J.H. Boot: master of stylisation


I posted about stylisation before, and I’d like to show where I got my inspiration. So without further ado, some of the ‘plates’ from J.H. Boot’s book on how to take some natural object and turn it into something of mathematically precise art.

It still amazes me that Boot did not just take the time to draw studies ‘after nature’ as he calls them, but also to show off his skills by adding lots of ornaments to pages about ornaments. He left as little paper unused as he could.

From the book’s (Dutch) text, it’s clear that ornamentations like these were used in interior design. Wall paneling, tables, stained glass… Must’ve been some exhausting houses to have lived in!


The colour orange – “bitwixe yelow and reed”


Orange is a tricky colour: when pale, it can be seen as yellow, when dark, it is seen as brown.

Bizarrely, orange did not get its English name until 1512. It was named after the fruit, though you could have thought it would have been the other way around. Even in the middle ages, English had no word for orange. Chaucer described it as:

bitwixe yelow and reed

Before importing the word orange from french, the colour was referred to as ġeolurēad(yellow-red). So orange was a really odd thing. To quote Alan Fletcher in his book The art of looking sideways:

Colour words are acquired by cultures in a strict sequence according to anthropologists who analysed 98 widely differing languages:

  • All languages have black and white.
  • if there are three words, the third is red.
  • If there are four, then it is green or yellow.
  • if five then whichever didn’t make four, yellow or green.
  • if six, blue.
  • if seven, it is brown.
  • if eight or more, then purple, pink, orange and grey are added in any order.

So there is orange, with an identity crisis amongst purple, pink and grey. That is not to say that the colour did not exists or that it was invisible or utterly unappreciated. It just did not have its own name.


saffSaffron is a spice and a colour that comes from the purple saffron crocus. It is the most expensive spice in the world for good reasons. One evening the sun goes down, the field is bare. Then the flower appears overnight, lasts a day, and is gone. If you are not ready to harvest at any time, your crop, and possibly your livelihood, will be gone. It is a delicate, vulnerable thing, and to grow them takes a good deal of effort. It is the bright red stigma that gives the dye and the spice, the rest of the flower, the Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao_in_Phu_Soidao_Waterfallstamen and leaves are useless. And here is an oddity: the flowers are sterile. They cannot reproduce by pollenating, only by bulb offsets. So you will never find a saffron crocus in the wild.

In 2007 Buddhists  monks were at the forefront of the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests, the uprising has been referred to as the Saffron Revolution. It is worth noting though, that their robes are not dyed with saffron, but with turmeric or jackfruit.


In 2013 the prices for certain spices (USD for 1ounce):

  • Saffron: $354
  • Vanilla: $8
  • Clove: $4
  • Cardamom: $3.75
  • Pepper: $3.75
  • Thyme: $2.74

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Jack Horner is a paleo-dude of the purest water. He is funny, knowledgeable and loves dinosaurs so much he wants to build one. And it is actually feasible. Chickens are basically altered dinosaurs, and fiddling with switching on and off genes will give you a chickenosaurus. See the TED talk. Best dude around.


W. B. Gould: artist and convict


William Buelow Gould (1801 – 1853) was an English artist convicted for stealing a coat, and was sentenced to seven years of labour in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania). He constantly got into trouble, also in the penal colonies, and was regularly punished for offences such as drunkenness, petty theft and forgery.

His talent however, got him assigned as house servant to colonial surgeon Dr James Scott who made use of his abilities. Later he was also a servant of another amateur naturalist, Dr William de Little (“amateur” meaning something a little different then than now).

He painted still life, portraits, botanical specimen, native flora and fauna, sea life collected on the beaches and landscapes. He continued painting after having been granted his certificate of freedom in 1835, but the quality was faltering, and he seems to have spiralled down into poverty, drunkenness and prison sentences.

His work is greatly acclaimed, and his Gould’s sketchbook of fishes was recognised as a document of world significance by UNESCO in 2011.

My absolute favourite is the leafy sea dragon.

Living evolution: archaeopteryx, pterodactyl, hoatzin


I am going to skip over the arguments against the imbeciles who believe that the world is 6000 years old. Richard Dawkins are nobly taking that task upon himself.

