Library Mural at Meadowside Primary, Burton Latimer

July – August/September 20

‘When dark clouds pull the sky
I have cast my eye
To the path where we are treading

Oh I could wrack my brain
Trying to explain
Where it is I think that we are heading’ (Dr Strangely Strange)

It’s been a strange year. We’ve all had to adapt to a new world situation. No-one has been able to follow a regular routine. We’ve had to be flexible and inventive in our working practices, and I’m no exception. Over recent weeks I’ve been reminded of a track from a much played album of my youth, Nice Enough To Eat. As Dr Strangely Strange said at that time, and which feels just as relevant now, it’s been ‘Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal‘.

The pandemic and lockdown, and the sudden sale of my studio, also created a domino effect with my timetable. My previous project had to be painted in two blocks which caused this project to follow in the same vein. This meant that, for a while, I actually had two projects underway at the same time. This has never happened before and I was very uncomfortable about it, so I feel a great sense of relief that both have had a happy ending.

In July last year I completed my first project at Meadowside Primary, the ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ mural painted in a busy corridor. I worked with adults and children walking around me each day, and had conversation with those interested in my progress. But the world was a different place then. This time around circumstances had changed and I’ve painted in relative isolation.

The location was a computer room/library, however as the subject was similar to my previous project, which it overlapped, I have to admit to having feelings of déjà vu. I’ve now painted 6 mural projects with a story book theme, (‘Gruffalo Wood & Dear Zoo‘ at Fulbridge Academy, ‘Gentle Giant‘ at Titchmarsh Primary, ‘Once Upon A Time‘ at Rowlatts Mead, ‘Land Of Make Believe‘ at King’s Cliffe and ‘Vivaldi‘ at St. Brendan’s) and the challenge has always been to ensure that each had an identity of its own. Hopefully I’ve succeeded in producing something distinct, fresh and original each time.

I developed ideas for this design during the lockdown, when I also met with Head Josie Garnham to discuss it and began painting shortly before the end of the summer term. Then I returned in September so, for the second project in a row, it feels an unusual amount of time passed between start and finish date.

An enclosed space this time, with one wall much taller than the other three. Since I’d measured the dimensions of the walls some renovation work had taken place on the roof and I found the ceiling had been lowered, so needed to make an on-the-spot decision and slightly alter the layout of wall 4. The shoulders of the Iron Man should have been the same width as the new bookshelves so that they became an extension of the giant’s body, but in the end this wasn’t possible. In order to maintain the scale of the giant the compromise was to not only lose the top of his head but also to suggest he was standing behind the shelves instead. Despite this unexpected modification I think the design still works.

As with other designs, I prefer not to simply paint a parade of characters, but to suggest a new world for them to occupy, as if they all lived together and know each other. My belief is that this might stimulate children to invent storylines of their own. In this continuous composition I have consciously selected poses that incorporate a variety of facial expressions to encourage descriptive terms and help expand vocabulary, as well as situations offering opportunities for ‘How Many …..?’ and ‘Find The ……?’ games.

When I first visited the Computer Room/Library it was perfectly acceptable and functional, but feel it has now evolved into a completely different learning environment, adorned with characters which were suggested by the children and which all year groups might be motivated to investigate. The bright colours create a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The room feels much more inviting and a very enticing place to sit and quietly read. There’s a world of imagination to be explored within the pages of books, and what a wonderful space it’s become to spend time in.

Yes we’re living in strange times, but they’re oddly normal too. Sometimes it feels like it’s just a bad dream and that we’ll eventually wake up to find that nothing’s changed. But it has. We have to adapt to the new and odd normal, and blunder on till we emerge safely on the other side. The world isn’t the same place, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s not easy to keep spirits up. Everything has changed, for everybody, so it’s important we surround ourselves with simple pleasures that can make things feel better.

Little things can make a big difference, and I feel very pleased with how this little thing turned out. These are strange times. It’s important to try our best to make good things come out of them.

Story Book Character references:

Owl Babies (Author: Martin Waddell  Illustrator: Patrick Benson)

Harry PotterQuidditch (Author: JK Rowling Illustrator: Chris Wharton)

Jack & the Beanstalk (Fairy Tale) (Illustrator: CB Canga)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Author: Lewis Carroll Illustrator: John Tenniel)

The Sheep Pig (Author: Dick King-Smith Illustrator: Melissa Manwill)

Stick Man (Author: Julia Donaldson Illustrator: Axel Scheffler)

Winnie the Pooh & Piglet (Author: AA Milne Illustrator: Ernest Shepard)

Percy the Park Keeper (Author & Illustrator: Nick Butterworth)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Author & Illustrator: Beatrix Potter)

Stig of the Dump (Author: Clive King Illustrator: Edward Ardizzone)

Three Little Pigs (Fable) (Illustrator: Stephen Cartwright)

War Horse (Author: Michael Morpurgo Illustrator: Rae Smith)

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant (Author & Illustrator: David McKee)

Horrid Henry (Author: Francesca Simon Illustrator: Tony Ross)

James & the Giant Peach (Author: Roald Dahl Illustrator: Nancy Ekholm Burkert)

Treasure IslandHispaniola (Author: RL Stevenson Illustrator: Rowland Hilder)

The Iron Man (Author: Ted Hughes Illustrator: Chris Mould)

The Chronicles of NarniaLamp post (Author: CS Lewis Illustrator: David Hohn)

Meadowside Primary, Park Road, Burton Latimer, Northants NN15 5QY