Roller wire

Keeping the West African theme going, here is a Broad-billed roller that conveniently perched
on a wire opposite the garden wall just long enough for a quick scribble in my sketchbook.
There is a three year gap between that observation and this painting. I kept the rendering lose and simple,
giving the flat blue sky some interest with vertical brush strokes, and showing off the subtle mauve and
maroon colours of the plumage. A fairly common site along roadsides in Nigeria, this species has the
brightest yellow bill that stands out against any background.

Broad-billed roller acrylic
Broad-billed roller, acrylic on canvas 16×20 inches, 2017

Monkeys in the Grove

MonaMonkey
This painting is of a Mona monkey, part of a troupe that visit the Osun Grove regularly, where they are tame enough to accept bananas fed by staff and locals. Painted using acrylics, plenty of colour and the use of energetic brush strokes evoke the vibrance of Osogbo, the serenity of the forest and my excitement at being there.

Previously I have experimented with the faces of these monkeys with a view to producing some designs for t-shirts or whatever. Something that’s on the back burner, which is piled high…

 

Recycling parts of a failed watercolour painting into collage

Sketches from three years ago used as reference for this paper collage. Agamas, though absolutely
everywhere in Nigeria, never let you get close, and these two females looked down on me with
confidence, verging on smugness, knowing they could dash away at lightning speed.

agamas
Agamas on top of the wall. Drawn from life in the garden, Osogbo, Nigeria
agamas watercolour
Taking the sketches a bit further with some colour.
“Has he seen us? Yeah I think he’s seen us…”

I’ve recycled pieces of what was a ‘failed’ watercolour painting (we’ve all got them…), in this case
a landscape of a wheat field and evening sky, to hint at the texture and colour of the lizards atop
the garden wall in Osogbo. I omitted the actual wall, as I wanted to concentrate the viewer’s
attention on the lizards under the huge banana leaf. It may have been interesting to include
some shards of glass for a spot of urban realism, but I decided against it. For the impression
of bright sunlight bouncing off of every surface, it seemed ‘less is more’ was the way to go.

Agamas, collage 2017
Agamas, paper collage, 530 x 350mm approx. 2017 Placing the minimum of elements still seemed to take nearly all day until I was happy with it.

 

Sunbird on the porch

I’m producing some small African bird paintings seen on recent trips
to Nigeria. Choosing as a subject the Variable Sunbird that came into
the yard at the house in Abuja, visiting the flowers (sometimes quite
noisily for such a small bird). As a starting point, I looked back through
my sketchbook notes and used some photos of the porch wall, heavily
textured and stained with algae.

sketchbook_spread

flowersDSC_0024
I was keen to use the texture on the wall in the image

To try and keep it fresh and lively and not overwork things, I decided to
mock up a version in paper collage. This way I could work out the pose,
and placing of elements, but also my limited stock of coloured paper
forces me to simplify. Male variable sunbirds have iridescent plumage
that reflects brilliant metallic turquoise and green turning to purple,
but can appear plain black or even dull olive in certain light. I was after
nailing this early on, so when getting around to a painted version
using the collage as the main reference, I won’t get distracted with
unnecessary detail and ‘realism’. Hopefully I may even end up with
something I had in my mind’s eye to begin with…just for a change!

sunbird_work_in_progress
Trying out the basic shapes. I hadn’t decided very much at this early stage, although keeping it simple was important
sunbird on the porch
The texture of the wall was achieved by tearing off a layer of paper stuck over another. The effect is pretty random but works just fine.

The two-tone leaves, and diagonal cuts in the clay pot recall
some African textile style, and the whole composition ended
up being about colours and shapes, and quite poster-like.
I’m quite happy with it just now, but never one hundred
percent certain anything is finished, maybe that’s a good
thing though?


 

Lipstick photoshoot

On a cold windy day back in November 2016, we descended on photographer Dan Tidswell’s studio in Colchester, UK, to photograph start up company Dark Secrets Cosmetics first lipstick range. Aimed principally at women of colour of all ages, the images were to nod heavily towards West African and specifically Yoruba culture, with a contemporary, pulse quickening mood.

We took the opportunity to shoot a ‘behind the scenes’ style video too, deftly shot by Chris Reeve. More on that later. Roger Whitelock took the photos, and the makeup artist was Nigerian Joy Adenuga. Joy also suggested the fantastic models Shumi, Alexsandrah and Suelen. They needed very little in terms of art direction, so professional…thanks ladies!