JPTLWPteranodonAbout 150 million years ago, the pterodactyl roamed the skies ( pterodaktulos, meaning “winged finger”). There is something about that shape (and size!) that seems to still take hold of human imagination and fear; imagine the shadow crossing your path. Though they were not excellent fliers, it must have been pretty useful for a carnivore reptile.

Archaeopteryx_NTThen, the paleobiologists got wildly excited when they found various fossils of what is seen as a transitional creature; half bird, half reptile. The gorgeous Archaeopteryx “original bird” or “first bird”). Teeth, claws, wings, reptile tail. It is pretty much more reptile than bird. A reptile with feathers.

So, as the theory go, the flying reptiles changed into birds, and lost the obvious reptilian traits. But evolution is a wonderful thing. In the swamps of South America lives Hoatzin_in_Perua bird called Hoatzin  (Opisthocomus hoazin).  Though it is definitely a bird as we know them, (and the adult is one of the coolest-looking birds!) The chicks have a curious trait: they have claws on their wings like the pterodactyl and the archaeopteryx . Living above water, the chicks sometimes fall in, and to be able to get back up, it uses those extra claws. They retract as the chick grows older and are capable of flying. The taxonomic placement of this brilliant species are greatly debated, and it is odd in several aspects: it is purely herbivore, and its digestive system are close to bovine as it uses bacterial fermentation to digest plant material.

But no contest: the coolest thing about it is the chicks claws.






Tree of life – custom drawing


This is the third post in the series of my custom drawings. This time it was a custom “tree of life” for my sister. She had a whole spare wall in the cabin up in the mountains… Again, as in all custom drawings I do, there are some elements that are aimed at the recipient, but for the most part it is just my imagination going on a rampage.


The other two posts are

The colour blue – the devil, the virgin and the red dyers’ bribes

Today, blue is probably the most popular colour around. We associate good things with it, it represents all sorts of positive things: air, sea, freshness, calm, and a few not so; feeling blue, blue monday. At least in this day and age, blue get a good deal of attention. But it was not always so.


Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 13.45.20

Palaeolithic art, Indonesia

Blue is not an old colour. It is not a palaeolithic colour – our ancestors in the caves didn’t have blue. The prehistoric palette was – as mentioned elsewhere – ochre, white, black and iron oxide. Yellow-brown, chalk, ash and rust.

This was the case a few millennia later too, when we settled down and started farming – and dyeing. Until the Middle Ages, these where in fact the main colours around, and social and religious structures and symbolism built around them (note that the catholic church still revolves around red, white and black, with green added as a tag-on for «all the other days»).

Europe, woad


a skein of woad-dyed wool

In europe, the oldest fabrics are all dyed in shades of red. In fact, they say, in Roman times, the latin word for ‘coloured’ and ‘red’ were synonyms. Greeks and romans rarely dyed in blue, but the celts and germanic tribes did – using woad (that yellow plant you see all around temperate europe). Hence, blue was seen as primitive and barbaric.


Middle East, indigo



Blue dye were used by the ancient people of the Middle East. They imported indigo from Asia and Africa. Indigo was used in biblical times, but it was expensive, and used only for the finest cloth, and for the wealthy. In europe, it was not used much, partly because it was expensive, but also because the colour was not … appreciated. It was also associated with the rabid celts and germanic people.

Biblical non-exsistant blue

In the bible, colour is rarely mentioned, but translations have made words that relate to luminosity, density, light and quality into colours. This of course, have ended in a lot of – to an atheist – delightful, snickering misunderstandings in the «life of Brian»-genre («it’s a sign, it’s a sign! he wants us all to remove our left shoe and follow!»)

The best bit is that in the english version (and others), words that describe force, richness, love, beauty, prestige, death, blood, fire etc are simply translated as «red». Excellent ground for misunderstandings… and I shall not even start on the jewish tsitsit shawl, Cleopatra’s sails or the temple of Solomon. Brilliant stories they are – go forth and research!

