DC Comics – The Art of Superheroes

“Dreams save us, dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honour and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Superman. Action Comics #775 (2001)

Superheroes have entered contemporary mythology in a way unlike ancient myths, medieval legends and western films. Where the latter were constrained by historical facts and authenticity, the creators of superheroes could give their imagination free reign, inventing characters, costumes, technology, superpowers, heroes, villains and worlds through which they could convey their narratives. Although a product of the culture at a particular time, every element was unique and the colours and graphics have captured the imaginations of many for generations to come.

The writers, always drawing from current events, have been able to make superheroes form the base of our modern mythology and remain consistently relevant to humanity across the ages, bringing hope to society, whether its when confronted by economic decline, war or terrorism, or marking scientific, technological and medical advancements. The characters, their costumes and icons have evolved to reflect the aesthetic of each era. As Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton), creator of Wonder Woman, puts it, superheroes are in fact, our national aspirations.

I recently visited ‘The Art of DC – The Dawn of Superheroes‘ exhibition at The O2 (perfect timing for Father’s Day I might add!), where a century of artistic creation is currently being celebrated, from traditional methods of artwork to synthesizing animation, art and computer technology. The exhibition has been curated by Parisian museum, Art Ludique – Le Musee, the first museum in the world dedicated to contemporary art from comics, animation, manga, movies and videogames. Over 250 original historical comic pages, graphic art, illustration, preparatory charcoal and pen and ink drawings, 280 concept art and numerous costumes and props used in the films are on display.

The first superheroes:

The appearance of superheroes revolutionised the comic genre and the era, influencing art, literature, fashion and television. Created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, Superman made his debut in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938 as a hero from another world, wielding superpowers and symbolising hope, truth and justice admist scientific and medical advancements and the rise of fascism. The success of Superman inspired a young artist named Bob Kane, who, with Bill Finger, created ‘The Bat-Man,’ appearing in Detective Comics the following year. Rather than harbouring superpowers, Batman used his own intelligence and abilities to become a superhero in order to fight crime. Both opposites (an immortal and a human), they set a standard for all forthcoming superheroes and a new genre of contemporary mythology. Both cover artworks below were by Fred Guardineer in the era known as The Golden Age of Comic Books (1930s-50s):

Action Comics #50 cover, pen and inks, July 1942 by Fred Ray:

June 1938 cover:

Superman #14 pen and ink cover by Fred Ray:

Superman was a conveyor of truth and justice, seen here protecting young boys from being arrested after being asked to paint a wall mural:

The influence of Superman in contemporary culture was made indelible in 1961 with Andy Warhol’s reproduction of a scene from the comic ‘Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane’ #74 for a New York department store window. The image quickly became emblematic of Pop Art and was published in the story ‘Super Surprise!’ drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenberger:

Superman storyboard in ink and marker by Walley Veevers (1978):

Since his inception in 1938, Superman’s dual identities have presented the timeless struggle of both an ordinary man and a superhero. Clark’s professional attire acts as a device to hide his powerful physique, whereas Superman’s colourful costume shows off his muscular body. His visual look and heroic pose are similar to heroes from Greek mythology, portrayed in sculpture with chiselled features and impressively muscled bodies. His portrayal set the standard for all future superheroes across the different art forms.

Paint on cel of Clark Kent and Superman for ‘Superman, The Animated Series,’ 1996-2000:

Digital concept art by Jared Purrington:

After Superman’s creation came a darker action hero, Batman, more akin to a city cop than a superhero. Suffering from childhood trauma and a witness to his parents murder, Bruce Wayne uses his vast wealth and resources to fight crime in Gotham city. As Philosophy Professor Thibaut de Saint Maurice explains, he embraces the night to avenge their deaths, using the darkness against those who use this pretext to prey on others. The artwork starkly contrasts to the bright vibrancy of Superman and other heroes, his black suit and use of the dark represents ‘the chiaroscuro of justice.’ He fights villains of Gotham City either alone or alongside other masked vigilantes such as Robin and Batgirl.

Batman the Return #1 cover, January 2011, pen and inks. Artwork by David Finch, inked by Scott Williams:

Pencil drawing of Gotham city, from Batman Returns. Artwork by Marty Kline, 1992:

Detective Comics #61 cover, March 1942, showing Batman and his accomplice Robin. Artwork by Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos:

Batman’s intense physical training transformed him into the modern ideal of the time with a strong, healthy body. His vast resources were utilised in new technology, seen here in this illustration of the Batmobile by Tim Flattery:

When high risk missions need more extreme measures that don’t align with the DC superheroes moral code, they call upon Task Force X, otherwise known as The Suicide Squad. Originally appearing in The Brave and The Bold in 1959 as a more traditional military team defending mankind from monsters, they were reintroduced as The Suicide Squad in Legends #3 in 1987.  This team of criminal antiheroes are expendable villains looking not to be acquitted of their crimes but to simply lessen their sentence. The 2016 film adaptation by David Ayer tells their story, updating its elements for a contemporary audience, such as giving Harley Quinn’s costume a more modern style with colourful and edgy street wear as opposed to a black and white suit:

