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.

mermaid,mermaids,Atlantis,sunken city,underwater,ruins,fantasy art,classical ruins

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!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Finding Light in the Desert

Finding light in the desert...well, OK, it's normally not hard to find light in the desert, of all places. But finding the right kind of light can be problematic.

One of the major blessings of living so close to Joshua Tree National Park -- a place I love to paint -- is being able to pop on over there any time I need to so I can be there when the time -- and the lighting -- is right.

dawn,sunrise,Joshua Tree National Park, hawk,Joshua tree,monzogranite, rocks,boulders,sun
The above image is one of my prints that is available at I went to the Park just before sunrise so I could be in a good spot to capture the rising sun along with some Joshua trees and the monzogranite rock formations that climbers love to scramble over.

For, you see, it isn't just any kind of light that I look for. Lighting changes so much during the day and in different seasons. Early-morning and pre-sunset light (my favorites) come from different directions, and summer lighting at those times comes from further north than winter lighting which is more from the south. As both a photographer and a painter (especially the latter), it helps to go to the Park knowing what kind of light to expect. And since I know the Park reasonably well, I often know where I need to go to take advantage of the light I'll find.

In fact, sometimes I develop an idea for a painting and then go to where I will find a locale to match. Sometimes I'll wait as long as six months to return to the site i want to photograph/paint because I know the lighting will be what I want to depict.

The photo above that I took will assist me in a painting I want to make, hopefully soon. Since I wanted to offer it as a print, too, and I don't have an ultra high-resolution camera that costs more than our house, I had to Photoshop it just a little -- I used a watercolor look which a.) makes it appear to be a watercolor painting, and 2.) hides the blurred edges that would show at larger magnifications since my camera is only an 8MP camera. And: I cheated and added the image of the red-tailed hawk in flight. Personally, I think the image turned out well.

In the end, both photography and painting work better when the artist chooses his/her lighting carefully. And if the artist lives close to a place that makes it quick and easy to get to a favorite spot when the lighting is fantastic, so much the better.