Fashion in the high middle ages

The high middle ages is a period we can begin to recognise the outlines of our own society and you should think that at least the painters would use blue. The sky is blue. We see the sea as blue (which it is not), but the painters in the high middle ages painted the sky white, red or gold. Emperors and nobles in the 9-10th century fancied Roman customs, and wore red, white and purple (purple is another story – an enormously fascinating one!). So ignored by nobles, blue was worn by peasant. And it would stay like that until the 12th century.. Blue was described by the rich and wealthy as sickening, unnatural, barbaric and ugly. (isn’t this exciting?!)

There are remarkably few references to blue in liturgy, place names and people. Mr. Brown, Mr. Black, Mr White, Mr. Red. But no Mr. Blue. In latin, there are apparently no name with the root in ‘blue’ (this of course being contagious, the same goes for a lot of european languages).

Christianity, black Mary turns blue


Wilton dipthych

You would think that with all that emphasis on the heavens and all, christianity would expand blue. But no, the church stuck to the social and religious symbolism already in place for regulating society.

Liturgical colours are discussed in sheaves and reams, and all sorts of colours are mentioned – except blue. Even though it is around in stained glass, enamel, paintings and in clothing. Blue is simply not part of the liturgical colour scheme or symbolism. Blue is not really entering the stage properly until the late 12th century… when blue turns up in stained glass windows, and then only as a backdrop to sacred figures.


Up until the 12th century, the virgin Mary was depicted in dark colours, to represent suffering and grief, and never in blue. Then something happens, and today, blue is associated with the virgins robes. A good example is the Wilton dipthych from 1395.

Religious chromophobes, chromophiles

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 14.07.50


This combination of the cult of Mary and the idea of divine light, blue becomes wildly popular. It is of course a long story, what happened – it involves an squillon church meetings, a split on the view on colours – «if colours are light, it is divine, the work of God. If colour is substance, it is the work of the deceiving devil»…. chromophobes versus chromophiles, with axes to grind, a God to justify them, and improvable points to prove. Besides. Ultramarine pops up in Italy as the most expensive colouring. Money talks.


Blue power

331px-Arms_of_the_Kingdom_of_France_(Ancien).svgColours change importance and associative power. Blue changed from being a non-colour to represent loyalty, truth, courage, and the fact that the king of France chose the well-known coat of arms: azure with golden fleur-de-lis dotted around (and yes, king Arthur pictured with a blue shield with three golden crowns) surely drove the popularity of blue.  From hardly any coats of arms having any blue in 1200, at the beginning of the 15th century one in three coats of arms had ‘azure’. Heraldry is a very good source to monitor colours. It was extremely important to describe the various coat of arms in families, royals and to connect loyalties. And there is the important point that often, all children got their own coat of arms (women too, actually) usually with a basis in the parents´.

Colour-bribes, changing the colour of the devil

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 14.23.06And here’s a good piece of ancient gossip: in the thirteenth century, wealthy red dyers asked stained-glass artists to represent the devil as blue, hoping this would discredit the newly fashionable colour that was threatening their precious profits.

Pigheaded Newton and indigo

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 14.05.05In fact, there was a fight whether the colours of the rainbow should include blue – and the fact that indigo is squeezed in between blue and violet, well, that seems to be more thanks to stubborn Newton than anything else. Indigo is often depicted as a colour somewhere between violet and blue, a purpely sort of thing. Fact is, indigo in its raw form is actually more gray-lead-blue than anything else.


…since then, blues popularity have, erm, sky-rocketed. Today, it’s topping the favourite colour scale.
And by the way. Blue is not just blue…: Azure, baby blue, cerulean, cobalt, cornflower, dark blue, denim, Egyptian blue, electric blue, indigo, light blue, lapis lazuli, Maya blue, midnight blue, navy blue, periwinkle, Persian blue, powder blue, prussian blue, royal blue, sapphire, sky blue, steel blue, ultramarine…

And no, it’s not my favourite colour.

(Purple is fascinating, though. Royal tyrian, slaves, snails and religious blunders.. and yellow – to us, a warning, the colour of hospital bin bags signifying harmful contagious waste; to the chinese, the colour of the emperor. Ah. it never ends.)


More oddities on colours here

(all images either own or from wikipedia)