I have been meaning to add a frog to the collection for a long time, but it took me a while to get a simple enough composition. Unusually for me the creatures environment is not entirely within it, the frog is in the water!
Frogs feature a lot in folklore and mythology, The Battle of Frogs and Mice is a fable attributed to Homer about the futility of war. There is of course the frog prince, a spoiled princess reluctantly befriends a frog, kisses it (in Grimm’s fairy tales she throws it against a wall!) and it turns in to a handsome prince.
I Like this fable from Aesop, The Frogs that Desired a King. Unlike a lot of the other fables by Aesop, this one drawers a number of different conclusions. The conclusion I reached after reading it was not the same as a number of historical analysts, notably Martin Luther, a German 16th century monk and Roger L’Estrange, a 17th century English royalist. I was in agreement with William Caxton, a 15th century English merchant who was responsible for introducing the printing press to Britain .
So what do you make of the fable?
There is a group of frogs and the ask Zeus for a king. Zeus throws a log into their pond, initially the frogs are frightened by the splash, but soon get bolder and venture over to the log, they climb onto it, then they start to make fun of it. They then ask Zeus for a “real king”. This time Zeus gives them a water snake, who promptly starts eating the frogs. The frogs immediately appeal to Zeus, but this time Zeus says that the frogs must live with the consequence of their request.
In later versions it is a stork that eats the frogs not a water snake.
So….Martin Luther, concluded that as a result of human wickedness there is a shortage of good rulers and humanity deserves the rulers it gets, concluding, the frogs must have their storks.
Roger L’Estrange concluded that the mob (the frogs) are never satisfied with what they have, a king or no king, a government of no government, they will always shift opinion and are restless.
William Caxton concluded that, he that has liberty should keep it well, for there is nothing better than liberty.
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Image © Daniel Mackie
Long eared owl
I have been meaning to do this long eared owl for a long time. I have practically have a sketch book full of variations on this design.
In Roman and celtic mythology owls are associated with wisdom. But they are also associated with the darker aspects of our psyche, This is probably because the are nocturnal. The hoot of an owl late at night in a deep dark wood in 100 B.C would probably send a shiver down your spine. However, the owl is was often seen a guide to and through the Underworld. Owls were also able to reveal to you those who would deceive. Handy!
Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Owl (1830) re-enforces the owls ancient association with wisdom and it’s sinister nocturnal activities.
Tennyson describes the owl as having,”five wits”
Not only having them but,”warming” them!
“Alone and warming his five wits The white owl in the belfry sits”
The poem is a description of an owl watching over events in a rural landscape. The suggestion is that from its vantage point in the bell tower (This is an interesting position! In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, lady Macbeth says, hark! Peace! It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman)
The owl is indifferent and superior to all the goings on in the countryside. The five wits suggest an extra sensory perception!
In the 1500’s there were commonly thought to be five senses and five wits. The inward and outward wits were the product of many centuries of philosophical and psychological thought.The concept of five outward wits(senses, taste smell, etc) and five inward wits(“common wit”, “imagination”, “fantasy”, “estimation”, and “memory”.) came to medieval thinking from Classical philosophy. but in Early Modern English, “wit” and “sense” overlapped in meaning. Both could mean a faculty of perception.
So for the owl in Tennyson’s poem to have five wits; it would suggest it was in position of considerable mental agility!
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Good badger, Bad Badger. In literature, the badger falls into either one of these two camps. “Good badger” like Kenneth Grahame’s Mr Badger and, “bad Badger” like Beatrix Potter’s Tommy Brock, the rabbit kidnapper in, “The tale of Mr Todd”.
However the good/bad badger portrayal is relatively recent, only really becoming apparent in the 20th century. Stories about badgers stretch right back to the 11th century, an Anglo-Saxon poem from this time, shows a noble creature defending its family from attack.
Storey tellers have placed human characteristics upon badgers that have come to inform our overall perception of the animal. They are wise, courageous and persistent? Also because they are nocturnal, they are seen as mysterious. This nocturnal aspect of their nature has in turn had an influence of their portrayal in literature, badgers are often, alone, grumpy or gruff!
In European folklore the badger character is intimately associated with the bear and is considered a forecaster of the arrival of spring, as populations of bears in Europe dwindled the badgers significance in folklore increased.
