Ocean monster


On Australian beaches in summer a frequent sight is the transparent blue bubble and trailing tentacles of bluebottles – Portuguese Man ‘o War jellyfish. It is rare to see just one, sometimes there are hundreds, and seeing them on the beach is a strong message not to enter the water. The float is about the size of my thumb but the tentacles can be up to 10 metres long – a very good reason to keep out of the water, as they are hard to spot and the sting can be very painful.

I have taken many photos of bluebottles over the years, and find the variations of shape fascinating, both the transparent float, which is different for every one, and the lumpy, almost umbilical cord shapes of the tentacles. This exercise started as a miniature, and this is based on that drawing. I was looking for ways to exaggerate and develop the form, but I seem to have not strayed far from the real shape of the creature, maybe because it is so unique anyway. The colour is mostly a bright ultramarine blue, but with purple and bright pink highlights. My drawing makes it look softer and more cloud-like, which is an anomaly.

The viewpoint of this one gives it a monumental feel, and it does have a sense of a warship in full sail, or an iceberg, both of which have great intrinsic power, the ability to crush anything that gets in their way, but a certain beauty too. A creature in control of its domain.


This is the miniature original drawing, using Prismacolor pencils, on Arches hot press paper, 12 cm x 9 cm (4.75 in x 3.5 in). The large drawing is done with a mix of Caran d’Ache Pablos and Prismacolors, 42 cm x 30 cm (16.5 in x 11.5 in) on Daler Rowney hot press drawing paper.


Miniature painting on a piano key


In the early days of miniature painting in sixteenth century Europe, the work was done mainly on vellum or ivory, occasionally on old playing cards which had a smooth surface. Of course, now the thought of using ivory is abhorrent, but antique ivory is still available in the form of old piano keys. A friend gave me a piano key, cleaned with toothpaste to remove years of build-up from sticky fingers practising their scales, with instructions to paint on it. Of course the early miniatures were all portraits, so I decided on a more modern approach.

This was very much an experiment, as this was a surface I have never worked on before. My inspiration was a small image of the shadows of palm fronds, distorted on a beach, and I treated it without too much attention to accurately reproducing the image, the emergence of an abstract image was what I was looking for. One of the beauties of ivory is the warm colour and the texture of the growth rings which are just visible on close inspection, so I wanted to leave some of the natural colour.

The paint is oil paint – other media may work, but this was my choice for this piece. Using a small pointed brush, I used the paint quite thinly, and found I could scratch out areas with the edge of a tiny screwdriver, but the paint does stain. There is more experimenting I can do using solvents I think. This is not really cleanly done, don’t look too closely! But I enjoyed the experiment, learned a lot and will do it again.

The ruler is included in the photo to give a sense of scale.

Oil paint on ivory piano key, 4.7 cm x 2.2 cm (1 ⅞ x ⅞ in)