Thursday, August 30, 2007

This is yet another pastel drawing of Chandra, one of my favourite subject animals, he's the male Asiatic lion at Bristol Zoo Gardens. This drawing is special though. Special from the point of view of for whom it was done.

I was commissioned to do this piece for Mike, who has been Chandra and Moti’s keeper since they first arrived at the zoo some 11 years ago. Mike has just retired and this was his leaving present from the staff; he also received a gold watch for over 30 years of devoted work at the zoo, especially with his greatest love… the big cats.
Mike will be sadly missed; he was a great character and much loved by all. But I doubt our sadness at losing him barely touches the sense of loss he feels, now that he can no longer look after his beloved lions.

I finished this piece several weeks ago but obviously could not post it until after the presentation. I used Carbothello pastel pencils and a variety of stick pastels on an A3 pastel board. First, after tracing the drawing I spent a few days mulling over in an effort to get right, I put a thin gouache wash in a mid brown colour over the board. This was to 'knock back' the stark whiteness of the surface. I used the sticks to build up the deep smooth colours of the background first and then the pencils for the lion, where detail work was needed.
Being right-handed I worked left to right on the lion to avoid any mishaps with smudging by my hand. I had applied the background colours thickly, which gave a smooth velvet finish after much blending with my fingertips. This was easy to 'brush up' again at the end to ake away any residue dust from where I had worked on the lion.
Finally I put in some rough strokes to imply his usual bedding material of straw. I made no attempt to put Chandra into a natural background, as I wanted him to look as Mike knew him, without having the walls and features of his enclosure to distract the viewer.

Two-day Batik Workshop

I have been so lucky with my workshops, and this one was no exception; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Nature In Art, as always, a great venue and host. The workshop is part of their art course programme and I have done several with them over the last few years.
This year I tutored a lovely group of 9 ladies.

On day one, I took them through the batik process and we did a step by step ‘practise’ piece of a pansy head. The thinking behind this was for them to learn to use the tjantings in a controlled way, to see the effects of applying successive colours and to follow the process along with me hopefully helping the method to sink in.

I chose a pansy head as the patterns are quite variable and so allowing each student some leeway on detailing, errors and personal interpretation without any of the finished pieces looking wrong when completed.
Then I let them decide whether they needed more ‘practise’ or to spend the rest of the afternoon drawing up their masterpiece for the next day.

Day two and it was onto the masterpieces. This is the day I really love – when I see each student making their way, some more successively than others, through the process, making sense of it with their chosen subject matter and then steaming ahead.

As I walk around and the colours start singing out from the cotton I can see their subjects forming and I find it as exciting to watch someone build a piece up as it is to do one myself. At times it’s like being a child again and watching as Mum, or I, would brush water over the special book’s page with its printed drawing and colours suddenly appeared.. of course by magic!

There were some difficulties as the cool, damp weather kept the cotton on the cold side, which in turn cooled the wax as it came off the brushes and tjantings far more quicker than I would have liked. I thought August would be a good warm/hot month and problems like that would not occur and hamper the students work…. hmmmm… not this year! I had to try and keep a close eye on each students piece to check and point out when the wax hadn’t taken well and needed to be done again.

As always there are those that struggle to get their head round the light to dark, ‘suicide’ method of working and there are also those that grasp the concept quickly. And yet they are all equally keen and at times I would smile at the silence as they all slavishly worked over their batik frames. One or two even managed to get onto a second piece and finish it before the day was over… and there were one or two that just needed that little extra bit of time to
complete it. Staying a little later is no problem for me, I couldn’t bear to send them away with a piece almost, but not quite, done.

And as always I am proud and pleased by the work they produce. Two days to learn and familiarise yourself with a new technique and then produce a finished piece, is a lot to do in such a short amount of time. But they all did it admirably and I hope they enjoyed the weekend as much as I did.

