Okavango Delta Aerial

Okavango Delta Aerial

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Ellie calf pair to blow their trumpets

My two little studies of Paseka, that I posted recently, caught the eye of the Artist and Illustrator Magazine Editor. He has asked me to write a short article about the duo. Really pleased they seem to be creating interest already. I am in the process of putting the article together now and will post a publication date when I have it.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Paseka at play studies

Hot off the easel, as it were... two little oil studies.  

Back to my looser approach with these two and deliberately done as a pair; each on a 8" x 10" canvas board, so painted at the same time to keep the feel, flow and colour continuity fresh (hopefully). 

Both pieces represent Paseka, who was less than two years old when I saw her in 2011... she will now be over four years old and I expect quite a bit bigger with little tusks showing. She was a great little character of the Abu Camp herd and I am aware I have painted her a few times now. She seemed a happy little soul who loved to run around and play, especially with Lorato who is slightly older than her.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Zebras done!

Finally completed. The location for this scene is the old landing strip near Seba Camp in the Okavango Delta. The pale sandy soil lies starkly against the green reeds and grasses in March, reflecting light back up onto the zebra. It seemed to be a popular place for animals to congregate; perhaps the expanse of clear soil afforded some protection against predators who might use the long grasses to make a stealthy approach. At this time of year water lies to either side of the strip, attracting many birds like ducks, plovers, egrets and storks. On one day I saw zebra, lechwe, wildebeeste, tsessebe, a bull elephant and an eagle flying overhead around the strip area. What a great spot!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Zebras on last amble to finish line

Almost finished zebra landscape... has taken longer than planned, but then what's new? Backdrop went well, but zebras have been painted twice due to me not liking the first colours I had done them in. So all change.. that means, as I paint the body before the stripes... I have gone over these darn animals 4 times.. twice for body colours and twice for stripes! The soil got done once, but had a lot of adjustments to get colour and light as I wanted it.... so all that's left now is the blacksmith plovers and a small amount of grass at the front. Hopefully tomorrow will be the final day. Fingers crossed

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Reshuffle and Journal added

I've had a little reshuffle of the content of this blog. I have now changed Pages for the Journal I wrote whilst in Botswana. Pages had been added in my last little redesign to be used for information on the exhibition. But I have since felt that maybe this was better to be seen unhidden on the initial viewing of the blog, as it explains what it is all about really. Any consequent news should be done in the general posts. Sometimes you just have to try something to see how it fits and then change it, if it's not quite right.

I took a little computer to Botswana with me, an Asus Netbook.. small and easy for travelling with. The purpose of this little piece of equipment was to write a journal on and send emails back to the UK as there was internet facility for staff use at the camp. As it turned out it was invaluable for storing all my photo's as well.. something I had not planned on, but I couldn't have done without in the end.

I like writing and tend to always write my trip adventures down as they happen and it was particularly important to do so on this trip as I could record thoughts and feelings, information and details about all aspects of my stay to help me remember and reflect on the time there for when I was back home working on the studio pieces for the exhibition.

I shall be adding to the journal every now and again, with each day in sequence. I hope you will find it interesting and transport you to the Delta to share in the experiences I had.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Exhibition news and Pages

Finally I feel able to let you know about the news regarding the venue for the exhibition. The date has been set at around September 2015 and the venue is the wonderful Museum and Art Gallery - Nature In Art in Gloucestershire. Simon, the Director, has been very supportive and enthusiastic about the project and has offered an event that will focus on elephants with my exhibition as the main feature. As yet we are still working on the plans and ideas for this event but it is all very exciting and inspiring. I will update you as details get sorted and more definite. 

I have added 'Pages' to the right hand side of this blog page. The first page relates to the background of the exhibition project which was previously viewed in an 'open box' on the right. I have changed this as it got confused (or more accurately - I did) with my profile and I recently realised that this text appeared on all three of my blogs, which meant, of course, that it did not relate to the other two. So hopefully now things make more sense across all three blogs.

The second page is for information about the venue for the exhibition, and will be updated as details come in.

Elephants For Africa

This is the small research charity that I am working on a fund-raising exhibition for. They have recently updated their website and it  looks great with lots of information and links to blogs etc. They have also added the limited edition print I donated to them (ten prints) to their Art for sale page. 100% of each of the ten donated prints goes to Elephants For Africa.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Progress on the zebras

The background is now complete and the grasses behind the zebras as good as done, although there is a bit of fiddling to do there yet. Next will be the soil beneath the zebras hooves.....

