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.

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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.

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!

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

 

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