For my birthday this year I visited the British Wildlife Centre on a pair of photography days. They run the photography days throughout the year and it’s basically a great opportunity for budding wildlife photographers to get some great close-up shots of the animals outside of their enclosures.
These shots are from the first day, which was exclusively for photographing the owls. I got some of what i consider to be my best-ever shots, including a shot of barn owl, (Kevin), blinking with his nicitating membrane which can be seen above, it makes his eye look bluish as opposed to black/brown. Also the final shot of a chirpy little owl named Leo, mid-screech.
A collection of some of my favourite expressionist paintings from over the past few months. Expressionist painting is something I became interested in quite recently, in the past year in fact. I had never paid it much mind in my teens and earlier 20’s, because I was far more focused on drawing; But a revelation occurred to me while I was tackling some of my more toxic internalisations this past year, and i started to see more beauty in the abstract and disorderly. No longer did I need fine controlled monotone lines or hyper-realism to arouse my interest and emotions.
I was once a sucker for skill and technique, with one too many ideas about how art *should be* drilled into my head in school, now transformed to what I like to call a “do whatever” artist.
“Never draw from your imagination” was something that was used to scold me previously by classical-conforming art teachers stuck in the renaissance period; It had slightly put me off along with criticism from a (in retrospect) jealous and projecting ex-boyfriend who was insecure about his own creative work, (I’ll leave those horror stories for the campfire), but back then I put it down to depression and creative block. A lazy escape from dealing with my pent-up anxiety of being valued as an artist.
One day a couple of months ago, I had sort of an epiphany after being attacked by some very aggressive women in a scummy London night club. After a night in the ER with head injuries I sort of snapped, booked a holiday to Japan (with money I didn’t really have) and started thinking about ways I could make myself happy and whole. I think I just decided I didn’t really like the way I had been treated previously by people and I was going to start making my own rules about how to go about doing things. I went to the local budget art and craft store and bought armfuls of tubes of acrylic paint and some big bargain canvases and sat myself down in my garden to vent.
After the first painting I felt good. After the second I felt like I was on to something. Each painting so far has been mostly, if not completely unplanned, I just sort of channel whatever I’m feeling into strokes and colours and then it all sort of comes together. No training, no technique, no rights and wrongs. And because of this, when someone criticises my work (as people will when you share on any public forum, but more so if you live in a dead-end town with a lot of bitter people who don’t really want to be there) I don’t feel down about it. I don’t think “I’m doing everything I’ve been asked and I’ve tried so hard, it’s still no good.”
I feel good enough from the process that the end result is up to interpretation, and if people are unimpressed that’s fine, and I maybe feel a little sad for them for not fully knowing the freedom and beauty of creating without constraints.
This series is from a day at St James Park, London.
The park is one of the best spots for wildlife in central London. The birds and squirrels will happily eat out of your hands and although they can be quick and jumpy, they are easily captured by the novice wildlife photographer. I headed down there on a sunny day with my DSLR and a bag of unsalted cashews, and captured some of my best shots yet.
One of the bonus highlights was the pigeons. Although a lot of Londoners have a dislike for the “rats with wings” (I never understood this either, rats are adorable) the pigeons are very friendly birds, and cute up close with bright orange eyes and varied colours and patterns. In St James park they will comfortably perch on your arms and shoulders while you feed them. The squirrels are a little more shy, mostly hiding in bushes and trees, darting out at the promise of a few nuts and approaching you with caution before placing their front paws on your palm as they pick up their reward, and then scamper off a few feet to eat peacefully. The waterbirds are great as well, On previous trips I have seen groups of ducklings and an endangered white-headed duck paddling around in the rivers, but unfortunately that was before I bought my DSLR. I’ll definitely be heading back to the park in the future.
Some of my graphite portraiture sketches from the past year.
I started drawing portraits and characters from a young age, Over the past few years I have begun developing a style that focuses greatly on detail, and has a running floral theme also. This style has mainly developed from drawing the things, people and styles that I like. The process of drawing curly hair and repeated floral patterns are very relaxing to me personally, which is nice because I have a tendency to get very frustrated with my own abilities as an artist. I find that building up from small details allows me a sense of control over my work that I don’t find in working the other way around and adding the detail last.
This series is from a day I spent selfishly aiming my camera around at Kew while my lovely boyfriend was trying to romance me. I’m a bit obsessive with my hobbies, but he seems to think it’s attractive. I wonder if he will get sick of it eventually (but probably not, he is an anti-social serial-reader and we are quite good at enabling each other.)
