Sunday, November 01, 2009

Getting the elephants into print

In October I took the elephant painting to a digital printer in Clevedon, SkyBlue Digital, to get limited edition gicleés done of it. Because of the painting’s dimensions I didn’t want to reduce the image too much from its 36”x11” size as I fear it would lose it’s impact; so the first proof will be at a slightly reduced size. Once I see that, I can decide whether I would prefer it to be full size or not.

The process has started and I have now seen two different proofs over the last few weeks and have decided the slightly smaller size is fine, but some colour changes needed to be made and some shadowing from paint ridges ‘knocked back’.

My fourth visit to the printer’s has resulted in another wait for another colour proof. Whilst the other anomalies have been corrected, the one of the colour of light on the elephants remains. I’m hoping the printer can get it from the whitish colour, at present, closer to the warm yellow of the original oil painting. I am being a bit pedantic about this as it’s an important aspect of the painting in that it sets the time of day and the lighter colour makes the painting look too light and changes the mood of the piece.

Hopefully my next visit will be the last, except for when I return to collect the finished batch of prints.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer School

20 – 24 July 2009

This was my second time as one of the tutors at the ‘Arts & Crafts Summer School’ held at Beaufort Community School in Gloucester, England by the Gloucester Arts & Crafts Group. Over the week a mix of 2, 3 and 5 day workshops are held covering all sorts of art and craft skills such as calligraphy, botanical art, pastels, oils, chair making, mosaics, glass engraving, beadwork and willow weaving to name but a few.

Once again I had a 5-day batik workshop to run and although I only had 4 students booked for my workshop it worked well as each student therefore had plenty of room to work in and around the waxpots. Three of the ladies, Del, Hazel and Jenny, were with me last year; it was lovely to see them again and as we now know each other that bit better it was great having them feel that they knew me well enough for a bit of fun and banter. Carol was new, so whilst I could pretty much leave the other ladies to forge ahead with their exploration of batik, this meant I was on hand to help her as much as she needed as well as do a couple of projects myself in between.

We started the week on Day One with basic skills of using the wax, brushes, tjantings (batik pens) and the silk paints. Those who had previously done batik with me had the option of cracking straight on with their own projects or refreshing themselves with the step-by-step basic exercises.
They opted for the latter and said they found it very useful as there were some important or useful tips/techniques that they had forgotten.

On Day Two I took Carol step-by-step through a pansy head design, whilst the others started their own projects. Carol was finding it tricky getting her head around the technique (as do most who are new to the medium); throughout the week she battled on bravely and produced some lovely pieces to take home. She did very well and I hope she enjoyed her first foray into batik, her last piece in particular showed great promise should she wish to do more.

It’s not unusual to find the medium hard to understand and think your way around at first; I have found that the ratio is about half and half between those that seem to pick it up straight away and those that need time (like a few days) to work it out. It can be difficult to understand the technique and process, particularly when approaching a piece of work more involved than a couple of colour and wax applications. An understanding of colour mixing helps enormously and being able to think of a picture in reverse and in ‘layers’ when ‘painting’ helps too. I find a 5-day workshop is great for those new to batik as it gives them time to get to grips with the medium and learn to understand the process and then when the penny drops they are ‘away’ and can have real fun with it. Doing shorter workshops of one day or even two days is pretty full on and there’s far too much to take in and get your head around if you are finding it tricky. Once the penny does drop it’s like an ‘Eureka!’ moment, and I love to see that happen and then see what the student produces after that.

Day Three, Four and Five the ladies concentrated on their own projects taking inspiration from images they found in books or their own photographs. Here's some of their work from the week.

Del, Hazel and Jenny were very productive, as I expected them to be having done batik before and it was great to see them getting more adventurous and experimental with their batiks. Salt was used quite a bit this year as they played with the differing effects you can get with both fine and coarse grain salt crystals.

Whilst everyone was busy and not requiring my immediate attention I did a couple of little projects to show them the sort of things you can do with batik to make them into something more than a picture to frame. I pinned two pansy head batiks to a cushion (perhaps I should sew them into a proper cushion cover!), did a chameleon batik on a cotton bag and made a ‘wrap round’ for a lampshade. I wanted to give them ideas and think beyond the square of cotton they were working on. Hazel took up the challenge of a bag with a lily head and I hope seeds of ideas have been planted for possible future use into all of their minds.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elephants of Amboseli

This is my latest painting, I have provisionally entitled it 'Waiting for the stragglers'.

