Friday, 22 August 2014

Artist in Residence week fast approaches

I am looking forward to my Artist In Residence week at Nature in Art, which is coming up very soon - 2nd to 7th September. It is always a pleasure to visit there for a day, so a week is a real treat. 

At the moment I am busy getting projects ready to do whilst there and a gathering a few bits and bobs to have available to sell. I will be showing some of the work that I have been doing for the exhibition (which will be at this venue September next year) as well as other work such as some examples of what I do as Wildlife Illustrator at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Nature in Art is a lovely place to visit and they have a great little coffee shop serving lovely lunches and super cakes and puds. If you are in the area, please do pop in and say hello... I shall be in the studio out in the gardens.

Monday, 10 March 2014

And now for something a little different

A little job came up that took me away from continuing with the crescent splitfin fish illustration these last couple of weeks. Took me away from my 'to do' list of illustrations completely, in fact; even though that list has continued to grow.

A request came in for a series of silhouettes of some mammal species for a specific project happening soon at the Wild Place Project. 
Originally they had silhouttes sourced from something like clip art.. one or two of them were pretty bad and all of them seemed 'lifeless' in staid poses. I was to draw up these silhouettes to life size for them to be produced as wooden 'cut outs' which will then be placed along a trail to illustrate a timeline of some of the animals which have gone extinct in the UK as the forests and woodlands were lost over the centuries.
I suggested that the poses could be more interesting. So I was given six species - Auroch, European wolverine, European Lynx, European brown bear, wild boar and gray wolf, with which to show 'better' poses for the silhouettes.

I did internet searches on images for each of these species to get a collection of stances that might be useful to use either as they were or adapted to suit the needs of the job. From these images I did some roughs of different poses - wanting to have something other than straight boring profiles I was looking for something natural and 'lively', if I could.

The first animal, the auroch, is extinct so I was having to rely on other people's drawn images and photo's of skeletons of this large bovine. Luckily I only needed one pose for this huge animal, as I did also for the wolverine. The lynx and bear needed two poses, the wild boar three and the wolf four. I can't explain too much about why, or other details, until the 'project' is done.

However here are my roughs....

They were met by approval so the go ahead was given to proceed.

So I went up to Wild Place, where they will be placed to look at the stretch of track the silhouettes will be placed along in four different spots. I stood for some time imagining which of the poses would look best in each location and photographed the length of the track so that I could piece them together to 'reform' the walk. 

Then back in the studio I looked at the images again along with the animal drawings and refined the choices to suit the habitat, using bushes and trees etc so that the cut outs will 'interact' with the landscape rather than just being plonked in a clearing. 

Eventually the silhouettes will be drawn, life-size, onto wooden panels and cut out by the Maintenance Dept.... so I had to work out the animal measurements, using average body length and shoulder heights, and scale them onto a piece of graph paper. 

Using the same scale I drew a number of shapes to represent the wooden panels that would measure 8 foot by 4 foot. I then had the puzzle of working out how many wooden panels were needed, keeping the number as low as possible. To do this I had to juggle the silhouettes around to keep the number of boards to as few as possible, but also limiting the number of instances where a silhouette crossed over two panels. Having a silhouette cut from one single sheet of wood is stronger and less work for all, so was much more preferable. For auroch there was no getting away with having to use  three panels... they were huge cattle and apart from the brown bear reaching up the tree trunk, I managed to fit everything else so that it used one piece of wood. The final tally was a total of 8 panels. 

Now we wait for a quote on FSC marine ply 9mm panels and, if approved to purchase, when they come in, I have the job of scaling my silhouettes up onto the panels.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Hornbills, splitfin and Wild Place

Once again time motors on and I'm playing catch up; having missed posting last week. So I start off with the finished illustration of the wrinkled hornbills.

I completed this last Monday and after getting it checked and ok'd by Nigel (Curator of Birds) was able to replace the present sign with a photo of the juv male on it, with this and get a new sign up in place.
Next on my to do list is a crescent splitfin, a small fish.

