10 Ways To Connect With Nature

Nature. Whether it’s the flies that slipped in through the open window or the spider that decides corners should be smoother, we often complain about those little bits of nature in our lives.

These days, we’re all so glued to work, to our smartphones, and inevitably, to ourselves. So much so that I think we’ve lost a big part of our connection to the natural world. You probably remember when you were a child, if you’re pre-2000 that is, riding a bicycle, running through fields, or climbing trees. These days, it’s wearing virtual headsets, shooting through two-dimensional flattened leaves.

But there are many extraordinary ways to connect with nature, even if you live in the city, or you’re busy, there’s no excuse! I’ve chosen some of my personal favourites.

  1. Volunteer At Your Local Animal Sanctuary

Chances are, there’s more than one animal sanctuary, shelter or NGO close to where you live, and chances are that their money is tight and their resources overstretched. While donating is an admirable thing to do, simply donating money can feel impersonal, and sometimes you may not be sure where your money is going. If you love working with animals, then this is a great way to connect with nature, even if it’s in a domestic setting. Helping out around the cattery, feeding the youngsters or simply walking dogs out in the country can be a great stress reliever, with the added benefit that you’re giving something back.

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  1. Bring Nature Into Your Home

The simple addition of a few pot plants and flowers inside your home can do wonders to liven up your spirits. A few beautiful green leaves and some carefully coordinated flowers can really transform a room from a mundane space into one that feels alive. It’s good for the air, too!

  1. Paint, Write, Create Outdoors

Instead of keeping yourself locked indoors like a hermit (an activity my writer husband is most most fond of), get out and create. Leave the laptop at home, grab a notebook or a sketch pad and head out into the open. It could be as simple as a quiet seaside café, or somewhere entirely more rural – Malta has some wonderful outdoor spaces to get out and create, from wonderful hidden caves to expanses of open garigue where there’s plenty of space and little disturbance. A change of scenery is proven to help boost creativity, and even inspire completely new ideas.

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  1. Build A Roof Garden

If you live in an inner-city apartment or a shared building, or if you’re like me and don’t exactly have a garden, make one! Transform your roof, yard or airspace into a green space. Fill it with hanging plants, flowers, some delightful benches, add a bird table or two, and nature will come to you.

  1. Go For A Hike

Hiking is a great way to get the heart rate going. Going hiking gets you some much needed Vitamin D, and you’ll be surprised by all the interesting scenery along the way.

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  1. Horseback Riding

If you don’t feel like traipsing over rocky terrain by yourself, why not go horseback riding. You can opt for a leisurely walk, or perhaps something a bit more intense if you’re confident. There’s nothing quite like the gentle clopping of hooves to set your mind wandering.

  1. Sit By The Sea

The sound of the waves gently rolling against the sand or the rocks has to be one of my favourite sounds, only surpassed by the gentle swish of wind through a woodland. I’m not talking sunbathing or beach lounging, just grab a blanket and a few drinks and sit on the beach at sunset. Talk, or don’t talk. Think, or don’t think: it’s up to you.

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  1. Learn Photography

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a pretty poor photographer, but skill aside, there’s nothing like having a camera in your hand to make you look at nature a little closer. Think you’re not terribly interested in insects and flowers? Try holding a camera.

  1. Go Birdwatching

Birds are everywhere. Whether you can find a local pond, woodland or a designated bird sanctuary of birdwatching space, take a pair of binoculars and keep your eyes peeled. However, make sure you don’t disturb any nests or baby birds! And no feeding them bread.

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  1. Embrace A Healthier Lifestyle

I don’t mean go vegan or suddenly start running marathons. I mean making small, daily lifestyle changes such as eating more fresh fruit and veg, perhaps going shopping at your local farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. If you hate the gym, go for a walk in your local area instead.

As you can see from the list above, I am not talking about any green-movement, hippy, tree-hugging or alternative ideas about ‘feeling the grass beneath your toes and the Earth Mother within you’. Instead I’m talking about realistic, practical suggestions that don’t need any spiritual awakening or higher purpose. If you want to stand on your head and feel the Earth’s vibrations, that’s up to you. For me personally, nature is inspirational enough all on its own.

