Monday, 5 March 2012

Cactus Mural Anniversary!

Cactus Mural Durham University Botanic Garden - Ingrid Sylvestre
Three years ago I had the opportunity to work on a wonderfully interesting project in one of my favourite places - the University of Durham Botanic Garden! The project was to paint a mural to go in the Cactus House.

Situated next to the Tropical House in the complex, the Cactus House backs onto another glasshouse. The Garden staff wanted a mural which could be installed to screen the room behind, and also to serve as an educational tool for visitors.

I was given a list of species to feature on the mural, which were to complement the collection of living cacti and succulents in the glasshouse. I produced a sketch/plan showing where the cacti were to be situated on the mural, with the landscape behind drawing the eye compositionally into the scene.

Below you can see the lovely smooth clean boards - primed with several coats of white gesso. I do love to start a new painting, and this one was in a particularly interesting environment!

The staff had made a kind of 'easel' for the boards to rest on in one of the glasshouses behind the cactus house.

To my right was an amazing feature - a raised pond housing the Victoria amazonica!

I worked during the afternoons, so that visitors to the garden could come and see what I was doing and talk with me. Later, when the gardens were closed, I was given the keys to the glasshouses so I could work uninterruptedly during the night. It was wonderful to watch the sky grow dark and the stars appear through the ceiling of the glasshouse!

I built the mural up in stages, from the basic drawing in pale colours, to laying in the blue sky, and then gradually working up the foreground.

More form and detail was gradually added.

To my right, the shapes of the lilypads in the raised pond were a constant source of fascination!

During the night, new lilies opened from buds. I would be painting away, then turn round, and a beautiful lily had opened!

Behind the pond were all kinds of cacti in pots - can you see the one with the little face that someone had made in it?

I had a comfortable bench to sit on to paint the details lower in the mural.

And little creatures to keep me company!

The mural was nearly complete ...

Details on the left ...

Details on the right ...

The Head Gardener asked me to paint a secret giraffe somewhere on the mural for visiting school children to find ... can you see the neck?

Why? ... Places can become secret portals to other worlds when mysterious intergalactic light shines on them!

After many days the mural was complete!

It was installed into position in the Cactus House. I love to go and see it and relive the wonderful time I had painting in such a special place. If you click on the picture below, you can view the website of the Botanic Garden.
Ingrid Sylvestre Mural Painter Mural Artist Durham North East England UK Newcastle Sunderland Teesside Darlington Northumberland Murals


Mark and Gaz said...

What a great experience painting that mural, surrounded by beautiful plants inside a glasshouse. And to do it in the evenings too when you have the entire place to yourself. Fantastic job, it blends in and enhances the cacti house. I hope we'll be able to see your work in the flesh in the near future :)

Phoenix C. said...

Thank you Mark and Gaz! Really glad you like it. I'm sure you would enjoy a visit to the Botanic Gardens - there is so much to see, especially coming up to the summer. You'll be able to find the hidden mural giraffe too! :))

Garden Lily said...

Wow, you must be very proud to see your painting displayed so prominantly and providing such a wonderful backdrop to the cactus gardens. I enjoyed following along your story. It was delightful.

Phoenix C. said...

Garden Lily, thank you! Since I painted the mural, many more cacti have been planted in the Cactus House, and it's always exciting to see them growing around my painting and relive the experience of creating it there.

Malyss said...

It's really fabulous to see how and where you work!it must be a great experience to be in such a place during the night , working in a quiet mood, enjoying the sky above while being creative..And the result is really beautyful!

Phoenix C. said...

Thank you Malyss. It was so inspiring to work in such a wonderful environment, and I'm glad I documented the work in progress. I wish I had recorded the sounds too - the water noises of the pond and the cicadas all added to the atmosphere!

RuneE said...

A post of extraordinary interest. It was nice to see a genuine artist at work and how such large projects are made, giraffe and all :-)

You have all the reason in the world to be proud of this one.

Phoenix C. said...

Thank you RuneE! I do so enjoy working in interesting environments, and the Botanic Garden is such a special place to be.

Anna said...

What a unique working environment - must have been fascinating working into the night in such a place. The finished product looks great. Never knew that there was a Botanic Gardens in Durham - hope to get there one of these days.

Phoenix C. said...

Hi Anna - it was indeed fascinating working there and being surrounded by such an amazing range of plants and creatures! Definitely worth a visit - spring is a great time, especially in the Woodland Garden, when all the different primulas are out.