Saturday, October 05, 2013

Elephants For Africa

This is the small research charity that I am working on a fund-raising exhibition for. They have recently updated their website and it  looks great with lots of information and links to blogs etc. They have also added the limited edition print I donated to them (ten prints) to their Art for sale page. 100% of each of the ten donated prints goes to Elephants For Africa.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Artist in Residence

It's that time of year again when I go off on a busman's holiday.... spending a week at the wonderful venue of Nature In Art as their Artist in Residence from 10th  - 15th September. I am currently preparing for this week and hope to be working on at least one painting that will be for my exhibition for Elephants For Africa. However I shall also have other work there and a small selection of work from my job as the wildlife illustrator at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Please do come along and visit me if you can, I'd love to see some familiar faces and perhaps some new ones too.

Exhibition project update

I have just posted a few images on my blog 'In the Footsteps of Elephants' about more work I have done towards the exhibition I am doing for Elephants For Africa. Please do have a look.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New posts - In the Footsteps of Elephants

Did you know I had a new blog? If you haven't done so already please check out the new posts I have just added to.... In The Footsteps of Elephants. A new batik has been done for the exhibition and as well as an image of the finished work, there is also a short video of me working on the batik.

There is a permanent link on the right to this blog.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Oil painting workshop

There are just four spaces left for my 2 day workshop at Nature In Art in a few weeks time on Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th September. Wow... that has rolled round quick!

I will show you how I paint with oils and the project will be a lion portrait study... sadly due to health and safety reasons, for the lion (and perhaps the students), we will NOT be working from life. :)

If you are interested, please contact Nature In Art on 01452 731422 or click here to go to their website for details.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Gloucester Summer School

July 22nd - 26th

The Gloucester Summer School is organised and run by  Gloucester Arts and Crafts Group and is a week long workshop event at Beaufort Community School, Tuffley. I have been tutoring a 5 day batik workshop with them at this event since 2008. I was booked for 2007 but that was the year of the awful floods and the event was sadly cancelled  due to the extreme flooding and loss of power and water facilities in the area.

The workshops are held over 2-5 days depending on the course and subjects range from working with textiles, painting, mosaics, glass work, batik, drawing, woodwork crafts, sculpting and more.

As usual the school is open the Saturday morning prior to the event for tutors to set up their classroom. And I was very pleased to see that this year I had been given a bigger room, the home economics classroom, which gave me plenty of space for my 12 students. Not only that it had many windows that opened, an outside door and a shaded aspect.

The set up went well and apart from one or two last minute things to do, it was ready for Monday morning.

This year I had more students but they were also spread over the week, some doing all 5 days  a few others only doing 2 or 3. So the maximum number I had in class would be Monday and Tuesday with 10 ladies... 5 of whom had done batik before with me several times and another 5 who were new or who hadn't been for a few years. The set up of the room allowed me to separate them into these two groups so that I could have all the Beginners in one place so that they could all see what I was doing as I took them through the initial stages. The Improvers could get on with their own thing but still be close should they need help/advice.

Due to the changing rota of students I was not able to work on something myself, as I usually try to do at the end of the week. Once I have the beginners and Improvers well on their way (usually by Thursday) with their own projects the frequency of me being needed slows, enabling me to have a play with a 'demo' piece. I like to do this as I think it is good for the students to see me working on something too, it can give them ideas or just see how I work. This year I was to have two new ladies starting on the Thursday. And at the beginning of the week Ann, the organiser, asked if I could take a third lady on Thursday for 2 days. As it turned out, one of the original two tried silk painting at the beginning of the week and quite sensibly decided to stay with it and the third lady also decided to stay on the course she was doing. So I had one new lady on Thursday, who had a crash course, to get her going on her own project and one of the new ladies who was with me all week was struggling a bit with the technique. Sometimes the technique is picked up straight away sometimes not and I think it's just a question of which way your brain is used to working. With batik you tend to work from light to dark putting in the highlights first and building the image from 'the front' to 'the back' in perspective.

It was a busy but fun week. Yet again I had a great group of cheerful ladies, and as always I can't help but be inspired and thrilled by their progress and the work they produce. I love it when someone is working on something and its not going how they thought and they just see where things are 'wrong' and get a little negative about its outcome.... and then they take all the wax off at the end, stand back and look at it and then say.. 'That's come out better than I thought, I like it now.' As in any form of art it's getting the knack of looking beyond the 'mistakes' you think you've made that stand out so glaringly to you and seeing the product of your endeavours as a whole entity and as others may view it. They often won't see that 'slightly pale line that you didn't want to be there', or the blob of wax that you had to change into a strange looking part of your design/image.

I put the work on display and quite often by the end of the week the ladies get to look back on their earlier work with fresh eyes and appreciate all the good things they achieved with it. When they see that they have done well... that makes me happy.

I have selected a piece from each of them, pieces that were my own personal favourites of what they achieved in the week. The diversity of styles and inspiration is always good to see and I am proud to show their work on here.

Jan laying in a finishing coat of wax over her design

Margaret waxing in her design with a tjanting (also known as canting)

Ann's iris's (Beginner)

Avril's cornflower design (Improver)

Chris's daisies (Beginner)

Margaret's sunflowers (Beginner)

Del's pot (Improver) 
 This piece is yet to be finished, however I have posted it because I really like where Del is going with this and I feel it could almost be finished as it is.