Oils on canvas on board - 36" x 11" (92mm x 28mm)

During a stay in Amboseli N.P. Kenya in 1999, we observed these elephants for sometime. They were some way off, but heading in our direction so we stopped and waited. I got my camcorder focused on them and just let the film roll and roll. I love to capture movement and behaviour, something obviously that can't be achieved with just a photograph. Re-watching the footage back home enables me to study the movement and behaviours and the sounds help to evoke memories of temperature and smells; stirring my senses. This all helps me to try and get the feel of the moment so that I can hopefully paint the scene better.

A little way off from us they stopped and I wondered if we were the reason - were we in the way? Should we move on? Pretty soon it was clear that they were, in fact, waiting for more elephants to join them, scattered individuals approaching slowly from far off on their right. Once they had all caught up the elephants moved off together, seemingly after the big elephant at the back moved first. Was she the matriarch?

They unhurriedly made their way towards us, all was quiet in the morning sunshine. A few birds could be heard and the occasional insect buzzed by, but hardly a sound came from the elephants. As they got closer, and with all in the vehicle in hushed awe and wonder, you could just hear the footfalls and sound of skin rubbing against skin as they walked. The littlest ones trotting to keep up at times with the huge languid strides of the adult females. It was truly magical. The only alien sound to ruin it were the whirs and clicks of our cameras, but that was inevitable as we were all trying to get as many photo's as we could.

At the time, as I recorded the video, I was thinking.. one day I'm going to paint this. And finally I have. I started the painting last year and as I have not been able to paint it continuously, it's been done in dribs and drabs. It's good to finally get it finished.

With any luck I shall get prints done of the painting and I would like to sell the original piece so that I can put a good portion of the money towards my Africa fund, to enable me to get out there and paint more elephants for the Elephants for Africa Trust.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Zoo work update

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.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Batik donated to Elephants for Africa

Last weekend I popped along to the annual Bristol Festival of Nature event. My first stop was to the marquee housing many conservation organisation stands. Elephants for Africa, who I have mentioned in previous posts, were in this marquee and I was delivering one of my batik pieces to them in the hope that they can use it in whatever way they see fit to raise some funds for their work with elephants in Botswana. Dr Kate Evans, who is the founder of the charity, hopes to auction it off at a fund raising event sometime in the near future.

And in case you have no idea what batik is... by applying hot melted wax to a surface (in this case, cotton) a 'resist' is formed. This enables colour to be painted/dyed over the entire surface
and the colour 'takes' only where the surface is free of wax. In this way, by applying successive applications or 'layers' of wax and colour, an image is created... the more layers of colour and wax the more complex the image. In this case over 20 layers/applications of colour and wax were used.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Batik workshop with TWASI

In the latter part of last month I tutored a batik workshop for The Wildlife Art Society International. Their annual exhibition was held at The Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery in Gloucestershire and they organised a few workshops to run in conjunction with the exhibition.

I had seven ‘students’ in my ‘class’, all but one or two of which were fellow artists and as such they had a good grasp of colour mixing etc so it was just a case of getting to grips with the medium itself… as they were all new to it.

After having a quick try out on a small frame to g
et used to the equipment and techniques, they had, by lunchtime, progressed onto the big frame and their ‘proper piece’ of batik. The process, technique and understanding of how to create an image is a lot to take in and to get a finished piece done in one day is a big ask of them. Unsurprisingly there were one or two that didn’t ‘click’ with the medium til late in the day. This I always expect and try to reassure those students that it will come in time. It can be really tricky to get your head around the process and whilst some can ‘fall’ into it straight away, there are many that struggle to understand where they are going with it at first. I realise how disheartening and frustrating this must be and so I find it most rewarding when I see ‘the penny drop’ with them and suddenly they’re away and enjoying themselves much more. But for some it may take several attempts over a few days (this is where a 5-day workshop really comes into its own) and trying to push them in one day is unfair and I feel for them the frustration of not being able to do what they would like to achieve. There was at least one lady who felt she didn’t get to grips with it but I hope despite that, she had a good day and what she did produce she can be really proud of.