This is my current 'to do' list for ID species .... any day soon I am expecting at least half a dozen more fish and several inverts to be added!! Will I ever catch up!!

After an internet search of images for the splitfins I went over to the Aquarium to check the printed images I had chosen, against the live animals. These fish are in a mixed display with other very similar fish... I could not tell which ones I was looking for, couldn't see any like the internet photos. So I contacted Jonny (Assistant Curator - Aquarium) and we arranged for me to see the ones off show. However, at this time of year with the temperatures low, the fish go dormant and hide low in the tank. This could be why I saw none in the public display tank. So Jonny ended up doing a spot of fishing and 'try and catch me if you can' with the off show fish!

He managed to catch a few in the end and I was able to have a quick look at them and discuss with Jonny the best generic body shapes and colourations for both the male and female illustration, comparing live animal to internet images. I got a drawing done of each and started the painting by Wednesday (last week). 

Also that week I had a number of extra or replacement ID's to print, laminate and put up. This included three copies of an orange headed thrush that was to go in the Forest of Birds house. The illustrations here are presented in 'book' form - being laminated signs, hole punched and threaded onto a pair of U bolts that are bedded into a flat wood board. I have written of these acursed things before... sometimes replacing the ID's on them can go well and be over with in a few mins for each board. But now and again they can be devilishly awful things to change. One of the 'books' this time gave me a helluva an awful time, with the nuts just not threading onto the bolts. It doesn't help that I have to get at these bolts underneath a low board and the top pair are right against the wood of the fencing... so very awkward to get to with fingers and little fiddly nuts! I was there a good 25 mins on the one board, crouched down struggling with those blasted bolt ends and nuts. My knees, legs and ankles hurt like mad from the prolonged operation, but I couldn't leave it as it was my last day in that week and the house was just about to close for the day! Needless to say I got incredibly frustrated and angry with myself and the nuts, bolt and book! Added to that the floor was wet and I had roulroul partridges hanging around investigating what I was doing and hoping for food, so I had to be careful not to step back on any of them as I worked. I dropped first a washer and then a nut into the stream that runs under the walkway I was on. I managed to rescue the first by kneeling in the wet and stretching my arm through the fencing to the stream beneath. When I did managed to complete the task and leave... I was knackered physically in the legs and back and mentally numbed out by the hassle of it all... it should be a five min job! 

This week has been less fraught. Monday the Graphics Team (Phil, Anna and myself) trooped up to Wild Place to re-do the directional signs. The ones we put up last July have already prematurely deteriorated (!) and were replaced by the print company that did them as something was faulty in the making of the signs. Thankfully we didn't have to replace every sign we put up last July (maintenance had that job)... we just had the directionals on the wood posts to do. So Anna and I started the job and Phil joined us later in the afternoon, when he had finished all the jobs and meetings he had to do whilst there.

I tried to persuade the maintenance lads to let us borrow the quad bike to get around with all the replacement signs, instead of the old wheelbarrow they had loaned us. Sadly as the quad bike is on loan from Honda, no-one is allowed to ride it unless trained by our Honda supplier.  Shame... I would loved to have had a go on this. I had to content myself with just sitting on it for a photo instead!

Old signs on the left new on the right...

For the most part Anna drilled the holes - using the old signs as individual templates - and I took off the old and put up the new signs on the posts. We had a Dewalt cordless this time... made such a difference (last July we had a knackered old cheapo cordless and it made the job much harder than necessary).. especially once we borrowed the correct sized bit head from maintenance.

Sod's Law... there's always some missing... such as this particular sign for the Secret Congo with right pointing arrow of which there should have been several, but we were well short. 

The weather was changeable between beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies, then heavy cloud and rain. Anna and I decided, as no one was around, to eat our packed lunches in the shelter of the open air 'schoolroom' in the Madagascar section. We had the company of the guinea fowl  for a short spell as they pecked their way around the enclosure. I had a thermos of hot water and a supply of green tea  tea bags, which went down very well in the cold wet weather.

