Saturday, December 10, 2011

In my role as Wildlife Illustrator, at Bristol Zoo Gardens, I not only have the illustrations to do for the zoo’s animal identification signage, but the general up keep of them as well. Apart from painting and drawing, this involves a lot of computer work; where I have to have a basic working knowledge of the design software applications of Freehand, Quark and Photoshop (I have just recently started to learn to use Adobe Illustrator, as well, as we are switching over all IDs from Quark and Freehand). I also often do a lot of other little jobs, sometimes connected with the ID signage, sometimes not.

My work on the computer involves compiling new ID signs and editing information (putting distribution ranges on maps and dropping in animal information text, scanning in illustrations and editing size, blemishes, colour, backgrounds etc). After printing completed signs from the computer, they then need to be trimmed to size and after being sealed in laminate (which we have a machine for and I do myself), trimmed to size again, strips of adhesive put on the back and then putting the signs up on/by their respective enclosures.

This is an old pic of me (hair colour and length since changed) but it shows me changing ID signs in situ.

I do regular “sweeps” of the zoo to check the signage for missing, damaged or faded signs that I then need to replace. This year I have tried to do a “sweep” every 2 months to try and keep up with the ravages of weather, wear and mischievous imps.

So my work is really quite varied and far removed from just drawing or painting all day, every day.

To give you an idea.. This is what I have been doing over the last three weeks….

*Screwed ID holder to exterior of a bird aviary.
*Observing and taking close up anatomical detail photos of an Indian violin mantis – transferring details to drawing already done of the animal.
*Drawing a mega mantis.
*Painting a mega mantis – getting it checked and ok’d by animal dept. Scanned illustration on computer and picture file incorporated onto ID sign file.
*Learning to use Adobe Illustrator and rebuilding old Quark and Freehand ID sign templates in Adobe Illustrator.
*One morning spent sketching and photoing out at the Hollywood Towers Estate.
*Walking zoo grounds checking Christmas animal light shape displays for any that are bent and mis-shapen.
*Walking zoo grounds doing an ID sign check - “sweep”.
*Photoing and observing Madagascan blue stick insects ready for when I am to illustrate them.
*Several “Maintenance job request forms” done for work required on ID sign related stuff.
*Removed old sign board from an animal enclosure.
*Rescrewed into place an amenities sign blown down by wind.
*Overseeing rebending of mis-shapen Christmas animal light shapes.
*Painting background for Indian violin mantis.
*Hole punched and hammered in metal eyelets into laminate on some bird ID signs.
*30 ID signs printed, trimmed, laminated, trimmed and put up on respective animal enclosures.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Workshops at Nature In Art

Just been booked for another workshop next year and one for possibly January 2013; both at the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery in Gloucestershire.

In Sept next year I shall be tutoring a two day workshop for batik on the weekend of 29th & 30th. It has been a while since I have done a workshop at this wonderful venue, so I am looking forward to it enormously. This ties in nicely with my Artist in Residence week that follows there shortly afterwards from Oct 8th - 14th.

Butterfly fish batik I did in between helping my students on the 5 day workshop I tutored earlier this year.

And if the other workshop goes ahead as planned that will be the following January, although I have no dates as yet. The workshop will be held for 2 days over a weekend and it will be focusing on how to paint fur in oils. Although this workshop is very probable, I haven't had a confirmation for this as yet; but as soon as I do, I will post the dates.

For enquiries on booking a place on either of these workshops, please contact Nature In Art... found in my "Links" on the left hand side of this page.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wildlife Prints to buy

I have added a new page (top right) that show the prints I have available. I shall be adding more when I can so do keep checking in to see what I have there. They are linked to their listing on ebay; just by clicking the image title name takes you there. I hope you like this new feature and take a look... who knows, you may even find a suitable Christmas/Birthday present there for someone.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Workshops coming up in 2012

I've just added a couple of workshops that I have been booked to do in 2012. These workshops are open to all. I shall post details shortly on both of these workshops giving links on who to contact etc should you wish to participate.

But just to give you a flavour.... Mandy, the Biodiversity Education Officer with the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project has asked me back to do another drawing workshop on Saturday 17 March. Aiming at the beginner and improver in this workshop I will show you some techniques for drawing and sketching birds using both an array of stuffed specimens and then wild live subjects in the zoo grounds.

