Friday, 19 September 2014

A project close to my heart

Sometimes I guess things are just meant to happen at certain times. Back in the spring when I got a call from Keri of Birds Body Casting asking me to take part in an art project in aid of Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer, she had no idea I had just had surgery to remove a tumour in my breast and was about to start radiotherapy.  Of course I couldn't say no, my only concern was if I would feel well enough but when Keri explained that I had months to complete my artwork I knew it would be fine. 

 The first step was a trip to Keri's studio in Bury St Edmunds, where Keri explained that the casts were donated by women who either had or had been affected by breast cancer. I was given a bust cast and simply given complete freedom to decorate it as I wished. When finished the casts would be displayed in local businesses and shops then auctioned for charity. At this stage I did not know whose bust it was or what her story was.

All summer the cast sat in my studio and was quite a talking point for visitors and friends. I had my radiotherapy, helped to arrange a local art exhibition for 50 artists, demonstrated at the SAA's London event and travelled to the French Alps to arrange an art holiday for my students. Finally at the end of the summer when things had calmed down I turned my attention to the cast.

 As soon as I saw the cast I wondered if I could mosaic it, and I started drawing on it with little idea of what I was drawing. First I had a sort of neckline shape and wondered perhaps if I was going to put the top of a dress on the cast, but eventually it started to take a bra type shape. However it didn't look like lingerie, more like a sports bra or bikini. That is when I remembered how much I had missed swimming during my cancer treatment.

 It is no surprise I 'dressed' my cast - when I was a kid my stepfather used to get the Sun newspaper, and I was always upset for the ladies who had no top on, and used to draw underwear on them in black biro. I have always been more interested in clothes and fashion than life drawing. People look so much less impressive than animals when they are uncovered, it is no wonder we invented such a wide range of colourful clothing types!

 Whilst working on the cast I decided I had better finish some of my more usual panel mosaics, started earlier in the year and abandoned during hospital treatment.

Extreme close up! My biggest concern with this project was the fact that the edges of the cast were thin and definitely flexible. This could go either way I thought...

 But amazingly the tiles seemed to stabilise it, and by the end it felt more like a piece of sculpture. I was pleased to find it stood up alone too, because there was no way Keri was going to be able to hang this one by a thin ribbon, it was heavy!

Realising that the cast would be seen from both sides I decided to paint the inside. I had in mind the red soles of Louboutin shoes... and as I walked through the kitchen (currently being replaced) I noticed the test area of cornflower blue I had painted on the wall. A couple of coats and some clear varnish and the cast was finished!

Keri came to collect it and I asked for more information about the lady who donated the cast. Whereupon I was put in touch with the lovely Deborah!

 Doesn't she look great? And she is a survivor of breast cancer too. Here is what Deborah has to say about the project:

" Having breast cancer is a life changing journey and I wanted to share a very positive outcome.

Following a left mastectomy in April 2006 age 46, I had reconstructive surgery in July 2008.  Most people would never know what has happened so to share the fact that research, treatment and a positive attitude can conquer this disease means it had to be done."

Deborah and I had a chat over the internet and she is delighted with what I have done with her cast (luckily!)

The casts will be all together and on display at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds, open to the public from 2 to 3pm on Sunday 28th September.

After that look out for them in Bury shops and premises during October, they will certainly attract some attention I think!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

New SAA Watercolour Practice Paper - reviewed!

 As seen in the SAA 'Paint Magazine September 2014...

I was recently sent some samples of the SAA’s very popular watercolour ‘practice paper’ to try. The SAA have upgraded and improved their previous product and I was given the opportunity to try it out for myself. This is a product that I have been familiar with for many years, very economical and good quality, I recommend it to all my beginner students. When you are starting out the last thing you want to worry about is ruining an expensive sheet of hand made paper! I also use this paper in my demonstration workshops and put little squares of it out in all my classes for students to try their colours on.

The first thing I noticed is that the new paper is whiter than the previous one, something that is quite important to me. As always I stretched the paper onto board before using, and left it until the next day when it was flat and dry. Stretching is not hard to do and will hugely improve the working surface of any paper.

I decided to do a little sample painting of the peach coloured poppies in my garden. Wanting to try a range of watercolour media I used a combination of my favorite Talens paints, as well as some excellent SAA watercolours, watercolour pencils and even some ‘Brusho’ pigment powder. 

 As with the previous practice paper this one is fairly smooth, being close to a ‘hot press’ surface in some other ranges. The advantage with smooth paper is that you can get more accuracy; the disadvantage is that it can be harder to control washes. However, the paper took wet into wet techniques well and was equally responsive to flat washes and some of the mixed media I applied. The brightness of the paper shone through the pink flowers and I was very happy with the result. Due to its smooth surface beginners will find it easy to put an initial drawing down, this paper would also be very suitable for other techniques such as pen and wash, mixed media and collage.

I had hoped that the new paper would be as good as the previous one; I was relieved to find that it is far better!

The finished painting "Peach Poppies"...