missing the last bus. When the biggest worry of your day is making sure you don’t step on the cracks in the pavement (I still do this now – in my head of course) or that you get to the biscuits before your father does.

I think we need to learn a lesson from the axolotl; carrying our childhood into later life can have surprising benefits.

Axolotl Oil Painting

 

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Axolotl, Oils on Canvas

A Comparison – Lascaux and Guernica

In the quiet village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of France, stands one of the world’s finest examples of cave art, and in my opinion, one of the greatest artistic achievements ever. This complex network, like all prehistoric art, represents a great evolutionary leap into modern intelligence, known as ‘The Transition’. Lascaux was discovered by accident in 1940, and contains some simply mind-blowing paintings, both in skill and proportion. One only has to see the scale of the bulls in the Hall of the Bulls (one is more than 5 metres long) to be mesmerised.

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The variety of animal species, including aurochs (ancient bulls), horses, lions, ibex, bison, are painted in a seemingly uncontrolled method; with species sharing space, that would probably have given each other a wide birth in Nature. Also, some of the animals are super-imposed, painted between and across one another, some floating in odd positions, upside-side, bent around to fit with the subtle curvature of a fragment of rock. No backgrounds are ever present in cave art, the source of the rock provides it, and flora is never depicted, unless perhaps in unintelligible lines and dots. These aspects bear a certain similarity to Cubist art; the haphazard but clever layout of the composition, the intersection and angles of some of the animals, all seem to pluck them out of their realistic context, instead forcing them into an abstraction, a spectrum of un-reality. Even the reducing of some of the painted animals to a few carved or painted lines bears a similarity to later Cubism.

The Hall of Bulls and “Guernica”

The Hall of Bulls, the grandest, largest and one of the most heavily painted areas of Lascaux, sweeps across the ceiling, like the great arc of the sun from East to West, seeming to converge in the centre of the ceiling, over the entrances to the narrower, more hostile sections of the cave. Here, horses and bulls seem to run across the sky right above your head, leading us to question, how on earth was this painted, when our ancestors had no ladders, or the use of ropes and pulleys to create a painting platform? Indeed they were brave to enter in the chasms of the underworld, and for the seemingly cumbersome task of painting such majestic murals.

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In the same way that Lascaux is always mentioned at the forefront of prehistoric artistic masterpieces, so must one always mention and ponder on “Guernica” when discussing Picasso and the birth or modern art. Both create a significant impact whilst looking at them, even though their subject matter is very different. Let us first mention “Guernica”.

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“Guernica” was created by Picasso for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, at the time when Guernica, a small basque town in Northern Spain was horrendously bombed by German and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War. The town was in ruins, completely destroyed, and Picasso felt in necessary to bring the attention of this war to the world. This huge, seven-metre-long mural is monochrome, consisting of only black, white and greys. It is shocking in its grim portrayal of the war, and though its style is cubist, and almost crudely cartoon, its impact is not decreased. In fact, the exaggerated faces of the screaming Basque people, the animated dead baby dangling from its mother’s arm, the raging horse dominating the mural and the fallen horse beneath it create a scene of almost pitiful hatred. Though controversial, “Guernica” achieved what Picasso wanted; awareness for the suffering during the Civil War. Today this painting hangs in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, as a standing testament to those who died.

The comparisons between Lascaux’s Hall of the Bulls begin here. Both murals are chaotic, with the figures, whether of animals or people, are all pushed together, almost colliding into one another closet to the centre of the painting. The positions of Lascaux’s bulls and horses, with small, barely visible stags between them, suggests an air of excitement, or fear – perhaps this scene was replicating a hunt, or a stampede, or the animals during bad weather – and its is in this same fashion in “Guernica” that certain figures are concealed and distorted by another. There is a strange mix, of animals and figures, that would not usually have shared the same space. Also, scale and proportion is altered; the fallen person in the left of “Guernica” is the same size as the wounded horse. Limbs are too large, eyes are misplaced. The stags in The Hall are tiny in comparison to the horses they run beside, when in fact, the two species are of fairly similar size. The horses and bulls trip over one another, all heading towards the centre of the ceiling Perspective is practically unapparent; it is only evident in Lascaux due to the shape of the cave walls, and background too, is minimal.

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These common traits give the murals further impact. Where perspective and background fall away, the mind is freed by their restrictions, able to draw up fresh conclusions that would have otherwise been limited. Is “Guernica” a scene inside a building or a house, is it in the ruins of the town itself? Are Lascaux’s bulls running at each other, or are they actually running in the cave? There are numerous possibilities.

Both creations leave us feeling mystified, amazed and insignificant. They are both depicting scenes that we can never truly touch, and never truly understand. They leave us questioning our own destiny; where we have been and where we are heading as a species. Perhaps Lascaux symbolises the fight for evolution between the species, and “Guernica” reminds us harshly of our own.

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As our ancestors re-emerged from the cave and began to create words, language, civilisations, obviously their production of art and their need for it changed. Art became something much more decorative, with body adornments such as jewellery, pendants and figurines being carved. Art became more portable, and pottery flourished. As art movements develop today, rapidly changing from one to the next and colliding in the middle, to create something entirely new, the same is true in Pre-history. Stone-carving took a back seat and metalworking was developed, and the Bronze Age brought about greater skill and diversity of art. Just like today, art was taken over to the artisans, instead of being mass-produced by the civilisation as a whole. The ‘Primitive’ art created by our hominid fathers gave way to the Symbolism of Ancient Egypt and the architecture of the Nile Valley. The richly detailed art of the Americas was the first Romanticism, and in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aborigines of Australia gave us the first glimpse of Surrealism.

As artistic movements reappear, as suddenly as though the sun sets, perhaps Pre-historic art will re-emerge, in thousands of years to come. Its importance in our transition from ape to man should not be underestimated. Without the ochre horses of our ancestors, we would not have any of the masterpieces we see today, in our museums, in our homes, and in our hearts.