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!

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