The snowdrops are showing everywhere.. 

Different varieties like this delicate little one.... And the crocuses were just starting to show.. so in a week there will be the colour of them in amongst all the trees. Might just have to go up to see that.

When the sun came out it was lovely, but it was very wet and muddy underfoot in places... all adds to the fun of it.

This is going to be the new viewing hut for the wolves that we shall be getting in for Easter. Can't wait to see them and the red river hogs that are due in too.

We were finishing the last post as the sun started to sink below the tree line. It threw gorgeous light across the scene. This is the main visitor centre with a shop, cafe, toilets and the play barn behind.

Lovely old trees in the last of the sunlight.

The rest of this week I have been back in the studio. The splitfin illustration didn't get touched this week as I had some computer work to do getting more ID signs ready for printing, some of which I could finish, print, laminate and get on section. One of these is a replacement for a fish ID.

The current ID is above a landscape tank in the Aquarium... these are our large tanks that house the bigger fish. It is a lightbox sign, so is printed on a thick plastic transparancy. As the fish from this particular tank are due to be moved, in a few weeks (into the soon to be finished renovated walk through centre tank), there is no point spending the money to get a replacement transparancy done.. so I printed a paper copy and put that up, cutting the previous plastic film sign to allow the paper copy to sit in. Getting at this sign involves a large pair of steps and two people.. one to hold the steps (health and safety) and a climb into the dusty, cobwebby heights of the Aquarium. Anna was inundated with work so I got help from Lee who works in the Aquarium.

Other main job of this week was getting some roughs done for some animal shapes. The idea is to have some wooden cut outs of historic extinct mammal species in the UK. I was given a list of the animals they want, so I set about doing internet searches and coming up with a few ideas for the cut outs. They may or may not go along with my roughs.. or may stick to the more simple silhouettes they had originally. It would be fun to do these though. 

Sadly... the two silver birches outside of our studio window had to be cut down this week. The Education centre, where our studio is situated, is undergoing a bit of a change this year, having extensions built at either end of the building. This will mean a new studio for us... and no doubt a lot of moving of all our stuff back and forth as the building work is done. To the left, in this picture, is a portacabin that will be removed by lifting it over the top of the education centre...and the ground outside will be prepared for the new building extension to be added this year. I have no doubt this could involve a lot of disruption and noise to our work environment this year, but should result in us having a bigger room and a better building.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Hornbills and roulrouls

Time to get started on the wrinkled hornbills - Aceros corrugatus.  These birds are sexually dimorphic, so I would need to paint both birds and show them in positions that displayed those distinguishing features. I would need to show the tail of at least one bird, so that the dark bar at the tail base could be seen - they both have this; the head in profile for both, showing the differences in casque shape and colour and the very different head plumage; a clear view of the necks of both and for the male this would need to extend down to the chest to show where the colouration changed.  On top of all that they needed to fit into a square composition and the positioning of the birds as such to allow them to be as big as possible within that square format.

I did a few compositional roughs to try out different positions to see how well they would or wouldn't work and once I had a composition that I felt met all those points, I started on the drawing.

I ended up putting the female in the front with the male behind as this best suited the need for the male to be more upright to show off that neck and chest. 

The last time I photographed these birds for reference was about a year ago and both were well under a year old... so the adult plumage had not yet moulted through. After a quick check on them in their aviary I could see that the females adult colouration was through - her head was now black with a blue throat patch - this has changed from the pale yellow of her juv plumage. The male had also coloured up and his casque ridge has developed more. Although I could see them in their indoor area, and I could see the changes, I could not see details. Following the ok I got last week with the animal department I arranged to go in the aviary with these birds to see them as adults much more clearly and get up to date photo's for reference.

