“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.

‘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.

‘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!


What’s Your Perfect Art Studio?

The long sought-after art studio. A reality for many full and part-time artists, and for others, it’s more a makeshift place in a room of the house that your partner let you ‘take over’ (yes, that’s me). We often have the impression that art studios are massive, well-lit, expensive places, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The space that you paint in is crucial for producing paintings comfortably and privately, if you prefer. And while your space might not be perfect, there are some things you can do to improve it.


My studio/spare room is not the finest example for natural light. If it’s a lovely sunny day (Malta = around 300 sunny days per year) then I can paint in a warm sunny glow, but still the light is far from perfect for photographing works. If your studio’s great for painting, but not for photographing, simply move the paintings elsewhere. I have a stunning roof that’s just perfect for the job – unless it’s windy!

Cosmic Painting
Photographing on the roof – non-windy day


Unless you plan on working on some epic-sized canvases, then space isn’t really a huge issue. If you’re like me and have one too many paintings in your studio, get creative. There are numerous DIY art racks you can build, or simply get hanging and turn your studio into your own private gallery. You could host an open studio in no time.



Not a pre-requisite, but no doubt your once-pristine studio has now fallen into a bit of disarray. The carpet you swore you wouldn’t get paint on, the old ‘paint water’ and ‘not paint water’ debate?



Do you have a set time of day during which you find you paint better. Perhaps the kids are at school, you’re done from your day job, or you just find that your creativity works better from 11pm onwards. Whatever time painting suits you, go for it. If you don’t feel in the mood, don’t force it. Potter around the studio, get it tidied and organised, and fumble through some old works if you find yourself with half an hour of studio time.


If you’re anything like me, you need animals in your studio. From stuffed ones to the ones in the paintings, my favourite studio animals is Luna, pictured below. Downside: dog hairs stick to oil paint, and once the paint is dry, you’ve had it. Try to keep hairy pets away from wet canvases, at all costs!

This painting was dry at the time, no fear!


Whether you’ve knocked it together from bits of old furniture, you’ve gone the whole ho with professional lighting and easels, or you’re just painting out of the back of a Model-A Ford (great idea, Georgia). Neat or messy, you’ve got to make your space your own. Add your unique personality to it with your favourite music, little keepsakes and sources of inspiration.

Your Studio

We all have different opinions on art, and for the same reason we all have different opinions on what makes a studio work. I’ve included some of my own thoughts above and what works for me, but I’d love to hear all about your studios in the comments.

Painting the Night Sky

It might be mid winter, but in Malta, we’re pretty lucky with our long hours or sunlight, mild winters and relatively steady climate. What this island is unfortunately not very good for is stargazing, as there’s far too much light pollution – apart from in a few hard-to-get-to places – to see anything more than Polaris and the moon.

So perhaps it’s strange that I decided to paint the night sky. I’ll admit, sadly none of my paintings are painted from subjects I’ve been able to see or paint myself, but there’s a wealth of source material to use.

The challenge with painting the night sky, particularly in watercolours, is getting the right amount of depth and contrast, not easy! But after 2 years of painting the subject, I’ve come up with a few tips for painting a successful night sky scene.

Observe the sky as much as you can during the day particularly if, like me, you have nothing to look at during the night. Watch shifting clouds, changing light, how the sky transforms from powder blue to that deep, deep enveloping blue.


Take plenty of photos (again, in my case, I’m restricted to daylight/sunset/sunrise) as you’ll be surprised just how many colours there are that you don’t immediately see. Again, these observations will be useful for later night scenes.


Don’t use black paint. The only time I use black paint for a cosmic painting or a night sky is when I prepare a black acrylic base, upon which I’ll then paint my oils. Black looks to flat, and too dull. By all means, mix a touch of black into your deepest blues and create a ‘vignette’ edge to the piece, which will help create a greater sense of depth as well as draw the eye in.


Use many cool and deep tones, and warm colours. There are so many different moods you can create!


Use salt, for some really interesting ‘cloudy’ textures!

Unfortunately, the next time I’m feeling inspired, I won’t be able to look at more than a few little twinkling white dots from my roof, however, if I stop to think about it, those tiny twinkling balls are endlessly complex, fascinating, and inspiring all by themselves.


If you can’t travel to nature, let nature come to you

“If you can’t travel to nature, let nature come to you.”

Chloe paints in the spare room of her home in the small and unremarkable town of Hamrun, just a stone’s throw from Malta’s most gentlemanly of cities, Valletta. She has a special corner of this room prepared, with just enough furniture and nicknacks to keep her occupied when she goes up there ‘for a think’.

