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Tree Canopy & Waterfall Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Jan – Feb 19

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

Under the Sea Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Oct 18 – Jan 19

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

Under the Sea & Rainforest Murals at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Oct 18

‘I’m gonna get by, with a little help from my friends’

Before I’d even completed the Gladiator project I’d been invited to return to Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy, the transformation of a long corridor being the tempting prospect. At the time of being asked it felt like a long way off into the future, I had a daunting sports hall project at Fulbridge Academy to fulfill, as well as ‘Heroes’ and ‘Storybook’ themed murals promised for King’s Cliffe Primary before I could start thinking about commuting along the A47 toward Leicester again.

Nevertheless, time ticked by and as the last of those projects neared completion I arranged a design meeting to discuss the germ of an idea I’d had circling in my head during the previous weeks. On 28th September this concept was discussed and a plan was set in motion to transfigure a very bright and magnolia painted corridor with an ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Rainforest’ theme.

This would be my fifth project at Rowlatts Hill. Casablanca was my first in 2015 and, as Rick said in his last line of that movie, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This project could have followed a similar pattern to previous projects, this time however I was tempted to try something different. Rather than focussing only on painting the walls, I had a feeling that more could be achieved. I’ve developed a good relationship with the school and the previous Gladiator project had given me much food for thought, so asked if I could solicit the assistance of Site Manager Matt Hassall.

During the course of the last few years Matt has become a good friend and his talents are many and varied. He has been responsible for several sculptural elements around the school and it was he who concluded the Gladiator project, installing wall and floor furnishings in the Roman themed cloakroom and laying a grass carpet along the grapevine adorned fields of the corridor. By enlisting his skills I felt certain we could ‘push the envelope’ a little.

Principal Jay Virk has shown me a lot of trust, allowing me the opportunity to become more adventurous with each project, previously however I’ve presented her with a decent design visual so she had a chance to picture how the finished piece might appear. This time however, as there were so many ‘unknowns’, I couldn’t do this, and at the time of our design meeting my ideas were either still in my head or very much ‘in the air’. Like Yves Kein she took a big leap of faith. Although I could present a basic idea of my plans there were so many ingredients that could prove to be a movable feast, I knew much of it would have to be resolved as it went along. Drawings presented at the design meeting therefore were ‘sketchy’ to say the least, even though I supplemented my concept with a substantial collection of photocopied reference.

Jay wanted the ‘Under the Sea’ corridor to play a part in illustrating a story, to reinforce David Attenborough’s Blue Planet message relating to our responsibilities for the future of our planet and to sustain his campaign against plastic pollution in the sea. A corridor is seen in transit and so my design concept was one which could be read as one moved along it. There is a ‘bad’ and a ‘good’ end, the change occurring as one progresses. The palette gradually changes from bright, to dark and dull. Sea creatures change from being healthy, to facing a life and death struggle. Sea bed coral changes from being colourful, to colourless. Remains of ancient educated civilisations are revealed, possibly engulfed long ago due to rising sea levels. On the one hand these are sites of intrigue with potential for archeological research, whereas more recent finds could simply be considered as ‘debris’, be it accidental disaster, the wreckage of war or the dumping of waste.

In creating the sensation of being under the sea Matt would play a major role. Both walls and ceiling would be an integral part of the plan, with the surface altered to generate the impression of craggy rocks and a rowing boat with oars being included as three dimensional elements. Lighting would be changed too, from a line of three static formal white lights to a mixed collection of nine white, green and blue lights housed on movable arms which could be individually twisted to aim rays at different areas of the corridor. Finally, with a scuttled galleon included within the composition it would only be appropriate for the very stark white radiator to also be painted, disguised to feature a lost pirate treasure chest.

At the half way point along the corridor, between the ‘Sea’ and ‘Rainforest’ sections, is an area where there are two double glass doors. Rather than it being a ‘dead zone’ and a sudden leap from one theme to the other I felt it would be important that this small area created a smooth transition, even though there was a very limited amount of wall surface, the link relying mainly on what would be painted on the ceiling.

My intention was to paint a tree canopy which would encourage one to look up and around above the large glass doors, with Matt creating a waterfall to walk under as one moved between this area and the ‘Sea’ corridor. With a steep rock face and the suggestion of crashing water painted within the doorway entrances, this is an example of the improvisation which would be required and which could only be properly resolved once the project was underway.

The tree canopy ceiling painting would then introduce the ‘Rainforest’ itself, beginning with a lake or pond to link with the water theme and the density of the forest increasing the further one ventured along the corridor. It would begin as a friendly and inviting ‘Gruffalo’ wood, but gradually become a darker space, one perhaps more likely to be associated with a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ related theme. With Matt’s help and expertise, sprawling tree shapes would sprout from the walls and across the corridor as sculptural elements, and the lighting would change from white to a cocktail mixture of white, red and green. In addition the ceiling would not only be painted but also covered with large camouflage nets to create an undulating effect, the netting helping to cast a series of tree canopy-like shadows on the walls. These nets would then also be dressed, with imitation leaves and pieces of wool.

Three single and two double doorways are located within this area and my plan was to disguise them all, using the temple of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat as my model. The ‘Sea’ corridor featured an ancient civilisation which as time passed had disappeared and I wanted something similar for this composition too, that another ancient and educated civilisation had once prospered, had disappeared and its neglected buildings been reclaimed by nature. I wanted to illustrate that all life is transitory, that we all have a responsibility for our future and are still a part of this ongoing cycle.

The plan was approved, the corridor stripped of its noticeboards and the walls prepared for painting. On 29th October I arrived to find a long bright corridor waiting for me and it looked even longer than I’d remembered it on my previous visit. It would be an honest admission to say that I felt more than a little overwhelmed. Following my warm, Rowlatts Hill open arms ‘Welcome Home’ reception at the door, I made myself a cuppa and was soon left alone in the corridor to ponder the task ahead of me.

Deep in thought, I prowled to and fro along the full length of the corridor like a caged animal trying to build an image of the finished piece in my head. There were so many questions still unanswered, but nevertheless, the mental image looked okay. I needed to make a start, but where? The space felt so very big. I took a deep breath, thought of my favourite lines from chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching, picked up a piece of charcoal and started making a smudgy mess on a wall.

” The giant pine tree

grows from a tiny sprout.

The journey of a thousand miles

starts from beneath your feet”.

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

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

The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Third Half

The Story So Far:

14.8.18      The Day Brian Brinkley Visited

Brian Brinkley MBE – Swimmer


The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Extra Time

September ’17 – August ’18

The Whole Story:

Before & After……………

The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Third Half

August ’18

The End of the Story:

9.8.18      Day 88

The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Third Half

July ’18

The Story So Far:

25.7.18      Day 83

The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Third Half

The Story So Far:

24.7.18      The Day James Ferrara Visited

James Ferrara – Ice Hockey player


The Fulbridge Academy Sports Hall Project – Third Half

The Story So Far:

17.7.18      The Day Iain Erskine Visited

Iain Erskine – Athlete/National Leader of Education and Headteacher



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