Thursday, 19 December 2013

Seasons Greetings!

Wishing you health and happiness this winter and lots of Crane sightings!
From Melanie

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Giant Tunnel Books in Europe with our beloved Cranes in full colour!

A completed tunnel book containing 6 sections depicting Cranes in their vibrant habitat.  The book formed a tunnel that when peered through was like looking into a long theatre with many proscenium arch stages.

I have just returned from leading a Crane themed art workshop in Belgium with 100 children from Turkey, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Portugal, Lithuania and UK (Ash School)! We made 9 giant tunnel books that were nearly 2 metres in length! It was a wonderful experience - the pupils were brilliant, creating fantastic, colourful, vibrant and stunning works of art, all inspired by the beloved Cranes and the environment in which they live. We also explored the flora and fauna that share the Cranes habitat. The children worked in mixed groups which was great for learning about the Cranes, making new friends and learning each other’s languages.

I found it so difficult to choose and edit the photos that in the end I decided on a long blog post with lots of images! If you are interested at the end of the blog are the correct words for 'Crane' in the different languages as translated to me by the teachers from Europe. Before I went to Belgium I had a go at translating myself and on the whole got it right - but with a few corrections from the teachers last week! Here are the photos of our creations:

Left: Pupils from Turkey assemble and design book pages. Right: Ozlem, teacher from Turkey, peers through a book page in progress.

Top Left: Pupils and I preparing illustrations. Top Right: Eurasian Cranes bugling against a colourful landscape. Bottom: Peering into the tunnel!

The pupils loved learning about the Cranes and the other insects, birds, fish, animals and flora that share their environment in Somerset and other places in Europe. They took so much care drawing and applying colour with oil pastels and pens to the individual elements, resulting in these lovely pages.

Tunnel books in progress with a beautiful and vibrant book cover top right.

Top Left: Pupils work together to create their book. Top Right: Pupils with their tunnel book which was big enough for them to stand in! Bottom: Another colourful Crane diorama.

I love the green and red Cranes that the children have illustrated. Although you don’t get Cranes with these colours in the wild, we decided we were allowed to use our own ‘Artistic License’ and our imagination to create these story book Cranes that are full of character!

Cranes, Cranes everywhere!

A beautiful diorama with lots of hidden details.

I was so impressed with the amount of details the pupils put into their artwork. This diorama is full of animals, plants and the very back of the book depicts a Crane on a nest in a swamp! Tunnel books are great because you are constantly discovering something inside them as the pages are slightly obscured. It is only on close inspection that all is revealed, meaning you can always re-visit them and find something new. I had one as a child and I still love it to this day.

Pupils from across Europe present their finished tunnel book with Beccy Swaine from Somerset Art Works and I, after a hectic but exciting week of art!

Left: European teachers with one of the pupils finished tunnels. Right: A beautiful tunnel book cover.

Me and Adam Hawkins, a teacher from Ash School, talking about the Great Crane Project on the first day we met the pupils and teachers.

I must mention and thank my fantastic collegue Beccy Swaine from Somerset Art Works for working with me last week.  It was a busy week ending with fabulous results!  Thank you to all the teachers too, Vicky and Adam from Ash School and teachers from across Europe- it was wonderful to work as a team for the week.

Crane - translated into different languages as verified by the European teachers!

Spanish - Gruilla / Grulla
Turkish - Turna
Italian - Gru
Portugese - Cisne
Bulgarian - Jerau
French - Grue
Lithuanian - Gerve
Romanian - Cocor - no Romanian schools in Belgium, but thought I'd include the translation here.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Grue, Kraanvogel, Grulla, Grou, Gru, Cocor, Gerniniai, Turnagiller

As the title suggests - I have been revising the name for Cranes in different languages!  Tomorrow I am off to Belgium to lead a Crane arts project with children from 10 different European countries!  We will be making large scale tunnel books and below you can see some of the reference materials I have prepared.  We will be using the Cranes habitat as inspiration including other creatures and plants that share the same environment.  Watch this space in a week or so for a blog post with photos of our creations.

Reference materials we will use in Belgium to explore Crane and their habitats.

