Monday, December 31, 2007

Cruise trip

Now this is definitely going ahead… just a few days away.
Posts in March and November, explained how I got the job with P&O and what I shall be doing on board and where I shall be going.... so please read these if you haven't already done so.

Now it’s just round the corner… less than a week to go. I still have so much to sort! I spent a day going through my clothes- trying everything on to see what still fits and what could be put in the pile for whittling down for packing. Five weeks is a long time and involves a lot of clothing, as I need 5 weeks worth each of formal wear, informal wear, smart/casual wear and day wear. Luckily I am not flying out to meet the ship, so luggage weight isn’t an issue for boarding. So I don’t have to skimp on toiletries etc. However, I shall be flying back from Hong Kong, so will have to have used up all that kind of stuff before I pack to come home and makes sure my cases aren’t too heavy. Hopefully I will have worked all that out in the next few days.

I’ve been so busy sorting things out that I haven’t had a chance to stop and think too long about the trip. On the couple of occasions that I have, the excitement and anxiety has built up pretty quickly and equally!

My friend, Julie and her lovely fiancé, Hans, are on board as I type this. I was her assistant back in 02 & 03. They left prior to Christmas for the Carribean on the same ship – Oriana - on which she is teaching. So they will sail into Southampton and disembark as I am getting on… we may pass on the gangplank! There will be at least two people I know, from previous cruise trips, on board for the section of the World cruise that I am doing… which is a comfort and makes going away on my own less daunting. I like being on my own, but it’s nice to know there’s at least two people I can hang out with… they are a lovely couple and great fun, as I recall.

I shall try and post something from the ship and tell you about the classes and a little of any adventures I may have; but internet access comes via satellites and sometimes we are out of range or the connection is intermittent making access to it sometimes unpredictable or delayed. Any photo’s will have to wait til I get home to be posted.

Just in case you might be interested, I shall put a link to the P&O website in 'Links' that will take you straight to the webcam on Oriana. This looks out over the bow of the ship whilst she’s at sea and when in port sometimes it is turned so that the dockside area can be seen. There is also a map so that you can see just where the ship is on its journey. And who knows you may just catch a glimpse of me standing at the railings or lounging on the deck, between classes.

Africa project

I now don’t go back to the zoo until, rather ominously, April 1st - April Fools Day! As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, I work part-time at the zoo from April – December, leaving January – March as my time to concentrate on my own painting and projects.

For that coming period in 08, I was planning two projects. Well, strictly speaking one is a short-term contract of employment (cruise), which is almost upon me…. just days away.
The other I mentioned very briefly in a post back in June.

Earlier this year I made contact with two wildlife conservation researchers, quite randomly and separately. An idea was born with one involving me going out to Africa to see her work in situ and to get photo reference, sketches and field paintings of the animals and landscapes. Then, once back in the UK, I would spend the following two years to produce work, with which I would hold an exhibition to raise funds and awareness for that particular conservation research. Added to that, my other contact suggested that whilst I was in Africa I could visit his project also to get reference to produce a painting for one of their fund-raising events.

This was perfect! It’s just what I want to do with my art- use it in a more direct way to help the conservation of wildlife…. The bonus was of course that it was in Africa. I was very excited about the prospect… but funding it myself was impossible. I work part-time for a charity (the zoo) and so I have low wages. Plus my own art has not built up enough to fund a costly project such as this. So I started investigating how to get funding. I was put onto the Grants for Arts scheme run by the Arts Council in the UK and after chatting to the regional guy both at a seminar on the subject and on the phone explaining the project, I was greatly encouraged by the fact that as I had been invited to do this it put me in a ‘strong position’. This was important, as only about a third of applications are successful in getting funding. But I needed to find extra funding to supplement my application, as the Grants for the Arts scheme would not totally fund a project.

To cut a long story short…… I then spent several months trying to source extra funding and working out exactly what I would need to fund. I had not just the trips to think of, but the exhibition in two years time as well.. what would I need, how much would it cost etc etc. It was a lot harder and more complex than I had assumed and took me much longer than I thought to try and sort.

Time was running out on me very fast as each application needs 6 weeks to go through assessment with the Arts Council and as I would be out of the country on a ship for 5 weeks at the beginning of 2008, I had to get the application and proposal into the Arts Council before Christmas. At the same time I was having to think about and sort out paperwork etc for the cruise trip, prepare for a talk and workshop, go to work and many other things…… not to mention all that needs to be done for Christmas. Things were getting a bit hectic and stressful!

During a call to the regional man at the Arts Council, to ask advice on some aspects of my application, he questioned me on the outcome and reason for the project. Turns out that they won’t fund me because I aim to give half the money from one project to charity/research and all the money from the sale of one painting to another. Had I been keeping the money for myself then they would fund me…. But, not if I was giving it away.
I wasn’t particularly happy…. I had explained the project from the start, in fact several times over the previous four months and the reason why it was being done… now at the 11th hour I get the rug pulled out from under me! I can understand the reason why they cannot fund me… I just wish I had been told from the outset!

So, I have other avenues I can try… but not at this late stage. There was no time, prior to my cruise trip, to organise anything different. And as I was intending to go to Africa in March 08 there will be no time when I get back into the UK mid Feb to sort anything then either.
So, if the researchers are willing, I hope to postpone it.. so that I go out in March 09 instead.

I am extremely disappointed obviously, but perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. I was getting extremely stressed and things were getting hurried to try and meet the deadline…. mistakes could have been made or things overlooked. Now that I am not going, I can concentrate on organising things for the cruise trip properly, which I couldn’t do before. When I get back, from my trip, I can pursue the Africa project at a better pace and do it better.

This is just such a dream thing to do… I really, really want to do it. I just hope the opportunity remains open for me. I will keep you posted over the next year on progress.

Zoo illustrations

In one of November's posts I looked back over some of the work I have done at the zoo. Now at the end of 2007 my tally of species that I have drawn or painted is up to 20. So the revised list is..... 5 invertebrates (discosoma and zenia soft corals, a ghost mantis, a giant hairy scorpion, a long-spined sea urchin, African sun beetle and lubber grasshopper), 8 fish (rainbow and blue-tailed goodeids, Lake Kuroma and dwarf rainbowfish, a pyjama cardinal, blue-striped pipefish, yellow skunk clownfish and pink anemone fish), 2 reptiles (Aruba Island rattlesnake and fly river turtle), 2 birds (Von der Deckens hornbill and ruff in breeding plumage) and 1 mammal (agile gibbon). Previously I had not posted images of my work done at the zoo as the copyright for all my illustrations done there, is solely the zoo's. However with the kind permission of my boss, Phil, here are a few of those illustrations.


Zenia soft coral

Lake Kuroma rainbowfish

Signal crayfish

Fly river turtle

Aruba Island rattlesnake

Von der Deckens hornbill

I will post more in the future both looking back at some of the work I have done over the past 12 years that I have been there and new ones done in 2008.

Happy New Year and thank you

Wishing you all a Very Happy New Year – may it bring peace, health, happiness and prosperity to one and all.

Thank you for visiting here, whether it is just this once or if you have popped back frequently. It’s been wonderful to see how many visits I have had over the year... much more than I expected when I started way back in February. I hope you have found my ramblings fun, interesting, informative and maybe a little inspirational and will continue to do so over the next year.

