Friday, 27 November 2015

Forever Autumn

November has tied me to an old, dead tree.  
Get word to April, to rescue me.

I realise that I have not posted anything on my blog for quite a while.  I don't know where time disappears to at present. We are about to enter the very last month of the year, yet it seems only a few weeks ago that we were celebrating Christmas. Anyway, I apologise for my absence.

The weather is slowly beginning to turn.  Autumn stayed with us for quite a while this year.  We were lucky to have the rich, golden treasure of autumn leaves on our trees for longer than expected, before the winds came.  This really is the most spectacular of the seasons, which we had the gift of enjoying much longer than expected.

You might recall Luna, the hare which I had the pleasure of creating back in the late Spring, for Framemakers Gallery in Cirencester?  It was painted and displayed as part of the towns annual Hare Festival.  

Cirencester, or Corinium as it was called in Roman times, is the only location in all of the United Kingdom where hares have been found depicted on the remains of Roman ruins.  Many animals have been found within Roman murals - but only in Cirencester will you find the hare.  

Now that the festival has come to a close, the gallery and I thought it would be a lovely idea to auction Luna off in aid of a charity.  The gallery have very kindly let me chose which charity I would like to support and, of course, I have chosen the Alzheimer's Society.  Some of you may know that both of my parents currently suffer with this devastating disease, so it seemed only right.  The auction is still running and will close at the start of December.  I must thank the gallery for their fantastic support and I do hope we will raise a few pennies for such a worthy cause.

Earlier this month I had an invitation from Greg Spawton (Big Big Train) to come along to Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios to watch the band record parts of the new album, Folklore.  It was a really fascinating experience : not only to see a recording studio of such legendary status (what an amazing place!), but also to get a little insight into the process of recording an album.  Whilst I was there, the band were laying down the brass parts for certain tracks.  It really was an honour to be in the company of such enormously talented musicians as Dave Desmond, Ben Godfrey and the rest of the brass section.  Their sound was rich, warm and, well, huge!

After the day's recording was done, we all enjoyed a lovely dinner courtesy of the studios' catering team and were able to begin a few brief discussions regarding artwork and branding for the new album.

I was then able to expand on these initial discussions a few weeks later, when I met up again with band members Greg and David  to talk about the album in more depth.  It was a great meeting : we looked more closely at certain narratives and themes which run throughout the album.  I have come away with a clear idea of how the album art might look and have already begun sketching.

This month has seen me working on a number of commissions - which means that I am unable to post photographs, as I suspect that a number of them will be Yule gifts.  I have also been busy creating some new hearts for my Etsy shop - which will be re-stocked this Sunday (November 29th) at 7 pm.  Hopefully these will make a nice, affordable Christmas presents.

I have also been having great fun with clocks!  These will be lovely little 6 x 6" original works which function as clocks.  The battery run clock parts are quartz, with a hanger on the back ready to mount on the wall.  I am not sure if I will have any ready for Christmas though.  I don't want to rush them, ensuring I spend time getting them just right.  They will be available via my Etsy shop and exclusively through one or two of my galleries.

So December will be here in a few short days. I quite like the advent of Winter : the chance to draw the curtains, light a candle and be cozy inside.  But I also love my walking at this time of year: my partner and I walk regularly.   Cold, sharp, bright days are the very best days to go walking.  The absence of leaves on the trees make for a very architectural landscape.  I am lucky enough to live in the heart of the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful parts of England.  There is no better way to appreciate this beautiful land than on foot.

When I am not painting, walking is one of my very favourite ways to spend my time.  Walking, I am able to clear my head and have learnt to be completely in the moment.  It has given me a very strong connection to my landscape, my environment : this beautiful, precious place which informs and inspires all my work.

So wrap up warm and get out into the countryside.  Fill your lungs with the clean, sharp air, get some daylight on your face.  Take in your amazing surroundings, no matter where you live, and let them consume you.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Make Some Noise

Having hoped for an improvement in the weather now that my studio scaffolding has come down, I have been bitterly disappointed.  August has been really rather poor from a meteorological point of view.  As I sit here and reflect on the past month, it is September 1st and there is a decidedly Autumnal feel in the air.  We are beginning to baton down the hatches for Winter already.  Even my colour palette is sensing the change - as I move more towards Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Copper.  Of an evening, I am already smelling woodsmoke on the air here in Gloucestershire.

But the past month has certainly not been without spectacular moments when I have, as Nathalie Marchant once sang, felt a shaft of light make its way across my face...

On August 15th, I traveled to London to see Big Big Train play live at the prestigious Kings Place.  I have had the great honour and pleasure of working with the band, on their artwork, since late 2014.  And I had been waiting for this day to come for a long time.  

Oh my, the band did not disappoint.  It was a truly magnificent performance and a very special evening indeed.   To coin the cliche "there was a lot of love in the room" would not be inappropriate here!  