Metal insects @ Curry Mallet

Recently I visited Curry Mallet school to deliver a metal insect workshop.  It was a fantastic day and the pupils made some stunning aluminium and copper insects based on insects found on the Somerset levels.  Here are a few photos of some of the pieces produced that we installed in a tree in the school grounds!  Well done to all the pupils for making such beautiful artwork.
Metal bees, dragonflies and beetles made by pupils at Curry Mallet school.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

'A Crane Did Fly By' !

Here is a preview of two Praxinoscopes I have made for my forthcoming exhibition 'The Company of Cranes' - Part 2 in Langport, as part of Somerset Art Weeks Festival 2013.

Left: 'The Waiting Forest' Praxinoscope and Right: 'Somerset River' Praxinoscope. Photos © Richard Battye 2013

Praxinoscopes were successors of Zoetropes, both 19th century inventions, containing a sequential image inside a spinning cylinder.  When the Praxinoscope is spun, the rapid succession of images creates the illusion of movement - in the case of my pieces Flying Cranes! The pieces were an exciting challenge to make, and for the first time I have combined etched details with hand printed metal illustrations of Cranes in Somerset and Brandenburg.

You are invited to come along and spin both the Praxinoscopes and Zoetropes during the exhibition which runs from 21st September until 5th October, with a special opening on 26th September at 5pm, followed by my artists talk at 7pm at Bow Wharf. SAW Projects - The Company of Cranes

There are also other Arts Weeks exhibitions happening nearby at the same time as the Company of Crane which is venue 45 on the festival map, including Shakespeare Glass venue 48, Alchemy - 47, Terriffic Toilets - 46 and The D.B Group - 49.  Here is a link to the festival guide with information and a map of all artists and orgnisations taking part in Somerset Art Weeks 2013.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

'The Company of Cranes' - Part 2 - Exhibition in Langport

It would be lovely to see you at my forthcoming 'Company of Cranes' exhibition in Langport from 21st September to 5th October, where I will be exhibiting Crane inspired zoetropes, praxinoscopes and other artworks!  Click on link below for further details.
SAW Projects - The Company of Cranes

Left: Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve Zoetrope, Brandenburg and Right: Somerset Levels Zoetrope.

'The Company of Cranes' - Part 2 is Melanie's second exhibition of pre-cinema objects including zoetropes, revealing through illustration and the moving image, the story of the re-introduction of Cranes to the Somerset Levels.

Venue 45 of Somerset Art weeks:
Levels Basket Centre, Amphora House, Westover Trading Estate, Langport, Somerset TA10 9RB

t: 01458 259245 / 01458 253800

Directions: In the former River Parrett Visitor Centre building, by the bridge as you enter Langport on the A378 from the West.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Pickpocketing Cranes, a new style of Yoga and a joyous bath!

Today I went to Slimbridge to walk the Cranes.  It was a lovely sunny day and I was eager to see them again as they were very small on my first visit.  I was not prepared for the amount they had grown in a month.  Such beautiful birds and of course they are the new love(s) of my life!
Here are a few humorous photos from the day and a short film.
Photo on left taken today and a month earlier on the right. Me feeding the Cranes!

Pickpocketing Crane and a new style of Crane Yoga (or in training to be a pianist)!

The patterns and colours of the feathers were stunning.  Some Cranes were a silvery grey and others contained a touch of red.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ash School, Zoetropes and my Dad's record players!

L-R: Making the zoetropes, a finished Beetle zoetrope ready for spinning and a butterfly sequential image.

Recently I had the pleasure of delivering a two day workshop at Ash School with the fantastic and talented pupils in year 5. Our objective was to make zoetropes based on the Cranes living on the Somerset Levels and their wonderful habitat. Zoetropes invented in the mid-19th century were a spinning drum with slots in the side, that when spun caused a sequential image inside to give the appearance of movement.

It was a wonderful couple of days - each pupil made their own zoetrope that they tested on a variety of record players I borrowed from my Dad. Dad went into the loft at home and dusted off a record player he had from 1965 (the cream one below) and I found two more in the garden shed from the 80's, on which I used to play my Duran Duran records at full volume!

Ash School pupils test their zoetropes out on the record players and film them themselves too!

The oldest record player had three speeds, 33, 45 and 78 and the pupils worked out that depending on the sequential image they had drawn (the detail and complexity had to be taken into account) - meant different speeds had to be used. A Crane flew better at 45, whereas a beetle scuttled more effectively at 78!

