Frances and the Paper made of Iris and Reed

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Frances McDowall, who died on Friday morning, has been much on my mind. Twenty years ago Frances played a significant role in bringing the Old Stile Press edition of Richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd to fruition. Every time I open my copy of the book Frances is present in it, our work together literally bonded into the pages.

Nicolas McDowall had been taken by examples he’d seen of the printmaking technique known as Heliography, and asked me to produce images for the Barnfield project by those means. He felt the process might be an interesting way to capture much of what he’d been so attracted to in my drawings. As I proceeded with the work I discovered there were endless difficulties that Nicolas hadn’t identified at the outset, and as I struggled to originate drawings by his suggested technique of scratching into emulsion-coated sheets of glass, Frances began the epic task of making the paper for the entire edition of 200 books.

Below: a surviving fragment of a glass plate and the image as it appears in the book.

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Frances was heroic. It took forever to complete the vast amount of papers required and the processes were painstaking and physically exhausting. Later Nicolas too ran into problems at the press, so it might be fair to say that on The Affectionate Shepherd we all three suffered for our arts. (For a couple of years I was never without elastoplasted fingers because the thin glass plates persistently shattered under the pressure of my styluses. By the end of the project I had broken approximately eight glass plates for every one brought to completion.)

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Though the journey was fraught with problems at every stage and it’s a fact that we never again made a book in that particular way, somewhere along the pathways of agonising frustration, wrong turns and undependable techniques, the magic began to happen. Today when I look at the book, Frances’ ravishing sheets, striated and wrinkled and patterned with the marks of the organic ingredients and the drying processes, make a wonderful ground to the meanderings of my lines impressed into their surfaces. In a raking light the marks of my hand and her craft merge into a book the like of which I’ve never seen before or since. Sometimes the ink lines look almost like dark hairs looped and curved and trapped into the paper.

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In the colophon at the back of the book, the paper is described thus – perhaps by Nicolas or perhaps by Frances:

“All the paper used in this edition (including the endpapers) was made by Frances McDowall. The furnish used consisted of a mixture of Abaca and Jute, with an admixture of reeds and irises for the endpapers.”

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It’s a crisp and matter-of-fact account of a process that was fuelled by energy, passion and the overwhelming imperative by all of us to create something beautiful to frame Barnfield’s poem. Published originally in 1594, the only surviving copy of the first edition of The Affectionate Shepherd available in the UK to view is at the British Library, which is where I went at the outset to examine it. ( I had an alarming encounter there that nearly scuppered the entire enterprise and that you can read about here: https://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com/…/…/10/birthday-boy/ )

To my knowledge the Old Stile Press book published in 1998 is the only illustrated edition of the poem.

 

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Below: pencil study made in preparation for The Affectionate Shepherd

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‘The odds are high in the making of any book: here the choices entailed a far greater than usual amount of experiment and work by the artist, paper-maker and printer. The result of their collaboration is a triumph.’

Jeremy Greenwood for Parenthesis Magazine.  1998.

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Kevin and the Blackbird

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This screen-print of Kevin and the Blackbird was begun back when Dan Bugg of Penfold Press and I were galloping to the finishing line of our fourteen-print series of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in time for it to be used to illustrate the 2018 Faber & Faber edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. As a result we set Kevin aside and agreed to return to the print when time allowed. It took two years, but now it’s done.

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Kevin and the Blackbird

Screenprint signed by the artist. Edition size: 90, print size: 35 x 35cm, paper size: 45 x 44cm. 

This week Dan and I met up at the halfway geographical point between his home in Yorkshire and mine in Wales in order for me to sign and number the edition. Kevin and the Blackbird is available, either directly from the Penfold Press online store, or if you’d like to see it in person before deciding, there are copies at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff available for viewing and purchase.

 

Reinventing Gawain at the National Library of Wales

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My thanks to the many who on Saturday afternoon filled the lecture theatre at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, to hear me speak. It was the first time since its publication in October that I’ve talked about my collaboration with Simon Armitage to make an illustrated edition of his translation of the medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it was a happy occasion for me to reminisce at a comfortable distance from all the hard work and exhaustion that went into the project. Good too, to place the lion’s share of credit at the feet of Dan Bugg, who facilitated the entire adventure at his Penfold Press Studio in Selby, Yorkshire, and who guided this artist so completely inexperienced in the alchemy of screen-printing, safely through the labyrinth and back out again.

