Ulysses the Unicorn

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It was just a couple of days before the November lockdown, that my friend Elaine (affectionately known as ‘Crazy Elaine’ for reasons obvious to those who know her), messaged me and said ‘I know you’ve got a lot on and you might even say no, but…… do you want a unicorn?!’

Do I want a unicorn? Well, that’s a silly question isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a five-foot high, life-size, paper mache unicorn?! So, the next day, the unicorn was dropped off at the studio but, before I tell you what we did with him, the whole story of why Elaine came to be with a unicorn in the first place, is an interesting tale in itself.

So, Crazy Elaine is a bit of a quiz buff and has been on several daytime quiz shows. On this occasion, she was on a phone-in competition for This Morning with Phil Scofield and Holly Willoughby. Elaine did really well and won a cash sum but on that particular day, it was the last time the programme was being filmed in that studio as they were moving so, as well as the cash sum, she could also choose anything she fancied on the set. The camera panned around the studio and also went backstage, and there stood the Unicorn, which immediately caught Elaine’s attention, so she chose it as her bonus prize.

The unicorn was delivered to her home address and lived in her conservatory for a few weeks and she named him Ulysses. Then, she very kindly donated him to a local hospice where he lived for a couple of years, bringing much joy to the residents. The aim was to eventually raffle him off, but this wasn’t as straightforward as they’d hoped, so a new home was needed and that’s where I come in. As I have a large studio, aim to inspire creativity and have been commissioned to decorate similar types of animal sculptures in the past, Elaine thought it might be something I could work with.  And she was so right!

I’d seen the episode when Elaine had won the unicorn, so I knew exactly what he looked like and my creative brain went into overdrive thinking about the possibilities, before he’d even arrived at the studio! I knew that I could easily paint or mosaic him myself as a personal lockdown project but, we were just heading into lockdown 2, my classes were being cancelled and I really felt that I wanted to reach out to the Inspiring Creativity followers and connect people together to make it a community project. To me, that was far more worthwhile and memorable than just doing it myself.

So, I devised a simple mosaic kit, that allowed participants to create their own personal and unique design, using just the ‘Inspiring Creativity’ colours of pink, teal, white and a little bit of sparkle. Each kit was sold for £15, but £5 from each kit was donated to charity. I started to go live on Facebook each day, to tell my followers how many kits were sold and how much was raised. I devised a ‘horn-o-meter’ that was basically a picture of a unicorn’s horn, that I coloured in each day, as the charity donations grew and I have to say, it was the most entertaining bit of colouring-in I’ve ever done!

The kits were sent out in the post, then a total of seventy contributors, from all over England, Scotland and Wales, came together on a Facebook Live workshop and we all had a mosaic-a-long session. Once all the contributions were made, the participants sent their designs back to me and every day I went live on Facebook and did a ‘grand reveal’ of the contributions that had arrived. It was so lovely to connect people together and to share the amazing work that everyone had made.

Once I had received all the pieces back, I then had the task of attaching all the wonderful contributions to Ulysses, which was a slow process, but after about three days, he was almost completely covered in a patchwork of beautiful mosaic designs. I made a note of where everyone’s pieces had been stuck and drew a map, so they could be easily identified. He really was starting to look quite spectacular but then disaster struck! I was literally on the last awkward little section, on his front leg, when suddenly his back leg gave way and Ulysses went crashing to the ground. The mosaic details on his mane were completely knocked off from the force, some pieces on his front also came loose and his horn was damaged. I could have cried! Earlier that day, I had promised my Facebook followers that I would go live and show them the progress, but instead, I had to admit that I’d very nearly killed a mythical creature and showed them the carnage that was created! I was so stressed and upset - I had a very big glass of wine that night, however, after a good night’s sleep and a very handy Dad coming to my rescue, Ulysses was fixed, made stronger and carefully lifted back on to his feet again. I then had about one and half days of work to do, in order to catch up on what had been damaged in the fall, but I managed it and you’d never know that he’d taken a bad tumble to look at him now.

Once the mosaic stage was finished, Ulysses was grouted – a job that I really dislike at the best of times, but when there are lots of hard to reach sections, it really was quite a pain. This stage took about ten hours but it was worth it in the end - the tiles, especially the mirror sections, really came to life once the grout had been applied.

I discovered the weight of the mosaic tiles and grout were making Ulysses quite heavy to handle and I needed a way to move him around the studio easily. So, I designed a mosaic skateboard which had wheels fitted, plus some of the participants mosaic contributions were also added. The final job was to carefully lift him onto his new skateboard and fix him into place.

Ulysses is now finished and glistens under the studio lights and is just waiting for the day when the studio can re-open and he can have visitors pop in and admire his amazing artwork.

And the best bit to this story? With the donations from the sale of the mosaic kits and a very generous contribution of  mosaic tiles from my suppliers, Mosaic Heaven, the decorating of Ulysses the Unicorn lockdown project raised £526.30 for Mind, the mental health charity. I am so very proud of this achievement. It was amazing to see my followers embracing the project and investing not only monetarily, but also with their time too. What a wonderful and very worthy memory from Lockdown, one that I will remember for a long time.


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