Monday 24 August 2015

Artist Appreciation Month

August Is Artist Appreciation Month

Recently, I was informed by the folks at Patience Brewster about a project called 'Artist Appreciation Month,' in which artists are invited to talk about an artist(s) who has inspired them to create. Patience is an artist as well and designs ornaments and unique gifts for Christmas and year round d├ęcor. I knew straight away this would be the perfect opportunity to share with you a FANTASTIC artist and hopefully shed light on my early days of struggling to find my ‘way of painting’ - notice I didn’t say ‘style’.

John Howe

My first major inspiration, and the man who made me aware of illustration as a career, was John Howe. Everybody, whether they know it or not, has at some point seen his artwork, either on book covers, board games or in every single Peter Jackson Tolkien film.
Make-up artists working on the Fellowship Of The Ring, stuck this image on the mirror opposite Sir Ian McKellen as they turned him into Gandalf
I’m not going to do a great big biography or go into any detail about John Howe (you can find that on his website) in this post, instead, I’m going to concentrate on one single publication featuring his artwork - the 2001 Tolkien Calendar, published by Harper Collins.

I have been a big fan of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth since I was 9, when I read the Hobbit for the first time. Not surprisingly at such a young age I didn’t know anything about the huge wealth of Tolkien inspired artwork in the world, so there was a big gap between reading the stories and finding visuals. That happened at the age of 14, when I Christmas shopping in a local independent book shop (remember those!) and I stumbled across John Howe’s calendar. My world suddenly expanded as I bought it, got home and started to flick through the 13 wonderful pages (13!? - there was a pull out poster).

In my eyes, John Howe, had depicted the aged and menacing atmosphere of the Lord Of The Rings perfectly. Even the painting of the Black Riders in the Shire had a wonderful subtle creepiness and the gorgeous trees and environments just topped the whole thing off.
Black Riders In The Shire
Throughout all of the year 2001 (a Tolkien odyssey) I lovingly marvelled at each month’s artwork and I even scrawled on the days, which is something I had never done before or since. These days I just keep a diary - not as exciting but easier to fit in a rucksack.
This poster of Sauron's forces attacking Minas Tirith remained on my wall until I left home for University.
So how did this calendar inspire me? Well, for me it was the ‘Big Bang’. Quickly following the calendar I found books (and websites) about John Howe and other related artists. I started to use watercolour and I began copying John’s paintings (no I won’t be posting those!), and even when, during my foundation year, I had a hiatus from watercolour in favour of oils (because w/c is just so hard), it was John Howe who brought me back into the light and I picked up watercolour again determined to crack it.
Gollum Flees The Elves Of Mirkwood

The Argonath
 Since that first year of discovery, I have found other wonderful artists and maybe I will post about some of those in the future. But because John Howe was the first BIG inspiration, and the man who inspired me to paint and attempt a career from my own artwork, he will always be at the top of the pile. I’ve been fortunate enough to see his originals in a small show at the Illustration Cupboard, London, but unfortunately I just missed meeting the man himself that day. Hopefully in the future our paths will cross and I’ll get to be the awkward geeky fanboy I know I really am.
Legolas And Gimli At Helms Deep
To think about how I paint now, my first concern when beginning a new illustration is ‘atmosphere’, be it based on temperature, weather or emotion, I always want to convey some kind of atmosphere before the viewer notices what the main character is doing. For that major prerequisite you can thank that flipping calendar (it did actually flip over you know)!

Below are more illustrations from the calendar.
Horsemen In The Night
Gwaihir Rescues Gandalf From Orthanc
Shelob About To Leap On Frodo
The End Of All Things
The Grey Havens

Friday 7 August 2015

School Playground

 'School Playground'
Watercolour & Gouache
66 x 50cm
After working on other jobs and taking a week off to teach a summer school course, I have finally finished 'School Playground'.

I'm pleased with the overall result but I do think I could have developed the relationship between the characters and first school further. Maybe by depicting a young animal going through the doorway or a few heads poking out of the windows? I'm not sure, but it is certainly something I will keep in mind for future similar paintings.

Enough of the internal soul searching... here are some pictures showing my progress.
Rough Drawing
Concentrating on the background after finishing the sky and trees
For this passage I was closely copying a photograph I had taken a few days previously
School finished, working on the playground now.
Bit by bit I worked through the characters
Keep painting...
... and painting
... and finally pull out the gouache paints.
The school is based on the old Corsham Primary school which is now the Pound Arts Centre - where I have my studio! Next door to me are two other artists, the superb Penney Ellis and the extraordinary Caroline Rudge. We have an open studio every Monday, so please feel free to drop by and say hello if you are in the area.

See if you can spot any of these animals in the playground. The two young rabbits might be hard to spot.