I wanted to capture it exactly as it was: beautiful to a point of almost seeming surreal. Misty but sharp, high-contrast and colourful, like a living dream.
I recently learned that my grandfather, who was also an artist, and recently passed away, proposed to my grandma at the Royal Botanic Gardens. It definitely has a romantic appeal. Walking through the greenhouses is like walking around all the most interesting bits and pieces of nature without actually travelling to the several other countries/climates they are native to, and it would be a great place to bring a sketchbook (notes for next time). They also serve beer in the restaurant, which is a nice little bonus.
Foot note: I’d love to have my own greenhouse one day but I would probably become a recluse, so I’ll have to find more of these places to visit.
Sweet hot summer
Small and cool
This series was taken over the course of a day in a heatwave when I was feeling particularly existential. It actually started with a bus trip that I take every day past the Tooting war memorial. From the first glimpse of the place I was intrigued. I have a bit of a fondness for graveyards, there’s something a bit weird to me about planting people in the ground under stone anchors (It always reminds me of a song by Regina Spektor where, she brings up in a strange objective way how we plant people in the ground and they won’t sprout back up no matter how much it rains or shines). I guess it’s one of those odd things that reminds me of our collective humanity and mortality. Burying the dead as an act of returning each individual to the earth, one final act of respect that equals us all in a world where people strive daily to better one another in every aspect.
This day trip was also a pretty cool example of finding great days out on your own doorstop. I guess we mostly don’t think about what adventures might be hidden behind a row of houses on a daily bus route, or what beauty might be found in a small, overgrown local park or graveyard.
Anyway, I thought I’d do a little earthy series of shots playing on some of the themes Tooting war memorial and the surrounding areas reminded me of (life, death, nature, dreaminess and nostalgia), and also visited another pair of graveyards closer to my home.
Experiencing Tokyo as a westerner is a bit like dipping into a parallel dimension. A city boasting both incredible modern architecture and ancient culture, and bursting with trees and flowerbeds, flashing lights, and cartoon-avatar billboards: visiting Tokyo is like visiting a timeline in spectacular disarray.
The city is clean, organised, and although it is busy, it’s far more easy-going than a day out in London, as the people are so polite and non-confrontational (even in rush hour).
Before leaving on my journey, I had made myself aware of some of the cultural differences, which actually do come in handy alongside knowing a few sentences of the language to get by. Essentially, though, most people in Tokyo (although they are modest about it) do speak some English. But they will greatly appreciate an effort. Do take and receive items with both hands, don’t talk loudly on public transport, and try your best not to blow your nose in public. It’s odd quirks like these that make Japanese manners seem almost alien, but entirely charming in their own eccentric right.
The city is full of parks and aquariums, as well as huge shopping and business sectors. For a day of shopping you should set your sights on Shibuya and Harajuku, brimming with boutiques and street fashion as well as fantastic food and drink.
It’s completely legal to drink in public in Tokyo, and you can grab a cheap beer to enjoy in one of the local parks with no fuss. Something I particularly enjoyed on one of my later days when I found a spot to sit in next to a dog park.
Another great day out is Akihabara, where you can find plenty of arcades, technology and toy shops, as well as Japan’s infamous maid cafés. On my own trip I met a girl about my age (in her early 20’s) dressed as a maid, handing out flyers on the busy roadside. When I asked her how to get to her café, she happily lead me there, and I spent an evening being served surprise cocktails and talking about harry potter and anime (Japanese cartoons) with the other maids, who are paid to wait on you, play games and take Polaroids together with you for additional fees.
Some of the perks of Tokyo include the surprising affordability of days out. Ueno zoo, for example will set you back less than 5GBP for the day, and the supermarkets are all stocked with fresh (and delicious) ready-meals if you don’t fancy the cost of restaurant dining for the night. A number of hotels will also include a breakfast buffet with a small additional charge to your booking.
Travel around the city is incredibly accessible, with most people opting to take the trains, which run frequently, and are also incredibly cheap. If you can’t read katakana, simply look for the ticket machines with an English language option (every station will have at least one) and check your print-off for the platform number.
The beautiful shrines dotted around Tokyo are a must-see, essential to the cultural experience of japan, and mostly free to visit. Many modern residents still visit them to pray, and while some of them are surrounded by vast, neatly maintained gardens and winding paths, you may spot a few smaller shrines scattered in less obvious spots in-between the tall buildings and quiet side-roads.
Staying for a week was an unforgettable experience, but the city has so much to offer, and I will definitely be booking a longer stay next time, hopefully in Sakura season, when the city is coated in pink cherry blossoms for a gorgeous few weeks in late spring.