Saturday, October 22, 2011

Artist in Residence Week - work done

Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot yet figure out, when I am away and using my small notebook computer, my blogsite allows me one post to it before then giving me a whole host of awkwardness that ultimately results in me being unable to do any more posts to it! Hence the reason this post is posted after the end of my residency week.

I worked on two paintings during my residency week... I started off by continuing to work on my kudu oil painting, adding more foliage and grasses to the right hand side.

I started this piece a few months ago and it has been painted and put to one side a number of times whilst I get on with other small paintings and various other jobs. So it was good to get back to it again. The plan was to paint in the last of the back foliage and then to start on the kudu calf. So I started the week by painting in the details of the dark area towards the lower part of the canvas (mainly on the right of the composition), adding leaves grasses, twigs etc. This was done with a small rigger - 1" rigger brush size 1 - flicking in strokes for grasses and dabs for leaves, twisting the bristles to resemble the leaf shapes of the vegetation in my reference photos. I'm not putting in a great deal of detail here as it will eventually be overlaid with long grasses in the foreground but I want just enough to provide the suggestion of grasses, twigs and leaves. Once I got to a stage where I would next start work on the kudu calf, I needed to allow the paint to dry; so once again it was put aside.

I decided to start another loose piece... a companion to the painting I did of Moti the Asiatic lioness recently.
This is to be of Chandra, the male Asiatic lion that was Moti's companion for about 14 years at Bristol Zoo.

I started the piece by sketching out his face using a 1" rigger brush size 1 loaded with a warm brown mix of colour diluted with liquin. I then blocked in some form with the same colour and a dark tone made of ultramarine, burnt sienna and alizarin crimson. I usually draw up such a sketch seperately and spend some time getting proportions looking right but as I want to try this loose approach I have been trying the process of sketching directly onto the canvas with paint. It's quite challenging, but fun also.

Then I paint in a backdrop of warm purples, mauves and orangey browns. I used the darker tones up behind his left ear to create contrast, as that will be back lit and showing a lot of light. I also start laying in colour and form on his mane... again as I always do working from the more distant surface of the subject and coming forward. I am using a round brush size 4 to work with on an 8" x 10" board.

Once I reasonably happy with his mane I then start to build the left side of his face and muzzle. I'm using a lot of orange and purple tones, these are complimentary colours and so work well together. They also add a feel of warmth and heat.

Then I put in some work on his ear, the mane at the apex of his head and the lights and darks on the bridge of his nose. Chandra had a "bumpy" nose with quite a rounded bump down to his nose.

Next I work on his face, mane round the top of his head and put in his eyes. First I block in the colour and lights and darks then I go back over to refine the moulding and features. I am still having to keep myself in check to stop myself going in too much with detail and fine brush work. Although Chandra was cross-eyed, I decided on this occasion not to paint him as such. After all... how many people looking at a painting of a cross-eyed lion would actually think that was how he was. They will probably just assume I had got the eyes wrong.

It was at this stage that I decided I had drawn his eyes too small so I enlarged them and repainted the areas around the eyes. I also worked on the area of mane on the far side of his head and under his chin.

Then I work on his muzzle and chin before waiting for it to dry and using the 1" rigger brush I drew on his whiskers using pale orange and yellows. I have deliberately kept the sides "unfinished" as I like the look of this and have seen it done extremely well to great effect by other artists and judging from a number of the comments I had over the week it seems to be something other people like too.

At home this piece would have been done in a day to stop me from "fiddling" with it too much. I worked on it over 4 days, between chatting to folk who visited us, at Nature In Art.

Chandra crops up a lot in my paintings as he's a very special lion to me. I saw him grow from a 2½ yr old scrawny youngster into a magnificent big prime male; until at the age of 14 he went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park for his retirement. He may have been cross-eyed but he was one handsome dude and had plenty of attitude. Sadly, I don't think he is alive now, but he lived to a good age and I will certainly never forget him and probably paint many more pictures of him in the years to come.

