I enjoyed the ‘Death’ exhibition at Wellcome Museum in London so much, I was really pleased to discover that in my home city of Bristol, the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery were now also hosting a temporary ‘Death, the human experience’ exhibition.
I’m not sure I can put my finger on why I find the symbols of death so interesting. Perhaps it’s because it seems in equal parts mysterious and scientific. Perhaps because it’s shared globally, and has generated a wealth of interpretations, art and narrative.
As we busy ourselves with Life, it becomes richer for recognising Death.
I made my way to the exhibit and spent so long drawing and studying each artifact that it closed before I could see it all. I’ll be back to take in more. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the sketches I did manage to get down on paper. The exhibition runs until 13th March 2016, if you’re in the area.
In my travels I’ve picked up and visited some interesting death artifacts of my own:
Unicorns have had a long history in mythology; with what started out as attempting to catalogue creatures from far off distant lands, later turning to something with a more magical quality. Notoriously difficult to catch, they could once only be lured in by virgins; now they’re everywhere and everyone’s friend. It’s a great thing to know that unicorns have finally decided to share their magical qualities with the rest of us, even becoming vengeful when called upon.
So yes, unicorns have been around a long ol’ while. And as with any story, like Chinese Whispers, the details get warped from time to time. I like to question and play with what is understood about this creature: why is it still white if its qualities are not so pure anymore? What would happen if rainbows came out of its mouth instead of its butt?
As I form ideas about what I want my unicorn to look like, I start practising drawing horses. Horses are notoriously difficult and after the first few wonky horses, I’d wonder why this was a good idea… Despite this, my way of tackling challenging shapes is to draw them over and over and over again, so that each time, my hand to eye co-ordination comes to understand the shape and weight of a horse; the power, the gesture, the lines I need to communicate ‘horse’ to any viewer.
Once I eventually find the shape I like, I’ll trace it onto my watercolour paper, ink it up and head on in with paint. Before I even touch the main image with paint, I’ll always have a test sheet nearby or use the corner to make sure I’m mixing my colours correctly. You can see some of my tests with the rainbow effect for a rainbow breathing unicorn.
Once I’m ready to go, I usually try to paint it in one sitting. Watercolours can be quite unforgiving and personally, I find it works best if I work quickly, to make sure I’m happy with laying my paint down with different tones and blends before everything gets a chance to dry out. I know other painters have a slower approach but this is the one that I find suits me.
There’s a lot of grey in the final unicorn, as you’ll see below. One of the things I love about paint is that it allows me to only work with three paint colours: red, yellow and blue (in warm or cool palettes). The grey, believe it or not, is made by just the right blend of red, yellow and blue. No black, no grey, no white. Amazing huh?
Maybe in a future blog post, I’ll talk about the magic of grey…
But for now, here is a bad-ass rainbow breathing unicorn:
I just love to draw gorgeous buildings. Yes I know, it does sound strange coming from someone who regularly talks about how much I enjoy drawing an animal roaring, leaping and generally being beastly.
The thing is, buildings have a lovely contrast to the speed and kind of energy used in my drawings of living creatures. My style doesn’t change but I like the results I get when applied to a structure – giving a solid building a life and character of its own.
I like searching out the details with my pen or pencil, working with the weight of the line to add depth, finding which colours to bring out, and quite often when I’m taking time over these longer drawings, I find myself ‘in the zone’ happily spending hours drawing a building to life. This is true for when I’ve worked on private commissions for people’s homes, as well as various landmarks.
One of the buildings I’ve painted is St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. This 4th July, Bristol Concert Orchestra – the oldest orchestra in Bristol – will be performing at St Mary Redcliffe as a venue for the first time. I’m very pleased to have my artwork displayed on their poster adverting the event at this exciting time for the orchestra.
I like to think I know about ‘whimsy’ with my quirky sense of humour and drawing style; however ‘whimsy’ is not always specified in a brief when I’m commissioned so it’s nice when someone comes along and asks you to use your expertise specifically for whimsical subject matters.
I have recently had the pleasure to work with Jessica, who has set up a website dedicated entirely to her sense of whimsy. I was asked to illustrate a header for her website entitled ‘Embrace Your Whimsy, A Tribute to The Beauty of Chaos’. Perfect! After discussing her particular interests, the draft came together:
I felt that the way a person grows and follows their interests can be very organic, following a weaving path like a plant. Although the winding stems of a sweet pea look a little chaotic, the end result is still beautiful. The feel of the piece was intended to be feminine too, so I decided greens, pinks and purples would set the tone just right.
On her website, you’ll find Jessica discussing thoughts on parenting, teaching. books, life, love and more, definitely worth a read: have a look at www.galeforcewhims.rocks You can also have a look at the lovely things she said about me and the artwork too – thanks Jessica!
People ask if I draw a lot of birds and I say, ‘No, not really…’ Then I think back over the subject matters I’ve worked with and actually, there are a fair few birds in there. So here is a lovely collection of my feathered friends, from sketchbook, to the final few I worked up into my birds series.
There’s something I like about their demeanor – short quick movements suit my short quick drawing style; the tilt of their head gives them a human-like quizzical expression.
So as I draw and draw, a few start making themselves known as the ones to paint. It all started with this cardinal a long time ago…
To which I added four more… They’re all available to buy online in my redbubble shop, in various retail places in Bristol, and they’re currently in an exhibition at the Better Food cafe until Saturday 13th December. I’m hoping to send them on a little tour around Bristol, so maybe you’ll see them up…
Everyone loves a good monster – especially as we enter autumn with the nights drawing ever closer in. Soon we’ll be spending the last day of October trying to scare the pants off each other as monsters (and other creepy beasties).
One thing I love about monsters nowadays is that they’re so varied. There are monsters of every size and description, from Frankenstein to the cast of Monsters Inc. They’re big and scary or small and friendly and every iteration between. Thanks to this quality, monsters are fantastically easy to draw. Whatever you come up with, that’s a monster. In my mind, there’s no such monster drawing as: ‘but that doesn’t look like a monster’.
Monsters are just so much fun too – which is why I’m running a Monster Party workshop as part of The Art Troupe. As adults, we don’t get to spend much time playing and doodling for our own enjoyment. I’m aiming to inject fun and spontaneity into monster drawing with a series of collaborative and solo drawing activities, where at the end of it all, you get your own monster book. The activities are like ‘artistic sprints’ so as to get around any niggling thoughts of ‘Ok, this monster needs to be good, what shall I draw? Do I give it three legs or four? Should I start at the tail or the teeth?’ and you enter into it with more of a ‘Yaaaay! Monsters!’ instead.