Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Small steps to Giant Country

Environmental issues are always in the forefront of my mind. Now, more than ever. 

My background was as an environmental applied biologist. I researched as an aquatic ecotoxicologist, before slowly redirecting myself as a designer and artist. 

My first dream as a child was to be the world's first practicing xenobiologist on other planets, until it occurred to me that the universe of Star Trek had not quite been realised on earth yet, and we could not comfortably travel to other planets.

My second childhood dream was to be a tree warden, after reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I then realised I was not an Ent. Quite a shock.

So, I didn't pursue that either, but our past does not leave us.

We take it with us, and somehow incorporate it into who we are now. I know that my values and passions and instincts are still entwined within the natural world, and connected to our place, impact and responsibility for our health and the health of the planet, whether I explore that as a biological researcher, a NHS graphic designer, an artist or as an individual. 

I know that my artistic subject matter often comes back to the natural environment, and our impact on our natural world. And although I couldn't get from planet to planet, I did not give up on my dream of travelling from world to world, whilst exploring different countries and cultures on this, our most precious planet.

So with all that background, feeding my intuition, when I saw three pods from a Royal Poinciana (Delonix Regia), also known as Flamboyant or more commonly Flame tree in Parap, a suburb of Darwin, at the Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia, my imagination took flight. 

The flame tree is part of the bean family, Fabaceae. It has fern-like leaves and the most flamboyant orange/scarlet flowers.

I took the opportunity to be one of those people who begin to explore what I could do, personally, no matter how small that action may be.

The first step was to pick up three bean pods from the current crop. 

Finding bean pods of the Flame Tree in Parap

Having selected a few beans from the pods, these were kept in Dave's fridge, until we got some growing media, in some pretty large pots. We had nine beans in total. This was at the beginning of 2018's dry season. 

The flame tree's bean pods

I then left Australia and whilst away, Dave watered them. At the end of six months we had... NOTHING. 

Not a single thing. Oh come on. Does nature not want our help or what? Ok, so things may not work the first time around, but my wild imaginings, and magic beans not-withstanding, of a massive tree climbing all the way to giant country were being sorely tested!

The project was put on hold for a while, during the annual trek to New Zealand to wait out the wet season and so nature was left to do her thing, without this impatient expectation from humans, and copiously watered the pots without us. She is quite self reliant. 

On our return, the beans had sprouted... 

Ok, so 9 months were needed in the end, not 6 months as Google had assured us. What was up with the world? Perhaps mother nature is not so hard wired into our preferred global search engine to so readily give up her secrets. 

Tiny dicotyledon seedlings

By the end of the wet season in 2019, we had two seedlings. And their growth rate in the tropics is quite quick. This had not occurred to me, being used to a more temperate climate. It's pretty amazing to see the growth of things like bananas, and papayas and such.

Quickly growing seedlings

By the time we got to the end of the dry season 2019, the two saplings were ready to plant. So we took them back to Parap, and planted them. 

Transplanting the saplings

No small task, given we had to move two, six foot saplings across town in the motorhome, in two very heavy pots, in very hot and humid weather. One of the saplings didn't hold up to the reduced water, or transplantation, or the new environment. However, the second did well, and grew rapidly. 

Planting day

If its root system can take, it should hopefully survive the next wet, with its cyclonic winds... It need not be supported, as this challenge - the force of the winds, is what has led to trees like this growing strong enough to flex, and grow the root systems necessary to flourish. 

Taking hold

The flame tree is doing quite well, and I look forward to the time that I can look on it again in person. At time of writing we are coming out of lockdown in the UK, after the initial, horrifying battering of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many dreams lie in tatters. A human cyclonic-forced storm if ever I witnessed one. 

Our roots are deep however, and I am sure we can weather this.

I try to remember this saplings' beginnings as I go through life's challenges myself. 

There will be many more beans. And certainly Australia and the planet need reforestation to help with both climate change and species survival, including our own. 

Just think. If each one of us planted just one tree...what would be the impact on our planet. And us. 

