The Red Squirrel has an Unlikely Ally

Red squirrel by artist Daniel Mackie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Once upon a time, (a mere 10,000 years ago), a deep freeze gripping much of Europe finally began to subside, and as the ice sheets retreated, the trees steadily marched northwards, migrating from the warmer southern lands.  First to arrive were the birch, the aspen and the sallow, and then followed the limes and elms, the Scots pine, and the mighty oak.  In Britain this natural process continued up until the land was cut off from the rest of mainland Europe by the rising seas, leaving an isolated island which was now covered from head to toe with a dense and very ‘wild’ wood.  It is said that our friend the Red Squirrel, could cross from Land’s End to The Wash without even setting a paw on the ground.

A lot of this woodland survived for 7000 years up until medieval times: but by then more and more trees were being felled to make way for farmland, as well as for fuel and ship building.  What made matters worse for the native squirrel was their very own dashing red fur coat, and squirrel pelts were in high demand; especially with the ruling classes.  This is in contrast to European folklore where it was deemed as unlucky to kill a squirrel, and those who did so were said to lose their hunting skills.  (This superstition has biblical routes, where it is said that upon witnessing Adam & Eve tuck in to the forbidden fruit, the angelic squirrel hid its eyes from this act of sin with its own tail; to save the squirrel from further embarrassment the creature was thus given a bushier tail).

There was a glimmer of hope for the squirrel population when the Victorians attempted to replant the forests, but just when things were starting to look up for the reds, the Victorians – who had a habit of introducing non native species to Britain – released the infamous American Grey Squirrel!  The rest, as I’m sure you know is history.  But help is now at hand, in the shape of a very unlikely ally: the Pine Martin.  Even though the pine martin predates little Squirrel Nutkins, it seems that wherever this weasel relative is being reintroduced, the reds are somehow taking the place of the greys.  This is believed to be so because unlike the reds, the greys didn’t co-evolve with this serial-squirrel-killer, and due to their habit of foraging more on the ground, and their bulk, which prevents them from reaching the spindliest branches away from a pine martins reach, the greys number is sadly up.

How far this trend will go is uncertain, but unless the pine martin makes the likes of London’s Regent Park its home, I think we’ll always have a few greys to entertain us – and entertain me they certainly do.

See this and other designs available as prints and cards at The DM Collection

“Your Turtle Dovin”

Turte doves sketch Daniel Mackie

Image ©Daniel Mackie

From the New Testament to Buddy Holly, Turtle Doves have impacted our culture across 2000 years. No doubt we will be, as Buddy Holly says in, “That’ll be the day”, giving, “all your loving and your turtle dovin” for another 2000 years to come. Well maybe not because the poor old turtle dove is now on the endangered list.

Probably the first mention of turtle doves is a context of love is in the new testament (Luke2.24). A pair are sacrificed for the new-born baby jesus. Note a pair! Turtle Doves form strong pair bonds. This and the biblical reference has resulted in them being emblems of love.

Often the first introduction to turtle doves is a result of hearing or singing the famous christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas. Turtle Doves feature as the second gift.

I have been meaning to expand my christmas range of cards, but not get two christmasy in the process! It wasn’t really on my radar to do any more than one creature with it environment within it at a time. but two seemed like a good idea as i could link the imagery within them.
I felt I had to be a bit careful with the reds and greens on this one, as i didn’t want to get to Father Christmas! Obviously a snowy landscape is not the turtle doves natural environment! As soon as there is whiff of chilly weather they up sticks ad fly south! In fact they head off to sunnier climates in September. But it had to be snow if it was christmas!

I used my old favourite, Rose Madder Genuine with alizarin crimson to pick out the flowers in the wings. The rest I kept that lovely bluish grey mixing Burnt Sienna with Cerulean blue. When you mix these two in the dish they are a perfect match!

This design came relatively easily. The bird designs tend to come with less of a fight than the other creatures! Just keep it simple!(like my owls) You can see the first thumbnail I did in my sketch book (above) and the final result Below.

Two Turtle doves The DM Collection

Image ©Daniel Mackie

Check out all the christmas cards and the whole range of cards at The DM Collection

The Hare in the Moon

Hare boxing watercolour By Daniel MAckie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Myth and folklore connecting the moon to the Hare appears all across the world: in Africa, China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, and North America: with many a moon goddess associated with – or at least accompanied by – a hare.  So what is the relationship between this wild and mysterious creature and the moon?

Well, even though it’s not out of place to see a hare in broad daylight sitting quietly in its ‘form’, (a shallow depression in the earth), they are fundamentally nocturnal, and are a lot more active when the moon takes the place of the sun.  But night time was once a very dangerous place to go ‘haring’ around, as the moon was once believed to actually cause madness, (hence luna / lunacy), and it was even believed that sleeping under the moonlight invited madness.  So knowing that the hare regularly went about its business under a mania inducing moon, it was thought that this was the cause for their excitable episodes during spring, where males and females, (Jacks & Jills), are seen to uncharacteristically gather in droves, frantically chasing and boxing one another.  The mad March hare was indeed seen as ‘moon-struck’.

