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King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School ‘Land Of Make Believe’

13.9 – 10.10.18

Back at King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School and my brief from Headteacher Mrs Lynda Bowyer was to paint a corridor wall outside the library with storybook characters selected by the children. I painted a ‘Once Upon A Time’ mural with a similar theme at Rowlatts Hill Primary last year, however this time I was asked to produce a predominantly monochrome image rather than full colour, which conveniently allowed me to develop a design with a very different appearance.

Earlier this year I completed a ‘Heroes’ mural at King’s Cliffe using a restricted colour palette and as this project was located only around the corner it was almost a continuation of the previous painting. The decision to employ a comparable working method therefore seemed to be very logical and aesthetically sympathetic.

As with the ‘OUAT’ project, rather than simply creating a random display of characters my design ideas evolved around the concept of generating a composition which would link the selected personalities. It is a common and well held belief that bedroom toys might come to life when there is no one in sight, so once again I pursued the idea that illustrated storybook characters can do the same.

Unfortunately the composition needed to work in four sections, but I managed to find a solution. Using ‘reading’ as my theme I placed The Cat in the Hat as the main character in the central section sitting on a ‘trompe l’oeil’ open book, with the other characters gathered around as if enjoying a story being read to them. I made the decision that The Cat in the Hat would have the only colour, its hat reflecting the small door frame to the left and its book the large doorframe to the right. The blue doorway to the right of this collection of figures caused a natural break, which I overcame by creating a self contained composition, while the doorway to the left I used as a bridge to the first section.

The composition therefore begins with a humourous juxtaposition of characters, a proper mismatch perhaps best described as a visual oxymoron. A strong, bold and fearless Batman is featured with a sad and frail Ugly Duckling sitting on his shoulder. Batman points the way to the library entrance while Paddington Bear, sitting at his feet with a partly eaten marmalade sandwich, is preoccupied and already engrossed with the contents of a book. To their right, above the doorway to the library, lies a sleeping Gruffalo which also acts as a gentle hint to be quiet once inside in case it is woken up.

Next, within the third and main central section, the Cat in the Hat appears to read a story to an assortment of characters. On one side Matilda sits on her own pile of books behind the Gingerbread Man, Harry Potter stands alongside Peter Rabbit, and house-elf Dobby, with Harry’s sock in hand, peers up from their feet. Captain Underpants gains a better view of what is being read by flying above their heads. On the other side Alice holds a little bottle, round the neck of which is a paper label, “with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters”, and in the foreground the Room On A Broom Witch holds her magic wand. Behind them the Singing Mermaid swims up surrounded by a school of fish, of varying types, some striped, some dotted, some smiling, some surprised.

The final separated section has a self contained composition based upon The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, with Mr Tumnus and Lucy walking through a snow covered wood toward a Lamp Post. However in order that this area is not viewed entirely in isolation I have tried to create a connecting motif by placing Spinderella and a cluster of spiders above them, gathered together as a semi reflection of the fish arranged on the other side of the doorway, with their web attached to the Narnia landscape by painting a fine gossamer thread to the brightly shining lamp.

As for my signature, I made same mark as I did with the OUAT project. As all the characters on the walls were make believe, upon completion I painted my signature as a fictitious character too, Sir Lancelot, one of the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. He made his first literary appearance in the 12th century……………but it’s also an anagram.

I’m aware that my blog posts often repeat themselves but feel compelled to state that I’ve always found it important for both children and staff to witness the blank wall change and come to life. They can view its progress, they can ask questions of me, they can make suggestions. (Thanks Mr O’Shea for the suggestion of including the Narnia Lamp Post and Harry’s sock, and thanks Miss Knight for the suggestion of adding Paddington’s sandwich). They can see that in order for the painting to work out one has to put in the hours, the effort, to be persistent and determined. They can see the mistakes that need rectifying, the modifications, the alterations. Things change during the painting process, which is a reflection of any work process and of life itself. Things go wrong, nothing goes completely to plan. One has to learn to adapt. To steal a phrase that Oliver Cromwell may once have said, mural painting is definitely a ‘warts and all’ process, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.

The words of the children who walked past me each day were precious and again I’ve heard some lovely remarks, some of which relevant to what I was doing, others just passing comments, but nevertheless many are still etched in my memory. Amongst my favourites;

“Pizza Rabbit! He’s my favourite.”