Gill's poppies (Improver)

Hazel's Bamboo (Improver) 
Designed for a cushion, with (below) the beautifully crackled back-piece

Jane's Pansy (Beginner)

Jan's abstract (Beginner)

Jenny's Apples (Improver)

Rita's parrotfish pattern design (Beginner)

Friday, August 02, 2013

New blog - In the Footsteps of Elephants

I have just set up a new blog and Facebook Page, both are called 'In the Footsteps of Elephants'.
They will both be about the journey I am taking working towards an exhibition of my work to raise funds and awareness for Elephants For Africa.  As both are so new, there is still work I want to do to them to get them 'fully presented', so if you are interested in elephants, their conservation  and art then please take a look and pop back to check on updates of news and images.

Click on these links for the Facebook Page and for the Blog

Thursday, August 01, 2013


I have two bits of news to on report today. Both are exciting for me and I don't know which to put first... so I'll go with my new Facebook page first.

'In the Footsteps of Elephants' is a Page I have set up on Facebook to post news and progress of my exhibition project with Elephants For Africa. I have some photos of my time spent in the Okavango Delta in 2011 and some images of the work I shall be exhibiting when the exhibition takes place. I will be posting on the progress of the body of work I am in the process of painting and also news and updates on the exhibition details such as venue and date and other things connected with it. So please visit it and click 'Like' to keep informed of this event.
And for those who want to steer clear of social networking sites, I hope to have a companion blogpage set up soon doing the same as the Facebook Page.

My second bit of news is that Artists For Conservation have given me the honour of being their 'Conservation Artist of the Month' for August. I shall feature on the homepage of their site and on the Conservation Page for the whole of this month. I was most surprised to receive this award but I am obviously over the moon. My dream as an artist is to inspire a sense of caring and concern for our natural world, in the hope that my efforts can directly and indirectly aid those who work hard in the field of wildlife conservation. To be selected for this award brings a sense of satisfaction that maybe I am on the right track.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Getting set for Summer School

I have been busy getting ready for the Gloucester Arts and Crafts Summer School week at Beaufort School in Tuffley, Gloucester. They take over the school after the last week of term and hold many varied 2,3 and 5 day workshops doing anything from chair making, life drawing, clay sculpture, beading, mosaics, painting, needlework and of course, batik.
Today I went to set up the classroom ready for the students and workshop to begin on Monday. For a few years we have had a smallish classroom (a sewing room) that had few workable windows and one small door to the outside. It had sun almost all day long coming through the windows (when it shone) making it a very hot little room... and with the waxpots, hairdryers and iron going too it was quite a struggle for many of my students to cope with the heat. Luckily the last two years we were loaned a portable air-con unit, which made a huge difference.

This year, as I have almost twice the number of students attending over the week (some are only doing two or three days) I have been given a bigger classroom... a cookery room. It is huge in comparison and has a great position in that it has a shaded aspect, lots of windows that open and a door. So hopefully we should fair better this year.

I'm looking forward to a busy but sure to be fun week.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kamal Study - Demonstration piece

This painting was done so that I could work on it at three demonstrations to show how I paint long and short fur with oils to three different art groups - Thornbury Art Group near Bristol and the Gloucester Society of Artists (GSA) and the Churchdown Art Group in Gloucestershire. It has however now only been painted on at two demonstrations, as some of the people who attended the second demonstration for the GSA were likely to also be at the third (which is next Wednesday) in Churchdown. So I shall be doing something else for them that night.

This step by step is posted, in particular, for those who attended the demonstrations where I worked on this painting, as I thought it might be useful for them to see it through its finishing stages.
For the demonstration I thought a male lion would be a great subject on which to show long and short fur techniques. The lion is Kamal, an Asiatic, that we had at Bristol Zoo Gardens. He died late in 2012 due to old age related illnesses... he was 18 years old... quite an age for a lion. He came to Bristol Zoo Gardens in 2008 and had two cubs with our lioness, Shiva, in 2010 and fathered two more cubs with Shiva prior to his death. His keepers told me he was a gentle lion and loved being tickled or scratched through the wires of his enclosure by them. He was a handsome chappie, with a thick dark mane. He is greatly missed.
This was a copy of a photograph... but embellished in colour as the photo was rather dull and flat.

Recently I have been attempting a looser approach and part of this is not to do a detailed pencil drawing first, but to sketch paint the portrait straight onto the canvas. For this portrait I used burnt sienna greatly thinned with Liquin and a rigger brush. The ample use of Liquin allows the paint to flow much more freely off the brush. I start by looking at my photo and visualising where I can see shapes and lines to help me draw the features. These are quickly sketched in and if I go wrong I just wipe the line away with soft tissue... this smudges the paint so that if I do a lot of wiping away.. the canvas gets a soft burnt sienna hue which adds to the base painting.