Small steps indeed, but they might just get us to Giant Country.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?

Ok, so not such a polite title, but then, as things stand, it takes a lot to get people's attention. Even more so when online.

Also, this is a tag line for an advertising campaign. A $180 million advertising campaign launched by Tourism Australia in 2006, under the supervision of Australia's current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. A Prime Minister who decided to go to Hawaii, when his country was burning.

'Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?' formed the premise for broadcasting the wonders of Australia's countryside. A countryside that started burning much earlier in the summer season in the south of the continent, and much further than usual.

Apparent contributing factors to this appeared to be long dry months of drought for at least 3 years; winds; over use of water; non-clearance of bush to manage fires, and a dipole over the Indian Ocean.

And it also seemed that it may be the unmentionable. Shh, did someone say climate change?

In Australia, it seems it is never the time to mention climate change.

No matter what happens. Be it fire, drought, or extremes of temperature and is not the time to discuss climate change.

I will not go into my own personal views. Humanity, and humanity's learning, is young. Mistakes are needed when growing, and to learn.

But my emotional response to this, and to the voiceless, needs an expression.

Loss of human life, especially preventable death, is tragic, and awful. Loss of property is also difficult to bear, although materially, of less importance.

Loss of life for all those other creatures sharing this space...that indeed, are attempting to cope and survive with everything that we inflict upon it, needs also to be acknowledged.

Hence, I decided that my artwork, for submission into Darwin Visual Arts Association members' Climate Change Exhibition, 31 Jan - 22 Feb 2020, would use the iconic koala.

Fewer things say the fragile nature of Australia's wildlife, quite like the koala. Treated in such a way as to appear as an exhibit. Stuffed, materialistically, as if in a museum...shown as if this is a precious exhibit. Perhaps even extinct. Indeed, such are the low numbers of the koala, that it is now considered to be functionally extinct in the wild. Setting aside reasons for these fires, this loss of life appears to be endangering the very existence of these creatures. Aboriginal Australians consider themselves to be custodians of the land, rather than consumers or there much to learn here?

Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?
Prize winning entry
Exhibited in Darwin Visual Arts Association Members' Climate Exhibition,
31 Jan - 22 Feb 2020
1/8 McMinn Street, Darwin, Northern Territory

Darwin City Light Box Exhibition - from May 2020 

One can imagine too, that this is a gift. For services rendered within government. An acknowledgement for all the hard work. And inside the bell jar? A fire starts.

An imagined mother, carrying her child, whilst all around her, the fire spreads.

And emblazoned on the brass plate, the words 'Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?'

Thursday, 17 October 2019

So what's a Scottish Saltire doing on a Norfolk village sign?

Sometimes art projects take us on journeys we are not expecting. They lead us along the threads of history and we learn a great deal in the process. Not just in the practice of the art itself.

Commissioned as the artist to repaint and renovate Thursford village's unique sign, there was a question to puzzle over. A mystery to solve.

Why was there a Saltire on the top of a tiny wee village in Norfolk, England. Whilst pitching the new designs to the Parish, and Parish Council, enlightenment and further mystery were just around the corner.

Was the flag signifying St Andrew's Cross? St Andrew's Church certainly helped weave that idea into place.

So far, so logical.

A 'before the renovation' shot

But to have a Scottish flag atop the village sign of a southern English village?

Why not the St George's Cross?

Mysteries abound in material legacies like village signs. The years pass on. Memories dwindle into gossamer. They blow away on the winds, only to settle in unlikely places.

There are such threads in Thursford. The family Ross - there for generations now. Indeed, the clan name of Dalzell drifted in from Motherwell, Glasgow. Wandering in for different reasons. Staying for different times. Scottish farmers in the previous two centuries. And then an Irish Royal Air Force worker in the last.

Thursford is the name of a small village in North Norfolk, England.

There are other names, all with significance.

The Scott-Chadds. These are people who took ownership of the somewhat grand Thursford Hall in yesteryear. They are shown now with the shield and falcon crest in the centre of each side. A proud beginning to this sign's legacy, though not the beginning to the village's. That was here before then.