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My thanks to Stuart Evans of Aberystwyth Printmakers, who arranged the Library event, and to all at the National Library who were warmly welcoming and made the occasion such a pleasure.

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The Book of the Red King

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Praise for THE BOOK OF THE RED KING

“Marly Youmans is brilliant, perhaps a genius. Her poems tell a story, offering us a vision of, well, I would say the Trinity, but that is only one possible interpretation. After a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey, a Red King, a Fool, and Precious Wentletrap converge into one, a resurrection that is heavenly. Is it true, or is it fable or fairytale? “When I want to write a new book,” she has said, “I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world.” Her formal poems are impeccable and include sestinas, villanelles, rondels, rhyming schemes she may have invented, and perfect metrical patterns. Every poet can learn from this poet, and the reader—the reader will be spellbound.”

–Kelly Cherry, poet, novelist, and former Poet Laureate of Virginia

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“The Book of the Red King by Marly Youmans is an ambitious, magical book about the nature of power and language.  The Red King and the Fool, while they control different realms, make us consider whether it is better to rule on earth or in one’s imagination. In these gorgeous poems, Youmans makes the case for both.  Whatever side we take, Youmans reminds us of the paradox in each.  Even if we side with the Fool in this world of “hurt joy,” we are left with the realm of poetry.   It is not a bad trade.  For those who love well-formed poems and for those who love fantasy, this is a must-read and a distinctive, evocative voice. There is no one like Marly Youmans.”

–Kim Bridgford, celebrated poet, editor, and director of the global conference, Poetry by the Sea

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“Marly Youmans occupies an imaginative space that straddles both the present and the mythological past. It is the territory of Yeats and Tolkien, and Youmans shares not only a taste for primal imagery with these great poets, but also their love of rhyme, rhythm and sound.”

–A. M. Juster, award-winning poet and translator

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The Book of the Red King by Marly Youmans, is published by Phoenicia Publishing. Cover art and illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Designed by Beth Adams. Copies may be purchased directly from the publisher:

HERE

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From Stage to Page

 

 

 

This short film was made as the Introduction to the Design for Today book launch of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes at the splendid Artworkers’ Guild in Bloomsbury on the evening of May 22nd, 2019. The film illustrates the journey of the project from stage production to published edition of the poem that was its libretto.

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Live music for the launch event was provided by the splendid Alex Barrow on the accordion. There was a pop-up exhibition assembled by Joe and me of the mid-century Russian illustrated books, tinplate clockwork birds, model theatres and folk-art-inspired toys that had influenced the illustrations and design of the book. The highlight of the evening was Simon Armitage’s reading of his entire poem, proving yet again that he’s a mesmerising presence when presenting his work. It was a ticketed event that quickly sold out, and was a resounding success.

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Above: the Russian clockwork ‘singing’ bird from the stage production, meets her illustrated counterpart in the finished book.

Below: the transition from stage to page.

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 Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes by Simon Armitage is published by Design for Today, and copies may be purchased

HERE

 

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Acknowledgements

My regular collaborator, Pete Telfer, worked with me on all the film and animation footage seen in last year’s stage production of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes. The clips in the short film to promote the book are courtesy of his Culture Colony archive, and he was cameraman on the new animation that makes up the last third of the film.

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I couldn’t have made the stage production of Hansel & Gretel without Pete. He’s the facilitator who gives me the freedom to experiment with film and animation, while keeping a gentle eye on things to stop me from making a complete and utter hash of the job.

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My thanks to Simon Armitage, who wrote the words that became the libretto to the stage production. Thereafter he suggested we make a dedicated illustrated edition of the poem, and then gave me the freedom to figure out the best way to do it.

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Working closely with Simon, first at Faber and then at Design for Today, on two texts so close to my heart, has been the most wonderful experience. I wish I could find better words to express what it’s meant to me, but I hope he knows.

Joe Pearson at Design for Today unhesitatingly agreed to work with Simon and me. His deep knowledge of twentieth century book design and his enthusiasm and passion for the project, saw it through the many stages to the perfect conclusion. He was unstoppable, even in the face of the 2018 New Year’s Eve fire that consumed the Design for Today warehouse and destroyed his entire stock of books. The man is a giant!

My thanks to Laurence Beck, our brilliant designer. Between Joe and Laurence, nothing was overlooked. I have never seen any book go through so many stages to bring it to perfection. No tweak or adjustment I requested was too much trouble. They were inspiring. Meticulous. Tireless.