‘I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow and sigh and (probably) mental torment.’ 

(Translation of a ritual rhyme by Scottish witches, describing the psychological undertakings when taking on the spirit of a hare.)

hare country- Country side By Harry Miller

Classic hare country. Photo © Harry Miller

One environment where you may struggle to associate this land-dweller with, is the sea, but via the hares connection to the moon, (and the moons effect on the tides), the hare was also tied to the open waters, and fisherman were never to mention the ‘hare’ word at sea for fear it would bring bad luck; and taking a hare onboard a vessel was an almighty ‘no-no’!

But to a more visual connection, where the hare can actually be seen living on the moon!  We are all aware that when the moon is full you can see the shape of the ‘man in the moon’, but next time the luna one is beaming away in the fullness of its phase, try and make out the side profile of a hare in the darkened patches.  But don’t stare at it too long… ’cause you’ll go mad!
Take a look at this and other designs at The DM Collection

A Carol of Robins

Robin greetings card bv Daniel MackieErithacus rubecula, the beloved Robin Redbreast, was this year crowned Britain’s National Bird after claiming a respectful 34% of the general publics vote. Close in contention was the ever silent Barn Owl, the cat scolding Blackbird, and despite a final song, even Her Majesty’s Mute Swan nestles in at a mere 7th place.

So why do we love the feisty feathered friend of the gardener: a bird that is so territorial that they’ll peck one of their own to death if certain bounderies are not respected?

Well, for one thing they’re very pleasing to the eye, and unlike many other bird species – where the male notably has a more attractive plumage – both sexes of the Robin show off the characteristic war paint. But upon closer inspection, is it indeed red?… What’s that you say, it’s orange? (How dare you!) But of course you’re right: the name for the colour orange didn’t even exist until a certain citrus fruit was brought to European shores in the 16th century. (Let’s leave peaches alone for the time being).

And as we go about our business being a nation of gardeners, the bold and plucky Robin will happily perch on your spade whilst you take a breather from turning over your rich and fertile beds. To you, he’s your chirpy little garden companion, an extra in your very own Disney feature, but to the opportunist Robin, you are a work horse, slaving away in the dirt and hauling out deep dwelling Goliath-like worms to the surface for a warriors dinner.

Then there is the Christmas depiction of this red-breasted icon, and if there’s one creature which is so closely associated with the festive season, it’s the Robin, (yes, then the donkey). From acquiring a coloured breast whilst tending to a crown of thorns belonging to a certain Jesus Christ, to even delivering our many Christmas cards – yes you heard right, back in the days of Queen Victoria they gave the name Robins to the postmen who were adorned with sprightly red tunics.

So if you hear bird song on a cold and frosty festive day, it will more than likely be the Robin, because only they are tenacious enough to hold their territories all year round; lucky for us with a beautiful song. And if there’s more than one, (if they haven’t yet pecked each other to death!), then by all means use a ‘carol of Robins’ for your collective noun.

See this design and others available as cards and prints at the DM Collection
Image © Daniel Mackie

Why is the Owl Wise?

Snowy Owl by Daniel Macke at The DM Collection
In western culture, if the owl were to take an IQ test he would probably score highly, probably, “superior intelligence!” A score between 120-129, not quite Genius, (130+) but pretty smart! Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Owl sees the bird as superior to all its countryside brethren. Looking down its beak at all that goes on around him! I have touched on lord Tennyson’s poem before. This poem was written in 1830, quite a while ago. But when did the owl become wise?

In Ancient Greece, Athena, The patron goddess of Athens and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as her symbol. Was she wise? Or was the owl wise? It is a little bit unclear. Across cultures and across time it would seem owls are wise! Having human characteristics placed upon animals is called Anthropomorphism and it first appeared in literate in ancient Greece in a poem by Hesiod called Works and Days. It was written in about 700 BC and is a story about,”The Hawk and the Nightingale“, it was later attributed to Aesop the famous fable teller in accent Greece (two centuries later) and it’s not as punchy as some of his, i.e. The `Hare and the Tortoise, but Hesiod was first and at his doorstep all the creatures of the world can lay the blame of their Anthropomorphism.

After Hesiod the flood gates opened, next Aesop and his animals fables, The Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra, Then come fairy tales like The tale of Cupid and Psyche (Rome in the 2nd century) in which Zephyrus, the west wind (a horse), carries Psyche away. Another example is in 13th century Egypt, The Tale of Two Brothers, this one has talking cows. More recent examples are the Brothers Grim, then into the modern times, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Winnie-the-Pooh and on and on an on…..

So When and how did the owl become wise, well its to do with Athena and darkness.. Athena’s wisdom and the owls are it seems intertwined. The greek goddess took the little owl and used him for her symbol. There is the suggestion that owls were her favourite birds. Did she take the owl as her symbol because in ancient Greece it represented the wise or was it because Athena was the goddess wisdom that the owl became wise by association? Still in the dark? Well here is food for thought, owls are nocturnal, and this association with the dark and being able to see in it has something to do with the “wise old owl” status. After all if you can see in dark it would suggest you can see things that others can’t. It is not much more of a leap to suggest that because you can see all things clearly you would be able to asses whether something is true or right. Very wise!

