Friday, June 08, 2007

The Bristol Festival of Nature (BFoN)

I arrived about midday on Saturday – my first workshop was at 1.30pm. It was a lovely sunny day and I held hopes that the festival would be well attended. This year the tents/marques and stalls were spread over a wider area of the Harbourside area of Bristol, so although there were probably as many people as the previous year milling around it did not seem as crowded, which in many respects felt quite nice as it gave you the feeling of not being swamped by people.

My workshops were to show people a technique of using shapes to plan and get a drawing started quickly and easily and was being held at the top the Explore @ Bristol building. This building holds many interactive displays designed to enthuse children with science and engineering. As I walked past the rooms of gadgets and contraptions I felt the child in me pulling me in to play; especially when I saw someone in a huge ‘hamster wheel’ making it rotate which then through a series of mechanical bits made a circulating chain of shiny buckets draw water from a low tank to a higher tank. How cool was that! Alas, I was there to work and I had much to do before my workshop started.

The three rooms being used for the various talks and workshops were very good and specifically built for the purpose. And the schedule of use was tight with just 45 minutes between each workshop/talk for the dismantling of props and equipment of one and the setting up for the next.

The Education Dept from the zoo had arranged to bring down clipboards, an A-frame stand and board, a display banner and various other bits and bobs that I required, and these were all stored in the Zoo tent outside in the Millenium Square next to the Explore building. Luckily the ever helpful Dave (from the Education dept) helped me bring the stuff acros by carrying the large and awkward A-frame stand and board. We had to stop a few times for him to adjust his grip and summon up more energy… it wasn’t an easy thing to carry and must’ve been a bit weighty with the board. Bless him! I was still setting up when the first people, booked on my workshop, arrived!

I had two workshops on both days and on the Saturday one followed more or less straight after the other, albeit in different rooms. The workshops went well, not overly subscribed, but those that did turn up were enthusiastic and left very favourable comments on the evaluation forms they were asked to fill in at the end of each session. The ages of those attended were mostly in their early teens or younger, but I’m glad to say there were a fair number of adults too.

On both days I got them to draw a ring-tailed lemur, following step-by-step instructions from me, as I drew it out on the large board in front of them. I came to the conclusion halfway through the second workshop on the Saturday, that the lemur drawing I was getting them to do was a bit too challenging for the younger children, although they managed it very well considering. But it was quite complicated really, and with only an hour to explain the technique and then draw it out… I felt it was a bit too quick and rushed for them to enjoy it fully. So that evening I drew out another lemur a little less complicated but still something to challenge them for Sunday’s workshops.

Sunday’s workshops were 2½ hours apart so this gave me time to find some delicious sustenance on one of the stalls in the Food Market area. There were lots of lovely goodies and tantalising aromas to get the taste buds going, and a cous cous salad and a large tub of pineapple, mango and strawberry bits later I felt revitalised for the next workshop. I also had a look around the other tents and saw a few people I knew either working or wandering around themselves and met a few new people, which was great.

One new contact could result in a very interesting and exciting project for the future, possibly involving me travelling to Africa to paint to raise funds for conservation research. I’m very excited about the prospect of this possibility but time will tell if it actually happens.

I know from experience how such great ideas and plans can sometimes not happen, despite all best efforts. I was invited to go to Zimbabwe in 2000 to paint for conservation there and just a month before I was due to leave….. Mugabe brought in his land reclamation reforms – the country changed radically and as I was headed for a wildlife conservancy that was once farmland, well… that was the end of that. The trip was postponed in definitely; our safety could not be guaranteed as game parks were being poached clean of wildlife and the vegetation felled or uprooted and workers threatened/injured or even killed. I still hope that one day Zimbabwe can return to being the great country it was for conservation and its people.

Back to the BFoN…..
Most of those who came to my workshops were either beginners or just felt they couldn’t draw, but wanted to have a go. The technique of using shapes, to start a drawing off, helps to overcome the ‘where to start a drawing’ dilemma; a prospect that some people find so daunting that it puts them off having a go. And for those that have a little more experience it helps to plan placement and proportions of the subject(s).
Hopefully the workshops gave a good base, for those that attended, to work from and gain more confidence with their drawing.

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