Once I have all the basic elements from which to build my portrait I then check the measurements and proportions. I used the eye as my basic measurement and compared the eye width on the photograph with that of my painting... measuring how many there are, say, from the top line of the eye to the top line of the nose, or the top line of the head, or the total width of the facial area... I check the positions of eyes, nose, ears etc by visualising imaginary lines across the face... e.g. going from the inner corner of the eye down and seeing how far the edge of the nose is from that line and comparing the photo with my painting... I do this until I am happy I have the proportions and positions about right. It is worth taking your time doing this, at this stage, because it is much easier to correct when you have not started applying lots of paint and going into any detail.

Once I am happy with the basics, I add some detailing to the features.

Only then do I start on the full painting. I tend to work from the back of the scene to the front... so I put the background and body in very roughly before I started on the dark part of the mane. I didn't put any detail in the background or body as I want the focus to be fully on the face... and lack of detail in backgrounds etc make the viewer's eyes concentrate elsewhere. I worked wet into wet layering lighter colours on top of dark. A larger brush was used to block in the dark colour and then using a rigger, I applied lighter tones on top to create the fur.

I painted in the ear and blocked colour in on the nose and for the lighter fur to the left side of the face.

I then used the rigger to layer in light tones for the long fur building up with tones of light browns and creamy colours adding in a few streaks of warming orangey brown tones and pale greyish purple tones for shadows in the fur. Next the eyes were added.... putting in the eyes in the early stages helps me 'create' the character I am painting... almost as if I am creating a relationship with my painted subject - making a connection that gives me some 'inner knowledge' that adds life to the work. Of course, it helps that I knew this lion and had seen him often in the 4 years he was with us at the zoo. It was at this stage that I stopped working on the lion at home, so that I could continue with him at the Thornbury demonstration.

At the Thornbury demo I painted in the fur over his left ear and on the left side of his forehead. I then left it until I went to the GSA demo where I then added in the light coloured long fur to the right of the face and started  on the short fur under the right eye and on the bridge of the nose. The dark grey tone on the nose represents the skin colour under the fur... Kamal had a few skirmish scars and this grey tone will show through the gaps I leave as I paint the very short fur. So this was 'the state of play' after both demos. My plan had been to then do the long fur over the right ear and the right side of the forehead for the third demo, but after being made aware there would be some  of the same folk attending the next demo I thought perhaps they'd like to see me working on something else... otherwise it would be a 'bit samey' for them.

So I continued with Kamal at home..... 

Once the fur at the top of the head was done I then moved my attention to the nose and muzzle.

Because this is a particular individual it is important to get the spotting on the muzzle of where the whiskers grow and just to the side of each nasal cavity right.. as these are often used as identification markers... being different in each individual. If you have watched Big Cat Diary you may have heard Jonathon Scott or Simon King refer to these marker as their way of being able to identify individuals, along with other identifying markings.  I did contemplate not painting in the wet fur under Kamal's nose... but that was something he always seemed to have, so as that was him... I had to paint it.

Finally the whiskers were added and the foreground put in. Again the foreground is lacking in detail so that the viewer's eyes are thrown to where I want them to go... the central area of the eyes. Kamal is looking straight at you...and that is the impact of this piece... Kamal lives on.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Silk Banners for the Bristol Festival of Nature

On Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th I went back to Junior School! Scary stuff! I had those dreadful flashbacks to those horrible school years each time I heard that school bell ring!
But apart from that....

I was there to help 60 school children convert their designs into batiked silk banners. 

The Avon Gorge and Downs WIldlife Project had spent some days previously with the children taking them up on The Downs  to find all manner of butterflies, bugs, spiders and other insects; teaching them about the wildlife that can be found in this wonderful area of Bristol and instilling/encouraging an appreciation and care for that wildlife. 

From their expeditions of insect hunting, the children had several activities to do to tie that experience together.. They were divided into 10 groups and each one concentrated on a specific family of insects such as.. Butterflies and moths, Beetles, Centipedes, Flies etc. They then had to draw an insect, within their group, that can be found on The Downs or in the Avon Gorge and that was then to be incorporated into a design to go on a banner. These banners would then be hung around the zoo tent at the Bristol Festival of Nature in the middle of June.

I was booked to do the workshop with the children, turning their designs into banners. We had 10 pieces of silk measuring 2 metres by 90cms and onto this we got the children to batik their designs using brushes and melted wax.

We were working in the classroom with 30 children each day, so it was a bit noisy as the majority of the class worked on their other activity (making top trump cards of their chosen insect), we had relays of children in groups of 5 or 6 come to the tables we had set up in one corner. 

I did a quick run through at the beginning of the day to all the children in the class on safety issues of being around hot melted wax and a few basics on using the brushes to draw their designs using the wax and adding colour. I had at least one helper, throughout and once we got our 'plan of attack' sorted.. it became a bit of a production line.

It was quite full on as there were 5 groups of children, and their banners, to fit in each day between 9.30am and 3.15pm (minus morning tea break and lunch) which left us with 4 hours 40 mins to set up each design template and silk, do a quick recap with each group on what to do and what not to do, find out what their design was about and what colours they wanted, get them to wax the design, colour the design, then remove the silk and design template, take the silk to an office to hang, clean the table, sort the colours, equipment ready for the next lot... five times! So about 40-45 mins for each group to actually wax and paint... not very long at all!!