Enjoy New Years Eve night, wherever you are and what ever you do.
Very best wishes
Su

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Heron Gallery Talk, Workshop and Exhibition Update

Braving the awful heavy rain and, occasional, thrashing of sleet, a small but enthusiastic group of ladies attended both my talk and workshop. The gallery is quite small, so the low numbers proved a blessing particularly for the workshop where, with all the equipment and large frames, space was at a premium to work comfortably within.

On the Friday evening I gave two Powerpoint presentations showing the varied aspects of my job at the zoo and an introduction to batik. I’m very new to the concept of giving talks in this way but I am completely won over by it. So much easier, if you have lots of images to view, than carting around loads of slides that can easily be upended and then take forever to put back in, not only in the correct sequence but the right way up as well! However you need access to a laptop and for larger audiences a digital projector and a screen. None of which I have got, so I can only do this in venues that can provide such equipment.

The workshop was fun and I chose a pansy head for our subject. I did this before in another workshop earlier in the year and it proved successful in that it’s a familiar subject, can be done with a few colours in the same range and best of all… the patterns are varied - so no matter how badly a student may think they’ve done, the finished result is still very acceptable. Most of the students in the workshop had not done batik before – so this was a whole new experience for them. It’s a medium that can completely flummox some, whilst others take to it like the proverbial duck to water.


The difficulty most seem to have is thinking the image through from highlights to dark and allowing for future colour and wax layers. This obviously would come with practise… but in a day or two there’s not much you can do in that sense. However, once that concept has been grasped – away they go and have fun with it! At the end of the day, everyone went away with a finished piece and not one of them was a disaster! They all produced something to be proud of and I love that! To see the change from the puzzled and even one or two scared faces as we start the workshop, to seeing the smiles and enthused faces at the end is something I don’t think I could tire of. It was therefore very pleasing when I was asked to do another workshop in batik with them in 2008.

The ‘Farming Landscapes’ exhibition started the evening before my talk- due to preparing for the following two days I was unable to get down to attend the Private View. Which is a shame, as I would have liked to been there- it’s a lovely little gallery and it would have been nice to have been amongst the supporters that evening. The gallery is new and not yet well established but I think it will do well in the future. When I had arrived on the Friday evening for the talk, I was surprised and delighted to discover one of my paintings had sold. ‘Misty December Dawn’ went on the Private View evening and Emma, from the gallery, kept the news as a surprise for when I arrived.

Apologies again

My posts here have been very few and far between for a while now. Despite my best intentions things haven't gone to plan in keeping up with my blog, since my last post of apology.

Needless to say, despite my addiction for sitting at my computer, I have been busy (manic) with several projects and although getting round to writing blog posts has been nagging at the back of my mind, they have not been very forth coming.

Things are still pretty hectic, as I leave the UK for 5 weeks on Sunday 6th Jan; but I shall, before then, endeavour to do all the posts that are in my mind, long overdue.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Heron Gallery Talk, Workshop and Exhibition

I have been booked to do an evening talk on Friday 30 November at the Heron Gallery in Weston Super Mare. This will be (hopefully) a powerpoint presentation of the work I do at the zoo followed by a short presentation on batik, as a ‘feed in’ for the workshop which runs the following day (1st Dec). This one-day batik workshop is suitable for beginners and I will take the participants through the process and techniques before we do the really fun stuff.

Also at this gallery, I shall also be placing four pieces of work in their ‘Farming Landscapes’ exhibition that runs 29th November to 16th December and is in aid of the Barn Owl Trust.
These are the four pieces I shall have on show there.


Hedgerow – Gouache
Misty December dawn – Gouache
Jay – Batik
Dawn over Netham - Oil

If you are interested in any of these events please contact The Heron Gallery - please see Links down the right hand side of this page. Their page is currently under construction, at the time I posted this, but if you click on ‘Contact Us’ on their home page it will give you their address, email and phone details.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

T minus 58 days to World Cruise on MV Oriana

I can’t believe it… it’s only 8 weeks, come Sunday, until I am stood on the decks of that beautiful big white ship, MV Oriana. Eight weeks! It seems like just a month or so ago that I went down to Southampton on a warm sunny day for my interview…. but that was way back in March!
MV Oriana dockside in the Cape Verde Islands 2003

I awoke one night this week in a terrible panic… I had dreamt I was stood in the Atrium on board and my friend, Julie, (whom I had travelled with previously on the ship) was stood there saying “Well this is it… you’re on your own now Matey…have a fab trip.” I suddenly realised that I was stood there without any luggage and no preparation done for the classes I was to teach! Utter panic ravaged my mind! When I awoke, it was some seconds before I realised I wasn’t on the ship, followed by great relief. I saw this as a sub-conscious kick up the butt – time had pressed on and I now needed to think about my preparations and fit them in with my other on-going jobs and projects. I needed to work out a plan of action!

What shall I be doing on the ship, apart from being totally in awe that I am there? As a Guest Art Presenter, I shall be holding two art sessions on board every sea day for the passengers that wish to come along. This is the first time that I shall be teaching on board, on my previous four cruises with Julie, I was her assistant. So I am naturally a little apprehensive about my change in role… but something I am also greatly looking forward to as well.

As for the journey…. We shall leave Southampton early in January for the start of Oriana’s World Cruise. It will be a five week trip with the following ports of call….Rome*, Athens*, Cairo, through the Suez Canal*, Sharm El Sheikh* (Egypt), Salalah & Muscat (Oman), Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Mumbai* & Cochin (India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Phuket (Thailand), Penang* (Malaysia), Singapore*, Kemaman (Malaysia), Vung Tau (Vietnam) and finally Hong Kong* – from where I shall disembark and fly home. I am really excited about the chance to see these fantastic places, seven of which I have been to before on previous cruises (marked *) - so it will be really good to get back there and explore them a little bit more.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Zoo work

I haven’t written anything for a long time about what I’ve been working on at the zoo, so here’s a ‘brief’ synopsis.

This year I have drawn and painted 17 species of animals so far;- 5 invertebrates (discosoma and zenia soft corals, a ghost mantis, a giant hairy scorpion and a long-spined sea urchin), 8 fish (rainbow and blue-tailed goodeids, Lake Kuroma and dwarf rainbowfish, a pyjama cardinal, blue-striped pipefish, yellow skunk clownfish and pink anemone fish), 1 snake (Aruba Island rattlesnake), 2 birds (Von der Deckens hornbill and ruff in breeding plumage) and 1 mammal (agile gibbon).

Most were pretty straight forward and for the most part I needed to work from photo’s I had taken of the animals we had, as well as a few found in internet searches. When we have the animals on site, I can go back as frequently as I like to check the animal for details, colour etc. and when circumstances allow I will finish off a painting in front of the animal’s enclosure. However, during the summer months, it’s not practical for me to sit by the enclosures whilst I paint/draw, as I have to be aware of not blocking an exhibit from the public if the frontage was small. So that excluded the fish, invertebrates and snake.

The hornbills were held off show out at the zoo’s land at Cribbs Causeway and as the birds were a bit flighty (being new arrivals) I couldn’t hang around long, so it was a case of pop in, take a series of photo’s in a relatively dark aviary without flash and leave. The result was pretty rubbish photo’s but I could get a good idea of shape and proportion from them. Also the two birds were juveniles and not yet in full adult plumage, so I needed to do a reference search in books and on the internet to find some adult pictures of the species.

