Earlier this year St Oswald's Children Hospice announced they would be launching a new art trail here in the North East based on the children's book character Elmer the Patchwork Elephant created by David McKee and published by Anderson Press.
Elmer's Great North Parade would be their second art trail working with Wild In Art, having done the Great North Snow Dog trail a few years ago which helped raise a lot of money for the charity. I was excited to be able to participate in an event that could raise more money for such an great cause and started to work on my submission.
I submitted my design 'Sweet Treat' and was so happy it made it through to be short listed. The design was then put forward to the local businesses and organisations that were to be official sponsors of the parade - Sweet Treat was chosen and sponsored by Intu Metrocentre!
Elmer's Great North Parade officially launched on August 21st and runs until November 1st. Sweet Treat will be located on the ground floor of the Red Mall in Intu Metrocentre for the duration of the parade. He is one of 50 big Elmers and 114 small Elmers decorated by local schools dotted all over the region and ready to be found. Once the trail ends in November, Sweet Treat and some of the other big Elmers will be auctioned off for charity with the proceeds going to St Oswalds.
I have had such an amazing experience working on Sweet Treat, taking him from a blank Elmer to the colourful, kawaii, sugery sweet elephant he is now and wanted to share the process with you!
LET'S MEET SWEET TREAT
I wanted to make a design full of bright happy colours and include some kawaii characters to bring the design to life. I wanted something fun, playful and, of course, cute! The submissions were made back in March and it was a couple of month before we would hear if we had been selected for the art trail.
In May I finally got the great news telling me that Sweet Treat had been chosen by Intu Metrocentre to be their Elmer for the parade and I was so excited. After an induction night and getting to meet the staff of St Oswalds, Wild In Art, our art curators and the other artists we also got to see the space we would be using to paint out Elmers I couldn't wait to get started.
My first day off work I went to the studio space where my Elmer was ready and waiting for me. After a quick unwrapping from his protective packaging it was time to begin prepping him. A good sanding, a thorough clean with sugar soap and a couple of base coats of white primer he was ready to start working on.
Translating the design from 2D onto the 3D statue was definitely a challenge and I found there was much more space to work with than expected I had to adapt the design, making the characters larger and adding more elements - but this just meant more room for cuteness and lots of sprinkles!
After a couple of days working with a pencil the design was on and Sweet Treat was ready to paint!
READY STEADY PAINT
To paint Sweet Treat I used a combination of Valspar brand emulsion paint, Windsor & Newton acrylic paint and Posca paint markers.
Valspar was surprisingly good to work with despite being an emulsion normally used for interioro decorating and not the type of medium I was used to using for my art. It was a nice consistency and the brand allowed me to get colours made up to match the pallet used in my submission. I had such a particular colour scheme in mind and wanted to try and keep as close to it as possible, and I was so pleased with the colours when they came out.
With there being so many details and elements I wanted to start with the block colours first, each took 3-4 coats to make them solid and flat. It was really clear the difference between each coat, so a lot of time was spent with Sweet Treat to get him bold, bright and looking his best.
Once the base colours were on and more solid it was time to get some outlines and details on. The outlines were done using Posca markers to make them neat and sharp then it was time to start on all those sprinkles!
After weeks of going to the studio straight after work and many late nights spent there, Sweet Treat was looking good! Now it was time to start going over and making sure the colours were solid, the lines were neat and to finish adding all the little details, white accents and highlights to to make Sweet Treat look his best.
LETS MAKE IT SHINY
Painting Sweet Treat was so much fun but it was an amazing feeling to know this stage was finished and Sweet Treat was almost ready for the parade. The last step now was to varnish him, not only to add a beautiful glossy finish, but also to keep his design protected while out on the trail from any damage.
The first layers were a spray to seal the Poscas so they wouldn't bleed or become discoloured by the varnish. A few coats of that and a special layer of glitter to add an extra sparkle to the gloss finish. Then it was just two final coats of special varnish Sweet Treat was finished!
So mid-July, after 165 hours in the studio, many late nights covered in paint and dreaming of sprinkles, he was finally done. A colourful and kawaii Elmer with a glossy candy finish and a hint of glitter was ready for his official photos and to join the parade in August.
Photos courtesy of Lee Gibbons Photography
Before Sweet Treat was to go to his new home at Intu Metrocentre, him and the other big Elmer statues were all brought together for a special preview night attended by St Oswalds staff and families, the artists, sponsors and local press.
It was lovely to see Sweet Treat again having finished him a month earlier and to see him alongside all the other Elmers ready for the parade and the launch just under a week away.
HOME SWEET HOME
And just like that, all of a sudden, it was finally here. It was time for Elmer's Great North Parade and time to get Sweet Treat to his new home at Intu Metreocentre.
August 21 was the official launch day. I spent the morning at The Word in South Shields to see the very last Elmer statue, Hans, being brought into his new home by the children who painted him from Hebburn Lakes Primary School. After a great morning and lots of excitement I was off to spend the afternoon at Intu Metrocentre meeting everyone who came to see Sweet Treat on his first day of the parade doing some colouring and art activities I made specially for the day.
Intu Metrocentre did an amazing job giving Sweet Treat his own special place to be for the next few months and he even has a giant kawaii donut friend for everyone to take their pictures with. So many people stopped by to meet Sweet Treat on his first day to make him feel right at home and he is very excited to see everyone across the trail over the next couple of months.
It really has been such a great experience and so much fun and while I will miss popping down to the studio to work on Sweet Treats I am really proud to see him finished, in place and making so many people smile for such a great cause. After taking some time off from art and creative projects for most of last year, Sweet Treat has really helped me fall back in love with it again. I have already got the ball rolling on some new projects and ideas which I will be sharing over the next few months here on the blog and I'll be sharing plenty of WIPs and previews on my social media.
I will be sharing everyone's pictures and posts about Sweet Treat and events throughout the art trail. Me and Sweet Treat will also be attending Elmer's Farewell and Family Fun Weekend on 9-10 November at Newcastle Racecourse where all 50 big Elmers and 114 little Elmers will be together one last time along with a host of other activities and fun things to do. Then Sweet Treat will be at The Big Elmer Auction at The Sage, Gateshead for an amazing night to help raise more funds for St Oswalds. I will be making special posts for the Farewell Event and the charity auction. For more information on both events and tickets please visit the websites and join the newsletter.
If you want to visit Sweet Treat at Intu Metrocentre or any of the other beautiful Elmers on Elmer's Great North Parade here in the North East you can collect a map from selected St Oswalds charity stores, download a digital version from the website or download the Elmer's Great North Parade App. And be sure to follow #greatnorthelmer to see all the latest news and pictures on social media.
St Oswald's Hospice provides specialist hospice care to North East adults, young people, babies and children with life-limiting conditions. All the proceeds of Elmer's Great North Parade go to this amazing charity. You can also visit the site to purchase a variety Elmer merchandise featuring some of the elephants on the parade or to make a donation.
Wild In Art have helped organise art trails all over the UK including two other Elmer based trails in celebration of Elmers 30th birthday this year in Plymouth and Suffolk. So if you can't find your way to the North East to visit Sweet Treat and all his friends be sure to check out the local art trails near you and the support the charities they are working with.