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The Flower of Memory

There’s something impermanent about memory. Just as a flower is born, memory is born. You can’t always see the exact moment it happens: nature moves too slowly, too undetectable for that, like when you blink, did you really miss anything at all?

Just as the flower grows and blossoms against the warm embrace of the sun, so memory is created. It is both born, created and resigned to the past in an instant. The flower will never again look the same as it did a second ago.

Change the light, change the angle of perspective, even the perception of the viewer, and the flower changes. But it is still the same flower. As the arrow of time must dictate, the flower will grow and it will peak, then, its petals will softly brown, its leaves will become too heavy with the weight of time, and eventually, they will fall.

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The flower’s beauty is in its impermanence, its dynamism, and its response to the changing environment. Take a look at memories before the sun rises, in a room only half-lit by consciousness and rationality, and take a look again as the last orange glow fades from view. The same memory, seen a million different ways.

As the flower changes, so too does memory change. What appeared so strong and so vivid starts to blur at the edges. The order of events falls into disorder – but not chaos – but the essence of the flower endures.

The flower lives on.

Note: The flower included with this painting is a surviving stem from my wedding day.

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Posted in Art

Why I Love Watercolours

If I had to choose to only ever paint in one medium again, I’d find myself torn between my two loves, oils and watercolours. It’s a pretty 50/50 split in the works that I do, and both mediums have their advantages and disadvantages. Both are notoriously tricky to master, as well.

I think for me, oil paints will always be my first love. No other medium quite gives me the same vibrance and language of colour that I’ve learned from oils. Oils tend to be fairly forgiving of mistakes, too. But what’s wonderful about watercolours is their diversity. A few household items have enabled me, like many watercolourists, to create a far wider array of textures, styles and moods than what could be done with brushes. I’d like to share some of my favourites, along with a few thoughts, in this blog post.

  1. Salt

Creating an interesting texture over a large area can be tricky using watercolours. Building layer upon layer might result in a bit of a muddy, uniform colour that could be a bit boring. Salt is a super easy way to instantly jazz up a background, and can create an interesting texture that can resemble anything from stormy sky to coral or water. When you take your pinch of salt to the paint makes a difference: very wet paint will give you more dramatic, feathery shapes. Let your paint dry a little, and the salt has less moisture to pick up, resulting in more defined, smaller marks.

Watercolour painting with salt
In this example the paint is slightly wetter than damp, and the salt crystals are still absorbing the paint. Wait till perfectly dry then gently rub the salt free with a soft tissue.

 

Watercolour painting salt
The effect when dry and the salt removed. There are areas of paper that had more water, so the marks vary from very fluffy to quite sharp.

 

2. Running Washes

It’s all about gravity. Wet your paper thoroughly, create some paint strokes, and then tip your paper in whichever direction you want to create a soft and dynamic wash. Here I tipped my paper up and down so that the paint ran in both directions, and strengthened some colour areas before repeating. The addition of the sketchy lines enhances the feel of this piece.

Watercolour washes painting

3. Soft Blends

The key to this technique is good quality paper that’s not too smooth (it will show up all and any imperfections) and not too rough, and wetting your paper thoroughly without leaving pools. I love creating soft backgrounds and seeing what different colour combinations will do.

Paradise Bird Watercolour
Works equally well for details, such as feathers.

Paradise Birds Watercolour

 

4. Pooling Paint & A Spray Bottle

A technique I’ve so far used only once or twice for my Cosmic Nature paintings. This technique involves wetting specific shapes, and then grabbing a fair dollop of rich watercolour, dropping it onto the water and letting them blend. I love using this method for creating cosmic backgrounds, and allows a certain element of control, whilst generally it seems to provide much brighter, bolder colour.

I enhanced the painting below with using a spray bottle, gently spraying in certain directions to ‘push’ the paint beyond its original wet outline. The only issue I see here is that there was a bit too much water so I got more of a pool than a spreading spray that I wanted. But for next time!