For the gibbon I was required to show the animal brachiating (swinging from branch to branch) in a horizontal format that measures approx 120mm x 70mm. Not much room for manoeuvre, you might say. Particularly when you see that when they brachiate they are in a vertical hanging position. Were I to depict the animal this way, the illustration would be far too small to be of any use on the sign. So I had to find another way to do it. In the end I found several pictures of a gibbon at the end of brachiating, about to land/reaching out for a tree trunk. These I was able to combine and adapt to fit the format I had to work with.

The ghost mantis and one of the rainbowfish (dwarf species) gave me a few headaches as they are both quite small animals. Although I had taken photo’s, they were not much good for detail on the mantis or for colour on the rainbowfish, so I sat in the off show areas of the invertebrate and aquarium sections to finish the paintings I had started in the studio. I lost my patience a few times with the rainbowfish, with the painting nearly coming to grief, as thoughts of sending it up in a flash of fire or hurling it out of the window passed on more than one occasion through my head. The problem was trying to paint a one and a half inch fish whose pearly iridescence changed pattern and colours with every angle and movement from the live subject, as photographs just couldn’t pick up the correct or range of colouring. To top it off I just couldn’t recreate the neon blue stripe it had on the body along the line of the dorsal and anal fins, no matter how many blues, greens and other colours I mixed to match it! I had to put it aside on one day and ‘walk away’ as I knew my temper was about to snap with it! See… now this is what is meant by ‘artistic temperment’ and who ever said painting was a relaxing past-time!

We have ruff in one of our free flight aviaries… again they were juvenile birds at the time I needed to paint them, when we first got them at the end of last year. The male and females looked pretty much the same through my camera lens and binoculars (couldn’t get anywhere near them to get decent look or photo’s) so I did the best I could with the help of other reference photo’s.. knowing that come May the males would start developing their spectacular breeding plumage, radically changing their appearance making them look like a separate species to the uninitiated. So I started researching the possible colour changes so that I could do one in full breeding regalia. Without too much effort I found a dozen photo’s showing all different colour combinations of the male ruff! The decision was made to wait until late Spring/early Summer this year to see how much our males changed and what colour combinations they would have.. and then I’d do the illustration from there based on them. Typically, just to make my job a little more interesting, our two males had different colour combinations and one didn’t seem to fully develop his ruff. This is the only species in the zoo where I have had to do two illustrations so that we can alternate according to the plumage morph of the bird.

Apart from painting or drawing the pictures for the identification (ID) signs, several times a year I have to check all the animal ID signs and replace the faded and damaged ones – this can be just a handful to a couple of hundred, as was the case in October when I spent 3 weeks working solely on this. After walking round the grounds compiling my list, it was back to the studio to the computer to print out replacements and where necessary ‘build’ a new sign file. This involves typing in information, scanning and adding a picture and adapting a map to show range. Once I had them printed I then trimmed them to size, laminated them, re-trimmed to size, stuck double-sided tape on the back and then they were ready to be put up.

I am currently painting a signal crayfish and after that I have a fly-river turtle to do. For the turtle I took some photo’s a month or so back when the animals were having a routine vet check. They are housed in one of the big landscape tanks of the aquarium and tend to reside at the bottom and at the back making photography impossible and visual study for an illustration very difficult. So a call from the reptile section at the time had me ‘hot-footing’ it to the aquarium to get a closer look and some photo’s done after the vets had done their check-ups.

Apologies

To my regular readers, who must have thought I had expired or loss use of my typing hands, I apologise for the scant... nay... total abscence of any posts lately. I will try to bring you up to date in a few posts over the next week or so... which I hope you will enjoy reading..... if you are still popping back to see if my lazy post writing streak has ended, that is.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Society of Wildlife Artists Exhibition

From an earlier post you will have read that one of my paintings got into this major exhibition in London. On Tuesday (Sept 25) I went with a friend, Emma, another wildlife artist. Must admit the coach is not my usual choice for travel to the capital, seen too many of them driving too fast and a little madly on the motorways for my liking. However the train fares were not in my favour on this occasion and being able to grab a ‘FunFare’ ticket with National Express meant I had a cheap return fare of just £7! Perfect for an artist on low funds.

From Victoria station we walked to the Mall Galleries, going past Buckingham Palace; where we stopped and took some ‘touristy’ pics of us outside the gates etc. Had to be done.
The Private View opened at 2pm and we were inside the doors a minute or so after that. Walking down into the gallery we soon spotted a Gary Hodges drawing of snow leopards and … yup it had already sold £16,000 or thereabouts…. Just like that! Fantastic.

We ambled round in the increasing throng of artists, buyers and anyone else with an interest in wildlife and art. I had estimated that 2½ hours to do this would be ample time to see it all and get back to the coach station for our 5 o’clock coach home. There were over 400 framed works and sculptures on show and there were a lot of lovely and interesting pieces but as in any show there were also work there you wondered just how it got past selection.

The most stunning pieces for me were a couple of sculptures by Harriet Mead, a painting by Chris Rose of wood pigeons in a field and a hog deer by Vicky White. Harriet Mead’s sculptures are made from scrap metal and recycled mechanical parts but her attention to form and anatomy is superb. The sculptures looked as good on the inside as they did on the outside with structure following bone and muscle mass. I find Chris Rose’s work inspirational… the light and colours he gets into his work is incredible. In his painting, a boring old hayroll was made beautiful to look at with the cast of light and shadow and the colours used in his reflected lighting. But maybe the real showstopper for me was the hog deer. It was photorealistic. Now I know there are people out there who will scoff at that term… but this painting went far beyond just being photographic… it was alive! I swear as I stood there gazing at it in awe I saw its sides move as it breathed!!! I almost expected that any second soon it would, in one bound, be out of the canvas and running around the gallery causing havoc. She painted it so well with light, atmosphere and life - it is a truly fabulous piece of work.

Half way through our perusal of the show there was the official opening and award giving ceremony, which I had forgotten to take into account in my timings for the day. As was all the chatting with people you meet, either for the first time or have met before, after you have been round all the works. Consequently before we knew it we were running late and had to make a quick dash back down Pall Mall and Buckingham Palace Road to the station. Just in time to miss our coach!

According to our watch we were there 1 minute to 5 and the coach wasn’t there. After trying several very unhelpful staff at the station I was eventually guided to the National Express crew office, as there was no Nat Ex information desk in the station it seems; where I was told quite rudely that I should have been there at 10 minutes to 5, that no- the coach did NOT leave early (they never do) and our watch must be different to their computer system that the coaches run like clockwork by. Hmmmm. After having to buy another two tickets for us to get home (this time at £17.50 each) I checked our watch against the ‘systems’ time… our watch was 3 minutes faster, which meant we got there at 4 minutes to 5 by their system. So where was the coach if it left dead on 5!!!! Not even exhaust fumes were in the air when we got there. Not amused! To make the sting worse, the coach we came home on left 10 minutes late (as had the coach we came up on) with people getting on right up to that departure. And then for more salt in the wound, on the way home we got snarled up in not only rush hour traffic, but rush hour traffic snarled up and brought to a standstill by first an accident and then roadworks.