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Print-maker and toy theatre seller, Benjamin Pollock has been an inspiration throughout my life, and my work over the past few years with Louise Heard at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop underlies much of what appeared in both the stage production and the book. My thanks to Louise and her team for their unflagging enthusiasm and support for what I make. Louise kindly gave permission for an image of the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre I’d designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, to be used in the stage production, and further permission to adapt the Pollock’s H & G Toy Theatre for the ‘Intermission’ page in the book.

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Before Hansel & Gretel Dan Bugg and I had a three year collaboration making the fourteen-print Penfold Press Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series that was used in the 2018 Faber & Faber illustrated edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. It was a given we wanted to work together again in some way on  Hansel & Gretel, so Joe Pearson commissioned Dan to produce the two ‘Lebkuchen’ prints that accompany the ‘special edition’ of the book. Dan and I also produced the Penfold Press ‘Gingerbread House’ enamel-pin that celebrates the book’s publication.

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Special thanks to my trusty band of collaborators on last year’s stage production. Puppet-maker Jan Zalud far exceeded my hopes for what Hansel and Gretel might be, and Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths gave the children the tenderest backstories encoded into her beautifully detailed costumes for them.

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Peter Lloyd created magnificently detailed shadow-puppets that were a joy to animate.

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Phil Cooper was associate designer and my second-in-command in terms of the way the production looked.

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I completely trust his eyes and his artistry. He danced effortlessly between his many tasks, creating the ‘building-block’ models seen onstage, painting the filmed backdrops (see above), and designing and ‘baking’ the mad, wonky, witchy ‘Lebkuchen’ biscuits that we later animated in a ‘tribute’ to Hollywood choreographer, Busby Berkeley!

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It was Phil’s bone-white ‘Witch House’, with its incinerator-like chimney, that visually defined the ‘toy building-blocks’ aesthetic I wanted for the stage production, and thereafter his Lebkuchen ‘Gingerbread’ version that I carried forward into my illustrations for the book.

Below: production designer Phil Cooper, puppet costume supervisor Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, and lead puppeteer for the audition day, Diane Ford.

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As if all that weren’t enough, Phil also assisted me with the animation sequences.

I am indebted to artist/embroideress Chloe Redfern, who later took Phil’s ‘Lebkuchen’ House, and re-booted it into something beautiful and transformative for the conclusion of the book.

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Above, Chloe’s embroidered Lebkuchen Witch House, and below, my translation of it to an illustration.

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I’m particularly indebted to Jonathan Street of the Moth Factory, Bristol, who kept me grounded and focussed during an insanely difficult three-day marathon of film editing. His thoughtful work on Pete Telfer’s gloriously atmospheric ‘Psycho Witch Doll’s House’ footage, was a triumph. Jon was vision-mixer for the tour, and was cameraman of the live footage streamed to a projection screen above the performers.

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My warmest thanks to puppeteers Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. They were not only massively contributive creative geniuses on the production, following me fearlessly into sometimes choppy waters, but they are also damned fine people to be around. The three of us work hard but laugh a lot! In the photographs below you see them at the Cheltenham Music Festival for the May 2018 premiere of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and then at the May 2019 London launch of the Design for Today illustrated edition of the book. They topped and tailed the stage-production-to-book journey, and I couldn’t have had better company on the adventure

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Jan, Oonagh, Peter, Phil, Jonathan, Diana, Lizzie and later Chloe, whether they knew it or not, helped light the path for me from stage production to book. Their visual creativity was always present while I worked alone in my studio conjuring images out of Simon’s words. I’m the book’s named illustrator, but their influences are scattered like fireflies throughout its pages.

My love and gratitude in equal measure to my manager in all theatre matters, Susan James. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and I count myself fortunate to have had her wisdom and patience to guide and steady me. Hers are the eyes in the back of my head. She’s fearless, riding shotgun and being wing-man, seeing the bigger picture and the smallest details, talking me down whenever the frustrations of getting a production to the finishing-line catapult me into stratospheres of frustration. I doff my cap and bend my knee to her. She is ‘The Guv’nor’!

And finally, my love and thanks to Peter Wakelin, for his unstinting support throughout the long and occasionally rocky Hansel & Gretel journey, and to my friends James and Sarah Joseph. (They know why.)

 

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Publication Day, May 24th!

