gladstone's library - making the batik
In September 2011 I was commissioned to do a major architectural work of Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire. Originally I was asked to do the exterior, but once I was shown the vaulted wooden library itself I was blown away by its stunning beauty. I decided then and there that I would challenge myself to create a portrait of the amazing interior.
Many times in the days and weeks that followed I thought maybe the task was impossible to achieve in Batik but I like a challenge and I was very determined not to give up.
Without a doubt it is by far the largest (4′ wide x 3′ high) and most complicated piece I have attempted since the ones I did of Somerset House and The Banqueting House. The drawing alone took me over a week to complete, which then had to be transferred onto the cloth.
I began by waxing in all the white areas between every pillar and rafter and dyed it a light brown for the bookshelves and the highlights on the woodwork.
Next came the mid-brown for the bulk of the woodwork …
… then dark brown for the rest.
The picture is now complete with all its colours safely protected under layers of wax. The only areas of cloth not waxed are the ones to be dyed black – the last colour.
The finished picture emerged as I scraped off all the surface wax. It was an exciting moment after weeks of work.
The wax remaining in the fibres of the cloth after ironing makes the piece translucent, so when you light it from behind it shows the vibrancy and depth of colour like in a stained glass window.
Each bookcase – and there were a great many, I treated as separate ‘mini’ Batiks with their own colour scheme.I wanted the books to be the ‘stars of the show’ so I used strong bright colours for them as a contrast to the gentle browns I had used for the wood.
One of my favourite bits of the whole thing was the beautiful carved vaulted roof. I cracked the wax on the old beams before applying the last colour (black) to give the effect of age.
Detail from the Batik showing the statue of Gladstone.
Over a month later, and after several sleepless nights trying to work out the best colour combinations, the Batik was finished.
While I was working on it, my children used to ring up and ask how the ‘masterpiece’ was coming on.
The interior of Gladstone’s Library is stunning. It was designed by John Douglas and opened in 1902 as a memorial to Gladstone and to house his vast collection of books. It is said that John Douglas also referred to the library as his ‘masterpiece’.
The finished work is on display, back-lit in the Coffee Shop ‘Food for Thought‘ at the library where not only can you sit and admire it, but you can get a really good lunch!
On May 22nd 2012 we had the official unveiling of the picture, combined with the opening of the ‘Robinson Room’ which holds the complete collection of books belonging to my father, the late Bishop John Robinson (of ‘Honest to God’ fame). It makes me ridiculously proud, as the least intellectual and the most irreverent of all his children, to have my work on display in the same place as his – it would have made him smile.
The Library is open to the public and visitors to Gladstone’s Library can buy a range of products featuring the original Batik.