This photo shows the male's casque development over the last year. The top image is from a year ago and the bottom image was taken this week. The recent photo isn't great in that it doesn't show the deeper colouration he now has, his colours were previous more browny red on his bill, now they are really deep red and the ridge, especially is a glorious deep red. Another change is on the mandibles of both birds... they now have serrated edges.

My visit to the aviary was interesting. The hornbills share their aviary with a small group of ground birds called roulroul partridges. I was let into the aviary and left to get the photo's of the hornbills who, very cooperatively, had come outside where I was waiting. As I stood taking a few photo's of the hornbills I could hear the roulrouls chattering away noisily somewhere near. I looked down around me to see where they were, or in fact where the one who was making the noise was. I could hear it but couldn't see it anywhere. I looked at the bases of the small bushes around me and over the ground of the surrounding area. Nothing! But it sounded so close.. very close. Then I felt something on my leg coupled with a very noisy squawking. Looking at my feet I feared I had somehow trodden on a bird or something... only to see this female having a real go at my boots and trouser legs!! 

Why was she doing this? Was it my bright yellow hi-viz coat (not the best choice for the animals but it's my only waterproof, windproof cosy coat); was it the pale colour of my trousers (keepers wear green); was it me... a stranger? I soon worked out, by my movements around the aviary to get better views/angles on the hornbills, that it was only when I was in a certain small area of the aviary that she attacked me. She was obviously upset that I was invading that/her space. So I moved away from that area, leaving her in peace and happier. 

Once I had got my range of reference photos for the hornbills I left the aviary and that lovely little roulroul. 

So back in the studio to get on with the hornbill illustration.

I transferred the drawing to the blue paper and started blocking in the basic colour.

Then I painted the branches on which they will be sat.

On Tuesday I also went up to Bug World to get more photo's of the inverts that I am due to illustrate. Today it was a spider, mantis shrimp, and trying to get some better ones of the sun beetles.

Mark showed me and Anna his prize goliath beetle larvae. This beastie weighed in at 52grms putting on 2grms from the day before! One breeder he knows of got one of these up to 90grms! What a spectacular beast.... can't wait to see it as an adult.

This is the spider I had to photo.. Brachypelma emilia. It has many common names including painted tarantula and Mexican red legged tarantula but of course it's not a proper tarantula.. those spiders are actually very different. This is a beautifully marked animal and I can't wait to paint him/her. But I have a number of fish and other animals to paint before I get to this one on the list.

Some painting work needs to be done in the underwater area of Bug World, where the giant squid mural is. The colour I thought I had used for the wall colour on which the squid is painted turned out not to be the right one.. so a check up in Bug World with Eddie and with Annemarie from the Maintenance Dept and a new colour has been ordered. Hopefully I won't have to get involved in the painting, although there are tentacles going across the areas due to be painted. So I may have to go in after, to touch up around the fiddly bits.

This was the last of my run of three 2-day weeks, so next week it's back to the normal 3 day week. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Land snail completed

Just finished my third 'week' back at the zoo and am pleased to have completed my first illustration of 2014. This wee beastie (although for a snail it's no wee beastie!!) is a giant Ghana land snail - Achatina achatina.

The shells of these snails often grow to a length of 18 centimetres (7.1 in) with a diameter of 9 centimetres (3.5 in) and they are sometimes called giant tiger land snail because of their banded markings on the shell.

I had started this illustration back at the end of August last year before I finished for my annual leave break. So I was off to a easy start this year as the back ground was as good as done and the drawing for the beastie was ready to transfer across onto the painting. 

Also these last two weeks I have been able to finish catching up on finishing the replacement IDs and have got a few texts put onto the ID documents ready for some new species. The cassowary is back at the zoo but not yet on show as the paddock is just being finished off. So a new ID holder needed to be put up and luckily I had one, on a metal bar of the right height, stashed away in our storeroom. So it was an easy job of just positioning it and screwing it into place. Anna was on hand to make sure it was upright and level as I climbed over the rope barrier and down to the lower plant bed to place the screws at the base of the metal bar and wooden post I was attaching it to.

