Sunday, August 20, 2017

Continuing from my last post…

So was I ready? Well.. I didn't get to actually paint, but I planned.... and feel inspired to paint. That's a huge step forward.

I walked to the studio (6 minutes away) and faffed about a bit doing a few little unimportant jobs to start with. 
On the studio wall…. hanging there for two years is a blank box canvas that I had ear-marked for an elephant painting that I never got to do for the 2015 exhibition. Whilst coming up with ideas for the show paintings, I had been inspired by a photo I had seen on the internet.  

Unfortunately I cannot credit the photographer as I do not know who it was. But the image made me think of a particularly rambunctious young bull I had seen in the Okavango Delta back in 2011, on my exhibition reference gathering trip. I had seen him on one of the dry areas of land; but wouldn’t it be great to paint him in a water setting, being all ‘teenagery’ and full of attitude with something….. as a kind of homage to the older bull in that photograph.

That was the ‘spark’ for the painting, but it never progressed beyond the initial concept idea, roughs and reference gathering, as I ran out of time in which to do it back then. But now as I looked at the canvas and computer print out I had stuck to it to remind me of that idea… I thought… now is the time to finally paint it. All the initial planning is already done… it’s just tidying ideas up and changing a few details and we’re ready to go… Let’s do it!

And as I looked over my roughs, references and played with a few changes and additional ideas I thought… hey.. I haven’t done anything on my blog for ages.. If I’m gong to paint this, how about telling the story of its concept and production? And rather than feeling that ‘anti- art’ thing emerge, at the thought of that, like it has for the past couple of years.. I felt good about it…. almost like it is a natural part of the process of getting this painting done.

So this is where we find ourselves now…. We begin the journey of this painting with no finished product in sight. I don’t know if it is going to turn out well or not… I guess we’ll just have to trust that it does. I hope you'll enjoy the posts I do following my progress on this piece.

So how about a little more background on the inspiration...

I had seen how young bulls, like the teenagers they are, sometimes act like they are taking on the world… full of their growing sense of strength and boldness. That one bull I have already mentioned was one - standing tall, head up high and posturing with all the bravado of one who is acting maybe a little bigger than his boots, whilst at the same time being confident his boots were a lot bigger than ours and so he could get away with his elaborate gestures. 

Who’s to say that on another day he could chose to aim his rambunctiousness at one of his fellow Delta neighbours instead of nosey human researchers and tourists. What if he chose to chase off another smaller species, not with any malicious intent, but just for the sheer hell of it… just like young calves do.

So I had toyed with this idea and plumped for a large wading bird as the 'victim' of his boisterous mood… something he could shoo away from the edge of the water with no threat to himself. There were an array of egrets, storks and herons to choose from, but I decided on a saddle-billed stork, as that would add a nice bit of colour.

With that concept in mind I had looked through my landscape images from the Delta for ideas and references for the scene I had in mind. I wanted a setting that had a backdrop line of trees, a stretch of water midway and a foreground of sandy soil and grasses… this would be where the elephant would be and from where the stork would launch itself from. 

I found two images from my trip that I can pick elements from to make my setting for the painting.

This one has the layout I’m thinking of, but it's not quite right for the painting. And yes.. it is a blurry photograph.. that's fine... I don't need high detail. I want to do a loose-ish background and if I need details.. I have a myriad of other photo's to look to.

This one has plants and trees that I want to swap or add in to the layout of the one above... it gave me ideas about what to do with the sky too.
I want to create a setting to suit my idea, but that is also true to the area. So whilst the basic layout of the top image suits… I will move trees and plants around to a composition that I like, mixing elements from both to hopefully come up with something that is different from the photo’s but the same layout and feel. The same but different… that makes sense, right?

This is the young bull in question… as you can see by his posture, he was quite full of himself and although he was a youngster, he was still a sizeable animal and could do a lot of damage, if he chose to. Luckily for us his initial startled reaction, when we happened upon him in the bush, was short lived, and he carried on his way not looking to tangle with us pesky humans.

That’s the basic elements - setting and story. 

This is the rough I’m did, pulling my references together. Roughs don’t need to be detailed or precise.. they’re all about ideas, and as I thought about what I wanted to do with the panting, the story I wanted to tell, I added some more ideas to the rough - like having the dust around his feet to create that sense of drama as he pulls up short in the dry sandy soil. Also choosing that one of the two storks to be lower than the tops of the long grasses/reeds at the waters edge… creating some depth in the image. My original idea had it higher and clear of any foreground vegetation. I’m sticking with a line of egrets flying over the water away towards the back of the scene (depth and movement) but have yet to work up their flight positions.. I just know I like the idea of them skimming low over the water’s surface.

Here’s a couple of ref images I have for the birds…. again photo’s taken by me in the Delta on the same trip. I might add some distant birds to the tree tops at the back of the painting… representing open-billed storks. I had thought about having a few francolin’s running for cover at the front, back in 2015, but had soon discounted it at the time thinking that it might look too busy with them in. But that is open for change… I’ll see how the painting progresses and whether it could cope with them as an addition to the fray.

As for the elephant… I’m going to use one image as the basis for his posture, but I have been playing about with his head, trunk, tail and leading foreleg. I need to ramp up his intent, so will bring his head up higher, put more emphasis in the trunk curl, bring his tail round to add to the tension and lift his leading foreleg slightly. I don't think I have got it right yet.. so some more adjusting to posture to come.

Sometimes, to help me visualise where I am going with a piece in the planning phase, I will use the computer to piece the elements together and then print it to get a clearer picture of how it all comes together, where I could go with it and what doesn’t work. This is what I had put together back in 2015 and what has been on the canvas on the wall reminding me that it could be a painting to do someday. 


