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Sketching for painting

I've been asked a few times how I come up with ideas for my cow paintings, and how I plan a composition. The first part is fairly simple to answer; I have a wealth of anecdotes from people who responded to my Facebook requests and from meeting people at exhibitions. Some scenarios are often repeated - cows getting into front gardens and causing havoc, which easily makes this an essential tableau to paint. Others are so outlandish - someone falling over a cow at night headlong into a cowpat - that this too begs to be painted.

Coming up with a suitable composition can be a little harder to achieve. 'Mayhem in Monkhams' was inspired by a caravan in this particular photograph:

So I have a caravan. Now I need houses and gardens and cows. Fitting everything into such a small space can be tricky, and needs careful placement of each object. I deliberately warp the horizon and lines of perspective (here, the hedges) to create a feeling of movement, which also allows me to fit things in where I might not normally be able to.

I spend quite a bit of time drawing in cows and rubbing them out if I'm not happy with them. Generally I just rework the same bit of paper (that's my Yorkshire meanness coming out in me) so I can see where I have gone wrong before, unless the paper is such a mess I can't see what I'm doing and I need to start again. Sometimes I don't have a definitive final sketch before I draw it up on the board for painting, and I may still change minor things when I'm in the painting stage. For example, I decided to omit the garden gate and replace it with a larger cow's head to give more depth to the composition.

Sketch for Mayhem in Monkhams

Cows in front gardens
Mayhem in Monkhams - The finished painting

Sometimes I have to research content to go in the painting. Here, in Cowmageddon, I wanted to base the painting in the 1970s, so I had to find pictures of old cars to copy. This painting is one of my favourites, as it is set in Woodford High Road (near where the Tesco Express is now) and it is where I grew up. I travelled on the 20a bus to school every morning and remember Ford Anglias, Bedford vans, and a Messerchmidt bubble car in camouflage pattern that was often parked outside the art shop at Woodford Wells.

Little blank areas between the main characters can be filled with small objects to create more interest, here - sticky buns. The text that eventually captioned this painting in the book owes itself to little random additions such as this, though Susie is nowhere to be seen!

cows causing a traffic jam
Sketch for Cowmageddon

cows causing a traffic jam
Cowmageddon - The finished painting.

"Mayhem ensued one day when a herd of cows stopped the traffic in the High Street.

Mrs Mountjoy got a shock when a cow peered into the back of her car.

Susie the shop assistant fell off her bicycle and spilled sticky buns all over the pavement.

Mr Tibbins the greengrocer tried to wave away the cows with his leeks.

Mr Snodgrass the bank manager tried to shoo a cow off his car with a rolled up newspaper.

All the while the passengers on the bus watched in amusement at the drama below them".

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