The contemporary mythology was however incomplete until the creation of Wonder Woman in 1941. Representing ‘the best of all of us,’ according to Thibaut de Saint Maurice, Wonder Woman invites us to make the best of ourselves. Her beauty is taken from ‘the best parts of humanity,’ created for good and not to destroy. For Saint Maurice, it is both essential and inconsequential that she is a woman, as justice, love and peace are qualities of humanity as a whole, hence the words of Louis Aragon from his poem Zadjal de l’avenir (1963): ‘The future of man is woman. She is the colour of his soul.’ Created at the onset of World War II by Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was the fearless maiden who gave up her heritage of peace and happiness to help America fight evil and aggression. As the third pillar of the DC Trinity alongside Superman and Batman, she is motivated by her desire to let peace reign and loving her fellow man. She bridges the gap between the contemporary mythology of superheroes and that of the gods of Olympus because she is an Amazon, part of a tribe of female warriors from Ancient Greece who live together on Paradise Island governed by Queen Hippolyta.

Wonder Woman Cover artwork showing the moment when a man arrives on the beach at Paradise Island:

A concept art painting by Aline Bonetto and Aaron Sims Creative depicting the first meeting between Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor:

A costume illustration of Wonder Woman’s wetsuit, with an added reflection of the costume from the original film:

The first iteration of Wonder Woman in 1940 by Harry Peter, depicted in mixed media and holding her lasso of truth:

The first team of comic book superheroes debuted in All Star Comics #3 in 1940, calling themselves the ‘Justice Society of America.’ Iconic heroes from the Golden Age including The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Dr Fate and The Spectre were united by their shared values of justice and liberty. Their adventures were published until 1951, and then reappeared as the Justice League of America in the February/March issue of The Brave and The Bold in 1960. The team now consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Not confined to comic books, the league has been appearing in animation throughout the decades and recently given live action treatment in Zach Snyder’s new film (although I prefer the blond haired animated version of Aquaman).

Justice League of America #100 cover by Nick Cardy, August 1972:

Cover artworks for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern and Superman:

Similar to mythological heroes of ancient times, members of the League were drawn with powerfully built bodies and other godlike features: The Flash’s winged boots and speed echoes Hermes and Aquaman is king of the underwater city of Atlantis, evoking the majesty of Poseidon.

Hawkman cover:

Aquaman #48 pen and ink cover artworks by Nick Cardy, December 1969 (left) and #57 by Jim Aparo, September 1977 (right)

Mixed media artwork by contemporary comic artist, Alex Ross:

There is far more in the exhibition than I can cover in this blog, but I would highly recommend visiting it as either an art admirer or superhero fan, as it was superbly curated and incredibly educational!

This is my pen drawing of The Daily Planet globe from Superman as a dedication to the DC Comic style:

Walt Disney’s Art of Animation – Disneyland Paris

‘Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience.’ Walt Disney

All artists, in their essence, seek to communicate the spirit or soul of a person or thing, whether that be via paintings, illustrations or animation.

Like many other ‘millennials’, I love Disney films. I love the stories, the fairy tale, the moral, the laughter and the art. The scenes are like works of art, every part of a scene meticulously painted to create a new world for people of all ages to enjoy and admire the craftsmanship involved. The whole film becomes a gorgeous painting to become immersed in.

David Hall’s painting from ‘Alice in Wonderland:’

Coming from a family of creative people, I have been exposed to art since an early age, whether in books, museums, galleries or film. I love to admire it in painting, sculpture, design, architecture or the best source – nature itself.

Painting by production designer Hans Bacher:

I have already visited the original Universal Studios and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, so when I was surprised at my birthday with a trip to Disneyland Paris I was excited to say the least. This was a dream come true!

Some people, who perhaps grow up too fast, may see Disney films as being childish. I see the films as being symbolic. Many of their animations are based on folk tales or fairy tales: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, amongst others, are based on variations of original fairy tales by Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, both of which involve a beautiful princess, a sleeping enchantment and a handsome prince. Many fairy tales are dark stories, almost parables, of good overcoming evil and courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

Fairy tales are intended to be symbolic and if we are open to them, to teach us a moral or lesson. They should teach people of all ages about the dangers of jealousy, deceit, cruelty, greed, corruption and other evils that plague the world we live in. The power of love to save and redeem features heavily in Disney’s films and versions of fairy tales. Without love there is no hope – whether it is the kiss of true love that saves Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, or between sisters Elsa and Anna in Frozen.

Illustrations of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip from The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale inside the castle tower at Disneyland Paris:

It can be argued that what Walt Disney attempted to do was to create a work of art, not simply cartoons. He sought to create characters that could somehow, despite being painted two dimensional figures, elicit both joy and tears of sadness – the first Disney film I watched at the cinema when I was little was Bambi and I still remember crying and holding onto my mother for comfort. I honestly believe that many would find it difficult not to cry whilst watching Bambi, no matter their age. The power of art to harness human emotion and create catharsis is a powerful tool indeed. I admire Walt Disney for his desire to restore a childlike innocence to people of all ages anywhere in the world through his medium of film and in his parks. Animation, like other works of art, should reflect our world and be recognisable in some way, perhaps even encourage us in our relationships or circumstances. They can help children dream, hope, play and imagine. 