I finished the week back on the kudu piece but only got as far as putting in a base coat on the calf. So I will leave it until later when I have done more to it to post a progress pic of that painting.

Click here to view some of my photos from the week

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Artist in Residence Day 1

For me this is really day 2 of being Artist in Residence at Nature In Art, but for the visitors of course, it is definitely Day 1.
Yesterday I looked at the large pile of paintings, equipment and a myriad of other bits and pieces standing in the living room... how on earth was that all going to fit in the car! Half an hour later, somehow, I had managed to squeeze it all in. Looking into the boot and back seat of the car I had to pack it a bit like one of those wooden puzzle balls where each piece slots into a very specific position. Was my car actually a TARDIS?
A 50min drive up to Gloucester to Wallsworth Hall where Nature in Art is and I had to unpack it all again. Frances had also just arrived and her car looked much the same as mine... packed to the hilt! Our afternoon was then spent setting up the tables with cards, prints, merchandise etc etc and hanging paintings on the walls. By 6pm we were pretty tired out and so it was back to Frances' home (where I would be staying for the week) to pretty much collapse for the evening.
Today we both spent some time in the morning just rounding off the displays and making sure everything was to our liking before settling down to work. Both tasks of which were interrupted in the best way by people coming to the studio to see what we were doing and to talk about our work and sometimes their paintings too. It was very busy and the stream of visitors seemed non stop through the day, which was brilliant. Neither of us got much work done but then that is secondary to chatting to folks, which is what we are there for.
I did have some pictures to post too but I have no photo editing software on this little notebook... so perhaps I can post some piccies when I get home after Sunday.
I will try and keep up with regular posting through the week.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Palm nuts!

Well, as this evening draws in, I am thinking I am now all done on the preparations for all my art and merchandise that I shall have on display at Nature In Art for the next week. I have only myself to sort out now, clothes etc to be packed and, all being well, I can set off in good time tomorrow morning to set up the studio with Frances ready for visitors from Tuesday.

There has been much to do and for a while I just never thought I'd get to the end of the ever growing list. Suffice to say it's has been a bit full on and hectic these last few weeks getting everything up together. But glad to say I think I can now breathe easy... of course there is that nagging doubt that things can't possibly be all done... surely I have forgotten something! I'm never this well organised to be ready at this point!

It can all but drive you nuts....

... which leads me to the painting of palm nut trees at sunset.

This little painting (roughly 8" x 7") on canvas board is of my favourite trees in the Okavango Delta. They have such a beautiful shape and feel to them, so I couldn't resist doing this little piece of them in silhouette. I managed to get it done in between endless computer work, printing, cutting, packing and putting a powerpoint presentation together.

The composition is made up from a number of my photos taken during my stay there in March. The sky from one and the trees are picked out from various photos of landscapes and animals and placed together into this composition.

I shall have this one with me at Nature In Art and like the lioness and ellie, I shall be interested to see how well they are received.

The presentation is a series of slides and a little talk that I shall be showing/giving to the Wallworth Art Group on Wednesday evening about reference gathering and useage. Looking forward to that and hope it'll be of interest to them.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Getting ready for Artist in Residence Week

18th – 23rd October

Wallsworth Hall - Home of the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery

Once again the year swings round to a week I really look forward to – being an Artist in Residence at Nature In Art in Gloucester. This Museum and Art Gallery has a programme of different artists spending 6 days working in their studio (Tuesday – Sunday every week from Feb to Nov) where visitors can watch and talk to them as they work in their respective mediums.

In the past I have spent many an informative and learning hour getting tips from the artists who have been working there and also being, for the past 11 years, on the other side of the easel too.
For most of those 11 years I have been there with my very good friend and fellow artist Julie Askew, but as she now resides overseas, I shall once again share the studio with another friend and fellow artist, Frances Whitman.

