Tag Archives: Zodiac

Collecting Fruit

I love finding links between things that have caught my eye in places past which connect me to the present. Here’s October, ‘the mature man collecting fruit’ seen high above the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem, Staffordshire.

Today, up here in Scotland, a few volunteers from the local orchard group gathered to press the last of the Clyde Valley apples into apple juice. I doubt they were draped in robes like this but it must be a seasonal activity that goes back generations.

When I first saw the sequence of seasons and astrological symbols above the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem, Staffordshire, I was captivated by the detail, quality and symbolism of the sculptures and mosaics high above street level.

The mosaics looked weather-beaten but there was enough detail to see what might have been. I wanted to capture each of the months and zodiac signs before a few more winters saw them off – you can see from my photo that the mosaic tesserae have begun to fall away.

Scorpio is a much maligned sign of the zodiac, but to me it is a symbol of what is all part of the season of life events representing the cycle of dark and light, death and rebirth and so on.

On the Wedgwood Institute, you can see the full sequence of astrological signs set in mosaic roundels above the terracotta figures of the months.

I loved working out the forms of each sign so I could paint them in the sparkling mineral pigments of lapis lazuli and malachite set against the red and yellow earth pigments. It’s a great setting to add the glitter of Cornelissen’s 23 carat shell gold to give a celestial background!

Final layout below before I had them all mounted and sent to Barewall Art Gallery in Burslem.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Burslem and no doubt there have been many changes but Barewall Gallery is still very much at the heart of Burslem, the creative mother town of the Potteries. I’m delighted that they are stocking all of the original artwork of the months and zodiacs – quite a few have already sold.

To give you an idea of Burslem’s townscape – here’s a sketch of Market Place from about 5 years ago.

Burslem Spring 2016

To close and bring this full circle, my nephew visited me in Staffordshire back in 2015 and I took him to Middleport Pottery in Burslem. On our way out we found ourselves on Nephew Street!

Skip forward a few years and we’ve moved up to the Braes. Once again the season has moved to that time of ‘collecting fruit‘, but this time my nephew visited with a wee helper….

As always, thanks for reading!

Ronnie

I’ve Started so I’ll Finish

Looking up at the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Have you ever looked up at a building and marvelled at the creativity that has gone into it? Have you thought about the artists and makers and the hours of planning and co-ordination spent to pull something like the Wedgwood Institute together? This building must have been a labour of love for so many.

‘November’ high up on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Whilst I was living in Staffordshire, I wanted to draw every last detail of this building simply to acknowledge it was there. I began with the main entrance which you can see in full here.

Detail of ‘Wedgwood Institute Door’, showing the stone carving, brick and tilework

I had great plans to draw so much more of this building but life had other plans for me. Just as I had got the next phase of artwork underway, we got news of the move to Scotland and so things went on hold.

Sign of Pisces

However, I had already begun drawing the months of the year and the zodiac symbols in the arches above and so at some point I knew I would finish them – I don’t like leaving a body of work unfinished. Besides, I had begun work on some beautiful heavy watercolour paper (Saunders Waterford 640gsm Not) which is a thick as carboard with a rippling texture and a wonderful surface to paint/draw on.

I pencilled in the outline using a compass to contain the astrological symbols.

I had taken photographs of the existing zodiac signs but some were under cover and some had areas of mosaic missing. I looked up old record photos and in places where details were hazy, I used creative licence and painted them to compliment the rest of the images.

The mosaic symbols were made in bright blues, greens and whites against a deep red background. I used ground up mineral pigments of azurite, malachite and the red and yellow ochre earth pigments that I use to paint icons to capture the life, depth and movement of these rich symbols.

Malachite being broken down to small chunks using a pestle and mortar.
Malachite being ground to a fine pigment
Pisces – the fish

This was as far as I got with the zodiac symbols before I began to pack up to move north. I had made some progress into painting the images of the months – about three or four of them… but enough to have me hooked to want to complete, come what may.

Now, almost four years since I made the first sketches of these images, I’m so happy that I can say I have completed this part and will be sharing what I’ve done to complete them over the next few blog posts.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie 🙂