Well that day has come and the inspiration still feels fresh… I’m just ready now, I think, to paint it.

But I have to wait until Friday or the weekend now… back to work at the zoo on tomorrow (Monday) where I have an epaulette shark to illustrate.

Leave of Absence

It has been a long time since I last updated you on my work. I apologise to those who have been popping in to check now and again and found nothing new, if you are one of those people I thank you for being here now. If you are new to this blog.. Welcome, thank you for your interest, I hope you will enjoy my scribblings.
So.. to explain my absence...
To be honest, I struggled after the exhibition in 2015… having put my ‘all’ into preparing for, and being at the show for the three weeks it was on, I was left mentally and physically exhausted. I was so happy, proud and pleased as punch that it was so well received and did so well for the conservation research charity it was supporting, but the stress and effort of the 8 years it took to see the project through, took its toll and I think my mind and body had a little something to say on that. Once it was all over, all manner of health issues raised their ugly heads (as is often the case after the body relaxes after a prolonged period of stress) and have pestered me ongoing since then, one thing after another. I am hopeful that my present condition of a frozen shoulder is the last for a while…. it’s really not funny anymore.
On top of that there was the added worry and involvement with my mother’s dementia, trying to help her and Dad in the ongoing slow progress of her deterioration. She was diagnosed some 18 years ago… and in the last few years been getting noticeably worse quicker.  Sadly in June, after suffering a very bad fall, she passed away nine days later.

I know, perhaps on blogs and such, one is supposed to appear invincible and at the top of one’s game… but truth is I see no point in hiding it when things get tough. I have friends in the art business who seem to thrive and be inspired when things are tough. Me? Not so much.
After the exhibition I could not face picking up a pencil or brush, thinking about art or dealing with the business side of things made me angry (Don’t know why, it just did)…. so I let things slip for a year… giving myself that much needed break, particularly as I seemed to have other things to deal with like my health and my parents situation. My mindset could not handle any thought of art or any of the peripherals of the job like promotion (blogs, Facebook, Twitter), sketching days out, workshops, demos, talks... even just speaking about art to friends. I had to step away to give myself time to come back to it. That year turned into two and only in the last month or so have I warmed to the idea of painting again.
To be honest I did think about stopping painting for myself altogether… and that thought lasted a long while. The whole business of art… Was it for me?  I’m not ‘into art’, I don’t consider myself ‘arty’ and as a job, I felt jaded by all the business side. I was just lost and fed up, questioning everything and wanting to spend my time doing other things.
So after two years of relentless consideration it comes down to this... My interest in art is based mainly on the fact that it is a way to connect to that which does inspire me. Through painting or drawing I have that vital connection I need to the Natural World where I can recreate and tell a story about those precious landscapes, species and individuals that I have seen and that we share the planet with. And I want to continue doing that… so that means continue painting. Maybe I just need to change, re-evaluate some aspects of the business side for a while, or indefinitely.

So here I am, two years on since the exhibition and finally thinking about painting again. Having said that… I have continued painting at the zoo where I work, but it was a struggle (concentration was difficult to keep a reign on.. I found lots of other little jobs that needed doing when I could, but the workload is high, so I had to force myself to paint - not something I usually have to do. That feeling of forcing myself, didn’t help me be inspired to do my own art… and it certainly didn’t help me create work I could say I was particularly proud of. But that has improved, and it helps that my work at the zoo is different to my own work; it is much more straightforward (less to plan and compose) and doesn’t involve any of the ‘officey’, business side of things. So I didn’t stop altogether… just my own work. 

At the beginning of this year I decided I would play with my art… not set myself deadlines, goals etc.. just try and find the joy in the paint again. Gradually I began dropping by the studio, sometimes for a brief visit of about 5 mins, sometimes just to sit and think about things, sometimes I played about like a kid doing speckle patterns that I could use maybe as greeting cards (don’t know if I will, but it was fun to do), putting colour in designs in a colouring in book… silly little things that meant nothing, other than finding a bit of fun. I haven't finished with this approach.. there's loads more I want to play with.

Gradually thoughts on how I would proceed with my art began to congeal.

I plan to take things slowly… rebuild my enthusiasm… get my painting mojo back! 2017 I was gonna paint again… at some point.
After a break in 2016 of being Artist in Residence at Nature In Art, I was delighted to be asked back for a week in January at the beginning of this year. It was perfect timing… just what I needed to spring me back into the idea my own work again. Surrounded by enthused people and wonderful other artworks and surroundings… it was the perfect place to dust off and try out the old painter in me again. I worked on a pastel piece, a commission of some hens. Surrounded by the arty atmosphere helped and I managed to get some work done and the piece almost finished… that’s a start!

Then later I was invited to exhibit a piece in the TWASI 25th Anniversary Early Founders Exhibition. Now I know I said I wasn’t going to be doing any shows etc… but I couldn’t say no to this particular one, as it felt like a debt owing… I learnt much from my years as a member of that society… particularly in the early years, so I was happy to be asked and support them. But I needed a new piece of work… so... I managed to finish the giraffe piece I started (but never had time to complete) for the elephant exhibition, shown below. 


It was a pastel piece that was half done in 2015… I only had the other half to do…. easy, right? Ha! Suffice to say; I had to do short sessions, as my concentration kept ‘switching off’  and wandering. I did finish it in time… just (by the skin of my teeth); it was good to get it done… could I do it again? Only this time start from the very beginning… not just pick up on a piece where I had left off. 

A few more months pass and suddenly yesterday my brain said. “Let’s go to the studio and see about starting an oil painting. Now that would be something wouldn’t it Su.. huh? You ready?”