Sunday, May 20, 2007

Plein air painting

On Thursday of last week, a friend and I went field sketching as we hadn’t worked on any plein air landscapes lately. Our location was a beautiful piece of private land with open meadows, ancient woodland and ponds.

It was a short drive from home so we left as soon as my friend arrived after seeing her kids off to school. By the time we had got to our destination we had about four hours before we needed to set off again for my friend to get home to collect her kids from school. The weather was perfect and I couldn’t help but marvel at our good fortune on this the next day as it had been cloudy and rainy every day prior to our sketching day and it rained the day after too! Yet that day out sketching was bright, a few clouds but mostly sunny and really quite warm, great for us to sit for several hours to paint in. Both my friend and I are chilly mortals and sitting still for sometime we can get quite cold… it’s all to do with the circulation I think.

We wandered about for the first hour, just to see what was around, although we didn’t get to see half of the 140 odd acres we had to roam in. Down through the woods we went, where the spring growth was still sparse enough to let a fair amount of light through. I had been here twice before and it was always late summer when the woods were heavy with leaf and it was quite dark wandering along the tracks. There was a photo opportunity at every step, in my eyes, but I had to restrain myself aware of the time we had there and the need to get on with the aim of the day, which was to paint.

Because the undergrowth was not yet an impenetrable mass I saw a way down the steep slope the trees shrouded. “Hey, lets go down there.” I said
pointing to a deer track that cut it’s way down this steep embankment, thinking it was a good idea. “Not been on the lower slopes before.” So I led the way, valiantly down the steep track laden with rucksack, coat, tripod easel, large umbrella and my Dad’s precious camera. Of course, better sense would have taken into account all the rain we had over the last couple of weeks and the great gouges left by the deer hooves should have been sufficient warning. I did proceed with care, especially after it started getting very slippery underfoot but it was bound to happen. Crash! Down I went onto the wet ground and immediately felt the effects of a stinging nettle on my left wrist. It was quite funny really and I had a little giggle at my foolishness. Nothing got damaged and apart from the stings on my wrist I pretty much got away with it, even to the extent of not getting mud on me. Thankfully my friend made it down in a much more elegant and upright fashion.

We wandered some more and then headed back up through the wood to where we started. On our way, despite our relatively noisy progress, we saw a fox and a couple of roe deer, neither of which I had got on camera as I had it packed away. I let my friend chose the spot where we were to paint, which was a lovely spot at the beginning of our walk at the edge of an open meadow. For our plein air’s I was working in gouache and my friend chose oils. We set ourselves up and got down to the task of the day.

This is more or less the view I had.

I sat for sometime just absorbing the scene and deciding what I wanted to highlight and what I wanted to ignore or tone down. I thought about doing a series of cameo’s of the different dead, exposed branches reaching out beyond the leaf cover to start me off, but as time was pressing on I decided to go straight into the full scene. It was the tree that was the focus of my attention and if I painted the colours as close to life as possible, it would become quite a confused piece and the tree would look lost, as indeed it looks in the photo. So my plan was to ‘knock back’ the far line of trees by making their colours more subdued and to simplify their form. By making their colours slightly different to the main tree there would be less conflict and confusion too.

I started by putting in the blue sky and adding clouds. I used pinkish/grey tones to reflect a little of the warmth of the day but also to portray the darker clouds that skirted across the lower horizon. Then I put n the line of trees starting with the most distant ones on the left working across to the right. Then I mixed a dark-reddish brown and painted in the trunk of the ‘focus’ tree some of its main branches. Then I put on the leaves that visually sat behind said features and touched up the trunk and branches where they came in front of the foliage, adding highlights on the branches where the light filtered through. Then the foliage to the fore was added and then the branch that was sticking out towards me. Finally the grasses of the meadow were implied. Again I kept these to a minimum in colour and detail, as it was the tree that I wanted as the focus of attention. This sketch was done in under two hours, which worked out fine as it was then about time to pack up to leave but also the light direction and therefore the make-up of the scene changes too much after about 2-3 hours.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Zoo weeks