In the group there was one man, and his wife and cousin (who were also among the students) were most impressed that he used the iron (to remove the wax at the end of the process)… apparently something he normally stays well clear of and so photographic evidence was taken! What a thing to do to a guy!

At the end of the day they all produced some fabulous pieces and one student was so keen on this new medium that she went away with details of what to get and where, to have a go herself at home. Fantastic... a convert! She had been looking for a medium that suits her style of working and had so far not found anything satisfactory… but she was very enthused by the batik. So I hope she has fun exploring the medium at home and it turns out to be what she’s looking for.

As I knew most of the group it was particularly lovely to spend the day with them playing with arty stuff and hopefully they had as much fun learning about batik as I did teaching them. Here’s some of their work…..

Thursday, April 30, 2009

April's WWT Slimbridge visit

Recently I visited WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire to view the current art exhibition on display in the Cheng-Kim Loke Wildlife Gallery there. My friend, and fellow artist, Marion and I are to have an exhibition ourselves there in 2010, so we plan to take a look at each exhibition prior to ours to see what’s selling and what’s not, the range of prices, prints and ideas of presentation etc... a bit of market research, if you like. We did the same for our last exhibition there in 2006 and it proved very useful to us.

Also the plan for the day was to go out in the grounds and get some sketching done. Unfortunately we could not make it an all day visit as Marion has to get home for her children after school… but in a way it helps having the shorter time span, as it focuses you on the task in hand. So after looking around the exhibition and taking notes we set off around the various outdoor areas to find a spot to sit and sketch.

Weather-wise it was a beautifully warm sunny day and we were not keen to go in a hide where it would no doubt still be chilly at this time of year. We found a good spot in the Australia area…. Kind of fitting since we’ve not long returned from that part of the world on the cruise. Marion sat and did some watercolour sketching of the backdrop of trees of the lake area, whilst I settled on a bench not too far away with my binoculars and camera at the ready.

I had in mind that I would concentrate on just one species and the Australian wood (maned) ducks – Chenonetta jubata, caught my eye that day.

I use the binoculars to help me get in close to see the subject better for sketching and with the camera I take a number of photo’s for future reference, should I wish to one day draw or paint the subject properly.

When I sketch I try to spend as much time observing the subject as I do actually drawing it. This helps me understand how it moves and what regular body postures it adopts. I can also study its form and take mental note of where the legs join the body, where the features such as eyes and, in this case, beak are placed on the head. I’m learning the anatomy and form of my subject by looking very intently at it. Then when I come to put pencil to paper I already have an idea of where I should be drawing my lines.

I am not trying to do a detailed study of the animal… I’m basically taking notes to learn its shape and form. Sometimes I just sketch part of the animal like the head or foot. I use shading purely to suggest form and try to keep it to as few strokes as possible.

So I end up with a lot of barely-started or half-finished scribblings…. And that’s fine because they are all part of my learning process of the subject.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drawing workshop

On Saturday 21st I tutored a drawing for beginners workshop organised by Mandy Leivers of The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project (AGDWP). Everyone who had booked turned up so we had a full room of 17 people, which gave me a really nice group to work with. There was a mix of abilities from beginners to the much more competent, which makes for an interesting class.
After the necessary teas and coffee to start, Mandy did a brief introduction and then I quickly ran through some drawing techniques. I just had a short time to do this so that they could get onto the practicalities of drawing as soon as possible.
When I do a workshop with AGDWP the aim is to highlight the wonderful area and wildlife of the Gorge and Downs; which is just a few minutes walk from the zoo, where the AGDWP is based and where we also hold the workshops. Usually a workshop is divided into time spent walking or sitting up on the Downs or viewing the Gorge to get inspiration and time spent indoors doing the art activity. But today with the focus on wildlife, although there is plenty of wildlife there, it cannot be guaranteed to be on view long enough or close enough. So today we were staying in the classroom with the option in the afternoon of going out into the zoo to sketch either the native species that can be seen around the grounds or the exotics of the zoo’s collection. We had the use of a number of stuffed mammal and bird specimens that were kindly on loan to AGDWP for the workshop by the city’s museum. Mandy had specifically chosen the species to reflect what can be seen around the Gorge and Downs; so we had a badger, fox, hedgehog, squirrel, barn owl, jay, green woodpeckers to name a few. In the morning we practised our drawing skills on them and to help prepare them for life sketching in the afternoon I gave them the challenge of speed drawing exercises, which really makes you focus and if done regularly can hone your eye and hand to looking for and drawing only the important and necessary lines for form.
After lunch most opted to go out in the zoo grounds, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, to sketch and draw. Several stayed in the room, with me, to continue practising on the ‘non-moving’ subjects. By 3pm everyone was back for a refreshing cup of tea and piece of cake whilst we had a ‘viewing’ of what everyone had done that day. As I walked around looking at their work I was pleased to see stronger more confident drawings and hope that they all went away from the day having learned something, however small, that will help them with their drawing and sketching in future.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cruise Trip on MV Oriana