Here you can see some of the students working on their batiks. In the foreground they are applying either colour or wax to the stretched cotton and the two ladies behind are drying the fabric with hairdryers.
On the table surrounding the central waxpot is an array of brushes, tjantings, silk paints, water pots, kitchen roll and pipettes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Penguins get into SWLA exhibition

Well... there's a surprise... a very nice one and so good to be wrong on this occassion. Of the two I submitted, my penguin painting has been accepted. So I shall be hoping to get myself up to London for the Preview on the 25th September.

I have two friends who have also submitted - one knows she has had one of her two submitted silkscreens accepted and the other.... well she's still in Austria and so won't know the news, of whether any or all of her submitted work got in, 'til the weekend. Both have exhibited at the SWLA before.

Monday, August 20, 2007

SWLA exhibition

I have submitted two pieces for the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. These are my two chosen works.

To be honest, I'm not really expecting to get accepted as I think my work is far too representational for selection. However, it has been some years since my last couple of attempts and I was persuaded that 'nothing ventured- nothing gained' should be my approach on this. After such a good week at NIA for my residency week I felt I could afford the costs of entry and transportation to and from the Mall Galleries. Also I have been told that the recent exhibitions of the last few years have shown an increase in representational work.

'Tangle of Kelp' is my star piece at the moment so that was an obvious choice and the one I was persuaded to enter. I also thought I'd try one of my batiks and chose the 'Painted hunting dog' as it was my most 'painterly' piece.

Fingers crossed... and I'll keep you posted.

Paintings sold during residency at Nature In Art

'The Two Hunters' - Oil on canvas
This piece is so called because it not only has a male leopard as the subject matter, there is also a praying mantis hiding amongst the twigs and branches. I used my own 'pet' mantis, called Isis, as the model. I had her sat on my hand at one point to paint her!

'Male magnificent frigatebirds' - Gouache on board
On one of the cruise trips I did in 2002, we saw these birds frequently in the Caribbean and Panama Canal. These are great birds to watch as they hang on the air currents with hardly a wingbeat and I love the 'pointiness' and prehistoric look to them. Interestingly, I found out that males rarely fly with the females and juveniles. These two we were able to watch, photograph and video for a very long time whilst ashore in CuraƧao. They flew in and around the seaquarium we were visiting, sometimes just a metre or two above our heads!

'Little egrets' - Batik on cotton
Of course they're not really blue... this was just a play in tonal colours on a white birds. We have had this species at the zoo for many years, although ours have pink feet rather than the normal yellow. A little research shows that these may possibly be a Philippine region sub-species although no record of their lineage exists, as the original birds came to the zoo many years ago and the birds we have now are their descendants. Intriguing!

'Jaguar' - Batik on cotton
No, sadly I have not seen this species in the wild - hence the non-descript background. I actually saw these animals in a zoo on a very cloudy and wet day. A crowd was gathered round their enclosure as three of these beautiful animals dozed - saving their energy for the 'main sleep' (as was once said on the TV comedy 'Red Dwarf'). When the clouds opened up and rain fell heavy and hard, the gathered crowd scattered to find shelter. I stayed and was rewarded by all three jags getting up to 'dance and play' in the rain. It was a joyful sight indeed, to watch how lithe and graceful these powerful heavy cats moved.

'Flamingos' - Batik on cotton
These are based on the greater flamingos at Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in Gloucestershire. The original idea was to concentrate on the reflections in the dark water but on completion I preferred the story that was happening in amongst the group - something which I had composed very carefully in the planning stages but had not intended to be the main focus. As the batik took shape it became obvious that this was the more interesting aspect of the piece.

Artist in Residence at Nature In Art

On Sunday 29th I got the call to say that all was ok for me to stay at the farmhouse B&B Nature In Art uses to board the artists in their Artist In Residence programme. It had been cut off during the flood, but now there was normal access and plenty of bottled water. I was delighted… Sally’s, or ‘home’ as I often find myself calling it when I’m there, is a fabulous old farmhouse set in surroundings of rolling fields and beautifully kept gardens. It’s a fabulously restful place to be in with great views and a friendly homey atmosphere, so I was really happy to be staying there again… makes my week away feel like a real holiday.

