Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Lion Sleeps........

Thought I would add a post every now and then to tell you about one of my paintings... or in this case, one of my batiks.
First I can imagine some of you wondering just what that is... well to try and explain it briefly... batik is a method of resist. i.e. the wax stops colour affecting the cloth. The traditional way is to dip the cloth into dyes but in the confines of my 'studio' this is not practical; so I use silk paints and with brushes to the cloth on the frame. Melted wax is applied to the cloth in the areas where colour is required to be kept/protected. By applying successives applications of colour and wax an image can be built up from a very simple design to a more complicated piece.... such as this lion, which has about 40 successive applications of colour and wax.
It's a bit of a suicide method, as should wax plop unceremoniously in the wrong place... there's not a lot you can do to correct it. This makes for an often interesting and edge-of-your-seat session when batiking a particularly major piece.

The subject for this piece is Chandra, the male Asiatic lion at the zoo where I work. He's one of my most favourite characters in the zoo and when he first arrived at just under 3 years of age, I spent 3 treasured days sitting near his off-show enclosure watching and sketching him in preparation for the illustrations needed for the ID signage.
He's now a strapping male (about 13 years old... I think) and looks a fantastic animal and he has great spirit, nice and fiesty when he wants to be.
One day as I was walking by, I noticed him lying in the shade with his muzzle and a front paw stuck out in the bright sunshine. I loved this dramatic lighting on him and as I walked over I noticed the gorgeous colours in his mane made by the shadows and dappled light. The idea was born. Unfortunately I didn't have a frame big enough to get his paw in, as I would have liked, and to make the image smaller to fit on my frame would have lessened the impact. I had not been doing batik for long when I did this piece and as an experiment to see how far I could go in getting fine detail, it was a success. This is one of my paintings that I look back on with, not only fond memories of the subject, but with satisfaction of the work as a whole.

T minus 283 days and counting.....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Page changes

In an attempt to make the page easier to read, because I do tend to tap away on the old keyboard a bit, I have changed the colours and font size. For those of you who have visited this page before - I would appreciate any comments you may have about whether this arrangement is better or worse than before.

T minus 284 days and counting.....
Ooops! My maths was never my strong point..... Monday should've been 286. Think I got confused as I wasn't actually counting Monday in, as it was almost over when I totted up the days. Starting the count a day early is bound to throw me off for a wee while.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Back to the zoo.

Alas, my 3 months working at home is almost at an end for this year. On Monday I return to the zoo, where I work 3 days a week for 9 months of the year (April - December). I did use to work full time, the usual 9-5 Mon-Fri, but during 2003 I made the decision to lessen my hours to enable me to have more time to concentrate on my career as an artist. So after discussions with a very understanding boss, at the turn of 2004 I started my rather odd part-time schedule.
My job at the zoo is a very interesting one and in the UK, at least, quite a rare occupation. I know of only a handful of animal collections within the UK zoo federation that have their own 'in-house' illustrator/artist and at the zoo where I work... I'm that one of those fortunate people. My main preoccupation is the identification signs for the animals and, apart from a few cases, I not only draw/paint a picture of the species involved but I also get to compile the sign on the computer; adding in information to a template that has come from the animal and education departments and a map with the species distribution.
I have been doing this job for over 11 years now and have many tales of close encounters and 'special moments' watching the various animals that I have had to illustrate. I'm very priviledged in that sometimes when I sit near, or even in, an animal enclosure I get to spend more time watching the animals than the keepers do. Their trust in me to spend such time with their charges is something that I have never taken for granted and feel very honoured to have.
In my time at the zoo I have drawn or painted over 380 different species from corals, spiders, ants, crabs, lobsters, colourful reef fish, stingrays, large freshwater fish, lizards, snakes, frogs, tropical birds, vultures, small mice to Asian elephants. The variety is enormous and I get as excited at the prospect of drawing a mantis as I do a big cat. Every species is a fascination and I'm so lucky to be able to see many of these animals close up and in the flesh.
Over the next 9 months that I am back there, I shall endeavour to write posts explaining some of the jobs I do, as I'm not always drawing or painting, and give you an insight into another aspect of my work as an artist.