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Zebras underway

Yesterday I drew out the position of the elements of my subjects and background and roughly drew the details of shape. I then covered the canvas with a glaze of burnt sienna thinned with liquin. I had to do this carefully so that I wouldn't scrub out my pencil marks too much. That was then left to dry overnight. 

The canvas is backed by MDF board (which I believe is called masonite in the USA) giving me a solid surface to work on and dimensions that I want, rather than buying a ready made canvas on a frame.

Today I started painting and found myself approaching this one differently to previous work. Usually I start at the horizon and work forward straight onto the glazed surface. But this time I found myself blocking in the landscape and animals to create an underpainting. Not sure why I did this, there wasn't much forethought or considered choice.... it just felt the way to go on this piece. It could be because I have many elements and to get them 'mapped in' with colour first will help me see where I am going. As I say, it wasn't pre-planned, it just kind of happened that way. As this is not the way I usually work, it'll be interesting to see how I continue with the rest of the painting. It's good to change what you do every once and a while, isn't it. 

This piece features a group of zebras casually ambling across the scene. Another painting in which I want a calm feel... a reflection of daily life rather than dramatic event portrayed. I saw a few dramatic events during my stay.... which I will paint, but my over all impression of the landscape was animals quietly going about their daily lives. So I want to try and get that feel for the exhibition too. This painting also features a few blacksmith plovers disturbed by the zebras approach and two elephants, who are tucked away in the background. This will be one of those paintings for the exhibition that are not about the elephants but show that they are very much there in the landscape either by evidence of their passing by with a few 'dollops' of elephant dung or by a glimpse of them through the trees in the background.

New landscape piece

I have so many ideas on the go at the moment, either in my head or roughed out on bits of paper, that I don't know which to do first. Got at least three paintings at the planning stage, 'ready for take off' as it were, so I should have gone with one of them, right?  But then suddenly a new idea hit, so I had to go with the flow of that and after two days of preparation I am now ready to 'fly' with it.

It will be 36" x 11", so a long thin landscape piece.... toying with how detailed I should or should not go with it... so I will just see how it evolves on the canvas. That's all part of the excitement... not knowing what you are going to do with it exactly, until you do it. :)

Sunday, 22 September 2013


I have changed the settings of this blog so that you can now add comments. I thought I had this set up previously, but was alerted recently, by someone who had tried to comment on a post, that this was not the case. I hope I have now corrected this. If you would like to make a comment please do so, I would love some feedback; however as I shall be moderating the comments (to stop spam and other dubious messages) it may not appear straight away.
I look forward to reading your messages. If there are any further problems please contact me via my general art blog, Susan Jane Lees, which has a guestbook.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Artist in Residence at Nature in Art

Last week I spent six wonderful days as the Artist in Residence at the fantastic Nature in Art Museum and Art Gallery in Gloucester. Between February and November they have artists spend a week or less in their studio to chat to the visitors and show them their work. Sculptors, carvers, painters, printmakers, pastelists etc all come to be part of the programme, so each week there is someone/something different to see and learn from.

I set the studio up into zones... so that I could display my zoo work, painting stock, Botswana work and merchandise in different areas for maximum impact.

This is the display of my Botswana work which, I'm pleased to say, generated a lot of interest. 

As well as my studio work done since I returned to the UK I had one of my field sketch paintings and my sketchbook out to be viewed. There was a slideshow running of images taken during my stay of the wildlife and the research work, leaflets and photographs.

I took two unfinished paintings to work on and hopefully finish and had planned to start another piece. But I only managed to get complete the two unfinished paintings. 

This is the first one I worked on.... it is of a lagoon near the airstrip that was favoured as a place for sundowners and we also had a lovely evening bush meal here as well. I had planned this as a backdrop for a small flock of white-faced whistling ducks silhouetted against the clouds, but quickly realised as I painted it that nothing else was needed in the composition; it had enough interest as it was. 

This is the second piece I worked on... a study of a vervet monkey. These were regulars in camp and could be very naughty if doors or windows were left open!
Again I had planned a little more in the composition of this piece... there was to be something up in the top right hand corner that the monkey was looking at... a small insect perhaps. However on painting the eye I felt that the story was in that look. Anything else would be a distraction and ruin the interaction between the viewer and the painting. The more I painted, the more sure of this I became... and this seemed to be backed up by the reaction of the people who came into the studio and saw it.

