New Beginnings 2…

A New Mural!
Apparently, about 7 years ago, in rare (and brief) bout of self-promotion, (my least favourite task) I contacted a number of places that I thought had the potential for wanting a mural. I seem to remember I looked for visitor centres and tourist attractions etc, sent out a few leaflets and made a few phone calls. I can only very vaguely remember doing this I certainly remember spending a lot of time getting the leaflet to look right and not really very much time getting that leaflet out for people to see -the classic artist’s problem!
Anyway, back in November last year, I was in a bit of a desperate whirl of job applications and interviews, running exhausting Forest School sessions and working at an afterschool club. I was also volunteering with a local community arts charity Imayla and working on my illustrations. All this work and still barely affording my rent – it was fair to say that I was fairly stressed at the time! And in the midst of all of this I got an exciting phone call!
What could be more perfect proof that this is indeed an adventure?! This sort of serendipity only happens in adventures. It’s might also be proof that boring old marketing actually pays off (eventually!) Hmm I wonder what could happen if I did more of it?!
The phone call was from Jay Cooper from Arthog Outdoor Education Centre West Wales. He left a message asking if there was any remote chance I still worked as a mural painter?! They’d received my leaflet all those years ago and had hung on to it until now! They finally have the funds to pay for a full scale artist’s mural and wanted me to do the job! Horay! Obviously I jumped at the chance, not only was this commission perfectly timed, reassuring me that I wasn’t going to be destitute after all, I was also getting the chance to paint for this inspiring outdoor education centre. Some immediate concerns jumped into mind, mainly ‘How on earth would I manage settling back into Bristol whilst painting a mural in West Wales?’ – But I kept on ignoring this minor logistical details, I would worry about that obstacle when I came to it. For now I just said ‘YES PLEASE!!’
So in the New Year a string of phone calls and emails passed between Jay and I about the size of the wall, the time frame and most importantly the content of the design. A couple of months later I still wasn’t sure how I would accommodate travelling to Wales alongside all the jobs I was doing already. But then arrived the second, happy piece of good luck – Jay called to let me know that they wanted the mural to be painted on boards rather than straight on the wall and would this be ok? – HORAY!! The solution had arrived! I could paint it from Bristol! Phew! Not only that but I had by this point just moved into a new house and had just had a successful interview with Sustrans! Things we’re falling into place!
I have a rule I stick to whenever I start a mural commission. It is that no matter how much detail has been covered over the phone about the brief or how many photos I’ve seen of the space I always have to visit the space in person and talk to the person/people face to face before I start the design. I get such a different impression of what I will paint when I have followed this rule that I think it must be the only reliable way to make sure that I have got the right idea. It saves me a lot of work in the long run. I have broken this rule twice when I haven’t been able to access the wall prior to painting and both times I’ve had to redraw the whole design!
The Arthog centre is in such a beautiful location it was an absolute pleasure to visit, I didn’t really need much of an excuse!
So I put my bike on the train from Bristol to Fairbourne and visited Arthog before cycling up into Snowdonia to see family. What a beautiful spot! I know the area well and to do a painting influenced so much by this landscape is a real treat. So much inspiration to put into the design!
This is one of Jay’s lovely photographs of the area:
gorce on the moudach copy

Speaking with Jay was a real treat. He has so much enthusiasm for the work he does and so much love and faith in the children he works with. Many of the children who come for outdoor adventures come from Telford. They are city kids and for a lot of them this is the first time they have experienced being in landscapes like this. They go on a journey from inland city surroundings out to coastal countryside. While they are they undertake smaller journeys into the landscape and personal journeys trying new things and learning to trust themselves, each other and the natural environment. Jay wanted the mural to reflect these different journeys whist showing the activities they do together and the natural beauty of the area.

So… after a stage similarly stressful and disheartening as I described for coming up with children’s book illustrations I finally settled on this design:

arthog without annotations

The maps and the unfurling ferns are to represent these journeys.
I have Mona Caron to thank for the ribbon, she is an amazing San Francisco artist who I admire a lot. The ribbon motif is something I have seen her weave into many of her paintings, its genius. I hope she doesn’t mind me using it too!
The words are taken from a sculpture that is already at the centre which have become a sort of motto. And the rest is built from photos of the area and activities that Jay and the other staff run with the kids.
So I’ve been given the go ahead and painting has started. I’m fighting it off the feeling of overwhelm every time I look at the six huge boards of 6mm ply stacked up against the wall. Several days work has gone into transporting them, cutting them to size, sanding them down, priming them, drawing a grid, re-drawing the grid to the right measurements and finally drawing on the design. Now for the hard bit… I hope I can do it justice!

New Beginnings!

It has been several months since my last post and so much has happened!
In this time I have well and truly re-established myself in Bristol. I have a new house and a new job with Sustrans! – a perfect follow up to my cycling trip!
Since my new job does not, (as yet…) have a particularly artistic selection of duties, I have been working non-stop to accommodate a couple of exciting new creative projects outside of it. So I shall give a bit of an over view of work from the past 7 months
New Illustration project!
I have teamed up with the wonderful writer Kate Green who has created an imaginative and adventurous tale of environmental heroism! I have been working on the development of characters to illustrate her fun, rhythmical prose. I can’t give away the storyline for obvious reasons! but here is a taster of some of the characters involved.

This is our sad but friendly Eucalyptus tree in the first stage of his evolution.He cheers up as the story progresses!


And the sleepy main character

What most people are blissfully unaware of as they look at a children’s picture book, is the massive number of draft layouts, rough sketches, dud character designs, and clumsy composition attempts which lie behind every finished piece. Maybe other illustrators would say different but in my case these are drawn and redrawn and drawn again in an endless and sometimes downright disheartening process towards reaching a composition that does justice to the narrative, the mood and the characters and is rendered to the best of my skill. I often find myself feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and I just haven’t got the talent or vision to create the right picture but I keep plugging away and eventually I come to something that I can settle on.
There are lots of encouraging you tube videos and other blogs around that can help with technique and moral. One of the most encouraging ones I’ve seen was by Quentin Blake. I remember him saying something like: ‘Every time I finish a book I think that I will never have an idea for another one. But, I go to my desk, get out some paper and I try’
So simple! Just try. Even if you have no idea how to do it. Even if you think there’s no way you could come up with an idea. Just try. So that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s been working. I’m happier with some over others but in some I have even exceeded my expectations! I never knew I could draw boats, or the sea or walking trees or pillow houses but it turns out I can!

Boat copy

Full page layouts are the next stage, making the compositions and characters work with the text. Making sure that the flow of the story moves logically over the pages in the right rhythm.

There will be other questions too, which we can predict now but which we’ll know more about when we approach publishers such as, how many pages will we be forced to make the book in? Are we going to be forced to edit and cut the story to fit? But for now we can at least head towards making a dummy book at the very least it will showcase our work. Who knows where it will lead from there? Watch this space for more pictures and updates from this adventure in children’s book illustration! For now, on to the next adventure in art …