Evolution (or how stuff happens)

In 2012 I made a single, collage image of a design for a glove-puppet Witch. I’d been thinking about the glove-puppet of a Witch I’d made as a child. (That’s a whole other story, that you can read about HERE!) Not sure now whether I’d intended to recreate the lost Witch of my childhood, but I certainly never made this second puppet. The design is still Blu-tacked to the wall of my studio.


With the idea of a Witch rattling around my head, I began to work on further witchy images. By now I’d settled on the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel & Gretel as my vehicle for exploration, and in no time at all I was playing around with the idea in the form of a Hansel & Gretel alphabet primer made in collage.



Because the original tale was steeped in the spirit of the Black Forest, the primer was in German. I really liked what I was producing, though I never completed it.



With the Hansel & Gretel theme now firmly rooted, for no reason that I can think of I made a set of hand-painted enamelware plates. I told everyone they were ‘nursery’ plates for the amusement of any children who came to stay with us, but really they were for me. The cold-enamel paint used for the images proved not to be knife and fork proof.  Moreover the paint turned soluble in hot soapy water, and so the plates were relegated to being used only for serving cupcakes!



Out of the blue in 2012, Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s asked me to contribute to the second edition of his Random Spectacular magazine, an enterprise he was he using to raise funds for a hospice. I’m not sure how he found me, but I was surprised and pleased to be asked. For the magazine I wrote a short, tart tale based on Hansel & Gretel, though with a decidedly different outcome to the original. I illustrated it with black and white collage/drawings of my enamelware plate designs that Simon tinted into muted colours for the magazine. Random Spectacular 2 was published in 2013.






It had a beautiful cover made by Jonny Hannah


At some point during the conversations Simon and I had about the magazine illustrations, I said that I’d now really like to make a whole book of Hansel & Gretel. He replied that he was interested in the idea as he intended to expand and diversify the Random Spectacular imprint beyond the ‘magazine’ format. That was the ‘beginning’ of the Hansel & Gretel picture-book project. I made a single, fully-rendered image to describe to him what I was thinking, and then we were off!


I eschewed the ‘twist’ to the story that I’d come up with for the Random Spectacular magazine, and with the notion that any text would be minimal… and hand-lettered… I began to make storyboards, spreadsheets and dummy copies of the tale, boiling it down where necessary to simplify the narrative, and expanding ideas where illustrations could effectively take the story further.


Simon and I agreed that the book would be square, and that a number of spreads would have fold-out pages to extend the compositions and the potential for surprises.



There were substantial explorations of character and changes of presentation. The children’s parents in particular evolved from fairly conventional depictions, to something far darker and psychologically complex. Ultimately the ‘Weak Father’ became a hollow man, built of empty shells, while the ‘Bad Mother’, who had been rather soigné, descended into neglect and malice.









Maquettes were built…



… and built again.




The ‘natural history’ of the Witch had to be worked out in detail. She would turn out to be other than what she at first appears.


Fitting the work between other projects, I delivered the dummy-copy, illustrated with detailed though not yet final renderings of the images, into Simon’s hands at Jonny Hannah’s 2015 exhibition opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Thereafter the work of final rendering began in earnest, and was completed this month. After scanning, colour will be added as ‘separations’. The book is due to be launched this Autumn. Watch the Artlog and the Saint Jude’s Homepage for details.





7 thoughts on “Evolution (or how stuff happens)

  1. Pingback: Departures from the norm | lizkingsangster

  2. Wow, what a fantastic post, filled with amazing images! I love to see the development, and to get a glimpse of the final images–like that last one, just perfect! I can’t wait for this book!! I love that you made the weak father in a full-color maquette, the colors you chose, along with the shells, make him such an earthy creature, but precisely what I would imagine from a “fairy tale”–I am lacking the words, but it makes him somehow more archetypal? This shows through even without the colors in that final image.
    Also, the image of her pointing, with all the angles, and with his shrunken, slumped figure receding off to the left, wow!


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