Repainting the crest of the Scott-Chadds

New, proud Falcon

Miss Eliza Goddard - school mistress. Listed when the school was founded in 1862. Placed here, and perhaps helping to redress the absence of many women's names in Norfolk history. How many children's feet patted up the road, heads full of learning. Their journeying and their playing in those misty days, aided by the efforts of this one woman.

First school mistress of the newly founded school, in 1862

Charlie Plumbly - farmer, whose Norfolk was and continues to be the bread basket of England. A family fully connected to the land, even today. Forming and maintaining such deep foundations.

The more traditional methods, keeping us fit, strong, and helping the roses??

These shades of the past, connected to the living of the present. And in one very real way, in the guise of Cricket and Vamus.

Vamus and Cricket, slightly behind with his white socks

These are the horses at Thursford Castle. Of today. They are cared for by Sally and Mark Hickling, who kindly allowed them to pose for research material. Such animals have been as important a part of this village in previous centuries as the women and men of the place. Returned to their traditional duties. Back before a cart, and a plough.

Again, using their sustainable energy, even if just in this picture.

Then closer to now. George Cushing, Minnie Cushing, Harry Bushell. Progressing the connections from horse to machine with a love of steam. Thursford's traction engine and historical legacy abounds to this day. You can almost hear the clatter; feel the vibration.

Steam is celebrated in Thursford

We had our own station once. Helping us journey together.

There is a warmth to this village. A sense of deep and long history. A sleepiness too; in the quiet passing of the years, the drifting of the dreams.

An after shot

Sunbeams in Thursford

What new peoples may come here. Settle here. Leave here. Influence here.

Who will come next, as next they will surely come. From Scotland? Perhaps. To admire the top of this single sign? This touchstone. This symbol. There will always be a little touch of the Celt here.

The roots go deeply. The threads are long.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Shoving the Elephant Overboard - The Outback Half

So I'm returning to Australia after spending the spring and summer months back in the UK, reconnecting with family and friends; working, and building further artwork for re-stocking my UK outlets.

Landing gear engaged...

The time spent away in the northern hemisphere, gave me time to reflect on that first big southern adventure.

So many things happened there, it is difficult to wrap that all up into one blog entry, so as promised, and shoving the elephant back overboard, I will not try, and I'll just touch on a single story, that resonated with me, instead.

Making the decision to come back to Australia was easy. But what was it specifically that I was looking forward to?

The fashionable head gear, and all the friendly insects?

This season, we will be wearing mostly net!

The hugely crowded beaches, where you can hardly move for windbreaks?

Where is everybody?

The modern forms of transport?

On the Murray River

The outside barbecue facilities on the road?

Roll up, roll-up, get your lovely sausages here!

Or perhaps it was Dave's facial expression when I told him I was coming back?

You're coming back?

Seriously, I think it has something to do with the eternally positive outlook of Australians, and how they so often can turn difficult and challenging situations into something inspiring, and endurable.

One story sums this up perfectly.

Whilst we were travelling post wet season, in March 2018, between Brisbane and Darwin, we stopped in the town of Barcaldine, Queensland.

An unassuming town, Bacarldine represents the origin of unionism, and the beginnings of the modern labour movement.

The meetings of sheep workers and pastoralists here were key to the growth of this early political force and they met to resist unfair treatment and strike to improve workers' rights in what must have been hugely difficult situations, let alone a demanding physical climate.

They met under The Tree of Knowledge, outside the station entrance of the terminus of the Great Western Railway.

The tree became a focal point, and symbol of this unity and strength. In 1888 the Central Queensland Labourers' Union was formed at Barcaldine.

In 2006, the tree was intentionally poisoned by glyphosate.

I suppose in some situations, with such a malicious act against a living organism, and symbol of human values, the story might have ended there. At best, it may have resulted in a plaque, and some lines of history for passing tourists to be wistful about.

But not here.

What emerged, like a seed awaiting the inevitable bush-fire, was an artwork that captured the indomitable spirit of the original movement's sense of injustice.

