National Aquarium, Baltimore

After a morning spent travelling from the Philly ‘burbs and looking around Fort McHenry, we headed around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to visit the National Aquarium.  That was really the focus of our trip to Baltimore as it was the thing the kids really wanted to do.  The Aquarium has timed entry so, when we reached the front of the ticket line before 3pm, we were issued tickets for a 4pm entry.  That gave us time to have a scout around that area of the Harbor.  We saw some interesting vessels moored up, including a large coastguard ship and a submarine, we saw ducks paddling around among flotillas of trash, and we saw some interesting buildings, including an old power plant that has been converted into a retail space.  It was a bookstore so we headed in there to benefit from their air conditioning and peruse books on the shelves.

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Before long it was time for us to return to the Aquarium and go in.  The timed entry system works well I think as it meant we did not waste time queuing and it meant the exhibit spaces of the Aquarium rarely felt too crowded.  We started at a large pool and the kids were instantly enchanted.  Our 10 year old is shark daft so he was super-duper-excited to see sharked slipping through the water.  There were also large rays covered in spotty patterns and we all squealed with glee when a large green turtle appeared and came to the surface.

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The touch pool was a huge hit with all of us.  There were the usual rays and horseshoe crabs for us to pet and we enjoyed that.  Another touch pool, however, was filled with charming little moon jellyfish.  We were told that we could stroke their curved bodies using two fingers.  It was marvelous.  I adore jellyfish anyway (it helps that I’ve never been stung by one) but I have only ever touched dead jellies.  I was smitten as soon as I felt the jellyfish, cool, rubbery, slippery, soft.  It was a delightful experience.

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Another favourite area of the Aquarium was a tank full of puffins.  Is there any other bird as cute as a puffin?  Despite living near some colonies of puffins in Scotland, I had sadly never managed to see any in close proximity.  I love their plump monochromatic bodies and those brightly striped beaks.  They did not disappoint with their antics either.  We saw them bobbing around in the water, swimming beneath the surface, and flapping their wings.  I could have watched them for ages and ages.  It made me wish I could have a pet puffin.

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There were, of course, tanks galore filled with interesting fish.  I was particularly drawn to all the brightly coloured fish.  My 8 year old was obsessed with all the different species of catfish because he is obsessed with cats of all kinds.  He was also drawn towards any of the over-sized fish, of which there were many.  Meanwhile, my 10 year old was all about the stars of the show: the sharks.  The Aquarium is renowned for its large shark tanks and we were not disappointed.  I failed to get a decent photo of any of the sharks but there were scores of large sharks in a vast, deep doughnut shaped tank that surrounded we visitors.  We could get right up to the glass so could feel almost immersed in the water with them and really appreciate the scale of the sharks.  There were nurse sharks resting on the floor of the tank, sand tiger sharks with their needle sharp teeth, sandbar sharks, large rays, and a largetooth sawfish which was an entirely bizarre looking beastie.

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There were areas dedicated to rainforest environments and to Australia.  The latter was a very small area and we did not manage to see all of the birds or the flying foxes that were apparently in the room.  We did, however, see some stunning birds with bold plumage and lots of interesting reptiles, including a freshwater crocodile.  The rainforest area was more successful in terms of spotting critters.  We even managed to go crazy bananas excited when we spotted a sloth among the foliage dangling from the ceiling.  Mr Pict is one of those arachnophobes who is fascinated by spiders so he enjoyed seeing the tarantula.  There were also some amazing birds in that area, including scarlet ibis and turquoise tanagers.

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Another room was just filled with tanks full of jellyfish.  Mr Pict and the Pictlings took a rest break while I spent time in there looking at all of the details of the jellies.  I love their variety.  Some had stubby little tentacles that looked a bit like crinkly coral or brains while others had long, thin tentacles that moved elegantly in the water.  I found it mesmerising to watch their bodies pulsate as they propelled themselves around the tanks.  I think I would find it quite soothing to have a tank full of jellyfish.

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The kids rallied when it came time to visit the dolphins.  They are a colony of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins who were all born in captivity.  I am not generally in favour of large marine mammals being kept in captivity but obviously it is not possible to release captive born dolphins into the wild.  There is also an argument that getting to see dolphins up close inspires people to care more for the ocean environment.  In any case, they had just completed their final show performance of the day so we wondered if they would not be keen on being on show for visitors.  However, they were swimming around being very playful, leaping, and chasing each other.  I think it must be pretty impossible not to love dolphins.

