the making of Star-Shot

I’ve been preoccupied for a few days, making the cover artwork for Mary-Ann Constantine’s new novel, Star-Shot, due out from Seren Publishing this year. Lovely book and lovely project. Here’s the finished cover, and below it, some of the stages along the way.

Trying out lettering

Lettering coloured and pasted in place.

Wraparound image

Hunter’s Lodge

Today in the post, a surprise from my buddy, artist and designer Peter Slight. His fondness for the folkloric character, Herne-the-Hunter, has resulted in this splendid tea-towel!

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Here at Chez Ty Isaf we have no dish-washing machine, and so tea-towels are de rigeur. Can’t wait to be doing the drying with this bad boy!

The tea-towel is produced by ‘To Dry For’, and goes by the title of ‘Hunter’s Lodge’. (Of course!)

This is a return for Peter to the theme. He made a splendid Herne-the-Hunter puppet for the Artlog Puppet Challenge in 2013.

And this is a graphic made by him for the Artlog Puppet Challenge.

My thanks to you, Pete. You are a star in my firmament of friends! I’m glad to see that ‘Spidey’ is with you, still happily residing in your hair!

Letters

No explanations needed, apart from the fact that I let slip in a moment of weariness, that perhaps the days of the Artlog were numbered.

Peter Slight to Clive

“My heart lurched and then sunk a bit when I read your comment Clive.

The Artlog has been a life line for me. I can say that catagorically.
When I first discovered it I was in a deep emotional and creative slump, having decided to walk away from doing large exhibitions a few months prior, an activity which had filled me to bursting with creative joy, but having been unable to make it work financially. It was a bitter blow for me. But the Artlog helped to put the wind back into my sails, it made me creatively curious again. I questioned all of my artistic practises, deepening my knowlege and understanding immeasurably along the way.

It also gets me through my dreary working ‘day job’ days, and every post is a pleasure to look forward to and to savour when it arrives. The ‘comments’ are like tasty morsels as they drop into my inbox one at a time.

Not to mention all the lovely people I have met through the Artlog.

The Artlog feels almost like a beacon for creative people. A light for us moths, lost in the night to make our way toward.

Nobody, nobody, nobody would begrudge you some well earned rest and a break from the coal face of the Artlog. It would certainly free up time for other projects, so perhaps it is selfish of me to want you to coninue. We all appreciate the time and enormous effort you put into every posting, and doubly so the time and care that goes into answering the countless questions put to you. I have no doubt that many of those insights that you dispense are life changing for lots of people (as they have been for me)

If you do decide to stop, can I ask one thing?
Will we still be able to call opon you in times of need, like King Arthur?
(a comparison I have held in my head since first encountering you)”

Clive to Peter Slight

Well now you’ve made me cry! Tears for your kindness, and tears too for the hard path that most artists must walk, as you found when the light dawned that making a living from your endeavours was simply not happening. That must have been terrible. Terrible.

But your words, dear Peter, come as a timely spur of encouragement as my energy flags, and I deeply appreciate them. I’m battle-weary right now, and signing off last night at the Artlog just before bed found me low in spirits.

If this is the way that you and others feel, then I won’t abandon you. The old ‘King’ may doze a little, under the hill with his horses and knights, but he won’t start the long sleep yet.

That’s a promise.

Phil Cooper to Clive

(Re Dark Movements) “How rewarding it will be at the exhibition to be able to study each painting, then go back and forth, look at two together etc . They look like they have a pulse, they throb with so much life!

The Artlog is the most extraordinary blog out there, and immensely important to me. But I do appreciate things don’t stay the same for ever and it’s good to try other things from time to time or just have a break and return refreshed. But, oh, it is marvellous Clive, and probably the single most important thing that encouraged me to pick up a paintbrush again were your Artlog challenges :-)”

Clive to Phil Cooper

Phil, thank you. Hitting a low spot, that’s all. I’ve earlier shared with you the fact that behind the scenes at the Artlog, the past year has been a tad tough, and I don’t seem to have what it takes to bounce back as quickly as i once did. It will pass, and no doubt I’ll get a second wind. But for the present, it is more than enough to know that the Artlog might have encouraged when needed. That warms my heart.

As you’ll have read above, I have made a promise today, and I shall keep it. Sending love to Berlin to you and Jan.

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together, the first five

Many have written to me speculating how the ten new works planned for Dark Movements will look when on the gallery walls. Here are the first five, in the order in which they were painted.