I had a lovely week and would like to thank all those who came in to see me, whether by design or chance. I enjoyed meeting you all and appreciate your interest and support. To the lovely people who rounded up their sales spend as a donation to Elephants for Africa I am particularly grateful and will be sure to add that to the end of year cheque I shall send them from general Botswana work sales, I know they will be very appreciative of your support. Thank you.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Insight to an Exhibition Talk


I have just put together a new slideshow talk, which I shall be giving to an art group when I am in Gloucester next week. It has taken me five days to write the talk, sort  relevant photo's to illustrate the subjects, resize/crop them and get it to a point that I feel happy to say it is done. Phew! Took me longer than anticipated but then, it always does, doesn't it.

The talk is all about the exhibition project from how it all came about, the preparation for the trip to Botswana, the stay in the Okavango Delta, the progress on the work and touching on the preparation for the exhibition event. I will be showing images of my stay in the Delta, as well as some of the work I have done for the exhibition, including a step by step look into the inspiration, composition and creation of one of the paintings. I shall also take along my sketch book and some originals for folks to see properly.

Monday, 26 August 2013

More batiks

This Bank Holiday weekend I have concentrated on getting a few ideas done in batik. I had two cotton tote bags hanging around that I thought I could batik with elephants in some form or another. My thinking is that I could sell these ahead of the exhibition and in particular wanted them for my week as Artist in Residence at Nature In Art which is fast approaching (10th - 15th September). The funds from them will go into the 'exhibition fund pot', but I shall first deduct 20%, which will go to Elephants For Africa..... if I sell them.

I did two designs, on the same style bag (42cms x 35.5cms)... one of a wild bull that is named 'Hunter' (which is a 'threshold' image) who 'walked' a mahout and myself back to the mahout day camp in a calm but resolute manner! I will have to tell that tale on here at some point! 

And the other one is a pattern made up from a repeated image of an elephant, based on a bull named 'Ivor' (also wild). 

The third batik is another threshold image, this time of a greater kudu bull. A magnificent animal standing tall (unfortunately the photo is slightly tilted in a clockwise direction, so he doesn't look as tall and proud as the batik actually is - sorry I didn't notice that before) and looking very strong; he definitely means business!  This one is most likely to be done as a wall hanging to go in the exhibition. It is on a piece of cotton measuring 34" x 21" (865mm x 535mm), the kudu image itself is over 16" (405mm) high.

Here are a few images of the creation of the greater kudu batik.

The computer printout (my plan), from which I do the basic outline drawing that goes onto the cotton, is to the left.. I work on a piece of Java cotton, which is pinned taut to a frame. I mark in the outline of the kudu with a pencil (around HB grade) I use it lightly as this cotton is particularly fine and the technique I am using does not require the line to stay visible after the first layer of wax goes on. Pencil lines are easily lost though the process as water and colour are repeatedly applied to the cotton. I wax in the detail using my plan as a guide, adding detail or leaving bits out according to how I want the final image to look.

Here I have waxed in around the head. For this I use a slow flowing fine tjanting (canting), which is a type of batik tool for applying the molten wax to the surface. Every now and then I hold it up to the light to see if I have made good marks (that the wax has sealed the cotton) and that there is nothing that needs adding or altering (I can never take away - if I go wrong... I just have to adapt it as I go!) Luckily I managed to wax it all in without any mishaps.... such a relief.

Before I add any colour I then cover the rest of the cotton with wax to protect it from any unwanted colour spills ... I used a large household paintbrush for this. I had done several colour ideas on the computer before settling with the pink and mauve combination and then I had played with the distribution of colour, also on the computer. I had that printed out also as a guide for when it came to washing the colour over the surface of the free cotton, as again it is often the case with some colours that once on they cannot be undone or covered up... so it was important for me to get the feel of it right before the colour is applied. I love my computer as a tool for my work... it makes the prep work so much quicker and it is easy to visualise your ideas.