Watercolour in progress Daniel Mackie
Images © Daniel Mackie
See this design and others available as cards and prints at The DM Collection

Dog in the Drink!

Doddy Paddle , Watercolour by Daniel Mackie at The DM Collection
Doggy paddle, The most ancient of all swimming strokes. It was the first swimming stroke used by ancient humans, learned by observing animals swim. Maybe Aesop, the Ancient Greek story-teller was watching a dog swimming when he wrote the fable, “The Dog and its Reflection”. He was however more interested in the nature of the dog rather than its swimming abilities! It is a moral about being content with what you have.

“The Dog and its Reflection” is a warning that he that covets often will lose it all. Dogs are greedy and live in the moment and in Aesop’s fable a dog has stolen bone and it making off with it. He crosses a river and sees his own reflection in the water. Thinking it is another dog carrying a bigger bone, he opens his mouth to bark and loses his bone.

Infact Aesop wrote a number of fables about dogs. He tends, in my mind to give them a bit of hard time. He outlines characteristics, that shows them in a poor light. For example, he illustrates their stupidity and greediness as a negative. We in the modern world may perhaps look upon these characteristics as playfulness and tenaciousness! He portrays the dog as enslaved in “The Dog and the Wolf”, but ask any dog owner and they would probably say the reverse is true! Maybe in ancient Greece things were different. However there is truth in Aesop’s fables, and his particular use of a particular animal in a particular fable is part of their incisive message. Although Aesop’s fables were written 2500 years ago they still pack a punch.

“The Dog and the Wolf” is about freedom. A starving wolf meets a well fed dog and comments upon how well the dog looks. The dog thanks him for the compliment and tells the wolf about his comfortable life and suggests the wolf comes and joins him. The wolf, sick to the back teeth of hardship and worrying about where his next meal is coming from agrees to join the dog. However, the wolf notices that the dog has some fur missing round his neck and asks the dog about the bald patch. The dog tells the wolf it is where his master puts on his collar and chains him up at night. The wolf is appalled that the dog has traded his freedom for a full belly and immediately leaves.

Have you ever been described as a dog in a manger? I hope not. This is another of Aesop’s fables where the dogs reputation come out poorly. This one is about spite. There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either. Know anyone like this? Someone who keeps something that they do not really want in order to prevent anyone else from having it. A lot of two year olds have this habit! But hopefully they will grow out of it!

There are four dogs in The DM Collection

This is the watercolour in progress, as you can see Rose Madder Genuine and Quindercrome Gold feature! I am such a fan of these two colours! I have noticed a peculiar thing! All the dogs I draw tend to have a slight comic element that the other creatures i paint don’t have! This must be an unconscious thing!

Doggy paddle by Daniel Mackie

See the whole range of Cards and prints at The DM Collection.
Images © Daniel Mackie

Curiosity Nearly Killed the Elephant

Elepahnt squirting water Drawing the dm collection

Elephants are weird-looking Creatures. Like the giraffe, hippopotamus and rhinoceros they kind of stand alone in their unique appearance.
Early depictions of Elephants are fantasy like, this is because back in the middle ages Europeans wouldn’t have had access to the real thing, and with no first hand experience elephants were depicted like horses with trumpet-like trunks and tusks like a boar, and sometimes with hooves.

It wasn’t until the Ancient Romans, who kept the animals in captivity, that anatomically accurate elephants were depicted. There are examples in mosaics in Tunisia and Sicily. As more elephants began to be sent to European kings as gifts during the 15th century, depictions of them became more accurate.

Maybe its because of their strange appearance that they have been revered by many cultures throughout history.
In Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian cultures, the elephant symbolises positive things like wisdom, peace and learning.

The most curious thing about the elephant is obviously it’s trunk, there’s little else like the elephants trunk on earth. Part snorkel, part fingers, part nose.

So how did the Elephant get it’s truck? Well according to Rudyard Kipling, in his “Just So” story, “The Elephant Child” got his truck because of his curiosity of what the crocodile has for dinner. In fact the elephants curiosity nearly kills him. He finds out that the Crocodile has “elephant child” for diner! The crocodile bites him on the nose and in his struggle to get free the elephant stretches his nose into a trunk. So long and so handy does it become for swatting flies and flicking cooking water over its body that every elephant ever since has had one!

The”Elephant Childs” near-fatal adventures serve as a reminder not to let our questioning minds rule us. The Elephant Child comes face to face with death because he desperately wants to know what the crocodile eats for supper. All the other animals have warned him not to ask. But he didn’t listen.
It would suggest that although curiosity could have fatale consequences, it may also empower you. I think the sentiment is be brave, be curious and expect the unexpected!
Elephnat squirting water by Daniel Mackie
You can buy cards and prints of this design and othes at The DM Collection
Image © Daniel Mackie