T minus 284 days and counting.....

Monday, March 26, 2007

All at sea... well not quite yet.

Today my life took a new and exciting turn. I have just been taken on as a Guest Art Tutor for a cruise company!
In 2002 & 2003 I went on a big cruise liner for the first time as the assistant to my friend, who had been teaching on the ships for a short while at that time. As her assistant, I got to go free and sailed across a few oceans and seas and saw a lot of the world I never, ever dreamed I would, for a total of 8 weeks in each of the two years. Now, here I am... lined up to sail again on the high seas on a 5 week trip from Southampton to Hong Kong from January til February next year.
Whilst ever so slightly daunting a prospect, it is incredibly exciting and thrilling and I can't wait to hear the wind hum through the overhead cables and the sea wash down the sides of the ship as I stare out at mile upon mile of endless ocean.
Um... that's when I'm not working....
My job onboard will be to hold art sessions where passengers can come to draw and paint twice every 'sea day'; teaching those that are real beginners and guide those that already have done a fair bit of art. It's a fabulous job and it was always a great thrill and gave a great sense of achievement when passengers, who had hardly drawn much before, came along to the classes and surpassed themselves in what they put to paper over such a short amount of time. My friend, Julie, did a great job and I watched to learn from her and I hope I can do as well when my turn comes.
I have a long time to wait, but I'm sure it will fly by very quickly.... I shall be marking 'the days to go' on my calendar as of tomorrow. No..... I may as well start today!

T minus 285 days and counting.....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery

I have added a new link for the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery and also added a new event.
Nature In Art really is a 'must visit' for those interested in art and wildlife. It was the world's first museum and art gallery dedicated to showing work solely inspired by the natural world. I shall, no doubt, be referring to this place a lot in my posts, as it is a haven for me. Whenever I visit I really feel myself relax as I drive up the long driveway to the grand Georgian House, even if I'm there to work.
As well exhibiting a wide range of art including paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics and netsukes it runs a very popular Artist in Residence programme. One or more artists set themselves up in a studio in the grounds of the house for a week, where they work on their respective art form whilst the visiting public come in to watch and chat.
I have been on this programme since 2000 and usually share the week with my good friend and fellow wildlife artist, Julie Askew. The dates that we shall be there this year are listed under 'Exhibitions and events'.

The eyes have it!

The wildebeeste calves are started, but I struggled.
Whilst painting in the background I was having great difficulty focusing, which was creating an effect I was not planning on achieving! This eye strain problem, is carrying on from when I was finishing the cheetahs, so I am not happy. As it seems to have got the better of me, I've decided it's best not go near my easel for a few days at least, to rest them. However it's very difficult to rest ones eyes unless you lie/sit somewhere and keep them shut for several days... not very practical in many respects; especially when there's so much to do!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New stuff

I've added a new feature to this page - a listing of exhibitions and events I shall participate in this year - you'll find it under 'Welcome to my chit-chat'. This will obviously be updated as and when I enter or am accepted to the various exhibitions/shows/events.

Also... I've started a new painting..... although tis not the cheetahs. But fear not, that piece HAS been planned and is waiting in the wings for a suitable sized canvas to be acquired, so it will get done.

The new piece I have started is of two wildebeeste calves still in their brownish-yellow colouring, which they lose after the age of 2-2½ months.
Funny what you learn whilst researching a painting. I knew for example that there are two species of wildebeeste - the blue (aka brindled) Connochaetes taurinus and the black (aka white-tailed) Connochaetes gnou. And on my different trips I had noticed that the wildebeeste I saw in southern Africa were much darker in colour to those I saw in East Africa; was this merely coat colour affected by the soil and dust on the body of the animal or something more? Before drawing up my animals, I got out my text books and found that there are four or five subspecies (depending on which scientific reference you look to) of the blue wildebeeste. The ranges of the subspecies must therefore be taken into account when portraying the animals in a specific location. The ones I saw in Amboseli are the Eastern white-bearded Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus. White-bearded wildebeeste (Western -C t mearnsi and Eastern - C t albojubatus) have a body colour that is paler than the other subspecies and amongst other subtle differences in colouration their 'beards' are, obviously, noticably white or pale grey instead of the dark grey or black of the other suspecies.
As a wildlife artist these facts are vital when portraying the animals, for example if I had not been to both southern and eastern Africa I would not have noticed the colour difference and therefore would have continued to assume that there was only the two species and that in in the blue wildebeeste one was very much like another. It may not have occured to me, then, to research much deeper than pictorial reference gathering. I could have painted a wildebeeste in the wrong setting - not the best plan for building your reputation as a wildlife artist upon!

