The Things That Made Me: Part 4

In 2016 I made a three-part post listing things that had been significant accompaniments of my childhood. These were the books, films, TV programmes and toys that had profound effects on me, and in many instances were the signposts to future creativity. On the lists you’ll discover Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines and Mars Attacks collector-cards, the latter so frowned on by my mother when she discovered them in my bedroom that she took them away and destroyed them. There are the Topstone latex rubber ‘horror’ masks that I yearned for and never plucked up the courage to ask for, though I used regularly to haunt the ‘tricks, novelties and carnival masks’ shop that stocked them just up the road from where we lived. This yearning for what I knew to be illicit in terms of maintaining parental approval, made me uncomfortable. Conflicted. They were pleasures tarnished with guilt, and I guess we all know that those are the ones that can be the most thrilling.

Perhaps memory stretches further back the older you get, because more has recently surfaced from the murky depths. The Triang Minic clockwork Jabberocky is one the unexpectedly ‘recovered memories’ of toys I’d long ago loved and lost, shaken into focus by a dim recollection swiftly followed by a trawl of the Internet.

Some of what’s here undoubtedly comes under the basic descriptive of ‘horror’, though there’s much that’s child-like and simple too. I think perhaps what’s so interesting about the child’s imagination is that it can safely embrace a diversity of ideas, all happily co-habiting. My parents were sometimes alarmed at where my interests settled, but for my own part, and left to my own devices, I was perfectly happy in the strange mix of imaginative realms.

The original idea of the lists was that beyond a few words of introduction, there should just be pictures. I’m sticking to that. I leave it to you to unwrap your recollections, if any, of what’s shown here. Maybe you’ll recognise some of the images taken from films, and you can amuse yourselves trying to recall their titles.

You can read Parts 1, 2 and 3 by clicking below.

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

 

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Above: No-one is going to get this!

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The above film is a tricky one, though I fully expect Lorrie Carse-Wilen to nail it!

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From Stage to Page

 

 

 

This short film was made as the Introduction to the Design for Today book launch of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes at the splendid Artworkers’ Guild in Bloomsbury on the evening of May 22nd, 2019. The film illustrates the journey of the project from stage production to published edition of the poem that was its libretto.

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Live music for the launch event was provided by the splendid Alex Barrow on the accordion. There was a pop-up exhibition assembled by Joe and me of the mid-century Russian illustrated books, tinplate clockwork birds, model theatres and folk-art-inspired toys that had influenced the illustrations and design of the book. The highlight of the evening was Simon Armitage’s reading of his entire poem, proving yet again that he’s a mesmerising presence when presenting his work. It was a ticketed event that quickly sold out, and was a resounding success.

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Above: the Russian clockwork ‘singing’ bird from the stage production, meets her illustrated counterpart in the finished book.

Below: the transition from stage to page.

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 Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes by Simon Armitage is published by Design for Today, and copies may be purchased

HERE

 

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Acknowledgements

My regular collaborator, Pete Telfer, worked with me on all the film and animation footage seen in last year’s stage production of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes. The clips in the short film to promote the book are courtesy of his Culture Colony archive, and he was cameraman on the new animation that makes up the last third of the film.

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I couldn’t have made the stage production of Hansel & Gretel without Pete. He’s the facilitator who gives me the freedom to experiment with film and animation, while keeping a gentle eye on things to stop me from making a complete and utter hash of the job.

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My thanks to Simon Armitage, who wrote the words that became the libretto to the stage production. Thereafter he suggested we make a dedicated illustrated edition of the poem, and then gave me the freedom to figure out the best way to do it.

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Working closely with Simon, first at Faber and then at Design for Today, on two texts so close to my heart, has been the most wonderful experience. I wish I could find better words to express what it’s meant to me, but I hope he knows.

Joe Pearson at Design for Today unhesitatingly agreed to work with Simon and me. His deep knowledge of twentieth century book design and his enthusiasm and passion for the project, saw it through the many stages to the perfect conclusion. He was unstoppable, even in the face of the 2018 New Year’s Eve fire that consumed the Design for Today warehouse and destroyed his entire stock of books. The man is a giant!

My thanks to Laurence Beck, our brilliant designer. Between Joe and Laurence, nothing was overlooked. I have never seen any book go through so many stages to bring it to perfection. No tweak or adjustment I requested was too much trouble. They were inspiring. Meticulous. Tireless.

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Print-maker and toy theatre seller, Benjamin Pollock has been an inspiration throughout my life, and my work over the past few years with Louise Heard at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop underlies much of what appeared in both the stage production and the book. My thanks to Louise and her team for their unflagging enthusiasm and support for what I make. Louise kindly gave permission for an image of the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre I’d designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, to be used in the stage production, and further permission to adapt the Pollock’s H & G Toy Theatre for the ‘Intermission’ page in the book.