It’s got to be the train next time…. even if it costs more!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Wildlife Art Society weekend


This event is held every year at Nature In Art, Glos.
It’s a chance for some members to meet up, take part in organised workshops, listen to talks/presentations by professional artists or organisations connected with art or conservation and to generally have a good time.

This year it was held on the last weekend of the Annual exhibition. Originally, unfortunately, both events were due to take place in the week after the floods happened, so of course they had no choice but to postpone and re-arrange. Had the event not been postponed I would have been unable to submit anything for the Annual exhibition, but with the change in dates I could then put in two of the pieces that came back from NEWA (National Exhibition of Wildlife Art).

I was to tutor a batik workshop for the members and give a talk. The workshop was scheduled on the Saturday, which meant it was a bit rushed for them as they had to see how the technique worked, practise it and then do a finished piece in one day. This is a lot to ask people new to batik to do on a two-day workshop let alone a one-day! But we had fun and they all produced remarkable pieces of work for the time they had to do it in.


On Sunday, I was to give my talk, for which I had done a PowerPoint presentation on my job at the zoo. This was my first foray into the realms of PowerPoint, and though it’s very easy to pick up, I had a lot of work to do because it was extremely image heavy, as would be expected of an artist. It therefore took me a few weeks to ‘build’, refine and readjust and when finished it was a whopping 475mb big!! That had to be reduced and whilst this is extremely easy and straightforward on a PC – for some reason which I can’t quite fathom, the Mac OSX system won’t allow for easy compression of the whole document. So I started redoing each image – resizing – recropping etc, one at a time. This was a mega time consuming job and I was getting to the stage where I could see I would only get this finished if I did no other preparations for the workshop etc, which was completely impractical. So I took it into work (zoo) and had it compressed on a PC in the Education dept… reducing it from its grand 475mb stature to a skinny 26mb in one easy step. Something to remember for next time!

Prior to my talk there was to be a Critique given by Bas, who is a well-respected wildlife artist worldwide, he was Artist in Residence for that week. The idea of the Critique is for members to bring along a piece of work, which is hung in a ‘mini-exhibition’ with the members sat in audience as the chosen artist goes along and talks about each piece of work to the artist and group. He/she ideally picks up on what has worked well in each piece and suggests constructively what might be done to improve it, if anything at all.
I have sat through many of these in the past and had my work critiqued in this way… and whilst it may at first seem daunting it is actually quite invaluable to see you work through another’s eyes (especially a professional artist) and hear what is said… particularly the not so good comments. If you take the comments as they are meant – you can learn an awful lot. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to hear the comments, but if you want to improve and show your work on an increasingly professional level, then you must accept criticism be it the good or bad type, take what you need from it and go from there.

Before it took place Bas managed to persuade me to join him in doing the critique. I felt very honoured that he felt I was qualified enough to join him and I hope my input was as helpful as he said it was. It was another character building step and one that I am very glad to have done.


The weekend ended with the award/prize giving ceremony of both TWASI’s Annual Exhibition and the ‘Wildscape’ (UK’s only wildlife art magazine) Wildlife Artist of the Year Competition. I picked up Highly Commended in the TWASI Annual for my zebra foal pastel, which can be seen in my 'NEWA submissions' post in July.

For more information on Bas or The Wildlife Art Society see Links down the right handside of this page.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This is yet another pastel drawing of Chandra, one of my favourite subject animals, he's the male Asiatic lion at Bristol Zoo Gardens. This drawing is special though. Special from the point of view of for whom it was done.

I was commissioned to do this piece for Mike, who has been Chandra and Moti’s keeper since they first arrived at the zoo some 11 years ago. Mike has just retired and this was his leaving present from the staff; he also received a gold watch for over 30 years of devoted work at the zoo, especially with his greatest love… the big cats.
Mike will be sadly missed; he was a great character and much loved by all. But I doubt our sadness at losing him barely touches the sense of loss he feels, now that he can no longer look after his beloved lions.


I finished this piece several weeks ago but obviously could not post it until after the presentation. I used Carbothello pastel pencils and a variety of stick pastels on an A3 pastel board. First, after tracing the drawing I spent a few days mulling over in an effort to get right, I put a thin gouache wash in a mid brown colour over the board. This was to 'knock back' the stark whiteness of the surface. I used the sticks to build up the deep smooth colours of the background first and then the pencils for the lion, where detail work was needed.
Being right-handed I worked left to right on the lion to avoid any mishaps with smudging by my hand. I had applied the background colours thickly, which gave a smooth velvet finish after much blending with my fingertips. This was easy to 'brush up' again at the end to ake away any residue dust from where I had worked on the lion.
Finally I put in some rough strokes to imply his usual bedding material of straw. I made no attempt to put Chandra into a natural background, as I wanted him to look as Mike knew him, without having the walls and features of his enclosure to distract the viewer.

Two-day Batik Workshop

I have been so lucky with my workshops, and this one was no exception; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Nature In Art, as always, a great venue and host. The workshop is part of their art course programme and I have done several with them over the last few years.
This year I tutored a lovely group of 9 ladies.

On day one, I took them through the batik process and we did a step by step ‘practise’ piece of a pansy head. The thinking behind this was for them to learn to use the tjantings in a controlled way, to see the effects of applying successive colours and to follow the process along with me hopefully helping the method to sink in.

I chose a pansy head as the patterns are quite variable and so allowing each student some leeway on detailing, errors and personal interpretation without any of the finished pieces looking wrong when completed.
Then I let them decide whether they needed more ‘practise’ or to spend the rest of the afternoon drawing up their masterpiece for the next day.

Day two and it was onto the masterpieces. This is the day I really love – when I see each student making their way, some more successively than others, through the process, making sense of it with their chosen subject matter and then steaming ahead.

As I walk around and the colours start singing out from the cotton I can see their subjects forming and I find it as exciting to watch someone build a piece up as it is to do one myself. At times it’s like being a child again and watching as Mum, or I, would brush water over the special book’s page with its printed drawing and colours suddenly appeared.. of course by magic!


There were some difficulties as the cool, damp weather kept the cotton on the cold side, which in turn cooled the wax as it came off the brushes and tjantings far more quicker than I would have liked. I thought August would be a good warm/hot month and problems like that would not occur and hamper the students work…. hmmmm… not this year! I had to try and keep a close eye on each students piece to check and point out when the wax hadn’t taken well and needed to be done again.

As always there are those that struggle to get their head round the light to dark, ‘suicide’ method of working and there are also those that grasp the concept quickly. And yet they are all equally keen and at times I would smile at the silence as they all slavishly worked over their batik frames. One or two even managed to get onto a second piece and finish it before the day was over… and there were one or two that just needed that little extra bit of time to
complete it. Staying a little later is no problem for me, I couldn’t bear to send them away with a piece almost, but not quite, done.

And as always I am proud and pleased by the work they produce. Two days to learn and familiarise yourself with a new technique and then produce a finished piece, is a lot to do in such a short amount of time. But they all did it admirably and I hope they enjoyed the weekend as much as I did.

Here you can see some of the students working on their batiks. In the foreground they are applying either colour or wax to the stretched cotton and the two ladies behind are drying the fabric with hairdryers.
On the table surrounding the central waxpot is an array of brushes, tjantings, silk paints, water pots, kitchen roll and pipettes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Penguins get into SWLA exhibition

Well... there's a surprise... a very nice one and so good to be wrong on this occassion. Of the two I submitted, my penguin painting has been accepted. So I shall be hoping to get myself up to London for the Preview on the 25th September.

