“Flock” is a new piece of work and a bit of a diversion for me in that its quite different to my other sheep pictures. Which is why I wanted to talk about how it came about as it was one of those pictures that has a story behind it.
The photos used for this were taken in July at Swallowfield Park, one of my most regular walking places, not only because its a stunning location but because its a known-quantity when I’m working to a time-scale and need to be able to predict how long I will be out. You can guess where I’m going with this; I had just arrived at Swallowfield Park and, yes, it was one of those days when I had hardly any time to spare – I was due to meet a friend in Basingstoke in a little over an hour, which meant that (allowing for a half an hour drive) I had barely 40 minutes during which to walk Rudi, get him back home and then leave again.
To make things even quicker, or so I thought, I parked up in the village and walked into the park from the main road rather than through the churchyard; which meant I had to cross the narrow 18th century bridge over the Black Water river to gain access to the fields where I would be walking. Which was when I hit a major flaw in my plan and one I’d never encountered in all the years that I’ve been walking there – and as is typical when you least want it to happen – I couldn’t get any further into the park because the flock of sheep that graze the park were being driven over the narrow bridge, towards me, into a field to my left. And this was clearly going to take some time. Disaster!
My mind garbled through the various options available to me: there was no other direction I could really go for a decent walk from here but should I walk all the way back to the car and drive somewhere else? But, quite apart from the time that would take, Rudi was full to the brim with doggy-expectation by now, he wouldn’t understand why we were going back to the car; in fact, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying all the excitement of the sheep coming towards us, all the shouting and hollering. And after all, it occured to me, I’d been wanting to do a “flock coming towards me” type painting for a while but didn’t have the photography to start from, I’d even goggled pictures of this quite recently but hadn’t got anywhere with it as I prefer to work from my own photos as they resonate with me far more than when I use other people’s.
I had my camera with me but could’t stand that close in case Rudi put the sheep off as they crossed the bridge; the best I could do was stand where I was and take multiple shots as the sheep came towards me in the hope that something would be useable.
Sharpened up with Photoshop and then zoomed in and cropped so that the sheep completely fill the image, I used soluble pencils on paper to reproduce the essence of that image and “Flock” was the outcome. I’m pleased with the effect of closing in on the sheep and welcoming the slight over-exposure of the photography as the whiteness of the mass of sheep-bodies is only broken up by the sunlight catching the edges of their fleeces. Then the thing that really makes it, for me, is the sheer variety of sheep-expression that I found within this flock as the sheep stand in their different postures and adopt different attitudes to what is happening – who says sheep all look the same? I found it intensely pleasurable to work on each of these sheep and witness how the very minimal details that I was depicting literally coerced the three-dimensional sense of each of them out of the whiteness of the paper. It was my equivalent of perceiving the essence of a living form in a lump of white stone and then carving it into being!
Yes, I was late! Yes, I had to text my friend and warn her I wouldn’t be there for quite a while (but as it happened, that helped her as it turned out she needed to stop off somewhere en route). And yes, my walk didn’t get much easier after that as one of the sheep decided he didn’t want to come with the rest of the flock and gave the girl on the trike and her two helpers a real run for their money before they managed to round it up, meaning I had to keep well out of their way.
Yet, somewhere in all of this, there seemed to be a life-lesson demanding my attention. In the past I would have become irate or at least pretty annoyed at encountering the sheep when I was in such a hurry; I would have felt a keen sense of my own misfortune and I may well have turned around and gone somewhere else and so missed the opportunity to take the photos that became this picture. A bit like the sheep who resisted and ran in the opposite direction to the flow of the other sheep, which I then watched getting tangled in the brambles and being chased round and around in circles before being scooped up and carted off, indignant and undignified, to where the rest of the flock were already enjoying a lovely new field in the sunshine by the river, I too could have gone home in a bad mood, hot and flustered from having to find an alternative place to walk. By going with the flow and accepting “what is” I managed to witness what was actually a magnificent and timeless sight of the sheep crossing my favourite of bridges, take some useful photos leading to a picture I’m pleased with and then arrive a little late but unflustered to see my friend and so continue my day much as planned. In short, I went with the flow and everything turned out much more than alright!