Each full design had been drawn to size, onto the back of a sheet of wallpaper matching the measurements of the silk. This was taped down onto the table tops (which had been covered in several layers of dust sheet plastic) and over the top of this we taped the slightly longer lengths of silk. The designs had been drawn in pencil and could be seen through the silk so the children could follow their designs lines easily. They then painted with wax the outlines of their bugs and the different elements of their backgrounds like tree trunks, leaves, clouds , the sun etc (my helpers and me did a lot to help them on the background, just to speed up the process). Then we got them to colour it with silk paints... I had batches of basics like blues, yellows, green red and black.. and had to mix to order extras like oranges, greys, purples etc. Once the colour was on we encouraged the children away from the table  and waxpots (not always easy!) and removed the silk to an office where it could be hung to dry, then removed the design template wiped the table clean of excess colour before taping the next design down, placing a fresh piece of silk over the top and starting again.  

The kids were mostly brilliant and seemed to really enjoy the painting with wax and silk paints. It was too rushed to get them to take their time and do it really well, so there were a few leakages of colour and splodges of wax in the wrong place, but well... it all adds character, doesn't it. 

At the end of the school day I took the banners home to iron off the wax, which also 'fixes' the colour through the heat. These will then go back to Mandy of the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project to take to the Bristol Festival of Nature to hang on display. The Top Trump cards the children made will be used as part of an activity where other children can match the insect on the card to the one on the banner and learn more interesting facts about that species. 

They did some great designs and the finished work looks great, I hope, if you intend visiting the Bristol Festival of Nature, you get a chance to pop into the Bristol Zoo Tent where I think they are to be displayed.  

My thanks for such a great day go to Mandy for organising it and to Joss, Randy and Hetty for their unstinting help batiking. Joss stuck with me for all of both days, his help was invaluable.

Here's a photo of the children working on one of their banners... this one is beetles, doesn't it look great.

Postcards and Portraits

On Monday 20th I took a day's holiday from working at the zoo, as I had an afternoon and evening of arty stuff arranged. Primarily I was to do an art demonstration in the evening, but I drove up after lunch to meet up with Kate (Marketing) at the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery. I also hoped I would be able to view the Postcard Portraits exhibition. I am unable to pop up to Gloucester as I used to do and now have to try and combine as much as I can into one trip; I had missed out so far on seeing this exhibition, which was to end soon, so I was really hoping I could view it.

As usual the driveway leading to Wallsworth Hall, where the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery is housed, gave me a deep sense of calm as I drove into it. I don't know what magic it holds, but I always feel myself relax as I go along their access lane.

Kate very kindly gave me a couple of hours of her time to show me some computing apps she uses. I have long thought of doing an e.newsletter to send out to those on my mailing list to apprise them of upcoming events, workshops, news etc but have never got round to it, mainly through lack of time to set it all up. But Kate had told me of a free app that she uses for the museum, so I was keen to see how she uses it and whether it was suitable for me and what I want to to. I was originally supposed to be at Nature In Art for the weekend but the 2 day batik course I was to tutor was cancelled as sadly there just wasn't enough people booked to make it viable for Nature In Art to run. So the Monday had been booked weeks ago with the thinking I would already be in Glos. 

After looking over the computer apps with Kate, I was able to go upstairs to the gallery in which the Postcard Portrait exhibition was on show.  As the Museum is shut on Mondays to the public, I was the only person there apart from Simon, the Director, and Kate. 

There are over 200 Postcard Portraits... each an original artwork donated to Nature in Art by 200 artists that have associations with the Museum. This is a great fund-raising idea which they have done once before (I also had a Postcard in that). The same number of tickets are sold as there are Postcard Portraits and at the end of the exhibition each Portrait and ticket are matched up by the numbers that had been allocated but kept secret and then the owner of the ticket gets that Portrait. So for the price of a £20 ticket there is s possibility of owning an original artwork by the likes of well-known and famous wildlife artists such as Guy Combes, Andrew Denman, Julie Askew, Gary Hodges, David Shepherd, Martin Ridley to mention just a very few. But you won't know what you get until the end of the exhibition. What a fantastic 'Lucky Dip' Fundraiser.

In the photo, my little oil study of Paseka, one of the elephant calves I met in Botswana, can be seen in the nearest framed selection (in the middle, second from the bottom). I have also bought a ticket, so I have to wait and see whose Portrait I get.. it's very exciting.

After viewing the exhibition I went over to the Atrium which is the Educational block in the grounds of Nature In Art, to where my art demonstration was to take place that evening. The art group that had booked me was the Gloucestershire Society of Artists (GSA). I had set everything up earlier in the day so now Kate came over with me to set up the video camera and projector. The GSA  don't actually record the demonstration but just project it onto one of the white walls so that those towards the back can see what I am doing. The camera is focused in the piece of work, so my brush work can be viewed as I do it.

I did a little work before they group started to arrive, to 'warm myself up' and get my mindset back into the painting. I was working on a lion portrait that I started back at the beginning of May and it is the same one I used for the Demonstration I did in Thornbury, earlier this month. I shall post a photo of it here soon, hopefully as a step by step, so that you can see the progress.

