After a bit of a slow start to 2014, I have finally had the boost I needed to get the creative juices flowing by attending the MIWAS Big 5 Workshop. Held in the beautiful old building ‘Rookesbury Manor’ near Wickham, that hosts the MIWAS Annual Exhibition, the ‘Big 5’ are a group of Top Wildlife Artists gathered together to give each of us attendees 1 to 1 critiques/tutorials on our current works inprogress and/or other finished paintings.

It was an early start for me, up at 6am but the drive from Bristol to Wickham was a beautiful one, graced by a stunning sunrise.

Sunrise driving to Wickham. Mandi Baykaa-Murray

Sunrise driving to Wickham.

On arrival, we were divided in to 5  groups of around 8-10 artists and each hour, one of the Big 5 came to each group to talk to us all individually. Being a ‘new member’ I was feeling a little apprehensive at the start of the day but I soon set up my workspace and settled in to my painting. I was keen to meet the other artists and have a good look around at their work – it was a really enjoyable aspect of the day, spending time among like-minded people and being completely inspired by all the incredible art and artists around me.

Initially, I have to admit I was worried about being a bit ‘starstruck’ having Pip McGarry, Clive Meredith, Vic Bearcroft, Kim Thompson and Jamie Boots as tutors for the day but my worries were unnecessary as they were all lovely, down-to earth people who all gave very helpful constructive criticism, encouragement, hints, tips, advice and positive feedback. By the end of the day, I was buzzing with excitement and keen to get stuck in to my paintings and put in to practice everything I’d been told. (referring to my frantically scribbled notes jotted on the back of one of my reference photos in the hope I wouldn’t forget any snippets of information!)

I took 5 paintings with me – all pieces I’d started last year, which for one reason or another, had reached a point where I wasn’t quite sure how to go forward with them. I decided to work on a barn owl painting with the intention of creating a moonlit churchyard for its hunting ground. I’d already blocked the owl in – but the churchyard, being ‘out of my comfort zone’ was holding me back – but I took the plunge, and the churchyard gradually appeared on my canvas.

w i p Barn Owl Hunting in Churchyard, Mandi Baykaa-Murray

Here is the Owl painting I was working on – you can see the churchyard beginning to appear in the background.

A large-scale painting of Woolley the Indian Eagle Owl was another half-finished piece that I will now be able to tackle and finish thanks to some helpful advice from Vic and Pip.

w.i.p. Eagle Owl, Oil on board, 24" x 36" Mandi Baykaa-Murray

w.i.p. Eagle Owl, Oil on board, 24″ x 36″ Ready for the next stage of painting.

Towards the end of the day after we had packed away our painting equipment, the Big 5 sat as a panel and we were invited to ask questions in an open forum relating to any aspect of painting/framing/exhibiting/marketing/selling our wildlife art. This was a great way to finish the day, and once again I had my pencil and paper at hand to take notes. On a day like this, there is SO much to take in, I wish I could have recorded the whole thing and watch it back over and over again!

So, THANK YOU MIWAS for a fantastic day! I am really looking forward to taking part in the 2014 MIWAS Exhibition…watch this space! 🙂