The Witch, the Director and Mr Mitchum

At the start of the project to tell the story of Hansel & Gretel in pictures, I made a single, worked-to-completion, wide-format image to show the publisher, Simon Lewin, how the finished illustrations might look. Here it is.

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The witch hurtles like a bird of prey, pursuing the children in a hail of Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts and assorted confectionary. However, much changed between the trial image and the final artwork. To begin with I reversed the action, propelling the momentum from left to right so as to continue the action in the direction of the page turns. Here’s the image as it appears in the book, though without the colour that was added at the printing stage.

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And because the finished design became a spread with an added right-hand fold-out, I had to make sure that the witch and the children were hidden completely when the fold-out was in the closed position, which meant they had to fit exactly into two thirds of the composition. When the spread is first opened, with the fold-out in the closed position, the house stands on the left-hand page, while the right offers a view of the children approaching it across a bridge as the witch, bent and hobbling with the aid of a walking-stick, heads toward them. Here’s a detail of the drawing, photographed before it was finished.

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When the fold-out is opened, the terrifying transformation has taken place. Moreover the viewer has been catapulted closer to the action to see in detail the witch’s awful appearance, clawing at the fleeing children’s backs.

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There are four page fold-outs in the book, and with each I wanted the ‘reveal’ to carry the narrative forward. In two I also included a shock moment, rather like a jump-cut in a film.

The children in the trial drawing are exactly the same as they appear in the finished book. However the design of the witch changed a little, anatomically. The underslung jaw of the early drawing was jettisoned, replaced with the more typical hooked nose/chin profile of fairy-tale witches. I knew that those teeth couldn’t possibly fit into her jaws when closed, and so in the two close-ups where they’re not apparent, I imagined them as being hinged, like a snake’s, folded back into grooves in the gums until required. I even made a witch maquette with a little mechanism that unfolded the fangs from horizontal to vertical as her jaws gaped, and slid smoothly back again as they closed. I didn’t really have need of it for the illustrations, but I always find that I work better with that kind of background information.

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Finally, here’s an image from Night of the Hunter, the sole film on which actor Charles Laughton worked as a director. It’s a cinema masterpiece, but it was misunderstood at the time and Laughton never directed another film. Robert Mitchum as the murderous ‘Preacher’ scrabbles up the cellar steps in pursuit of his step-children, and I realised even as I drafted my composition that I was remembering Preacher’s clawing hands, hellishly intent on mayhem. In Night of the Hunter, the children escape. In Hansel & Gretel, they don’t.

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11 thoughts on “The Witch, the Director and Mr Mitchum

  1. Wow! That second drawing has such amazing patterning all over the witch! And I love the fold-out plan, how clever! The maquette is FANTASTIC, how shiveringly cool that you got the teeth to move that way, the idea of it knocks me over 😍👏

    • Ha ha! The back of the maquette is staggeringly complicated, with little bars and levers that pull the teeth from horizontal to vertical when the mouth is eased open, and back again when closed. Snip snip snip – adjust – snip snip snip – adjust some more! It was a day’s distraction from the real business of the project, but sometimes that kind of mad tangent is good for the creative cells.

  2. It’s always so inspiring to hear about the process of your work, Clive! And so interesting to see how images change and change again when there is a longer journey to the end result. I treasure my copy of H&G 🙂 It’s been a bit blowy here in Hereford and I’ve enjoyed seeing snow on the welsh hills…..but mostly it’s just been c o l d……with an icebox for a studio!

    • Brrrrrrrrrr. Cold here, too, Shellie, and wet wet wet. We’re all going to be growing webbed toes! I never set foot outside these days save in my wellies! Jack and I want down to the boggy riverside field to play ‘frisbee fetch’ this afternoon, and I swear he was wading for some of the time, and swimming like an otter for the rest. Not so much as ‘frisbee fetch’ as ‘frisbee doggie-paddle’!

  3. From a not so windy, but chilly Folkestone, before I set off and discover which way the ‘wind under my young children’ may be blowing…wasn’t Lillian Gish in it, or is it a mistaken memory of a super disturbing film?
    Yours, as ever, exiting on broomstick (complete with cackles!)
    Bern ‘the witch!’ xxx

    • I think you should be cautious about cackling ‘Bern the Witch’ while exiiting on your broomstick, just in case it’s taken for an exhortation to mischief with stakes and pyres!!!

      (Or maybe steaks and pies!)

      • Dear Clive, strangely accurate, in that I’d love to really be able to ‘feed’ my little ones and tuck them in and read them a ‘not too scary story’ but I’ll be good and hide my bag of wishes endeavoring to ‘deal with the real.’
        Yours on Terra Firma.
        B xxx

  4. Phew, what a journey! Wish I had the book with me now, but maybe not! The wind is scary enough here on a Spanish mountain far from anywhere! A masterpiece, Clive.Xxx

    • Sounds the perfect place for the solitude needed to get lots of work done, which I know is the reason for your trip. Good to know that we’re sharing the experience of house-battering winds. Sending love from far-away-from-anywhere Ty Isaf. xxx

  5. I have got my copy at last! And I love it. It is now a most treasured possession along with your other books. It’s unique and will become a family heirloom. Thanks, Clive, you are so talented; you MUST, however, come over here and sign it for me! xx from blustery France xxxL

    • Oh my sweet girl, I would be there in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the deadlines. Ha ha! But I’m glad you’re pleased with your book. I had a lot of fun making it.

      Here too the winds have been fearsome, and occasionally it’s sounded as though that old witch has been flapping around our eaves and screaming at our windows. Good weather for kindling though, as the silver birches shed twigs all over the lawn and I gather them into faggots to dry on the Aga ready for the kindling basket. Silver birch kindling crackles marvellously on the wood burner, and really gets everything going.

      Stay safe and warm and make more marvellous drawings of the cat. Your last online sketchbook was marvellous. I thought of giving the witch a cat, but I don’t draw them nearly as well as you and so I gave up.

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