I took several photo's up in Bug World of species that need ID illustrations in the future... a cute little ornate sun beetle, a gorgeous Malaysian giant shield mantis and a fabulous pink leg millipede that quite stole my heart. I was also able to get quite a good shot of the huntsman spider. Mark, Curator of Invertebrates, got her positioned almost out of her tank by removing the back and holding the piece of wood she was sitting on so I could get a clear shot of her. She is what I would call the generic scary spider shape and size, and I was very aware of hairs standing on the back of my neck and a voice screaming "SPIDER! DIRTY GREAT BIG SPIDER!" in my head as I moved in with the camera... no zoom just standard small lens. Yet at the same time I am totally fascinated by their beauty and I had great trust in Mark that he would keep her in the tank and she would not be coming my way.

My next illustration on my very long, ever extending, illustration list... is a wrinkled hornbill - Aceros corrugatus. These already have an ID sign with a photo on it until I can do the illustration; and the ref photos I took of the two birds, male and female, were getting on for a year ago - they were young birds, not yet in full adult plumage. So I went to their aviary to check out how much they had changed and whether I would need to take more photos. They now have their adult plumage and the male's casque profile has changed as he has matured and so I will need to take that into when using my ref photos. I have emailed the Curator of Birds to ask if it is possible to get access to see them better next week sometime. 

It was pretty quiet around the zoo this week, although mild, the weather has been a bit damp with the odd cold sunny day. I didn't get out and about much except to quickly pop out now and again, either to put up signs or go to Bug World. But here's a couple of photo's from the last two weeks, taken en route to Bug World.

Ring-tailed lemurs huddled on a cold grey day.

One of the spider monkey boys coming over to get a closer look at the strange flourescent yellow coated lady.

"Herbert" the female huntsman spider. Has legspan of several inches more than I find comfortable.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Back to work

I work at the zoo for nine months in each year and the three months I am not there I am working at home on my own projects. September and October were two of my three month leave (January was my other month off) and then I was also on unpaid leave for November and December for family reasons. So it's been four months since I was last at the zoo in a work capacity and this was my first week back. My brain has been thrust into seemingly remembering a hundred things. Mush is what I might have described my thought processes on Monday and Tuesday!

I started the week by doing my usual 'after leave walkabout' to reacquaint myself with the collection to see what's new, what's changed, what signs need replacing etc. From this I end up with a list of ID signs that need replacing, removing or re-fixing if loose. Most of Tuesday and Wednesday were spent printing and laminating the replacements and putting them up in place when done. At the same time I give the signs a clean to wipe away the accumulation of winter muck that has dirtied them so far.

We have the cassowary's returning to the zoo soon (they have been up at Wild Place for a while) and they are having a new paddock done for them so I gave the new area a quick look over to see where best to place the ID signs. Whilst out doing this I also took a few photo's of some hybrid ducks we have on our water areas (the lake and gorilla moat).  Our waterfowl collection in these areas have been allowed to naturally deplete and we now only have a small group of Chiloe wigeon left, along with the many wild mallard and moorhens that habitually use the zoo. That is, apart from four other very handsome ducks. These individuals are hybrids- the results of wild mallard breeding with ruddy shelduck and pintail when we had them in our collection. As the variety of species have lessened these individuals stand out more, so there is the thought to have a sign explaining what they are and why they are here. I took the pictures in preparation, in case this idea goes ahead.

There was a quick meeting with Jonny from the Aquarium late on Wednesday afternoon to check the species in each tank so that we could work out how many new lightboxes would be needed when the old ones are replaced. The aquarium is currently closed at the mo whilst the walk through centre tank is stripped out and redone. A new tunnel is being installed and for that the whole tank construction needs to be demolished and started again. It's amazing when you stand in that now empty space to see just how big that tank is/was, something that was impossible to appreciate when looking in the old tank.