There was quite a crowd who attended that evening, over 50 people; some of whom I knew and it was lovely to see their faces there and chat to them again. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening; again the response was very positive and I had some great questions asked throughout. I hope I have inspired some to try oils again, there were one or two that had given up on them or were about to, but seem enthused when they saw how I worked with the medium. 

It was a late night by the time I got home and unloaded the car, so I was glad I had taken the following day as holiday too, to prepare for the two workshops I was doing with school children and the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project on the Thursday and Friday. More of that in my next post.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Studio sketches in ink

Yesterday whilst I was out buying supplies for an upcoming workshop I had a sudden inspiration to buy a bottle of ink. Back last October during my Artist In Residence week I had tried a couple of sketches/drawings using an old bottle of sepia ink I had found buried in one of my art drawers at home. I want to create a few simple ink drawings for the exhibition I am currently working towards. The first attempts I had weren't coming out as I wanted, so I left it to have a rethink on my approach, and just haven't got back to it til now.

So whilst out yesterday I thought... 'get a new bottle and try again'. So I went through the drawing inks at a local art shop and ended up with a bottle of Burnt Sienna Liquitex professional acrylic ink. I had gone through the 'specs' to find one that was as lightfast as I could find there and these Liquitex seemed to fit the bill. I even got the shop keeper on the internet to check.

So today after a little practice playing with a pen and brush, I chose to go with a small brush; a round no.2. 

This sketch of Paseka, one of the Abu Herd elephants, was the first one I did and I drew it three times before was I happy with the result. I am not pre-drawing these first, I'm going straight in with the brush to try and get a feel of spontaneity in them.

This elephant was also done three times before I got a result I was happy with.

My next attempt at a warthog portrait did not go so well, so I have binned that one and tried a banded mongoose instead, which turned out ok on the first attempt.

I shall be doing more of these I think... I like the feel and look of them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Planning my next big piece

I have been excitedly planning my next big painting today. I've been mulling the notion of a painting over in my head for some time; gradually piecing, forming and building on the idea of it to a more solid visualisation; but the original inspiration was back in March 2011 on my field trip to Botswana.

Near to the present airstrip used by the camp I stayed at, is the old airstrip. Its position in the area was not ideal in that it was often severely affected as the flood waters rose, so a new site was found, one on slightly higher ground which remained dry throughout the flood season. The old site was left alone and the wildlife and vegetation soon reclaimed it. Each time I was taken to the old airstrip, there would be many animals gathered there, for some reason it was greatly favoured them; perhaps because it was open and they could gather, with good vision around them having a clear line of sight for danger. There were dips and small lagoons of shallow water and higher dry ground for standing on.

On my last day as we were waiting for the planes to arrive to take me and some other staff out of the Delta, back to Maun; we drove, to wait at the old airstrip, where we could catch the last glimpse of Delta wildlife before we left.  The plane was delayed so we enjoyed the time to just sit and watch. I got lots of lovely references of the animals as I watched their comings and goings, but also, as I sat there and looked at the vista I thought it would make an interesting backdrop to a painting. With that in mind, I took a series of photos spanning about 180 degrees of my field of vision that would piece together and form a panorama of the area. Wildlife wise - there were various waders and ducks, red lechwe, zebra, tsessebe, a lone wildebeeste, an elephant half hidden in the distant tree line, an eagle soaring over head; the sun was high and lighting the whole scene beautifully. The zebra milled around for sometime in several groups, some with juveniles, others just of adults. At one point some zebra started galloping from the dry land of the airstrip into the water to one side and charging through the shallows emerged onto higher drier ground before disappearing into the treeline. I don't know if they were spooked (no other animal reacted) or whether there was some specific reason for their hasty departure... but it started me thinking on a landscape painting, a long 'postbox' shaped one with the running zebra the focus. I wanted to get so much of what I had seen in, without cramming it. How was I to do that?

Over many years I had seen diptych's or triptych's approached in different ways by many artists. Not long after I returned from Botswana I saw a painting made up of four different sized canvases set together in an asymmetrical way, but it was of just one tree at sundown spread across the expanse of all the canvases together; and it was that particular painting which triggered me to think of my old airstrip idea again. Rather than using one canvas... maybe I could use three or four and have them different sizes.... each one forming a painting in its own right but put together they make a whole landscape.

So I toyed with the idea in my head from then on and did several roughs over time playing with composition of canvases and sizes. I'm quite a conventional person so being too radical with all different sizes didn't sit well for me to actually produce a painting on... so I gradually came to three, set in a symmetrical way. I settled on a formation of canvases and rough sizes of canvas proportionally that I could imagine my scene to be played out on.

I drew a rough of the landscape's composition, putting in notes about the animals I was going to portray and how they were placed and acting in the scene. I split it across the rough proportions I wanted and then went to investigate canvases.  No good getting too set if I couldn't get the canvases or they didn't look right as a set. Best way I could determine that was to physically hold the canvases together in front of me. In a local art shop I checked out the canvases they had and tried out different size combination along the proportions I had envisaged. Typically one canvas wasn't the exact size I had in mind, but I figured I could jiggle my composition to sit comfortably on it, but just in case I also asked a friend of mine, who does framing, how easy or difficult it would be if I bought a canvas and had the long sides made shorter and the canvas restretched over it. After a little discussion, I decided to look again at the shop sizes and see if I could accommodate my composition on that, it would be less hassle and if the composition was fine on the shop dimensions then, no problem. Happy with that I then turned to my computer to 'visualise it'.