Cheetah painting gets in!

Got some great news confirmed this morning... my cheetah painting is through selection and is in the 'Art for Survival' Wildlife Auction to be held at Christies, South Kensington, London. This auction is organised by The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to raise funds for their conservation projects.
I am very pleased to have not only been invited to submit work but also for my painting to have been accepted as one of the 80 paintings/sculptures chosen for the auction, most of which are by some of the top wildlife artists from around the world.
All the work to be auctioned will be viewable on the website - - at the end of March. The actual auction is on May 2nd and I hope to be there to soak up the atmosphere, meet some fellow artists and chew my nails to the elbow as the auction gets underway.
This will be my second time as a participating artist at a DSWF 'Art for Survival' auction and it's very exciting, scary and nerve-racking. You have no idea whether your work will bomb, reach the reserve much less the estimate bracket. Of course, you always dream of a bidding 'war' for your piece and even if it's not your picture being fought for, it's still very exciting to witness. Time to cross those fingers hard and hope it's mine this time.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Am I mad?

Believe it or not, but after my 'battle' with the cheetahs in my last painting, I'm now contemplating doing another!!! I must be mad!
Today I start planning my next piece and at the moment another cheetah idea is at the forefront of my mind. Maybe I just want to prove to myself that I didn't just win the battle but I'm looking to win the war, as well!
Watch this space!

Gouache workshop

On Saturday I tutored a workshop for an art society in Gloucester.
A few years ago I had done an evening talk and slideshow for this group and several of the members were interested in the paintings shown that I had done in gouache. A workshop was suggested to help them with their paintings in this medium.
For those of you who have not heard of this medium, think of it as a sophisticated poster paint. The origins of the medium is ancient, I think I read somewhere that it goes back to the time of the pharaohs (but I could be wrong there), but it had been used a lot in more recent time by designers, until computers took over the industry. I was introduced to it when I went to college on a graphics design course in the early ‘80’s – way before computers took over.
Personally I think it would be the ideal paint to start with (that or acrylics) as it’s very versatile and for beginners especially, you can paint over your mistakes! Everybody seems to start with watercolours, which is one of the hardest mediums as it’s very unforgiving in the sense that it’s not easy to correct or go over a mistake. To achieve good results with watercolour you seem to need to know exactly what you are going to do before you put paint to paper – the colours to use, where the paint goes, where everything is with regards to composition, lights and darks etc. There is not much margin for error or alterations as you go. Now gouache on the other hand is great for this….
Anyway, back to the workshop……..
So last Saturday, on a beautifully sunny day in Gloucester, I had ten ‘students’ to work with; some had used the medium before (mostly in conjunction with watercolours) and some were new to the paint completely. This was my first actual painting workshop (I have done quite a few for drawing and batik) so I was a little nervous and unsure how the day would go. I hoped I would be able to help them get along with the medium much better and that they would go away feeling like not only was it money well spent but that they had fun too.
It was a day-long workshop and they had each brought their own photograph to get inspiration and work from; so the challenges of each one was different. I chose not to do a demonstration at the start, mindful of the fact that the day started at 10am, finished at 4pm and had lunch and tea/coffee breaks as well; which equates to about four and a half hours to get a painting done. Not much time at all. So in my planning I decided to do a quick introduction and then get them painting as soon as possible. Going around each person in turn on a one-to-one basis, dealing with the problems they faced on an individual level. However in hindsight (and with the helpful suggestion of a few of the ‘students’), I am now aware that a demonstration would be invaluable at the start. It’s easy, when you have used a medium for years (about 26 years for gouache and me) to forget what it was like when you first started using it– things like how to mix and use it; things you give no thought to now, but which at the start were quite daunting. So, should I do another painting workshop, I would start off showing things like the different consistencies to use and the effects you get, how you put the paint on, how you can paint colour on top of colour, but keep it short and limited to little cameo ‘dabblings’ as opposed to painting a picture.
As I walked around I realised, as I saw how the ‘watercolourists’ were painting, that the concept of painting one colour on top of another was ‘foreign’ to them; as in watercolour the luminosity of the paint and light is achieved with washes thin enough to allow the whiteness of the paper to come through.
It was, understandably, hard for some to get their head around using the paint so thick that you couldn’t see the paper and that light and depth is achieved differently than with watercolours.
However, the work that the ‘students’ produced was very good when you consider that they only had a few hours to use a medium they were unfamiliar with or had not used before. I was very pleased with what they did and hope that they went away feeling as though they had learnt and achieved something new. I’m sure some will decide the medium is not for them but I hope a few were inspired enough to pursue it at a more leisurely pace in their own time at home.