There was obviously one particular song which I was waiting for - Wassail.  What I did not expect was to see my painting of the Green Man blown-up to epic proportions and used as a back-drop for the song!  It was a huge moment for me - and I recall looking up to see Kathy (the very lovely wife of Greg Spawton, band founder member) grin and give me the thumbs up!  I bit back tears and the word "proud" doesn't even come close.

I had the great pleasure of meeting many of their fans (or Passengers, as they should be referred to) - what a super bunch of people.  I also had the chance to catch up with Greg, Andy, David and Danny from the band.  Alongside Kathy, they all made me feel such a part of their BBT family.   You know when you think back upon something and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside - well, that. 

Fabulous photograph taken by (c) Willem Klopper 2015.


The other warm and sun-filled moment of August was being able to announce that I have a new art-related "family" in Scotland : Robertson Fine Art.  Robertson's have galleries in Glenrothes, Dollar and Dunfermline - and are about to open a fabulous new gallery in Edinburgh at the end of September.  They are also super active within the Scottish interiors market and can often be found attending events.  For example, they will be launching my work at the Aberdeen Art Fair (Sept 4-6, Music Hall, Aberdeen) and have other outside events planned over the coming months.

I have already sent a number of pieces up to Gordon Robertson and his team - and of course am really excited to develop the relationship further.


Well that's it from me for another month.  My September will be focused on preparing work to supply to my galleries in readyness for Christmas.  Yes, it will arrive frighteningly quickly! But in the meantime, keep your eye on my Etsy shop as I have a few new little gifting items which will be going in over the next few weeks.

Have a wonderful September.
Love, Light & Peace
Sarah x

Audiobooks I have enjoyed in the studio this month:
- The Final Confession of Mabel Stark : Robert Hough
- The Lovely Bones : Alice Sebold

Friday, 31 July 2015

Sounds of Laughter, Shades of Light
It is the last day of July.  Summer seems to be slipping away very quickly this year.  If you were happy, wrapping yourself in the blissful warmth of the summer sun, only to find it swept away by driving rain and autumnal temperatures, you can probably blame me.  We had scaffolding erected at the start of the month, to carry out works on the roof and dormer window of my studio.  From that moment on, the weather has been unpredictable and disappointing.  Sorry.
Looking back, it has been a really busy month for me, with lots of getting out and about, which I love.

July has brought sunshine in other ways.  You might recall that I painted a ceramic hare for the Cirencester Hare Festival (currently on display in Framemakers Gallery, in the town).  Well I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of The Names of the Hare exhibition at the New Brewery Arts centre. The exhibition features work from some of my favourite artists ( Catherine Hyde,  Hannah Willow, Tamsin Abbot, Karen Davis, Celestine & The Hare and Gloucestershire's own fabulous Dinny Pocock).  
But I am sure the other ladies wont be offended if I were to say that the real star of the show was, of course, the amazing Jackie Morris. During the evening, Jackie treated us to a reading from her brand new book, The Wild Swans (a companion piece to East of the Sun, West of The Moon). She shared some of her new, beautiful illustrations and anecdotes upon life as a writer, illustrator and artist.  I even got the chance to leaf through some of her sketch books.  What a treat!  
The exhibition really is stunning.  I would highly recommend going along for a peak.  The atmosphere is warm and magical and the work is simply gorgeous.  I cannot sing its praises highly enough. It runs until September 19th.  So plenty of time to get there.  Cirencester is a beautiful town too (okay, I am pretty biased, I know...)  Here is a couple of photos of some delicious Tamsin Abbot pieces, which I covet badly. Badly...


This month also brought an unexpected but lovely invitation from Gordon and the team at the Prema Arts Centre

Gordon got in touch and asked me if I would like to come and visit, meet his team and consider the prospect of an exhibition with them.  The centre is in the next village to me, Uley, and has an enviable nationwide reputation for staging some amazing live music events, exhibitions and workshops. Housed in an old methodist chapel (and currently under-going some incredible refurbishment), Prema really is an amazing space : workshops, studios, a breath-taking exhibition space and a fabulous cafe.  I had a great morning with Prema, they were welcoming, warm and collaborative.  So now I just have to get my thinking cap on : I know the where, I just have to work out the when and the how!


Much time this month has been spent hand embellishing the Green Man prints in readyness for the Big Big Train  concerts at Kings Place, London, next month.  In fact the last of these prints  will be taken down to my framers this afternoon, to be put into their mounts.  
They are a limited run of 25.  Each print is unique in some way and all have been signed by me and come with a certificate of authenticity.  Once in their mount, they look really great.  I do hope the BBT fans like them! 
Note: at the end of August, I will be running a competition on this blog to win an Artist's Proof of this print. the competition will only be available to members of this blog.  So don't forget to sign up!