Cat Abstract Watercolour

 

So there you have it, some of my favourite watercolour moments. There are several new techniques I’m keen to try involving some new household mediums and hopefully some new themes too, so stay tuned

What are your favourite mediums and techniques?
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Wandering Universe

The hue and the wing beat
Bound by the laws of Physics.

The eye and the nebula
Too wonderful to be accidental?

The paradigm shifts upon takeoff
The paradigm shifts upon implosion.

What a journey it must be when your feet
Barely touch the ground
To kiss the wind of the sea and the sound

of the stars.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

#DogHeroes – Four-Legged Heroes

#DogHeroes is back for another addition, and this one’s a little bit different. This time, I’m going to share some of my favourite four-legged heroes.

From service dogs for the blind, the deaf, the disabled to bomb-sniffers, drug-busters, cancer seeking dogs and everything in between, dogs are more than just man’s best friend. Their intelligence and human intuition is second to none, and is the reason that dogs are able to take on such diverse roles far beyond that of the family pet.

The 9/11 Heroes

Of the almost 10,000 emergency service and rescue personnel that rushed to the aid of the World Trade Center attacks, 300 of them were dogs. Alongside their tireless handlers, Bretagne, Riley, Coby, Guinness, Apollo, Thunder and others went far beyond their normal line of duty, searching for both the deceased and survivors, working 12 hour shifts and pushing themselves to the absolute limit. Sadly, the last four-legged 9/11 hero Bretagne passed away in 2016, after enjoying her retirement until age 17.

Dog Hero 9/11 Dog
Image: smithsonianmag.com

Lucy – Better Than Lab Tests

Lucy simply wasn’t cut out for guide dog school, as her Labrador-Irish Water Spaniel drive to smell got in her way. Excitable and curious, her nose led her to distraction and eventually to the end of her guide dog career. However, her owners didn’t give up, and knew that they could put her skills to good use. Lucy became part of Medical Detection Dogs,  and for 7 years she trained, sniffing out various types of cancer from bladder cancer to kidney and prostate cancer. Her success rate is measured to be around 95% accurate, which is considered equal or better than many of the best laboratory tests. Way to go, Lucy.
Kelsey Wouldn’t Leave Her Owner’s Side

A trip to go and get firewood nearly ended in tragedy for Bob from Michigan. It was a bitterly cold New Year’s Eve when he popped out to collect some logs, but fell and broke his neck, falling into the snow. With his nearest neighbour almost a kilometre away, Bob’s cries for help were pretty futile. But his Golden Retriever Kelsey found him, curled up on top of him and kept him warm overnight, licking him so he didn’t fall unconscious, and barking until help finally arrived. Bob and Kelsey are both now doing just fine.

Veterans

Dogs have probably been used in combat ever since we domesticated them. From sentries to scouts, dogs have been documented since 7th Century BC as leading the way in cavalry charges and battles. Dogs are known for their fearlesslness, and no doubt their close connection to humans made them highly suited for their role of leiutenant.

In the 16th Century the Conquistadors used the bulky breeds such as mastiffs to intimidate and subdue the native Americans.

In the First World War, the role of dogs was of critical importance, and canines were enlisted to carry messages across enemy lines (along with carrier pigeons) and struggle through the desperate front lines. It’s estimated that over 1 million dogs died alongside the human casualties, but their bravery and assistance was greatly revered.

More recently, a Belgian Malinois was on the team of Operation Neptune Spear, that successfully assassinated Osama bin Laden.

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Image: theatlantic.com

Whether it is ethical to use dogs in warfare is another matter, and one I won’t go in to here. The use of millions of dogs, horses, pigeons, donkeys and others was vital in ending (and probably starting) many of history’s great wars. Perhaps with improvements in Drones and other technology, such use of animals will be in decline.

What Is #DogHeroes?

#DogHeroes – highlighting the tireless work of dedicated individuals, groups and charities who rescue and rehabilitate dogs, and showcasing the difference that they make, very often relying on their own pocket and the donations of animal lovers like ourselves. Be aware, read the stories, if you see an abandoned or injured dog, pick it up, and if you can’t, give it what you can and pick up the phone. More importantly, understand that even the smallest donation can go a long way.

