Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Tortoise is Not For Surfing

The inhabitants believe that these animals are absolutely deaf; certainly they do not overhear a person walking closely behind them. I was always amused, when overtaking one of these great monsters as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently got on their backs, and then, upon giving a few raps on the hinder part of the shell, they would rise up and walk away; but I found it very difficult to keep my balance.

-Charles Darwin, 1835, Galapagos Islands (as quoted in Tortoise by Peter Young)

Darwin & tortoise suspendedDarwin on Galapagos

The Mad Scientists of Etsy (MSOE) challenge for March, 2009, honours the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. I have depicted Darwin as a young man, during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and its stay in the Galapagos Islands. The giant tortoises which thrived on the islands, and the variations in species from island to island were instrumental to his thinking, when he later wrote "On the origin of species" which divulged his understanding of biological evolution.

I like the irreverent image of Darwin on the stately, ancient tortoises, but don't try this at home kids! Tortoises are not for surfing.

This is an original lino block print on pale green Japanese washi paper. Each sheet is 12.5 inches tall and 6 " wide. This is one of the first edition of 12.

Darwin Detail

Galapagos Tortoise detail

I have got to say, this one was quite the compositional challenge. The perspective and anatomy were a challenge. There just aren't many images of a young Charles Darwin, nor (luckily for the tortoises of the world) are images of people standing (rather than children sitting) on tortoises common. So, I needed to figure out: Darwin's facial structure (man, did he have a prominent brow, much to the glee of the chariacturists), men's clothing typical of ~1835, the anatomy and relative scale of a Galapagos tortoise, how to combine these in a pleasing and hopefully plausible (if somewhat humourous) way. I had wanted him to really be in a surfing stance, but I couldn't get that to work. I think I got something; it amuses me how, through no effort on my part, he looks inexplicably serious, while doing this silly thing. Also, it appears to me that this tortoise is contemplating how to unbalance him.

Also, things stacked on turtles or tortoises really seems to be an archetype in the collective unconscious. This also interests me, particularly as an earth scientist (who happens to collect turtle-shaped items).

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