And I am very happy to say that I shall also be back at the Gloucester Summer School in July next year for another 5 day batik workshop organised by the Gloucester Arts & Crafts Group. My course will have a maximum of 10 people so it is best to book early just in case.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Artist and Illustrators MasterClass article

Just found out that the "MasterClass" article I did for the Artists & Illustrators magazine is now viewable online; click here to see it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sketching project at Hollywood

As part of my "in-house" training at the zoo, I get to have one morning a fortnight (work load permitting) in which to sketch - not what I need to get a job done, but what I feel I like. The zoo as part of its Investors in People programme encourages staff to develop their skills either through formal or informal training. My sketch mornings are very informal and the fact that I can go out on the morning and sketch whatever I want makes such a difference. Most of my work at the zoo in recent years has concentrated on fish and invertebrates, so it does my soul good to get out and sketch the lions or mongooses or whatever else I fancy. For these morning's in the past I have always sketched the animals within the zoo, but this year I decided it would be a different challenge to go out to the zoo's land just outside Bristol called the Hollywood Towers Estate (H.T.E.).

I wanted to do this for a few reasons... but the main one was that during the summer months when the zoo is busy - sitting in front of an animal enclosure to sketch is problematic on several counts. Firstly I could be potentially blocking a visitor's view, secondly it is easy to get jostled and knocked and lastly, as nice as it is, people start talking to me as I sit there and with only a couple of precious hours in which to sketch freely I found that sometimes I would not get much sketching done. By going out to the H.T.E. I could not only sketch something different but I wouldn't be in anyone's way, get knocked and could work undisturbed for those few hours.

Since going out there another reason to go has arisen. As the site is the proposed land on which the zoo's new project- the National Wildlife Conservation Park- is to be developed... it's become a bit of a project to sketch the site at various times of the year, the old buildings, trees and other features before the development starts. A kind of artistic archive of the site.

My work colleague Anna, a graphic designer, has been doing a photography project for her "in-house" training/development and has come out to the site with me on a few occasions. I too have been taking photos whilst there and an album with my photo's and sketches can be viewed here. I shall update it as soon as I can after each visit, but now that winter is upon us and it is quieter in the zoo I am likely to sketch there more often. However, I hope to go in the next week to see if I can catch the last of the Autumnal colours before the last leaves fall from the trees.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Artist in Residence Week - work done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to view some of my photos from the week

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Artist in Residence Day 1

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Palm nuts!

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

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

It can all but drive you nuts....

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Getting ready for Artist in Residence Week

18th – 23rd October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Asiatic lioness oil studio sketch

8"x10" (20cmx25cm)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elephant bull oil studio sketch

10”x14” (25cmx35.5cm)

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

This painting serves a few purposes…

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

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

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

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

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

Wow!Gorilla Auction - Sept 29th

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

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

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

Dee Dee at Bristol Zoo Gardens prior to the auction

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sketching lions - 21 Sept

When work load allows, once every two weeks, I get to spend a free morning sketching - kinda like my "in-house" training. Recently I got back out in the zoo to sketch some animals. Which as the zoo's illustrator you might not think that was particularly special. However during the busy summer season it's quite impossible to sit in front of an animal enclosure to sketch without either getting in the way of the public or being jostled by the throngs. So during the summer I went out to the Hollywood Towers Estate, which the zoo owns. to sketch landscapes and buildings. Now that the colder weather is here and the crowds have gone, as the schools are in session again, I am back in the zoo for my sketching.

Having spent a wonderful half hour one evening the week before, after the zoo had closed, watching Shiva (Mum) play with the two cubs (Jay and Kaly) I decided the lions would be my first point of call. The two youngsters (they are a bit bigger than cubs now at 9 months old) were lying on one of the high-rise platforms for a bit of warm sunshine snoozing, with Shiva. Kamal was restless as he was due for a feed that day and so he wandered around quite a bit, getting impatient - calling and pacing.

Jay, the young male, was at the front of the platform and in view - sort of. I had to position myself so that I could get an unobstructed view through the trees and bushes to the platform that was right at the back of the enclosure. As I had neglected to bring my binoculars, I had to really concentrate to see his lines and form across the distance.

So, rather than work anything up and to get my hand and eye working together, I just did little thumbnails of him, as a warm up.

Kamal finally settled and good old lad that he is, he plonked himself down right in front of me. It might have helped that I was luckily at a place that was a good spot for him to keep an eye out for his keeper and most importantly - his food.

