Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sea Horse

A genuine seahorse on my blog! ...well, kind of. I sold this picture (I sold this picture!) to a little girl (her father paid for it), which I found extremely flattering, because if a small child likes something, she really likes it.

It's a small picture - maybe twice the size it's posted here - and it started as a simple watercolour doodle, playing with colours. I kept it for a year or so, not knowing what to do with it. I looked at it from every angle and eventually decided that it looked like a sea monster.

The surface was very rough, so my next step was to paint over it with a solution of gum arabic to prevent ink from bleeding. This made things difficult later, though. In retrospect I think gelatine would have been a better option. Then I drew in the "sea horse" with ink. The picture looked too empty.

Next I went all mixed-media and punched holes down the left side, stuck on those reinforcement-sticker things, and threaded them with shiny embroidery thread and beads. It still looked too empty. So then I decided to fill in the background with huge numbers of real sea creatures, past and present. Some of my favourites: the pansy shell, the Glaucus sea slug, the flying fish, and little Hallucigenia (the earlier interpretation, because it's more awesome) near the horse's eye.

All the background creatures were done in pencil, but the gum arabic made the surface so inimical to graphite that the process was more like engraving! It took ages, but the heavily textured end result made it worth it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy St. Helena

On Saturday afternoon I returned from An Expedition. An Excavation. In fact, An Adventure. The reason why I put off posting about it until today is that on the way home the question came up of who, exactly, the patron saint of archaeologists is, and one of the awesome people I met on the trip later found out that the answer is Saint Helena. To our great joy we discovered that her feast day (in the Roman Catholic Church) was the 18th of August, just around the corner. So in her honour I decided to wait until today to publish my archaeological post.

Somehow, I managed to come back from the trip with lots of pretty pictures of birds and flowers, but none of people actually digging. Instead of posting my photos from previous years (which feels vaguely as if it should break some sort of Bloggers' Code of Ethics), I'll give you links. Go and look at this page for all the background on the dig and who we went with. Also take a look at this archaeology blog, which belongs to Lu, another of the awesome people I met on the trip. (Hi Lu!)

Here's our camp at night. What I'll miss most from this time is lying in my tent, listening to the night sounds: the hippos gronking in the river (that's my coinage for the noise they make, not some kind of obscure swear word), the Egyptian geese cackling, the haunting whoops of the hyaenas, and, every now and again and the best of all, the distant roars of the lions.

Isn't he gorgeous? I'm excessively pleased with the misty, hipstermatic effect in this photo. It comes from the golden light of early morning shining through the dust on our windscreen. I had to confess.

Elephants are the most photogenic of animals. Also the only ones you still need to be afraid of when you're in a car.

This is a Longbilled Crombec. He was so curious and unafraid.

Impala lilies! (Adenium multiflorum). I have them (only just) growing in pots at home. Here it's warmer and they grow wild, and all the camps have them planted in their gardens.

Nymphaea capensis, or Nymphaea nouchali var. capensis. People can't make up their minds. Either way it's our indigenous blue waterlily, closely related to the sacred blue waterlily of Egypt.

Look in the river for more elephants. Archaeology and Africa are similar in this: Traditionally, both have been wildly romanticised. Now, more often, you see people try very hard to dissociate from the traditional stereotypes of romance and adventure. It's not really like that, we say. It's actually boring to live here, to do this. I'm a serious person, take me seriously. And yet the romance, the adventure, are still there.

I mean, just look at it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


So... the other evening I was sitting at the computer when my husband came home, said hello, wandered off to the kitchen, made himself tea, came back, and said "There are literally 11 police cars parked outside."

I think this particularly dramatic story needs to be told in the form of a, well, drama, and so from this point it will be.

ME: Literally as in "I literally died laughing" or as in literally literally?
HUSBAND: Literally. I counted.
ME: What?

ME peers out of the window. There is a police car. ME walks over to MOTHER.

ME: Mother, Husband says there are 11 police cars in the road outside. He counted.
MOTHER: Let's go outside and look!
ME: Are you mad?

We walk all around the house, peering out of windows.

ME: Let's go outside and look!

We open the back door, making sure that the dog doesn't get out, and creep round the side of the house. There are indeed a lot of police cars in the road. There are also heavily armed silhouettes standing in the bushes in front of the house.

ME: Sorry, can you tell us what's going on?
ME: Yes, um... what's happening?
COP: We're looking for a suspect.

Points towards a house. Happily, not our house.

ME: Thanks. Well... erm... I guess we'll go back inside now...
COP: I think that would be a good idea.

We slink back indoors.

And that was basically it. The cop cars stayed where they were for a couple of hours while we tiptoed around our house with most of the lights off, trying to get hold of my father and tell him to come home by the other road, and then they quietly drove away. We have no idea what happened, whether they got the suspect, who it was, what they did, or anything else. I just need to add two important things:

One, this is mainly for my international readers: Nothing like this has ever happened to me before! It was a really dramatic occurrence, particularly because it was so unusual.

And two, dear polite cop silhouetted in the bushes: Thank you for not shooting at my mom and me when we loomed out at you from the darkness. I would totally have shot me if I had been you. And much gratitude and support to all our police officers - your job is dangerous, difficult and disgustingly underpaid. And all the cops I've interacted with have been sweet, lovely people (see above). So yeah, thanks!