Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Gus the friendly gorilla

I'd just been to Dublin Zoo a few months earlier and taken about five hundred photographs of the residents. I'd been hoping to catch an iconic photograph of a gorilla beating its chest. posing/pouting as they usually do or failing that just looking bored! I got the latter as they're stubborn beasties that never do anything to order. 

Chester Zoo had been no better – indeed the orangutans and gorillas looked even more drugged up there! At both places it would have been advantageous to have had a longer lens than a 300mm as the monkey enclosure with its tyre swings, ropes and wooden play furniture was on an island that didn't encourage these swinging primates getting too close to the public.
I desperately wanted to paint an animal but as everyone on pastel sites appeared to be going the obligatory cute cat/dead dog I had to be different. I looked at parrots and macaws on the Fotolia stock library website where I'm a member, then at lizards and chameleons but nothing was really jumping out at me! Maybe because I had purposely avoided lions, tigers and crocs! OK joke time over. 

Finally after a night wandering around a Fotolia zoo of photographs I stumbled upon Gus my gorilla and for a few credits he agreed to be downloaded and pose menacingly on my desktop! I loved this big guy. He agreed to my house rules and never once bared his teeth, raised his fists or threatened murder despite me throwing him in the bin several times. It's great when you find a pacifist gorilla who'll turn the other cheek. 

This was mostly a soft pastel job with Gus' body hair created with various shapers and kept it place with fixative. His tough skin was a mixture of soft pastel and the thicker Conté a Paris pastel pencil which seemed to give off a heavily textured and rough feel. I liked that, particularly the way I managed to capture his hands. More so than his body hair which I was never happy with. And I tried endless times to make it look unkempt and uncombed but it always ended up as if I'd called in a hairdresser to give him a blow dry. The soft photo below doesn't help. There was more definition in the hair. Anyway the failure to get this right was disappointing and showed me how far I still had to go as an artist.
On a more positive note I liked his eyes and his face and I feel Gus would have recognised himself if I'd shown it to him. The fact that no-one else really appreciated his apely likeness when I showed them the painting worried me and I didn't really want to be carrying around a photograph of Gus in my wallet just to prove a point. People so often get the wrong idea! Why can't tatch (moi) just have a girlfriend like everyone else! 

So that was my third painting done and that marked the end of my first term in Dawn's pastel class.

I did have a buyer for Gus when I brought him to Moy but never parted with him. I don't think he's one of my better paintings now. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Monday Night Pastel Classes at the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn

It was a last minute decision to splash out £58 on a pastel class at the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn. This was the first time I had signed up for anything in their evening programme and I guess I only did so because Lawrence, one of the members of Lisnagarvey Art Society, had recommended this class to me.

The news on that first night was that a sewing class had hijacked the usual room (the one Lisnagarvey Art Society meets in) and we were in a smaller one where four tables were not high enough to get your knees under – I think this was a children’s art room! Not to worry!  There were about sixteen in the class – mostly ladies. There were quite a few beginners so I didn’t feel too overawed. Dawn Allen the tutor was absolutely brilliant, spending fifteen minutes with everyone, looking at work, encouraging, throwing out little tips, giving advice and answering questions – and I had loads of those. She was a proficient pastellist herself so I knew she was speaking from vast experience when I asked about the best paper to work on and how to strip overworked pastel off a page. 

My pastel style is quite different from most pastellists I see online or in books. They definitely don’t go into as much detail as myself. Trial and a lot of error has shown me that Unison Soft Pastels and most brands of pastel pencils don’t work very well together. The exception to that would be Conté a Paris pastel pencils which have a thicker and softer lead and though it’s not a perfect marriage they’ll do for everything except the really detailed work. For that I have learned to forget about Unison and go straight to Pitt or Derwent pastel pencils. They work perfectly for me and my style of painting.   

Looking back now I didn’t really do much work during my time there – I missed two, maybe three weeks due to being too busy with work. I used the two hour class to experiment and trial techniques on scrap paper that I would later work into my paintings whenever I was confident it would give me the desired result. For that reason the bulk of my paintings were done in my studio at home. I worked on three pieces during that first ten week spell at the pastel class – Gold Hill, Ballintoy Harbour and Gus the Gorilla. They’re all nearly finished just requiring a few last minute touch-ups and a signature before I take them to Fiona for framing.