I have two friends who have also submitted - one knows she has had one of her two submitted silkscreens accepted and the other.... well she's still in Austria and so won't know the news, of whether any or all of her submitted work got in, 'til the weekend. Both have exhibited at the SWLA before.

Monday, August 20, 2007

SWLA exhibition

I have submitted two pieces for the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. These are my two chosen works.

To be honest, I'm not really expecting to get accepted as I think my work is far too representational for selection. However, it has been some years since my last couple of attempts and I was persuaded that 'nothing ventured- nothing gained' should be my approach on this. After such a good week at NIA for my residency week I felt I could afford the costs of entry and transportation to and from the Mall Galleries. Also I have been told that the recent exhibitions of the last few years have shown an increase in representational work.


'Tangle of Kelp' is my star piece at the moment so that was an obvious choice and the one I was persuaded to enter. I also thought I'd try one of my batiks and chose the 'Painted hunting dog' as it was my most 'painterly' piece.


Fingers crossed... and I'll keep you posted.

Paintings sold during residency at Nature In Art

'The Two Hunters' - Oil on canvas
This piece is so called because it not only has a male leopard as the subject matter, there is also a praying mantis hiding amongst the twigs and branches. I used my own 'pet' mantis, called Isis, as the model. I had her sat on my hand at one point to paint her!


'Male magnificent frigatebirds' - Gouache on board
On one of the cruise trips I did in 2002, we saw these birds frequently in the Caribbean and Panama Canal. These are great birds to watch as they hang on the air currents with hardly a wingbeat and I love the 'pointiness' and prehistoric look to them. Interestingly, I found out that males rarely fly with the females and juveniles. These two we were able to watch, photograph and video for a very long time whilst ashore in Curaçao. They flew in and around the seaquarium we were visiting, sometimes just a metre or two above our heads!


'Little egrets' - Batik on cotton
Of course they're not really blue... this was just a play in tonal colours on a white birds. We have had this species at the zoo for many years, although ours have pink feet rather than the normal yellow. A little research shows that these may possibly be a Philippine region sub-species although no record of their lineage exists, as the original birds came to the zoo many years ago and the birds we have now are their descendants. Intriguing!


'Jaguar' - Batik on cotton
No, sadly I have not seen this species in the wild - hence the non-descript background. I actually saw these animals in a zoo on a very cloudy and wet day. A crowd was gathered round their enclosure as three of these beautiful animals dozed - saving their energy for the 'main sleep' (as was once said on the TV comedy 'Red Dwarf'). When the clouds opened up and rain fell heavy and hard, the gathered crowd scattered to find shelter. I stayed and was rewarded by all three jags getting up to 'dance and play' in the rain. It was a joyful sight indeed, to watch how lithe and graceful these powerful heavy cats moved.



'Flamingos' - Batik on cotton
These are based on the greater flamingos at Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in Gloucestershire. The original idea was to concentrate on the reflections in the dark water but on completion I preferred the story that was happening in amongst the group - something which I had composed very carefully in the planning stages but had not intended to be the main focus. As the batik took shape it became obvious that this was the more interesting aspect of the piece.

Artist in Residence at Nature In Art


On Sunday 29th I got the call to say that all was ok for me to stay at the farmhouse B&B Nature In Art uses to board the artists in their Artist In Residence programme. It had been cut off during the flood, but now there was normal access and plenty of bottled water. I was delighted… Sally’s, or ‘home’ as I often find myself calling it when I’m there, is a fabulous old farmhouse set in surroundings of rolling fields and beautifully kept gardens. It’s a fabulously restful place to be in with great views and a friendly homey atmosphere, so I was really happy to be staying there again… makes my week away feel like a real holiday.


So all Sunday and Monday morning was spent running around getting all I needed for the week, personal and work-wise, up together and ready for loading in the car midday on Monday. As usual I questioned my preparations…. ‘Did I have everything?’ ‘Was all the reference/art materials I needed packed?’ Did I have enough cards and promo leaflets printed?’ “Did I have enough labels?” etc, etc, etc. Too bad if I didn’t – no time left, I had to leave.

Setting up the room on Monday afternoon at Nature In Art was strange…. My friend Julie wasn’t able to be there until the next morning to set-up her stuff, and I had forgotten my CD player, so it was all a bit quiet really… we usually have great fun doing our respective displays at the same time with some music cranked up loud (as the place is shut on Monday’s we can get away with this behaviour) and us chatting-full of enthusiasm at the week ahead.


My expectations of the week, to be honest, weren’t high for this year. With the flood waters only just receded, many homes having no mains water and many businesses in Gloucester shut down for the duration…. I wasn’t expecting many people to visit and certainly wasn’t expecting anyone to be spending money as such. I figured there’d be too many other things to sort out and finance for most people in the area – even if they were aware that Nature In Art was open.

Much to our surprise, the week went remarkably well. Firstly the weather was on the whole beautifully warm and even hot for several days. Once again our luck with the weather had held out! This was a bit of a shocker considering the previous two to three months had been of almost daily rain. And the weather since our residency week has turned back to cooler temperatures, rain and cloudy days! How lucky were we!

The visitor numbers weren’t as high as they normally would be, but nevertheless I was surprised at the good attendance under the circumstances. Once again we met some lovely people, both new and ‘old’ faces, artists and non-artists. Some come in and wander round, others watch you work, some chat for just a minute or so and then there’s those you have really good long conversations with about art –your work and their work, travelling, and obviously this year a frequent topic was the flood situation and how people coped.

We even had a local news TV crew come in and film us on our second day there! The idea was to show that Nature In Art was open again to encourage visits; so they interviewed, Jackie, the Education Officer and filmed us for a little bit. As the cameraman was right at Julie’s shoulder and seemed to be focused on her… I carried on painting behind my tabletop easel thinking I had got away with not being filmed. Only when I spoke to my Dad later that evening did I find out that I hadn’t and could be clearly seen across the table… although my Dad did say I looked very serious and joked that he didn’t recognise me because of that fact!

I even got some work done! I managed to do some more of a pastel commission I had been working on and also get back to that wildebeeste calves oil piece I had started back earlier in the year!


The whole point of doing the residency is for people to be able to see an artist at work and to chat to them. However, now and again, sales are made. In the past my sales have always been with my greetings cards… but this year sent me into somewhat of a shell-shocked state, as I sold five of my framed originals! See my next post for images) I felt incredibly elated and embarrassed at the same time. Julie usually does much better on the sales than me and I know how I felt in previous years when my work didn’t ‘go out of the door’ in the same way. Whilst I’m dead chuffed for my friend’s good fortune, it can be somewhat disheartening and depressing not to be doing in any way as well. So with the tables unusually turned this year, I felt for my friend… I know she was happy for me, but I knew she must have been feeling down…. After all we all need the cash to keep us going and paying the bills and though she sold a couple of pieces, it wasn’t near what she usually sold during our residency week.


To add to our good week, we both came away with the contact details of a couple who run a wildlife art gallery in Holland, who were interested in taking both our work at some point. So that was something else to smile about and look forward to in the future.