It’s been about two weeks since I got back from my cruise trip. I had hoped to post a couple of entries during my trip, but obviously that didn’t happen. So I shall attempt a run down now. Um… it’s a long one, so I hope you are sitting comfortably!

As I mentioned before I am one of P&O’s art tutors that they engage on short-term contracts. I work at the zoo for 9 months of the year enabling me to take a cruise contract between the beginning of January and the end of March. I have done this for the last two years. Last year I went on my own but this year I took a friend and fellow artist, Marion, as my assistant.

This year I was contracted for a 5-week trip starting from San Francisco and ending up in Hong Kong.
Our first Port of Call (PoC) was in effect San Francisco, but after being awake for over 24 hours for our journey from the UK, by the time Marion and I were clear to leave the ship (after safety drills, paperwork etc) we were way too tired and could only muster the energy to sink into our beds. So we didn’t get to see the city or us sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge around midnight!

So then we had 4 days at sea, starting my art class on the first one. This year I had one class every sea day and it was later in the afternoon, which meant that for most days Marion and I could relax and enjoy being on the ship.

I started the class off on drawing. There are many different ways of approaching drawing and I showed them a couple of techniques that I use and have found beneficial to students, particularly those who are unconfident with or new to drawing. These are drawing with shapes (I have covered this a few times in my posts on here), using negative space to place, more easily, protruding features like limbs and heads, and alignment lines to check the positioning of different aspects of the drawing.

Honolulu was our next stop and Marion and I went scuba diving. I had never been before but had always wanted to do it. Unfortunately things didn’t go well for me and I was unable to do a dive. A childhood fear resurfaced to such a degree that I panicked and couldn’t control my breathing to be able to go under. This is something I will conquer another time. My friend Marion did a dive but suffered badly from being unable to equalise the pressure in her ears. So, not a terribly successful day for us; but I wouldn’t have missed it, as it was still quite an experience.

Then we had another 4 days at sea and in the classes we progressed our drawing, it was amazing how quickly most of them improved in their application and confidence. Did a few speed drawing exercises with them, which they seemed to enjoy. Then just before the next PoC I demonstrated painting with gouache. Most of them hadn’t used the medium before, some had never heard of it. But once they had seen how versatile a medium it was I think they were keen to have a go with it.

Then we were in Tutuila, American Samoa which seems to be referred to a lot by the main town on the island… Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) By now the temp had gone up to the mid 30’sC and around 90-95% humidity. Very toasty. Marion and I had a fantastic day with a taxi driver called Vasco; who despite his car conking out on the steep hillsides in the bid to get us to see a seabird colony and fruit bats gave us a wonderful day with his humour, friendliness and interesting info on his people and the island. We saw bats - just not in the original place we intended, had a lovely scenic drive along the coast (once his car had recovered from overheating), saw a fab little beach and cove with no-one else around but a female tropicbird feeding her chick and a kingfisher. Great day… lovely people the Samoans.

Then 1 day at sea. It should have been 2 really by the calendar, but as we crossed the international date line from east to west, we ‘lost’ a whole day. So for us, the 8th of February just didn’t happen, we went from midnight on the 7th straight to the 9th! The class got started on a painting of a landscape in American Samoa on that one sea day. I was taking them through it stage by stage; painting and explaining consistency and colour mixes as I went. And so that there was no hurry, I had planned that this project would take about 3 classes.

The following day we were in Fiji. Marion and I had paid to go on a passenger tour to ‘Beachcomber Island’ It was about an hours journey by catamaran to the island and it was beautifully idyllic. Like we had arrived in paradise. For Marion and myself the day was spent snorkelling in the warm shallow clear waters around the island. We saw heaps of fish, starfish, sea cucumbers, a coral reef and 3 foot long reef sharks that swam round us, checking us out. Such a fantastic day!

