On the shores of Trinidad, it is common to come across washed up coconuts among the driftwood. The little hole and two indentations above it look undeniably face-like and inspired me to turn some into little puffer-fish characters with a bit of acrylic paint and varnish!
This piece has been adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Quarterly Bulletin of the TTFNC. More pictures and photographs by the other artists are included in the original article.
Despite the name, the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation is in fact situated near Freeport, in central Trinidad, surrounded by citrus and teak plantations and – at this time of year - under the constant threat of bush fires.
We were treated to a full tour of the property, which supports a fantastic variety of Heliconia plants, some sweet citrus (with which we filled our hats and pockets!) and two ponds teaming with life. On returning to the main house, we dispersed in different directions with our pencils, paints and cameras. Ricardo set the photographers the task of taking shots that minimised the presence of the enclosures – tricky to achieve given that the majority of residents were unavoidably in some kind of cage or vivarium, but Jeffrey and Kamal accepted the challenge happily!
Many of the animals we met are destined for release to the wild – including their latest arrival, a baby ocelot, born at the centre just a couple of weeks ago. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this beautiful creature; she will be kept with minimal human contact and fed live prey to maximise her chance of successful release.
This piece originally appeared in the TTFNC's Quarterly Bulletin (QB1-2015).
Back in 2012, the UWI Zoology Museum was the venue for the TTFNC Art Group’s first ever outing. At the time, it was agreed by all that the museum contained sufficient inspiration in its hundreds of fascinating specimens to sustain many, many more trips. On Sunday 20th November, eleven members finally returned for another morning of drawing and painting. Once again Mike Rutherford was extremely accommodating in allowing us access to the museum and helping us each select our desired specimens.
This time the process was complicated somewhat by a power cut, which left the entire University in the dark for the day, and meant that Mike had to guide us around his Aladdin’s cave of treasures by torchlight. It also forced us to set up on the desks in the open-air undercroft outside the museum, which turned out to be very pleasant and in the end was probably an improvement to being inside the crowded display room, with its artificial lighting.
Perhaps the darkness caused by the power cut had put ghoulish thoughts in our minds, as our chosen specimens were decidedly spooky! They included a taxidermied vampire bat, a pickled frog, a giant longhorn beetle and a snake skeleton. Skulls also proved a popular choice; lion, howler monkey, deer and turtle skulls were all selected for sketching by different artists, with some very pleasing, if eerie, results.
The shape and form of skulls provides excellent drawing practice, as one can attempt to capture the three-dimensional, sculptural nature of the object, using shading to indicate depth and adjusting and readjusting lines on the paper until one is happy that the proportions are just right. This approach was exemplified by Ayodhya Ouditt who produced several pages of very successful skull sketches, from multiple angles, and using a combination of pencil and pen and ink to experiment with different techniques.
Less macabre subjects included a case of Trinidadian butterflies, which first-time members Annelise Randall and Sharon Vanderhyden portrayed using pastels and coloured pencil, respectively.
Time disappeared quickly, with everyone completely absorbed in their drawings from start to finish. Once again, the museum proved an extremely popular venue. Even after two trips I still feel that we have only capitalised on a tiny part of the great potential that the museum holds for our enthusiastic members; we will definitely be returning in the near future!
This report was originally published in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists' Club.
On Sunday 22nd June, 16 keen art group members made the journey to Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust. When we arrived at 10am, a large tour group from POS was being shown around, which gave us a chance to get our materials together, explore the visitor centre and warm up by sketching the regal peacocks patrolling the garden.
As the tour group dispersed, so did we, venturing further around the main lake alone or in small groups. Some chose the serene lake vista as a subject, while others focused on the waddling Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata) and charismatic black-bellied whistling tree ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis discolor) as excellent models for practising quick, loose sketches. The latter are critically endangered in the wild, thanks to overhunting, and the centre provides both a refuge and a breeding programme for them. Indeed, nearly 1,500 have been reintroduced to the wild by the centre over the past 4 decades.
