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Yappy New Hear!

30 Dec

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

And so ends another year. WordPress tells me I’ve written 21 blog posts in 2012… not exactly a mind-blowing number maybe, but one I’m pretty happy with given that 2012’s been a year of new jobs, house moves, and stockpiling for the impending apocalypse (!).

Anyway, here are my blog posts that have had the most views this year, in case anyone’s stuck for some holiday reading…

And to finish off 2012, here’s a beautiful science-themed artwork by an illustrator over in the US called Scott Benson, featuring a quote from the late, great Carl Sagan…

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known

'Somewhere' by Scott Benson

‘Somewhere’ by Scott Benson

See you in 2013!

Imagining the year 2000 (in 1900)

19 Aug

The other day, I stumbled across these brilliant French illustrations imagining what life would be like in the year 2000. Issued between 1899 and 1910, they were enclosed inside cigarette/cigar boxes or sent as postcards, and the first series was produced for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

It’s pretty funny now to look back at some of the artists’ predictions – one can’t help but think they might be a little bit disappointed with today’s lack of flying firemen and ever-present robots. But I wonder how many of our predictions for the year 3000 will come true (according to Busted, we’ll all be living underwater with lots of naked, triple-breasted women).

Anyway, here’s a few of the retro-futuristic illustrations by Villemard and Jean-Marc Côté (view the full set here):

Gravity-defying firemen

A conductor operates his mechanical orchestra

Madame at her toilette

Croquet in diving helmets!

A lazy teacher feeds textbooks into his pupils’ heads

Not all of them are so far-fetched though. This one is essentially Skype, albeit with vintage equipment…

Skype, retro-future style. Check out that hat…

And I’d be very grateful if anyone could explain this one to me. Some kind of equine theatre maybe? A fully-clothed version of Equus?

A horse on a stage. No idea what this one’s about…

The Eagleman Stag

15 May

I first saw this incredible animation a few months ago and I’ve been wanting to post it up here ever since. Last week, the film’s director Mikey Please (who, quite fabulously, recently changed his middle name to ‘Yes’) finally released it onto the interweb.

I won’t say too much about it, save that it tells the story of a scientist who’s obsessed with the speeding up of time as he gets older. It features the vocal talents of the actor David Cann and backing music by Mikey’s brother Benedict Please, and it won gazillions of awards last year, including the BAFTA for Best Short Animation and the top prize at the Imagine Science Film Festival, .

So find yourself a spare 9 minutes, hit the maximise button, sit back (but don’t fall off your chair), and soak up the animated loveliness.

If you repeat the word ‘fly’ for long enough it sounds like you’re saying ‘life’. This is of no help to Peter. His answers lie in the brain of a beetle.

The Astronomical Drawings of Monsieur Trouvelot

8 May

Back in the late 19th century, when astrophotography was still in its infancy, stargazers had to get creative if they wanted to take snapshots of the heavens. Luckily, there were people around like Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a talented French artist with a penchant for astronomy. Trouvelot moved to the States with his family when he was in his 20s, and is probably best known for an unfortunate incident in which he introduced the gypsy moth into North America – now a notorious pest of hardwood trees.

The upside of this mishap, though, was that Trouvelot turned to astronomy and began to draw what he saw in the night sky. For some of his illustrations – the close-ups of the planets and the Moon, for example – Trouvelot used some of the most powerful telescopes available at the time, such as the 26″ refractor at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.. For others, like his depictions of the comet and the meteor shower, Trouvelot just drew what he observed with his naked eye.

In 1882, the artist published fifteen of his drawings in a book – the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual. Here are some of my favourites, starting off with a stunning aurora and a Cyclops-esque Jupiter:

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights), observed 1st March 1872

The planet Jupiter, observed 1st November 1880

Continue reading

An Exceedingly Curious Bestiary

13 Feb

Somewhere in deepest, darkest Australia lurks a most terrifying assortment of animals. Shark-helicopter hybrids patrol the skies. Mechanically-enhanced rats wage war against robotic beetles. The bones of long-dead animals are reanimated into hideous configurations. And that faint sound of trickling water? That’s the sound of David Attenborough wetting his pants.

A Pilot Fish, guided by its fishy co-pilots (credit: Kaitlin Beckett)

For the past five years, Kaitlin Beckett has been bringing this nightmarish ecosystem to life. Based in Melbourne, Kaitlin makes artwork that is inspired by anatomy and the natural world, but with a distinctly dark and surreal twist. I couldn’t resist posting up some of her work, so scroll down for a selection of these weird and wonderful beasties, as well as an interview with Kaitlin herself.