Myself with Frances and Linda Heaton-Harris - 2010 Nature in Art

Frances works with coloured pencils and produces exquisite animal portraits, her love of the big cats in particular feature strongly in her work.

I shall be working on paintings for an exhibition I shall hope to be doing in a few years time to raise funds for the Elephants For Africa Trust. After my visit to their camp in the Okavango Delta - Botswana, where their research work is currently based, earlier this year I shall be concentrating on producing work for that – mostly in oils.
I also plan to have a selection of merchandise that feature some of my paintings such as cards, mugs, calendars etc.

The Museum has a lovely little café that serves teas and cakes, as well as lunches. Please click here for visitor information.
If you can pop along to visit whilst we are there we would love to see you. If not, I would recommend a visit when you can anyway, as it is lovely house with a collection of work dedicated to art inspired by nature not just paintings but ceramics, furniture, sculptures, carvings and all manner of other treasures.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Asiatic lioness oil studio sketch

8"x10" (20cmx25cm)

Another “go” at painting loosely; for the fun of it and as an experiment to see if they are liked and sellable. I need more practise to feel totally comfortable with this style, but it’s a great thing to do… to play.

The subject is Moti.. a lioness we used to have at the zoo until a couple of years ago when she died, an old girl, sadly from cancer. She produced some lovely cubs in her time with the splendid male Chandra (who was her companion for many years) to continue her line and she was a gorgeous lioness.

This painting was fun to do and it was hard for me to resist going into more detail, but I had set myself a time limit of 4 hours and stuck to it to see what I could produce.

As with the elephant piece I did before along these lines I have used oil paints with liquin as a medium to thin the paint and speed up drying times. This was from a photograph I had taken of Moti many years ago, but I used another photo I had taken of Chandra for the lighting colour range. I decided on the warm purple and browny oranges for the background to deepen the warmth of light on the animal and because the colours are easily crossed over between the two - tying them together.

Another thing I am doing that is different to my “norm”, is sketching the animal out in paint straight onto the canvas. In my more detailed paintings I spend a lot of time planning the piece - sketching and drawing the animal on a separate piece of paper to get my proportions right and to think about and decide on the positioning before I start the piece. So it is quite fun and challenging to start in a completely different way.

I will do more, as I’d like to improve and get more confident in the “less is more” approach. I know by many standards these aren’t hugely loose but for me it is quite a step to make and it’s fun playing and painting in a way different to what I really like to do.. and that is paint in a much more detailed way. I see no reason why I can’t do both :~)

Elephant bull oil studio sketch

10”x14” (25cmx35.5cm)

Yeehaa! My first pachyderm painting from my trip to Botswana!

This painting serves a few purposes…

Firstly - I wanted to try out something in readiness for a bigger painting I have planned of three bulls crossing a waterway. So this was an experiment for colours and lighting as well as the stance of one of the bulls. This is not something I usually do as normally I have a very clear idea of the painting before I start. However in this case I couldn’t make my mind up… on the day I saw the inspiration for this painting it was overcast and rainy – the light was
quite flat, yet this threw up some beautifully soft colour ranges and I really like that idea for my palette on this piece. But I wonder… would it look better if the lighting was a little brighter for the final painting – chuck some sunlight in to lift the image? Deepen the shadows create some more drama? So I plan do another trial piece the same as this only brightly lit with sunlight … so I can compare the two.

Secondly – it was fun to paint more loosely than I normally do for a change… something I have been thinking of playing with for a while, but never had the excuse or time. I am not
going to change my style from what it is now, but it would be good to do some looser pieces as well at times.

Thirdly - purely from a turnover point of view, these little loose pieces are obviously quicker to do and from a size perspective may be easier to sell. Something I have to think about
in these tricky financial times. So if they prove likeable to the buying public it may be another way forward. So I am hoping to do one or two more to show during my Artist in Residence week at Nature in Art later this month to gauge the reaction and see if this is something worthwhile pursuing.