Ash School zoetropes in action!

As well as making their own cardboard zoetrope by hand - the pupils also filmed their zoetropes spinning on the record players using new camcorders. So we actually ended up using three forms of technology to bring the artworks to life - the zoetrope - the record players and a brand new camcorder bought this year! Great to see these different pieces of technology that all share the same 'family tree' being used by the pupils in the creation of such beautiful work!

Year 5 pupils with their zoetropes, spinning them on a pencil!

See the pupils work on show at Slimbridge as part of ‘The Company of Cranes Part 1’  until 5th August and then again at the Levels Basket Centre in Langport from 21st September until 5th October, where I will be showing ‘The Company of Cranes Part 2’.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Emma Britton Show

On Friday 5th July, I went into the BBC Somerset studios to do a radio interview with the lovely Emma Britton!  You can listen to me talking about the 'Company of Cranes' with Emma on Catch Up until the 11th July.  Fast forward to 1 hour and 8 minutes!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

'The Company of Cranes' Part One

Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve Zoetrope' - depicting the forest, nesting Cranes, the mill and various animals sharing the habitat.

'The Company of Cranes - Part One' is the first of two exhibitions showcasing my artwork commissioned by Somerset Art Works and The Great Crane Project.

The exhibition currently running at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust until 5th August, presents my hand-printed, narrative, steel zoetropes depicting the 'Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere' in Brandenburg and the 'Somerset levels'.  I am also delighted to be showcasing the work of pupils from Ash School in Somerset, who created their own fantastic zoetropes!

A screen shows images and short films of wildlife from the environments of both Somerset and Brandenburg and the creation of the artworks themselves. In addition I present a series of dioramas inspired by bird species from around the world.

Above and below are my finely detailed and colourful gouache illustrations, created for the zoetropes.  Also see below a short video where I make a zoetrope in my Birmingham studio in 80 seconds!

'Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve Zoetrope' - depicting Cranes in meadows, blossom trees, marsh frogs and may bugs - all of which I was lucky enough to observe whilst in the reserve.

Somerset Levels Zoetrope' - I wanted to paint the Cranes against a backdrop of vivid red accompanied by local flora including water parsnip, dandelions and bulrushes.

Making a Zoetrope in 80 seconds!

'The Company of Cranes - Part Two' will be presented during the Somerset Art Weeks festival, 21 Sept - 6 October 2013.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Luminous Forest

The beautiful Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve, Brandenburg

The experience of being in Germany was so emotional and moving, that I have found it hard to put into words.  Walking through the forest and hearing Cranes calling in the distance moved me deeply.  The vibrant biosphere was full of life from irridescent blue beetles carpeting the floor of the forest to the amazing variety of birds darting in and out of the tree tops.  I imagine it is like being in a fairy tale – only it was not a fairytale as everything was very real and alive and calling it a fairytale takes away from the very normality of how things can be if protected and cherished.  My life in inner city Birmingham is a world away from such epic beauty.  I value nature be it buttercups trying to grow along the dusty industrial streets of the Midlands or bees trying to make their home in the side of a terraced house.  I look for signs of flora and fauna everywhere and value it even though it might be a small patch striving to survive.
The Cranes and the forest were very special and I know I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to have been part of this year’s Great Crane Project trip to Brandenburg. It was also wonderful to have met Beate and Eberhard, the conservationists from the biosphere reserve whose passion and knowledge of every inch of the area was infectious.(More on Beate and Eberhard in another post).

Cranes and a Thunderstorm 

About 10 minutes after I took this quick video the sky opened into a heavy rain storm. It was one of the most vivid and intense nature experiences of my life and one to remember forever. Eberhard had taken filmmaker Sasha and myself to a tall hide in the forest where Cranes roost at night. We sat high up watching the Cranes walking amongst the trees and calling to one another (play with sound on to hear the Cranes). The landscape was still and quiet apart from the birds themselves and for one moment I felt like I could disappear into the landscape and leave the modern world behind. Nothing seemed as real and vital than that moment in time – the feeling was so intense you could almost reach out and touch it. 