New collections of my pieces have gone into Framemakers Galleries (throughout the South/South West) and also The Acorn Gallery (Pocklington, Yorkshire) this month, which is great.  It's so nice to refresh my displays with new work.  I have launched a number of smaller pieces, which I am hoping people will respond well to.  The new works are primarily 8x8" or 12x12" (image size).  This makes them not only easier to find space for on your wall, but they also retail at sub £500, which has got to be a good thing.


So I am currently working on a selection of new pieces for a brand new gallery chain in Scotland (more to be revealed on that very soon).  
I am also turning my thoughts towards Christmas (yes, a bit of a swear word when you consider it will be August tomorrow!).  However, I have to plan early and am scheduling new small gift pieces (hearts, pebbles etc) for my Etsy shop (nice stocking fillers) and also working up some Christmas Card designs.  I would really like to have everything in my Gifting line in my shop by mid October. We will see!!


I can't let my round up of July close without mentioning the most fantastical, magical night I spent at Giffords Circus - who decamped on the village green at Frampton On Severn yesterday ( just up the road).  Giffords is a wonderful old-fashioned Victorian circus, without the animal cruelty.  As soon as you step on the the site (let alone into the big top), you are whisked away to a simpler time, a magical time, a place from somewhere deep in your memory.  Here is a quote from Nell Gifford, which says it all:

"I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye,
and through it I saw ponies and a dressing-up box
and a tent.
And that was Giffords Circus"


So that's it from me for this month.  Try and enjoy the moments of sunshine, where you can (don't worry, the scaffolding comes down on Wednesday.  Summer will return then!).
Love & Light
Sarah x

Audiobooks I have enjoyed in the studio during July:
- A Boy & A Bear in A Boat - Dave Shelton
- The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams

Friday, 24 July 2015

Part 4.  Raise Your Roots!  Hear me Tree!

Andy Poole had asked me to further to develop the Green Man imagery for the Wassail EP.  Of course he had already featured strongly on the cover image - the King of the Orchard, the God of the Forest, he who should be worshiped and appeased in the hope of a fruitful apple harvest.  The band felt it would be interesting to integrate the Green Man further into the visual cues representing Big Big Train's latest musical adventures.  The Green Man is such an enduring image.  Variations can be found in different cultures throughout the world. Always representing  the cycle of growth and rebirth - it felt like a very comfortable fit for the band, as they step forward into a new chapter.

So I set about drawing up a larger, more detailed version of the GM head from the EP cover. I asked the band if I could include a few more elements of nature, woven into the image - to in some way link back to BBT's previous songs (a nice way to represent the circle of life - old to new, to old).  Greg liked the idea very much - and so I chose a Tortoiseshell buttefly (song: Curator of Butterflies), a Ladybird (song: Uncle Jack) and a bee (there isn't a song for this, I just love bees!!).

Once a graphite and ink sketched had been worked up and approved by the band, I could set to work painting the final piece.  Obviously certain elements would need refining for the final painting.

At the same time, the band also asked me if I would look at a revised logo for them - something a little more in-keeping with direction of their latest work.  Inspiration for BBT's  latest cannon had taken a step into a new chapter - away from the steel, steam and industry of English Electric and more towards the natural world, the rhythm and pathways of our folkloric fabric.  

Here I chose to revisit the magpie which had featured in the Wassail crown, circling the Little Eve & Little Adam image on the EP cover.  However, I needed to find a visual cue which would work well in black and white and also on merchandise.  Inspiration for this came easily - as I made my morning cup of tea.  My cottage looks out over rolling fields.  From my kitchen window, every day I see a family of rooks sweep across the meadows, seeking food. They provide such a strong silhouette against the sky.  For me they represent nature and the land.  They survive in spite of everything we do to destroy our environment.  They adapt and change. A little like our folklore.  It adapts and changes, as we do, but is ever present. Perfect!  

I wanted the actual logo itself to have quite an organic, genuine, homespun feel.  So all these elements were hand drawn and inked - nothing was created using a computer of any sort.  It would just have been too clinical.  I wanted all the Wassail artwork to have a feeling of authenticity - it just felt right and in-keeping with what the music was trying to communicate.  
So as I write this, I am taking a break from hand-embellishing the Green Man prints which have been created to celebrate Big Big Train's upcoming concerts at Kings Place in London. The merchandise has now all been released for sale, featuring my imagery.  I have seen photos of the Wassail EP cover which have come in from all over the world and pictures of BBT fans proudly wearing their BBT Green Man t-shirts.  And it has been the deepest joy.  I feel blessed to have worked on such a wonderful project, with such a lovely group of people - and such warm and enthusiastic fans.
Tickets ready please, passengers - see you all on August 15th!
Love & Light

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Part 3. Bough & Leaf Bear Fruit A Plenty

So David and Greg returned some feedback to me concerning the initial concept painting for the Wassail cover.  Overall they were very happy with the idea, but wanted a few tweaks and changes made. Having lived with the image for a few days, I also had a few of my own.

