I returned to working at the zoo after my annual break of three months (in which I concentrate on my own art work/tutoring etc) at the beginning of April.
A new exhibit called Explorer’s Creek has opened in the centre of the zoo that incorporates a ‘splash’ play area for toddlers and two walk through aviaries… indoor and outdoor. Although these two aviaries incorporated species we had before, there were some new ones to do and on top of that the identification signage was to be presented in a different style. So my first job back was to work on the computer re-jigging the bird signage template to fit the new style. I also had some new species to paint, none of which I was able to see in ‘person’ as they were not going to be on the zoo premises until just prior to the exhibit opening. They included sunbittern, java sparrow, common sharma and rainbow lorikeet.
Not all was straightforward; I had several reference queries I had to sort out prior to painting and having just internet searches to rely on inevitably threw up a range of questions relating to plumage(adult/juv, breeding/non-breeding) and markings depending on race and sub-species. I spent sometime to-ing and fro-ing in communication with keepers trying to pin details down. Had I been able to see the birds for myself, all my questions would have been answered very quickly. But, hey ho, that’s the way it goes sometimes. All good fun when the time scale is tight.
After the manic four weeks of the new exhibit prep I then went on to paint a lobster (European)… this guy turned out to be the most difficult critter I have done yet at the zoo. It took me at least a dozen attempts to draw all the intricate bits and pieces around his head and mouth-parts in the correct proportions. This species was on show, a big old boy called Mr Snappy. Trouble was he had a dark hideaway and I either saw the front end of him or the rear… hardly ever saw him as a whole. So I arranged with the keepers a ‘photo session’ for when he was fed on a day of the week when I was at the zoo. Then I had to be quick with the camera as he tended to dash out grab the food and retreat to munch away happily in his den.
The zoo is heavily involved with the annual event in Bristol called the Bristol Festival of Nature. The Education Dept at the zoo hosts a tent and for this year I had a little job to do for them… I had to paint a mobile phone. Gotta be the strangest ‘species’ I have done in my work for the zoo yet!!
I had a wooden cutout, 30 inches by about 14 inches (76cms x36 cms) on which to do a straight copy of a mobile phone image they had. I used emulsion paints and a work colleague used the vinyl cutter machine to create the letters and numbers to go on the keys and screen. Finally several layers of varnish were put on and it was done.
I like my job... I never know what I’m gonna paint from one week to the next.
Then I had a six-banded armadillo to paint… the zoo has a pair on show in Twilight World… and getting photo’s in there was pretty impossible, but I did enjoy going in with them for a short time, donned in a natty white quarantine suit, wellies and gloves. One came over and nudged me a few times on the leg as I crouched down to try and get photo’s from their angle. I ended up using Archie, the armadillo they use in the Amazing Animal demonstrations. He’s still being ‘trained’ (the show animals only display natural behaviours… no party tricks or such like) so he was a little unpredictable still… would he stay munching his tid-bits long enough for me to photo and take a good look at him? Thankfully yes.
I’m now working on the revamping of the Aquarium identification signage. All these signs are backlit and we used to be able to produce the signs for the lightboxes in house… but now in the digital age the old photographic process we used is no longer viable so we now have to use an outside print company. I have rescanned and photoshop adjusted all of the fish, invertebrate and coral images, which was a few weeks of intense eye work on the computer. Now, having re-jigged the Aquarium ID template to suit the new format, I am inputting pictures and text creating new ID signs ready to be sent to the printer.
So far this year I have done very little illustration… most of my time, it seems has been on the computer. I have a stack of illustrations sat waiting for me to finish the Aquarium stuff... marbled teal, a new mantid, a splendid leaf frog to name but a few. And who knows what the rest of the year will bring.