And how did we get on with the water situation? We used bottled water for the whole week for drinking, brushing teeth and food prep and cooking, although the mains water supply was functioning again early in the week enabling proper flushing of loo’s and the all clear was given for using the tap water for drinking etc, but only after it had been boiled, during the weekend. We faced no hardship or inconvenience at all. However the reminders were abundant that, prior to our arrival, things had been different. There was the sad sight of houses, pubs and businesses with household items, computer equipment, carpets, furniture etc piling up on front lawns and driveways. There was a very strong ‘wet dog’ smell coming off the land left muddied by the flood waters. Crops flattened, rotting and covered in silt in the fields.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Artist In Residence Week

Got a call from the Director at Nature In Art to say that the flood waters have receeded allowing road access to the Hall, so he's opening the museum/art gallery to visitors again from Tuesday.

My friend, Julie and I are booked to be the artists in residence (AIR) there this coming week and there was some doubt that we would actually be able to do our stint. Another friend of mine, Marion, unfortunately not only had her AIR week cancelled but the silk painting course she was tutoring today cancelled as well. A double blow for her.

There is still not water supply to the Hall, so with the aid of a few trusty buckets, they shall be using the wells they have on site for the flushing of loos. Also as it is still uncertain whether the beautiful farmhouse B&B I usually stay at during my AIR week, is accessible and whether they are able to accept and provide for guests. So I may very well be commuting back and forth for the first few days at least, if not the whole week.

Of course, it's possible that no-one will visit Nature In Art - having too much sorting out with flooded homes etc or just not knowing that it is once again open. This could mean J & I will be on our ownsomes, but on the bright side... we should get some work done, if we're not too busy chatting and catching up ourselves!!!

I love doing the AIR week... not only is Nature In Art a fantastic place in a beautiful tranquil setting, it's also fun meeting all the visitors, catching up with my friend (she has been living in Denmark for about 3 years now), and doing arty stuff in an arty place; enjoying the atmosphere, company and venue. It's almost like a sort of holiday in some respects. It certainly recharges my batteries as it is such an inspirational atmosphere to work in.

In previous years J& I have usually been very lucky with the weather.. I'm not holding out too much hope for this coming week.... surprise, surprise rain is forecast!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Batik workshop cancelled

Well, here in the West Country of the UK we have been experiencing a ‘freak/unprecedented weather event’. Following one of the UK’s wettest June and July's on record, several days of really heavy rain has caused massive flooding and associated problems in a several counties, including Gloucestershire. In one 12 hour period many places were deluged with 2 – 3 times July’s normal rainfall, with constant rain in the weeks and days both before and after. Consequently… the rivers, their tributaries and the drainage system has not coped with the massive amount of water.

On Saturday 21st I needed to travel to Gloucester to set up the classroom where I would be holding my batik workshop at a school in Tuffley, along with the other tutors booked, on the southern edge of the city. News report from the evening before and early morning of that day showed the motorway at a standstill and closed due the 1000’s of cars stranded by the chaos from flooding and other road closures. Many had to spend the night in their cars.

By 9am on Saturday the traffic was beginning to move and I watched the online traffic reports and TV news to keep me updated. I had made a decision by 9.15 that with estimated 3 hour hold ups on that section of the motorway (just before Gloucester) that it wasn’t worth me travelling up and adding to the problem, as the school was only open between 9 and 12.30 for tutors to set up. However, at 9.45 the online traffic reports indicated that the motorway was clear so I changed my mind, quickly loaded the car and by 10.30 I was on my way.

As it was the motorway was clear with little traffic and I made it up to Glos in good time. Whilst at the school I met a friend, who was also tutoring at the school for the week, who lives just north of Glos and she had tales of friends who were abandoning cars and wading waist-high through water to get to their houses as well as hairy moments driving home in her car the evening before!

My journey home was quick and easy too. The next day I was planning on going up to Glos again to stay at a friend’s house for the week, as she lived just a few minutes away from the school. But by late Sunday afternoon that had changed as her house was without a water supply, due to a pumping station getting flooded and evacuated of personnel. This affected most of the city and would soon affect the surrounding area and Tewkesbury and Cheltenham too. I thought it wrong to add to the problem, so I decided I would commute between Glos and Bristol until they got the water supply back on. The school was still going to be open as they had water tanks to supply loo’s etc but I was advised to bring plenty of my own water for use in the classroom.

By Monday morning, the friend I was going to stay with was without electricity. This cast doubt over the school still being operational as I, amongst a few other tutors, would need power for our respective workshops. However, I carried on - packed the car with plenty of water containers (enough for me and some spare for my friend s should they need it), some food, blankets (in case I got stranded on the roads) and what I needed for the workshop that I hadn’t already taken up.

On my trip up to Glos I heard my phone beep to say I had a text. It was from my friend who was also tutoring to say that the school was closed and all workshops cancelled. I drove to the services, which I luckily hadn’t passed yet and rang her to get the details. The school was not only without water, but power now too and the roads around Glos, that weren’t closed due to flooding, were chaotic and jammed up with the morning’s traffic. So even if the school was open… it’ll be hell just getting to it. Also there were tutors and students (my friend now amongst them) who were stranded in their homes/neighbourhoods - cut off by the water levels. So the organisers had no choice but to cancelled all workshops for the whole week... something they have never had to do in their 27 year history of holding the Gloucester Summer School of Arts and Crafts. Great disappointment all round for all involved.

So I drove to the next junction and came back to Bristol very disappointed. I had been looking forward to this week of batiking, not only for the money I would earn from it (which is much needed), but also for the fun and challenge of it. I had put a lot of effort into the last month or so preparing not only for this workshop but the following week’s stint as artist in residence at Nature In Art. There have been many late nights and a lot of stress involved – basically I suppose trying to do too much as I had to think and organise stuff for several other projects and exhibitions as well as normal day to day stuff and working 3 days a week.

Next week I am supposed to be in Glos again - at Nature In Art… we’ll see what the weather holds and whether that will be possible or not.

However, I should not complain… I am very fortunate. I have a house that I don’t have to wade through water to reach, which is dry inside with water in the taps and electricity at the flick of a switch. I have had no possessions ruined by flood waters and do not have to ‘look forward’ to weeks and months of drying out, insurance wrangles, stress and fixing up my home. I can make use of my time at home by painting..... I have several commissions to do and this is an opportunity to crack on with them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

NEWA submissions

So today I got my form back showing me that two of the three pieces of work I entered for this exhibition have been selected. Great news.

These are the pieces I submitted... Giraffe - batik, Zebra foal - pastel and Elephant - batik





......... it was the ellie that didn't get in.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Silk painting workshop

On Saturday 30 June I tutored a silk painting workshop organised by The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project. A work colleague, Mandy, is the Biodiversity Education Officer for this project and she organises numerous events, talks and walks to highlight the wildlife, both flora and fauna, of this unique location in Bristol.

The aim of the workshop was to create a silk painting inspired by things the students saw on a walk on the Clifton and Durdham Downs. The above silk painting was one of the trial pieces I did prior to the workshop.

If you live in Britain, you will know what a 'damp' June and July we have had! In the week run-up to the workshop both Mandy and I had reservations about what the weather would do for us on the Saturday, as it rained pretty much every day, but we remained hopeful.
The morning of Saturday started wet and as I unloaded the car at the Conservation Education Centre at the zoo I was thinking my contingency plan just might have to suffice..... as, surprise surprise..... it was raining.

