Finished Mural!

After a year in the making I’m finally able to reveal the first glimpse of my ‘new’ mural!

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(Click on the photo to see a bigger version)

The painting has yet to be framed and hung in place so there’ll be more photos to follow.

The rooms I’ve been painting in have all been too small to see more than three panels next to each other at any one time, so this was the first time any of us got to see the whole painting in one place! It was great to see how the whole composition works together. I’m really pleased with the result (despite how I might look on the photo!) and to my relief the staff were happy with it too!

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It was an absolute pleasure to work on a painting based in this area, celebrating the scenery and the amazing work of the staff. Delivering the painting meant I got to spend a weekend up there with friends amongst the beautiful scenery of the Mawddach estuary.

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Its been a huge project to complete with almost every minute of spare time being put into it, now its gone though I think i’ll miss it! So I’m really looking forward to the next project whatever that might be

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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:
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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!

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And the sleepy main character

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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 …

Barcelona!

It was hard to leave that campsite in a rush but we had a fair distance to travel and I was hoping we could get to the city well before dark. Perhaps Brad felt the same because he was cycling really fast for the whole 80kms! Maybe he was just excited? He was enjoying the smooth, fast, direct roads, I was terrified by the amount of traffic, it’s speed and their beeping horns. I was missing the country lanes of France but neither of us could find any logical looking alternative routes. I haven’t got photos because we did very little stopping. About 30 km from Barcelona Brad saw a path alongside a river and decided that it was worth a try – ‘all rivers lead to the sea’ we followed this for 10 refreshingly safe kilometers. When this deposited us on a road again we were just about to resign ourselves to it when a man stopped us and urgently began speaking and gesturing to us. We could only communicate one word – ‘Barcelona?’ and from this we gathered that if we followed the dirt track under the bridge we were on, it would take us the whole 20 kms remaining to the city. It seemed too good to be true and very unlikely since the track was really rough, bumpy and potholed but we trusted our interpretation of his ernest gestures and amazingly it worked! 


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So here is the definitive photo of the day 🙂 and a nice way to end this trip. I am now the owner of a plane ticket from Barcelona to Bristol. Brad is heading back to New Zealand and I would have been on my own again so in a moment of weakness I bought the ticket. I haven’t travelled as far as I thought I would before I set off but I’ve travelled further than I expected to once I started!

The fast roads of Spain and my lack of any Spanish language put me off navigating on my own.

 The challenge of travelling alone was good for me but I much preferred to have company. Having someone who can encourage me to go that much further and take on hills that much higher made the trip much more of an adventure and having someone to camp with and chat to made it much more fun.

So we have spent a bit of time exploring the city and admiring some of the amazing buildings:

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And now, as great a city as it is, I’m totally ready to leave!

Day two over the Pyrenees

From the Col de la Perche we descended a couple of hundred meters over about 20kms. It was really cold we could just about make out a sprinkling of snow on the highest hills.  The views were beautiful and it was great fun to be speeding through the landscape with hills all around. 


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We camped in Puigcerdà in a campsite which at 1200m altitude was still well within the mountains, we had frost on our tents in the morning. 

But the next day was bright and sunny and soon we soon warmed up climbing the next mountain pass. This photo was taken near the top just as my bike was falling over…

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We were well and truly in Spain now. It felt exciting to hear a new language all around and switch to saying ‘Hola!’ instead of ‘Bonjour!’ to the other cyclists we passed.

This climb was really long but not steep. I would guess the gradient was mostly about 5% (unlike the previous day when it was mostly about 10%) The road hugged the sides of the mountain and wound slowly slowly up to 1800 meters. Little signs every 100 meters gave reassuring signs of progress.

We had lunch at the summit enjoying the views and then started the descent. This was just as gradual as the climb so we were treated to the longest downhill I’ve experienced- 40 kilometers of effortless gliding through mountain scenery, a great pay off for the effort of the climb. It took us all the way to Ripoll where we thought we might camp. A little search of the town didn’t reveal anywhere though and it was still fairly early so we decided to carry on.

