Weekly Inspiration: Springtime & Succulents.

Hello! This is a weekly(ish) feature where I share my photos with you. I carry my camera everywhere, and I constantly take pictures of things that excite me. Prepare to see lots of colours and patterns through my lens.

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Spring is the season where my camera gets the most action. It’s as though my creative brain comes out of hibernation as soon as the days start getting longer (hallelujah!). Last week I went to my favourite plant nursery and perved on all the beautiful plants. Along with everyone on Instagram and their dog, I do like a succulent or two…but I’m also partial to sherbet-orange petals and rainbow coloured leaves (the last two came home with me, and posed with me for a selfie). #YAYPLANTS

Weekly Inspiration: Autumn becomes Winter.

Hello! This is a weekly feature where I share my photos with you. I carry my camera everywhere, and I constantly take pictures of things that excite me. Prepare to see lots of colours and patterns through my lens.

I was lucky enough to get out of the city last week, just in time to catch Autumn turning into winter at Longleat. In the woods, there were lemon-lime and sherbet coloured leaves peeking through layers and layers of milky fog. We went for morning walks and found frogs under logs, mushrooms in the dirt, and spider webs soaked in dew.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weeklycolourwinter-09I am a big wimp when it comes to the cold, but I was very pleased that I got myself out of bed and pulled on my wellies (and my thermals, and scarf, hat and gloves..and duck down vest under my big coat. Sigh. )

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Helena-Maratheftis-weeklycolourwinter-16Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the light was yellow and the sunsets were off the hook:

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Beetles! Alfred Russel Wallace’s Specimens.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I am the behind-the-scenes photographer in the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). The collection is an enormous jewel box of six-legged beauty, and I’ve got plenty of photos to share!

For the last few months, I’ve had the incredible job of photographing Alfred Russel Wallace’s type specimens from the NHM beetle collections. I was so honoured to be able to see his specimens up close, to handle them, and to scrutinise his tiny hand-writing with my very own eyes! 50 of my Wallace photos are featured on the Natural History Museum Flickr page, and you can see them there in spectacular high-res glory!

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If you have any interest in science or the natural world, you’ll want to look Wallace up. Wallace was not only Charles Darwin’s co-publisher, he was also an intrepid explorer, a gentleman, a badass and a beetle geek. For these reasons, he easily makes it into my list of All Time Heroes.

November 7th marked the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace‘s death. To mark the occasion, a statue of Wallace by the sculptor Anthony Smith was unveiled at the Natural History Museum. I was lucky enough to be there, and I listened to David Attenborough, Bill Bailey and Richard Wallace (Alfred’s grandson) say some very inspiring words. (If you haven’t already seen Bill Bailey’s A+ series of documentaries about Wallace, check ’em out here!)

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I like that the statue depicts Wallace in his prime: all dressed up in field gear and brandishing a butterfly net with a  look of wonder and delight on his face! He may be looking up towards a shiny beetle, but I reckon we can all look up to him.

To see the full set of beetle photos, click here.

Bhuna’s Beetles: A New Painting.

Hello! I’ve got a new painting to show you, and it features plenty of six-legged beasts!

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So far you’ve seen a lot of beetle photography from me, but it had never occurred to me to put my beetles onto canvas! Luckily, someone else (codenamed Bhuna, a long story in itself) had the idea, and asked me to paint something based on all the photos I’d been taking. We settled on something green, lush and leafy with plenty of details for the eye to explore…and I got cracking. Here are some of the work-in-progress shots I posted on Instagram:

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I had a lot of fun researching imagery for this painting! I often create Pinterest boards for my projects, but they’re usually set to private so that the project remains Top Secret. In this instance I created a public board called Bhuna’s Beetles, so that Bhuna (who is not a member of Pinterest) could keep track of the beetles I was inspired by. Funnily enough, the board got quite a few followers, all of whom must be all confused by the board’s title!

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My aim was to draw beetles that remained true(ish) to nature, and which were stylised as little as possible. However, I did use a generous dollop of artistic license, but as an artist that’s literally in my job description! I’m allowed to borrow patterns and shapes from different species to create insect hybrids not necessarily seen in nature!

I also gave the beetles human eyes with irises because, towards the end of the piece, something felt missing. I realised that the lack of irises on the insects’ faces made them expressionless. Obviously, beetles don’t have human eyes or human expressions, but the addition of little eyeballs gave the painting character and humour…which is what I’m always trying to create in my work.

Bhuna, I hope you enjoy looking at your leafy canopy of beetles! I really enjoyed painting it.

Beetles! Emerald greens.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I am the behind-the-scenes photographer in the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). The collection is an enormous jewel box of six-legged beauty, and I’ve got plenty of photos to share!

My favourite thing is colour, and unsurprisingly, that’s probably my favourite thing about the museum’s beetle collection. Drawer after drawer after drawer, there are beetles in shocking blues and velvety browns and luminous golds.  I could never pick a favourite beetle, but I have a particular fondness for those covered in green: shimmering emerald metallics, dark mossy hues, or glossy vivid greens. Nature’s colour palette is absolutely top notch.