I had brought with me various cuttings of plants from my garden including ivy, hawthorn, ash, sycamore, cranesbill and herb Robert. On top of that I had brought lots of my reference pics and photo's of wild plants; these we laid out at the back of the class for the students to use if they wished.

The students arrived, thankfully kitted out for the wet weather, eager to get started once they has downed a warming cuppa and nourishing biscuit. Luckily the rain only spit-spotted and so we braved it and walked the fifteen minutes or so up onto the Downs. Here we were led by a very informative and inspiring Mandy as she showed us the many plants found amongst the tall grasses. Just after she was lamenting the fact that there were no butterflies in flight due to the drizzle and lack of sun... lo! the drizzle stopped and the sun came out for a brief few minutes and on cue the butterflies all flitted up from deep within the grasses. It was a marvellous sight. Several of us tried to get photo's of the marbled whites - the most striking of butterflies we saw about us.

As we headed across the Downs the weather improved; no more sun but the rain held off. On the main meadow area we were shown the 'common' lesser spotted orchids and learnt about how the Roman soldiers used plantain leaves as 'plasters' due to its drying properties. Mandy is a goldmine of curious and interesting facts about the plants and animals of the area.

After about an hour we headed back to the zoo's Conservation and Education centre. Here I showed them some basic tips on using gutta and the various effects you can get when applying silk paints. Then it was time for the students to draw up a design for their 'painting', which they traced onto the silk before pinning it to the frames.

Applying the gutta was easy for some and tricky for others; I had brought four different colour guttas and each had different flow properties. Changing the colour gutta they were using helped some who were having difficulties. Making sure the gutta was dry before applying colour was paramount and to help speed this along we had hairdryers.

Then it was the fun of adding the colours. As I wandered around, helping or advising where requested or needed, I could see some amazing works taking form. The subject matter was mainly flowers, both on a small and large scale, but there was also a bird and some butterflies. Salt was a favourite for making effects in the paints; some used it in an abstract way and some used it to create the patterns/structure on plants. I really regret not having the presence of mind to photograph the work they did (something to remember for future workshops) the students produced some beautiful and creative pieces that I would love to be able to look back on or post here (with their permission).

All too soon the time to finish was upon us. We had been soooo lucky with the weather, when it mattered the rain held off and we even had a spot of sunshine. I really enjoyed the day and hope that the students went away not only proud of what they had produced (as they all should be) but also hope that they had an as fun and informed day as I had.

Wouldn't it be fun to do one in the Autumn.... all those colours!

NEWA aka The National Exhibition of Wildlife Art

I have submitted three pieces of my work to NEWA this year for selection. Two batiks and a pastel. As this website now has a link on the NEWA website I am assuming my work has been accepted.

Unfortunately I have never been able to get up to Liverpool to see the show, something I really hope I can do in the future; as I have heard they always put on a fabulous exhibition.

Please also read July 16th's post

Ooops!

Has it been that long already! Can't believe my last post was nearly three weeks ago! I was doing so well too, with regular postings!

My only excuse is that I've had my head down working... but not on paintings, sad to say. Since my last post I have prepped for and tutored a silk painting workshop... and there was a lot of prepping, as I was out of practise big time with painting on silk. And since then I have been prepping for a five day batik workshop and a six day stint as an artist in residence. During my artist in residence week I shall be giving an hour long talk to fellow members of The Wildlife Art Society on my work at the zoo; for which I have been working on a powerpoint presentation. It's quite a lot of work, but hopefully will be worth it as once it is done... I can use it time and time again for other talks to art groups. Powerpoint is actually very easy to use, and I say that as a complete beginner to the application, and I'm hoping what I have done will not only be of interest to my fellow members but a bit of fun as well, here and there. The hard work has been the amount of hours I have spent scanning in and adjusting photo's and images of my work in preparation. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as they say and time will tell if this ease of use translates and continues when I do the actual presentation.

On top of doing that I have been printing out cards and promotional leaflets for both events and sorting out paintings for two forth coming exhibitions, making email and telephone enquiries in pursuit of a very exciting project (which I won't say too much about that now in case I jinx it but once things are more definite I won't be able to contain myself and will no doubt be blurting it out everywhere!). Over one weekend I had to catch up all our baby fish... well some were over a year old but as we have only a very small pond the 30 or so youngsters were causing a huge problem. The ponds' ability to maintain itself was struggling and it would not cope with them all come the winter. So I had to fish them all out... quite a job because for some reason the fish did not want to be caught. And whoever says they only have a 3 second memory.... don't know my fish! In the end, I had to empty the pond (not the best time of year to do that kind of job!), I scoured the plants I hooked out for invertebrates and young newts, which took some time. Luckily it rained on and off all day... I say luckily as this prevented the plants I hooked out from drying up. Eventually I managed to get all the fish out, putting only the adults and the youngsters I wanted to keep back. I had homes lined up for the youngsters so I kept them in holding containers with some of the plants until they could be collected and taken to their new homes. This 'little' job took over the whole weekend and gave me a killer backache for a few days! And of course there's all the other householdy things to do as well.
So, all in all, my posting priorities took a back seat, but this morning I decided I really must change that and at least explain my absence to my regular visitors.

I also wanted to make sure I post about the silk painting workshop before the batik workshop and my artist in residence happens.

The batik workshop is at the Gloucester Summer School of Arts and Crafts, Glos running from 23rd July to 27th July.

My Artist In Residence week is at The Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery, just north of Gloucester, from 31 July to 5th August. If you are in the area and have the time, do please pop in and say hello, whilst I am there.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Meerkat drawing



This drawing was done for a friend who retired from work, at the zoo, earlier this year. His favourite animal was the meekats, so what else could I draw as his leaving card!

Just because they're so cute, I went for one of the young ones as my subject. In their first few weeks they have this lovely downy silky look to their entire coat, then as they get older the rougher fur and texture starts coming through. This one was somewhere in the middle of that change. Trying to get that change in fur texture from silky around the head and chest to rough and spikey on the back and body was something I found quite a challenge.

I used 2B, 4B and 7B pencils on an A4 sheet of Epson Matte heavyweight printer paper.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Art group demo evening

Getting there!

On Wednesday evening I drove over the bridge to Undy. A friend of mine, who lives there and attends the local art group, had set up an evening for me to do a ‘demo’ to the small but enthusiastic group. Of the options given they chose pastels as the medium that I would do the demo in.

I had spent about 4 days thinking and planning what piece I would do for them. I have a commission in pastel coming up, so thinking I could combine the two, I had been working on drawing up and preparing that idea. However, it was late on Tuesday evening when I realised that the A3 piece would be too small to do the demo with… they just would not see what I was doing when I stood in front of the group working on an easel. Why I hadn’t thought of this before…goodness only knows! Now it left me in a bit of a muddle.

After a little thought I decided to do a lion head and searched for a piece of pastel board or paper of the right size and colour to use. Of course, Murphy’s Law made sure I had nothing suitable in my possession. I would have to go out and buy some the next day… the day of the demo…. Nothing like doing things last minute!

