New personal challenge – paleo-art!

Posted by Nadya on Jul 9, 2011

“…Hairy elephants were an important part of life on the way into the Ice Ages. Our contact with them has been vividly recorded in cave paintings at Pech Merle and La Madeleine in southern France that feature shaggy elephants with extraordinarily domed foreheads and sloping backs, some clearly at bay, riddled with spears. They were thick-skinned, small-eared animals, well-adapted to winter, with wildly curved fifteen-foot tusks that may well have served as snow plows. And they survived until less than four thousand years ago, holding out on Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic until 1500BC, succumbing finally to the combined effects of hunting and habitat destruction. But they carry on, at least as enduring legends, in the minds and mystical heritage of many northern people.”
— Lyall Watson, “Elephantoms”

I freely admit my obsession with elephants – but I was obsessed with mammoths, long before my obsession with elephants!

Ever since I was a little girl, growing up in Russia, visiting the museums and reading books, mammoths forever captured my imagination. I think we as the human race must have a genetic fascination with these gentle woolly giants that once roamed the Northern plains of Russia, Canada and Alaska. Sometimes, if I think about it hard enough, their absence and extinction literally brings tears to my eyes. How incredible would it have been to see a large hairy elephant in the snow-covered landscape of what became my motherland?

And so, the day has come for me to tackle my biggest challenge yet – painting mammoths!

I have plenty of references of elephants and their behaviour from my trip to Africa, but the challenge of this painting is adapting the physiology to match the mammoths – and that involves understanding it, first. So, I began with books, and looking for reference images of mammoth skeletons. (Because, ironically, I ended up living on the one continent without any mammoths – Australia! So I can’t just go and visit a museum to look at them.) My first frustration that I ran into with just about the first Google search, is an abundance of photos online that other people have taken in museums – but often a lack of information about what’s in the picture. “This is a mammoth skeleton.” Which species is pictured – the Woolly mammoth, or the Columbian mammoth, or is it actually a mastodon?? What gender was the animal? (And which museum is it in?) They write “female woolly mammoths had smaller tusks than the males” – okay, that’s the same as with elephants, but what did female mammoth tusks actually look like – the shape, curvature, average length? I may actually end up emailing a natural history museum or two and asking the experts! Because the scene that I am painting specifically involves a woolly mammoth matriarch on alert, protecting her baby. Fortunately, finding baby mammoth references is easier, with well-documented and well-preserved baby mammoths Lyuba and Dima.

I’ve started a Work-in-Progress thread on the WetCanvas forums, an online art community which I find to be tremendously helpful a lot of the time.
There you will be able to see any updates and progress of the painting:

mammoth - work in progress

mammoth - work in progress, digital painting

My Inspirations

Posted by Nadya on Jul 4, 2011

When I was little, I dreamed of being a biologist – just like my mother.

I was always good at science, then as my family and friends saw and encouraged my creative side, I decided to focus on art instead, and I’ve never looked back. Eventually, after settling on the path of illustration during my studies at NSCAD University, I combined my original passion – animals – with art. Just like my mother rescued all kinds of animals in trouble, I want my paintings to help animals – through donations made from the sales of artwork, or hopefully just by inspiring someone to care about Nature.

That said, I’d like to talk about those whose work has inspired me along the art journey:

botanical illustration by Tatiana Neklioudova

botanical illustration by my mother, Tatiana Neklioudova

My mother, of course, is my first and foremost inspiration!
I always loved seeing her sketches and paintings – from her expeditions, and from life in general. The above painting hangs in my parents’ home, part of a series of botanical art that she did when we first moved to Canada – on our nature walks, she photographed living plants and picked up any broken ones, to take home and paint before they wilted. I remember watching her paint this series, and we learned about the flora and fauna of Nova Scotia together. (And I learned about ink and watercolour painting.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Pleistocene re-wilding – a controversial topic

Posted by Nadya on Jun 19, 2011
I’ve been reading a fascinating forum thread on a Russian zoology forum about pleistocene re-wilding, and a discussion also popped up on “Save the Cheetah” page on Facebook today.
It really seems to polarise people, but I think it’s actually a really interesting idea from a scientific point of view.