In the InDesign software on my Mac, I created three documents each to the size of one of the canvases. I set these documents side by side on my desktop so I could work with all three open and viewable at the same time; this enables me to see the whole effect at once. I enlarged and superimposed selected photo's that I took in my 180 degree panorama and matching up them across the three canvases I tried successive series of views until I got something that would 'sit' with the composition I had in my head. As this painting will be of an actual place I need to get the scene more or less correct although there will be a bit of artistic tweeking, moving a tree slightly this way or that, to improve the composition. I also had to make sure that each canvas would work well on an individual basis as although I shall paint it as one piece, and hope therefore to sell it as such, I may not find a buyer to take all three, so if they worked individually, or as two, I wouldn't be left with something that didn't work if only one section sold.

Happily the composition works well on the shop dimensions and may actually be better, so I placed all three documents side by side and did a screen shot, which I then opened and saved in Photoshop. I cropped and cleaned the image up so that I was left with the three canvas sizes sat together forming an impression of something like the finished painting will look like. I then enlarged one canvas up to full size to see the scale of the landscape from a painting perspective, just to give me an idea of what level of detail I may, or may not, do with it.

I have yet to plan the actual animals... their exact positions, groupings and pose. I have an idea of the 'story' I want to tell with it and where roughly the groupings will be, and what I want the animals to be doing, but my next step now will be to start drawing the individual animals and compose their groupings more definitely on paper... this will be the hardest part and will take time. I want to get this right and not to rush it, so now is the perfect time to start on this as I don't actually plan to paint this piece until I have my two months off from the zoo in September and October. I am waiting until then as time-wise I can really knuckle down then and concentrate on it without all the stops and starts my painting life has when I am working part-time at the zoo. But I want to be able to crack on with it straight away when September comes, so if I can get all the planning and composing done and ready over the next few months I shall be ready to splosh away at that time.

This is going to be a challenging piece for me, but I am really excited about the prospect of this one, so I am looking forward to starting it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Studio sketches

This morning I was in my studio (my brother's bedroom) to do a bit more to the lion portrait that I got on the go for the demo's I have coming up. I worked on it for the Thornbury workshop I did on Thursday and today I did a bit more in preparation for the next demo coming up.
I finished around midday, made some lunch and then as it was such a gorgeous day.. hot and sunny (probably the hottest day of the year so far) I decided not to go back into the studio to work. Instead I decided to do some studio sketches outside in the sun. Gathering my references, paper, pencil and glasses I sat on the garden bench by the pond and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in the sun as I worked for a change.

I used Fabriano Hot Press paper onto which I had put a very pale warm wash. Using a 2b pencil I drew these two sketches...

Banded mongoose

Crested barbet

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Thornbury demo morning

Thursday morning I was booked to give a demonstration in oils to a local art group in Thornbury, near Bristol. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the journey there was fairly pleasant (I avoided the motorway mayhem by going on the B roads), despite a slight deviation in route through the town centre.  The meeting was in a lovely hall and I had about 16 people come to watch. There were apologies that many of the group were on holiday and so their numbers were a little low.

I took a partially painted piece of a male lion portrait as I was showing how I painted fur with oils and a male lion is perfect for a long and short fur demo. After a brief introduction I got on with painting and I was assisted by a pre-school group singing and playing in the room next door. The singing didn't bother me, it was quite amusing and I found myself several times starting to react with a little bop in my chair!

I started with the long fur showing how I paint wet into wet with liquin and a rigger brush. Then we had a short tea break and after I did some short fur, showing the slight difference in how I apply the paint with a less thin mix of liquin and different brush and brush strokes.

They were a friendly group and thankfully were happy to ask questions as I painted, which makes it more interesting, I am sure for them as it certainly makes it more interesting for me as I never know what the next question might be.

We finished about midday and I left glowing from the positive feedback and general friendly atmosphere of the group.

I had some paintings that I needed to deliver to Nature In Art that day also so I left Thornbury and headed north up the A38 to wards Gloucester. I stopped at Slimbridge WWT on the way as I wanted to see the exhibition that is currently on there. A fellow wildlife artist that I know, Paul Apps, is one of the artists exhibiting and it is a long time since I have seen his work, so it seemed a great opportunity to pop in and view it. It was lovely to wander round and see all his paintings, I especially liked two pieces one called 'Two Guineas' and the other 'Tufted Duck - Wake'. But I couldn't linger long as I had to have a spot of lunch before heading on up to Twigworth just north of Gloucester to the Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery.

Here I dropped off four pieces of work (three oil paintings and a batik) that were being collected the next day by the owner of Kunstgalerie Oog voor Natuur a wildlife art gallery in the Netherlands. They will exhibit these four paintings for a while.

I stopped to have a look around, as I don't get up to this wonderful place as often as I used to, and enjoyed a lovely mug of hot water with lemon and a generous chunk of delicious lemon drizzle cake in the coffee shop.