So all Sunday and Monday morning was spent running around getting all I needed for the week, personal and work-wise, up together and ready for loading in the car midday on Monday. As usual I questioned my preparations…. ‘Did I have everything?’ ‘Was all the reference/art materials I needed packed?’ Did I have enough cards and promo leaflets printed?’ “Did I have enough labels?” etc, etc, etc. Too bad if I didn’t – no time left, I had to leave.

Setting up the room on Monday afternoon at Nature In Art was strange…. My friend Julie wasn’t able to be there until the next morning to set-up her stuff, and I had forgotten my CD player, so it was all a bit quiet really… we usually have great fun doing our respective displays at the same time with some music cranked up loud (as the place is shut on Monday’s we can get away with this behaviour) and us chatting-full of enthusiasm at the week ahead.

My expectations of the week, to be honest, weren’t high for this year. With the flood waters only just receded, many homes having no mains water and many businesses in Gloucester shut down for the duration…. I wasn’t expecting many people to visit and certainly wasn’t expecting anyone to be spending money as such. I figured there’d be too many other things to sort out and finance for most people in the area – even if they were aware that Nature In Art was open.

Much to our surprise, the week went remarkably well. Firstly the weather was on the whole beautifully warm and even hot for several days. Once again our luck with the weather had held out! This was a bit of a shocker considering the previous two to three months had been of almost daily rain. And the weather since our residency week has turned back to cooler temperatures, rain and cloudy days! How lucky were we!

The visitor numbers weren’t as high as they normally would be, but nevertheless I was surprised at the good attendance under the circumstances. Once again we met some lovely people, both new and ‘old’ faces, artists and non-artists. Some come in and wander round, others watch you work, some chat for just a minute or so and then there’s those you have really good long conversations with about art –your work and their work, travelling, and obviously this year a frequent topic was the flood situation and how people coped.

We even had a local news TV crew come in and film us on our second day there! The idea was to show that Nature In Art was open again to encourage visits; so they interviewed, Jackie, the Education Officer and filmed us for a little bit. As the cameraman was right at Julie’s shoulder and seemed to be focused on her… I carried on painting behind my tabletop easel thinking I had got away with not being filmed. Only when I spoke to my Dad later that evening did I find out that I hadn’t and could be clearly seen across the table… although my Dad did say I looked very serious and joked that he didn’t recognise me because of that fact!

I even got some work done! I managed to do some more of a pastel commission I had been working on and also get back to that wildebeeste calves oil piece I had started back earlier in the year!

The whole point of doing the residency is for people to be able to see an artist at work and to chat to them. However, now and again, sales are made. In the past my sales have always been with my greetings cards… but this year sent me into somewhat of a shell-shocked state, as I sold five of my framed originals! See my next post for images) I felt incredibly elated and embarrassed at the same time. Julie usually does much better on the sales than me and I know how I felt in previous years when my work didn’t ‘go out of the door’ in the same way. Whilst I’m dead chuffed for my friend’s good fortune, it can be somewhat disheartening and depressing not to be doing in any way as well. So with the tables unusually turned this year, I felt for my friend… I know she was happy for me, but I knew she must have been feeling down…. After all we all need the cash to keep us going and paying the bills and though she sold a couple of pieces, it wasn’t near what she usually sold during our residency week.

To add to our good week, we both came away with the contact details of a couple who run a wildlife art gallery in Holland, who were interested in taking both our work at some point. So that was something else to smile about and look forward to in the future.

And how did we get on with the water situation? We used bottled water for the whole week for drinking, brushing teeth and food prep and cooking, although the mains water supply was functioning again early in the week enabling proper flushing of loo’s and the all clear was given for using the tap water for drinking etc, but only after it had been boiled, during the weekend. We faced no hardship or inconvenience at all. However the reminders were abundant that, prior to our arrival, things had been different. There was the sad sight of houses, pubs and businesses with household items, computer equipment, carpets, furniture etc piling up on front lawns and driveways. There was a very strong ‘wet dog’ smell coming off the land left muddied by the flood waters. Crops flattened, rotting and covered in silt in the fields.