Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shop now open

I have recently set up a shop, on a website called Tictail, through which my prints are available to buy online. This is my first endeavour on such a site and so I would appreciate any feedback on how easy it is to use etc. 

I have put a direct link to my shop at the right hand side of this page listed as  Susan Jane Lees Art under the header 'My Print Shop'. I do hope you will take a look and you never know, you might find an ideal Christmas gift for someone there. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Silk painting day 25th October

The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project (based at Bristol Zoo) is having a day of silk painting inspired by Autumnal treasures found within its area of interest.... The Downs. 

I shall be heading up the arty side of this day, where after a short walk to collect some lovely seed heads, leaves and other Autumn treasures for inspiration, the rest of the day is spent making a lovely simple design as a silk painting.

There are just a few spaces left on this course so if you are interested, please contact Mandy Leivers for more information - contact details below.

Saturday 25th October
Autumnal silk painting (Course)
Let the colours and shapes of autumn inspire you! In this workshop, Su Lees, Bristol Zoo’s Wildlife Illustrator, will show you how easy and fun it is to create silk paintings. 
10.00am - 3.30pm   £25.00  (includes materials).
Suitable for everyone, including the artistically challenged!
At Bristol Zoo Gardens and on the Downs. Book with the Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project, at Bristol Zoo, on 0117 9030609 or e-mail

The Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project is working to secure the outstanding wildlife interest of the Bristol side of the Avon Gorge and Clifton and Durdham Downs and to raise awareness and understanding of this unique location and its importance for people and wildlife.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My week at Nature In Art

At the beginning of this month I spent a week at the fabulous Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery in Gloucestershire. Each week between February and November a different artist of group of artists set themselves up in the studio space in the grounds of this wonderful place... so this was my turn. I have been very lucky to have been an Artist in Residence here once (or sometimes twice) a year since 2000 (except for one year) either going solo or with one or two other artists.

The museum is closed on Mondays so this is an ideal opportunity to set up and usually I get there just before lunch so that I have the afternoon to get the job done. However, due to various hold-ups, including trying to catch a baby house mouse at home that one of my cats had brought in alive and abandoned for me to take care of! Consequently I did not arrive until mid afternoon and was there until 7pm. 

This actually tied in nicely with a Wallsworth Art Group (WAG) meeting, so Simon, the Director, collared me to pop across to the main house to show my face and tell them briefly what I was up to this week. 

I finished the final touches of setting up through most of Tuesday. I had set the space up into different zones - a place for me to work at an easel, Botswana work, other work, zoo work and merchandise.

The main focus of the area was across the room from where I sat at an easel... this was my Botswana exhibition display. Next year I shall be having an exhibition at Nature in Art which will be an awareness and fundraising exhibition for Elephants For Africa. This is a small conservation research charity that focuses on bull elephants, in particular the transition period of young bulls from when they leave the natal (mother) herd and join adult bull society. This isn't the only work they do with regards to elephants... for more information of them please visit their website.
I had some of the paintings I shall be exhibiting, along with my sketchbooks and information about the exhibition, on display.
Two batiks I shall also be exhibiting were displayed across the room along with some of my other framed paintings and prints.  

More examples of my work along with several 'step by step' presentations for paintings and portfolios of more work and articles published in magazines.

More framed work on the wall just in front of my easel.

In the little room that is first entered when visitors come into the studio, I had a display of some of my zoo illustration work. I like to show this as well as it is different to my other work as an artist. There were examples of original work, a work sketchbook, a practice sketchbook, portfolio's showing a range of the animals I have to paint and draw and one showing examples of the signage that the illustrations are ultimately used for. My 'work' sketchbooks are purely for working up ideas, information and drawings towards the goal of producing a finished drawing or painting for a sign. My 'practice' sketchbook is one where I sketch whatever I want in the zoo for no other reason than to practice sketching. I am allocated a half day a fortnight for this practice sketching, although I sometimes miss them as the work load requires me to concentrate on that. However, the half day free sketching sessions are invaluable to me as self imposed 'on the job' training.