“I’m an aunt. Can you believe it! And I’m only a kid!”

“Why does life have to be so hard???!!!”

Working in a public space is so different to working alone in my studio, the voices I hear in my head there are rarely complimentary, but if I’d received a pound for every time I heard the names ‘Batman!’ or ‘Dobby!’ mentioned, or ‘Captain Underpants Tra-La-Laaa!’, I would have received a very generous bonus. Obviously these were popular choices to include and which bring me conveniently to a very important closing statement.

I’m very happy with how the painting worked out but my final words must be directed toward the wonderful world of children’s book illustration. The end product may be a painting of my design but it wouldn’t exist without the creativity and imagination of the original illustrators, and there is such a rich and diverse source to explore. It’s a very special gift to create images that can fire a child’s imagination that might then inspire them to investigate more of the written word. It’s so important to celebrate our great illustrators, they’re so special and possess an exceptional talent. I salute you all.

The King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School Storybook Characters List:

The Ugly Duckling Hans Christian AndersenKevin Crossley-HollandMeilo So

Batman / Bill Finger & Bob Kane / Graham Nolan

Paddington Bear / Michael BondPeggy Fortnum

Gruffalo  / Julia DonaldsonAxel Scheffler

Captain Underpants / Dav Pilkey

MatildaRoald Dahl / Quentin Blake

The Gingerbread ManDave Hopkins

Harry Potter & DobbyJK Rowling / Mary GrandPré

Peter Rabbit / Beatrix Potter

The Cat in the Hat / Theodor Seuss Geisel

Alice in WonderlandLewis CarrollJohn Tenniel

The Witch / Room on the Broom / Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler

The Singing Mermaid / Julia Donaldson / Lydia Monks

Spinderella / Julia Donaldson / Sebastien Braun

Lantern Waste, Mr Tumnus & LucyThe Chronicles of Narnia / C S Lewis / Pauline Baynes

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Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School – The Movie

Rowlatts Hill Primary School, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

7.9.16 – 13.2.17

‘If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to do, do it

Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it’

I know I’ve used the phrase ‘most challenging project’ before, and I hate to repeat myself, but this was another albeit in a slightly different way. In fact I even reached a point where I thought I’d have to abandon this one. Before I’d reached a half-way stage I took a break of 4 weeks and couldn’t envisage myself returning to complete it. In fact I couldn’t even see myself picking up my brushes to paint ever again. I would describe that break as the most difficult of times.

Fortunately I was surrounded by some very good people. Considerate, patient, kind and understanding people. Last year didn’t begin well, and ended very badly. I was pleased to see 2016 disappear. Turning the calendar to reveal 2017 felt like breathing fresh air and making a new beginning.

rhstaffroomDespite my personal problems, working at Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester is a very enjoyable experience. I have always been made welcome and there’s always cake, or chocolate, sometimes samosa. Let’s just say I’ve never gone hungry. Two years ago I painted a corridor wall with portraits of their selected ‘Heroes’ and before I’d finished Head Teacher Jay Virk had invited me to return. She spoke then about another project she had in mind by showing me the entrance to the Foundation Stage area of the school, which at that time was simply a small enclosed corridor with magnolia walls.

The Proposal
Jay wanted the area to be welcoming, exciting and colourful and asked if I’d design and paint a mural that would fill the space, which would both entice young children to read and instill in them the desire to explore the wonderful world of books.

However before I could embark on it I had another mammoth project to complete, ‘The Cavern’ music room mural at the Fulbridge Academy, with which in many ways this project had distinct similarities. It took a long time to finalise the design for ‘The Cavern’, there was such a rich source of material from which to select I felt overwhelmed. I encountered the very same ‘problem’ with Jay’s Foundation Stage entrance. I was spoiled for choice and the final decision of which books to include, and which to leave out, proved heartrendingly difficult.

‘Once Upon A Time’ became the working title for the painting and the more I researched, the more I delved into a world of superb illustration. I decided that not only would this painting be about the stories and their authors, it would also acknowledge and celebrate the work of the excellent children’s book illustrators who bring these stories to life. The world of make believe and imagination invented by the author has no boundaries, and to generate the images that visualise and make sense of that dimension is a very special skill indeed.

