Not Vegan, Love Animals

There’s so much hype around veganism at the moment. Every restaurant menu totes about offering ‘vegan this’ ‘vegan that’ ‘vegan wine’ etc. Cosmetic shops are telling us to ‘shop vegan’ by buying brushes made of synthetics instead of animal hair. Never mind that synthetic generally = plastic = more bad news for our oceans.

I’m not here to shame anyone or criticise, as there are some good points about eating a vegan diet: we can all admit we need to eat less red meat and processed food, and yes, the meat industry is undoubtedly cruel. But shoving our bodies full of synthetics and not eating meat and animal-based products is basically doing this:

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By not eating meat and animal products, you’re not stopping your neighbour from eating them. You’re not stopping that same number of cows being sent to the production line: why? Because the meat industry isn’t about you.

The problem with the industry is precisely because it isn’t about you, or me. It’s about everyone. Global consumption. A few hundreds of individuals choosing not to consume these products will not make a dent in the multi-billion dollar industry (which is expected to exceed $800 billion within the next year or so).

Instead of the false presumption that you not eating the egg stops the hen from suffering (and producing a dozen other eggs for the supermarket, no doubt to go out of date, and then to be discarded/wasted), presume that you not eating the egg makes no difference.

 

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If you want to make a difference, read books like Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. Get in touch with the big meat heads, and tell them to change their methods. Be a vegan if you want: but don’t make it your beck and call unless you’re actually willing to do more than just make yourself feel better. It should be about changing the world empire that is the meat industry, in three ways:

– reducing our addiction to red meat. Beef needs ten times more grazing and production land than poultry, so by simply shifting our meat-eating needs away from beef, we’ll be saving vast areas of land from destruction. Instead, this newly freed land could be used to grow crops to feed the third world, instead of growing enough crops to feed enough animals to feed us.

– changing our attitude towards animals. Animals are sentient beings: they deserve respect and dignity in life, and even in death. If they must be killed, let’s make it quick and painless, and let’s not let them live in filth, pain and poverty in the months/years leading up to it. We do not live in a perfect world. Dogs are fought in pits on the street, cats are still drowned, horses are still abused and left out to dry after their racing careers are over, bulls are massacred in bullfights. Human beings are meat eaters – so are our closest living relatives. We shouldn’t not eat meat, but we should do it responsibly.

– learning to grow meat artificially, and safely. It’s already begun and I’m hoping it will be widely available to the masses within my lifetime. With current technological advances, I’m certain it will be. If we can continue to enjoy the taste of meat, the protein and vitamin benefits (Vitamin B12, anyone?), without having to kill any animals, that may be a more perfect world than we live in today. No more livestock would mean almost 40% of the world’s land available to re-populate (but, let’s not, I think there’s enough of us already), re-cultivate, or simply open back up to wildlife.

But what about all the cows? Would we introduce domestic cattle, sheep, pigs etc back into the wild? Start breeding them with wild species, start introducing them slowly? Leave them to fend for themselves? I ask you, is that ethical? Is that fair?

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Livestock photos © Grey Feather Photography

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Penguin Awareness Day

We call ourselves animal lovers, but, we have to admit, there are far fewer of us that love cockroaches than furry, four legged bundles and beats. And seeing as today is #PenguinAwarenessDay, I thought I’d talk a bit about one of my personal favourite species, and why they do (and do not) appear in my art often.

January is an important time for penguins, as it’s mid summer in Antarctica the cute little Emperor penguin chicks are now fat, gangly, moulting teenagers. While they enjoy some much needed sun, their trip to the sea to fatten up is now much shorter. Summer won’t last long, and soon it’s time to start all over again!

I had the pleasure of encountering penguins a number of times, however, never in the wild: the closest I got were puffin sightings in Anglesey, Wales. But the few times I saw them in bird parks and zoos, I was amazed by their comical waddle, their curiousity, and how odd they feel – a mixture between a hard rubber tyre and soft leather, would be the best way to describe it.

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The African or ‘Jackass’ penguin, in Madrid’s Zoo Aquarium

My love of penguins extends to some watercolours and a few accessories, too!

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‘Cosmic Penguins’ from my Cosmic Nature series, and my favourite avian scarf!

Few animals are as resilient as penguins. From chinstrap penguins being mercilessly hurled onto the rocks, being pummeled by the full force of the Southern Ocean as they fight to get to their chicks, to the desperate struggle of female emperors to adopt chicks if their own have perished. Perhaps no other animal sees less sunlight per year, too. And living under temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius, I believe that penguins deserve their credit. They are just one of the many species that are going to be effected by ice sheet melt, plastic-riddled oceans and global warming.

