Friday, 29 January 2010
I am so thrilled to able to report that Samuel Lucas JMI school in Hitchin today recieved a phone call from the National Gallery. Their Take One Picture work has been formally accepted in the big exhibition that runs from April to September.
The children and staff are all thrilled and are already planning a big whole school day out to bask in their glory and view the show. A film of the performance in "Le Theatre de Renoir" will be shown on a screen and it is possible the theatre will be assembled as an installation. Certainly componants will be exhibited. What a fantastic result and so deserved by a school who embraced the whole idea so completely, with such dedication and hard work. Congratulations to one and all. Do go and visit the exhibition if you can - it promoses to be really special.
Monday, 18 January 2010
With Ella Bella almost completed, I am now turning my thoughts back to Katie. These days it always seems to be one or the other. But this is fun! I am trying to devise a simple but effective art activity fold-out for the National Gallery of Scotland. I have a very short space of time to plan and create this. It has to be finished by early February! The idea is to produce something to make the gallery more fun for children. One slight problem is that several imporatant paintings are going on loan overseas, so I can't produce a simple look-and-search trail. This photograph shows where I'm up to, so there's still a long way to go. But I think it will fold out with some paintings reproduced that have elements missing. Children will be invited to draw the missing things. In the centre there will be a large empty frame for children to "create their own masterpiece". The gallery will "hire" colouring pencils so children can engage in some creativity while looking around for inspiration. And it will be produced on good easy-to-draw-on paper as well... very important!
Friday, 15 January 2010
Everyone knows that John Constable grew up in Suffolk and that he painted Will Lott's cottage. There can't be many people unaware that the whole Stour valley between South Essex and North Suffolk is called Constable Country, and Dedham Mill and surrounding countryside are visited by millions of tourists every year.
As I began work on Katie and the British Artists I knew I would need to return to a place I'd visited a couple times as a child. I grew up in Suffolk myself, albeit in Blundeston at the farthest boundary from Flatford or Dedham. But it was Constable's example that first set me off across Blundeston marshes with my paints and easel. As my Uncle Richard used to say, "He knew how to make a tree look like a tree". As a teenage artist, I wanted nothing more.
Revisiting Constable Country as an adult was worrying on several counts.
Firstly, I had been warned about crowds so I arrived (with family) very early. But would it be spoiled with cheap tatty tea shops and plastic trinkets?
At it turned out it was unexpectedly beautiful and tranquil, and the tea shops relatively discreet. The view across the river beside the famous cottage is virtually unchanged from when The Hay Wain was painted (in 1821). Only the hay-cart itself was missing. I felt like Katie, as though I had in fact stepped into the painting. It is easy to dismiss The Hay Wain as hackneyed, and Constable as chocolate-boxy. It is true that The Hay Wain features on tea towels and biscuit tins and faux-canvas reproductions; you will see them in every charity shop in England. And yet, standing there on the spot that inspired Constable it seemed to me that there was no other way it could be done. No other way of capturing the still detail of that countryside, with the endless skies and clear light.
But I had already used The Hay Wain anyway, in the very first Katie book, Katie's Picture Show. This time I intended to use The Cornfield as Constable’s sole contribution to my new book. My problem was that this portrait shaped picture (unusual for Constable) had to extend for a double page spread, which meant adding greatly to the composition.
As Constable was so authentic in terms of capturing the countryside I felt I really needed to do my research and be equally well prepared.
In the little tourist centre a map was offered, with a Constable walk. Until recently I would have been promised the very location where the Cornfield was painted also. For many years it was assumed to be Fenbridge Lane in Flatford. But now the location had become more controversial for just past the turning for Fenbridge Lane is a private farm. Beyond the gate a dead tree. And in wet winters, near the tree a spring is sometimes found to reappear. Could this be where he took inspiration for the dead tree in his painting? Was it possible the same tree still stood 170 years after Constable painted it? Was this the spring the shepherd boy drank from?
In Sherlock Holmes mode (Miss Marple – my wife Mari – at my side) we explored both, and Gabriel provided his interpretation of the Shepherd boy in the original painting (and got stung by nettles in the process).
With either location, extending the painting sideways was a problem . It just didn’t seem to work. Until I realized the Constable had actually made it all up. All the components in that painting were from different view points. The church wasn’t visable from either the Fenbridge lane or the farm-with-a-dead tree. The lay of the land didn’t match. The arrangement of trees did not match. This was very much a composition. And so mine would be too; and it is.
It was nevertheless invaluable to be there and sketch and soak up the atmosphere. It all seeps out into the work.
I came away, more importantly , with renewed respect for Constable and his ability to move a landscape around to create the composition he wanted. Some he found ready made in nature. But he wasn't a slave to the countryside. Some paintings he assembled himself with such skill and knowledge of the countryside that you simply can’t see the joins.
Friday, 8 January 2010
No, this isn't a new book title (well, maybe one day...who knows?). Last year I was interviewed for a Chinese magazine called "Parenting Science", and in some depth too. Usually authors get asked their favourite colour, name of pet etc. But this was a really interesting interview about how art is misunderstood by many adults who therefore become nervous of taking children to galleries, and suggestions for overcoming their conceerns, amongst other things.
Here's a little extract. Unfortunately it is all in Chinese Mandarin so you can't read my answers! The article followed the Chinese Madarin publication of the whole back-list of Katie art books. I really hope they help the next generation of Chinese children to become confident and happy about looking at pictures.
Saturday, 2 January 2010
It's always very exciting to start a new book. At the moment I am frantically finishing the latest story about Ella Bella, but already I am thinking of new adventures for Katie. Through my very happy association with the National Gallery of Scotland, Orchard books have concluded that the next book should be: Katie in Scotland. Whether she'll have a tartan of her own, I don't know, but this little book should be the perfect place to begin researching possibilities. One thing is for sure - she'll be meeting a certain inhabitant of Loch Ness. How I will get her, brother Jack and Grandma around the highlands and still find room for Edinburgh in a mere 32 pages I really don't know. Perhaps Nessie will provide the answer. It will be a whirlwind tour I think! One thing IS for sure - it's going to be fun!