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After a year in the making, the published edition of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, is about to launch. It was a pleasure from beginning to end, made so by the commitment of the small team who worked tirelessly to realise it. We shared an ambition to make something lasting and fine, and I believe we did just that.

My heartfelt thanks to Simon Armitage, who entrusted the project to me, and to publisher Joe Pearson at Design for Today, who unhesitatingly took up the challenge and then didn’t stop until everything was perfect. Thanks and admiration for Laurence Beck at Design for Today, who so beautifully designed the book. Huge thanks too to my regular collaborator Pete Telfer, who has been present at all stages of the Hansel & Gretel adventure, and was my cameraman and editor on the animations and film sequences of the stage production, as well as the book-trailer shown here.

And finally my warmest appreciation to the team on the stage production, whose unfailing creativity and cheer buoyed me up when the waters got very choppy: Di Ford and Lizzie Wort, Jan Zalud, Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, Jonathan Street, Peter Lloyd and Phil Cooper. Every one of you, a hero in my book!

 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, May 2019

May Day 2019

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May Day, 2019

It strikes me at this distance from Catriona Urquhart’s death – she left us in 2005 – that I should have been commemorating the date of her birth these past fourteen years, not the day she left us. However all those who knew and loved Catriona, are conscious of the significance of the date of her death, and so May 1st has become the default anniversary when I dedicate a post to her here. She had the warmest spot for May Day, and all the histories and mythologies knitted into it. Her life partner, Ian, and all her family, felt that she’d delayed her death to coincide with it. I don’t know what I feel about that. I’m still numb at the recollection of it.

Catriona first came upon me when I was lost, and thereafter quietly set about rescuing one who she perceived to be struggling. I thought it strange that I’d attracted a new friend, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she’d taken up with me. Of course I know now that she’d noticed how unravelled I was – and how free-falling – and she’d just reached out and caught at the broken tethers trailing in my wake, halting my drift. Emotionally anaesthetised, I was barely aware of what was happening. She wasn’t at all intrusive, but she kept a very close eye on me. I can see now it was an extraordinary thing to do, but she was a woman of heightened intuition, and saw things that others missed. The long story must be one for another time, but for today I wanted to remember and tell how she lightly caught and then strongly held me, and halted what I’m sure would otherwise have resulted in a bad outcome.

In time I recovered myself and healed, and we two became mutually supportive friends, our relationship evolving. We embraced others, though we were always most ourselves when alone together. I met Peter, and he and I and Catriona and Ian became friends as a group. She and I encouraged each other in enthusiasms and growing ambitions. We became collaborators on a series of work that would change my creative trajectory, and resulted in the publication by the Old Stile Press of her elegiac poetry cycle based on my father’s life, The Mare’s Tale. We were sometimes impossible together, exasperating others, and especially our partners. We snuck off on adventures that we kept secret. We relished a mutual appreciation of odd things others thought plain silly. Catriona could be sharp as needles and witheringly intolerant of what she saw as self-aggrandisement and puff, and she could make me fall over with laughter when she turned her wrath where she thought it most deserving. But she was also full of goodness, and had a radar for spotting an aching psyche that needed the balm of nurture.

During bad moments, I still ran for her company like a lost puppy. In the early days of my relationship with Peter, I walked out on him, though when he found I was gone, he knew well enough where to come looking for me. I was sleeping like the dead at Catriona’s, exhausted from a volcanic outpouring of rage and desolation. Awaking to find him sitting on the bed next to me, one hand on my shoulder, the other offering a cup of tea, it turned out she’d explained things to him as I’d been unable to, and all was forgiven and restored.

I miss her as sharply as I did on the day she died. These things don’t go away. We just learn better how to accommodate them.

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Long, long ago, Catriona gave me a sapling walnut tree. It was about fifteen inches high, barely more than a stick in a pot. For about seven years it languished, clearly unhappy in the pot, but our city garden was too small to take what might grow into a large specimen. When we moved to Ty Isaf, it came with us, and was finally liberated into open ground. And a pretty diminished thing it looked at the time, after its long captivity, and moreover with its tap-root rotted away, we discovered, because the pot was not well drained.

Twelve years on it’s twenty feet high and in rude health. Every summer it puts out a spectacular canopy. I see it plainly from all the front-facing windows of the house, pass it whenever I walk in the garden,  follow the progress of its fruits, sit under its shade in high summer and read. It’s where I go to talk to Catriona.

 

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Catrina Urquhart

1953 -2005

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