For the love of penguins, send them a thank you card!

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Penguin-themed greeting cards and products available at Redbubble

(Re-blog) Politics Aside: We Must All Be Mothers of Nature — Kim Steutermann Rogers

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead Late last year, at the same time the Presidential election results shook the nation, the majestic Laysan albatross started returning to Kaua‘i. They dropped their spatula-like feet and touched […]

via Politics Aside: We Must All Be Mothers of Nature — Kim Steutermann Rogers

Cosmic Thoughts – Starlight

“We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

There’s something infinitely powerful about horses. If you’ve ever stood so close to one as to feel it’s snorting breath, its rippling muscles and those eagle-sharp eyes, you’ve probably felt this presence. If you’re a horse owner, leisure rider, professional horseman, then you know what this feeling is all about.

It’s somewhere between calm, yet ready to spring into life at any moment. A horse is a prey animal; so it’s every fibre is ready for action, should the need arise. The universe, to me, has this same quality; a fluid, well-oiled, perfectly synchronised machine, yet hiding something tumultuous.

Perhaps these thoughts are the reasons why I painted Tower of Starlight, but perhaps these are just the inspirations I realised after. I knew what I wanted to paint, and how I wanted to paint it.

 

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Tower of Starlight, 100 x 60cm Oils on Canvas

 

We (roughly) know how the universe was formed, and when.

The ‘why’ is always a bit more of a mystery.

Tower of starlight
Free-falls into the mountains
And a horse seeks warmth.

Learn more about my cosmic nature paintings.

 

Betelgeuse and a Bee

We can’t predict the future.

But, in some cases, we can make fairly accurate estimations for situations that are extremely likely to occur, thanks to diligent research and hard science.

Betelgeuse, the red and brightest star in the constellation of Orion in the night sky, may be barely perceptible to the naked eye, but this cosmic orb is actually a super massive, unstable star reaching the end of its life, and ready to explode. It could be tomorrow, it could be a million years from now. But one day, it will happen, just as sure as our own Sun will die. Betelgeuse will grow, and grow, using up the very last stores of its energy, and will explode in a fantastically cataclysmic supernova. It will shine like a second Sun. We may as yet be lucky enough to witness such a spectacle, and we are, thankfully, some 430 light-years out of harm’s way.

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But not every scientific prediction and eventuality can be so epic and so benign to us as the fate of Betelguese. The humble bumblebee, an annoying summer visitor to some, a problem-solving, dancing, geometry-wielding genius to others, has a fate that seems to be hanging in the balance, very much as the stability of the red star in the heavens. Yet the fate of the bumblebee is much closer to home.

Bumblebees have seen a dramatic drop in their population levels, with as much of a third of their US populations having decreased in recent years (http://www.globalresearch.ca/death-and-extinction-of-the-bees/5375684). Bees are not only vital pollinators, allowing countless species of plants and flowers to pollinate and reproduce, but they are also an important part of our own elaborate food chain. From honey in its raw form to soaps, lip balms, syrups and more, bees have been powerful contributors to our desire for sweet tastes, soft skin and juicy lips.

But at what price? Climate change, growing use of harmful pesticides and invasion of foreign species are speeding up the crisis bees face, but ultimately we may be their biggest threat. It’s difficult to predict how soon such a population could crash, whether it is a local crash, or restricted to vulnerable populations or even entire countries. A small, colony-dwelling animal such as a bee is no doubt hard to study, and hard to calculate in terms of accurate numbers and breeding success. With only handfuls of dedicated beekeepers to help with the maths, once again it seems science can only predict what may be around the corner.

I’m not suggesting we throw away that little jar of honey that we love to spoon into our cereal, or to soothe a sore throat after a rough winter, all I am suggesting is that we stop, step back and switch of the lights. Crane your neck up, as high as you can, and see if you can spot Orion among the tango-haze of light pollution. Next time you hear the soft bzzzzzz coming towards your eye, don’t flap your hands to shoo it away. Stay still, stay calm, and take a look.

The homogenizing of nature

Wildlife and Words

Homogenization means to make something ‘uniform or similar’, it is a concept with connotations of blandness and repetitiveness. It could easily be applied to Britain’s high-streets, which are increasingly becoming rows of identical big-name franchises – every town in the country is now guaranteed to contain a Costa. It is one of my greatest fears for the future that this very thing will happen to the natural world as well.

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Birds, Birds, Birds!

Dinosaurs in drag.