After Fiji there were 2 days at sea where we continued with the landscape in art class. Some are finding it difficult to overcome the watercolourists’ habit of using the paint very thinly or washy. Which is how watercolour should be used, but gouache can be used thick so that it is opaque and you get its best qualities then.

Then for the next two days were were in New Zealand – Tauranga and Auckland consecutively. These days were spent mostly shopping as the ship hadn’t got any stock of gouache on board and I was fast running out of the small supply I had taken. So the search was on to find some gouache… easier said than done! But we got a few tubes in the end in Auckland. Hopefully the ship was able to get some ordered for us. So, Tauranga - we wandered the shops and harbour area along the sea front to a small park and Auckland we did the shop run in the morning and in the afternoon headed out to the gannet colony which is on the mainland! We had met a tour operator/guide called Paul and he was just great. We had another fantastic day with him, such a great chap. The gannets were awesome and I can’t begin to tell you how many photo’s were took of them between us!

After Auckland we had 2 days at sea where the class started another paint along project.. this time to try fur techniques. So I got them painting a portrait of a New Zealand Huntaway dog. Again this was to be worked over several classes.

Then we were in Sydney and we had such a full day here. First we went to The Rocks to do some shopping, then we went for a half hour ride on the chauffeur ridden Harleys (… Sooo much fun and thrilling! Then the afternoon was spent in the Botanical gardens getting a heaped dose of our wildlife fix with the birds and fruit bats (flying foxes) there. As evening drew in (the ship was here til midnight) we went for a meal in an Italian restaurant before going back to the ship and collapsing happy and tired in our beds.

The next day was at sea and they finished the dog off in class. By now there are just a few still not in the habit of using the paint thickly.. and some were already starting to really get the feel for the paint and were doing some lovely work with it.

Then we were in Brisbane. Marion and I took the sea-cat ferry along the river into town from where the ship was moored. We walked through the Botanical Gardens there, such a beautiful place and then over the Goodwill footbridge to the South bank where we walked along to the next bridge that took us across to Queen Street. A fabulous meal in a Chinese restaurant sated our huge appetite after our 3 hour walk and then, restored, we did a little shopping.

Another day at sea followed Brisbane and a new project for the class. This time, using the gouache wet into wet and then using a different brush technique for doing grasses.

The day after we were supposed to go to Hamilton Island in the Whit Sunday Island group on the Barrier Reef. But apparently they didn’t want a big ship in that day, so we went to Airlie Beach on the Australian mainland instead. At Airlie Beach the ship was anchored off shore and we were ferried in on catamarans, from the PoC. Marion and I walked from the wharf where the catamaran dropped us along the Bicentennial Walkway to the Lagoon. This was an artificial pool area made so that you can swim safely at this time of year when the waters along the coast are rife with not so friendly jellyfish. We spent the day just sitting back and relaxing here. We’d had a few busy PoC’s and felt the need to basically do nothing much. However there was plenty of interest there as the place was buzzing with birds – friarbirds, white-breasted wood swallows and figbirds to name just a few.

Overnight we sailed north and the next morning we were at anchor again, this time off of Yorkie’s Knob. From there Marion and I split up for the day. She went white water rafting on a trip organised by the ship and I went into Cairns on the shuttle bus service provided and ended up at t Cairn’s Wildlife Dome. This was a glass dome at the top of a building housing a casino. In the dome it was planted out with tropical rainforest plants and had various bird, reptile, mammal and insect species from the Australian rainforests. Got some lovely reference shots of birds we had seen so far in Australia.

The next day we were at sea again for just one day and the class finished the painting of the long grasses, some added the serval that was in my original painting. They are by now coming on leaps and bounds with the paint. Some are still persevering and unsure about it but there are also some definite converts.

The following day we were in Rabaul in New Britain, which is a long thin island off of the east coast of Papua New Guinea. This was an awesome day too… the volcano was putting on a very dramatic show of smoking and was extremely impressive. However, once on land the reality of the consequences of such a spectacular sight are brought firmly home as you witness how the locals have to live with it. They were lovely cheery people seemingly abandoned by their government whose long held promise to evacuate them still hadn’t happened since the volcano’s last eruption in 94. Asthma was rife amongst the people, especially the children and it wasn’t hard to understand why as the fine ash from the smoking volcano fell constantly and covered everything around. Dry ash as fine as talc powder was lifted into the air with each footstep and vehicle that drove by. The vegetation and trees looked yellowish and ‘sickly’ and though the market had lots of food, we were told that has to be brought in as it was as good as impossible to grow any crops around the town of Port Simpson, which was where we were.