So as he had settled down, I did too and concentrated on two head positions - switching between the two sketches as he moved his head about - one looking for the keeper/food and the other resigned head on paws, eyes closed.

The third sketch was a very quick one (about one minute) done just prior to the keeper turning up where Kamal had relaxed a enough in his vigilance to lie on his side and attempt a snooze. Like they say.. a watched kettle never boils... but as soon as you turn your back. So it was with Kamal... as soon as he got settled to snooze - the keeper turned up!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Gloucester Arts and Crafts Summer School 2011

Back at the end of July I tutored a week-long batik course at the Gloucester Arts and Crafts Summer School. This wonderful event takes place at around the same time every year and offers about 30 courses of various crafts and arts from 1 – 5 days in length.

This year I had 6 students attend my batik course -four of whom had been before and two who were new to my class. I was to have 7 students but unfortunately one lady, Joan, fell ill just prior to the week of the course so we were sad not to see her in class again (Joan went to one of my previous batik courses).

I welcomed back Jenny, Del, Hazel and Gill… four lovely cheery ladies who always make the week fly by with their enthusiasm, creativeness and happy banter. Marion and Rita were new to my class and perfectly fitted in with the enthusiasm and fun. What a great week it was…. Lots of work and lots of fun.

I started off the week introducing Marion and Rita to the equipment and technique I use. Rita having done batik before but with a different technique had the challenge of relearning a new way to her. She tackled the challenge head on and with a great attitude. It is always difficult to do such a thing, but Rita persevered and I could see it was starting to make sense to her towards the end of the week. This piece is I think still is her best, despite, sadly, the crackling at the end going a bit dark and somewhat obscuring the main image of the man and camels. I hope she has a go at this one again.

Marion was new to batik, so had the challenge of learning a medium that is like chess….. you have to think several steps ahead and have a plan of attack. This piece of hers has been done with a purpose in mind. It’ll be made into a pennant that will go to the Olympic Games in London. Marion, once she got her head around the technique, got very enthused… so much so that she has since bought the equipment for herself and is cracking on with exploring the fun of batik, at home.

Jenny, Del, Hazel and Gill having all been before or having done batik at home were confident enough to go straight into doing their own designs.

Gill returned to the class having been new to batik last year and also ended up buying the equipment to do it at home after the course. I was very pleased that she brought in a couple of her pieces to show us. She has been doing very well, despite her own misgiving, and has a lovely colour sense.
Gill tends to like to start and finish her pieces fairly quickly, the fact that she took time and was patient working on the head of the iris has one paid off. It's a lovely piece with good colour balances and tones achieved in the background.

Hazel was with us for three of the five days, but that didn’t hold her back on producing a good handful of batiks. Having been to my class for four years now and also attending other batik workshops, she has grasped batik fully and produces wonderful work. I particularly loved her sunflower cushion cover this year – such a beautifully executed piece of work.… it makes me feel happy just looking at it.

Del and Jenny also have been before for the last four years and again, they are both very productive and creative. Jenny loves to challenge herself and always amazes me with what she accomplishes. She too has a great eye for colour and I was very happy to hear that she has sold a number of the batiks she has previously produced. I chose her Spanish dancer because the effects she achieved on the lace underskirts and the shawl fringes were just amazing. You can feel the swirling of the dress and shawl fringes flying around her. The background is subtly mimicking the dancer too which adds unity and heightens the action of the piece.

Del is the first to admit she doesn’t have a huge amount of patience, so I was particularly proud of her that she carefully and slowly applied wax on one of her batiks (some flowerheads) to get it right. The result was superb and I hope she was as pleased with the result as I was. However, I chose her pebble design over the flowerheads because I particularly love the colours, textures and feel of this one. I love the wet effect on and between the pebbles - perfect.

Several Christmas cards designs were also done, and as much as I’d love to show you them as well, I don’t think it would be fair to do so as they may want to keep the designs under wraps til Christmas.