The Tree of Knowledge

The original tree, beneath the new 'canopy'

The memorial, designed and built by m3architecture and Brian Hooper Architect, can now be seen on the original site, and to sit beneath it is quite humbling.

The constructed wooden 'canopy' now towers above you, and when the wind blows, the wooden chimes sound eerily above the original tree's preserved trunk.

The story itself becomes even more memorable, when you find out that the original species was a Ghost Gum tree.

I spent a bit of time sitting and reflecting and listening to the tree's voice. For me there was the reflection of the wooden chimes symbolising the tree's leaves, and the many voices of the workers, struggling to be heard.

Later I found out that scientists have in fact been able to successfully clone material from the original tree, and specimens can be found growing in various places in Queensland. It gave me a smile and a lot to think about on the road ahead.

Personally, I find stories like this truly inspirational, and full of hope. That the seed of human resilience is there, and grows on. No matter what.

I'm now looking forward to seeing what's on the next horizon...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Shoving the Elephant Overboard!

Its been a little while since my last post, but there are times when life just takes over...and recently there's been a need to live those moments as fully as possible. Be in it, and catch the precious, fleeting instant, rather than reflecting on it, or being online.

Catching the moment - A Graphic Flutterer

It can at times feel like I've become a touch disconnected from the actual experience by writing about it too often. And also, there are times when it is important to give permission to stop. Especially when the task becomes too great, or the list of to do becomes too long.

Sometimes, there's little time to reflect and write a comprehensive sentence, let alone compose a blog, and for that I hope you will forgive me.

I could actually write a whole blog on learning to slow down, and not to try to fill every moment with stuff, but suffice to say I gave a lesson by example instead! Taking time to appreciate the watch the horizon, rather than describing it, is important.


This blog will try to deal a bit with my first Australian experience, but do note, this will not even scratch the surface. This continent pervades and overwhelms your senses with its grandeur and shear scale....nothing about the Australian continent is small, or for that matter, easy.

The Oz adventure was a tale of two halves, and this blog will attempt to reduce the size of the elephant, by dividing it up, and shoving some overboard.

The first saw me settled in Darwin from the end of October until mid December. It was during what the locals term 'The Build Up'. It has other names too. 'Mango Madness Season' being one of them.

I could soon tell why.

Mangoes did indeed appear in greater numbers in supermarkets, and my moods could swing on the toss of a coin from one moment to the next, if I ventured too far from the beloved and benevolent god called 'Air Conditioning'.

The atmospheric pressure build up at this time of the year did reinforce my belief that we are finely tuned to the weather. And there was no fighting against it. You just have to wait for the rain storms to come, with the massive lightning flashes that herald the static discharges; ultimately reducing the pressure.

At least for a short time.

Storm approaching

The subject matter for Australia automatically went to its nature at first, with the native plant and animal life - first and foremost, birds...and bird life there is aplenty.

Chestnut-breasted mannikins

But my art also took a couple of different directions at this point...acrylic, with a heavy dense graphic impact. It took on a more severe, bold, striking appearance. And this said Australia to me, a direct impact on my senses. It would see me change subject matter to cars as well, with the opportunity to complete my first Australian commission.

The Valiant

The atmosphere of the build-up, and the effect it was having on me, hopefully got channeled a bit too, giving a slight mad-cap approach to some video making...a fun way to blog, and to showcase my artwork in a different, creative way...

My friend Dave would also give me the chance to go on the water, from Darwin Harbour, and chat to people whilst on boat cruises and show my art style in more of a workshop, tutorial-like manner.

On board the Charles Darwin cruise ship

On the water with Darwin Harbour Cruises

Dave Norton is a tour boat guide, for Darwin Harbour Cruises, and so I had a great opportunity to learn all about the local area, and sample the fantastic food on board. I had a great time on this cruise. The staff are all incredibly welcoming, the food is delicious, and the onboard safety talk is becoming legendary! Sailing around Darwin Harbour provided a well needed relief from the top end's build-up as well. Humidity would often be lingering between 80 and 100%, with regular storms coming in from the sea. In fact there was one on the horizon, and as well as a  wonderful sunset, we were treated to very dramatic rainstorm, on the distant horizon thankfully!