Then there's my table of merchandise - mainly small things like cards that are within easy reach of most budgets as a little something to take away. But I also have a small range of art and photographic prints usually in browsers in between the tables. 

And finally there's where I work... Here I am working on the first piece I did during the week. I started this one Tuesday afternoon and finished it Wednesday afternoon. It is one of my loose style pieces... I start by sketching the animal's form in paint straight onto the canvas using a fluid mix of paint and Liquin with a rigger brush. 

I started doing these mainly as a challenge to myself to loosen up, to prepare for the time when my eyesight can no longer cope with detail work, as I am aware the old eyesight is going that way... but it is also a useful exercise to 'try out' an idea for a more detailed piece. 

This is a young bull I had seen in Botswana and he was very much showing off as if to say "Hey! I'm all that and more, you know!" He was not threatening, just curious and animated. I have him in mind to be in a painting I am planning of a bull by water. 

This piece is a little different to most of my other work. I have seen in some fund-raiser exhibitions that there is often a 'message' piece.  So for want of a better phrase... this is intended to be mine... if it works. I have been planning and thinking on this one for some time and decided this week was an ideal time to start it. Partly as I wanted to see what people's reactions would be to it... and I was very pleased that it got very positive responses. I shall explain the thinking behind this piece in a future post on my In the Footsteps of Elephants blogpage. I was working on this piece from Thursday until stopping on Saturday when it was at the point you see in the photo. I did not want to pack my car and drive home on Sunday evening with the paint being very fresh and wet. So I put it aside and started a pastel drawing on the Sunday, which I have since finished.

Since doing Spike the lemur earlier this year on a sandpaper surface, I want to keep on using this type of surface for my pastels.  I love the amount you can work into it and will never return to that stuff they call 'pastel paper' in most art shops. You know the pads of coloured paper specifically marketed for pastels... I always used to use that... but not no more. I have seen the light! Or sand, in this case. 

So this guy is done on a very fine dark grey sandpaper finish.... I am thinking of doing another specifically as a pairing for this one. And then lots more!

The week was brilliant weather wise, lovely and warm and though the Museum was quiet (possibly due to a big wildlife photography exhibition being round the corner there - so folks were perhaps waiting to visit when that was on) I had plenty of people coming through to chat to me and see what I was up to. There was great reaction to the Exhibition work and hopefully many will return, as they said they would, to see it next year. 

Thank you to all those that did come in to say hello or just to look... it was lovely to meet you all, some for the first time, many from before. 

I am there again next September as that is when my exhibition will be on (3rd - 20th) and during that time I will be artist in residence for one of those weeks.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Artist in Residence week fast approaches

I am looking forward to my Artist In Residence week at Nature in Art, which is coming up very soon - 2nd to 7th September. It is always a pleasure to visit there for a day, so a week is a real treat. 

At the moment I am busy getting projects ready to do whilst there and a gathering a few bits and bobs to have available to sell. I will be showing some of the work that I have been doing for the exhibition (which will be at this venue September next year) as well as other work such as some examples of what I do as Wildlife Illustrator at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Nature in Art is a lovely place to visit and they have a great little coffee shop serving lovely lunches and super cakes and puds. If you are in the area, please do pop in and say hello... I shall be in the studio out in the gardens.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer School Batik workshop

Time has rushed around and it is fast approaching the time of the Gloucester Arts & Crafts Summer School again. This is the 7th year I have a workshop at this event ... as long, that is, as I get enough students. It is always a nail-biting time waiting to hear if the workshop has been booked by enough people to make it viable for the organisers to run.

I believe there are still some spaces on my course, but I need a few more to reach that magical 'ok to run' number. So if you  or anybody you know, would like to try your hand at batik and have a fun week in my class learning something new or playing with a medium you already know, please contact the organiser.  This link takes you to their website page where you can view details of all the courses available (including mine of course) and the contact details if you should wish to book. 

The designs you do on my workshop/course you keep, of course, and some have gone on to make their designs into something decorative or practical like cushion covers, lamp shades and shoe bags. Alternatively you can turn them into wall hangings or put them in a frame to hang on the wall. 

