Back in the dark days of January I had a call from my friend Charlotte Corney, who owns the IOW Zoo, and she sounded pretty excited about something. Charlotte had come up with the idea of getting me to paint murals onto the archways of the Napoleonic Fort which houses the zoo. I had drawn, the previous year, a series of images of the animals at the zoo which were made into greeting cards, there were 14 images in the series and coincidentally there are 14 archways at the zoo. “Brilliant!!!” I said, (and thought), it sounded like a project I would love to work on.
As time progressed we talked a great deal about how we would execute the project. Initially I thought it would be best to blow up the images already created, place them under perspex and draw or paint them on top of the perspex, then bolt them to the wall. Due to the scale of the archways I thought it would be very difficult to freehand them onto the wall and thought that the tracing through perspex was the safest option to get the scale spot on. I tested some perspex and various pens and paints, but despite the manufacturer’s claim that they were waterproof with a little bit of abrasion every product I tried came off. We then thought about reversing the image and bolting the perspex to the wall paint/pen side facing inwards but again this proved not to be a great option as the edges of the perspex would then have to be totally watertight to prevent rain from getting behind it. So…..back to the drawing board……..
During the months that we were trying to figure out the best way of creating these giant paintings I did a job in London for the Fashion Designer Charlotte Taylor. I painted a large, very detailed piece on the wall of her pop up shop in Sloane Square and it made me realise that this was probably the best way to approach the zoo murals, to keep it simple and paint directly onto the wall. In Charlotte’s shop I had blown up elements of the original drawing to scale and then used an old trick that my dad taught me when I was very little. I coloured the back of the scaled up pieces with pencil, placed them and taped them to the wall and then pressed over the outline with a pencil. When I removed the paper copy I was left with a faint outline on the wall. Bingo!!! I thought this was the best way forward.
The archways were in a bad state of repair so Charlotte got onto her maintenance team to render them and give them a good few coats of white paint. In July the first archway stood gleaming amongst the others waiting for me to make my mark. I was very excited and eager to get started but it was also quite daunting. I painted the lion first of all and was horrified to discover that my Dad’s trick didn’t work so well on a rough surface. I peeled away the giant lion and could hardly see the outline at all. Luckily though there was not too much detail in the image and I managed to freehand a lot of it, and the background I intended to freehand anyway. The following archways have been given a smoother render, but the outlines still don’t really come out very well but as I’ve gone along my confidence has increased to work from the small original drawings.
Now that we had got started on the project the next obstacle was finding funding in order to complete it. Again, Charlotte and I had many discussions until one of us came up with the idea of inviting local businesses to sponsor each archway. We compiled an attractive sponsorship package and we’ve been delighted with the response. So far the following animals have been sponsored: lemur, tiger, monkey, tortoise, jaguar, porcupine, wallaby and another sponsor who has yet to choose their animal.
I aim to get all of these painted before it gets too cold on the exposed sea-front and then to paint the remaining archways early next year. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful job at the moment, I don’t want it to end!!! This blog post will be updated as the project progresses so please check back every now and then for updates.
ANIMALS AND THEIR SPONSORS: