I must admit I'm not too keen on mass production art, but when I heard about "The Owls of Bath" project I really wanted to take part. It wasn't without its ups and downs, but I'll try to share the process as truthfully as I can.
The ones that got away
Initially, I supplied two totally different designs. The first one was carefully drawn an owl in glasses, covered in images of children wearing glasses. I was hoping one of the opticians in Bath will pick one that up in support of children who might be self-conscious about needing to wear glasses. Glasses are cool and geeks are cool too!
The second design was a total opposite...Glittery, sparkly in pinks and purple, little top hat and bow. More of a showgirl than anything else. I'm not sure whom did I have in mind making this design but I just thought it was fun and fabulous.
THE UNEXPECTED DESIGN
So, I've sent my designs off and promptly forgot about them. I knew that with so many brilliant artists and designers in Bath, the competition will be tough. To my great surprise, I got a phone call while having pub lunch on holiday: Great Western Railways are interested, can you design a Brunel owl? But they need the designs straight away, so they can decide."
Eek! I wasn't expecting that and I was on holiday, away from my studio and art materials, but I wasn't going an opportunity like this pass me by. So I bought my kid a massive ice cream, grabbed his placemat (one of those paper ones that double as menu and colouring book) raided the waitress's cupboard for more coloured pencils and started sketching. It was supposed to be just an exercise sketch until I found an art shop, but the time was running out and we were in the middle of nowhere. I took a picture of the placemat sketch and sent it to Minerva Owls, waiting for the "no, thank you".
The answer came almost immediately...Yes, let's do this. I'm still perplexed as to how GWR entrusted their owl into my hands. But I've done my best not to disappoint them. Now there was only one thing to work out... the obligatory top hat that Isanbard Kingdom Brunel wore constantly.
How on earth do you put a hat on a giant owl?
As I mentioned before. I was on holiday while I was commisioned the design of BrunOwl. I was itching to get working but the sculptures were not ready yet and I was away. There was still the issue of the additional top hat, sideburns and hair that I thought were all essential for the image of Brunel.
I really wanted to try some things out and not just on paper. I decided I needed to make my own owl sculpture in order to plan my design better. Thankfully, part of my holidays I spent at my folks who are also artists. I was able to borrow plasticine, clay, sculpting tools and plaster. I loosely followed the design made by the artist Alan Dun, but I did not aspire to copy it. I wanted to have my own maquette to try some designs out. Here is the result and early version of IsanBIRD Kingdom BrunOWL, as the GWR folk aptly named him.
I thought long and hard about various different ways of mounting a hat on top of my owl, but neither of them seemed secure enough to be allowed as a public, interactive sculpture. The folks from Minerva's Owls had to find me an expert to do this. I was so nervous, the owl was out of my hands. I didn't know who will do the extra bits needed and how well it would suit. The time was running out and I still couldn't start working on the sculpture. Finally, I was told that Tone Hitchcock will take the job. I googled him immediately and somewhat relaxed. He has done this kind of artwork before and was confident it can be done.
But I still was none the wiser about the process so I was leapt with excitement when Tone agreed I can assist him with the preparation of my owl. I really felt so honoured to observe him at work. Most artists don't reveal their technique and this guy has done some amazing stuff. I really recommend you visit his site.
Watch this space...In the next part, I will go through the process of making the design for BrunOWL and all his hidden features.