Once again the class produced a wonderful array of finished pieces– they never cease to amaze me with their productivity and creative output. It was, again, hard to pick one from each of them, but I hope they will be happy with my choices. They say the will be back again next year..... If they are, I look forward to seeing what they do then! It gets better every year!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Victoria crowned pigeon commission

Straight after completing Dee Dee the gorilla, I had a commissioned painting to do. This one was quite a battle in that firstly I ended up painting the background at least 5 times before I got something I was happy with. Then the bird itself was uncooperative… or maybe, it was me. I think that perhaps my desire to want to paint Botswana pieces was blocking my creative flow to get on with this painting; despite it being of such an impressive bird. But finally I got there and I am happy with the result; it is a beautiful bird with that lovely blue and white lacy crest, deep maroon chest feathers contrasting with the blue grey back and wings and amazing brilliant red eyes. I did enjoy painting it, despite the struggle... or perhaps, because of it. I wanted to show off that wonderful crest on its head, so I decided to back light the subject against a darkish background as if caught in a shaft of light in its lowland forest home. Luckily we have had this species at the zoo for quite a few years, so I have been able over a long period of time to get some good reference photo's (cos you just never know if one day you'll get asked to paint one!) and see the bird move and stand in real life.

I had to get the painting finished and delivered before the middle of July, as it was a present and being given at a party towards the end of July. I haven’t posted this before now, as I wanted to make sure the recipient had received it before I posted the image online.

The painting is A3 sized, gouache on watercolour paper. The bird, a favourite of the person it was presented to, is the world’s largest pigeon and lives in northern New Guinea. I’m guessing it stands about 44cms (17”) tall (its size is given as 74cms (29” long) and weighs approx 2,384 grams (5.3 lbs) as an adult. Quite a substantial bird and therefore, unsurprisingly, it has a deep booming sound as part of its call repertoire - you can make a similar sound by blowing across the top of an empty bottle.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gloucester Summer School

This morning I drove to Gloucester to set up the classroom ready for a week long batik workshop, starting Monday morning. Where does the year go? Really doesn't seem that long ago that I walked down the corridors of Beaufort Community School last.

I have 7 students this year, 4 were on the course last year, 1 from a few years ago and 2 who are new to my class. I am looking forward to seeing those friendly familiar faces and the new ladies as well and can't wait to see what they produce this time round.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


I was very pleased to find out today that my painting "Waiting for the Stragglers" has been accepted into this year's National Exhibition Wildlife Art.

This annual event is held at the Gordale Garden Centre, Chester High Road, Burton, Wirral, Liverpool and this year runs from 15th - 31st July

Monday, June 20, 2011

WOW!Gorilla progress Day 9

Left the warehouse at 10.30pm last night, third late night on the trot but I got "Distinctly Different" ready for the guide book photo shoot today. Phew!

I do have a bit of fiddling on the paintwork here and there and then I need to varnish her with about 2-3 coats; so I have a few more working hours left with my Dee Dee yet, before I hand her over.

Here are some last piccies of her and a little insight into my design, which represents nature and our stewardship of this planet.

Apart from being my favourite colour, purple has long been associated with royalty – the gorilla is an iconic species, practically royalty in its own environment so a purple gorilla seemed like a good idea as a base. Aesthetically, the glitter creates “movement” as it catches the light adding another element to an otherwise flat colour surface. But if I was to get “all poetical” it could also be said that, like glitter, the natural world is made up of many species, each a little gem in its own right and shines by itself. But to create the full and beautiful effect of glitter, all the pieces need to be together to shine and glisten as one element, much like all the species on this planet need to exist, to create that wonderful glitter-ball of life – each loss of a single species makes our world shine less.

The physicality of the gorilla sculpture represents our man-made world, with nature, as the leaves and vines, growing from the ground the sculpture is stood on; refusing to be brushed aside it wraps itself around in delicate tendrils enhancing our lives in a way that is often ignored. I thought of silver as it is a precious metal often overlooked – the man-made world loves gold and its monetary value; the silver vines and leaves signify the overlooked value of the natural world - a value more infinitely precious than gold or money.

There are a handful of butterflies amongst the leaves that add life and movement to the leaf design and are decorated with a greenish glitter. Jelf Lampier’s corporate colours are purple, silver and a touch of green, so the hint of green on the butterflies helps tie in with their corporate identity.

Also I have placed two small silver butterflies in the palms of Dee Dee’s hands (crossing the palms with silver) – signifying the fragility of nature and how a strong hand (man) could crush or care for it.

Other than that she’ s a big purple gorilla with a bit of bling! :~)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

WOW!Gorilla progress Day 8

My gorilla now has its proper name... and he is now a she, as her sparkly delicate leaf look is far too feminine for a fella. Her sponsors, Jelf Lampier, have called her "Distinctly Different (Dee Dee)" which I love.
So Dee Dee has been coming along over the last four days. It's been hard work and long hours to try and get her finished by this eve. Two 12 hour shifts has got me to a point where I am pretty sure I am on track to do this and shall be leaving shortly for another long day with her.