It is a great week to meet with like minded people interested in art and crafts, with lovely lunches and a great atmosphere. 

If you are considering joining me this year at Summer School to play with batik... I hope to see you soon. 

Here are some photo's from previous workshops showing some of the work done by the students.

First post since March!!

I have been absent from this blog since March... sadly unavoidable as I have had much going on and limited time for keeping blogs regularly updated. I have two other blogs in addition to this one. One for my zoo work and the other for my exhibition project with Elephants For Africa and only the latter has had anything vaguely resembling something like regular attention from me, much as I'd like it to be otherwise. I always hope to post at least once a month, but plans and good intentions are sometimes hard to keep to.

The main news to report is the acquisition of a new work space! I have at last got a proper studio. I will do a post all about this wonderful new era in my work very soon.

I have a workshop coming up.. again I will do another more detailed post on here (hopefully right after I write this!)

And I have entered two pieces into The National Exhibition of Wildlife Art... it is a juried exhibition so I have to wait until the originals are seen in July before I know whether I have successfully got in the show or not.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dabbling in pastels again

It's been a while since I played with my Carbothello pencils properly, so recently I decided to have a dabble. 

I started the lion piece back last October whilst I was Artist In Residence at Nature in Art for a week. It was a 'little filler' whilst I waited for oil paint to dry on another piece I was working on. 

The reference was a badly lit and out of focus image I had of one of Bristol Zoo's Asiatic lion cubs... except they were no longer cubs at the time the photo was taken. They had become juveniles with spiky rough starts to their mane's growth, legs had grown lanky and the head/muzzle had lost that rounded cub look and was elongating to the adult shape. I love this time in a lion's life.. that emerging confidence and energy wrapped up in play. In this case his sibling... another male. Kamran and Ketan.. but I haven't a clue which one this is.  

I had a piece of dark brown pastel paper that I thought would work nicely with the light colours of the young lion. I enhanced the lighting from the original photo and increased the detailing from the out of focus photo. 

Whilst in the 'flow' of working with the Carbothello's (Schwan Stabilo pastel pencils - I prefer their softness and find I do not get 'scratchy' applications) I set myself onto another piece. Again a simple composition. I have seen neither of these animals in the wild, so I do not have the 'knowledge' to paint them in their native habitat. Also these are both captive animals and the muscle tone and coat conditions would be different to a wild counterpart. So why pretend and try and depict them as if they were wild animals. 

Again this ring-tailed lemur is one of the group at Bristol Zoo. The references were taken on a lovely sunny day last year and as ring-tails have a love of doing... this one was sat on a warm stone enjoying the early summer sunshine. 

I had acquired a piece of grey pastel paper that had a rough but fine grade surface, like sandpaper. My mother had it for many years, as she liked to paint and draw, but for some years now she hasn't done any art. So I have 'inherited' all her art materials etc... and this roll of paper was amongst it. I have no idea what this type of paper is called, I'm sure it must have a name... on the back all it has is Hermes P400 HiCab LongLife. I will investigate on my next visit to an art shop. 

A 'ring-tail', I thought, would 'sit' lovely on that soft grey surface and I was curious to see how pastels 'behaved' on such a surface. So I looked through my references and saw the series of images I took on that day of the lemurs soaking up the rays. Just what I was looking for!

I have to say I really enjoyed working on that surface... the pastels could be worked 'deeper' in layers and still look fresh and detailed. I will be getting more of such paper.. or something as close to it as I can. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Drawing Workshop Summary

Picture the Natural World. 

It was rather disappointing that there were only three people booked for my drawing workshop on Saturday. Both myself and the organisers had hoped for more; we wondered whether being just after Christmas, and the January sales, that it was a case of most people pulling in the purse strings this month and not splashing out on 'non-essentials'. One of the organisers mentioned that doing such events was a new venture for them and maybe they should think more on their marketing of such events. Whatever the reason, the positive to come out of it was that having a small group means I can get round the students more often and if necessary spend more time individually. And I was very grateful to those that did book. They were a lovely little group and it was a real pleasure to meet them.