We could see a lake on Google maps just East of Vic so headed towards it hoping it would be a beautiful area and wondering if it might have campsites.

Spainish roads proved difficult to navigate though and we kept ending up on huge, terrifyingly fast and busy stretches some without access for bikes. We tried to follow signs for bike lanes. These would begin promisingly with a wide, well surfaced lane running adjacent to the main road but then would abruptly come to a dead end between a crash barrier and a rock face and force us to follow it back all the way we’d come. Others would point us off the route in entirely the wrong direction and at one point we found a track leading to the wrong side of a motorway. After a fair amount of this we finally had to accept the conclusion that these bike lanes were probably not bike lanes after all!

Somehow we managed to get closer to Vic but a bit later than we had intended. We came off the main roads and continued to make our way towards the lake through countryside. The the road began to climb again and I was getting pretty tired. No sign of any campsites but signs saying ‘Parador du turism’ which we chose to translate as ‘Tourists paradise’! so it seemed like a good thing to follow

I was moving very slowly up the steep roads, only 7km to go. According to Brad’s bike computer I was traveling at 7km an hour… 

We finally reached the top and had this beautiful view of the lake in the bottom of the gorge.

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This made all the effort worth it. We were really satisfied to have made it here and were ready to eat and  sleep. However it turned out that this ‘tourist’s paradise’ catered for the kind of tourist who plans ahead and has stacks of cash. There was one hotel. It was 4 stars (way out of budget) and fully booked. So as the sun was setting we pitched just off the road in the woods and started making dinner our dinner by the light of our head torches.

I slept quite well despite the amount of barking dogs and the uncertainty of camping wild. 

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The morning was beautiful. Sun was lighting up mist rising off the lake in huge clouds. A car pulled into the layby near us and a friendly old man came to speak to us. We could only tell him that we did not understand, that we didn’t speak Spanish and that we were about to ‘vamos’. He persevered to explain and we gathered by gesture that this was a hunting area and that the hunt was going to start soon. So we packed up fairly speedily! 

We laized at the top of the hill in the layby 

Needing to rest after all the climbing the day before. The hunters arrived with their guns and massive dogs with strange barks like whooping cough. They milled about for an hour or so before disappearing noisily into the woods apparently not concerned that they might have scared away their prey. 

We knew we weren’t going to move on that day so we decided to explore the area a bit instead. 


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It took a long time to find our way down to the waters edge but we finally managed it thanks to following an Austrian couple who had the same idea. 

I dived in with all my cycling clothes to give them and me a bit of a wash! It was the perfect spot to camp and we could see by the remains of fires that other people had done the same. The only snag was that we’d left our bikes at the monastery at what was probably the highest point of the area! So we had a LONG walk back up but a fun, steep ride down again. We set up our tents in view of a fisherman who didn’t seem to mind at all – a good sign. And we had an idyllic, free campsite complete with fire pit and swimming pool all to ourselves 🙂 great!

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Crossing the Pyrenees!

The last few days have been great! Brad is an excellent travel partner to have and though he’s faster than me I’m not too far behind  which is a relief. We’re covering ground fast and it’s a very different experience but I love it. 

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 Here is our first glimpse of the Pyrenees!

It makes all the difference to have someone to share the views and the dull roads and the great ones and the busy ones and the vast amounts of chocolate and cheese and bread (and cookies and ice cream and fruit and veg and pasta we eat A LOT!) 

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Riding along today I was struck by how much other people can help us achieve our goals without them even being fully aware of it. Brad thanked me for accompanying him today! But I am so grateful for being allowed to tag along with him! I would definitely not be on my way to Barcelona on my own. He has the ability to have unquestioning faith that somehow everything will turn out alright, we’ll find our way, there’ll be great views, we’ll cover massive distances and there’ll be a campsite open exactly when we want one. And so far this has miraculously been the case 🙂 

The road today was uphill for 60km and is a well used highway. I would not have enjoyed tackling it on my own with no one to share the pain or the reward but somehow with some one riding just ahead it’s fun. Even if they’re out of sight.


