Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the mini-woodland...

At the beginning of this week I called out to St. Brigid's Junior National School in Finglas in Dublin to begin another mural.

I was asked by Elaine, their Greens Schools Committee Member, to create a mural in the mini-woodland of the children's playground. The mini-woodland backs onto an 80 ft long wall.

I wanted to incorporate the woods into the mural. I also felt that the wall was long enough to narrate a whole story so I started sketching woodland scenes with foxes and wolves and woodcutters and finally decided on the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

I tried to sidestep the more macabre versions of the fairytale. I still remember how delighted, but horrified I was as a child when a teacher told us the ending where the wolf's belly is cut open and filled with stones! I suppose that feeling is the true point of fairytales but I felt I should keep it good and wholesome and so I broke the story up into 6 pictures to retell the story. Here are the sketches:

1. Red Riding Hood waves goodbye...

2. On the way, she meets dapper Mr. Wolf...

3. Little Red Riding Hood asks a few pointed questions in Granny's house

4. A woodcutter hears the commotion

5. And chases the wolf away

6. They celebrate Granny's magical reappearance with cake.
The End.


And here it is in real life! I drew the lot in one day, in dappled shade, with the smell of barkmulch and fresh green buds and rOaring children at lunchtime!

The kids in first class are going to paint the mural. I'll put up photos of the wall once they're finished.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Scissors Paper Stone!

The magic of bunting!

I stuck up the sheets of mosaic onto the pillars last week using an adhesive similar to plaster. I used a builder's float to slap the adhesive onto the pillars and then scored the plaster with the grilled edge of the float to create a criss-cross surface on the pillar. Bizarrely enough, I studied Construction Studies in school so I'd a good idea of what I was doing. My arms, on the otherhand, were in shock at what I was putting them through!

Ha ha!
That 'do not touch' chalk hand was quickly abandoned!

Once the adhesive is dry you can peel away the gumpaper to reveal the mosaic underneath. The way to peel away the gumpaper is to drench it with water, allowing the water to soak in between the tile face and the glue of the gumpaper and then peel it away triumphantly in long wallpaper strips (or so the theory goes).

Half way through

I was maybe a little too excited at the imminent satisfaction of stripping away broad sheets of gumpaper. I thought it'd be fast and incredibly satisfying. What actually happened was that the paper had formed some unholy bond with the tiles and was stubbornly refusing to go anywhere. Soon it became a battle of wills between me, the adult, and the gumpaper, a precocious monster-toddler refusing to go anywhere.

The drenching begins..

I spent days rubbing the paper to within an inch of my fingers' lives. In fact, at one point I was pretty sure that I had completely rubbed my fingerprints away.

Sometimes the gumpaper barnacles would take tiles with them when removed..

Exhausted and fed up, I called over to a friend's house and conversation turned to her delight as a kid of picking at pebble dash on walls. We sat in her kitchen wondering how many Irish pebble dash walls were now bald because of children's eager little fingers when I realised I could use children's thirst to pick and peel to overcome the monstrous gumpaper!

One of my lovely helpers.

The next day, in the middle of the whole school being in a great flurry of braiding woolly headbands and dressing up bear mascots for a big match in Croke Park, I asked if I could recruit the help of some small hands to help me peel away the gumpaper.

Four amazing girls were sent my way and they squealed with delight at being asked to help with the mosaic.

It was glorious. We chatted about birthday parties and face paints, conga lines and Aztec houses. And all the while, the paper was receding, being torn down and defeated! Not only that, soon a parent was helping too and a little toddler. They did amazing work and were paid in full (in chocolate cash!) before hometime.

I still have some gumpaper to remove up high and then I'm going to start breaking up tiles to fit into any spaces where there are gaps in the mosaic. After all that is done, I'm going to grout the pillars. And after all that, the mosaic pillars will be completely finished.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Delicious Glass

Sorry for all this time that keeps shoring itself up between posts. I've been swallowed up making mosaic patterns for the last fortnight. It does something peculiar to your mind; making pictures with tiny squares of colour, like playing real-life tetris or tangrams all day long.

Measure scribbles

Maths has been playing a great trick on me lately. I'm forever trying to turn my back on it and yet all I've been thinking about recently is space and measure and colour permutations. No scrap of paper in my house was safe. I had figures and diagrams scribbled down on pages before they had a chance. And what I'm slowly coming round to realise is that I think it's time to let the maths ghost in.

Golden glass cubes

Every time I picked up a piece of golden glass I kept remembering a friend telling me that he used to love eating cubes of jelly as a kid. His Mum would scissor up a slab of Chivers jelly and give him one single cube of concentrated gelatine before the others disappeared in boiling water, shimmering at the bottom of the jelly bowl. I was always half-revolted by the idea of it but now that I've spent so much time eyeing up the golden glass pieces I'm a little curious to see what it would taste like...

Stock sheet

Before I started the mosaic I took stock of how many sheets I had of each colour. The surface area of the concrete pillars is 9 square feet and 10 sheets of tiles covers one square foot (see what I mean about Maths creeping in..)

It was pretty tricky to get started surrounded by 90 sheets of clown colours. I recruited the help of my sister Julie and we looked through the colours and made up a sheet of tile friends.

Tile friends

I planned to break up the pillar into four sections: the eggs, the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly.

This was the original plan for the eggs.

There were going to be three eggs but I wasn't positive that it would have been clear what they were.

So I changed the design to an egg on a leaf.

When I had the design laid out I broke up the panels into manageable sizes like pieces of a jigsaw and set to work on each piece on a giant board on my lap.

I drew out the caterpillar design on the gum paper.

And the yellow began to creep in...

And the caterpillar took shape! Next I lifted up the tiles and wet the gum paper to stick them down. The tiles are stuck down in reverse so that when you glue the sheet to the wall you can wet the gum paper and then peel it away

All four panels ready to go.

I'm mounting the mosaic to the pillars this week. I can't wait to see what they look like once they're up. I'll put up photos by the end of the week hopefully!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I finished the entire mural on Friday, April 30th! I started with class visits to 3rd class on Monday, March 8th. The Easter Holidays fell in the middle of it so all in all it took 5 weeks to complete.

Here's a photo taken from the new school garden. You can just about see the vegetable boxes at the bottom of the picture.

There are wild flower seeds planted at the foot of the mural and I can't wait to see them dancing in great sweeps when they're in full blossom.

I had to lay down planks of wood on the freshly sown soil so that I wouldn't disturb any of the seeds. Although I loved the excuse of having to walk the plank with a tin of paint in each hand and a paintbrush in my mouth!

Ghost flowers

Little red hoods!

Coat one finished
Coat two finished. The black trim begins!


The baby

Her older sister..

Still growing...

Almost there...

Ta da!

I'm making a mosaic for two 10ft high pillars at the entrance to the school now. They're going to describe the life cycle of the butterfly. I can't stop watching this very beautiful time-lapse video of the butterfly's metamorphosis:

My eyes keep going out of focus with complete wonder at how they do it! When my eyes whirr back into use I'll put up photos of the mosaic!