Say hello to the Beetle Walker (credit: Kaitlin Beckett)

Kaitlin, when did you begin your magnificent bestiary?

I started painting seriously about 5 years ago, though I’ve been drawing and sketching all my life. I’ve always loved watching nature documentaries and sci-fi films so my bestiary started to develop from these. I’ve also been collecting gas masks and goggles for a while now so these pop up on my creatures all the time.

What’s your usual process for creating the artworks?

I normally turn an idea around in my head for a while before I sketch it out. Sometimes once it’s sketched I’ll work on it straight away. I create larger sketches, test colours and composition, and once I’m happy I’ll transfer it to canvas and ink in the outline. I add the colour next with my airbrush and some hand painting, then there are several layers of ink splats, pastel and ink linework before it’s finished.

A wise old Samurai Tubfish (credit: Kaitlin Beckett)

Do you have any favourite artists? Terry Gilliam sprang to mind when I first saw your work…

I am a fan of Terry Gilliam! A few of my all time favourite artists are HR Giger, Beksinski, Escher, Mucha, Lempicka, Kahlo, Bacon and of course Dali…too many to name!

Although the creatures are quite fantastical, their anatomy is often very detailed and intricate. What is it that appeals to you about mixing the real and the imaginary?

I think it’s an artist’s job to share a bit of their imagination and to look deeper into things, to reimagine and reinterpret. While I appreciate the technical skill behind photorealistic art, I can’t get excited about paintings that look like photographs, unless there’s a twist or a surprise, or some element of fantasy or surrealism. My creatures have an almost cartoon-like look, though I adore fine detail and texture so I’m trying to combine these elements in my work.

The Longhorn Octopus…possibly quite friendly (credit: Kaitlin Beckett)

If you were a mad scientist for the day, which of your creatures would you bring to life?

Perhaps not the fell beasts – they would eat me! I’d perhaps like to hitch a ride in my Pilot Fish shark helicopter, and my Longhorn Octopus could possibly be friendly.

Finally, what are your plans for 2012?

I had a crazy year last year with a solo show plus a few big group shows so in 2012 I’m taking it easy and focusing on getting better at airbrushing and sculpture. I’m taking part in a joint show in September with a very talented artist (my beasts meet vigilantes!), so I’m looking forward to that.

Frigate Bird – one of Kaitlin’s first sculptures

Now that Kaitlin’s beginning to work on sculptures, maybe it won’t be too long before the Curious Bestiary gets its own zoo. Let’s just hope the cages are securely locked…

Visit Kaitlin Beckett’s Curious Bestiary here!

When Google Doodles Scientists

13 Jan

Ever since 1998, Google has been brightening up its homepage with “Google doodles”, playfully customised logos which celebrate a current event or the birthday of a famous person. The first ever doodle was created when the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, attended the Burning Man festival and wanted to let Google users know that they were “out of office”.

Since then, the Google doodle has become a bit of a pop culture phenomenon. There have now been over 1,000 doodles, celebrating events ranging from the anniversary of the ice cream sundae to Freddie Mercury’s 65th Birthday (this one needs to be seen!).

A couple days ago, being the geek that I am, I got quite excited by a science-themed doodle – a strati-tastic version of the Google logo in celebration of Nicolas Steno, an important figure in modern geology.

So, noticing that Google keeps an archive of all of its doodles, I thought I’d find out which other scientists had been honoured by Google’s creative bods. Turns out there’s quite a lot… Continue reading

The Art of Science 2011

19 Nov

Every year, Princeton University in the U.S. organises an exhibition of science-themed art, where all of the artwork comes from research carried out by the university’s scientists. This year’s gallery was revealed last week…here are some of my favourites:

The view from here, by Colin Twomey and the Couzin Lab

I had no idea what this was before I read the description. Those colourful rods are fish swimming in a tank – 150 of them in total – and the white rays show the approximate field of view for each fish. This is a single frame from a video, filmed by biologists studying the behaviour of fish shoals.

Nitrogen fixation, by Sarah Batterman

This otherworldly landscape was photographed in Iceland. Nootka lupins like these were first planted more than 50 years ago to help rebuild Iceland’s highly eroded soils. However, this practice has become controversial because the plants often spread too quickly, affecting the native flora and reducing Iceland’s biodiversity (find out more here).

Mathematical Mountains, by Steve Brunton

I love this image – it makes me think of picture book illustrations of snow-capped mountains. In reality, it’s an excerpt from a bifurcation diagram of population dynamics, showing how order can emerge out of chaos. I’ve not got my head around the science behind this one yet, but it’s certainly nice to look at.

To see the full gallery, including the overall winners, click here!

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