Children are always receptive to new things and their curiousity helps them to learn. Play and imagination is proven to be vital to growth and development, their understanding of the world around them and their place in it. A film might not change the world entirely, but it certainly has the power to inspire people.

Half painted scene from Pinnochio:

As a Christian, I see art as a powerful tool to bring hope, love and joy to the world. God is the best creator after all and imagination is a gift, to be utilised for good and not evil. Prince Philippe even seems to put on the full armour of God to fight evil in the Sleeping Beauty film – armed by the fairy godmothers with his supernatural sword of truth, and a shield of virtue which resembles a shield of faith in Ephesians.

A few Disney villains in view:

At Walt Disney Studios in Paris, I visited Art of Disney Animation and listened to a talk on the making of a character and the vision behind their design. Every aspect of a character in a Disney film is symbolic and meaningful, just as a costume is to a film or colour is to a painting. No character’s look or personality is accidental – every aspect, from their anatomy to their movement or expression is to convey a message. So many changes might be made to a character’s design to ensure their believability and importance to a scene and the film overall. Every aspect conveys their narrative and story to make them more believable or relatable.

Paintings from Beauty and The Beast:

Model of the Beast in the studios:

The presenter at the Studios used Mulan’s companion, an anthropomorphic red dragon called Mushu as an example of character development. Mulan might be based on a historical figure in Chinese legend, but she did need a sidekick, or rather guardian and guide, to protect her and for comic effect!

The audience listened attentively to the presenter speaking initially with screenplay writer Chris Sanders, then with Mushu’s supervising animator, Tom Bancroft (his brother, Tony, was the director for Mulan!). The little dragon (not lizard..) even made his own delightful appearance during the talk, interacting directly with the presenter and animators.

In this animation masterclass, Tom explained how Mushu’s character developed as a result of his Eastern (Chinese) heritage. Initially there were to be two reptilian creatures but this was changed to one as they could not take attention from Mulan as the titular character; Mushu then went from having two heads to one and was made smaller in stature. He resembles depictions of Eastern dragons in Chinese art during that time, is benevolent and can breathe fire. I also recently discovered that Mulan’s early story was concurrent with a Scottish tale project that featured a dragon character and when it was cancelled, Mulan inherited the dragon as a sidekick. You can read more of Mushu’s development here.

I couldn’t find an illustration of Mushu so here he is in toy form in the animation studios shop:

Interestingly, I found out that Pocahontas’ sidekick was originally a turkey before they decided a racoon would be more effective alongside her!

The paintings that fill every scene in a Disney film is intended to draw the viewer into that world, creating possibility out of a sheet of paper. It is an illusion that speaks truths and desire, not merely escapist fantasy.

Paintings from Aladdin, Tangled and The Little Mermaid:

This is my version of a lovely scene from Snow White as she begins to sing with the doves at the wishing well. I was able to paint it whilst working on private commissions, so it isn’t yet finished but will be soon! Did you know that Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs consists of over 1, 500,000 individual pen-and-ink drawings and watercolour paintings? I painted this scene in oils on canvas instead of watercolour and ink to give my personal touch; I also painted just Snow White and the flowers in colour:

I love this beautiful painting of Florian serenading Snow White, which I found whilst exploring the Disney Village:

Here is another of my favourite Disney couples, Roger and Jessica Rabbit, from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ filmed in collaboration with Steven Spielberg:

And let’s not forget that Walt Disney’s dreams of inspiring people of all ages with his animations began with a mouse named Mickey!

I am currently working on commissioned oil paintings and ones for exhibition later this year (in my normal style rather than illustrations/animations!), but as they are private I am looking forward to dedicating more blog posts to art extraordinaire Walt Disney and his team. I hope you enjoy the art of Disney as much as I do!

End Plastic Pollution – Earth Day, 22 April

‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for God founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.’ Psalm 24:1-2

Every 22nd of April, environmental revolutionists and conservationists worldwide gather in solidarity to help protect and restore the health of our natural environment.

Since it was officially recognised in 1970, one billion Earth Day supporters have petitioned world leaders, national governments and local legislations to combat the (often) human made issues that have afflicted our planet.

The event this year addresses a topic that is difficult to ignore: Plastic pollution. According to Earth Day Network, over 300 million tons of fossil fuel created plastic is sold each year and 90% is emptied in landfills or ends up as litter. Chemicals seep into the ocean and soil, severely damaging our environment, wildlife and our own health by contaminating the fish we eat or water we drink.

I chose to use my oil painting, ‘Night Waves,’ to illustrate Earth Day, as over 70% of the earth is made up of water, with 96% consisting of the ocean’s salt water and the rest of arctic ice, groundwater and fresh water. The oceans are similar to rainforests in their biodiversity, they also produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorb more than half of its carbon. It is a precious yet fragile natural resource.