The cushions I brought in have been invaluable as I work ... saves me from the cold floor and getting a nasty neck ache!

I'm starting to dream of silver leaves!

She's starting to look almost there... today will be finishing off the leaves and adding various details and a few butterflies.

I had promised to volunteer on the Elephants For Africa stand at the Bristol Festival of Nature all day today; they have kindly let me off doing the whole day and now I shall be with them for a few hours this afternoon. I think I am to draw the raffle which today has one of my elephant prints "Waiting for the Stragglers" as a prize.

The weather is looking good at the moment, so hopefully it will hold for the day and lots of people will visit this wonderful annual event.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WOW!Gorilla progress Day 4

My gorilla (knick-named Hugh, whilst I paint him) has now had a new coat of purple, to match his sponsor's, Jelf Lampier, colour branding on Day 2 and a sparkly coat of subtle purple glitter varnish on Day 3. The idea of the glitter is to add another element/dimension to the colour making it more interesting than a flat colour - light will shimmer across his surface and add a bit of 'movement' to him. This is a close up of his head, of course, the photo can't give the full impact of the effect, but it will give you some idea.

Yesterday I started on the twisting vine of leaves design that will eventually cover his whole body. I have used a silver paint with an iridescent medium added... again to lift it from being a flat colour, to one that reacts with light.

This is the part of the paint job that will take the time... Just doing the one leg yesterday took nine hours with a few breaks to give my back and neck a rest; as to get round the leg I was getting into all sorts of awkward positions to paint. I'm taking in a bundle of cushions today for some support and comfort!!

But I am thoroughly enjoying doing him and am so far pleased with the effects and can't wait to see him out in the daylight where all these effects will come into play.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

WOW!Gorilla progress Day 1

After a shopping trip this morning, to gather paints and supplies, I experimented at home with colour hues and effects for the decoration of my gorilla. Then a quick journey to the location where the gorillas are being stored and space is available for artists to work on their gorilla sculptures.

Another artist helped me unwrap and place my gorilla in a convenient spot to work and then it was just a case of starting. But first, the obligatory photo shoot with said gorilla.

My first job was to sand him down all over to get a lovely smooth tactile surface and then I mixed my colours using Galeria acrylics. One of the advantages of being one of the last to get to paint these gorillas is that you can pick up tips like just how much paint you need to buy and what paint covers better. It took a couple of hours to get a good coverage on him but I was pleased with my progress. Now I'd leave him overnight to dry and harden off properly before I start the next stage.

After cleaning up brushes, pots etc, I locked up the building and once outside found that I had a phone message from the WOW! Gorillas organiser... seems I now have a sponsor but that they have a particular colour purple for their company branding... so I will need to take a trip into work tomorrow, at the zoo, to look at the Pantone colour swatch so I can try to mix and match another shade of purple and repaint mister gorilla again tomorrow.

WOW! Gorillas

Yesterday I was offered one of the fabulous gorilla sculptures to paint for the WOW!Gorillas event taking place in Bristol soon.
From early July – for ten weeks – a group of life-sized hand decorated gorilla sculptures will form a trail around Bristol’s cultural and retail quarters.

Numerous companies have come forward to sponsor a sculpture and have picked the design they wish their gorilla to be decorated with from a whole host of ideas submitted by regionally local artists. Most of these have now been painted and the deadline is fast approaching - I have about a week to get my gorilla prepped, started and finished. Smaller versions of the sculptures have been ‘adopted’ by various schools, whose pupils have designed and decorated their own school gorilla. These will then go out on show along with the life-size sculptures.

After the art trail event has finished each gorilla sculpture will be auctioned and the monies raised will go to gorilla conservation projects and the Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal.

As I type this I am waiting for paint to dry as I experiment with shades of purple and coatings for my gorilla sculpture beastie.
So… back to check on the paint….

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Botswana collection - Painting #1 finished

It's not an elephant!

Yes, I suppose it would be expected that my first painting towards my Elephants for Africa Exhibition Project should be an elephant... but well, seems I've surprised a few people by doing a bird instead. It's good to try and not be predictable sometimes.