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Before Hansel & Gretel Dan Bugg and I had a three year collaboration making the fourteen-print Penfold Press Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series that was used in the 2018 Faber & Faber illustrated edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. It was a given we wanted to work together again in some way on  Hansel & Gretel, so Joe Pearson commissioned Dan to produce the two ‘Lebkuchen’ prints that accompany the ‘special edition’ of the book. Dan and I also produced the Penfold Press ‘Gingerbread House’ enamel-pin that celebrates the book’s publication.

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Special thanks to my trusty band of collaborators on last year’s stage production. Puppet-maker Jan Zalud far exceeded my hopes for what Hansel and Gretel might be, and Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths gave the children the tenderest backstories encoded into her beautifully detailed costumes for them.

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Peter Lloyd created magnificently detailed shadow-puppets that were a joy to animate.

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Phil Cooper was associate designer and my second-in-command in terms of the way the production looked.

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I completely trust his eyes and his artistry. He danced effortlessly between his many tasks, creating the ‘building-block’ models seen onstage, painting the filmed backdrops (see above), and designing and ‘baking’ the mad, wonky, witchy ‘Lebkuchen’ biscuits that we later animated in a ‘tribute’ to Hollywood choreographer, Busby Berkeley!

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It was Phil’s bone-white ‘Witch House’, with its incinerator-like chimney, that visually defined the ‘toy building-blocks’ aesthetic I wanted for the stage production, and thereafter his Lebkuchen ‘Gingerbread’ version that I carried forward into my illustrations for the book.

Below: production designer Phil Cooper, puppet costume supervisor Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, and lead puppeteer for the audition day, Diane Ford.

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As if all that weren’t enough, Phil also assisted me with the animation sequences.

I am indebted to artist/embroideress Chloe Redfern, who later took Phil’s ‘Lebkuchen’ House, and re-booted it into something beautiful and transformative for the conclusion of the book.

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Above, Chloe’s embroidered Lebkuchen Witch House, and below, my translation of it to an illustration.

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I’m particularly indebted to Jonathan Street of the Moth Factory, Bristol, who kept me grounded and focussed during an insanely difficult three-day marathon of film editing. His thoughtful work on Pete Telfer’s gloriously atmospheric ‘Psycho Witch Doll’s House’ footage, was a triumph. Jon was vision-mixer for the tour, and was cameraman of the live footage streamed to a projection screen above the performers.

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My warmest thanks to puppeteers Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. They were not only massively contributive creative geniuses on the production, following me fearlessly into sometimes choppy waters, but they are also damned fine people to be around. The three of us work hard but laugh a lot! In the photographs below you see them at the Cheltenham Music Festival for the May 2018 premiere of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and then at the May 2019 London launch of the Design for Today illustrated edition of the book. They topped and tailed the stage-production-to-book journey, and I couldn’t have had better company on the adventure

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Jan, Oonagh, Peter, Phil, Jonathan, Diana, Lizzie and later Chloe, whether they knew it or not, helped light the path for me from stage production to book. Their visual creativity was always present while I worked alone in my studio conjuring images out of Simon’s words. I’m the book’s named illustrator, but their influences are scattered like fireflies throughout its pages.

My love and gratitude in equal measure to my manager in all theatre matters, Susan James. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and I count myself fortunate to have had her wisdom and patience to guide and steady me. Hers are the eyes in the back of my head. She’s fearless, riding shotgun and being wing-man, seeing the bigger picture and the smallest details, talking me down whenever the frustrations of getting a production to the finishing-line catapult me into stratospheres of frustration. I doff my cap and bend my knee to her. She is ‘The Guv’nor’!

And finally, my love and thanks to Peter Wakelin, for his unstinting support throughout the long and occasionally rocky Hansel & Gretel journey, and to my friends James and Sarah Joseph. (They know why.)

 

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Publication Day, May 24th!

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After a year in the making, the published edition of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, is about to launch. It was a pleasure from beginning to end, made so by the commitment of the small team who worked tirelessly to realise it. We shared an ambition to make something lasting and fine, and I believe we did just that.

My heartfelt thanks to Simon Armitage, who entrusted the project to me, and to publisher Joe Pearson at Design for Today, who unhesitatingly took up the challenge and then didn’t stop until everything was perfect. Thanks and admiration for Laurence Beck at Design for Today, who so beautifully designed the book. Huge thanks too to my regular collaborator Pete Telfer, who has been present at all stages of the Hansel & Gretel adventure, and was my cameraman and editor on the animations and film sequences of the stage production, as well as the book-trailer shown here.