The theory is that we humans are responsible for the extinction of the megafauna, and that the environment we know today isn’t what’s supposed to be here, and that food chains are broken and niches left empty because of species having gone extinct. Plants evolved thorns to protect themselves from large herbivores such as mammoths and mastodons, which are gone. Prey animals have adaptations to escape from large predators which are no longer there to hunt them. If not for our distant ancestors, these large creatures might still be around. In a way, we are responsible.

There is a VERY interesting experiment being done in Siberia right now, by a Russian scientist, Sergei Zimov. He is in the process of “re-wilding” a tundra, and turning it back into a savannah, not in terms of weather of course but in terms of ground cover, plants, and animals. He argues that the tundra environment there is now, was created in the absence of large herbivores – and by re-introducing large herbivores to the area, of species the same or similar to what was there in the Pleistocene, science is already seeing the effects of changes to that environment. Grasslands are coming back in these areas of Zimov’s experiment. So when/if someone manages to clone a mammoth, they will already have a suitable habitat to live in. :)

The other side of the coin is, of course, that we have messed with the environment enough as it is, that species have already adapted without those large herbivores and carnivores, and that we should protect what little pristine environment we have left. The only megafauna left now is in Africa, and it’s under threat.

I am all for protecting what we have, but a part of me would love to see humans restore what we screwed up – and to see mammoths roam the Siberian plains again…

a dream of an elephant

Posted by Nadya on Jun 6, 2011

While organising my desk just now, I found a piece of paper that I wrote on last night – I had the most vivid dream, and got up in the middle of the night to write it all down.

The dream played like a memory of one of Mom’s animal rescues – we were in Moscow I was about 10 years old, and one of the animals Mom rescued this time was a…. baby Indian elephant! Apparently we called it Cashmere. I dreamed about playing with a baby elephant in that tiny old apartment. It was really weird, but really cool, because it was an ELEPHANT – and it was a very detailed dream. I remember how warm and furry it was (Asian baby elephants are born with a bit of fur)… It was a normal sized baby elephant, very young, it could fit through the doors and everything. My mom was mixing up milk for it, but it kept nosing around with its trunk in the pangolins’ bowls too, and the dog’s water bowl. It slept on the dog’s blanket in the entranceway, and I put another blanket over it for the night… The dream ended just as Mom was making plans to find the best zoo to care for the baby elephant. This is when I woke up, and raced to write it all down.


I wish it had been a memory – but no, I never actually had a baby elephant when I was growing up! 😛


Posted by Nadya on Jun 1, 2011

I have been absolutely addicted to this website lately – Elephants Without Borders has a webcam set up, run by, at a waterhole in a national park in South Africa.

I miss the hours of watching animals at waterholes in Etosha, Namibia!  There are so many amazing animals visiting this waterhole – I’ve actually been keeping my Guide to South African Mammals on my desk, which I bought in Etosha, and it’s been coming in very handy to identify the different species. There are some that I’m not familiar with and had to look in the guide to identify – Nyalas and Waterbuck, for example.

And oh – the elephants! There are elephants there daily, there’s a pretty good chance of opening the website and finding yourself looking at a beautiful elephant drinking or taking a bath, or a mud-bath, or a dust-bath! Mostly a “herd” of bull elephants seems to hang around this area (similar to the 12 Bulls that were always hanging around my favourite waterhole in Etosha), and some of the bulls that come have magnificent tusks. I hope they have a whole army of rangers protecting them! They are wonderful to watch.


Posted by Nadya on May 28, 2011

Now that this blog has been set up for a couple months, I just realised I haven’t been using it!!! And I do miss blogging!

So I declare to myself: I will use this blog!
I will use it for posting art works in progress, new photographs, and use it to publicly account for the donations I make as a result of my art/photo sales, as a percentage always goes to help animal charities.

I WILL use this blog! :)

How utterly adorable!

Posted by Nadya on Jan 9, 2011

The weather really has been “totally batty”, but looking at the adorable faces of the rescued baby bats in the photographs in this article just made my morning:

Australian Bat Clinic and Wildlife Trauma Centre director Trish Wimberley and her carers have helped save 130 orphaned bats on the Gold Coast in past weeks

The very serious implication is that there is trouble in the environment for these protected native species.
But I’m happy to know that these babies have been rescued, and I’m picturing a clothesline full of bundled-up batty babies with those big beautiful eyes and can’t help but smile!

Just trying to get this blog working!

Posted by Nadya on Jan 8, 2011

Let’s see what all these buttons do! Still trying to fix things up around here, please stay tuned, and don’t mind the elephants.