What a fab day that was... immersed in gorgeous weather and arty stuff for the day. If only they could all be like that, eh?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Featured Artist of the Day - Artists For Conservation

Each member of this society gets to be the Featured Artist of the Day on their homepage of the website. Today is my turn; as I have only recently become a member, this is especially exciting for me. I hope you will visit the site  and have a look, not just at my work but some of the other wonderful wildlife artists on there.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The two bulls are finished

Finally got the last lick of paint applied late Sunday afternoon last week. The vegetation took a while to think out and lay on, but I'm happy with it now. I really wanted to get those lovely little spindly spikes topped with delicate purple pink flowers. I don't know the name of this plant, but I like the offset of its delicacy with the strength and bulk of the two bulls.

After contacting Dr Kate Evans of Elephants For Africa, (the charity for whom I am doing all these Botswana paintings to show in an exhibition to raise funds and awareness for their work) she was able to positively identify the lighter coloured bull as 'Napolean'. She first met him in 2002 during her field research in the Okavango Delta and named him so, as part of his left tusk was then broken.  When we saw him in 2011 he sported two good tusks again. These two guys were strolling very regally through the low scrub alongside the airstrip near the camp I stayed at. We were on our way to an evening meal out in the bush and were transporting the food, so we could not stop and watch them for long. The light was very low, it was gone 6pm and the sun had already reached the horizon, just before the finality of sunset. My camera was set to the maximum to get as much light in as possible (1600 ISO) but even so the photos were poor, blurred and held no detail. This made them perfect reference for my attempt at a looser style of painting.. I could use them and not be drawn in by detail... It has taken me a while to get this one done, I think I started the initial slapping on of paint back in May last year, but it has been put to one side on more than one occasion, first when I could not paint for 4 months due to a frozen shoulder problem and several times since as I have got on with other smaller pieces. I'm not sure what to call this piece yet but I want to have Napolean as part of the title. I shall have a little think on this.

I have already planned my next two projects.. one a sunset with silhouetted ducks and the other a more challenging piece of a triptych of zebras and lechwe. But before them I need to do some work towards a demo evening I am doing at the beginning of May to an art group in Thornbury, near Bristol.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two steps forward, one step back

Last weekend I worked on finalising the work on the elephants themselves, adding more texturing to the left hand bull and also correcting the trunk, fore legs, underbelly and painting in the left hand tusk on the right hand bull. I then started adding in the foliage in front of them.

I had several photographs of elephants in grassy areas where a delicate pinky purple flower on extended spikes also grew. I liked the idea of this delicate flower being with the elephants adding a contrast in colour and 'weight'. There was also a bush/shrub that grew, I think it is of the genus terminalia.. it has small clusters of grey green leaves and I wanted to include some of that with a few dead stumps of the bush.

So I spent a day painting this in, it all seemed to go well... I liked the way the texture of the plant was being created and I finished quite pleased.... until I stood back. Something was wrong and I couldn't put my finger on it.. so I walked away from the painting and cooked my evening meal. When I came back after eating the meal my first dismayed thought was ' oh no! They're stood behind a hedge!' I thought I had varied the height of the top twigs and branches but... no. At a distance they all looked uniform in height and the dark and light tones were also uniform! Disaster! What was I going to do.. scrape it all off to start again another day or wait for it to dry and adjust t next week?

I had no time that evening to do anything more to it so it would have to wait until next week. I packed up my temporary studio set-up and hung the painting on the landing wall. That evening I walked by that painting a number of times and each time my consternation with it grew... something else was wrong that I couldn't quite see yet. I got ready for bed about 10pm and as I sat in bed watching a bit of TV before I turned the lights off it suddenly struck me... the scale of the bush I had painted was too big for the elephants! I got up and went to look at the painting.. yup.. sure enough that was what was wrong. I stared at it for a few moments... there was only one course of action now... it had to come off before it dried. So out came the palette knife and some white spirit soaked tissues to remove the foliage from the painting. A day's work wasted.. that was because I had wanted to get it finished and wasn't concentrating on the scale aspect of what I was painting on!

So this weekend... I do that bit again.

This is a close up of the top of the trunk on the left hand bull - it shows my looser brush work. Normally I would paint this in with a great deal more detail but I quite like the softer looser feel (for me) to this particular painting.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The two bulls painting

Over the Easter weekend I worked some more on the left hand bull in this painting... I had laid down a 'foundation' of paint giving me the form of the animal over the ears head and trunk... yesterday I put on the 'texturing' going over this foundation layer with dry brush strokes in the same colour paints as I used before... this is the technique I use to get the rough feel to the skin of animals such as elephants and rhinos. As I am attempting to keep the detailing minimal, I enjoyed daubing colour on and am finding it easier, the more I do of this style, to resist going in to tight. I want to make some alterations to the right hand bull... not quite happy with his trunk, so hoping to attack that tomorrow. If all goes well... the painting is then almost finished... just some foliage to do in the foreground and that is it!