And finally my warmest appreciation to the team on the stage production, whose unfailing creativity and cheer buoyed me up when the waters got very choppy: Di Ford and Lizzie Wort, Jan Zalud, Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, Jonathan Street, Peter Lloyd and Phil Cooper. Every one of you, a hero in my book!

 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, May 2019

May Day 2019

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May Day, 2019

It strikes me at this distance from Catriona Urquhart’s death – she left us in 2005 – that I should have been commemorating the date of her birth these past fourteen years, not the day she left us. However all those who knew and loved Catriona, are conscious of the significance of the date of her death, and so May 1st has become the default anniversary when I dedicate a post to her here. She had the warmest spot for May Day, and all the histories and mythologies knitted into it. Her life partner, Ian, and all her family, felt that she’d delayed her death to coincide with it. I don’t know what I feel about that. I’m still numb at the recollection of it.

Catriona first came upon me when I was lost, and thereafter quietly set about rescuing one who she perceived to be struggling. I thought it strange that I’d attracted a new friend, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she’d taken up with me. Of course I know now that she’d noticed how unravelled I was – and how free-falling – and she’d just reached out and caught at the broken tethers trailing in my wake, halting my drift. Emotionally anaesthetised, I was barely aware of what was happening. She wasn’t at all intrusive, but she kept a very close eye on me. I can see now it was an extraordinary thing to do, but she was a woman of heightened intuition, and saw things that others missed. The long story must be one for another time, but for today I wanted to remember and tell how she lightly caught and then strongly held me, and halted what I’m sure would otherwise have resulted in a bad outcome.

In time I recovered myself and healed, and we two became mutually supportive friends, our relationship evolving. We embraced others, though we were always most ourselves when alone together. I met Peter, and he and I and Catriona and Ian became friends as a group. She and I encouraged each other in enthusiasms and growing ambitions. We became collaborators on a series of work that would change my creative trajectory, and resulted in the publication by the Old Stile Press of her elegiac poetry cycle based on my father’s life, The Mare’s Tale. We were sometimes impossible together, exasperating others, and especially our partners. We snuck off on adventures that we kept secret. We relished a mutual appreciation of odd things others thought plain silly. Catriona could be sharp as needles and witheringly intolerant of what she saw as self-aggrandisement and puff, and she could make me fall over with laughter when she turned her wrath where she thought it most deserving. But she was also full of goodness, and had a radar for spotting an aching psyche that needed the balm of nurture.

During bad moments, I still ran for her company like a lost puppy. In the early days of my relationship with Peter, I walked out on him, though when he found I was gone, he knew well enough where to come looking for me. I was sleeping like the dead at Catriona’s, exhausted from a volcanic outpouring of rage and desolation. Awaking to find him sitting on the bed next to me, one hand on my shoulder, the other offering a cup of tea, it turned out she’d explained things to him as I’d been unable to, and all was forgiven and restored.

I miss her as sharply as I did on the day she died. These things don’t go away. We just learn better how to accommodate them.

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Long, long ago, Catriona gave me a sapling walnut tree. It was about fifteen inches high, barely more than a stick in a pot. For about seven years it languished, clearly unhappy in the pot, but our city garden was too small to take what might grow into a large specimen. When we moved to Ty Isaf, it came with us, and was finally liberated into open ground. And a pretty diminished thing it looked at the time, after its long captivity, and moreover with its tap-root rotted away, we discovered, because the pot was not well drained.

Twelve years on it’s twenty feet high and in rude health. Every summer it puts out a spectacular canopy. I see it plainly from all the front-facing windows of the house, pass it whenever I walk in the garden,  follow the progress of its fruits, sit under its shade in high summer and read. It’s where I go to talk to Catriona.

 

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Catrina Urquhart

1953 -2005

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Making the Myths Map

Since February my working days have been pretty much filled with the Myths Map/Telling Tales project commissioned by English Heritage. My brief was to conceive and create artwork for an interactive map featuring myths, legends and folklore associated with selected E.H. sites. Working closely with Gravitywell, the Bristol-based digital agency charged with building the map, I’ve produced all its assets, including the English Heritage Myths Map logo through which the site is entered (see below), the map outlines, textures and topography, the settlements and the E.H. site icons.

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Below: George and the Dragon were built as paper maquettes and then scanned, digitally assembled and animated for the map logo

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Below: drawn elements used to create the settlements of the Myths Map

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Below: some of the many English Heritage site icons I produced for the map

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Animated elements for the map and sea surrounding it, were made by me and digitally animated by Gravitywell. There are deer and birds for the land, and assorted sea monsters for coastal zones.