The time it took to wax it was about 5-6 hours, and I had to resort to protecting my thumb from the heat of the molten wax whilst holding the tjanting for that length of time almost non stop. Even though I had a folded piece of kitchen towel cradling the 'hot end' of the tjanting, the stray wax eventually seeps through and I was getting a very sore thumb, despite frequent changes of the kitchen towel. A combination of a plaster with masking tape then covering it, did the trick. The first for comfort the second as a barrier against molten wax.... a plaster alone, I learned, just won't do the job.    

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Batik finished - Impala

This isn't the best of photo's to show off this piece.... I just couldn't get the background a good white and get the colours to show up bright and as lovely as they are. But hopefully you will get the idea of it.

This certainly isn't a new idea, but having seen several different art works recently along the lines of silhouetted shapes with colour on black or white backgrounds, I felt inspired to try and create something for the exhibition. I liked the effect and thought it might work well in batik, so after some thought on subject and approach I chose this format. The impala shapes all come from numerous reference photo's that I took in Botswana that I then grouped together and arranged into a design that I liked. I toyed with colour backgrounds either a solid colour or wet into wet colours, dark colours, light colours, different blends of colour... until I settled with this. I do like the simplicity of this idea and may do more. Maybe I'll try some of the other combinations I played with.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Working on the batik

Started the batik as planned. As you can see from this small section, the subject is a group of impala. The process of waxing around the antelope took about four and a half hours and I managed not to go wrong or drop any blobs over the design. Yeehaa! A minor miracle! 

This short video shows me starting to wax around the last impala with the tjanting (or canting) a batik tool for drawing molten wax onto the surface, in this case cotton.

For going around the antelope outlines I used two slow flowing, small sized tjantings; this gave me more control to get detail and using them in turn meant I could work with one whilst the other reheated and to block in the larger spaces around the animals I used two slightly faster flowing tjantings. The tjantings cool quite quickly once they are out of the waxpot, so working with two of each size meant I could speed the process up as I wouldn't have to wait for the tjanting to get nice and hot again each time I put it back in the waxpot.

Tomorrow, the plan is to finish waxing the cotton to protect the background and then to wash colours over the impalas. 

New works

At the moment I seem to have so many ideas needing to materialise. Usually I work on one or two pieces at a time, but at the moment I have five fighting for my attention. They are either one of my numerous ideas in my head screaming to get out and put to paper or one that has already made it to the reality of a rough sketch on paper but now desperately wants to be worked on to a more definite plan.

There are two batik ideas, one of which is planned and ready to go, the other is just an idea stuck to my wardrobe door for evaluation (time to look at and ponder on whether it is aesthetically pleasing or interesting enough). Then there's a vervet monkey portrait oil study waiting to be finished, a  large triptych desperate to get beyond the idea in my head stage and onto paper and one other oil painting that is partly planned and eager to become something more. My dilemma is... which do I answer the call for attention of first! 

At the moment it looks like the planned batik will win out.... I have spent three days in the prep for this, two of which were working on the computer. I do like using my computer (Mac) for planning a piece sometimes... it is a great tool for speeding up the process and for visualising an idea quickly. As this batik has more of a design element to it I had some fun playing with compositional ideas and colour schemes. I think I have now come up with a plan... so all I have to do is draw it up properly, transfer it to a piece of cotton (or silk - I haven't yet decided which) and then wax it in without going wrong.... like getting blobs of melted wax where I don't want them. That's all!! Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

New links

Today I've added some links, under the title 'Artworks', to view some of the exhibition artwork, these are on my Facebook Page, 'In the footsteps of Elephants', and you can view them without having to be a Facebook user.

The albums will be added to as I do work up until the exhibition. But not all the paintings will be posted here, I obviously want to keep some special for the show.  The idea is to give a preview to the exhibition; an indication of the type of work that will be exhibited.

Friday, 2 August 2013


Thank you for stopping by to look at this blog; it will focus on the preparation and build up to the exhibition showing images of work in progress and completed work, as well as news and information on the details of the exhibition.

Kate and I have recently viewed a possible venue, which we are both very excited about, but we are waiting for confirmation, so as yet we can say not much else. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can post some definite news on the venue and dates. Watch this space!

Talking of which.... As you can see it is new and I have more work to do to it yet - adding images and information. Please pop back to see any new posts or better still type in your email address in the box on the left 'Follow by Email', so that when I post something new you will be notified.

I hope you will enjoy this blog and the journey we take to the end of the project - The Exhibition.