Historically, there has not been much regard for the ocean as a place to protect, and waste disposal has been rife. Disturbing facts seem to get more and more prevalent in recent years in relation to this last frontier of exploration; it is estimated that 4.6 billion tons of plastic are poured into the ocean worldwide per annum, suffocating marine animals which cannot digest it and polluting the environment. According to the National Geographic, one garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.

Plastic is no longer the miracle storage packaging, as its very longevity makes it virtually indestructible and non biodegradable. It is estimated that it takes around 10,000 years for ordinary plastic bags to decompose. Did you know that 4.5 billion coffee cups so far have been found in the ocean and around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, finding their way into the seaIt is estimated that over 100,000 sea mammals die each year from eating plastic.

Who didn’t feel upset at the sight of this sperm whale in Spain, who had been found washed up on shore having suffocated after eating 5 tons of plastic, fishing nets and garbage bags? Or the now famous image of a seahorse clutching onto a cotton bud in Indonesian waters?

The filmmakers of Blue Planet II said there was rarely a moment when they dived and didn’t encounter plastic in the sea. Alarmingly, we may also have been ingesting it in the form of microplastics, tiny beads of plastic that are found in many cosmetic products and when washed away down the sink find themselves in the ocean and into the bodies of sea creatures which we may be ultimately eating. In a recent study, over 83% of tap water samples worldwide was found to be polluted with microplastics.

The race to produce renewable alternatives has begun. DowDuPont scientists are revolutionising plastic bottles by creating a molecular chain that derives from cane sugar rather than petrochemicals. This sweet alternative is sustainable and will never run out, as chemist Paul Fagan says, bio-plastics are like returning to our past, where everything was made from plants. Engineer Toby McCartney is also pioneering a way of using recycled plastic instead of oil as a bidding agent in asphalt, creating longer-lasting roads and decreasing plastic waste. Scientists have also further improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest plastic; originally found in Japan, this enzyme can break down PET, the strong plastic most commonly used in bottles, in just a few days as opposed to hundreds of years.

Until a permanent solution has been found or a new plastic becomes commonplace, there are many quick solutions that can be adopted, such as investing in recyclable materials, refusing plastic cutlery, reusing bags or coffee cups. and using paper straws. A ban on microplastics in cosmetics has already been passed in the UK and cotton buds and plastic straws could be banned next year.

We all depend on a healthy ocean but currently only 2% of our seas are fully protectedYou can sign a government petition here to help end single-use plastics or make a personal pledge for Earth Day.

It’s time to save Nemo!

Being rooted and grounded in love. Take part in Earth Hour, 24 March 2018.

‘Being rooted and grounded in love.’
Ephesians 3:17-19

For 60 minutes on the evening of 24 March 2018, hundreds of millions of people worldwide will turn off non-essential electric lights as a symbolic show of solidarity to connect to the earth and help reverse climate change.

Organised by the WWF,  Earth Hour began as a lights out event in Sydney in 2007 and has since grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with businesses, individuals and communities across the globe pledging to protect the planet.  The event usually falls on the last Saturday of March, but has been moved forward a week in 2018 to 8:30pm-9:30pm on Saturday 24 March, due to Holy Saturday (the day after Good Friday) falling on Easter weekend. 

The worlds most iconic landmarks will be participating – Edinburgh Castle, Buckingham Palace, Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower. Last year, 9 million people took part in the UK alone! You can use this interactive map to find out what is happening near you.

Humanity has a heavy weight of responsibility for the future of the planet and to live with regard for the environment. Earth has been afflicted by deforestation, climate change, plastic, pesticides, fossil fuel pollution and wildlife trafficking amongst others, most of which have arguably been driven by greed and profit, with devastating consequences for our environment.  Earth Hour is a means to reverse the damage done before it’s too late, by encouraging people to make a small change in their lifestyle and to reject a throwaway culture. Backed by a global movement, real beneficial change can be made.

I chose to use my oil painting of the Ash Tree in our garden to highlight the importance of trees to our planet. This is a section of the canopy:

Climate change is a natural phenomenon that has been rapidly exacerbated by the flagrant burning of our natural resources and releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide emissions and pollutant particles in the atmosphere, then store the carbon and release pure oxygen, improving our air quality. Forests and trees in temperate regions also help cool the earth’s surface as they evapotranspire, by releasing moisture into the atmosphere and contributing to rainfall. It is estimated that 40% of rainfall on land is due to evotranspiration and according to Cool Earth, just one tree produces 324 litres of water per year and one acre of rainforest produces 76,000 tons of water.

On average, a new acre of trees can absorb 2.5 tons of carbon annually. A tree reaches maturity at around ten years, releasing enough oxygen to support two human beings.  They help reduce the greenhouse effect by shading buildings, reducing the need for burning fossil fuels to power air conditioining. Planting trees is the most cost effective way to remove excess carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, according to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, 32 million acres of trees are deforested worldwide each year; this equates to 9.9 million acres of forest in Africa each year and 10.6 million acres of forest in South America.