Friday, March 02, 2007

So how DID you paint that? The finish

I will not capitulate to cantankerous cheetahs!

Only the cheetahs to do… Ha! Only!
I thought one day would do it, but it took me two. Two days of fighting with them to go right, to form in the paint as I wanted!
All started off so well… and I had them done in one day- I worked on them to about 8.30pm to make sure all I had to do to finish it off was just a little titivating when they were dry. Or so I thought! In the cold light of the following morning I sat in despair looking at what I
thought had gone comparitively well the day before. Disaster, stared at me in the face!
I had painted the spots using the wrong brush and my over-tired eyes had not notice they were all square and in the wrong places! Aaaaaggh!
The shadows weren’t strong enough. Aaaargh! The body was too short on one- despite looking fine in the prep drawing. Aaaargh! The legs looked wrong on the other. Aaaargh! Put it another way….. not much was right!
So painting over yesterdays work, I started again and probably because my eyes are still very tired and a bit strained from the intense bout of painting over the last week (they kinda feel like two hard aching lumps in my head) I struggled and struggled to get the cheetahs going right. I knew how I wanted them to be, but just could not make it happen.
Expletives abounded and once or twice an artistic tantrum sent a brush flying across the room. Maybe on another day I might have given up and walked away there and then during the morning’s attempt; but today was the last day I had to work on them if I wanted to submit it to the wildlife art auction I had been invited to put a piece forward for. So, I had to do it. I did walk away once or twice to stop me doing anything violent to the painting! But I stood back and pulled myself together, telling myself I would not be beaten by these cheetahs… This was a battle I had to win. They would be as I wanted them to be and I just had to get on with it and persevere. Eventually things started to come together and by 6pm, I am glad to say, I felt I had achieved what I needed to and with a sense of great relief signed my name in the bottom corner. Done!

Ah yes, painting is such a relaxing past-time!!! I have to say I am glad it’s finished… I am relatively pleased with the piece – can’t say I’m ever totally happy with anything I paint… always something I might have done better/different. That’s what keeps you going, the need to do better.

Here's an enlarged section of the painting.....

For those who are interested, here’s some arty facts about the painting…… Painted with oils (no one brand, whatever I get my hands on – in this case Windsor & Newton artist’ oil colour and Van Dyck Ferrario). Main colours used- titanium white, French ultramarine, alizarin crimson, chrome yellow deep and light. Adding smidgens of burnt sienna, indigo, and black. Using Windsor & Newton Liquin original to thin paint. I mostly used watercolour brushes (synthetic) sizes 00,1 & 4 round and size 0 rigger. Painted onto canvas - image size 36”x12¼” (914mmx310mm).

Now I have to photograph it and send a high res digital image to be judged in the selection process.