Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Biology of ... Mermaids???

My best paintings tend to be of subjects I know very well -- deserts, especially.

So doing an underwater scene, in the Mediterranean Sea, mermaids, sunken classical ruins -- these are new things to me, as least as far as painting them myself is concerned.

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The City of Mermaids shows the sunken city of Atlantis, which I always imagined was somewhere (if it existed at all) in the Mediterranean Sea, perhaps near Greece or Italy. Legend has it that the place was an island that sunk into the sea due to an earthquake, volcanic eruption or both.

Thus, I did a lot of research so the fish and invertebrates that I depicted would be those one would find in the Mediterranean, including the sea grass (Posidonia oceanica) which seems to be the dominant plant there. (Thank God for the Internet and Google Images!)

Mermaids are another story. I went with the legends of the half-human female - half fish. Mermaids (and fairies) are beings I kind of wish existed. While I'm not obsessed with either as art subjects, they're fun and an escape from what I usually do.

Being both an artist and a biologist, I had to think of what a mermaid would be like from an anatomical standpoint. Unlike women who perform as mermaids by wearing a pull-on fluke (or tail), mermaids would not propel themselves like humans moving their legs inside of the fluke. Mermaid backbones would extend all the way to their caudal (tail) fins, and thus would feature that neat up-and-down motion of dolphins and whales. Humans' knees don't allow for this and only bend in one direction.

Likewise, I don't believe mermaids could sit on their "knees" as humans do -- their tails wouldn't be flexible enough for that, not could they wrap their tails around themselves as I've seen depicted in 19th century paintings of the critters.

Oh, yes -- my mermaids don't wear clothing to cover up anything. I can't imagine marine creatures needing to do that -- modesty is a human failing, after all!

Finally, my mermaids are not exactly skinny. Besides the fact that a little weight on women is attractive to me, the warmblooded mammalian half of mermaids would require fat (aka "blubber" in seals and whales) to insulate them from the cold ocean depths.

In the legends, mermaids seemed to like human males, and they somehow managed to enjoy each others' company. I didn't touch on those themes here, and I didn't get into mermen or merkids -- that might appear in a future project. Supposedly, mermaids were known for being fickle; for that reason, I would avoid trying to have a relationship with them.

Meanwhile, The City of Mermaids is one of the hardest pieces I've ever made, and I'm not entirely sure it's of the quality I want to see in my terrestrial scenes. But it's hard to say, really. I've never seen a view like this! Feel free to comment and let me know if you think this image works!

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