Glimmerglass: reinventing the wheel

Sometimes the labyrinthine processes of creativity (good choice of adjective, that, given what I’m about to share) astound me. Something that should be so simple turns out to be incredibly complicated. For example, when I turned my attention to painting angels for the Temptations of Solitude series, I had no idea that I would be tripped-up/waylaid/diverted by the fascinating conundrum… fascinating to me that is, though I accept that I’m probably in a minority… of how angels might fasten their clothes over their wings. I researched to little avail, finding that historically most artists just garb their angels in loosely flowing draperies, or paint them into elaborate costumes seen from angles that don’t address the fastenings. So I made maquettes, paper patterns of garments, endless studies, and not a few paintings that were specifically done to work out the ideas. It was a lot of work to arrive at a solution that probably few people will ever notice. But there were side benefits, because the process… which I admit is a form of play… took me down creative byways I wouldn’t have come upon had there not been a problem to solve.

And so to Marly Youmans’ Glimmerglass, and the cover of the novel is proving to be complex in ways I hadn’t anticipated when I set myself the task of wrapping it in a ‘tree-of-life’. The idea came from a list jotted down as I first read the manuscript. Peppering the text are lists of decorative devices springing from natural and imaginative worlds, in the scrolling ironwork of ornamental gates, the plaster relief-decorations of a ceiling, and in the iron knockers of doors. The author has compiled a bestiary telegraphing the existence of a realm beyond the day-to-day, and it’s the sheer abundance of her Historia Naturalis that fires my imagination.

But deciding on something is a far cry from realising it, and now I find myself having to re-imagine the author’s bestiary into the ‘Clivean universe’… Marly’s term, not mine… so that the diverse elements of the cover will be coherent. A Minotaur, to give an example, mustn’t look as though it’s been borrowed from an antique vase in the British Museum, but conjured by me for Marly.

Even when it’s to be just a detail among many others, as this Minotaur is destined to be, there’s no short-cut. The beast has to be recognisable, yet unique to the world we create together. Her words and my images, as though both come from the same place.

So this is why I’ve spent a day assembling a maquette of a mythical beast that lives in a labyrinth. From the maquette I’ll make some sketches, and after the sketches some finished drawings. Hopefully one of them will emerge as the most effective expression of a man/bull for the cover of Glimmerglass, and then all will be well.

14 thoughts on “Glimmerglass: reinventing the wheel

  1. Dear Clive,
    He is a fantastic beast, vital, sensual and full of pathos. I really respond to him. I have been away ( moving, packing, unpacking…) but I would catch glimpses of your posts from my phone. The initial sketch of the beast was particularly inspiring and made me itch to put pencil in hand. you have indeed made this Minotaur your own, no easy feat considering the plethora of gorgeous variations. I’m sure the author must be thrilled. Eager to see how you will populate the marginalia if this is your first critter.

    • Hello Leonard. I’d been wondering how you were getting along with the move. It seems no time since the last one. Hope that all went well and that you’re making a cosy nest with your husband and canine babies. Get that studio space up and running.

      Glad you like the Minotaur maquette. It was a surprise to read Glimmerglass and discover that the text offered both a labyrinth and a Minotaur as potential themes for the cover, with lots of other inspirations too. Like all Marly’s books I’ve worked on, it’s great fun to imagine her worlds into images.

  2. ah, thank goodness for those troublesome angel’s wings, i must say…
    this minotaur is amazing!! i love the patterns, suggesting everything: both bone and vein, and pathways through shadow and light–his black and white is like memories cobbled together in photo-prints. he has such a presence! and the skull, especially, with the horns..i love the way he moves!!

    • Thank you, Zoe. I’ve enjoyed making him. His arms and legs are without joints, and so he has that rather peg-legged look, which I think suits him. (Cattle, I’ve often thought, have a stiff gait, as though they might suffer from arthritic hips.)

  3. I often find myself in that purgatory state when I’m at the beginning of a new drawing, it shake my faith sometimes… but reading this and seeing your exquisite work emerging gives me a great encouragement.

    • Hussam, it can indeed be a purgatory, when we artists have to step up to the quarry-face to start chipping away at the rock to see what may… or may not… emerge.

      The blank sheet of paper is a daunting sight for artists and writers alike, and I’ve always found that creating ‘processes’ helps to ease the way for me. And so I make maquettes, the maquettes become rough sketches, and then more finished studies before the work finally emerges as it should. But because the maquettes give me so much material… often many, many drawings come from them… I find the effort of making them is amply repaid, as I’m a painter who likes to work in series. One maquette will often take me a long way, in terms of compositional productivity. Maybe you should try the idea out for yourself.

      HERE’S a little post that illustrates how I use the maquettes to make paintings.

  4. A minotaur like no other, brilliant! The creature looks very much more alive than anything on an antique vase, it’s got one heck of a personality

    • Hello little chum. How goes the world for you? My mind has been drifting in your direction a lot recently. Hope you’re doing OK.


      • Hey Clive, thanks for thinking of us, appreciated 🙂 it’s been full-on and tough recently, but managed to get away to Berlin to celebrate Jan’s 50th which was good fun. Hang on, if he’s 50′ then I’m….eek!
        I do admire the minotaur maquette; I had a go at this creature a few months ago and I found it very difficult to clear my mind of all those iconic images of the creature I’ve seen before but yours is a very refreshing and lively re-imagining

        • There’s been quite a bit of ‘minotauring’ going on recently, as Leonard too has been exploring the theme over at Boondocks Babylon. Had to tear myself away from a lifetime of accumulated Minotaur-imagery for this project, and especially from the Michael Ayrton Minotaur series, one of which hangs in our loo! (I think it was sharing an image of the Ayrton that set Leonard off on his explorations of the theme. In his post, the print we have is the last one shown, with the beast lying on it’s side, propped up on one arm.) Anyway, glad you like what I’ve been playing with. We’ll see now whether I can make it work as a part of the cover, or if not that, then as a vignette.

          Are you going to post your Minotaur images? I’d like to see.

          So glad that you managed something celebratory in the midst of the difficult stuff. Love and congratulations to you and Jan. Keep the love flowing.

          • Yes, I loved Leonard’s minotaur, also a beast he made his own, and I’m lucky I’ve got a wonderful Ayrton bronze in london at the Barbican Centre which I can go and sit with, all very inspiring!

  5. Dear Theseus,
    When entering a labyrinth the way may be oblique, but you have the clew of thread in your hand.

    Love as ever Hermes (aka Bernie) xxx

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