As the art group met early in the evening, I had arranged to have the afternoon off from the zoo so that I could get home, change and freshen up, pack up the bits and bobs in my car and make my way unrushed over to South Wales. Of course… that little plan has now changed!

So straight from work I nipped across to a local art supplier and found what I was looking for. Rushed home to draw out lion's head.. only to find once I had drawn it out and started to work into it that I had drawn the darn lion on the wrong side of the paper!!!! Arrgghh!!

So with the pressure mounting as time was fast approaching to when I would have to leave, I quickly traced off what I had drawn and started again on the reverse side of the paper. I had originally planned to have a goodly amount of the pastel done so that they could see some finished work as well as watch me add more. However, I managed only to get one ear done before I had to pack all away to load up my car, sort out an overnight bag (I was staying at my friend’s house that night), freshen up, change clothes and get myself on my merry way!

Living just minutes from the M32 in Bristol, when I left I should have been in fairly good time to arrive at my destination…… that was until within ¼ mile of my house I joined a nose-to-tail queue of traffic that stop started it’s way to the M32. What should have taken me less than 5 minutes took nearly ½ an hour due to an accident just beyond the sliproad down onto the M32.

Once past this, the traffic moved fast and freely until I got to the other end of the M32, where I joined another slow moving queue to get onto the M4. By this time I had gone beyond tearing my hair out and sat passively numb biding my time whilst inside my stress increased as I saw my arrival at the art group becoming later and later. Not a good impression to make for a first booking! Only after the junction for the M5 did the traffic heading to Wales thin out and move at a decent pace.

I was hoping to arrive about 5.30pm to set up, as my friend had said that would be the time the organiser of the group would be there. When I arrived at 5.50pm it was to great relief to find that the organiser had only just arrived herself to unlock the church hall where the group hold their art meetings.


The demo itself….
The evening went very well, I think. There were just 12 ladies but they are very enthusiastic and lovely to chat to. I quickly felt quite at ease with them – they are a lovely group. Not many of them had played with pastels – one reason being how messy they are and they certainly hadn’t done much, if anything, in the way of animals. But I hope I have taken away a little of the uncertainty about trying either in the future.
I was using CarbOthello pencils (by Schwan Stabilo) which are pastels in the form of a pencil. The pastel is very soft (very much like charcoal), lightfast, luminous and very easy to blend and smudge. Apparently you can use water with them, though I’ve never felt the want to try this as yet.
In the tea break, a number of them tried out the pencils I had and were impressed by the smoothness of them; some, like me, find other brands of pastel such as Derwent to be a little too hard and scratchy for their own personal liking; and that had put them off using them in the past.

Although I didn’t actually get much more done to the lion, from what I could tell, the group liked the slow approach as they could follow my progress better and ask questions about what I was doing at any point, quite easily. The time sped by very quickly and aware they had a ‘cut off time of 8.30pm, I said, thinking that it was about 8pm, that they should just tell me to stop when they needed to start packing up. The organiser said.. well actually it’s 8.30 now. (!!!!)

This is as far as I got.... I hope to post the finished pic once it's done.

I’m very glad to say that after a stressful time prepping for and getting to the Demo… it turned out to be a lovely relaxing, friendly evening with a great bunch of people. Thank you once again to the lovely ladies who made me feel so welcome.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Red-ruffed lemur pastel


His name is Charlie and he is one of the younger members of the group of red-ruffed lemurs at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

I started out very much in the same way as I have shown you, sketching out my shapes in a light brown colour so that the lines blended in with the colour value of the finished piece.
It was drawn onto Canson Mi-teintes 160g/m colour 448 Vert océan paper. I deliberately made the branch, he is sitting on, narrower to suit my composition.

The drawing was done as a raffle prize, at the ‘Grand Picnic’ event in Bristol Zoo Gardens, to help raise funds for the M.A.D. for Madagascar campaign being held at all European zoos this year.

Cruise - T minus 209 days and counting.....

How to draw a lemur

There are many different techniques you can use in drawing and the savy artist will learn as many as they can and adapt and use one or more of those techniques according to their style, drawing and/or subject matter etc.

A technique I like to show the beginner, improver or just plain nervous artist is one using simple shapes. I was introduced to this technique in my early stages of drawing and it has ‘saved the day’ many a time for when I was unsure of how to proceed on my chosen subject and by ensuring I had my drawing positioned well on my paper.

The trick is to learn to see shapes in your subject and to start off drawing the most dominant one first. For example many animals can be started with just two circles or ovals - one large one for the body and a smaller one for the head; though obviously the shape and sizes may vary depending on the animal and it’s pose.

So here I’ll show a series of pictures that build up a lemur from the basic shapes to a finished line drawing.
In this case we are drawing a red-ruffed lemur.


This is the photo I worked from, showing the first shapes I saw in the drawing. When starting out it’s obviously easier to work from a photo, but with practise you can apply this technique to things you draw from life.
And drawing from life is the best way to learn… but that’s not always possible… how many of us have a handy lemur at home to draw?
On your sheet of paper draw those two shapes roughly in proportion to one another.

Remember, by tracing you will learn nothing.

The great thing about using this technique is you learn to plan your drawing and by using the pencil lightly changes and adjustments are easily made. Its at this stage you can look at your two shapes, on your sheet of paper, and decide if where you have drawn them will leave enough room for the rest of the body and tail. If not, simply draw the shapes again in a better position. Because the pencils lines are light drawing them again won’t mess up your drawing unlike having heavy dark lines in the wrong place.

Next add shapes for the ears and muzzle. Don’t try drawing complicated shapes or detail yet. Keep it simple.
When adding limbs and features always look to see if a straight line vertically, diagonally or horizontally will line up with any other parts of the body – it makes it easier to know where to position them. In this case, I noticed that the top of the leg shape is as good as in line with the bottom of the head oval shape and the ear on the right.

Now add the bottom base line – notice that it does not come at the bottom of the circle. The circle is just a guide, so watch where parts of the body fall in, out or across its shape.

Draw in the front limb; notice that the top sits roughly on the line we used for the rear leg and the outside edge of the hand is roughly in line with the front edge of the ear. There’s no need to draw in the fingers just yet… remember keep it simple.
Taking note of the angle of the branch the lemur is sat on, continue the base line right across as you may notice the wrist of the lemur almost comes down that far. Draw in the line coming under the ear first, note that it starts just under the ears left corner. Once that line is in draw the line from the back down to the base line. Look at the photo and take notice of how far away from the ear this line should be drawn.
To help place the eye, look to see what it lines up with vertically and horizontally. In this case I can imagine lines from the point where the muzzle shape meets the head (horizontal) and from the point where the back of the ear on the left also meets the head (vertical).
Also add the shape for the hand on the right.
Next see how the line of the back flows in and out of the body circle line and draw that in.

Also add the line where the back foot sits, taking note of the shape of gap between the foot and arm.
Lastly draw in the line under the chest and down the right forearm, put in a little shape for the nose, draw in the bottom line of the branch and then the tail.

And to finish off, draw in the fingers. Now we have completed our plan of our lemur. Before diving in and putting in detail and shading do a final check to make sure you have everything in the right place and in proportion to each other. If anything looks wrong you can easily correct it at this stage.
Once you’re happy, you can then take the drawing further by refining your lines, adding details, shading and colour if you wish. This is the stage where you can take your time and put as much work into it as you want.