My ‘short’ list began by researching many ‘Favourite Children’s Books’ lists as well as making a note of the books and stories used in the school. As with the ‘Cavern’ music room project, the design developed as a historical timeline too rather than favouring one particular era, however there were some titles which were obvious certainties for inclusion. The design was drawn and redrawn many times before the final selection established itself, and even then late additions appeared during the painting stage.

The Location
The space had some awkward and unique features which played its part in the development of the design; a ceiling and wall height that changed part way along the corridor; two large windows; two large glass double doors and two wooden doors; plus a strangely positioned vertical post support feature resulting from a previous building modification. Other than that, it was plain sailing, except that the walls had some unusual features of their own with raised surfaces that jutted out, as well as the usual light switches and fire alarm box, and raised conduits to conceal electric cables. In other words, unlike the ‘Heroes’ corridor, they weren’t flat. The design really needed to disguise all of these abnormalities if that were possible.

As I have mentioned, there were many permutations of the design before a conclusion was found however from the moment I was first introduced to the space there were some things I envisaged immediately. To begin with I saw Lewis Carroll’s ‘too big’ Alice filling the facing end and extending across the door. I felt that the part of the story when she became a giant in a small room reflected the nature of the confined space. Not only that, the ‘Alice’ door would be regularly opened for the children to enter their own ‘Wonderland’. At the opposite end, above the double glass doors, I foresaw the butterfly from ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ as a visual metaphor. The story of a caterpillar evolving and eventually taking flight would be synonymous with the children leaving the early years area to spread their wings and make their own journey through the school.

I also intended to paint some exceptionally large images next to the large glass double doors at this end of the corridor, their reflection would suggest a continuation of the design into the main school. I deliberately selected two large and instantly recognisable heads for this purpose, half a Gruffalo was located on one side and half a Harry Potter on the other. The idea for this came directly from having grown up watching comedies like Harry Worth on TV.

For the remaining door I imagined one that was aged, forgotten, covered with ivy and concealing a secret garden. It’s actually an intervention room, but anything could be hiding behind a closed door, and it doesn’t have to be something frightening.

The oddly positioned ceiling support was the most awkward ingredient to incorporate into the design. I’d spoken with Jay about painting the ceiling so decided I could disguise it as Jack’s beanstalk growing up into the clouds. However, finding a suitable illustration which would work with it proved very troublesome. Despite investigating a plethora of drawings of this classic story I could find nothing that would be compatible with this strange architectural feature. Then, just as I began considering alternative stories which might be sympathetic with this structure, I had almost completed the painting by this time, by chance I came across a piece of work by Shawna Tenney in a book titled The Truth About Ogres. It was a terrific illustration and perfect for what I so desperately needed…………..except for the fact that I would have to reverse the image in order for it to work in the space available. As I’d already had to ‘flip’ an illustration by Quentin Blake in order that the seagulls attached to James’ Giant Peach could fly around a ceiling light, I felt reassured that this minor edit wouldn’t be detrimental to the original illustration.

The Design
My design had made a beginning but the rest of the space remained an unfinished jigsaw, and the number of pieces hadn’t yet been determined. The ceiling was an enigma as I hadn’t painted one in detail before however here was an opportunity to follow the example of so many Baroque churches (such as Sant’Ignazio in Rome) and stately homes (such as Burghley House in Stamford) and expand this confined space into an endless sky. I wanted the composition to suggest a possible storyline too so that it didn’t simply appear like a gallery of static characters, but as though there was a conversation going on between them and suggest they might come alive and play together when all the ‘grown-ups’ weren’t around. On the one hand the painting might encourage children to explore the books the characters came from but on the other it could also be used as a learning resource for the children to simply look around and invent their own stories.

This stage of the design process took several weeks as my ‘short’ list of potential candidates for inclusion were placed in different positions, and illustrations were researched to consider alternative poses. There were options provided by different illustrators too. Although some of the characters have a particularly distinctive appearance some books have received attention from a variety of illustrators to offer a different image. There are many Peter Pans, Long John Silvers and Jacks with giants and beanstalks out there. I have tried my best to acknowledge the sources of the images I have used, but I apologise for any inaccuracies and omissions as this is unintentional, I would like to ensure that the proper credit is recognised toward both authors and illustrators.