The couple of months I had to explore Australia would enable me to encounter both ancient aboriginal artwork, as well as experiment with modern digital art for the first time extreme of art only Australia can offer. I was in awe of the integrity of the aboriginal art seen on the surfaces of rock...and amused by how the modern age signs to give information on the artwork are all but degraded and in need of renewal!

The trip has also helped me expand my graphic design and artistry skills, by helping to rescue a graffiti attacked wall, and renovate a number of mailboxes in Darwin, increasing my canvas size to include murals on the side of buildings was definitely a stretch of the portfolio.

It was a real challenge...only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and the heat meant that working over the day became necessary, as I was usually sapped of strength until late morning. I am not an early riser at the best of times!

And now December loomed, and this meant leaving Dave and Australia. My business visa required me to leave the country after 3 months, and this gave me the opportunity to do business in New Zealand, before returning to Oz in March.

And perhaps this sense of leaving, and wandering, again became apparent in my artwork. That bittersweet tension resolved itself with the rendition of two Brolgas...created in the vibrant acrylic style I had begun to explore here.

Brolga remains

Brolga departs

This was part of the plan however, as I would now venture further afield, and test my art production whilst going to the markets!

I'll be writing a further blog on my art and craft market experiences in the future. Suffice to say that this phase came with many trials and tribulations, and took a lot to complete. Although I learned a huge amount in the process.

For now, I would return to Australia in a relatively positive, though certainly more drained, state of mind. Support at his point was crucial, and this was mostly given with emotional support from Dave, who is far more pragmatic than I am!

I would now need to prepare myself for the next big challenge. Adelaide to Darwin via the east coast of Australia. A trip that was going to see us on the road for nearly a month...and that was going to prove a real test of my capabilities, and character.

Stay tuned for the next part of this blog...

'Shoving the Elephant Overboard...the out-back half'

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Finding inspiration...just how does this art thing work, and (scarily) not work?

Often people ask me about my art. And it makes me stop and reflect.

What does inspire me? Indeed, why do I create artwork in the first place? How would I describe this thing we call art? More importantly, what happens when I wake up and I can't seem to make it work (enter inevitable morning anxiety).

The easiest way to answer these questions is to at first just be technical. Describe the process...the how...not the why (that's way too scary to leap into right away, though I promise I will come to that - comforting cup of tea needed first though).

My artwork and techniques do tend to wander, hence my wandering artist name. An artist's journey is continuous, and carries on throughout their entire life. Or at least for as long as they practice as an artist. The technique and process is therefore apt to develop, change, and evolve over time, and hopefully improve.

For the moment, I tend to focus on the detail, whilst allowing a smidgen of spontaneity. Attempting to capture as much as possible, whilst remembering that perfection does not exist. That in any perceived error, there often lies beauty and interest and an opportunity to learn.

And to do this, I often combine the precision of a designer's pens with watercolour paint.

Beginning the composition
I frequently, though not exclusively, work outside. This can be either entirely or partly, with the drawing construction coming first. This focuses my mind, as the drawing needs to take shape before the lighting shifts too much, or circumstances change. And they can change dramatically.

During this particular day's sketching a moped rider came off his moped suddenly and I and several passers' by went immediately to help. It was quite encouraging to see people automatically leap to the rescue, and how people will willingly take charge of the moment.

Emergency over, and the moped driver safely on his way to hospital, I was able to carry on with the day's drawing and painting.

The essentials - travelling art kit, art board, paper, comfy stool and water

Sometimes, due to the weather, there might be complete, or partial working of the piece indoors - especially whilst working at the top end of Australia, and during the build up to "The Wet", as occasional torrential downpours and lightening storms interrupts the afternoon!

