Into the Woods


With so many projects on this year, I’ve had to spread my working spaces throughout the house. The attic studio has been designated Hansel & Gretel territory, mainly because there are two tables up there and I can move between them. I make monoprint collage papers at one, and keep the other a ‘clean’ desk (the term is relative) for the drawing work.


Whenever work is underway, the studio goes uncleared until the project is done. Right now it’s in such a mess that Jack and I have to negotiate its spaces via designated cleared paths. Piles of completed illustrations… protected with sheets of transparent-paper, I hasten to add… teeter on stools and spill over the floor, while from day-to-day the desk holds whichever image is underway.



The picture-book has been a long project. (Longer than I’d anticipated, and I’m grateful to Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s for his patience.) Long in gestation, in the creation of the characters and their maquettes and in the design of the book in its dummy-form.

Certainly long in rendering the final illustrations. ‘Hansel & Gretel’ is to have panorama fold-out spreads interspersed throughout, and the design and careful alignment of them is a time-consuming though immensely enjoyable process. It’s been fun to make the fold-outs equate to the ‘shock moments’ in a horror film.

But what I’ve most relished about this, is that unlike my work on previous book projects when I’ve been called upon to ‘decorate’ texts, Hansel & Gretel has been pure story-telling through the medium of images. What few words there are been confined to those the characters say, kept brief and straight forward and hand-lettered into the images to become part of the page designs.


I’m on the final push of completing the drawings. Come June they will be packed and dispatched to Simon, at which point the processes of scanning and layering with colour can begin. This has been and will no doubt continue to be a learning curve for me. It fulfils a life-long ambition of mine to have told a story entirely through pictures. As a narrative artist, at my easel I’m always looking to layer paintings with multiple meanings in order to suggest underlying narratives. I do much the same when called upon to make an image for a book cover. But here the visual narrative is extended and intense and has been wonderful territory to explore. I am definitely the old dog learning new tricks!

21 thoughts on “Into the Woods

  1. I always feel so much better to know that other people create a ‘mess’ when they work.

    I love the fact that Jack just chills in his basket, though if the piles get too high and look like teetering over you both might want to consider a canine tin hat! Health and safety and all that!

    • The only thing about the mess that bothers me is that I spend inordinate amounts of time looking for things that have vanished under layers of it. Or I forget about things already done and set aside, and then re-do them. I can end up going to the craft shop in Aber and purchasing yet another scalpel and blades (what do the shopkeepers think that I do with them?) because I can’t find any of the six I already own amid the confusion of my work space. I put things down absentmindedly as I’m working… steel-measure, Stanley-knife, the single, just-sharpened pencil of exactly the right hardness, spectacles… and then in the scrabble for the treasured sheet of monoprinted collage-paper that looks uncannily like the pelt of an ocelot, everything shifts and vanishes. Subterranean fissures open and snatch at items, rolling them into their depths and spiriting them away. Sometimes I think holes in time open up beneath the drift of papers. Frameless spectacles become invisible when put down amid all this eye-bewildering camouflage. I’ve mislaid multiple pairs of them at a time, so that when they re-emerge during one of my infrequent clean-ups, any joy at their discovery is tempered by the doomy realisation that my vision has changed in the interim, and I’ll need an eye-test and a new prescription.

      The plus side is that when all this archaeology gets one of its infrequent excavations, I discover both longed-for and forgotten treasures and no end of tasty little drawings to be filed away for later perusal and use. I once discovered a paperback novel, splayed open like a Lepidoptera specimen at the point I’d set it down after a coffee-break, and thereafter forgotten to the point that when I found it again I had no recollection of having ever started it.

      I won’t even begin telling you about the floor and what lurks there. The fact is that I don’t know, but when I make even micro-forays, I unearth wonders. Just last week, two Czech clockwork pecking hens in brightly lithographed tin that I swear I last saw when we packed up our home in Cardiff over a decade ago and moved to this house. How the hell did they get to be on the studio floor here, un-boxed and looking for all the world as though they’ve been wandering around having an unseen life beneath the shifting piles of drawings and loose papers? Go figure!

      I haven’t yet lost Jack under all this muddle. Being ambulatory, he finds his way around, under and out of it!

  2. Well, all I have to say is that in that case, you are a very clever old dog! I expect the wind is blowing through Ty Isaf, but up in your eyrie, all is peaceful and busy.

    Long may the clever dogs play!

  3. Those drawings covered with tracing paper are sooo exciting and tanatalising; even through their misty translucent coverings the energy of the drawings crackles through. CAN’T. WAIT!

  4. I enjoy reading about the process and journey so much. Stepping through piles of work seemingly disorganised to others… though really it’s organised chaos… is something I can totally relate to. I love it when a creative idea finally comes together. I love that aspect of making a performance through songs, when you have a germ of an idea, you pick and choose, you rearrange and suddenly, when the format is right, you instinctively know it! (And vice versa, hopefully before presenting to an audience, not during!)

    • Lyn, I’ve always thought that for me the art of making images equates with what I once used to do in the theatre. The meticulous piecing together of creative elements, with the all of them having to fit snugly to become a ‘whole’ thing, is common to the two disciplines. And yes, the ‘illuminated moment’, too, is a part of the process. I always have an unease when something is wrong. I can’t always place it, but have to continue pushing and stretching and examining until the flaw makes itself visible, and I can re-make. Same with a stage as with an easel. I stand and ponder and rub my chin and look and look and look. And when the looking is done and I’m satisfied, the play… or the painting… is done!

      Sending love xxx

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