Although the exhibition is going to feature elephants heavily (pardon the pun), I also want to encompass the other animals of the Okavango as well. This image of a pied kingfisher was in my head and it felt the right one to start with - a nice simple composition to get the ball rolling, so to speak. I could have done it with a sunny blue backdrop, but that would also have been fairly predictable, wouldn't it!

First thing in the morning and late in the afternoon, just before the sun dips below the horizon, on clear bright sunny days everything becomes bathed in unbelievable colours. Deep yellow and golds, peaches and mauves intermingle with cold blues. A short magical spell of time at each end of the day when the light is so colourful and, to me, inspiring.

I'm not sure what my next Okavango piece will be yet... maybe an elephant... maybe not. Watch this space!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I can’t believe it has been a month since I have been back from Botswana… already! I have reluctantly settled back into the routine of city life and I’m trying not to miss the sights and sounds of the Delta. But it’s not easy; as the saying goes… those memories will stay with me forever.

Needless to say my time spent there was incredible, every day was an adventure, delight and awe-inspiring. It has been hard to put it into words for my friends and family back here at home, when they ask about my trip; but I think most of them know just how much it meant to me to be able to go there and spend that amount of time in the bush. I shall be eternally grateful to Dr Kate Evans and her team at Elephants For Africa (EFA), for their time and for making me feel so welcome. And also Seba Camp managers, Chris and Heather, and all their staff who looked after me so well; I highly recommend Seba Camp as a place to stay if you should ever visit the Okavango Delta.

I really hope that one day I can return and immerse myself in that wonderful place again, but first I have an exhibition to paint for, which will take me a few years. I started my first studio painting at the weekend and am finding myself eager to finish it so I can start another and then another. I have many ideas flowing in my head… it’s just a case of being able to paint them all!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sleeping with elephants

Last night around midnight, I was woken by a loud noise that took my sleep hazed mind a little while to figure out. There was an elephant pulling at vegetation right by my tent... or so it sounded. Night time has a way of amplifying sounds. I eased myself out of bed and in the pitch darkness carefully made my way across the wooden floor to the mesh window of my tent; and peered out. There was a lot of cloud cover and so it was difficult to distinguish anything but I tried really hard to focus my eyes on anything that moved. The sounds were incredibly close and then I saw a curved shape of bluish grey followed by another swing round towards me. The elephant was RIGHT by my tent, less than four feet away! I had grabbed my video camera as I had slid from bed... it's broke so I can't record images but it still picks up and records sounds. So I pressed the button and the camera whirred into action. I held my breath as the two curved shapes indicated that the huge head was turning more to face me, alerted by the sound no doubt. I doubt he could have seen me, elephants eyesight is not their strongest sense but I was sure he could hear my breathing and smell my prescence, just the other side of the flimsy canvas. Eating was obviously his priority as the curved shapes swung away and I could hear some plant get ripped from its roots or branch and then the sound of it being pushed into the elephant's mouth and chewed. Were there two elephants? I thought I heard another's breathing and there was a soft low rumble. I strained my eyes but could not see anything other than the dark blue grey colours of the vegetation and the hulk of the elephant before me merging into it. He, or they, stayed for about 10 -15 minutes chomping and pulling on the grasses and bushes by my tent steps. In the morning, I thought, I'll go check out the footprints. Back to bed I went and was woken a few hours later by a huge crash. My first thought as I registered that something had fallen down in my tent, was that the elephant was trying to get in! I held my breath, lying in bed, waiting to hear further destruction noises of canvas being ripped or wooden struts being snapped like twigs. There was nothing but the sound of a rhythmic slow deep breathing, he was asleep... probably on the anthill between my tent and the next; a favoured sleeping spot for a few bull elephants. I tentatively got up and switched on a light and found that one of the framed photographs on an internal divider had fallen down, nothing suspicious; no ripped gaping hole or inwardly leaning structure posts. Phew! I listened to the sound of the elephant breathing as he slept, I'm surprised the crash sound hadn't got him up and curious as to what was going on, come over to investigate. Soon it would be dawn so I stayed awake and watched it rise over the horizon and trees across the lagoon. When it was fully light I could see where the elephant(s) had been. My tent stands on a stilted platform with steps leading up to the door at the side and a deck at the front. If I had been stood at the top of the steps when the elephant had been there last night I could have touched him without having to reach out! And the big fella hadn't left either... I could hear him now flapping his ears, rumbling softly now and again as he had his morning snack of dropped marula fruits from the tree by the tent next to mine; I could just see him, larger than life, through the bushes between. He was BIG. Maybe not as big as they get but from the ground perspective he was big enough! I had estimated that his tusks had been about 6-7 feet high off the ground judging from where I saw them last night in relation to my tent. I hoped he'd walk past my tent, but after feeding for a bit he moved in the other direction, so I couldn't get a photo of him. Speaking to one of the camp managers, on my way to breakfast, there were two elephants wandering around last night, sleeping in several places, visiting others in the camp like the researchers and the camp managers tents. I am SO going to miss all this. I am leaving in a day or two's time. Today or tomorrow could be my last full day at camp, before a seat is found for me on one of the staff flights and I fly away, starting my journey back home.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wildlife Arist of the Year Competition 2011

