Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Circle of Habitats - the woodland is emerging

Just a quick update on the illustration that I am producing for Grafham Water Nature Reserve.

Painting has begun and I have decided to work anti-clockwise around the drawing, keeping the areas I am not painting well and truly covered for protection.  We don't want any paint splashes at this stage !

The ancient woodland segment is nearly complete and at the moment I am working on the plantation woodland segment.

Once the whole picture is complete and I will then make any 'tweeks' and perhaps add a few other species. 

Watch this space !

Friday, 8 November 2013

A welcome break - the 50th SWLA exhibition

Last Sunday I had a welcome break from the current commission I am working on.  We ventured up to London with the specific aim of visiting the Society of Wildlife Artists Exhibition at the Mall Galleries entitled The Natural Eye.

Katherine Tyrrell has written a couple of great blogposts about the exhibition on her Making a Mark blog.  They can be found at: and

This exhibition has really had an impact on me.  Many wildlife art portraits are very photo-realistic, as Katherine mentions on her blog.  The work produced is still often stunning, but it is now that I realise at times something is missing.  I will share thoughts about this further on.

It was such a refreshing exhibition and it was a treat to walk into a wildlife art exhibition and not be overwhelmed by a selection of big cat paintings.  This made me think of when I exhibited with another well known wildlife art society a few years ago.  My painting of a Hazel Dormouse was surrounded and somewhat overwhelmed, by paintings of rather exotic species in all different shapes and sizes. 

I am digressing.  I wanted to share with you a few images from the exhibition, that caught my attention and why they appealed to me.  I took these images personally, so therefore the copyright of them remains with me, but copyright of the actual artwork depicted remains with the artist.  Any thoughts and opinions I express are purely my own.

Brin Edwards - left: Assington Waxwings, Seven of Fifty-seven
right: Barn Owl hunting.  Oil
Brin's work has such an amazing quality to it.  I had previously seen it at the New Naturalists Collectors Club Symposium.
These two pieces had such vibrant colours. so much energy and the picture on the left almost had a stained-glass window effect.
As a novice print-maker I always love coming to this exhibition to see the variety of prints and especially those produced from lino-cuts.  These two by Chris Sinden top: Bullfinches, bottom: In amongst the stubble, had some lovely colour qualities to them.  I was attracted to the soft, almost pastel shades used, particularly in the Bullfinch print. 
These paintings by John Foker, top: Blue Streak, middle: Nettlemonger, bottom: Lammas Kingfisher - oils.  Show me how effective small paintings can be in portraying a lot of information.

In one of the gallery's side rooms was a series of works entitled 'Out of the Frame' by three member artists.  The drawing and paintings were as a result of fieldwork from selected projects.
The sketches above are by Michael Warren, who has been visiting the same site for nearly 25 years to record the various bird species and other wildlife found there.  The site itself has been used for gravel extraction and new habitats are gradually evolving as the operations on the site become reduced.
These were just a selection of the drawings and to me they really show what good fieldwork is all about and what excellent observational skills Michael has.
As I came to the end of viewing the exhibition, I sat in one of the side rooms and felt compelled to write in my notebook words that summed up the exhibition to me.  Some of these words / descriptions are what I feel are sometimes missing in work that has a more photo-realistic approach.

The majority of artwork made me feel that I was looking through a window into the animal's life.  It almost gave me a feeling of privilege, similar at times to when I have been observing wildlife, either birding or when completing surveys.
Spirit, movement, life
So much of the animal's spirit, movement and life was shown in these works of art.
The passion of the artist really showed in these pictures and the individuality of the different artist's media and methods.
Higher value
I was left hoping that people viewing this exhibition that perhaps didn't have such a wide ranging knowledge of wildlife, would go away giving a higher value (morally and from a conservation perspective) to the animals they have seen portrayed, perhaps even those that are less well known.  This in turn leads me onto the next words I jotted down - awareness raising.
Story, narrative
So many of the pictures and sculptures had a very strong narrative to them.  Telling me the story of the animal's life / existence.
For those of you that will be in and around London this coming weekend, there is still the chance to see the exhibition at the Mall Galleries until Sunday 10th November.  The gallery is open 10am - 5pm on Saturday and the exhibition closes at 1pm on Sunday.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Now on to the tracing process

With my general artwork I tend not to draw and then trace the subject onto the watercolour paper, I seem to take the plunge !  There are times when tracing the subject / design is of great help, especially when you are dealing with a complex composition.

The latter is definitely the approach I wanted to take with the commission that I have been working on.  Before I even started the draft stage I knew about its complexity, so I planned carefully.  Once I got to the draft stage and the client was happy with the design, the tracing process can begin.

A Daubenton's bat had now appeared.  This is portrayed between the ancient woodland and the open water habitats.
These bats roost in veteran trees in the ancient woodland and then come out to feed over open water, flying low to the water's surface and scooping up insects.

After a few tweeks to the design, I decided that I was going to have a go at using 'Tracedown' paper for transferring the design onto the watercolour paper.  If any of you have not heard of this before it is like the carbon paper that you used to use in typewriters, but this has a graphite base to it.

I started very cautiously and soon discovered that I was not happy with the results.  I used a 3H pencil to trace the design through and even with a fine point the lines created from the 'Tracedown' onto the paper were not sharp or precise enough and had a fuzziness to them. Thinking cap on !

Out came the good old normal tracing paper, a fine liner and my light-box.

A 'flotilla' of wildfowl added, along with a Heron.  The Pyramidal orchid has now been replaced with an Adders tongue fern
I used the fine liner pen to draw the design onto the tracing paper and then I will lay this on my light-box with the 140lb watercolour paper on top.  This weight of paper is thin enough for using on a light-box, and as the design is on tracing paper the light will shine through more efficiently.

Using previous paintings and sketches for reference.

Today's work so far and the next step is to finalise the layered scrub and plantation woodland habitats, with their relevant species.