People who know me know that I love to draw trees. I have been particularly drawn to them since I was a biology student. The sense of age, and strength and the beauty of the graveled, characterful grooves, notches, breakages, growths, and wounds add to their gnarled beauty...something we appear to negate or reject when it comes to human beauty. What we see as part of the story of the trees life, we try to mask, cover, deny or even make-over with humans.

Choosing the subject matter

The next step is to set pen to paper. I make no preliminary pencil sketches first. I sometimes warm up, or at times feel the need to go in cold, but the actual image is drawn directly with pen and ink. Any mistakes are exploited or controlled mid-flow! Or not, and I might need to begin depends on how easy it is to let go of that need for perfection.

To be confident enough to do this has taken many years of daily (or as many days as I can) practice - even a single daily sketch is enough to ingrain that muscle memory further, in the same way as a musician learns a musical instrument, a child learns to catch a ball, or a dancer learns a specific dance...the same can be said of an artist. Eye-hand co-ordination needs development in the same way for an artist, as for any other task. And once developed, confidence in the unconscious task ensues. Don't use it...and lose it.

Beginning the initial drawing

The initial drawing is worked steadily and patiently. Not rushing the process is a skill that has taken a while to develop. The process now takes time and represents a meditative process. Observation, and slow steady hand eye co-ordination.

Helping to mask over an area to stop smudging the image

And as the hand works over the page, I'm suddenly confronted with a different challenge, than that usually encountered in the UK, where I often have to stop and run for a cup of tea, and warm surroundings. Here, I have to try to protect the image from the perspiration now building on my hands and arms, and running down my face. Darwin, placed at the top end of Australia, is in a very warm and humid climate at this time of year, building as it is towards 'The Wet', and so I have to fashion a screen over the drawing to prevent it smudging.

Once the final tree image is completed, I look to the images of the different birds seen in the area, and finally decide on the masked lapwing as a good subject matter to add to my composition.

Masked Lapwing hunting for insects © David Norton

This is also part of my art process. Being a biologist, nature often forms part of my inspiration, and using art helps me observe, and focus, and learn more about the world about me. Not so much in words (the blog helps me do that) but visually. It helps me really look at my surroundings.

Birds inspire and fascinate me, representing creatures that will not be conscious of the man-made boundaries and migrate around the planet searching for where the climate and resources suite their needs. This carefree nature though is perhaps an illusion, as the rules and lines still exist for them, often fighting and competing over it, and of course we and other creatures place extra pressures on them too.

Another has had enough, and wanders away © David Norton

The masked lapwing, Vanellus miles, is seen as a common nomad here, and I'd been watching them wandering around the grassy areas of Bicentennial Park in Darwin. It is also named the masked plover, and the plover I am more used to seeing in the Northern Hemisphere does not have the fleshy yellow mask, or wattles, around the eyes and beak, and familiarity goes hand-in-hand with unfamiliarity here. The lapwings here are busy searching for insects and worms amongst the grass. It is seen to be very adaptable to its environment, and the number observed in a more urban area do indeed bare that out.

It appears that people have in the past believed in the myth that the wattles contain venom, it seems that this is because of being extremely territorial and their protective behaviour around their nests. They exhibit a noticeable swooping behaviour, mostly against dogs, cats and other birds. It may just be that the wattles actually have meaning during mating, as with cockerels and turkeys.

These lapwings appeared to be quite at ease today, and so I was able to use a couple of David Norton's images to develop the artwork, drawing in the birds and completing the foreground, before finishing off with a gentle watercolour wash and bringing depth of field by including my characteristic line clouds and sky; giving an artist's view of the day...without the moped accident of course!

Finished piece - Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles - Bicentennial Park, Darwin, NT

So how about that other question? The why? Why do I attempt to create art?

What's that about?

I am definitely a creative person, and a predominantly visually creative person at that. And so my need to create drives me. Take away everything from me, and if bored, sooner or later I will begin to create. And I have an urge to improve myself, and personally I see art as a striving for perfection (although that does not exist, I continue to repeat to myself!!).

