Painted to last

For several years now I have been fascinated by Illuminated manuscript. It all started when I came across a modern copy of the Book of Kells in my local second hand bookshop. Further research led me to the works of Geraldus Cambrensis a medieval chronicler who wrote two ethnographies on the people of Wales. Although he concentrated on the people he encountered on his travels with the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Forde, in 1188, he did make a detailed description of some of the fauna he saw on this journey. I doubt that he illustrated species such as the woodcock, but my imagination allows me to ponder how they would look had he done so. 

The combination of Illuminated writing with a detailed study seemed an attractive design and so I set about learning how to apply gold leaf to watercolour paper. The results were good, but the clean bright watercolour paper I used spoilt the impression of antiquity I was looking for.

After a few attempts to stain the paper to give it an aged look I decided to go the whole way and use Vellum. This is a material derived from calf skin and has been used throughout history as a medium for documentation. The Torah Scrolls a early Hebrew record of the commandments testify to the longevity of this medium. Hansard, the daily record of the business of Parliament has always been written on vellum. A recent proposal to move to paper was defeated on the grounds that vellum is far more durable. The only company in the UK still making vellum is William Cowley, who make ti in the traditional way using calf or goat skins.

Vellum has proved to be a great medium on which to paint watercolour, it has a very fine surface which allows great detail it is also easier to gild than watercolour paper.

So far I have tested the medium on a few small piece of vellum, and being happy with the result I plan to order some big sheets and get to work.

'Lepus' Watercolour and gold leaf on vellum.

'Lepus' Watercolour and gold leaf on vellum.

A poor reflection of a sculptor.

About a year ago I returned from my foundry with the first casting of 'Larches Woodcock', and was pretty pleased with the final result. A few weeks later I was planning my stand for the Game Fair and decided that it needed to be displayed on a different background to my watercolours on the stand. I settled on a circular back board as a background and this was painted a pale yellow to contrast with the dark patination of the bronze.

When it was all set up I realised that this round yellow disc looked a little like the moon. This set off a train of thought that led me to a number of experiments.

The first was to cover the backboard with a print of the moon with its craters in glorious detail

'Larches Woodcock' with printed wallpaper of the moon.

'Larches Woodcock' with printed wallpaper of the moon.

I then decided that this looked clumsy and the proportions didn't work well. I then thought about making a smaller disc onto which the elements of the bronze would hang. A few drawing later and I was beginning to like this additional element to the already graceful composition of the branch and bird. A few weeks later I collected a polished brass disk from my foundry. On getting home I hung the disc, branch, and bird together and soon realised that this polished surface reflected everything from the opposite studio wall and completely destroy the simplicity of the piece 

I hung a white sheet on the opposite wall of the studio to eliminate unwanted reflections in this photograph.

I hung a white sheet on the opposite wall of the studio to eliminate unwanted reflections in this photograph.

My final we tweek was to get the brass disc shot blasted to give it a non-reflective surface and yet still look like a full moon.

 

With matt finish to the brass disc.

With matt finish to the brass disc.

This whole process has been fun resulting in the purchaser of 'Larches Woodcock' having a couple of options on how they wish to display their edition. 

I will have my bronzes on show on my stand (A10/11) at the Field & Country Fair Cornbury, 10th - 12th June. Come and see my art and listen to my talks about woodcock ringing and how it is teaching us some fascinating details about this mysterious bird.