Bonnie, the Curator of Natural Sciences at Bristol Museum, was one of my contacts/organisers. It was through her that I was able to borrow 6 taxidermy specimens for the workshop. She was to be my assistant for the day, but as the numbers were low and manageable by just me, she joined the three students to take part in the workshop, making the group up to four.

There was a mix of abilities... someone who was just starting to draw, someone who had done A level art but not much since and was looking to be inspired back to drawing more and someone who drew fairly regularly looking to improve.

It was a short day, with so much to cover... starting at 11am and finishing at 4pm, so we cut the lunch break to 30 mins giving as much time as possible to the session. I was showing them four of the things I use when drawing, ways in which to get my drawings started quickly and enable me to get proportions and postioning in before I do any detailing. There are of course many things/ways/techniques I use but from experience I have found these four are some of the most useful to beginners or improvers.

The first part of the day we looked at basic building up of an animal shape and using 2D reference, including the pitfalls of such references. 

Then the second part of the day we looked at using 3D reference and sketching from life with exercises to increase speed, confidence and observation.

Some of those exercises were challenging, yet each of the students applied themselves to the task and could hold their heads high at what they achieved. At the end, to show I wasn't a complete Task Master, there was half an hour of free drawing.

The response from the students seems to have been good, saying that they found it enjoyable and challenging, yet positively so. I hope that they each went away with a little more confidence, inspiration and a few ideas to practice to improve their skills at home. At least one of the students asked Bonnie if they would be doing anymore such workshops with me; so I hope that in future I can do more there perhaps.

The room we were using at the mShed was a good size with lots of light, especially from the floor to ceiling window that looked out over the harbour area of Bristol. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Drawing Workshop

There's a few spaces left so, it's not too late to book a place on my drawing workshop at the MShed tomorrow. You can turn up and pay tomorrow, but to guarantee a place, it would be best to book.

Please contact the Mshed for more information and to book.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Artists and Illustrators magazine Feb 2014 issue

Back before Christmas, I was approached by the editor of the A&I magazine, after he saw two images I had posted on my blog 'In The Footsteps of Elephants'. He asked me to write a short article on how and why I chose to paint the two images at the same time. 

The article is now published in the February 2014 issue (which is out in January). Due to some editing for the article to fit the space, an alteration was made in the last paragraph that wasn't run by me for approval and as a result it reads...  '... and provided the chance for a colour to dry on one painting as I worked on the other.' This would actually be wrong in the context of the painting process I was describing in the article as I was working wet into wet over a very short space of time and as such there would be no time for the oil paints to dry.

The following is the wording I sent to the magazine for this article.

Double Trouble. Why would I want to paint these two images at the same time?

I don’t normally work loosely, but this past year I have been occasionally challenging myself to do just that. To stop myself from my love of ‘fiddling’, I work with a time limit (around 4-5 hours) to start and finish a painting. These two studies of an elephant calf, were one such challenge.

I wanted two paintings which could be displayed as a pair, looking ‘the same, but different’. So it seemed natural to paint them together, to keep a sense of continuity happening between them. If I painted them on different days I may lose that, so I did them both on the same day.

I ‘sketched’ in the two calf poses using burnt sienna diluted with Liquin to make it flow easily from a rigger brush (size 0), no preparatory drawing, just straight in with the paint. This gives me a sense of creating ‘freshness and spontaneity’ and it’s worth getting the proportions right at this stage, as trying to correct the form latter in the painting can kill that spontaneity feel.

I had mixed more than enough of each colour on my palette to do both paintings; using the same colours on both helped create a natural connection, along, obviously, with the composition, lighting and setting. Conscious of my self-imposed time limit and desire to avoid detail, I worked fast, wet into wet and having the two canvases side by side on the easel made it easier to keep an eye on how the two ‘sat’ together as they progressed.

Using a round size 5 watercolour brush, along with the rigger, I painted similar elements at a time, such as the grasses, working on one canvas before doing something similar on the other. The time spent doing this varied between a few minutes for blocks of foliage/grasses etc to around an hour for each calf. Switching back and forth like this kept the colour and brush use almost identical, creating that ‘same moment in time’ feel not just in the time and location of the subject, but also on a subconscious level in the actual application of paint.

