I had a vision of the final book being entirely black on the outside, with no detail or lettering. I thought this would look a bit mismatched with the large amount of white space on the illustrations within the book though. When I scanned the images, I opened a few up in photoshop and inverted them, so the empty space was black and the marks were white. I instantly felt like the images had more of an effect then they did previously. At first I wasn’t sure if it was having more of an impact on me because it actually worked better as an image or because I’d just been staring at the original versions for so long that seeing them differently made me happier. I sent them around to people on my course, and some friends from home so that I had a variety of opinions and it was very 50/50. Even the tutors came to the same conclusion.
I decided the best way to deal with that would be to make two versions of the book, and get them both printed somewhere quick and cheap so that I could see what effect they had when they were physical objects. Even the border on a screen can change how the image affects the viewer, so I needed to see them without that distraction.
When they arrived, the general consensus was that the inverted version was indeed the most effective. I showed both versions to the tutors and they recommended changing the cover from flat black to either white, or a colour. This irked me a little at first, although I could definitely see the benefit of having that instead of the black. Having a bright cover would give a sense of entering the mine upon opening to the first page, which would be a black spread.
To accompany my book in the exhibition, I had been working on an A1 full body portrait of a horse, intended to be ‘Fido’ from my book. It wasn’t really necessary and the painting didn’t do a whole lot on its own, but I felt that just having the book wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t a good enough representation of myself and my work. And I know the point of the exhibition isn’t to showcase everything you can do, but I just didn’t want to have work in the exhibition I wasn’t proud of.
So when it came to working out a different cover for the book, instead of going for just a flat sky blue I considered bringing the cloud paintings from my other main project into it. That way it would literally be like ‘being outside’ and then as you go underground you lose the sky and go into the darkness. It sounds kind of lame written down but the contrast looks very pleasing. I scrapped the horse painting I had been working on and managed to produce a new cloud painting over night. I didn’t want to use a pre-existing piece and all the cloud paintings I’d done before featured very intense, predominantly stormy skies and that wasn’t the vibe I wanted for the book.
I wanted something a bit softer, with patches of blue sky visible so that it had the appearance of a generic partly-cloudy day. Going back to my archive of cloud pictures once again, I managed to find an appropriate picture and got to work. I think this will bring my two pieces of work together in the exhibition a lot more coherently then my horse portrait would have done.
Another change I made before sending off the final copy of the book to be printed was the font. As Amelia very correctly pointed out, the font I had been using initially was very ‘ladybird book’, and kind of ruined the atmosphere of the book. I used Georgia instead, because it suited the images a lot more than the sans serif font I had been using did. I also removed the title ‘ex-pony driver’, because it has some dodgy connotations which I didn’t even think about at first. With these changes made, I could finally send it off to be printed.
I was lucky enough this year to be given several opportunities to take my work out into the ‘real world’, and watch the public interact with it. In January, myself and two other students from my course were offered a paid scribing position for a conference about internet safety and wellbeing, run by WiseKids. It was my first time working in this kind of environment so I went into it with no idea what to expect. We were scribing the talks and panels as they happened, so we had to work at a very quick pace, but still create work that was concise and coherent, so that people could view it in the future and be able to understand the message. It was a fun but challenging day, that had the three of us working to adapt our skills to the task.
Another opportunity was the ‘Travelling Circus’, which was a sort of working exhibition that was organised and run by Tom Margett. A group of us from Illustration moved our practise out of the studio and into the Duke Street Arcade in town for a few days. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days. It was exciting to be working in view of the public, and to be inhabiting a different space. We managed to lure a few members of the public into the arcade but mostly people came past and peered through the window at the work we were producing. I spent the 4 days creating a cloud painting, which I would later use for another exhibition, ‘Spectacular, Spectacular’.
Sophie Keen organised ‘Spectacular, Spectacular’, which was an exhibition where the participants involved had to submit and show work that focused around the theme of a spectacle or the spectacular. I submitted the painting I had done for ‘Travelling Circus’ because I consider the natural world, but in particular the skies, to be spectacular. I looked at similar themes in my dissertation, so this exhibition carried on with that body of work. The exhibition was incredibly well organised, with everyone getting involved in promoting and curating the show. On the opening night, I also received an offer to buy the painting I had on show, which I accepted. It was a really good boost to my belief in my own abilities as an artist and I tried to keep that motivation going in the build up to the degree show.