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I’m currently working on a painting featuring beetles and foliage, and these green guys have been providing more than their fair share of inspiration. (You can see some of my preliminary sketches here and here.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting lots of visual inspiration for my project, and have come across lots of other artists and designers who have incorporated beetles into their work, some more literally than others. See: Necklace made from real beetle wings.

Helena-Maratheftis-emerald-beetles--07Above: A close up of Derbyana oberthuri, a specimen collected in Tanzania.

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Helena-Maratheftis-emerald-beetles--06Now, let me make one thing clear: there is much more to beetles than colourful exteriors. They are an astonishingly massive and diverse group of beings, and the more I learn about them, the more fascinated I become. However, just because they have Real Scientific Value doesn’t mean that we can’t admire how they look and, as the resident artist, I’m pretty sure that’s my job!

p.s. This is my first Beetles! post since June (whoops!) but that’s not because I haven’t been busy at the museum. I’ve got a set of exciting photos to reveal, but that won’t be until next month. Watch this space!

Weekly Inspiration: Shapes and Colours at Kew Gardens.

Hello! This is a weekly feature where I share my photos with you. I carry my camera everywhere, and I constantly take pictures of things that excite me. Prepare to see lots of colours and patterns through my lens.

This weekend I visited Kew Gardens and it was a complete visual assault, of the best kind. As far as I’m concerned, nature is the best source of inspiration. You already know that I’m crazy about beetles, but as an equal opportunities nature lover, I’m also a big fan of plants – the bigger and brighter (and weirder) the better. Here are some of my favourite photos from Kew:

Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour225-01The next few photos were taken inside the Victorian palm house, which was the biggest glass house I’d ever seen. It was filled with warm, humid air as well as exotic plants from all over the world. I would quite happily live in there.

Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour225-08Sunlight passing through leaves never gets boring, I say. Luminous colours are the best colours.

Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour225-07This is the Chenille plant, Acalypha hispida. Can you even believe this thing exists? It looks like a pre-decorated Christmas tree, laden with long, fuzzy strands of hot pink tinsel. I couldn’t stop looking at it.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour225-05We climbed to the top of the palm house on this spiral, wrought iron staircase. Below: the view from the top.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour225-13I loved these tiny, star-shaped flowers which had 5 stamens apiece. They were barely a half centimetre wide, yet so exquisitely detailed. This is where the phrase ‘small, yet perfectly formed’ comes in. Continue reading

Beetles! A new collection at the NHM.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I take photos for the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). There are plenty of photos to share. Stay tuned!

Last week was extra-exciting, as the team unveiled thousands of new specimens acquired for the museum collection. I was invited to take a peek at the new material…and encouraged to take lots of pictures, as usual. Here are some of my favourites. (You’ll be entirely shocked to discover that my favourites were the most heavily coloured and patterned beetles of the bunch!)

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Helena-Maratheftis-NHM-new-collection-600-03Jade greens and dusty blues…spots and stripes and abstract prints…gloss and matte and metallic finishes… these little guys give me so much inspiration for my artwork. They are just too cool.

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Helena-Maratheftis-NHM-new-collection-600-09Row after row of little white boxes, filled with specimens from all around the globe. These will soon be integrated with the museum’s current collection.

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Mr. Turtle: My colourful plastic sculpture

Hello! This is Mr. Turtle, my latest in a series of colourful turtle sculptures (see here and here). He is the result of a private commission, and is destined to hang in the sunny kitchen of an Oxfordshire home, swimming for evermore through the air. The sculpture is made almost entirely of up-cycled materials, including plastic bottles and old shopping bags – his snouty little face is made of a ginger beer bottle! Have a look:

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Plastic Turtle Sculpture by Helena MaratheftisSince the sculpture is going to hang from the ceiling, I focused on decorating the underside. I went for bold stripes and contrasting colours. I wasn’t given a particular colour scheme, but was simply told to make it as colourful as possible.  He’s covered in many, many coats of acrylic paint, and embellished with splashes of silver ink. 

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You know, I’m pretty fond of this guy. He doesn’t have a name yet (and could be a Ms. Turtle for all I know). I handed him over with the request that he must be given a name! I can’t wait to find out what it is.

Beetle & Me: The photographer and her subject.

Once a week, I head to the Natural History Museum, slip into the Coleoptera department, and take whatever pictures the department requires. I love it, love it. The collection is huge and there’s so much to see and to photograph. Of course, once my work is done, things often get a bit silly…

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What can I say? I just love hanging out with (dead) beetles.

Click here to see other Beetles! posts in this series.

Weekly Inspiration: Fruit, flowers and feet…in Cyprus!

Hello! This is a weekly feature where I share my photos with you. I carry my camera everywhere, and I constantly take pictures of things that excite me. Prepare to see lots of colours and patterns through my lens.

I spent the first two weeks of May in Cyprus, and I had a pretty rosy time: We visited the mountain village of Agros, which is famous for it’s fragrant Damask rose plantations. I’d always wanted to go but somehow always missed rose blooming season. We visited the rose water distillery, where there were huge piles of pink roses with a smell sweet enough to knock you out! I came home with a bottle of rose liqueur and a bellyful of rose sorbet (my childhood favourite). Below are a few of the most colourful photos from my trip.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour22-11Above: Jacaranda petals and geometric markings. So much colour!