The Quickening

The Quickening

Yarden

Flowering Skin

Drift

Veil

Dark Movement: fifteen years of the Mari Lwyd in the work of Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

11th June – 25th July

‘Veil': from start to finish

Veil

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 59 x 84 cms

Starting point

Underdrawing

The painting begins

Below: working in front of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre

Veil

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 59 x 84 cms

May Day Morning Thoughts

I have been working with poets and writers for fifteen years. The first was Catriona Urquhart, my friend and  collaborator. I had read poetry throughout my life, and it was probably no accident that when we met Catriona and I became friends, because poetry was one of our many shared enthusiasms. Later we worked together. It wasn’t so much a plan… at which she would have balked… as an evolution. The creative dialogue we enjoyed – poems, drawings and ideas, batted between us like shuttlecocks – set the pattern in me for what came later, with other writers after she had gone. Catriona had been writing poetry since she was able to hold a pen. But she was secretive about it, hiding away the results in boxes and drawers. Though it was as plain as day she had a wonderful way with words, it wasn’t until my partner Peter Wakelin cornered her into writing him a story for his birthday (she had perhaps unwisely asked him what he wanted most) that she produced Palmyra Jones, a book later published in a small edition by Nicolas and Frances McDowall at The Old Stile Press. (You can read how it all unfolded, HERE.)

After the publication of Palmyra Jones, Catriona was encouraged to the point that she suggested the way forward for our next collaboration. She had grown to know and love my father Trevor in his last years. They had become friends and confederates, hatching plans and going off on adventures. (I later found out they’d regularly headed off in Trevor’s car for lunches at his favourite Monmouthshire pubs.) Catriona loved stories of family histories, and Trevor’s long, rich life was full of them. Catriona had encouraged him to share his memories with her, and she’d soaked up his accounts like a sponge. At the time I used to joke that she held more of my family history in her head than any other living person. She pieced together the genealogies and understood the connections better than I ever had. To me it was all just a muddle of quaint names and his half-remembered accounts, but she made sense of it all, and joined the dots to make coherent histories. in 2000, the year after his death, Catriona saw the drawings that I was producing based on Trevor’s childhood experience of the Mari Lwyd, the mid-Winter mumming tradition still practiced in the rural Wales he grew up in. She suggested writing a poetic text to accompany the planned exhibition at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, and the work began. Just a few weeks before the exhibition was due to open, Nicolas chanced to see drafts of Catriona’s poems on our kitchen table, and what had been intended as an accompanying text on wall panels throughout the gallery, became in addition a hastily planned though beautifully conceived and executed Old Stile Press edition of her poems, going by the same name as the exhibition, The Mare’s Tale. I made the illustrations to meet Nicolas’ incredibly tight deadline, working an all-nighter one Sunday in order to have them ready for him to collect on the Monday morning.

Catriona died on May Day 2005. Palmyra Jones… which had been little more than a pamphlet… and her volume of Mare’s Tale poems, were the only works published in her lifetime, a fact ensured by the fact that the poems we had known to be hidden in drawers before her death, were not to be found after it. Her partner Ian believes that she may have destroyed what she considered to be ‘juvenilia’. It fell to Peter, who had so encouraged Catriona as a writer, to produce the eulogy for her funeral. It’s a fine piece, and catches as well as anything I know the mercurial, dazzling girl I have missed every day of the past ten years.

Golden Catriona

Witten and read by Peter Wakelin at Catriona’s funeral.

“We have carried with us for years now fears that we would one day lose Catriona; but still, when the news came, it was impossible to believe.

So many friends have talked about the special, golden glow Catriona emanated. We all bathed in it. Catriona was one of the great ‘appreciators’ – especially of good company, gardens, the seaside, books, old china, poetry read aloud, paintings, and thoughtfully-prepared food, which we were always sharing. She adored to give gifts, her generosity leading her to spend days potting cuttings for other people’s gardens or seeking out the perfect book. She received gifts with infectious enthusiasm, too. When things were right, her pleasures seemed amplified far beyond those most of us can feel. Every time one discovered something beautiful, it was the reaction to think, ‘Ah, we must show Catriona this!’, ‘We must bring Catriona here!’ And so, until we learn to remember rather than grieve, every taste and every pleasure seems to turn to charcoal in our mouths, because she is not here to share them.

She seemed sometimes to know everything – the origins of words, the name of every rose, the biographies of writers, even the history of one’s own family. If she had bothered to go on Mastermind with these as special subjects she would have been a champion. She possessed the strong opinions and the disarming insights of the brilliant mind. She could dissect the frailties and foibles of everyone she met, whilst cherishing them as part of the rich and piebald world we all inhabit.