I am already thinking of my next piece... or it could be pieces.. have an idea for a triptych.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Latest off the easel

As it has been a while since I have posted regularly I thought I should post a few images of work I have done recently. All these paintings are done with oils and are as a result of my Botswana field trip in 2011.

The idea for this piece was after watching three bulls cross the flood plain on a dull drizzly day in the Okavango Delta. I toyed with painting the scene as I saw it with the  muted light conditions; but the bulls had crossed singly so I chose to group them in the composition but still give them that space between them. After some thought I decided to change the light level and backdrop. I went through all my reference photo's  to find a setting that had an 'interesting' tree line and broken reed beds. This has been painted on a deep canvas with the scenery painted round the sides.

I started this painting back last summer it is one of the bigger canvases I have painted so far for my Botswana Collection, it's approx 2' x 3' and I am painting this slightly differently to my normal approach. I am playing with a looser approach for some of my work, these two bulls are my first serious attempt to try and paint less intensely. It has been a challenge to hold off going in with too much detail but it has also been fun 'playing'. These two bulls were seen striding closely side by side one evening near sundown one was very pale probably covered in the pale dust and sandy soil of the surrounding area and the other may have recently washed himself clean of dust as he was much darker. I have had a spell of doing other work, so it has been some months since I last worked on it but this weekend I was able to get back to it. One advantage of the 'time out' has been that I can look at the painting again with fresh objective eyes and can see I have a few adjustments to make to the paler elephant. Over the weekend, though, I concentrated on the darker bull adding in a 'foundation' layer on the ears head and trunk. Once this is dry I shall go over this foundation adding texture which will also lighten him up and better define the highlights.

These three pieces are more examples of some more 'playing' with this looser approach. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Clover... for Send A Cow

Yesterday I spent the day at the offices of the Send A Cow Charity, donating my time, to paint Clover. 

Clover is the cow sculpture made by the wonderful company Wild Art who did the gorilla sculptures seen in Bristol in 2011 and the Grommit sculptures to be seen in Bristol this Summer. They have made some wonderful shapes of animals, really pleasing to the eye with surprisingly tactile and perfect forms. The sculpture was the prize in a recent competition, run by the charity, to name her. The winning name is "Clover" and as one of the artists who submitted designs to decorate her, I got the honour to paint her... not in the design I put in but one suggested by the lady who won her. She was donating the sculpture to her local school and wanted the colours to reflect the school colours and be patches with the 6 'R' words that make up the school motto. These words will be put on by a signwriter, but first I had to paint the patches. 

After a brief chat with Joanna at the charity to discuss ideas the plan formed of several patches showing the countries of Great Britain and Africa. Great Britain for where the Charity is based and Africa for where they do their work. Then I thought of adding the Send A Cow charity logo and the shape of a clover leaf to represent her name. My prep work consisted of finding suitable map images of both countries, both of which I played with in Photoshop on the computer to 'clean up' of place names etc and turn into plain black shapes. A quick search on the internet for Fresian cow images (to get some basic patch patterns as reference), the charity logo and an image of a four-leafed clover all of which I printed out on A4 sheets.

I took a collection of brushes, a small tray to hold some paint, a water jar, my iPod and speaker and a Cadbury's creme egg along with a few other nourishment supplies to keep me going. 

The day started off badly with my car battery deciding to go on strike and refusing to allow my car engine to turn over and fire up! I got it started eventually by using a set of industrial sized jump leads and my brother's van. Should have been an easy affair to sort, but all manner of things conspired to throw proverbial spanners into works. I got there eventually, with the help of my neighbour Joe, but let's just say it all could have gone a lot more smoothly and simply than it did.

Got to the offices of Send A Cow just after 10am and after being shown around quickly I was then left to sort myself out. As planned my attack of the project as I looked over Clover and took a few 'before' photo's. Then there was nothing to it but to wade in and get cracking...

I had only one colour to apply and for the most part it was make it up as I went along. I used the Fresian cow photo's to get some sense of how I might place certain patches but apart from the emblems. logo and country patches, everything was just playing with shapes. This was great fun and I did enjoy 'finding my way' on her markings.

I decided to do the country shapes freehand.. I had no printouts big enough to trace so it was just a case of start drawing with a pencil and hope my proportions and size looked pretty good. I wasn't happy with Africa.. it looked stunted and fat, so I had some alterations to do to slim it down and elongate the sub Saharan part of the continent. But GB went quite well, I thought.

The school had sent Joanna an image of a school shirt so she could get the right colour blue paint, it also had the school emblem on, so I decided to add that to the design as well. Another on the spot addition was a little heart shape under the chin. It can only be seen by an adult if you bend down really low.. but the small children should see it with no trouble.

Here are some pictures of before, during and after the 'make over'. From start to finish of painting (with no breaks) took about 5- 6 hours.

During the day I had a few of the charity staff pop in to see what I was doing and at the end of the day, as I was painting the last hoof, practically all the staff came in en mass to see the finished product. I was pleased with their reactions and felt relieved that hopefully meant I had done a good job  and that they were happy with what I had done. Now I just hope the signwriter can work with what I have given her and that the lady who won the cow and the school to whom it is being donated like the look of Clover too.  

I was pleased too that, even though it gave a little protest, the car started reasonably well and I got home without further mishap.