A Rich Colour Palette

Me about to enter a swamp! My desk back at 'The Mill' where the team stayed for the duration of the trip.
During breaks from wading through swamps, tracking Cranes and collecting eggs, I managed to do some painting in gouache of small miniature scenes from the forest.  These paintings will form part of my work for the Company of Cranes exhibitions -  part 1 at Slimbridge in the summer and part 2 in Langport as part of Somerset Art Weeks, in September.

Forest Jewels

A short film I took of this beautiful beetle crossing the forest path.  The irridescent blue colouring was so vivid - like jewels scattered across the floor. 

More forest jewels and a tree covered with fungi that looks as if it is straight from the pages of an Eastern European folktale!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Off to Germany. Leaving you with flying Cranes and Barn Owls.

Off to Brandenburg tomorrow!

My new gouaches, Damon Bridge checking eggs in Brandenburg and the first chick hatched at Slimbridge on 4th May.
Photos courtesy of Damon Bridge.
On the eve of my trip to Germany with The Great Crane Project to collect Cranes eggs for rearing and release in England, I am busily packing my art equipment and my brand new, fresh gouaches (purchased specially for the trip)!  Gouache is my preferred medium and one that I've used for 23 years. I love it's smoothness and vibrancy and when painting minute and intricate details - there is no rival in my opinion.  I travel to Brandenburg with the Crane team, stopping one night on route and arrive at the 'Mill' on Tuesday evening, where we will stay and work for a week.  I'm hoping to set up a mini art studio in a corner if I can, as I am so excited and eager to get started on illustrations for the zoetropes.  As of yesterday the first chick from this years egg collection has hatched at Slimbridge (there are two trips to Germany and I am on the second leg).  So a good start for this years new flock of Cranes.

Flying Cranes Zoetrope - work in progress

A short experimental video of my zoetrope, depicting cranes in flight - illustrated in gouache and fine pens. I am making a series of zoetropes for my forthcoming exhibition at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, illustrating my time with the Cranes.

Barn Owl at Stathe Bridge, Somerset

A spontaneous video of a Barn Owl that surprised me whilst looking for Cranes at Stathe in Somerset.  I managed to capture a short flight on my camcorder as it flew very close to me.  Such a beautiful and bright bird and a wonderful surprise.

The Beauty and Fragility of Somerset Hedgerows

During the recent bad weather a couple of weeks ago, I managed to capture some of this icy beauty on camera.  A morning walk down foggy lanes revealed withered and delicate plants whose beauty was only highlighted by a covering of frost.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Illuminated Cranes

Cranes from left to right with: bulrushes and celandine, common dog violets and water parsnip.

Here are three illuminated Cranes I have created for my blog banner.  They depict the Eurasian Crane, and are adult birds as can be seen by the red plumage on their heads.  Such beautiful birds lend themselves well to art.  Having a background in illustration, I was keen to get drawing straight away and the actual pieces are painted in gouache, my favourite medium using fine brushes. 
Each Crane is depicted with flora from the Somerset levels which can be seen in full bloom during the summer months.  I’m looking forward to seeing the wild flowers as I’m keen to observe the other creatures that are drawn to them, such as dragonflies, bees and butterflies.

 I found some examples of early illuminated manuscripts depicting Cranes, courtesy of the British Library.  The designs are quite stylized however I think very beautiful!

Miniatures of Cranes from left to right: England;  England, N. or Central; England, S. (Salisbury?)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bathed in Golden Sunlight

Left: Cranes in field courtesy of David Kjaer   Right: Damon Bridge, Great Crane Project Manager with tracking gear.
The first time I saw the Cranes they were bathed in golden sunlight.  I have only ever seen Cranes in fairy tales (they became extinct in the UK nearly 400 years ago), so it was a beautiful sight.  They are very elusive, but thanks to the Crane team and their amazing tracking kit we found them hidden away on the Somerset levels.  At first I couldn’t see them with my untrained eye – but gradually I managed to distinguish their slender necks and heads from the surrounding bulrushes.  It was a very moving experience and even more so due to the afternoon light and peace and quiet of the countryside.  A real change from inner city Birmingham and the noisy sparrows that dive bomb my bird feeders all day everyday!  I hope to see the Cranes a lot more over the coming months and look forward to going to Germany with the RSPB to collect eggs to bring back for rearing in Somerset.  I learned that it doesn’t harm the German Cranes to do this as they usually lay two eggs and re lay a second time, so they are fine and monitored well by aviculturists in Germany.