I work in mixed media on canvas mainly because I’m an impatient bugger and I like to get results as soon as possible.
The best way of describing my process is from the first painting of Lou, my first anthropomorph ,who appears in ‘A Little Bird Told Me’. It all started with a picture I saw of Tennessee Williams and to me he looked rakish, dressed in a sharp suit with cigarette in hand. Then I found a picture of a Wymera whilst going through clippings from newspapers that I had saved as future reference material. Strangely ,the head went with the body and it developed from there - I overlaid them and they had the right look.
I play about with sizes to make sure the neck fits the collar size - that is how I work out the dimensions. I may need to make the shoulders wider to fit the shape of the animal - it always starts with them. I then tape the pictures together and do a trace off. It is here that I make any alterations on the tracing. From there, I blow it up to size to fit the canvas. Next is painting the predominant
background colour and colour wash – so that it is never a flat colour – making it darker round the edges and lighter in the interior, if that's what the painting needs. I rub chalk on the back of the drawing and transfer it with pencil. I start the layering by painting in mid tone or black, if it is dark clothing in acrylics – which makes it a flat colour painted onto everything. I then build in the high and low lights as I carry on working. These can be a combination of charcoal, pencil, crayon and paints. Sometimes I use very transparent washes to build up the body, then accentuate it with paints and pencil crayon to get the detail and texture. I seal it with aerosol lacquer which enables me to work quickly – and this is particularly why I like working in water-based media/acrylics/pencil and whatever else works to get just the right textures.
Sometimes my characters are influenced by people I meet, or often people I read about. As I work with the painting, I find they become voices in my head of well-known actors playing their part. For example, as I was creating Lou, he reminded me of Kevin Spacey's character in LA Confidential – Jack Vincennes. Badger Magraw has the voice of Brendan Gleeson, the Rhino sounds like Ray Winston (with a strange mixture of East End and Eastern European accent), the Leopard - Patrick Stewart and the Elephant is James Earl Jones - the voice of Darth Vader. Other character voices that float around in my head are those of Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, Liam Neeson, Sean Bean, Warren Clarke, Maxine Peak and Robbie Coltrane as the Polar Bear.
All the characters are childhood imaginary friends/ psychopomps and this is where they reside when they are not in our world. Their world is a reflection of our world, so whatever is happening in our history, is also happening in theirs – only slightly differently. The teddy bear that you see at the end of the bed at night - his world is not all cuddly - it’s red in tooth and claw. They are seen in our world by children and others like the character played by James Stuart in Harvey with his 6ft Pooka white rabbit.
Each characters' world mirrors our own, with the story commenting on what is happening without being too political. It depicts a reflection of this world which has gone completely bonkers, even if our world has actually gone completely bonkers at the same time. None of the characters are inherently good or bad but are flawed, like all of us and much like the characters in a James Elroy novel. They reside in past present and what could possibly be the future. I bring some elements from the first world war into the back-story – in my narrative, a great war has just happened and the story continues with what has happened afterwards. The idea is that the characters have returned to a country fit for heroes where the establishment has fallen very short of that.
All the characters are vignettes who play a part in the much bigger story and have an effect on each other, just as we are all connected and all our actions have an impact. In the story, this includes characters from the slightly dubious nightclub owner, to the paranoid, conspiracy theorist, survivalist, pamphleteering rabbit who becomes (in his world) what the activist Anonymous is in ours – but without the computer technology. He becomes a figurehead to the movement, with Badger Magraw becoming almost a Michael Collins character.
I want my work to be fun for people to view and also to get them to think about their own pet and what they would be in this particular world.
Eventually, I would love my work to become an animated film. In the meantime, I am working towards it becoming a series of illustrated story books. The illustrations are a mixture of mixed-media paintings and pen & ink drawings. At the moment, it is a story that doesn't have a beginning or end but it is emerging as I work on the pieces and the characters develop and form the story.
It always starts with the painting.