Charities like Cool Earth helps put local rainforest communities back in control of the forests, protecting their future and that of the wildlife and biodiversity, rather than allowing vast swathes to be deforested for unnatural plantations such as soy production or palm oil.

Reforestation projects can help reverse the damage caused by global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere in the trees and soil. 20,000 new trees are being planted in the Seychelles as part of The Commonwealth Canopy Project, and here in the UK, woodland conservation charity, The Woodland Trust has planted over 30 million new trees, helping to restore devastated ancient woodland as well as creating new woodland areas.

There are many quick solutions that can help reduce CO2 emissions, whether its recycling more, turning your washing machine to 30 degrees, switching to a green energy supplier, becoming a flexitarian or composting food. What will your promise be?

For every promise made, Ariel will donate £1 to help protect the planet.

Earth Day is also soon approaching, held annually on 22nd April, the focus of which will be plastic pollution. Did you know that by 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the sea? It is always my hope that my art can show the beauty of the world and God’s creation, encouraging people to live closer to nature and to protect it for future generations.

Join the global movement today!

Thai orchid festival – Mothers Day celebrations at Kew gardens

‘If mothers were flowers, you would be the one I would pick.’

Here is a work in progress oil painting, inspired by the tropical orchids on display at the recent Thai orchid festival at Kew Gardens. The flowers were reaching towards the stream beneath the glasshouse bridge and I wanted to evoke the sense of tranquillity, where you felt almost as if you had arrived in an island oasis:

From 10 February to 11 March 2018, The Princess of Wales glasshouse at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was transformed into a tropical oasis, transporting visitors to the floral shores of Thailand in an extravagant celebration of its culture and botanical heritage.

My family and I attended the last weekend of the 23rd orchid festival at Kew for Mother’s Day. It was a feast for the senses, with over 4,000 Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids arrayed in  beautiful centrepieces, or seemingly ‘growing wild,’ either lining the paths or intertwining around trees. Their sweet fragrance infused the atmosphere and colour abounded, with hues of purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green at every turn. Traditional Thai music was performed live in one area of the glasshouse, with the sound permeating through the garden, enhancing the immersive experience. The variety of tropical orchids and plants on display was breathtaking and a delight for every visitor and particularly every mother visiting the glasshouse on this special day.

Sculptures hewn from flora and fauna appeared at different intersections of the garden and a forest of mangroves lined areas of the path and stream. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a cocoa tree that was native to Thailand, and to learn that cocoa butter is often squeezed from its seeds. Incredibly, miniature rice paddy fields were also successfully cultivated in the glasshouse.

The main attraction of the orchid garden was the floating Palace centrepiece, measuring at 16.5ft x 13ft and intended to be a replica of Bang Pa In Palace in Thailand. 600 orchids adorned the sculpture, representing the rich diversity of their flora. The Royal Thai Embassy in London also generously lent a number of Thai crafted parasols to Kew for the festival.

Kew Gardens has worked alongside the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for many years, focusing on mutually beneficial projects that include the study and conservation of Thailand’s rich variety of flora and fauna. Their relationship was formalised in 2010, through a signing orchestrated by Kew scientist Dave Simpson.

Phalaenopsis orchid species are native to tropical Asian countries, including Thailand, Borneo, Java and the Philippines. However for this display at Kew, they were actually grown at Double H nurseries in New Milton in the South of England.

The Cymbidian orchids at the glasshouse were also British grown in East Sussex, supplied by McBean’s Orchids and are on regular display at Kew’s annual orchid festivals.

Surprisingly, several orchid varieties do grow wild in Britain’s temperate climate, see when and where you can spot nine species here. You can also learn how to grow them successfully with this horticulturalists guide.

A Tropical Paradise in the depths of winter – Butterfly conservation at RHS Wisley

‘You are altogether beautiful my love, there is no flaw in you.’ Song of Songs

Each winter the Glasshouse at RHS Wisley transforms, almost dreamlike, into a tropical paradise. Its 28 degree heat serves as a haven to over 7,000 butterflies that have travelled (with a little help from humans) thousands of miles to help educate wildlife enthusiasts of all ages on exotic butterflies, butterfly conservation and their importance to the environment.

Bred on a farm in Belize, Central America, these butterflies originate from tropical climes in the Americas and Asia, where the lofty heights of the rainforest canopy is their natural habitat. The farm is invaluable to conserving butterflies, where 15,000 caterpillars are looked after at a time and many released back into the wild. The owners, who live in the UK, are also owners of Stratford Butterfly Farm in Stratford- Upon-Avon.

Aside from the rainforest oasis, visitors can experience an interactive zone where they can watch the lifecyle of a butterfly and get a rare close up view of their wings. Visitors can learn about their behaviour, such as courtship, feeding and egg laying as well as how they differ to moths.

Butterflies are ectothermic (cold blooded) and constantly seek the warmth of the sun, so the best place to find these dainty winged insects were the pools of sunlight on the paths around the glasshouse. Seeing the butterflies dance around the trees and alight nearby never fails to bring a smile to all the . The food table was another area guaranteed to host several butterflies, and often the best place to have a better view of their beautiful wings.