Then the last 5 days were at sea and in class I had given them free rein to paint what they liked. There’s nothing more inspiring than painting what you like to paint. So now that they had grasped the fundamentals and were running with it, it was time for them to go it alone. Marion and I were on hand walking round the class helping and advising when needed. This is the most rewarding time for me, as I can see the improvements individuals have made. Their enthusiasm for what they are doing is great and I feel really proud that those who had not been very confident, were more so now. And it’s all down to them and their willingness to give it a try and persevere.

Then we were in Hong Kong and were flown homewards, only glimpsing this city from the decks of the ship and through the cars windows as we were taken to the airport.

Marion did a great job as my assistant, it was her first time on ship and she suffered a few days from motion-sickness when the seas got a little choppy. Other than that she had a great time, I think.

What a fabulous trip we had. We had some amazing times in our Ports of Call; unforgettable times both ashore and on the ship. There were some crew and passengers that I had met before on the ship and it was really lovely to see them again. The ship herself was, as ever, a beautiful place to spend 5 weeks and I hope one day to go back. At the moment I don’t know when that will be, if ever, as some things have changed beyond my control. So sadly that might have been my last teaching cruise. It’s not quite my last time on a P&O ship as my friend Julie and her fiancé Hans are getting married in July and are taking a few close family and friends on a short cruise at the beginning of July on Artemis. So I am looking forward to that in many ways.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Up coming workshops for 2009.... so far

I have three workshops booked so far for this year… if you are in the area and would like to find out more please go to the relevant links in my Links list on the right of this page.

Drawing workshop
21st March
A beginner’s guide to drawing wildlife
Spend a day with Bristol Zoo’s Illustrator Su Lees. Discover simple skills and techniques to make your wildlife drawings come to life.
Suitable for everyone, including the artistically challenged!
Held in the Education Building at the zoo.
Please contact Mandy Leivers at the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project – see Links list.

Batik workshops
28th & 29th March
A two-day workshop for those that have tried batik and want to improve and for those that have never ‘had a go’ before, here’s your chance in the wonderful, friendly and inspiring setting of the Museum.
Please contact the Nature In Art Gallery and Museum - see Links list.

20th - 24th July
The Gloucester Arts and Crafts Summer School
A 5-day workshop, for beginners and improvers. The Summer School also has many other workshops (2,3 & 5 day) covering a diverse range of arts and crafts.
If you are interested in my workshop or any others they might have during the week, please leave a message in my guestbook and I will send you the contact details for the organizer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Up—coming Cruise

Yup! It’s finally come round! My second time as art tutor on a cruise ship starts on 27th Jan when I ‘join’ the good ship ‘Oriana’ in San Francisco. Only this time I shall have the company of my good friend, Marion, who will be my Assistant to help me in the art classes. Of course those that know me, or remember previous posts on this subject, know that this isn’t the second time I shall be cruising the high seas…. I was myself an assistant to another good friend of mine, Julie, back in 2002 & 2003. So this will actually be my 6th time on the magnificent ships of P&O.
The trip is 5 weeks long and takes us from San Francisco to Honolulu (Hawaii), Tutuila (American Samoa), Fiji, Tauranga and Auckland in New Zealand, Sydney, Brisbane, Whit Sunday Islands and Cairns in Australia, New Britain (Papua New Guinea) and finally Hong Kong, from where we are flown home.
Quite a journey and the first time for my friend Marion on a cruise ship, so she is particularly excited. I can’t wait to show her around the ship and I wonder if her face will be as mine was on my first meeting with the big white ships… all agog!

My job onboard is to teach drawing and painting to the passengers, which we shall be doing every ‘sea day’(that is – when we are not in port). I am looking forward to meeting the passengers I have met before again and, of course, some new passengers.