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Below: Photo credit: © English Heritage/ Abi Bansal

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Below: Kraken maquette and ships

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Below: in the studio I roughly layered elements to guide the animators

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In addition to the map assets, I’m making animation maquettes for use in films being produced by English Heritage about some of the sites and the myths and legends associated with them. The first of these is St Hilda of Whitby, who founded Whitby Abbey and according to legend asked God’s help to clear the site of vipers so the building work could be carried out in safety.

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My attachment to the Telling Tales project extends to producing illustrations on the theme of Myths and Legends for English Heritage Magazine throughout the year, the first of which has been Saint George and the Dragon for the Spring edition.

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No project of this scale can get to completion without the cooperation and collaboration of many, and the Myths Map teams at English Heritage and Gravitywell were sterling throughout. Enthusiasm and appreciation were boundless at every stage, which made the experience a pleasure even when the hours were long and the ‘to-do’ lists were endless. As an artist much of what I do is solitary, but on Telling Tales the sense of work carried out in partnership with enthusiasts, has been the chief pleasure of the project. I’m so pleased it came my way, and my thanks to those who sought me out to play a part.

Click HERE to visit the Myths Map

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The Kraken Surfaces…

… in an animation that’s just a marginal detail – like a tiny but telling image in the border of an illuminated manuscript – within a project I’m working on for English Heritage, the launch of which will be announced soon.

 

The animation began with the construction of a simple maquette of the Kraken, and a drawing of the stricken ship.

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Below, the maquette is placed over the drawing to give a rough impression of how the two will work together.

 

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The schedule allowed for only minimal animation, and to that end the Kraken was a simple build from two layers: a top one of the head with four tentacles, and a layer beneath with two tentacles. While we didn’t have the time to produce a more elaborate ‘coiling’ animation, the two Kraken layers moving independently of each other give an impression of writhing tentacles. All of the animations for this project have to run on loop, and to that end have been designed as tiny narratives that have a start and a finish, and can endlessly repeat.

The Kraken and ship were scanned and delivered, along with my animation storyboards, to our collaborators at the Bristol-based Gravitywell, an award-winning digital agency that develops websites, iphone/android apps, and SEO services. Laura-Jane Alison is project manager at Gravitywell keeping us all to schedule, and Matt Doyle is the lead designer responsible for the animated sequences. I think you can very likely tell from the Kraken animation that we’ve been having a lot of fun with the project. The scans have been digitally coloured according to the palette agreed between me and English Heritage’s supervising art director for the project, Becky Baker.

Artists and illustrators have long been drawn to the notion of sea monsters going head to head with ships, and there’s no shortage of visual material exploring the theme, both historic and contemporary.

 

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The Kraken is a particular favourite of tattoo artists, and in a painting I made some time ago of an inked fisherman, I added a tattoo of a giant Nautilus reaching out to grasp a clipper.

The main source of inspiration for the Kraken in my animation, is this illustration by Denys Montfort in Histoire naturelle, général et particuliére des mollusques: animal sans vertébrés et a sang blanc, Volume 2, published in 1801.

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But for those of you who remember him, I suspect I’ve been channeling the spirit of Captain Pugwash.)

 

The Soldier’s Tale Rebooted

 

 

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Earlier this year a student at the university, Job Wan, contacted me to ask whether I might be persuaded to allow the use of some of my images for a performance of  The Soldier’s Tale at the UBC’s School of Music. The lineup of musicians would be from UBC and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

I had little idea when Jacob enquired, what he had in mind. I thought maybe a few projected images, as I often get asked permissions for relatively simple presentations to accompany performances of TST. But later the conductor Robert Taylor joined in the conversations, and I began to get some idea of the ambition of Team UBC. To begin with I provided them with the edit I’d made, together with Pete Telfer and Daniel Broncano, for last year’s performance at Musica en Segura in Andalusia, which included quite a lot of animation. Jacob immediately got to work, using not only the material I’d sent, but other Soldier’s Tale imagery I’d produced over the years that he’d tracked down online, including paintings on the theme. In an extraordinary creative act, he re-tooled the material into an immersive presentation, using a wrap-around screen constructed from LED panels to fill the stage with imagery. For the first time my paintings and animations for The Soldier’s Tale would be not projected onto a screen above the musicians, but wrapped around them.

Back in 2013 I’d had very little time to draw playing-cards for the animated sequence of the game between Joseph and the Devil, and made only a handful of them. But Jacob has cleverly made a little go a long way by duplicating images so that the stage transforms into a storm of cards. One day I must try designing a full set. There is something entirely pleasing in the underlying design principle of the four suits.

 

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