Finally finished the Aruba Island rattlesnake drawing in the last couple of weeks at work. My new specs making drawing a pleasure again. And then on Wednesday of this week I finally did some painting (after a enforced break of nearly 3 months!), the subjects were a male and female Von der Decken’s hornbill. The zoo has these two birds off show at present, awaiting an aviary revamp for them; so about a month ago I had gone to the off show area where they were housed to look at them and get some photo ref. The pair are juveniles, so I had to check the adult plumage from internet pictures and book information, photo’s and illustrations, against the pics I had taken. Once I was sure I had all the info I needed I could paint them in their adult plumage. It felt great to be painting again, even if it was just a small illustration. They were a lovely subject to do for my return to painting, pretty straightforward and I really enjoyed painting them.

Other jobs I have done over the last couple of weeks include a fair amount of computer work preparing I.D. signs for the aquarium species I have yet to do and updating the reptile I.D’s. Scraping clean a couple of interpretation panels in the tropical bird house from lime build-up from dried water droplets, where the keepers hose down the pathways and plants (I was watched closely by a Victoria crowned pigeon, a very large pigeon with an impressive mohawk crest of dainty feathers, I think he/she thought I might have the food he/she was waiting for). A sifaka line drawing, for the summer campaign (which is focused on Madagascar this year), that will be copied onto sheets for the kids visiting the display in the Education Centre to colour in. Also, I put together the photo and small amount of text for the false black widow spider display, which is presented as a framed picture mounted on the wall of the ‘town house’ area. So I played at being a handyman taking off the picture frame replacing the old info for the new species and screwing it back onto the wall.

That's what I like about my job, I'm never quite sure what I shall be doing the following day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Work delivered to Obsidian

Today I drove to Bucks to deliver Marion's (a great friend and fellow artist) and my work, ready for the exhibition; which starts on Thursday.
Of all the days to have to drive up! The first hour or so of the journey was in awful conditions, the rain was chucking it down and the amount of water on the motorway's surface.... well I'd have done better in a boat I think! All was reasonably fine until you had several cars in front and then half a miles' visibility was suddenly reduced to about 50 feet!!! Unbelievably there were too many drivers either going too fast or didn't have their lights on; or even worse both. The spray was like a whiteout effect hiding most cars completely despite being just a short distance in front.... in the circumstances I was glad I was making the journey on my own, as I really needed to concentrate...
I found the gallery quite easily and by that time at 4pm (2½ hour drive) it had stopped raining, in fact the drive after the first hour or so was okay, bit wet but at least I could see the cars in front of me!
Obsidian Art is a lovely little gallery tucked away on The Old Risborough Road along with a kid's mini goat farm and several other buisnesses. From the outside it looked incredibly small but the layout inside gives it a feeling of being in the TARDIS... just a shame David Tennant wasn't hanging around (for those overseas- I'm referring to a TV programme called Doctor Who). There was a lot of work already propped up against the walls on the floor, some fabulous pieces caught my eye as I wandered around after unpacking the work I had brought.
As I got the paperwork signed off I was delighted to be told that one of my pieces (The Hedgerow) was used on the exhibition invite/promo flyer along with a few others; that was a nice and unexpected surprise.
I 'bumped' into another fellow artist and her husband, who were there to drop off her work and after a quick chat with them both I got back in my car quickly... I had spied several lovely pieces of glass jewellery and some great ceramics that would make fabulous gifts... but alas..... this month has been quite expensive with a few vet bills and the car tax, so a quick getaway was needed before I succumbed to the temptation! Plus I wanted to make sure I got home in good light, just in case it rained again and was as bad as on the way up!
In comparison to the journey to Stoke Mandeville, the trip home was brilliant. The sun was out, the sky was blue, there was no road spray and I could see for miles! Got home in good time.
Fingers crossed now for the exhibition....