You can also help by sharing your own #DogHeroes. Use the hashtag, please! Share this blog, nominate your own heroes in the comments, and feel free to talk about this on social media. If you know a worthy cause, shout about it. If you adopted a senior dog, share your story. And stay tuned for the next blog where I’ll introduce the next #DogHero.

Additional reading:

https://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/20/health/cancer-smelling-dogs/index.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/15/hero-dog-saves-life-freezing-owner-broke-neck-fall/

Discovering Dinosaurs With Mary Anning

It’s Women’s Day today, a day where we celebrate the women in our lives: a daughter, a mother, a friend. A day where we celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and in our times.

There are a great many women that I admire, from Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her advocacy of the rights of Muslim women, to Georgia O’Keeffe for changing the face of American art forever, to Frida Kahlo and her struggle with chronic pain and her deeply complex, unstable life as an artist.

One woman I truly admire is one that might not be quite as well known as the women above, and certainly not as well-known as say the Kardashians or Rihanna. She was born in the tiny coastal town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. It was her great passion and pleasure to spend winters trawling the crumbling cliffs searching for newly exposed fossils. Having a rudimentary Sunday school education, Mary Anning would accompany her family as they sought to supplement their income with fossils; fossil-hunting had become a source of tourism and prestige for the area, and tourists were eager to purchase these unique relics.

Mary Anning was a pioneer; she was the one who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton – a large marine reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs – and then went on to discover several more revolutionary finds in natural history. She uncovered two complete plesiosaurs and even a pterosaur – the flying dinosaur.

If all these discoveries weren’t impressive enough on their own right (David Attenborough and the Sea Dragon), we have to consider that this all happened back in the first half of the 19th Century, when the world of science was dominated by gentlemen, and women were rarely more than mothers and housewives.

That Mary was able to take her love of fossil-hunting and became quite an influential voice in geological circles is endlessly inspiring. But, as a woman, unfortunately, she did not get the acclaim and the respect that she truly deserved. Thanks to Mary Anning we were able to piece together great swathes of mystery surrounding the evolution and ultimately, the demise of the dinosaurs. But, as a woman, there was only so much she could do.

I like to think that we’ve moved on from this, and I know we have. Though she never got the credit for her contribution to the scientific world, after her death she finally started to be taken seriously, as is often sadly the case.

In her own words: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

The world needs to stop treating women scientists and pioneers unkindly. We don’t need to be suspicious of them – rather, we should celebrate them! Trail-blazing women, modern-day Mary Annings should be on top of the pantheon of role-models. Scientists like Emily Levesque, Katherine Freese and Maryam Mirzakhani. If you haven’t heard about these stars of modern science then you’re missing the big picture.

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Birdbrain!

“Birdbrain”: we’ve all heard the term, bandied it around, perhaps even referred to another person as one. But where does this come from, and does it have any merit?

The common notion is that birds are, to put in bluntly, dumb.

But birds aren’t stupid at all. By proportion, they have pretty tiny brains (a macaw’s brain is about the size of a walnut), so it was wrongly associated that a small brain meant small intellect (how very birdbrained of us to suggest this) but recent studies are proving quite the opposite.

Birds have a vast number of neurons located in their forebrains: the area that is responsible for intelligence. In fact, some species have as many neurons as primates!

So what does this mean for the expression, birdbrain? Take it as a compliment. Birds are amazingly complex and varied species. Crows and corvids demonstrate self-awareness in mirror tests and can use twigs to fish out grubs.

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‘A Home Under the Stars’, Oils on Canvas – €350 – enquiries may come to me

Arctic terns have amazing navigational skills, circumnavigating the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year.

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‘Borealis’ Oils on Canvas – €500 for the set of three

New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the Kea can break into locked cars, sealed backpacks and lunchboxes, all in the name of mischief. They can even solve complex puzzles as seen in the highly-recommended documentary ‘Beak and Brain – Genius Birds from Down Under

So next time someone calls you a birdbrain, do some research! Watch some videos, or, just paint them!

 

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the left to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