Boats and bafflement
Do you ever get stuck for ideas? I was asked the other day. Well, no, not often. Not because I’m in a state of permanent inspiration (I’m usually in a state of bewildered panic at how each day slips through my fingers so fast), but because most of my time in the studio is spent drawing things for other people, making their ideas visible. Sometimes that involves a degree of pencil chewing and gazing out of the window, but you don’t get paid for your mistakes and there are only so many false starts you can afford to do. There’s nothing like a publication deadline to focus the creative mind.
Turning words into pictures is often a challenge. I illustrate a wonderful journal called Marine Quarterly, now in its ninth year. Every three months an illustration list arrives in my inbox from editor Sam Llewellyn, (www.samllewellyn.com) who always signs off with the words ‘shout if baffled’. Some items on the list are straightforward, some not. Here’s the brief for last winter’s edition which arrived in my inbox in October:
- steering oar on Viking ship stern
- junk rigged Achilles 24 on the route shown on the sketch map attached – if you like we can do map and boat separate, but wd prefer it to be all one?
- The ferry Bristol Queen chugging
- Victorian cruising gent – see Yawl Rob Roy
- Pilot cutter Dolphin among icebergs
- Telescope on stand with cobwebs hanging off it
- Great whales chasing krill in Antarctica
- Square-rigger Pamir in gale
- High heel shoes, champagne glass, anchor, pool of oil, dirty old adjustable spanner, helicopter separate.
- Three-masted square rigger, foremast over the side
- Tobacco pipe and iceberg
- Nova Espero
- Open 60 at speed
- Russian freighter on way to Cuban missile crisis in dark
- Leadline and notebook
My reply: ‘Will sharpen pencil. Timing is awful as I’m teaching in various places at the weekend and every day next week (and the rest of this week is occupied with pics for Julia’s next book and classic boat mag stuff).
But fear not, it will get done. Tell me when the deadline is and I will put in a few early morning/late night sessions as needed. Social life? Bah! (though don’t feel too bad, I have just had a roaringly good time at Harwich Shanty Festival for two days on a boat!)’
I have an extensive maritime reference library, and thank goodness for Google. Sam also sends me photos or links for research. All the images have to be black and white, no half tones, which has its own challenges. Some images are straightforward, some need clarification. There are brief email exchanges:
Russian freighter – not sure how to show it’s on its way to Cuba! Any other clues? (fragment of chart showing cuba perhaps?)
Sam’s reply: Russian freighter: seen dimly at night in a rough sea with a searchlight shining from its bridge and a hammer and sickle on its bow? Never mind Cuba
I am so fortunate to have regular work from lovely clients for whom I’d gladly stay up all night to finish work for (and if you’re interested in all things nautical and don’t already subscribe to Marine Quarterly then do so at once, the words as well as the pictures are rather good – www.themarinequarterly.com), but my ongoing frustration is not having the time or the energy left at the end of the day to make my own ideas visible – hence the half finished projects, the notebook full of scribbles that may or may not become new products one day, and the evasive looks I give you when you ask if my book on how to draw is finished yet, or my designs for bone china mugs.
Finally, if you’re wondering how the elephant went…well, it went. It was loaded into the St Elizabeth Hospice Elmer van at the end of March with me frantically running after it with paintbrush trying to do last minute touching up. It’s a complex design and I was having a few technical problems with the paint, so the last weekend was a little stressful. Lovely sponsors Neptune Marina popped in to offer encouragement and sent supportive texts when they knew I was working late. The alarm was being set earlier and earlier as collection day loomed, with an all time record of a 4.30 start on the last morning. My regular art class was running that day too, so Elmer was collected in mid session. My memory of what we did in that class is rather hazy!
The design of all the Elmers is of course top secret until the sculpture trail in Ipswich begins on 15th June. There will be over 50 elephants around the town, and mine will be on the quayside by Neptune Marina. I’m looking forward to seeing all the different designs revealed, but here’s a little snippet of mine…. oh what a surprise, it’s got boats on!