Some artists grabbed the opportunity to draw and photograph other species that are almost impossible to see close hand in the wild - such as the iconic scarlet ibis, which is also bred in large enclosures at the centre for reintroduction purposes. Usually only visible as bright red dots on green mangrove islands in the Caroni swamp, these spectacular birds are no less impressive when seen up close.
At 1pm we reconvened at the centre, where our guide, Simone Ho, led us on a tour. Here we learned about the many species that live in and around the lake, most of which we enjoyed excellent sightings of, including the symbolic lotus flower, the wattled jacana (Jacana jacana), the Neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) and the elegant snake bird (Anhinga anhinga). Much of the tour was focused on conservation and local ecology – which are central to the objectives of the Trust. Some members continued to speed- sketch or take artistic shots with their cameras while others just enjoyed the stroll.
As a lapsed TTFNC member, Simone was sympathetic to our thirst for information on natural history and on our desire to explore some of the less-used hiking trails that branch away from the main path. We had only ventured a few metres along these trails when we spotted an unmistakable spider: the Trinidad dwarf tarantula (Cyriocosmus elegans) – tiny, yet by its movements so clearly a tarantula. As we continued, we collected several ‘devil’s ear’ or ‘monkey ear’ seedpods (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) and even caught a glimpse of a spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) in the shallows.
We headed home with tired legs, full sketch books and plenty of new facts, and look forward to revisiting the wildfowl trust in the future. Indeed, the extended guided tour would have equally suited a birding, botanical, bug or herpetology group trip – and I’m sure all of the art group attendees would recommend it highly.
Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust is open to visitors between 9-5pm on weekdays, and 10-5pm at weekends. Visitors should call ahead to make a reservation (see www.papwildfowltrust.org for details). Entrance is $15 which includes a guided tour of the lake.
The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists' Club Art Group spent a relaxing day at Ajoupa, nr. Couva. The following is an account of the trip I wrote for the TTFNC Quarterly Bulletin:
What could be a more perfect venue for our natural history art group than a garden lovingly created and maintained with both art and nature in mind?
On Sunday 16th March, our group of artists, photographers, botanists, birders and fungi-hunters finally made it through the unusually heavy highway traffic to the haven of Ajoupa Pottery, near Couva. Here, Bunty and Rory O’Connor welcomed us into their home and garden, where we had free reign to explore, and full use of their beautiful guest cottage as a shady base in which to rest between sketches and eat our picnic lunches.
From the cottage we were treated to stunning views of the Northern Range, with El Tucuche clearly visible. Understandably, Maya Patel decided to set up here straight away and painted a lovely watercolour landscape while, one by one, the rest of us were enticed away from the cottage by the numerous pulls of the magical garden, and we soon dispersed. With around 25 people, this was the best-attended art trip so far, yet it was easy to feel like the only inhabitant in the whole garden while getting lost along the maze-like paths and secret spots that make up this beautiful location.
It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago the Ajoupa plot, now so lush and diverse, was dominated by razor grass. Rory described how its transformation only happened thanks to an extremely dedicated local gardener, alongside their own hard work and vision in collecting and planting cuttings and seeds. Passionate about wildlife, and botany in particular, they insisted on planting trees as well as shrubs. This adds height, and with it an element of mystery, to the garden.
The dense vegetation means it is impossible to view the whole space at once – one has to discover the various nooks, crannies and surprise clearings on foot. It has all the touches of an artist’s garden; examples of Bunty’s pottery and other artwork are tucked amongst the plants like cryptic clues on an elaborate treasure hunt – some fun (such as the giant hands emerging from one of the ponds) and some simply beautiful. What could be better inspiration for a group of natural history artists?
The birders among us were not disappointed either – an abundance of plants in bloom meant that hummingbirds were well represented: copper-rumped, ruby topaz and both little and rufous-breasted hermits flitted about as we painted. Between us we also saw a white-tailed hawk, a long-billed gnatwren, violaceous euphonia, at least 3 species of bat, a skink and several unidentified bird nests.
This trip had it all: from fungi and fig trees to lizards and landscapes. Far too much to fit into just a few hours – we’ll definitely be returning soon with our paintbrushes and binoculars for another visit!
Each year in the run up to Carnival, the Department for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies recreates the 'Old Yard' , complete with actors and students performing as traditional carnival characters. For the past few years I have turned up with my art materials and taken up the challenge of capturing something of this spectacle. It is always a dynamic performance, which means it's often possible only to make a few marks on the paper before the pose has changed completely...
My father, Paul Deacon, is an artist in my home town of Malmesbury. In January 2014 we joined forces to produce 'Sketch', a 2 week exhibition of sketch book pages, swatches and observational drawings, displayed in Malmesbury Town Hall's John Bowen Gallery. Paul's sketches were compiled over several years in many different locations - from the Sea of Cortez to the East coast of Scotland. My work was exclusively produced while living in Trinidad and Tobago over the past 3 years, including super-quick watercolours of carnival characters, and pastel-finished paintings produced during travels in the rainforests of French Guiana.
I have been involved in the organisation of the 4th and 5th International Conference of Poeciliid Biologists. The 2010 conference was held in St Andrews, Scotland, and the 2012 conference at UWI, St Augustine, Trinidad. I provided logos and artwork for mugs and bags for both conferences, some of which are also being utilised for this year's conference in Exeter.
A report I wrote for the TTFNC Quarterly Bulletin on the Art Group's first trip:
As the hybrid offspring of an artist and a biologist, combining painting and the natural world has always seemed quite an obvious thing to do. The attendance register from the inaugural outing of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club Art Group proves that I am not alone: twenty people turned up at 9am on Saturday 14th April to enjoy a morning of drawing, painting and photography at UWI’s Zoology Museum.
Taking full advantage of TTFNC’s excellent connections, the group was treated to a personal tour by the museum curator, Mike Rutherford, who showed us around both the main Zoology Museum and the beautiful insect collection next door. Initially entranced by the stacks of jars, cabinets, bones and stuffed creatures, eventually we had to remind ourselves that we were not only in the museum to gaze at and learn about the fascinating specimens (although I’m sure any one of us could have easily done so all morning). This left us with no choice but to face up to the first challenge of the day: selecting a subject! The variety was somewhat overwhelming, but one by one we settled on a creature, found a comfortable seat and opened our paint boxes, pencil tins and camera cases...
Subjects chosen included alien-like marine creatures such as the horseshoe crab and nautilus, skulls of horses and marine fish, scary giant centipedes, spectacular harlequin beetles and pickled snakes and starfish. This was where many of us faced the second challenge of the day – getting started. Happily, the trip coincided with my father, Paul Deacon, an artist and retired art teacher, visiting Trinidad from the UK. He spent the morning floating between the two rooms offering encouraging advice to nervous or hesitant artists, providing starting points and explaining techniques wherever such help was requested.
Apart from a brief break to view a stunning example of a ‘sun dog’ or rainbow-like halo around the sun, we kept going until lunchtime. As well as a wide range of subjects, the group also embraced a great variety of media – pencil, watercolour, oil pastel, digital photography, to name but a few. Some even found the time to document the event by photographing fellow artists and their work, as well as taking artistically-minded photos of the specimens themselves.
For many, this day in the museum was the first time they had opened a sketch book in years, despite enjoying drawing and painting in the past. Everyone was extremely positive about the experience afterwards and grateful for the opportunity to rediscover a passion for art. It seems that art is one of those interests that sound so easy to keep up as a hobby in theory, but in reality often get neglected in the rush of everyday life. It is my hope that this new group will provide an outlet – a time and a place – for all of us, to make sure we do not forget how relaxing and satisfying it can be to spend a few hours observing and interpreting nature through art.
Our second trip in September took us to the Emperor Valley Zoo, where artists enjoyed the challenges of capturing swinging spider monkeys, flamingos drinking and tapirs feeding! The idea is that future trips will take us to locations equally rich in natural history subjects – for example the Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust.
The TTFNC is a great club to get involved with for those living in or visiting Trinidad & Tobago, who are interested in going on some excellent natural history-oriented hikes and attending interesting monthly lectures. See www.ttfnc.org for more details.
I am a keen artist in my spare time. I currently run a natural history art group within the TTFNC.