The Secret Garden door offered the possibility of extending the overgrown ivy across the wall as a textured backdrop to the composition, and the simple act of including a tree nearby in Tom’s Midnight Garden became a most important element to advance the design. It allowed foliage to extend across the ceiling to connect the two sides of the corridor, supply a branch from which Max (from Where The Wild Things Are) could swing, conceal the upper part of the BFG, and also locate a position for Winnie the Pooh to float as a little black rain cloud.

The ceiling not only provided a solution for the post support feature by including Jack and the Beanstalk but gave the opportunity to incorporate flight. There were many candidates but Mary Poppins, the intrepid Charlie Small, SuperTed, The Snowman, Peter Pan and James and the Giant Peach were perfect to fill that role.

I’d describe the production of the design as ‘tricky’, but it would have been impossible to make a perfect selection. There will always be a feeling of disappointment that important characters are missing, I have regrets that Black Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Famous Five and Rupert Bear are not present, but I had similar feelings about omissions in the final design of ‘The Cavern’ too.

My selection for the final design reading from the left as one enters the corridor was:
The Gruffalo
Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler

Stig of the Dump
Clive King/Edward Ardizzone

Mary Poppins
P L Travers/Mary Shepard

The Adventures of Charlie Small
Charlie Small/Nick Ward

SuperTed
Mike Young/Philip Watkins

Peppa Pig

Find the Duck
Stephen Cartwright

Where the Wild Things are
Maurice Sendak

The BFG (& Sophie)
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Judith Kerr

Thomas the Tank Engine
Rev. W Awdry/Reginald Payne

Finn Family Moomintroll
Tove Janson

Matilda
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Cat in the Hat
Theodor Seuss Geisel

The Borrowers
Mary Norton/Diana Stanley

Mister Tickle
Roger Hargreaves

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

Burglar Bill
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll/John Tenniel

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson/Monro Scott Orr

Asterix
René Goscinny/Albert Uderzo

The Jolly Postman
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

A Bear Called Paddington
Michael Bond/Peggy Fortnum

Tom’s Midnight Garden
Phillipa Pearce

Winnie the Pooh
A A Milne/EH Shepard

The Sheep-Pig
Dick King-Smith/Layn Marlow

Flat Stanley
Jeff Brown/Scott Nash

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett/Russell Barnett

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

Charlotte’s Web
E B White/Garth Williams

Horrid Henry
Francesca Simon/Tony Ross

Funnybones
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Harry Potter
J K Rowling/Mary Grandpré

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

On the ceiling:
The Snowman
Raymond Briggs

Jack and the Beanstalk
Joseph Jacobs/Shawna Tenney

Peter Pan
J M Barrie/Alice B. Woodward

James & the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

As all the characters on the walls were make believe, upon completion I painted my signature as a fictitious character too, Sir Lancelot, one ouatsignatureof the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. He made his first literary appearance in the 12th century……………but it’s also an anagram.

I began transferring my design to the walls at the beginning of September and a ‘Varnishing Day’ on 13th February saw the painting finished, which gives the impression it had taken 7 months but, without including the time taken to produce the design, it had actually amounted to 52 days.

It seemed a strange coincidence that 13th February was my final day. That same date in 2016 was when my wife and I found my Mum in a confused state at her home after she’d spent the previous 14 hours lying on her living room floor. She’d suffered a stroke and for the next 3 weeks she was confined in a hospital ward followed by another 2 weeks in a Care Centre. In May she was in hospital again after experiencing heart failure and although she did mange to return to her home another series of mini strokes followed and saw her condition deteriorate in the autumn. On the morning of the 13th November she was found with hypothermia and a more than irregular heartbeat after another night on the floor. Although she was wearing her emergency bracelet she hadn’t pressed the alarm button and despite the attending paramedic’s insistent and repeated request to be taken to hospital she refused, preferring to remain in the comfort of her own home. She’d had a dreadful year. She understood the implications. She’d had enough.

We stayed by her bedside night and day for the next week and she died on the evening of the 19th November. She was always interested in what I was doing and to learn details of my next project. As far as ‘Once Upon A Time’ was concerned, she’d offered suggestions for inclusion and interested to follow the development of the design. She was also keen to see my photographic diary each week as the painting stage progressed. This has been a very difficult project to complete. It’s the first painting I’ve done that she’ll never see.