These two studies are to be part of my fundraising solo exhibition for the work of a small grassroots conservation research charity studying young bull elephants in Botswana – Elephants For Africa. The exhibition will be in 2015 at Nature in Art, Gloucestershire. For updates and information on this event please visit… or

Drawing Workshop 25th January

'Picture The Natural World'

As part of the programme of events held whilst the exhibition of The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is held at the MShed, they are holding a drawing workshop, with me as the tutor.

This workshop 'Picture the Natural World', will be showing you how to draw animals and is aimed at both beginners and improvers. Using several taxidermy specimens, we shall practise techniques I will show on how best to achieve a good basic drawing.

Click here to go to the MShed website for details on the workshop and booking.

MShed and Museum visits.

Yesterday afternoon I visited the MShed for the first time. Shameful, but true. I was there to meet the lady who was my contact for a workshop I shall be doing there at the end of the month. This will be a drawing workshop and is part of their Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition event; I shall write a separate post letting you know about that.

The L and MSheds are the old goods transit sheds built after the second world war (in which the previous buildings had been destroyed) in part of the Bristol Dock area. No longer an area for loading and unloading goods from ships, the sheds have been converted for modern use. The Bristol Industrial Museum opened its doors in M Shed in 1977 and the arrival of the National Lottery in the 1990s offered an opportunity for the Industrial Museum to be revamped and for the city of Bristol to gain a brand new facility telling in one place the complex and fascinating history of one of the country's most important cities, both in the past and currently. the Industrial Museum closed in 2006 and the new museum M Shed opened in June 2011. It's a Museum that is about the people of Bristol, both past and present, with items from the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery displayed to bring their stories to life along with computer screen for interactive contributions from the public. 

I had a quick look round prior to my meeting and spent some time listening to recorded readings of peoples diaries or letters referring to the Blitz on Bristol and also enjoyed seeing some of the old transport vehicles and many other artifacts like paintings, photographs, clothing, etc

My meeting was primarily for me to see the room that the workshop will be in and to meet Frances, who is organising the event. I was impressed with the size and light within the room, there is a lovely view over the docks so maybe I could even persuade some to try and sketch the gulls as they bob about on the water outside. We had a chat about basics like room layout and numbers of tables and chairs etc before I then had another longer look around the museum before I needed to head off across the docks and up the hill to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Here I was to meet Bonnie, who looks after the specimen collection. I was being allowed to borrow some taxidermy specimens for the workshop and was here to pick the ones I'd like to use. Bonnie showed me, in a very quick visit, their scientific collection, which was fascinating. I can see why she loves her job. As I walked around whilst Bonnie pointed out interesting specimens and talked of their history and importance to scientists, and how they prepare specimens for use or display after being stored.. I couldn't help but wish to be allowed a day in there to have a good look at the collection... looking at drawers of beetles, butterflies, skeletons and stuffed animals. In many was quite gruesome as it was in fact a room full of dead things, but incredibly fascinating and intriguing. Seeing the massive skull of one enormous hippo, the old Victorian skeleton of an Asian elephant, a mammoth tooth, a polar bear skeleton etc As an artist the insight into the structure of these animals was fascinating.

From there we went to the educational collection which is where I would get to pick my choices of specimens. I was looking for animals with different features on the bodies.. legs, ears, tails, torso, head etc, but also trying to get bigger specimens so that they could be seen easily in the workshop from across the room. I picked 3 birds and 3 mammals, everything else would be too small from the choices I had. I left very excited about the workshop and setting folks the challenges of drawing these items.


Happy New Year!

I know, I apologise, it's a bit late. I have not done well these last few months with posts to this blog... things got a little busy with the family and I just didn't have time to put aside for things like blogs, sadly

I hope that the New Year has started well for you and will prove to be a healthy and happy year for us all.

May all your endeavours and adventures be successful and that there's a good smattering of fun thrown in for good measure, as well.

My very best wishes for 2014.