The ‘studio’ is large, well-lit and with a balcony providing just enough of a glimpse of the world beyond to still feel safe. The artist’s desk is piled high with pots of brushes – some in far better condition than others – and another pot contains an assortment of animal figurines. For selling, one day. But not today.

The room is dominated by bookcases, mostly dedicated to the graphomania of her partner, but just a few choice titles of her own with a stuffed Thylacine for company. Beyond the shelves, the walls are lined with canvases of completed ‘travels’.

At the desk, there’s just enough space between the desk and more stacked canvases for the easel, and the paints themselves sit haphazard upon the floor, within easy reach of the dog and the artist who usually paints balanced on the balls of her feet instead of sitting or standing.

When Chloe starts on a project, she always begins with a pencil, using whatever scrap of paper she can find to begin her initial sketches. A roll of tracing paper is within easy reach when it comes time to transfer to canvas. A tricky maneuver of managing curling paper, canvas and lamplight, but oddly satisfying. A few scribbles on the sketch – what colours, how to paint it, ‘things to remember’…

She shifts to painting, usually in silence. She keeps track of her process to make sure she isn’t going too fast, or too slow. Paint is a delicate master of time.

A woman of habit, who doesn’t admit to the habit, is usually found painting in the few hours before dusk. The space is small, cramped, but functional. There’s plenty of room to step back for a new perspective.

The studio, for all of its disorder upon first inspection, is the space of an owner that loves the neat and tidy, but that seeks her inspiration from having anything sentimental within full view. The artist is not superstitious or indeed religious, but feels an intrinsic value in making connections with nature, the sky and other immaterial items. “Art isn’t about what’s real, it’s about what you have if you have nothing”

The artist's life #art #artist #artwork #painting #paint #creative #inspiration

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As a result, the artist is a woman of surprising humour, a rich knowledge of the intricacies of nature, and a self-confessed addict of all things David Attenborough. Though knowledgeable of these subjects and self-assured in their value, she finds it difficult to talk about art – not because she has few ideas, but that she feels certain ideas must be ‘felt’ and not discussed. To discuss them is to encourage bias. Often times she will stumble through answers, giving a short and often more defensive reply than is intended. “Art should be able to speak for itself when hung.”

The dedication to her art might suggest a personality that is serious and conservative. And in many ways, she is. But Chloe is also a self-confessed child at heart, won over by the smallest of life’s details and dedicated to nature. But she’s no vegan, and no saint. To avoid the sins of the masses is to avoid the issue, not solve it.

Are the hours during the painting process pleasurable?

For the first few hours, and the last few, yes.

Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?

I don’t have a fixed schedule. I don’t make time for art: it makes time for me. I don’t believe in ‘waiting for the muse’ but I don’t fight with my brushes either. When it comes, I’ll be lost for a day. In the meantime, there’s plenty of research, watching, reading, wondering, hoping to be done.

Can you dismiss from your mind whatever project you’re on when you’re away from the easel?

Not so easily. I become obsessed with the idea, if only for a short while. I’ll start to see it in the objects around me, the programs I’m watching, books I’m reading. I’ll wake up thinking about changes.

Do you work on paintings in stages, or can you work on it one month and come back to it in six. What happens when the work is finished?

Occasionally, I’ll work on two at a time, but usually it’s a single painting, a single fixation for the week, month or month it takes me. My painting has slowed down, and what would have taken a week now takes six. When the work is finished, I usually love it more than when I started, even if the result is far from the original idea.

Is emotional stability necessary to paint well? It’s often said that you have to be mad to be an artist.

Having an artistic hand is necessary to paint well, but a madman can have better ideas.

Who would you say are your artistic forebears—those you have learned the most from?

Franz Marc – for helping me find a ‘spirituality’ and a colour to nature that I didn’t see before. For helping me depict the stillness of moving.

Frida Kahlo – all it takes is some dogged determination, good brushes, and possibly a broken womb and a mono-brow. Well I’ve got three out of four, how will that do?

Claude Monet – for showing me what the misty dawn feels like.

David Attenborough – for making me believe that I’ve seen all of the wonders of nature, only to be in total shock and overwhelming amazement in the next scene.

Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?

Definitely, but they’re probably more obvious to you than to me.

Could you say how much thought-out effort went into the evolvement of your distinctive style?

I’d say that my style works like the evolutionary tree. You can’t see the changes as they happen, but every so often you’ll find a fossil remarkably different from the last.

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