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?