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour22-09Bare toes and bougainvillea petals. Oh man, I miss the Mediterranean summer.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour22-06The next few photos are from the local fruit market, selling fresh fruit, veg, cured meats and flowers.

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Helena-Maratheftis-weekincolour22-01Below: A few quick snaps from a wedding I attended. I couldn’t resist those colourful legs!
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Have you ever visited Cyprus? It’s a very small but very beautiful island, and on grey London days I dream of its pristine beaches and blue skies. I love it there.

Beetles! The Cheeky Butterfly Edition.

Hello! This is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been taking photos for the beetles department (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week!

Last week at the museum, I was looking through drawers of new specimens when I stumbled across trays of butterflies. It was a surprise to find them in the beetles department – butterflies are not beetles! They’re classed as lepidoptera, and they have their own museum hangout! However, after weeks of looking at compact little beetles, I was struck by the sheer novelty of broad, soft wings. I couldn’t help but whip my camera back out of my bag to take a few quick snaps.

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These particular butterflies were brought back from Tanzania. Aren’t they beautiful? I love the vibrant colours and crisp black lines and fuzzy little bodies. There’s just something so non-threatening about them, which probably explains why they’re loved by even the most passionate  of insect-haters. How can you hate something so delicate and good-looking? It’s just not possible.

Weekly Inspiration: Earthy Greens & Muted Tones.

Hello! This is a weekly feature where I share my photos with you. I carry my camera everywhere, and I constantly take pictures of things that excite me. Prepare to see lots of colours and patterns through my lens.

I went to the Beach House concert in London last week, and the stage was filled with ethereal lights and smoky colours. The show seemed to subconsciously inspire me, because I’ve been taking a lot of foggy photos in a similar colour palette. I’ve thrown all the photos together in this post, as I think they play off each other nicely. I hope you enjoy them!

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STARS / SKY / SNOW / RAIN / GREEN / LEAVES / LIGHT / NATURE

Beetles! Metallic & Iridescent Beauties From Madagascar.

Hello! This is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been taking photos for the beetles department (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week!

I had an extra-good time at the museum last week. The design team needed images of Madagascan beetles, and I was handed the keys to the collection and given free reign to photograph whichever specimens I liked! Lucky meeee! You should have seen me, peering into tray after tray filled with beetles of all shapes and colours, muttering to myself in a state of sensory over-excitement. Unsurprisingly, I picked out a bunch of shiny ones. Of course. (In my defence, they’re harder to photograph, so you can’t say I went for the easy option.)

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Helena-Maratheftis-Madagascar-beetles-5Above: The spectacular underside of one specimen. So beautiful that I can hardly stand it.

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Helena-Maratheftis-Madagascar-3Subtle (and not-so-subtle) copper and rose-gold tones, with the occasional flash of green.

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Helena-Maratheftis-Madagascar-beetleThese ones were particularly shiny! Whenever I look at them, I think of molten metal.

Helena-Maratheftis-Madagascar-beetles-1Madagascan wildlife is often unusual and striking, and the beetles are no different. I’m so lucky to have access to the Natural History Museum’s beetle collections – a big thanks to the department for letting me loose in there!

Click here to see other Beetles! posts in this series.

Dear Snow, Kindly leave.

Hello! I rarely post on Saturdays, but I’m stuck at home with a disgusting cold, and it’s snowing outside. I woke up at 7am this morning to take my delicious flu medicines, and when I pulled back the curtains I got a shock of the cold/ white/ flaky kind. Urgh, thought I, this is awful, I must draw about it. And so I did.

Helena-Maratheftis-dear-snow-smallNow, let us not pretend that this is the finest artistic endeavour I’ve ever undertaken. It’s a messy sketch produced by bleary morning eyes and hands shaky with SNOW RAGE. However, I needed to share it with all of you, especially the ones who might be feeling the same about our snowy springtime friend. Share it with your friends, Londoners, and maybe Mister Snow will take the hint.

p.s. On a lighter note, I joined Instagram today – come and find me! I’m theftypix.

Beetles! Photographing Gold & Stripes.

Hello! This is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been taking photos for the beetles department (officially known as the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’)! I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week, so stay tuned!

Today I’m showcasing some stripy, golden beauties (click here for a detailed close-up). Aren’t they stunning? I love the contrast of soft metallic gold vs. glossy black stripes and swooping antennae. Have a look:

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Helena-Maratheftis-gold-stripes3Helena-Maratheftis-gold-stripes5My (accidentally) matching gold nails and black ring.Helena-Maratheftis-gold-stripes2

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Nature: Just Too Cool. When I stumble across specimens like these, I can’t help but marvel at how much style nature has. I’m a complete sucker for shiny metallics and bold stripes (in case ya hadn’t noticed), so it’s nice to know that I share the same tastes as mother nature!   Those are my hands in the photos – I happened to be wearing matching nail polish and jewellery on this particular day, which made me extra excited.

Click here to see other Beetles! posts in this series.