David was very keen to see a little more (painterly) tension between the two figures and also to match them closer in height and age.  In terms of composition this was certainly a good decision.  So I made little Eve slightly older and little Adam slightly younger.  I turned them to face each other and also made it much more obvious that she was offering him the apple.  Would he be tempted?  We also decided to make the snake more obvious, peering down over little Eve's head - illustrating that he was having an influence over her actions.  Once these tweaks and changes had been discussed and agreed, the lads gave me the go ahead to start painting proper.

I decided to use a traditional piece of stretched water colour paper for this painting.  This is because the ground takes the paint in a certain manner.  It can give a natural luminosity, if handled carefully, which I thought would be appropriate for this painting. I sketched out the piece in pencil first.

For this piece I used Golden acrylic paints (fluid),  Winsor & Newton inks and FW acrylic inks.  I absolutely love using ink.  It gives a glow like nothing else.  It is horribly unforgiving, of course.  One mistake and you've had it.  Overall I chose a cool colour palette - the piece is set in winter after all.  But I knew that the rosy glow of the apples would warm the piece up.  So I then began painting.

This piece was such a joy to paint (as have all the BBT pieces been).  It allowed me to move away from my usual strong, graphic style and indulge the detailed part of myself.  Parts of it felt a little like completing a botanical/wildlife illustration, which was just lovely to work on.  I think the Magpie was my favourite little addition - and he also sparked an idea which was to come in very handy a little further down the line.

The final piece went off to Andy Poole at the end of January (if memory serves) and I was really delighted when the band members messaged me back to say that they all loved it.

At this point I felt really quite sad.  For me, the Wassail project was over.  It had been so lovely to work on, allowed me to explore and indulge a different part of my painting set. It had also been a great experience working with Greg, David and Andy - nicer fellas you could not wish to meet.  So with some sadness, I took a step back and closed the chapter on Wassail.  Until about 2 weeks later when Andy got back in touch and said "Um, you know your Green Man?  Well, we've all been chatting and we were thinking we'd like to explore him a little further.  How does that sound?"  It sounds great Andy!  So out came my paint brushes again!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Part 2 : Secret Squirrels.

Having set upon what I hoped would be a strong concept for the cover, I now needed to work up a very rough illustration so that the band could understand where I wanted to take the image. So I spent the next few days pulling together reference material.  I always find it helpful to spend time doing this properly.  It's important to have everything you need so that once you begin sketching out, you have everything you need close at hand.  

I have built up quite a little library of reference books in my studio.  The best place to find them is charity shops and second hand book shops. So I pulled together those which I thought would be useful.

The next thing I needed to do was address the fact that there was to be a figurative element to the image : David had asked for a young girl and boy to be featured, cast in the roles of Adam and Eve.  My little library would not help me here and so I needed to source a reference "from life".  So I called upon my good friends Sam and Bev and cryptically asked if I could possibly "borrow" their children for an afternoon!  

Alistair and Bea-Bea were my wonderful models for Little Adam and Little Eve.  They were very excited to hear that they might appear on the cover of a CD!  What with that and the strategic use of 2 bags of sweets, we had a very fun afternoon, dressing them up in Winter woolies, cutting apples in half to reveal the "5 pointed star" and generally posing around whilst I took lots and lots and lots of photos.

As I left and handed over the bags of sweets, I made Alistair and Bea-Bea promise, promise, promise to be Secret Squirrels. They must not say a word to anyone about the record cover, who it was for or why we had just spent the whole afternoon playing with half an apple.  And to their absolute credit, they were little gems and kept their word for what would end up being 5 months.

Back in the studio, I began sketching out a very rough design.  I didn't want to spend long on it: the purpose was to give Greg and David a good enough sense of where the piece was heading and also to enable them to specify likes/dislikes and suggest other elements to include.  

David had mentioned somehow including an Adder, which has a strong pagan association but, in this instance, could also represent the Eden snake.  So I wound him through the wreath, in and out of the apple blossoms and Wassail cup.  Over-looking the entire scene is the Green Man - strong and powerful, the King of the Woodland/Tree Gods.  I gave him a beard made of leaves, to allude to the ideas we sometimes have of how God is depicted.  So there are a few elements of the painting which have a dual role : they represent both traditional, pagan symbols but also those from the story of the Original Sin.

The following piece was laid down very quickly, with bold washes of ink.  There was no desire on my part to give an accurate rendition, just to give a flavour.

I emailed the initial image off to David and Greg, kept my fingers very tightly crossed that they were able to share my vision and see where I wanted to take the painting - and then waited...