Trying to balance my time between completing the pieces I wanted to have on display in the degree show, and building the show itself was definitely a struggle. I spent the last two weeks before the deadline constantly covered in paint, either from my own work or from painting walls in the Illustration show space. I have two pieces on display, a book and a painting. The painting is one of the first things that people will see when they enter the show space, and I am interested to see what effect that will have on the viewers.
Alongside the physical work, I have been working on building my own website. I wanted it to have a very clean, white, minimal appearance. The portfolio of work that I am displaying on there is predominantly painting, with a series of drawings that accompany my Pit Pony project. If someone were to come across my website I would want them to see me as being more of a painter then anything else.
The link to my website is here: zjnunn.wordpress.com
I feel as though this year has been incredibly defining for me as an artist. The decision to start using oil paint in my work has given me direction throughout the year. The first oil painting I did was a blue-tinted landscape, with a large portion of the image being sky. I only did the painting to test out the paint at the time, but I think that was the starting point for the Cloud Project, that has been a work in progress throughout the year.
I haven’t ever done a project that I wanted to continue working on after the deadline, but I think this is definitely the case with The Cloud Project. After handing in the dissertation, I was pretty certain that I was sick of painting clouds, but after only a month or two I was finding myself being drawn back to it for the Travelling Circus. I painted a piece that I would later use for Spectacular Spectacular. Shortly after this I displayed a selection of my work from The Cloud Project in the cabinet for a week. Seeing the work on show as a collection, with a body of text alongside it to give it context served to reignite my interest in the project. I think having work from that project in the cabinet was successful, as it was well received and it helped move The Cloud project from being a pile of work on my desk to being work that had a place in the world.
The piece I did for Spectacular Spectacular was incredibly successful, in the sense that I managed to sell it. I had been considering putting it for up for sale but there was a part of my brain going “but if no one buys it then that means it’s not any good”, and I didn’t really want to deal with that. What happened instead, I was approached and made an offer, which of course I accepted. It really boosted my belief in my own ability, and it reinvigorated my enjoyment for The Cloud Project.
The other main body of work that I have been developing this year was the Pit Pony project, which still doesn’t have a better name then that. I was very lost after the Christmas holidays, and I was in the period, as I mentioned before, where I was sick of The Cloud Project. Over the space of a week several different things occurred that made my new direction feel like fate. I had been looking at some pictures of mining horses on pinterest, not deliberately, but I had been looking at other things and it had caught my attention. A few days after that I took a trip to St Fagans to get inspiration, which I found in the form of a book in the gift shop called ‘Harnessed’. It details lives of the horses and men who worked in the mines, specifically in Wales. A few days after this we had a visit from Kate Dicker, who I was lucky enough to have a tutorial with. She has been an incredible inspiration throughout this project, and I think it was her who properly kick-started it for me.
I spent the rest of the year working mainly on the Pit Pony project, occasionally dipping back into The Cloud Project, and then bringing the two together in a sense, for the exhibition.
Kate Dicker has been the biggest inspiration throughout this project. She came to do a talk about her work at our uni, and she also did a few tutorials, which I was lucky enough to experience. Immediately it was clear that we had a lot of similarities in our work and interests, and it also helped that she lives and works in my hometown. She had ridden horses in the same places where I kept my own horses, and knew the area I grew up in well. A lot of her work features horses, particularly working horses, which at the time of the tutorial was when I was just starting to consider the mining horses as the subject of my next project.
One thing she recommended to me was to look at German expressionism artists, in particular Emil Nolde. I can definitely see that she has taken inspiration from this movement into her own work. Not all of the German expressionists interested me all that much, but Nolde’s work definitely did. The vibrant colours are intensely appealing, and the way that they bleed into each other gives the images a soft, sun-soaked appearance.