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It was evening by the time we emerged from the Aquarium but still very hot and humid.  We decided, therefore, to stop into a nearby ice cream parlour for some cold, sweet treats.  It was a delicious way to end a great day in Baltimore.

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Inky Jellyfish

I love to draw jellyfish – as I have shared before in this blog – and I was recently inspired to draw more of them after looking at Leanne Cole’s superb photographs of jellyfish over on her blog.  I was itching to get drawing jellyfish but could not seem to find time to make a start.  Then the prompt for this week’s Documented Life Project prompt arrived in my inbox and  I knew immediately what I wanted to create in my art journal: jellyfish, of course!  The theme continues to be photography, which tied into me using Leanne’s wonderful images as the scaffolding for my drawings, and the prompt was silhouette, which I thought I could happily interpret as meaning the strong and black inky lines of my drawings against a bright background.

I usually only create one page in my art journal for my DLP challenges but this week I got entirely carried away and made three.  Having sketched several jellyfish in my small sketchbook, I could not decide between the three I liked the most.  Three drawings was a good excuse to experiment with different backgrounds – spray inks in different colours and watercolour – so I had a lot of fun playing around with the creation of the bright backgrounds and with drawing the jellyfish with a brush and my trusty pot of ancient India Ink.

Please do let me know which jellyfish and/or background you like best of the bunch.

Week 38 - Jellyfish 1

Week 38 - Jellyfish 2

Week 38 - Jellyfish 3

Jellyfish

I have a thing for drawing jellyfish.  I love the sinuous shapes, so perfect for line drawing, and the variety in form.  I like the way they are transparent but with a pop of bright colour.  I have a vivid memory from childhood of being on the beach at Nairn and my sister and I finding a shoal of large jellyfish washed up on the shoreline.  We had seen jellyfish before but never on that scale.  They were completely transparent but had a vivid splash of violet in their centres.  They looked incredibly gelatinous and as if they might pop like a bubble when touched but we discovered they were firm and robust under our prodding fingers.  I thought they were awesome.  Maybe that experience was the seed to my enjoyment of drawing jellyfish.

Of course, I have never been stung by one.  Maybe I would be less appreciative of their charms had I been.  When we were holidaying on Crete, Mr Pict was stung by umpteen small jellyfish.  He hopped out of the sea, writhing with pain.  Immediately several people offered to urinate on him to neutralise the effect of the sting.  So, if you never want a complete stranger to pee on you, don’t get stung by jellyfish.  Mr Pict declined their offers and sucked up the pain, thankful that the jellyfish had been of the small yet stealthy variety.

Here are photos of some of the many jellyfish I have drawn in the past.  Two of them were sold but the portrait of the Lion’s Mane jellyfish is still with me and will be found wall space in our new house.

Blue and Purple Jellyfish - 2010 Red and Purple Jellyfish - 2010

Lions Mane Jellyfish 2

This week’s prompt for the Documented Life Project was to use a white pen prominently.  I did not feel much inspired by that prompt.  This was partly because it was hot on the heels of last week’s prompt to work in black and white so felt a bit samey and partly because I am new to using white ink and I just have not got the hang of it yet.  It was also in no small part down to the fact that I am still wading through the chaos of our house move, the kids’ return to school and have developed a nasty head cold all while my husband is away working for the week in California.  It is difficult to feel inspired when you are exhausted.  Then it hit me: jellyfish.  A line drawing in white would convey the translucency of the jellyfish.

I needed a colourful background in order for the white to stand out so that was the first stage.  An old, used text book had been left behind in one of the cupboards of our new home by the previous owner so I tore a page from it and stuck it into my art journal.  I deliberately pasted it upside down so that I was not distracted by the words but in retrospect I wish I had torn the paper into shreds and glued it haphazardly into the sketch book.  I shall have to remember to do that next time I use a text page.  I then brushed some loose, very watery paint over the text page and – once that was dry – used some small stencils to add pattern and another layer of colour.  I also topped and tailed the page with some washi tape to add yet more layering, shape and colour.  Then came drawing the jellyfish in white pen.  I did not sketch the jellyfish first as I knew it would be difficult to see the faint pencil lines amid all the layering of paint and ink so I had to just confidently apply the white ink and hope for no mistakes.  I resorted to using the photo of one of my previous jellyfish (the first one pictured here) as a guide.  I found I had to go over my drawn lines three or four times to really make the white anything close to opaque.  I found that quite frustrating.  White pens and I, it seems, are still not on friendly terms.

So another week’s challenge was completed.  A jellyfish appeared.  And nobody had to pee on anyone else.

Week 37 - Use White -Jellyfish