So my first (three day) 'week' back ends.... I think by the end of Wednesday I was starting to regain my zoo work mode and have my plan of action underway. It all started to make more sense.

Sorting out the lake bird signs - I had to remove one ID holder and post as I reduced the ID signs on display.

The two lion juveniles are really starting to look like proper lions now, although they still have a lot of growing and filling out to do.

The golden lion tamarins were intrigued with my blue cleaning cloth as I cleaned their ID sign, so I held it near the glass for them to come over and investigate.

A red-billed leiothrix (Pekin robin) 

Roulroul partridges mistook me for a keeper I think, and thought I was about to feed them, so they all gathered round my feet as I checked the signs in their 'house'.

Life imitating art. 

Couldn't get the whole area of the centre tank space in on my camera, it's so big!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Done for this year

Well... time has yet again flown... in many ways.  First as it is again a couple of weeks since my last post and second, as my two months away from the zoo are here again.

My last two weeks at the zoo were mostly about getting things up together before my time off came round. The changes for the Bug World IDs continues... I spent a couple of days going through each invertebrate ID document checking that everything was the same on each one, font, fonts size, colours, spacings, layers etc. Then these were backed up to the Server. The process is still ongoing and now my Colleague Anna (Graphic Designer) will be taking over the upkeep of the IDs in my absence. 

The Gorilla House opened with it's renovations to the inside area almost complete. The public can now go in and view the great new area for our gorilla family. £1 million pounds has been spent on making the inside area bigger and better for them to use. The ceiling has been highered to give more room for climbing framework and roping for them to play on and use generally. The youngsters apparently love it and make good use of the new area. Jock, our silverback, has been great during all the work and has kept calm and interested in what was happening, he also seems to like the changes. 
Part of the new area for the public is that it is completely enclosed by glass, even over head. So you can be standing beneath a gorilla!! It is very impressive to look up at Jock, see the size of his feet and hands as they rest on the glass flooring. 

Anna and I had a bit of work to do in the gorilla house before it opened, painting some of the public area walls in preparation for work that will be done later. Also I had to touch up the cut-out gorilla shape that you can compare your arm span to a gorilla's on. It had got a little marked from its time in the gorilla house and subsequent removal and storage. Once I started applying paint over the chips and scratches, I realised that the original paint had dulled off over time and the touch ups were therefore quite visible on it. So I ended up repainting all the black so that it looked lovely and shiny again, ready to go back in the public area of the house.

I didn't get very far with the giant Ghana land snail illustration.... I had hoped to finish it by the end of August but.... I miscalculated my time and suddenly found I had one week less than I thought. With the sudden influx of text's coming back from the Education folk, my time was spent sorting the IDs out with the revamp texts. So, alas, that will now have to wait until my return.

I am now having the two months off to work on my own art at home (my part-time arrangements being 9 months at the zoo, 3 months (Jan, Sept, Oct at  home)). I have a two day workshop, talk and a week's residency coming up at the beginning of September and possibly another workshop at the end of October. In between I shall be painting madly for my exhibition project that you can keep up to date on here

Normally my return would be the first Monday in November, this year I shall not be back, probably, until just before Christmas at the earliest. A family commitment means I have had to take a further two months off work, so fingers crossed all goes well and I can get back to the zoo by Krimbo or just after. I would also normally have January off but that would then mean I would be away for 5 months so I will defer that month off until later in the spring.

I will try and get a post or two in here during these coming months, probably showing work done previously but, especially in the last two months I am not sure how possible that will be.

Helping Anna remove Prairie Dogs from the Pointer Signs around the zoo. The prairies dogs have gone and we now have the small European version - sousliks.

Anna surveying the work to be done in the gorilla house

Simon cleaning the glass roof of the public viewing area

Anna painting into the corners

Jock is very impressive anyway, but even more so from this angle

Jock's foot print!

Me repainting the gorilla cut-out