That’s effectively what birds are. The scaly-legged, scaled-down and more decorative great-great-great-great grandchildren of the dinosaurs. Whether you believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs or not (but you really, really should), it’s hard not to be fascinated by these animals. Whilst some people are terrified of birds to the point of hysterics (see, it;s the dinosaur connection again!), most find them truly mesmerizing.

From the lonesome, lustful traveller to the birdwatcher to the ornithologist, birds hold a special place in our imagination. Whether it is their beautiful song, elaborate plumes, architectural prowess that rivals the best interior designer, or simply the quirky hopping, head-bobbing that they do so wonderfully. It’s really no small wonder that birds have been depicted in art for centuries. They have symbolised everything from purity to wrath, witchcraft and everything in between. As an artist I find that the bird makes for a truly unique and evocative subject, with a versatility that is difficult to recreate with mammals or other subjects. Birds have their own wonderful colour palettes and their own ready-made canvases, ready for us artists to pounce on.

Below, I’d like to share some of my favourite modern and traditional examples of the beauty of the bird in art and why they appeal to me in the way that they do.

Birds, 1914, Franz Marc

Birds in Art Blog

Hardly surprising that Franz Marc is on this list, but this  particular painting is here for a few reasons. This painting to me is not about a particular bird, or a particular species, but it captures the essence of what it is to be a bird: the pointed beak, the flap of the wings, their vocalisations. This painting evokes that startled feeling that you get when a flock of pigeons suddenly springs up into the air from just under your nose.

Illustrations in Ornithology, published in 1599


Whilst wildly inaccurate, these very early illustrations of Birds of Paradise from Papua New Guinea were not the work of over-imaginative artists, but the restrictions of working from dead specimens collected and traded half way around the world. The trade in paradise birds was booming, but the specimens were dried and traded without any legs or wings, so their beautiful plumes could be shown off in even more exquisite detail. But for early illustrators and ornithologists, this proved something of a puzzle. The theory was that these birds lived in heaven – Paradise, so didn’t need wings or feet at all. A truly beautiful story about a remarkable group of birds, and one I think any bird lover should take the time to read about. More beautiful than any designer dress!
Dodo, F. Hart

This 19th Century painting is sad reminder of the unfortunate story of the Dodo, a bird much loved by artists, writers, and much mocked and exaggerated too. This over-sized, flightless Mauritian pigeon has fascinated me from a very young age, ever since reading Dodos are Forever by Dick King Smith. Again, we don’t know how accurate this painting is as there are very few specimens around today, but this stunning piece of art and others like it are sobering reminders of humanity’s impact on the environment, and the vulnerability of specialised and isolated island species.

Modern artists too can’t help but fall in love with birds. Below are a few contemporary examples that I simply love, and yes, there’s one of mine in the list too!

For Me? You Shouldn’t Have!, Kimberly Kelly Santini

This absolutely charming little painting projects the little diva that seems to shine through in even the tiniest of birds. From singing with gusto to flashing their dazzling plumes, the smallest birds are often the boldest, the most brazen, and some of the most beautiful. If you can’t get out to see them in the wild; go to a sanctuary, an aviary, a pet shop, anywhere you can, and just take a look. Whilst searching the length and breadth of this island for guinea pigs a few weeks ago I got lost in the dazzling array of canaries, finches, quails, sparrows….I was astounded at their little variations, the unique qualities of each tiny little bird; perhaps that is how Darwin felt!

Carmines, Emily Lamb

The beauty and simplicity of this painting does all the work it needs to. The rest is up to the imagination of the viewer.

Wall of Birds Project, Ink Dwell Studio



This massive-scale, stunning work comprises  270 species of birds from all over the globe. This unique piece of art includes many extinct and living bird species from the Dromornis to the Kakapo to the Wandering Albatross, and many other species that have a special place in my heart. Another unique aspect of this piece is that every bird is painted life size and in stunning accuracy and detail, for a magical, bird-map view of the world.
Laysan Waltz, by Me!

Albatross Painting for Conservation
The albatross is my love-affair, my chocolate, my drug of choice. The albatross is a bird that is like no other; mating for life, performing perfectly-synchronised and often comical dances, boasting nature’s most magnificent wings. This seabird is a one of a kind, but unfortunately, it is also under threat in many of its key nesting sites, from Midway Island to Macquarie Island,  so it is a bird that we need to pay close attention to. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with them. You can read more about the making of this painting here.  (This painting is available for €500 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!)

Is there a particular species that moves you as an artist? Be it a painter, a writer, musician etc, is their a subject that captures your imagination like no other?