The style of not completely covering the canvas I have seen done many times before by other artists and I have always liked that approach... so it was another reason to add to my "try out" list.

I have in my mind's eye a painting I'd like to do someday, when I feel confident enough with this style - a large canvas with an elephant painted loosely and not completely with a little colour around it's body in places to give it some background. whether or not I shall ever do it remains to be seen.. it may stay in the back of my head, along with all the other "one day" wish paintings I have stored there.

Wow!Gorilla Auction - Sept 29th

On one of the hottest days and evenings of the year in Bristol, 550 people packed the Victoria Rooms in Clifton. Volunteers lined the walls, armed with mobile phones to take outside bids, and not a seat was left unfilled in the “stalls’ and “balcony” with eager bidders, anxious artists and curious onlookers. On a stage two gorillas, each on a revolving plinth, spun slowly in a slow continuous turn; bathed in spotlights and admiration. Music filled the room and mixed with the charged atmosphere of the evening.

After the speeches, the bidding began …. it was estimated that each gorilla would fetch probably £1000 or even £1,500 so we were ready for a great evening with a good amount of money expected to be raised for the gorilla conservation projects supported Bristol Zoo Gardens and The Wallace and Gromit Appeal raising funds for a new echocardiagraph ( think that’s how it is spelt) machine for the dedicated Children’s Hospital here in Bristol.

The auctioneer was brilliant and took the auction down a great fun path encouraging and cajoling the bidders to keep on bidding against each other. He was superb! Each gorilla was brought out, covered in a black cloth, and placed on one of the revolving plinths either side of the auctioneer. They were each unveiled in turn to a fanfare of music, sometimes chosen to fit the character of the gorilla, as the spotlights were trained on them. A couple, Dee Dee was included in this, had a choir come out and sing a song after they were unveiled and prior to the bidding on them.. The Elvis gorilla had a singer come out and do a great medley of Elvis songs. Dee Dee was the first to have this done prior to her bidding and she had the song Autumn Leaves sung for her… I have to admit that made me quite emotional!

Dee Dee at Bristol Zoo Gardens prior to the auction

The prices for the gorillas started off at over twice the highest estimate and got higher as the bidders warmed up and the gorillas got fewer! The bidding never went below £3,000! Dee Dee was 13th (not unlucky this time) to be auctioned and raised a great sum of £7,500!!!! I was so chuffed and proud that she got so much. Even more so, when I found out (after the auction) that her new owner was Sharron Davies the retired Olympic swimmer. How cool is that! Many of the gorillas reached bids of £5,000-£6,000 but 24 of them reached £7,000 and over. Every time the bidding reached £10,000 a great cheer went up around the room- five gorillas reached that mark (Elvis, 24 Carat Camo, Jama, Blackbeard Silverback and Spider Monkey); Two gorillas went on above that to even more cheers - £12,000 (Still Life: Alfred) and the top bid of £23,000 went to Gorisambard. Outstanding! By the time the bidding was over ALL the gorillas had new homes and the total raised was a whooping £427,300.

Best of all is that ALL of that money goes to gorilla conservation and the Children’s Hospital*… the zoo had arranged for there to be no VAT and the Auction House waived their fee… much needed money to benefit two great causes. *The exception to that is the money raised for the gorilla Custard goes to the BBC Children in Need Appeal.

What better way to end to this marvellous project called WOW!Gorillas, created celebrate the zoo’s 175th Anniversary. After the auction, I spoke to a few of the zoo staff who were working that night helping with the running of the event and they all looked ecstatic and shell-shocked. It’s safe to say the amount raised and the way these gorillas have been taken into people’s hearts has completely surpassed any expectation of what would happen. To have been a small part of that makes me feel incredibly privileged and humbled. I’m so glad I got to paint one of these gorillas and that they all sold so very well indeed. Bravo to all the bidders, I’m astounded by such generosity in these hard times.