Had great news yesterday; I recieved an email from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to let me know that my painting 'Tangle of Kelp' has been short-listed in their international competition. It will be exhibited, along with the other finalists, at The Mall Galleries, London June 6-11.

The competition was open worldwide to professional and amateur artists alike and I am extremely happy to have been selected from the hundreds of entries they received.

The winners will be announced on the Preview Evening of the exhibition on June 6th. I hope to be able to attend and meet up with my fellow artist friends who have also been short-listed.

Having a spot of bother!

I composed my next post from the Delta in Word on my little netbook and then tried as I had done on my last entry, to post it to my blog.... for some reason it seems I am unable to. No matter which way round I try to achieve it, the result is the same and I cannot copy and paste it either! Very frustrating! As it is typically long, I didn't fancy typing it all out again, so Kate suggested I post it on their web-blog . So please click on the link if you'd like to read it and go to March in their archive list, where you can find my posts to their blog during my stay.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hot from the Okavango Delta

I have been in Seba Camp, which is in the north western area of the Okavango Delta, since Friday 4th March. I left England on Tues 1st March, flying overnight to Johannesburg and then getting a transfer flight to Maun, Botswana in the afternoon of the 2nd. From there I was picked up by a driver from Audi camp, located some 12kms outside of Maun, which was where I stayed until the morning of Friday 4th. Audi Camp is a lovely camp catering for campers who bring their own tents, to providing several choices of tent to stay in. I opted for a twin-bedded meru, which was perfect for a couple of nights. Around the camp there were many birds and a pair of long-tailed starlings had a nest in a tree trunk hole with chicks just a paces from my tent. Tree squirrels scurried around and I enjoyed being able to "acclimatise" and chill out there before heading up into the Delta.

The flight to Seba Camp from Maun is about half an hour, flying over the Delta, which is already in flood, the weather was cloudy but very hot and muggy. I had great views from my little window as we flew over vast tracts of land interspersed with massive amounts of water – and the flood has only just started! Apparently the water level hasn't dropped considerably from last year's flood which was big in the amount of water. So they are expecting the flood levels to get higher this year as the new flood adds to the remnants of the last. The Delta has a cycle of high and low flooding over a quite number of years and it is now into a high flood part of that cycle.

Seba Camp is nestled around a lagoon and my beautiful "tent" looks out across it, which does mean that I have the sound of frogs at night. They are very loud, or so I thought the first few nights; I seem to be getting used to them now and find I am falling asleep more readily at night. Also at night an elephant comes to rest, sleep and browse against an "anthill," which is a huge termite mound between my tent and the next. Night time also brings out the fireflies (glow worms) which dance about in the darkness over the lagoon and the reeds around it; I have heard zebra, hyena and hippo not forgetting, of course, the elephant on the nights he visits.

The camp is not fenced so a watchful eye and good bush sense is needed when walking around as it is easy to stumble upon an antelope, monkeys or elephants. Signs of hippo are evident in camp and hyena visit quite regularly too. Just the other evening someone casually mentioned as we sat eating our evening meal (the "back of house" dining area is al fresco) that there was a hyena passing by. I looked up and was amazed just how close the hyena was (probably about 10 paces away) and how it stood looked in on us before casually sauntering off.

During the day I have seen francolins, vervet monkeys and bushbuck around my tent. I say tent… it's more like a canvas chalet. It sits on top of a stilted wooden platform with wooden steps leading up to a door and a deck that spans the width of the tent platform. From here I can sit and look across the lagoon to the Delta beyond, with my binoculars, camera and sketchbook. 'Tis a thoroughly pleasant way to pass some time.