Kate has a series of work based off of Stubbs paintings, which led to me taking inspiration from his work as well. When I was working on the horse portrait that I had originally been intending to put in the show, I did so with Stubbs in mind.
When I took a trip to the Big Pit there was a section that was made up of open lockers, that had information about some of the miners who had worked there. One man was George Brinley Evans, who had been a painter as well as a miner. He didn’t paint anything to do with pit ponies, but he did paint scenes from the mines and it was interesting to see what other interests and passions the miners had.
Wyllie works with incredibly loose, expressive lines and marks. She appears confident in her mark making and that is something that I am working towards achieving in my own work. Her line sketches of horses were an inspiration when I was constructing illustrations for my book.
Helen Craig is best known for her illustrations for ‘Angelina the Ballerina’, but on my searches for illustrators that worked with similar themes as me I came across her work. One particular etching really struck me. It wasn’t of a working horse, but the horse is carrying the person on their back, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but the horse appears weighed down. It was this idea of the horses carrying the weight of human industry on their back that I started with at the beginning of this project, and carrying it unquestionably, that I initially wanted to look at in my work.
A few days before the viva, I had been searching online for accounts of life with horses in the mines, curious as to what people had experienced. What I found was ‘Thirty years experience with pit ponies’, written by Councillor George Jelley. He talks about his experiences with the mining horses, and in particular his relationship with a horse called ‘Fido’. I knew immediately that this was going to serve as my narrative for the rest of my project, and I aimed to turn it into an illustrated book. The text was quite long, so I edited it down til it was a bit more concise then worked on combining the narrative with my sketches.
I’m not sure what I was trying to achieve here, by putting each section of the text on a page and then testing out some images that I wanted to accompany it. I couldn’t get it quite right, and I’m still not sure why. I think perhaps it was because up until this point I had been working in an A6-ish sketchbook, so to try and translate the drawings onto a bigger page just didn’t jam well with me.
It was around this point that I started running out of time, and I realised I may have been slightly ambitious with my plan to illustrate the entire text. I decided to revaluate my plan, and shortened the text down so that it became a smaller narrative focusing only on Jelley’s relationship with ‘Fido’. I think this works just as well as the full text would have. It gives it a more specific narrative. I worked out a plan for the text and a rough page layout, then began the illustrations.
Right from the start of this project I was mostly looking at the relationships that the mining horses experienced, both with their environment and the miners themselves. In the first few weeks I briefly considered taking a couple of different routes, such as looking at cruelty and mistreatment of the horses, but I quickly scrapped this idea. I was also thinking about showing the equality/inequality between the miners and the horses. What I mean by this is that they both would work the same hours, have the same food breaks, the same holidays but if there was a disaster in the mine, like a collapse or a fire, the horses would very often be left to die whereas the men would be rescued.
I continued to look at the relationship between miner and horse but not in this context. Alongside that, I wanted to highlight the extreme difference between the horses’ natural environment, and the environment they were living and working in underground. One of the ways I considered doing this was to create a ‘tunnel book’, where the front layer of the book would be a landscape, with rolling fields and sunshine, and then we you went through each layer you would be taken deeper into the mine. I did a mini test of this in a sketchbook, and was neither here nor there about it. I’ve never been very good or a huge fan of papercut, which I was reminded of when I started doing this. I did carry forward the idea of being above ground vs being below ground, but ultimately I presented it in a different manner.
As I was working on these different routes, I was also making some sketches from the ‘Harnessed’ book that I’d bought from St Fagans. It was initially just as practise for drawing the tack that the mining horses wear, and to get some quick recordings to get myself comfortable drawing horses more regularly. I showed these drawings for the first time during the mock viva and they were well received. (Which, of course they were, they took me like 10 minutes and they weren’t supposed to be anything special.)
It was after this that I worked to find a balance between what I enjoy, and what was going to work in terms of illustration. I had spent a few days in the week before the viva doing an oil painted portrait of a horse, with the intention of taking that route forward for the rest of the project. Painting is what I get the most satisfaction from, but it isn’t necessarily always the most relevant approach. The rough sketches seemed like they would be a more appropriate method.