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Work in exhibition - Obsidian Art

I received news in the last week that three paintings I had submitted to an exhibition have all been accepted. The British Countryside, Flora and Fauna Exhibition runs from 17th May until 10th June at Obsidian Art in Stoke Mandeville, Bucks.

These are the three that I am putting into the exhibition.

Jay - batik on cotton
Inspiration came from a jay that visited our garden in the Spring of 2006. It's unusual to see jays in our neighbourhood, so I took as many reference photo's as I could whilst he/she made short work of the peanuts in one of my bird feeders.

The Hedgerow - gouache

I came upon this hedgerow whilst on a walk through the fields alongside the River Severn in Gloucestershire one summer. I was drawn in by the varying contrasts of the scene. Brightly lit fields and grasses against a deeply shaded hedgerow; warm greens, browns and yellows against the bluey cold shadows.

Dawn over Netham - oil on board
From the back of our house you can see out over the local recreation space, this has inspired one or two paintings in recent years. This one is of a sunrise when the mist hung heavy over the ground in a deep blanket. When I looked out of the window I thought... I gotta paint that!

The Auction

What a great evening that was! Although it was by ticket and invitation only, the room was packed and there was a great atmosphere surrounding the whole event.

I had travelled up to London with a friend of mine and we made a bit of a day of it; going for a ‘flight’ on the London Eye, as well as viewing the auction exhibition prior to a lovely Italian pasta meal, before going back for the champagne reception and the auction.

Auctions are funny old things… you can never tell what will grab the bidders and what will not. There were a few surprises with some works exceeding our expectations on how well they did and some just not attracting the bids like we would have thought.

All in all my cheetahs didn’t do as well as I had hoped; but then one always hopes for better, particularly when every pound counts both for conservation and ones own personal fiscal situation. I had really hoped that it would get into the estimate range, but I was up against several other paintings of cheetahs by well known artists, so I had the odds against me a little.

However, I am pleased with the sale price of £1,500; it came in on my original estimation and it’s great just to be a part of such an event supporting wildlife conservation.

Half of my painting’s sale price goes to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s conservation projects, which is a big chunk but I know it will be put to very good use and that’s a very satisifying feeling.

Last I heard the auction raised about £80,000 on the night….. a great evening for wildlife conservation.

Mouse lemur pencil commission

The problem with my eyes has meant I have had to hold off of doing any intense drawing/painting both at the zoo and at home. However, I was recently commissioned to do a small pencil drawing, which I really didn’t want to turn down, which I couldn’t say anything about until now….just in case the recipient had a look at this webpage. One of the senior keepers at the zoo has left for pastures new and I was asked to do a pencil drawing of his favourite animal, a mouse lemur, as his leaving present. He has now received his gift so I can now post a pic of it here.

The drawing was done on an A4 pastel board using HB, B, 2B, 7B and 9B pencils. It took me longer to do than normal (days instead of hours), due to the short amount of work I could do at any one time, but it was a lovely subject to do. The mouse lemur is a very small nocturnal primate (body and head length about 7”) and to get the reference I arranged with another keeper to go into the off-show area, where a pair were being housed, to get some quick photo reference when the recipient was not on duty. I couldn’t hang around long as the animals are shy and didn’t really like being disturbed by lights going on and two humans invading their space……… quite understandably. The male hid up in a nook at ceiling level so I couldn’t see much of him and the female retreated into one of their nestboxes. Unfortunately for her, she was the easiest to reach and see….. once she had been gently encouraged out onto a branch. There was no time for sketching, as my time in there was short; so it was a question of having a good look at them and taking numerous photo’s. To eliminate smudging I worked from the left hand side of the animal first with a separate sheet of paper under my drawing hand to protect the board’s surface. Each pencil stroke is done with regard to the direction in which the fur lies; starting with the hardest grade of pencil, and therefore palest, adding depth and darker tones with the softer grades. Not only do the softer grades give a blacker mark, they also have more of a grainy texture; I made use of this for the branch, using only the 9B, so that it looked rougher than the softer more delicate texture of the mouse lemur.