With so many  unusual and non native species, there is a handy guide which helps identify the different species. 

This white, yellow and black beauty is a Tree Nymph, native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, Sri Lanka and other areas of Southeast Asia. Their delicate flight patterns and black and white coloration distinguish them from others. Tree Nymphs usually live high in the forest canopy but descend to ground level for nectar and mating. According to Garden Guides, these butterflies can thrive in altitudes up to 5,000ft and below to 2,000ft. Many tree nymphs secrete a chemical substance known as ‘danadoine,’ which is a deterrent to predators and makes them unpalatable.

Their wings reminded me of stained glass, which seemed to glow with the sun’s rays through the windows.

Although we are unlikely to see exotic butterflies like the Tree Nymph in our temperate climate, many native butterfly species are endangered and need our protection.  

I regularly contribute a painting to the Environment Trust’s Secret Art Sale to promote wildlife conservation in the UK. Last year, the theme was ‘wildlife corridors,’ its definition recorded in my blog:

These corridors, aptly named ‘natures highways and byways’ by the RSPB, are integral to the maintenance of ecological processes, including allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of wildlife populations.

These corridors, formed out of hedges, flora and fauna, are indispensable not only for butterflies, but also for hedgehogs, frogs, toads, newts, bees, dragonflies, creepy crawlies, moths, bats, birds, badgers and foxes. Wildlife, such as insects and butterflies, are crucial to the general health of the ecosystem and maintaining the natural balance and their decline in numbers usually reflect a decline in the health of the environment and are often indicators of pollution etc.

Insects like Butterflies are necessary to pollinate flowers,  and are especially attracted to certain plants and flowers such as lavender in order to thrive. The RHS have compiled a guide on how to attract native species, including planting brightly coloured buddleias.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Butterfly Conservation society, with Conservation Day being held on 10 March before Mother’s Day. To celebrate this landmark year, the charity are holding conservation events around the UK to give you the opportunity to get involved in the effort to protect over 100 endangered species.

Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, has urged everyone to take action to help reverse the decline of our butterflies; sadly their habitats have shrunk significantly over the years due to climate change, pesticide use and other factors. You don’t need to have specialist knowledge to become a butterfly conservator or naturalist, you can simply help plant a meadow or develop your own garden into a butterfly and wildlife haven. Whichever you choose, it will be an invaluable contribution to our environment and to ensure future generations can continue to enjoy the diverse species in our gardens and wild areas.

Here is one of our native beauties which I immortalised in oil paint in 2017: a perfectly formed Peacock butterfly and a regular visitor to our garden:

Happy conserving!

Architectural Digest Design Show – 22-25 March, New York

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” Frank Gehry

I’m delighted to be returning to my architectural and design roots by participating in the Architectural Digest Design Show in New York, on 22-25 March 2018.

Around 40,000 design professionals, creative entrepreneurs and connoiseurs are expected to descend upon Piers 92 and 94 on 55th Street, Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan. 400 luxury designers, brands, and several artists (!) will gather for the 17th year of North America’s premier design festival. There will be talks and workshops to tantalise your design tastebuds, including culinary classes; the forthcoming program of trade seminars will be available at the end of February.

My oil paintings and drawings will be on display with Art UpClose and Artifact in booth 519. Other artists exhibiting include seascape painter Margot Nimoroski and award winning British sculptor, David Harber .

I have often emphasised in my blog posts on the importance of a personal connection to interior design and art. Chosen carefully and sensitively, furniture and design accessories are arguably elevated to the status of art when placed in an interior setting. Indeed their very design, often unique and sometimes bespoke, reflects a particular artistic vision and narrative of the designer. As I pointed out in my previous blog, ‘Home is where the Art is:’

“Without art, design is merely function. Both art and design are means of communication, and both can elicit an emotional response.”

You can be certain to find inspiration from the many furniture makers, artisans, lighting designers, and accessory brands that will be exhibiting at the Design Show. Whether it’s choosing a bespoke table by Attitude Furnishings, ‘baby-soft’ alpaca throws by Alicia Adams, secure iron fences and gates by Compass Iron Security, handmade wooden chairs and tables by Erickson Woodworking, wall art and wall décor by Mitchell Black, lighting by Rayon Roskar, custom flooring by Sunshine Hardwood Floors, or geometric leather rugs by Avo Studio, each lends a statement to your room, whether subtle or obvious.

When combined with paintings and sculpture in an interior setting, furnishings create a visual tapestry of the owner’s personality, interwoven with meaningful elements.

Their intentional design adopts a new meaning and purpose: As Coco Chanel aptly put it, ‘an interior is the natural projection of the soul.’

I love visiting New York, here is a rather iconic building whose name derives from the nickname for the city: ‘Empire State.’ Designed by architect William F. Lamb and completed in 1931 at 1,454 ft high, its 102 floors overlook the vast network and labyrinth of roads and buildings below.

Art that surrounds you, that you can touch, feel and live in, as well as admire from a distance; this is immersive art at its best and most satisfying.

Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci & Raphael about 1500 – High Renaissance art at The National Gallery

‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Michelangelo

Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Three names that, after 500 years, need little introduction to a modern audience. These paragons of the Italian Renaissance are generally credited as figureheads of High Renaissance art, imbuing their works with a psychological astuteness and dynamism, which visually embodied the prevalent resurgent interest in classical ideals after a period of cultural stagnation.

The National Gallery’s recent exhibition, ‘Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael about 1500’ aimed to explore an artistic dialogue that was initially friendly and respectful, but became at times contentious, due to the competitive nature of commissions available in Rome. The exhibition gathered together eight works by the three artists, showcasing how they learnt from, and sometimes ‘borrowed,’ from one another.

Acutely aware of one another’s presence in the social arena, each artist sought to be distinctive in his vision and execution:

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), often described as the ultimate Renaissance Man, achieved mastery in many fields of study, combining both science and art in his craftsmanship. His initial desire was to work as an inventor of military weapons for the Duke of Milan, but was instead commissioned as the official painter for the court and subsequent wealthy patrons. He amassed hundreds of drawings of his ideas, leaving him with little time to paint. As a consequence, we have been left with a few examples of his paintings, most notably ‘The Virgin of the Rocks,’ depicting the Immaculate Conception, and Mona Lisa.

‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ (about 1491) by Leonardo da Vinci:

Michelangelo Buonarrotti (1475–1564) was by his own admission, a sculptor first; he expressed the human figure in marble, reimagining its form in all its powerful and physical dynamism. All his projects were vast and ambitious, placing the human body as central to emotional expression.

Raffaello Santi, or Raphael (1483–1520) embodied the classical ideals of harmony and beauty in both his paintings and even temperament. He drew his own study of Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and was initially influenced by Leonardo, yet imbued the face of the Madonna with his own preference for serenity and clarity and was a far more prodigious painter than Leonardo.

The Ansidei Madonna (1505), by Raphael:

The focus of the exhibition was Michelangelo’s ‘The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John,’ also known as the ‘Taddei Tondo’ (1504-5), on loan from the Royal Academy and the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in the UK.

The psychological immediacy of the sculpture opposed the otherworldly virtues of Leonardo’s painting ‘The Virgin of the Rocks.’ Whereas revelation and relational humanity seems to be Michelangelo’s concern, Leonardo’s appears to be divine worship and reverence, aspiring to the ideals of beauty, similar to the harmonious aspirations of Raphael.

As Matthias Wivel, the National Gallery’s Curator of 16th-century Italian Paintings says: “The ‘Taddei Tondo’ provides a key to understanding Michelangelo’s evolution as an artist, following but also rejecting Leonardo’s example, as well as for the young Raphael’s development of a more expressive, dynamic style in synthesis with what he was simultaneously learning from Leonardo.”

The paintings and drawings on display in total, were: ‘The Virgin and Child with Saint John and Angels (‘The Manchester Madonna’) and The Entombment. Leonardo was represented by The Virgin with the Infant Saint John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child accompanied by an Angel (‘The Virgin of the Rocks’) and The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist (‘The Burlington House Cartoon’). There were three works by Raphael on display – The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas of Bari (‘The Ansidei Madonna’), Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and The Madonna of the Pinks (‘La Madonna dei Garofani’).’

This is my sepia pencil study of Michelangelo’s marble depiction of the Christ Child, Jesus; his face, almost cherub-like, emanates innocence and purity.

Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were men of their time, yet their vision transcended their history and influenced generations of painters, sculptors and art collectors to come.

Once in a Blue Moon – The Super Blue Blood Moon, January 31, 2018

‘When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him?
Psalm 8: 3-5

January 31st 2018 is set to host a rare sight; that of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

For the first time since 1866, there will be a confluence of three astronomical phenomena: A Supermoon, a Blue Moon and a Blood Moon.

A Blue Moon is the second full moon in a full month calendar, however the moon does not, unfortunately, appear blue. The tantalisingly fleeting nature of a Blue Moon has given rise to the phrase ‘Once in a Blue Moon.’ However it is not as rare as is popularly believed  as it tends to appear once every 2 1/2 years, the last one appearing in July 2015. We will also be treated to another glimpse of it on March 31st, 2018.

The term ‘Supermoon’ is a relatively recent word coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 and sometimes referred to with some chagrin by astronomers (as astrology is not regarded as a scientific field), who officially describe the phenomena as perigean full moons or perigean new moons (perigee means ‘near Earth’). These ‘larger-than-life’ full moons seem to have been a relatively ubiquitous sight of late, with three sightings in 2017 and one already in January. The moon’s elliptical orbit around the earth means its distance from our planet varies at different points, referred to as the apogee and perigee. Apogee is when the moon is around 30,000 miles or 50,000km farther from the earth than the perigee (also known as ‘proxigee’), when the moon is at its closest proximity to the earth. It is at the perigee point that the moon appears 30% larger and 14% brighter than a typical full moon.