What I am finding quite surreal is that my friend Julie (and her fiancé Hans) will be joining the ship as we leave it, to take over as the art tutor for the last 5 week ‘leg’ back to the UK. When I did my first cruise trip as her assistant in ’02, I would never have imagined such a situation. Yet here we are, a few years on, and it just feels a little strange… but good strange. Because of the opportunities she gave me to travel as her assistant and her encouragement (bordering on bullying!), Julie has introduced me to a bigger world, both for work and travel… I thank her so much for that.

I shall endeavour to post ‘ship’s logs’ during our journey, as I did last year, and in my Links list you can find the ship’s webcam; so, if you wish, you can see where we are on our journey… and maybe even catch us standing in front of the webcam!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Christmas commissions

I had two commissions to do for Christmas presents, and have been reluctant to post any pictures of them until after Christmas as I wanted to make sure the recipients had received their gifts. But because things have been so busy I haven’t been able to get round to putting the post here until now.

The ‘lion up a tree’ was lovely to do… lovely because it was a big cat and it seems far too long since I have painted one. So just that fact alone made it enjoyable to paint. I really did enjoy doing this guy…. he looks just so relaxed. It was also pretty straightforward technically, as the commission remit was to reproduce a photo taken by the person who was to receive it as a present; although they didn’t know it was coming.
It was painted in oils on canvas (16”x20”). I did a little enhancement here and there; mainly bringing more colour and form to the lion and tree branches and created more depth, by ‘knocking back’ the background by ‘misting’ it over slightly with a pale translucent glaze. I also shifted the composition slightly up and left of the original photo, so added more foliage and branching to the right and bottom of the image to make up the missing sections.

The other commission was technically a wee bit harder and challenging. The commission was for three dogs from separate photo’s to be made into one picture. I had to try and judge the animal sizes in comparison to each other and also the images of the dogs, in the photo’s I was to work from, were quite small with little detail… particularly on the black dog. Sadly, all three animals are no longer alive, so I could not see them for myself to get an idea of character and get better reference. Consequently, the painting of them was quite a challenge.
Painting pets is quite tricky, as your perception of an animal can be so different to the owner’s. Also the animal may react and hold facial expressions and body postures with you that are so different from when it interacts with its owners. So trying to portray an animal as the owner saw/sees it can be very difficult.

The painting was done in gouache on watercolour board and I used the background from one of the photos to set the scene. Due to the few photos that I had and their ‘quality’, I had to rely on them heavily for the dogs, as I had less scope for artistic manipulation than if I had many photos and had seen them myself. I had a few German Shepherd pictures in my dog ref file, and used them to help with some of the detail; although I had to be careful as each dog, obviously, looks different. I arranged the dogs in a composition, taking their stances directly from the original photos. I drew each one up separately then scanned them into the computer to play with composition and size comparisons. When I had something that I felt was comfortable, I printed them out to size and transferred them to the finished backdrop. The outdoor photos looked overcast, so I added more light than they gave me, both on the dogs and the landscape, to liven and warm the painting up. Finally a bit of improvising with the foreground grasses and it was finished.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Slimbridge Winter Festival

What a cold weekend that was! But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I met some lovely people... fellow stallholders, WWT staff and visitors alike and I did better on the sales than I was truthfully expecting. Nothing astounding financially, but very welcome all the same. It was lovely to have several previous buyers come and say hello as they passed by; some I had met before and a few I hadn't, so it was especially nice to 'put a face to the sale', as it were.

There was quite an array of lovely things to cast one's eyes over on the other stalls... yummy food, hand-made confectionery, toys, jewellery and craft items, to name a few. I would recommend a visit if you are local to Slimbridge Glos, next year... there were some great ideas for presents and a lady there sold the best mince pies I had ever tasted!

From a shopping point of view it was very productive for me... through the kindness of a fellow stall-holder who kept a watch on my stall whilst I went 'browsing'.... I managed to get one or two Christmas presents, including one for myself, which my parents were then to take charge of until Christmas Day! It was a necklace and a perfect match for some hand-made ear-rings I had been given.. how could I walk away and leave it there! So now it awaits the up-coming cruise to have its first official wearing.

Christmas and New Year Greetings.

Sorry that I am posting this after the events, but things have been a mite hectic work-wise for a spell.
I hope that you had a good Christmas with plenty of Festive cheer and goodwill and that your New Year was seen in just as you wished. May 2009 bring you health, happiness and harmony throughout.