She had talent falling from her fingertips; though she wore it so carelessly that many never realised. She was an affecting singer and musician, though there are few recordings. She was strong and sporting. One of her father’s ciné films of his young family preserves an image of her fleet as an amazon, golden hair flying, leading out her sibling tribe; and she told us how she used to run with utter confidence the terrifying sheeptrack over ‘the elephant’, a rocky promontory near Ferryden that had us sinking to our knees with vertigo. She was a star at school and university. Her teacher the Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney told her always to keep in touch and come and stay; but she never liked to bother him.

We knew that she had once been good at languages. With hesitation, we introduced her to Julia, a Russian girl working here who was all-at-sea and lonely through her lack of English. We believed Catriona could speak a little Russian, which might be nice. Within a minute they were chattering away like old friends in a Moscow restaurant, Julia laughing and smiling for what seemed to be the first time in all her visit. Catriona picked up languages like most of us pick up colds, recently gaining fluent Portuguese on two visits to Brazil.

She told stories with such vividness and ease that I badgered her to write them down. She said for months that she was writing a story for me. Finally, she announced that it would be my birthday present, and it was nearly finished. When she and Ian arrived for dinner, there was just the little problem that she had not put pen to paper! Trina locked herself away, and an hour later, there the story was, without so much as a crossing-out, perfectly formed in her head and transcribed unhesitatingly. What a gift she gave me; and what a gift she had! She was persuaded to read it out, and I will always hear it in her honeyed singer’s voice and Scottish accent (even though the narrator in the story was in fact an Irish seaman). Like Alan Bennett, Catriona was the exception to prove the rule that authors are poor readers of their work. Among those rapt by her magic that birthday evening were Nicolas and Frances McDowall, who later published the story, Palmyra Jones, at The Old Stile Press, and later still her cycle of poems, The Mare’s Tale.

There were short-lived times when ill-health took away Catriona’s ability to be the things she was, but she fought back courageously. She used every ounce of concentration to write her Mare’s Tale poems through a haze of anxiety and depression. They are masterpieces.

Catriona was unforgiving of the second-rate, the lazy and the puffed-up. Perhaps she avoided writing because she knew how gruelling it is to achieve real quality, but that excellence was how you showed proper generosity in giving things to others. I for one was influenced by Catriona to try harder, not to take the easy route. And I believe many of us will go on to seek the best in everything – propagating all the best plants in the garden for our friends, caring for each other, and sharing around a table food that warms the cockles of the heart.

Sometimes Catriona loved to be the princess, served by those who brought her flowers and sweetmeats, answered her whims, made her comfortable. For nearly thirty years Ian was her hero, her young Lochinvar. He undertook quests for her, fought monsters, brought back treasures: commissioning an alteration to the alterations to the house, buying an old piece of furniture that needed her to love it, or taking her on a journey literally to the other side of the world. Of course she was no princess at heart, and she cared for Ian and others in return, especially her friends and family, and her nephews and nieces, whom she adored. But in her last illness she accepted care with calm contentment. Her family wrapped around her like a warm blanket of love. It was heart-rending to watch her brother Roddy gently cradling her head in his strong hands, Ishbel, face swollen with tears, leaping on her bed with cheerful cry of ‘Hi Trina’, and all of them at her side – Alasdair, Rhona, Cathy, the partners and the children. Catriona floated above the houseful, as she always liked to do in the bedroom at Ferryden or the croglofft at Penparc, knowing all was well, listening to the gentle tinkle of the tea-cups, raising an ironic eyebrow to things overheard, dozing, dreaming, waking with a smile to those who visited.

This will be a cruel summer, seeing Catriona’s flowers bloom – in many different gardens. People passing by will wonder, ‘Why is he sobbing at that beautiful new iris? Why does she look so sad amid that bower of roses?’ We all come to our ends, every one of us, and some die much younger than Catriona. But there were so many things we wanted still to do together. She would have been an exceptional old lady – wise, surprising, generous, a keeper of traditions but subversive. She had so much more to give, and I suspect she would have found the best age to give it.

We must follow Catriona’s guiding light. She showed the joy there is in life. Even in her death, she tells us life is not for ever, and we should do the things that count, particularly those that cherish one another and the world around us. We will still hear her laugh sometimes – that irrepressible, mischievous, clear laugh; and we will still think often, ‘Ah, Catriona would love this!’

She will be strong in our memories. And she knew better than anyone that memories turn into stories. Stories sometimes transform to myths. And one day in future I know Catriona will be just that – the myth of she who glowed with love and wonder at the world and taught others to appreciate it: “Golden Catriona”. I think she will rather like that.”

Peter Wakelin 11 May 2005

Page decoration from Palmyra Jones