Photoshoot_snaps
Here’s some snaps taken during the day

 

There were lighter moments, work can be fun too, right?

3 girls
Just relax already!

YUGE thank you to everyone involved, it really was a great day!

New and different

Below are two canvases commissioned as part of an environmental design package for a firm that creates bespoke electronics systems. Both pieces are quite large, about A0 size, (32 x 46 inches) and will be placed in a so called ‘break-out’ space.
The design was worked up digitally, printed and mounted and then worked on with acrylic paint with impasto paste, card and paper, achieving a layered effect. They were a lot of fun to do!

AND_canvas_1
Canvas 1, 32 x 46 inches, digital and mixed media: heavily textured in places, this piece is all about thought processes and how a solution evolves.

 

AND_canvas_2
Canvas 2: 32 x 46 inches, digital and mixed media: This piece is more restrained, but still has some tactile patches

Ant’s eye view

The flash of yellowish green, black, and a bit of red as you disturb a Green Woodpecker up ahead, flying directly away from you in that classic, undulating flapping flight. Probing for ants, a favourite food, this one was on my front lawn, seen from indoors. The bill is remarkably large and dagger-like, and if I was an ant, I might feel quite intimidated.
I was aiming to capture, from an ant’s eye view, that intense look in the woodpecker’s eye as it concentrates on what can be had below.

The finished image continues the paper collage series.

ant'seyeview_collage

 

 

A damp afternoon

Misty distant woods and field margins. Hares, pheasants and deer tracks.
The sound of running water, the ‘good earth’ aroma of autumn leaves.
As I wait for my washes to dry enough to carry on, it starts to rain.
Fine, soft rain, but enough to force me to abandon this painting.
The four hares in the field remain undisturbed.

damp-afternoon-sm

 

To Lagos and beyond

The first business of the day is to buy air tickets for our flight to Lagos. Once reserved over the phone, we buy the tickets at the bank using cash. At the ATM, the N60k needed plus another N20k for later gives me a fat wallet which I give up trying to close, it’s only a short walk after all. The revolving door ‘capsules’ are supervised by an attentive security guard in paramilitary style uniform, and I can’t help thinking if they also serve to keep the sand outside. Inside the bank there are a dozen or so men standing and sitting waiting for
this or that.

Most staff are dressed western style and very smartly, with many busy conversations ongoing at once, unlike a western bank which in contrast seems to be a place of orderly silence. Although there are computers, things written on paper are still an important part of proceedings here. We are ushered through to a back room where we will hand over our cash. There are piles of paper files, counterfoils and banknote wraps strewn here and there and our money is counted by an old but very serviceable counting machine. We pass back through the tiny revolving capsules and back out into the blazing sun.banknote-wraps-sm1

Friday August 7th. Today we are leaving for Lagos, our flight stopping over briefly in Abuja. We have already met Babangida, a handsome and tall quiet man smartly dressed Hausa style, who has offered to take us to the airport as his wife Amal and young son Muhammed are also on the same flight. We leave on time in his new silver Toyota pick up and head off to the Sir Ahmadu Bello International, where ours is the only flight leaving today. There are many hands to make light work of helping you through the check-in process. They seem to be sharing one pen. The double height hall is light and modern with polished flooring reflecting the officials looking on from a balcony.

The check-in instructions are hand written on a large yellow card taped to the side of the desk, and I assume they haven’t finished implementing the signage program. As usual there are men wearing combinations of paramilitary uniforms with epilettes, berets and desert boots, and nearly everyone else, whether staff or passenger, is dressed in native style. Even me. I’m wearing a new smock style kaftan and matching trousers (one size fits all) in subtley patterned lavender grey waxed cotton with intricate embroidery around the neck and collar, finished off with my black velvet fila hat and suede loafers. I opted for this garb instead of western clothing as it’s going to be a long hot day. I was right. Through the security checks and sat in the empty departure lounge, I see the agama lizards outside casually owning the rock landscaping that line the path to the concrete apron. The plane will be a while yet. I don’t think the lizards are at all bothered.