3 Parts Dirt! 10cc Abba AC/DC Achille-Etna Michallon Ajaz Akhtar Alberto Giacometti Albrecht Durer Alice in Wonderland Amsterdam Andrew Wyeth Andy Warhol Arctic Monkeys Athletics Atomic Rooster Banksy Beatles Benjamin Marshall Bernard Cribbins Black Black Sunday Blondie Bob & Marcia Bob Marley Boxing Brian Brinkley Brushes app. Bucks Fizz Caesar Cambridge Camille Corot Cancer Canned Heat Castle Caverstede Early Years Centre 'Bigger Picture' Chalk Pastel Charcoal Charles R. Knight Charlie Small Children's Books Christo Claude Monet Coldplay Corinne Bailey Rae Coventry Creative Partnerships Crete Cricket Daniel Lambert Darren Fraser David Bomberg Deacon's School Dennis Creffield Diego Velάzquez Discovery Primary School Django Reinhardt Dogsthorpe Academy Drawing Edgar Degas Edvard Munch Egypt Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun Elton John Elvis Costello en plein air Epping Forest Europe Eurythmics Evolve magazine Exhibition Fitzwilliam Museum Floella Benjamin Foo Fighters Football Forest Schools Francesco Guardi Frank Auerbach Fred Astaire Frida Kahlo Fulbridge School Garage Door Gary Moore Gene Wilder Gentle Giant George Bellows Georges Braque Georgio de Chirico Gerry Rafferty Gian Lorenzo Bernini Gingerbread Man Giovanni Bellini Gladiator Glasgow Boys Glenn Frey Gnarls Barkley Greece Gruffalo Haiku Hands Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Hercules Brabazon Brabazon Iain Erskine Ian Anderson Ice Hockey Impressionism iPad Iron Curtain Jacob van Ruisdael Jacques Brel James Abbott McNeill Whistler James Ferrara Jamiroquai Jazz Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Jean-Francois Millet Jethro Tull JMW Turner Joe Cocker Johannes Vermeer John Constable John Lennon Johnny Kidd & the Pirates Juan Sánchez Cotán Jurassic Way Killer Shrimp King's Cliffe Endowed Primary School King's Cliffe Primary Kit Downes Quintet KT Tunstall Lanchester Polytechnic Landscape Landscape painting Lascaux Laurel Barbieri Leningrad Lenny Kravitz Len Tabner Leonardo da Vinci Lewis Carroll Little Red Riding Hood Loch Craignish Lonnie Donegan Luke Steele Lynyrd Skynyrd Mad Hatter Madness Manfred Mann's Earth Band March Hare Marvin Gaye Media Media Archive for Central England Michael Jackson MichelAngelo Modest Mussorgsky Mosaic Moscow Mural Muse Music National Gallery Newark Hill Primary Nickel Creek Nick Ward Nina Simone Oasis Obsidian Art Gallery Owl Painting Panda Panorama Paul Cezanne Paul Gauguin Peterborough Peter Paul Rubens Picasso Pirates Pleurisy Pneumonia Portrait Procul Harem Queen Radio 3 Essential Classics Rafael Alberti Rainforest Ray Charles Red Hot Chili Peppers Rembrandt van Rijn Rene Magritte Right Angle Gallery River Nene Roald Dahl Rock Music Rod Campbell Rodrigo y Gabriela Rod Stewart Rogier van der Weyden Rolling Stones Romans Rome Rowlatts Hill Primary School Royal Academy Roy Clark Russia Salvator Rosa Sarah Walker Scotland Seascape Self Portrait Sistine Chapel Small Faces Sport Steppenwolf Stereophonics Swimming Talking Heads Terry Jacks The Automatic The BFG The Crooked House Himley The Editors The Jam The Killers The Moody Blues The Red Deltas The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Thin Lizzy Thomas Faed Tina Turner Titchmarsh School Titian Tom Jones Totem Pole Trompe l'oeil Tuscany USSR Venice Vienna Vincent Van Gogh Volcanic Voyager Academy Warmington School We Are Scientists William Hogarth William Law Primary School Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club YouTube

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