King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School ‘Heroes’

8.12.17 – 18.1.18

I always feel a little anxious when embarking on a new project, even when I’ve worked at that place before, know the surroundings and the people there. Despite having painted several ‘Bigger Pictures’ in recent years I’m still haunted by the same insecurities. I feel a great sense of responsibility when producing a permanent painting on such a large scale and continually question my ability to be able to deliver what I’ve set myself to achieve.

They’re only the same concerns other painters probably have as well, but this time I would be working in an unfamiliar location too. Not only that, in a brand new building in pristine condition, Kings Cliffe Endowed Primary School had only opened its doors for the first time the previous year. Headteacher Mrs Lynda Bowyer was therefore taking a big risk inviting me in and letting me loose with my pots of emulsion paint on her immaculate walls and spotless carpets.

We’d first discussed the project last May. I was still working with the Gladiator mural at Rowlatts Hill School in Leicester at the time, but it was near to completion and we had arranged to meet one evening as I passed through the village of King’s Cliffe on my way home. As I entered the school and walked into the entrance / waiting area a long white wall greeted me. In my mind’s eye it had ‘Paint Me!’ written all over it. Lynda had seen examples of my ‘Bigger Picture’ projects on my website and not surprisingly considered this wall a prime candidate for transformation. A few weeks after our conversation an email arrived in my Inbox with a list of names that the children of the school considered to be a source of inspiration, and I began the task of converting them into a design. I’d hoped to have the painting completed before the summer term ended however events in my personal life scuppered this plan.

The King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School Heroes List:

FirefighterMary AnningJ K RowlingRoald DahlMartin Luther KingMo FarahIsaac NewtonQueen Elizabeth IICharles DarwinDavid AttenboroughMohandas GandhiAmelia EarhartWilliam ShakespeareHans Christian AndersenMarie CuriePolice Officer

At our next meeting at the beginning of September I presented Lynda with a design. Albeit only a scribbled pencil drawing, my proposal was made clearer by showing her more detailed images of each personality on my laptop.

During our first meeting Lynda mentioned that she’d seen the ‘Fulbridge Champions’ mural on my website and asked if this painting could have a similar appearance. In the follow up email which contained the list of names for inclusion she also asked if four of the ‘Heroes’, the scientists Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, could be given some prominence, as they were also the names of the school houses.

As with style of the ‘Fulbridge Champions’ mural, a graphic, solid painted monochrome design was pieced together, but there the similarity ends as this time there would be the addition of a second colour in order to focus more attention upon the scientists. My palette once again was influenced by photography. I’ve always felt that B&W images have a timeless quality, likewise those that are sepia toned. I therefore decided to work with black, white and two grey tones with sepia toning for the lead figures, a colour which would also compliment the red fabric of the entrance corridor furniture.

I divided the composition into quarters to site the four prominent characters. Mary Anning was placed to the far left as I was unable to find many illustrations of her appearance and my choice of pose was restricted. I selected the earlier of two painted portraits from the Sedgwick Museum standing in front of the Golden Cap outcrop with her dog Tray, and felt it best suited this position. A 1925 photograph found of Marie Curie at work in her laboratory is almost a mirror image compliment to Mary Anning’s pose, I therefore placed her to the far right on the opposite side of the composition.

I’d decided that the scientists would be the largest elements of the design however I included the Queen on a similar scale at its centre, her profile taken from the new 12 sided £1 coin which entered circulation in 2017. She is flanked by the remaining scientists, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Both have appeared in previous mural projects so it was important for me to select different images. This time I used a portrait of Isaac Newton painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1689, and a playful but meaningful image of Darwin with his finger to his lips, which appears to suggest he wants us to keep something secret.

The Firefighter and Police Officer figures were to act as bookends to the piece, but the remaining personalities were located where I felt images found of them looked best, although many permutations were tried until I felt satisfied with the arrangement. Rather than grouping all of the authors together I placed them in pairs, and I thought David Attenborough should be alongside Charles Darwin’s shoulder. I wanted figures on the left of centre to be generally facing to the right, and those on the right hand side to be generally facing to the left. Finally, the school motto – Growing a Love for Learning – was placed in a low position just above seat height at the centre.

To actually identify a date to begin painting however was a little more difficult. Earlier in the year I had agreed to return to the Fulbridge Academy at the beginning of their Autumn term and had already embarked on my second ‘Sistine Chapel’ project there. My first Fulbridge ‘Sistine Chapel’ was a makeover of the very white walls of the Charles Swift Wing, but this one was even larger. It was a major remodeling of their Sports Hall and likely to take a full year to complete. Nevertheless, Fulbridge were very understanding of my situation and worked with me to resolve my dilemma and so I divided the project into two parts. I made arrangements to take a short break after I’d completed the first, and at the beginning of December I transferred my mural painting kit to King’s Cliffe.

I began painting on 8th December and came to a conclusion on 18th January. My estimate was that the project might take 15 days to complete, the actual count was 17.

Witnessing the transformation of the wall from start to finish is an eye opener for both children and staff. I feel it’s important for all to see the many stages a painting progresses through, the consistent effort it demands and the hours required in order to achieve a successful end. I would like to think that if the children can see the determination and constancy I put into my practise every day, that my example might also influence them to work in a similar fashion with their approach to any subject on their weekly timetable too.

I always find it interesting to answer questions posed by children at break and lunchtimes, and am intrigued by some of the observations and comments that are made. I exercise some control over the painting through having designed it first but the scale obviously changes things as work begins on the wall and I must continually adapt and improvise accordingly in order find a solution.

I’m fascinated when someone points out an unintended ingredient though and my lovely other half Henri has made sense of spontaneous and involuntary marks within many of my paintings for years. She can often identify shapes that were purely accidental.

However with this painting I was particularly impressed by the observations of young Nancy, who had noticed that the detailed reflection in the eye of David Attenborough suggested I’d painted the shape of a man sitting on a branch. Well fancy that. She’s absolutely right, and I didn’t even know!

(Finally, a big thank you to Miss Knight for helping me complete the very tricky underarm shadow of Mr Newton – your brushwork was excellent!)