A Blood Moon, or total lunar eclipse, appears when the earth lines up with the sun and its shadow cast on the moon appears red due to the earth’s atmosphere. The UK won’t experience the lunar eclipse as it begins at 10:51am GMT, so unfortunately we will not see the red/orange hue. The full effect of the Blood Moon will only be visible on Earth’s night side and to those in western North America, across the Pacific to eastern Asia. The Super Blue Moon however will make its rare appearance to a UK audience and will be a remarkable sight. Weather permitting, we should have a good view of it at dusk when the moon is lower on the horizon, or at midnight when the moon is at its highest point in the sky. According to Dr Gregory Brown, from the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the best time to view the Super Blue Moon will be at 12.40am on Thursday 1st February.

This oil painting sketch is an attempt at capturing the evanescent and confounding aspects of nature and humanity’s attempts to explain phenomena that are at times inherently unexplainable. I have tried to combine various elements of our current understanding of the moon and in doing so to bring it, hypothetically, down to earth. Here the moon has landed on a distant shore of earth, casting its illuminated light onto the sand with waves lapping around it. The moon’s gravity pulls at our planet and determines the tides but its transformation into a supermoon has real intensified physical effects  on high and low tides. This is a simple study of a not so distant future painting and series of space inspired artwork..


A documentary by BBC One at 9pm on 31st January will delve in more detail into the monthly lifecycle of the moon as it waxes and wanes.

Weather permitting, it will be hard to miss such a rare spectacle by our only natural satellite, particularly when the night is alight by a giant spotlight (apologies for the unintentional rhyming). So don’t forget to look up and enjoy the view, it promises to be a wonder to behold to those who, like myself, are captivated and inspired by nature and the workings of a divine hand. The next spectacular series of Supermoons will return in 2019!

O Christmas Tree – A Scots Pine Winter Wonderland

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
Not only green when summer’s here,
But also when ’tis cold and drear.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!
(From the carol, ‘O Christmas Tree,’ Author unknown)

The annual tradition of putting up a evergreen fir tree in the house, richly adorned with festive decorations, baubles and lights, can be dated back hundreds of years. Although some would argue that the modern Christmas Tree began in the nineteenth century, the first person known to have brought a tree into the home was 16th century German preacher, Martin Luther.

Legend has it that one night he was walking in a forest when he looked up to see the stars shining through the branches. The sight was so beautiful that he told his children it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. There are other legends and stories of the origins of the Christmas Tree, including St Boniface of Crediton (Devon, England), who saved a young boy’s life from pagan tribes in Germany by cutting down the oak tree where the sacrifice would take place. A young fir tree grew in the roots, which St Boniface took to be a sign of the Christian faith. Another heartwarming story tells of a poor little boy who appeared on the doorstep of a forrester’s home, whose family welcomed him in, clothed, fed and sheltered him. The next morning they were awoken by a choir of angels and the little boy had turned into Jesus, the Christ Child. To show His gratitude for their hospitality and kindness, Jesus broke off a branch from a fir tree and gave it to the family. All these stories and more can be read here.

My experience with the Christmas Tree can probably be shared by many others and wouldn’t seem too unusual an encounter, each year myself and my family would source a real evergreen fir tree from a local garden centre. It has always been a fun festive occasion, with the excitement of finding our favourite tree and of course decorating it with lights and all the beautiful decorations that myself and my family have acquired over the years.

However this year, we decided to take a break from this tradition and instead harvested our very own Scots Pine tree from the Surrey Hills. I only recently discovered that The National Trust have an incredible initiative at Hindhead Commons and the Devil’s Punchbowl, where you can find and cut down your own tree to take home. All you need is your own saw and a pair of tough gloves. Open only for a few hours over two weekends, it was very popular with families, with excited children (and big kids like myself) hunting for the prettiest tree to take home. The trees have been growing naturally in the woodland and in abundance;  we found ours after half an hour of searching in the frosty winter wonderland for our perfect tree, a beautiful 9ft blue-green Scots Pine.

This is my watercolour illustration inspired by the beautiful surroundings:

The only truly native pine in the UK, the evergreen Scots Pine thrives in heathland and is widely planted for timber. However it can also be found growing in abundance in the Caledonian forest in the Scottish Highlands. It can grow to 35 metres and live for 700 years.

Hindhead Commons and The Devil’s Punch Bowl is worth the visit if you happen to be in the area. According to legend, the devil lived nearby and would torment Thor, the god of Thunder, who lived in Thursely, by leaping from hill to hill. Thor would strike the devil with thunder and lightning and once the devil retaliated by scooping up the earth and throwing it at Thor, leaving a depression now known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl. The National Trust café also provides some delicious food, the curried Leek and Sweet Potato soup with Mackerel topping was very welcome in the wintry weather.

Although the Christmas Tree has both pagan and Christian origins, Christians like myself see the tree as a symbol of the everlasting life with God. The famous carol, ‘O Christmas Tree’ immortalized the fir’s evergreen qualities as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness.

Here are the last few verses from the much loved carol to put you in the Christmas mood…

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
How often has the Christmas tree
Afforded me the greatest glee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
From base to summit, gay and bright,
There’s only splendor for the sight.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee! !