I have always received attention when it comes to art; given positive (and negative) feedback when I create something. My earliest memories for me involved the creation of some sort of childhood artwork, and right at the beginning the feedback was positive, and I didn't receive too much negativity (although enough to stop me severely for long periods of time). Voices that may have thought they were being constructive, but that for an artist, can have exceptionally damaging results, and some of those voices are my own thoughts...

Such as only dead artists are successful, there's no money in it, surrounded by all these masters, what is the point? These are just a few...and they are is a journey, and to answer the question why I produce is because for as long as I can remember, a voice inside me was and is always saying, I want to be an that's the voice that keeps leading me.

Creating artwork gives me a sense of validation in the world, and contribution, and a sense that I can create something that might last, and hopefully be appreciated, at least a while, after me. It also helps me to connect to other people (even if that connection is negative, and sometimes painful).

And as the next potential artwork looms, it leads to another important question about producing art.

How do you retain that freshness, that joy and spontaneity in your work? How does the process actually work, rather than how you want it to work?

The wish is for it to be turned on and off like a tap. To have good work appear every time. To wake up fresh and new and become as productive as a factory every day, and at any time of the day.

Alas, it is not that way all the time. And every artist, I'm told, is different. We all need to answer that question though I think. What helps the process? Or what maximizes it. What helps keep it as a joy, rather than a chore?

These questions I am, in fact, still seeking to answer for myself. And it often is akin to the natural world itself. There is an element of unpredictability and an uncontrolled nature to it, but there is also an element of discipline and ritual involved too. To always come to the table, to the day and to the work, and always strive to do one's best, through the good and the bad work. That is important.

To respect it. But to also respect yourself, and your limits. That too is important.

To exorcise and listen to the devils and the daemons, and move through it and use it for the next work. This is another important part of the process. Can I do it again? Will it work this time? Is there any point to this? Have I killed the magic? If I could do it yesterday, why can't I do it today?

And through the practice, I await the next stretch; the next step forward; the next big leap. Where I get to say, wow, I didn't realise I could do that.

The next improvement; the next development, and the next inspiration. That's what you constantly yearn and wait for. Scaring yourself, and moving yourself out of your comfort zone can often help.

Be bold, and bold things will come. Perhaps not in the way we expect them to, but bold, scary things tend to come...our universe just seems to work that way.

Sometimes that inspiration is like a bird. Unpredictable, and flighty. And you never know which bird it will be. But a bird will suddenly land in front of you. Nervous and aware that it is being watched. And sometimes it stays long enough, and sometimes it flies off before it is caught.

Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus
And so for this next artwork, stay tuned...she'll hopefully come back...

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Shooting wildlife in the digital world

The intrepid Australian Dave-duo are settling into a wee bit of routine in Australia, and developing a team feeling. Dave N takes the photos of the local bird and insect-life and imparts the local knowledge, whilst Dave D composes the artwork.

Forest Kingfisher Darwin Northern Territory Australia by David Norton
Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii), Darwin, NT Australia © David Norton

Forest Kingfisher, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Forest Kingfisher, Northern Territory, Australia

What quickly gets flagged up is my naive (but I would argue, uninfluenced) eye, when it comes to subject matter. I get the impression, when I see something new, and for me, exciting, that I may be getting swept away about the equivalent of the local common sparrow, or pigeon from the UK...two a penny.

Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Scrub fowl, Bush Chook, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) or "Bush Chook", Darwin, NT - Australia

Magpie-lark, Lark, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Magpie-Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca), Darwin, NT - Australia

The Orange-footed Shrubfowl (or Bush Chook) and the Magpie-Lark are two examples of this. They are a frequent resident of the Darwin area, and for the Bush Chook, in tropical areas of Australia, and for the Magpie Lark - throughout mainland Australia. They are wonderful birds however!

Finding them frequently may also give me the opportunity to show the animals in a new style and light, by using them in new compositions. In this next case, whilst looking at the Darwin Parliament Building - a wonderful example of art deco style design - popular around Darwin.