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I do look rather delirious here…

Another very lovely thing is drivers waving, clapping and giving thumbs up signs as they pass! It’s the best! I wonder if they know just how much that helps? It changes the road from a threatening, cold, faceless place to a friendly and supportive one. And makes me feel brave, bold and accomplished to have utter strangers acknowledging my efforts!

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Anyway I can’t imagine this is nearly as exciting to read about as when I feel helplessly lost and stressed! You’ll have to wait for Barcelona to get some of the juicy terrified Steph stuff! Brad will be flying back to New Zealand and I’m thinking about travelling on to Northern Spain so I can get a boat home. There’s sure to be some exciting stuff like a puncture half way up a mountain when I’m almost out of water on the wrong road  and an unseasonal blizzard picks up with the sound of not so distant wolves and inexplicable gun shots ringing out. That makes much better reading doesn’t it?:)

a different kind of touring…

Awake at 2.30 with 100km or more to ride tomorrow and the sound of a crazily busy and noisy road buzzing beeping bleeping and droning just a few 100metres from this campsite. What the hell is going on down there? In my imagination the road must be some kind of enormous spaghetti junction next to a huge 24hr building site next to the centre of a massive city. I never knew car horns came in so many different pitches and could be used in such a variety of ways. Maybe with long term study it could be deciphered as a sort of rudimentary language at least as rich as dolphin vocabulary (which is actually quite impressive) . I can’t imagine what would make anyone choose this place for a holiday resort they must all be insane or stupid or like us. Oh. 

So I’m now getting a very different flavour of bike touring. 90km a day is a short ride day. 120km is good. Busy roads are just a necessary evil and we’re aiming for mountains where the climbs are 7% for an entire day because the views will be amazing and the descents can be as long as 80km. We are using google maps to navigate and have no idea where we will sleep each night we’re just relying on finding campsites before we’re utterly shattered. A lot of campsites seem to be open till the 15th of oct so we have five more days which luckily is roughly when we hope to be in Barcelona. We should be at the Spanish border tomorrow- just three days after leaving st Marie de la mer!

There is NO WAY I would be doing this on my own. But with Brad and his relentless optimism and apparent fearlessness it’s quite fun! Although I do feel on the brink of being out of my depth and we have the pyrenees ahead…

We met two other cycle tourers at this campsite who are going the other way and have been on the road since August. They are heading for Italy next and have already been through France and Spain. They’re raising money for charity as they go and with a lucky bout of publicity at the start of their trip – a freind who works in Spanish tv they have managed to raise £1500 with out any more effort ( except for the effort it takes to ride 4000 km in two months!)

I said I’d mention their blog on my blog, that should increase their readership by at least 5 people and they’ll really start to see the cash come rolling in!

http://www.wheeldealtour.me

They asked me what made me get into bike touring – I couldn’t work out the answer! Now I want to reply ‘I had a bike, read a few blogs, quit my job and from there things just spun wildly out of control till I found myself here at 10pm in a wierd campsite in an undesirable corner of France with three guys I don’t know all talking about the fun they have racing each other up mountains and disc brakes and bike makes and other things I know nothing about!

But it does feel like more of an adventure!

So here’s a bit about the landscape we’ve come through. We rested in St Marie de la Mer for a day, catching up with reading and writing.

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This area has more dragonflies everywhere than I have ever seen. It’s like an infestation! This was covered in them, I’m not sure if you can see them in this photo:

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In the distance here you might be able to make out some pale white flecks just below the horizon. These are actually flamingos. Honest! This was just west of St. Marie de la Mer. A first for me to see them in the wild. We saw them fly over head too. Like long sticks with pink and black wings. Shame I didn’t get a photo of that really, you can always Google ‘flamingos in flight’ 😉

Carrying on west from here the hotels got bigger uglier more numerous and modern. The landscape stayed totally flat and the sun was out. We covered 120km fairly easily and then camped in a site which turned out to be infested with mosquitoes. I woke up with two massive growths on my head and loads of itchy bites every where, nice.