This summer has been my most exciting but terrifying since going freelance. Being chosen as one of the St Oswald's Hospice, Shaun on the Tyne artists has been such an adventure with so many ups and downs, so I thought it would be good to share with you a bit about how it all came about...
The beginning
I was at the North East Expo last October having a neb round the stalls when a very large Shaun the Sheep sculpture caught my eye. My daughter is a massive fan of that particular sheep so I had to go over and find out why it was there. I then got talking to one of representatives from St Oswald’s Hospice who told me about the upcoming sculpture trail.
Just as I was moving on to the next stall they asked what it was I did and when I explained I was a graphic designer and illustrator they said I should come along to the artist event they were holding the next evening. I thought this was definitely way beyond my skillset but curiosity took over and made me want to go along and find out more.
At the event I got talking to another graphic designer who’d painted one of the Elmer the Elephants in a previous trail and she managed to persuade me to give it a go. So there I was the week before Christmas creating summer designs for a Shaun the Sheep sculpture. The brief was to create a celebration of summer so I decided to use my characters to convey that happy feeling I get when the sun finally comes out and we all get to spend a bit of time outdoors with our friends, family and pets. It’d been over 20 years since I’d done any serious painting so I kept my design simple and achievable or so I thought!
Time to panic
Fast forward to a few months later and it was matching day where the sponsors get to pick which design they’d like for their sculpture. I didn’t hear anything initially so I presumed I’d been unsuccessful and decided it was probably for the best. Then a day or two later I got the email to say my design had been picked by Gosforth Shopping Centre and panic started to set in!
Quorum Business Park had kindly provided a space for all of the artists to go along to paint their sculptures and this was to be my second home for the next 6 weeks. I’ll admit I was really nervous to meet the other artists, total imposter syndrome had set in at this stage and I thought everyone would have much more experience than me and see I was a total fraud! I couldn’t have been more wrong, everyone was so friendly and supportive, there were total newbies like me, others who had done one or two sculpture trails before but still felt like they had lots to learn and there were some who had done 20 plus and were total fonts of knowledge and advice. 
Slow progress
Painting Joy was really tough, much more than I could ever have imagined, I put so much pressure on myself to do a good job. I was so worried about letting down not only my sponsor but also St Oswald’s who are ultimately going to be auctioning the sculptures off to raise funds for their charity. I found this really weighed me down at times and I’m not afraid to admit there were lots of tears. My friends and family were an amazing support when I was feeling at my lowest but I was also really grateful for the support I got from the little community the artists had built all working together in that space at Quorum. Knowing that a lot of them felt the same and that I wasn’t alone really helped get me through it.
Progress seemed so slow to begin with and the weeks absolutely flew by with me feeling like I’d hardly achieved anything. What I initially thought was a simple design turned out to be super detailed and getting the flat areas of colour to look how I wanted was a mammoth task. But eventually I got there, it was time to get my finished work approved and then onto the very scary task of varnishing. All was going well until I decided to use a baby wipe to get rid of some dust that had settled in the varnish and totally smudged one of the characters heads! I totally freaked out as you can imagine, but once again the more experienced artists came to my aid and helped me to sort it out.
Finished at last
The relief of being finished was amazing a total buzz, but I wasn’t as happy with my finished sculpture as I’d hoped. All I could see when I looked at it was the mistakes and imperfections. I was really nervous for my sponsor to finally see it, so I was totally relieved when I got the text through saying they loved it! I’ve since been to visit Joy in her new home and it was really good to see her through fresh eyes, I’m actually pretty proud of what I managed to achieve in my first attempt at something like this.
It was so lovely working with Gosforth Shopping Centre, they picked my design as they felt it sat well with one of their key aims, to make the centre a focal point for the local community. They really got on board with the theme and got the community involved making flowers and kites to decorate the centre while Joy is in place. They also invited me along to a meet the artist event with some local school children which was really fun, the children’s excitement about the trail was totally infectious!
Lessons learnt
It’s been such a journey being involved in this project and I’ve learnt so much along the way so I thought I’d share a few things with you...
If your painting with emulsion and your design has blocks of flat colour you’ll need at least 3 coats depending on the colour. Pink and blue gave me the best coverage, red and yellow were the worst and needed 4 or 5 coats!
If your design has a dark colour in the background you might think it’s easier to paint the light bits first then paint round them with the dark colour like I did initially. But believe me its actually much easier to paint your background colour first and then start putting the light details over the top, the finish is much better, I speak from experience as I tried both ways.
If I did submit a design for a future trail I'd definitely make it much simpler, because there were so many bits to the people and they were so small it took forever especially with all the coats of paint needed to get that flat colour finish.
And lastly and most importantly - never ever, ever, ever use wet wipes to clean dust off your finished sculpture before you varnish it!
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