Image © Daniel Mackie
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I have been meaning to add a horse to my collection for a while. if you were to look at my sketch book you’d see page after page of horse sketch. I finally settled on a greek theme. I nearly went with the The Trojan Horse, But I changed my mind!
The Siege of Troy.
In a nut shell the story goes like this, Paris, a trojan, steels Helen from her husband Menelaus king of Sparta. Why did he do it? The poor lad was manipulated by the powers above! It started with a vanity-fueled dispute among three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite sparked by another Goddess, Eris (strife), Eris inscribed an apple,”to the fairest” and tossed it umogst the festivities at a wedding sparking the quarrel between the 3 goddesses about who indeed the fairest. Zeus (king of the gods) wanted to settle the dispute and so sent the three goddesses to Paris to settle the argument. Who was the fairest? well,each Goddess tried to bribe him, the most tempting bribe to Paris was Aphrodite’s who offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Oh dear!
Menelaus and Agamemnon (his brother) led a greek expedition to Troy to retrieve Helen from Paris. This was the start of the Trojan war which was a 10 year siege on Troy
The war terminated with the scam of the Trojan Horse. The Greeks built a wooden horse and hid an elite group of soldiers in it, they wrote an inscription on it,”For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena” (the goddess of wisdom) and left by boat back to Greece. (well they appeared too!) The Trojans despite a warning from Laocoon, Helen and Cassandra that it was a bad idea, pulled the horse into the city.
The elite force inside the horse now attacked, as did the greek army that had not sailed back to Greece but had just laid in wait. Troy fell, game over. Goodnight Vienna!
Spring is in the Air
But war and con tricks don’t really fit with my theme of Animals in there natural habitat! Fortunately there are a lot of horses in greek mythology.
The Anemoi were the four wind gods, They were often depicted as horses, each ascribed a cardinal direction from which their respective winds came. Zephyrus was the west wind, the gentlest of the winds, known as the messenger of spring.
Zephyrus is most commonly depicted as a winged youth, the most famous myth about him is his rivalry with Apollo (greek sun god) for the love of Hyakinthos. Hyakinthos chose Apollo and this drove Zephyrus mad with jealousy, yeah you guessed it, It’s a greek myth, it’s going to end badly, and it does! Zephyrus saw Apollo and Hyacinth playing quoits in a meadow, Zephyrus insane with jealousy struck the quoit with a gust of wind which struck Hyakinthos on the head and killed him. Very sad! In his grief Apollo created the hyacinth flower from his blood.
Zephyrus’ Roman equivalent was Favonius, who held dominion over plants and flowers
Below you can see the watercolour in progress.
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Bambi eat your heart out! Well I walked a tightrope with this one. I wanted to add a fawn to my collection but wanted to steer clear enough of the Bambi Factor but be able to wiff a bit of the 1926 films charm and cuteness, Reckon I pulled it off? Those eyes are a little larger than they should be! Those ears are cute, but again a little oversized! Big ears! Big eyes!
I also wanted a wiff off the Greek Goddess Diana,the huntress. She has often been dipicted with a deer on roman and greek representations of her. She had the the power to talk to and control animals. In almost all sculpture I have seen of her she looks lean and flighty.
I kept to my art deco-ish design ethos and distilled the shape to a simple one that was dynamic, well I think so! Those ears spoil the streamlining though! don’t you think?
Below is the painting in progress.
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In in Norse mythology there is a world tree,it is called Yggdrasil. In that tree there are nine worlds. In one of the worlds lives mankind and in another the gods. In the other worlds various other beings live, like Elves and Dwarfs. There are other creatures living in the tree, one is a squirrel that carries messages between a hawk sitting between the eyes of an unnamed eagle that is at the top of the world tree and a dragon, Níðhöggr that is lurking at the bottom of the tree. The squirrel is called Ratatoskr.
The squirrel is a bit of a trickster it would seem, although there is no mention in norse mythology exactly what these messages are,in the Prose Edda ( a set of 13th ceuntry poems that deal with Norse mythology) it states…”‘An eagle sits at the top of the ash, and it has knowledge of many things. Between its eyes sits the hawk called Vedrfolnir……The squirrel called Ratatosk…..runs up and down the ash. He tells slanderous gossip, provoking the eagle and Nidhogg.”
