One of the reasons why I love taking commissions is that they push me outside my comfort zone, both in terms of subject and the media I choose to use. My latest commission is no exception.
I was approached early this year by Helen, a family friend, to ask if I would be able to produce a poster and leaflet illustrations for a theatrical performance of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and other tales. She is directing and performing the show through her theatre collective ‘Above Bounds‘. Through this popular story, the show will tackle the issues of body image in today’s world using shadow puppetry as one of the mediums.
I was very excited to have been asked to be involved and ideas began flying about in my mind, sparked off by Helen’s request that the Ugly Duckling be the focal point, with other characters surrounding him in the reeds around a pond.
Now, I’m going to digress here a little, to talk about a problem I have as an artist. I love trying different things, working with different media and experimenting with new techniques and styles. The problem is that by doing this, I feel that I have never developed a ‘signature style’ – a look and feel to my work which viewers would immediately recognise – my ‘thing’.
For me, this is the distinguishing feature of a true artist, and it is something which has always eluded me. Until now, I hope. You see, I think I’ve found my niche, style, technique – whatever you want to call it. I have managed to find something which incorporates all of my strengths in a way I really enjoy – layered watercolours. By cutting out watercolour illustrations and arranging them in layers, I can combine my love of paper cutting with my love of painting to create pieces which are full of texture, character and depth.
It’s not something which is new to me, I’ve done various different pieces in this style before, such as this underwater scene, but it’s just struck me that this could be ‘my thing’.
Which brings me back to the matter in hand, the poster commission. Following a few sketches and emails to and fro between Helen and I, we came up with a composition which we were both happy with. I produced a small example to show the layering technique I had in mind (pictured below on the right) and set about painting all the elements which are to make up the final piece.
I needed various different colours of green to make the layers of grass, so I spend an afternoon laying down lime greens, emeralds and olive shades. Next came the background of a blue sky with fluffy clouds, and the pond which I gave texture to using salt to absorb the water.
Once the look of the characters had been agreed, I set about drawing, painting and cutting them out. This was my favourite part which surprised me as I haven’t really had much luck with character illustration before.
I now have all the elements I need to make the final piece which I hope to share with you in my next blog post. Before I arrange the layers though, I thought I’d have a bit of fun with the little characters!
Here’s the farmer out in the garden…
…surveying his giant daisies…
…and the granny wandering around the stables across the road!
Besides this project, I’ve been working on a couple of other small illustrations for our son’s bedroom. This is one of them – a fun little watercolour painting which I’ve mounted in a box frame.
And finally, here’s the beginning of my next layered watercolour – a view of Appledore in North Devon from the water. I’m going to try to put together a collection of local views to take to galleries and try to sell some! In the meantime, if you would like to commission a layered watercolour, please do get in touch!