I'm still kinda finding my feet, tuning into the camp routine and the EFA's (Elephants for Africa) work schedule. To give you some idea I am getting up about 5a.m. so that I am ready to go to breakfast between 6-6.30a.m, which is when it gets light. After breakfast I have been out in the Landrover with Kate, Mphoeng or Charlie by about 7a.m or just before. They do a route check every day where they follow either a set or random route around the tracks in the area looking for wild, and tracking the collared, elephants. This usually takes a couple of hours unless they see an elephant and can do a focal. A focal is observing the subject for a given amount of time, Kate's team does 30 mins. During that 30mins they note what the subject is doing every 5 mins such as walking, standing, feeding, dusting. If anything noteworthy happens in between the 5 min they note that too. And if the elephant drops some dung they take a sample from this, when it is safe to do so after the elephant has left. Then back at camp Kate's team start their office work. Lunch is at noon with a game of Bananagrams sometimes happening afterwards before office work etc continues for the afternoon. The evening meal is around 7pm and then everyone retires around 8pm. It gets dark around 7pm so as I am not to walk alone in the dark at the moment I am escorted back to my tent after Dinner.

During the time that Kate and Co are working on Office things I am at my tent or wandering around the camp. I have been sketching and have done a colour rough of the view across the lagoon. I upload my camera photos several times a day to my "netbook" and also write my journal during these quiet times too. I'm not doing too badly on the photos… so far I have over 800 uploaded!

Each Saturday Kate goes the Boma at Abu Camp (which is about 5-10 mins drive away) to take dung samples from the herd and take measurements like height and foot sizes regularly. Sunday is their day off so no need to get up so early then.

I have been snapping away with my camera gathering as much photographic reference as I can and at the same time getting my eye in on the details, colours and feel of the landscapes. For the first week I have concentrated on "settling in" , making sure I know my way around, feeling my way around the camp routines and generally allowing time to figure out what I can and can't do. And also I think it is good to allow time for the camp personnel to adjust to me being part of their day. My sketching has thus far been limited to around camp only, as the opportunity to spend time sketching whilst out is not there at the moment. I am conscious that Kate, Charlie and Mphoeng are all very much at work and have their own time scales for the day. So I hope that I can arrange to spend some hours out with one of the guides a few times so that I can stop the vehicle to sketch and possible paint out in the bush somewhere virtually where I want and for a good amount of time. I have already spent 7 hours out in the bush with the Abu herd and their mahouts. That was a great opportunity for me to observe and spend time sketching each individual elephant to familiarise myself with the body shapes of the varying ages; which range from 18months to 51 years. And as the mahouts are quite happy for me to join them whenever I want, I dare say I shall be spending a lot more time with the Abu elephants.

To say I have been blown away by this place would be an understatement…. It's just awesome in scale and beauty. Every second I'm living in a dream and I fear I'm going to wake up soon and be back in the UK.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Artist and Illustrators magazine March 2011 Issue

So now the March issue is for sale I can now post an image of the painting I did for the Masterclass article I was asked to do for this publication.

Unfortunately the image in the magazine has come out a lot darker than the original, I think my screen settings may be different to the publishers, so if I am asked again I must try and remember to check that with them. Still, I’m very pleased with the article and hope that the readers of this magazine will enjoy it as much as I did painting and writing it.

The intro to the step-by-step explains why I chose to paint gorillas.

“This painting came about as I wanted to produce something that I could use to tie in with this year’s fund-raising conservation campaign of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), which is raising awareness of the problems facing the world’s ape species. But I didn’t want to portray wild apes, as I have not seen them in the wild.
For a number of years now I have chosen to base my paintings only what I have seen first hand, and therefore visually understand. Bristol Zoo Gardens (whom I work for) have a lovely family group of western lowland gorillas who would be perfect subjects, as I have seen them often and know a little of their characters.
I also wanted a positive image to reinforce the zoo’s commitment to conservation for this species and something with the “Aah Factor” that would appeal to a wide audience. A mother and her youngster - Salome and Komale, seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Every animal is important, of course, but I think Komale, is rather special because after 20 years of not having a baby, Salome received ground-breaking fertility treatment in 2004 and little Komale was born in December 2006. This painting of them both depicts him when he was just under two years old, a real cutie and a great success in the breeding programme as Salome’s blood line is very important.”