Early christian religion portrays the squirrel as stoical. An early manuscript features an image of a squirrel using its tail for shelter in a rainstorm. The inscription reads, “I shall endure and expect once again more favorable things however bad it is now, it won’t be bad forever”.
This painting of a Red Squirrel is autumnal colour-wise. I used a lot of Burnt Sienna, but was carefull it would not go to brown, so used rose madder genuine and prussian blue to balance the colour palette.
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PG live at Islington Business Design Centre was my second trade show of the year.(first one was Top Drawer at Earls Court in January) I managed to add another 5 desigsn to my collection, which now stands at 26. All the new designs went down well and I have picked up another 20 new stockists. Making the total number of shops that stock my cards about 50.
I was stand number 676. A lucky one I reckon. Same time next year, see you there!
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This pheasant painting has ben a long time coming. This is the fourth version, the other 3 ended up in the bin! Deeply frustrating, but sometimes it goes like that. Occasionally the painting flow like a dream, from initial idea through to completion without a hitch. This one was a battle from start to finish!
The First version was of a pheasant crouching. That one didn’t even see a lick of paint. When I had finished drawing it I left it aside of a while like I usually do. When I came back to it was clear it was bad.. so in the bin in went.
This is painting below was the second version of the painting which I abandoned, the composition was wrong in the middle. when I started painting it, it become clear it was wrong, so in the bin it went and I stared again.
The 3rd one went in the bin, I won’t even post that. as it is in shreds.
A pheasant was standing in a field chatting with a bull.
“I would love to be able to get to the top of yonder tree’, sighed the pheasant, ‘but I haven’t got the energy’.
‘Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?’ replied the bull. ‘They’re packed with nutrients’.
The pheasant pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. And so on. Finally, after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. Whereupon he was spotted by a farmer who dashed into the farmhouse, emerged with a shotgun, and shot the pheasant right out of the tree.
Moral of the story:
Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there!
Roald Dahl’s book Danny, the Champion of the World made poaching pheasants magical. The method was called a ‘sticky hat’, a raisin’s had a horse’s tail hair threaded through it, It would get caught in the pheasants throat, preoccupied, it can then be caught!
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In 1975 the British Royal Navy banned cats on its ships and put an end to a tradition that had been in place for hundreds of years. For example in Louis XIV’s French Navy in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries all French ships were ordered to carry two cats for rodent-control duties.
Rodent-control was the reason cats were put on ships. All trading nations adopted this practice. It is believed that Cats arrived in Europe by boat from Ancient Phoenicia (maritime trading cultures on the african coast of the Mediterranean). They set their paws down on european soil in about 900 BC.
Gradually cats became worlds travellers, eventually reaching nearly all parts of the world accessible by ship. Over the centuries their offspring developed into different breeds according to the climate in which they found themselves and the mates they took, as well as the deliberate selection by humans.
Cats have long had a reputation as magical animals and amongst the sailing community it is not hard to see why superstitions solidified, sailing was a dangerous business, and if a cat were to bring good luck then all the better! British and Irish sailors considered adopting a black “ship’s cat” because it would bring good luck. As a result most ships cats received a high level of care to keep them happy and to keep the ship lucky.
Famously a cat called Convoy aboard HMS Hermione slept in a hammock! Convoy was so named due to the number of trips he had successfully made during the second world war. Convoy’s luck ran out on 16 June 1942 when a U-boat sank HMS Hermione, sadly killing Convoy and 87 crew members.
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The Butterfly effect is also known as Chaos theory and it has captured the imagination of writers and creatives, a good example is the 1946 film, A Wonderful Life, An Angel shows George Bailey how rewriting history would detrimentally affect the lives of everyone in his hometown. In a subtle butterfly effect, snow falls in one version of reality but not the other.
“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury, the killing of a butterfly during the time of dinosaurs causes the future to change in subtle but meaningful ways, read about it here
But Chaos aside, butterfly’s have come to represent love and the soul, The ancient Greek word for “butterfly” means “soul” or “mind”.
In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together symbolize love. And in Japan, they are representation of a person’s soul.
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