Keeping Watch, Parliament House, State Square, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, Magpie-Lark, David Dalzell, The Wandering Artist
"Keeping Watch"

Wandering around the city, I have been able to begin to gain a perspective of the very new, with the very old. Composing "Keeping Watch" felt like the tensions between the ancient and the new, the natural and man-made worlds, and the inherent fragility of both.

The parliament building in Darwin is Australia's newest parliament, completed in 1994. A lot of Darwin was rebuilt after cyclone Tracy struck on Christmas Eve in 1974, and twenty years later this building was built on the old post office site. Such destructive force of cyclones for me is unimaginable, although it seems they are growing in frequency and force around our planet.

Shifting the perspectives for me gives the almost 'dinosaur' watchfulness of the bird to the fore. It brings an almost sinister air to the piece. Nature is often seen as beautiful, but of course it can also contain surprising destructive forces. During times where the natural world seems gentle, our influence could potentially unleash such huge and lethal forces, and the questions within this building would be most apt...what are we doing to our world?

Spending time on this continent brings the opportunity to increase my knowledge of the animal (including human) and plant kingdoms firsthand. The life and history here were separate for so long, that many things are very different, and I have only touched the surface. Only comparitively recently would it have been possible for someone like me to even be aware that this continent existed.

Watching the local wildlife is an activity that brings some challenges in identification. As a trained applied biologist, my strengths were more in the areas of the how, why and when of the biological world, rather than the what, and taxonomy has always been a little challenging for me, even in the UK.

Dave's local and national knowledge however, becomes invaluable, though there would be times when we were both utterly stumped.

Immediate answers are something that we have become more expectant of, demanding of even, as our electronic world has propelled us into an era of instantly accessible information.

Now I am not always content with the digital world...actually, at times I wonder if we have lost too much by adopting it - time, patience, perspective to name but three. Living in the world of online resources is somewhat an illusion that we can always access the right information, and act immediately, and my frustration levels are often a symptom of this phenomenon.

Artists and taxonomists in the past however, would have had a different approach to illustrating and identifying their prey...with results somewhat slower, and permanent, hunting either with a gun, or a net, with the prey ultimately stuffed or spiked on the end of a needle!

Thankfully, these days the technology we have to hand enables us to capture an organism, whilst allowing it to continue its life relatively unaffected.

Accepting the pros however, also means we have to accept the cons. And the virtual world is an ever-moving world of facts and figures. Caution speaks out that I would have need of an expert.

Taking pictures of the animal life here may result in images that can be used for art reference, but what do you do when you have no idea what it is?

The books needed are sometimes many, and not always to hand.

Interest had begun to turn towards the smaller, and at the same time vaster diversity, of the insect world.

A pair of rather intimately-locked butterflies had stumped us. They appeared to not at all be concerned by the photographic capturing of what should, I suppose, be a private matter (although they'd decided to throw propriety aside by using the balcony).

Graphium eurypylus nyctimus, Great Jay Butterflies, Butterfly, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Norton
Graphium eurypylus nyctimus (Waterhouse & Lyell, 1914). © David Norton

With the butterflies digitally caught and showing no signs of stopping, to save blushes, our attention turned quickly to identification!

Where would we find an expert. Enter the virtual world of forums, stage left! And the joy when technology enables us to quickly connect up.

In just a few minutes I'd managed to find, join and introduce myself to the Insect Collectors Forum. This is a resource for insect collectors, enthusiasts and those with a virtually inexhaustible insectivorous appetite.

Within a few hours, I'd received an answer. Thank you Paul K from Canada! It was a sub-species of the Great Jay butterfly - Graphium eurypylus nyctimus (Waterhouse & Lyell, 1914).

And logging onto the Atlas of Living Australia, the image of these butterflies was loaded up, and the sighting recorded.

We just have to wait 1-2 weeks for it to appear on the site. Ah well. There's that reminder that not everything can be instant. We'd have to wait for confirmation that these butterflies were indeed what we thought they were.

For now, job done! Now I've only to create the artwork...

The Great Jay, Butterfly, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, The Wandering Artist
The Great Jay - Darwin - NT