Art in Action is a big event - over 400 visual artists from performers, musicians, sculptors, painters and many other creators and crafts people along with art suppliers are gathered in the setting of Waterperry House and Gardens near Oxford for four days for the public to see and talk to.
I was there at the invitation of Nature In Art Museum and Art Gallery along with 8 other artists who are associated with Nature In Art through their Artists In Residence Programme. Over the four days the visitors asked us questions about our work, asked for advice on their own work or just simply watched whilst we worked.
I decided to work on a pastel piece, as I am now needing to build up drawings in this medium for the exhibition and also it would smell less 'fumey' than oils and white spirits in a hot enclosed space.
The giraffe (female) is a portrait and I drew her up freehand from my ref photo's at home, where I also transferred her to the UArt 600 pastel sandpaper that I was using for this piece. This was then stapled flat onto a piece of board with a same size piece of board taped to it for protection and for ease of transport.
Step one was the background - I wanted a soft muted backdrop and the original idea was inspired by the late afternoon sun and shadow colours of the Delta in March. I had a photo that I was using to get the colours - a wonderful mix of sunlit peachy pinks with shadows of purples, mauves and blues. The vegetation had warm orange and green where the sun hit it contrasting with blue jades and greens in the shaded areas. I loved the play and contrasts of colour but as I worked in with the pastels that was not working. So that idea will be saved for another day using oils. So I concentrated on the peach, pink and mauve palette.
I have not used this UArt sandpaper before but as soon as I started applying the pastel I fell in love with it. I love the way it takes the pastel, layer after layer. The background suggestion of trees and vegetation became a late afternoon cloudy sky effect as I layered the colours on and blended them together to get that soft muted colour mix I wanted.
Now the blending... using fingers to blend can be a problem because the natural oils from the skin can darken the pastel and affect how it takes to the paper in places. Also I foresaw me losing my fingerprints on the fine sandpaper surface and possibly drawing blood if I got too carried away with the blending!!
So I searched for a suitable blending tool (as usual I had left this to the last minute) and out of desperation, after discounting various art and make-up sponges, I bought a £1 pack of toe separators (meant for when applying nail polish to toenails) but I have to say .... what a buy! They were perfect for the job. The foam was dense enough not to get affected by the sandpaper surface but soft enough to smooth and blend the pastel beautifully. So the background was done by blocking in successive layers of 3 or 4 colours of pinks, peach and mauves and then blending in each layer until I got the mix and effect I was happy with.
I then tidied up the giraffe head shape- checking proportions and spacings of features refining the shape. Once I was happy with that I also used the pastel sticks to block in the light and shade areas on the giraffe head in pale peach and blue/mauve.
Then I switched to my Schwan Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils to plot the darkest areas of the nostril, eye, horn tips and ear recess; followed by the mapping of the spot pattern.
Once that was done I could then start on the detailing and texturing of the head. To help prevent smudging my work as I progress I am working from the mouth up over the front of the face to the horns then back down to the eye and cheek area before then going down the neck and mane. I'm also using a Mahl stick to support my hand above the surface of the paper.
For four days work I haven't progressed very far, but that was expected in the situation. There is invariably more chat than work, so I wan't concerned with the slow progress. I was actually quite pleased with how it was progressing. It's different than I had planned, but then sometimes that's the way the piece takes you and you just have to go with the flow of it. The reaction to it, from the visitors at Art In Action, was also very pleasing, so I am hopeful of the finished piece doing well for the elephant charity, Elephants For Africa, at the exhibition in September. I am also thinking of having her done as a print.
I will of course post more progress pictures of her - I hope to be able to crack on with her later this week when I return to the studio.