We duly arrived in Abuja, but our plane was then diverted to Calabar (with our luggage still on board) to bring stranded passengers back to the capital, as the sister aircraft had mechanical problems. This made our one hour stop-over more like five hours. Amal decided it might be best to pray while we waited, and left Muhammed and her luggage with us. After an hour she hadn’t returned, and I began getting a little anxious. We decided to go on up to the domestic departures lounge anyway, as she would presumably just follow on in her own good time. The young security guard at baggage check signalled me over, and as I began to raise my arms for the inevitable frisk down, he said “No, no… I like your attire”  “Oh, right..” I said in relief, as I had fully expected “Have you packed this bag yourself sir?” which of course I hadn’t, and might have been slightly awkward to say the least.
airport-passengers-e1446751122597

Several people commented on my garb, and curiously they all said exactly the same words as the security guy. I even posed for photos once. When we finally discovered our plane was boarding (it wasn’t at all obvious, a flaw that needs sorting out, airport management please note..), much fuss was created on the tarmac while we identified our luggage. The trick is to physically point at it and make sure the staff notice you, stating your destination at the same time. For the paranoid, watching them actually take it across to the luggage doors on the aircraft is a useful extra measure. If not shepherded in this way it will not be stowed, the assumption being it’s destined for another plane altogether, and could then be as good as lost.

One of Amal’s bags was coming apart, it was a large carrier bag with handles, the type issued by superstores, and taped up. There were fresh moringa leaves spilling, holding up the flight a further ten minutes while tape was sent for. Eventually the bag was repaired to the satisfaction of the staff and we were on our way. Forty-five minutes later and as dusk approached, we landed at the cosmopolitan sprawl that is Lagos, now dubbed the Dubai of Africa. Outside, moths fly around the bright lights and in the noticeably humid night air a small scrum of boys are more than willing to help you with your luggage (if you let go of it, someone will literally take it from you and head on to the taxi rank, such is the urgency to earn some dash). Arrangements had been made for us to be collected and driven to our accommodation for the night with Rita, a relative, and we said goodbye to Amal and her son as her father-in-law loaded the trunk of his car with her moringa leaves. Tomorrow we will return to Osogbo but first, starving as I am, I will have to negotiate some Egusi soup.

Forty Orphans

Bala is a round, jolly young man with a very dark complexion and always smiling. Today he is showing us the nearby Zainab Saidu Usman D/Gari Orphanage, where he spent most of his childhood, but still was motivated enough to educate himself and avoid falling into the begging trap as so many disadvantaged do. Also with us is Mariam, a very tall twenty three year old wearing a cerise pink hijab. She also grew up in the orphanage. In a moment of madness and for reasons known only to herself, her mother decided to literally burn her infant feet, and so Mariam now lives life as a double amputee with scarred stumps, managing day to day using hand made leather shoes, which in reality are more like cups, and of slightly different sizes. She would benefit greatly from bespoke orthapaedic shoes that only specialists can provide.
I can’t help wondering how she’s managed all this time.

Set in several hundred square metres of ground large enough for a few trees and for growing some crops, the main building is raised above ground level by a few steps and consists of a single story square layout with a central open air courtyard. One of the dorms serves as a dayroom, with children from toddlers to teens watching tv or sleeping, sitting or lying on the bunk beds or on the bare tiled stone floor. There are forty children here, the older ones go out for the day but there is little to occupy the younger ones. One baby, asleep in a cot cleverly fashioned from steel bars and tubes and softened with two colour basketry contained a baby that had just recovered from malnutrition, looking a little thin in the arms and legs but we were assured she was out of danger.
orphan girl

 

Another room was for babies, mostly sleeping in their cots. There are only two full time staff looking after all these youngsters, and they do their best. The roof leaks in places producing large stains and bowed ceiling tiles, and the air is stale and thick. Replacing all the bedding and redecorating throughout would be a good thing, followed perhaps by a rota of chores for the older kids which would help out the staff while giving them some routine and a sense of responsibility, certainly better than sitting around all day watching western tv.

Outside in the sandy yard washing is hanging on the line strung between two trees and cooking takes place over an open fire, pots large and small and the traditional wooden pestle and mortar for pounding yams (called an Odo) are strewn about. Most of the grounds look a little neglected, and the children could be actively involved in projects that could improve their environment, such as a kitchen garden or safe play area, or decorate the dorms and dark corridors with their artwork. Some of the grounds are used to cultivate crops, but the children receive no benefits from this. At the moment at least, it appears that nobody cares that much, at least they are all off the streets.
We come away with plenty to think about.